Oct 142021

Have I made fun of the term? I bow my head in shame.

Yes, it is true that being allowed to vote once every four years for some caudillo to lead your country is not really worth fireworks. However, Democracy is not only about ballot boxes! Sometimes, you only understand that, when Democracy has been lost. And it is so easily, alas, lost.

Democracy requires “Separation of Powers” (a concept commonly attributed to Montesquieu). “Separation of Powers” means that the executive branch (i.e. the president, the army, the police and the secret service) have no powers over the judiciary (i.e. the courts) and the legislature (i.e. the National Assembly or whatever assembly determines what laws should apply in a country.) Separation of powers is absolutely quintessential for a “Democracy”. Every once in a while, we see that a hotshot decides that he should be his country’s emperor, like Napoleon. Alas, the basis for such a decision is more often than not sociopathy; certainly not wisdom.

An excellent if somewhat lengthy documentary from the European TV channel Arte about conditions in Hungary serves as an illustration of what happens when one man holds too much power. It should give you goosebumps as it thoroughly illustrates at least three points, of which the first, that Hungary is now only nominally a Democracy, is only a prelude. Let me cut to the quick: In the midst of the EU, then, you have a country led by a governmental crime syndicate; a rather chilling thought.

The deceased Portuguese novelist José Saramago wrote a wonderful novel that humorously illustrates how easily Democracy could be subverted, even without violence: “Ensaio sobre a Lucidez”, literally Essay on Lucidity, 2004, (the English translation of which is called “Seeing”). I recommend an article about the book in the Guardian by Ursula K. Le Guin. She concludes:

He has written a novel that says more about the days we are living in than any book I have read. He writes with wit, with heartbreaking dignity, and with the simplicity of a great artist in full control of his art. Let us listen to a true elder of our people, a man of tears, a man of wisdom

The novel can be read as a sequel to “Essay on Blindness” (1997). Whereas the “Essay on Blindness” is horrifying, the tardy sequel is kind to the reader. Yet, it leaves no doubt: On a rainy day, Democracy can be undone by a mere gesture, or absence of gesture, of the hand.

As we all know, of course, many countries are run by autocrats and/or de-facto crime syndicates. Many, many countries. Hungary, however, is in the EU. The EU prides itself on transparency and rule of law. Indeed there is no concealing from the EU what is going on in Hungary and Poland. But as you will see in the documentary recommended above, there is nothing the EU can legally do about the matter. So far.

What about your country? Does it claim to be Democratic? Is it really?

We all saw how close a call the US had, when the country’s voters nearly gave Trump “four more years” in “fair and Democratic” elections. What would happen to France if Eric Zemmour becomes that country’s president in “fair Democratic” elections? (And what will then happen to the EU?

No, I do not subscribe to the idea that Democracy is outdated. China and Russia may believe in authoritarian leadership, in imprisoning or even killing whistle-blowers and journalists that ask difficult questions and expose abuse of power. I do not. I should add, for the record, that China and Russia are not the only countries where constructive criticism is unwelcome. And in case you have forgotten, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are still wanted by you-know-what country.

No the problem is not that the US and the EU are too Democratic, but that they are not Democratic enough.

Who voted for Trump and who will vote for Zemmour, and why?

I find myself wondering whether sex slaves vote and if so, who do they vote for? They make up a small, yet not totally insignificant proportion of most countries’ populations. Imagine your country as a large empty aquarium. Pour in all your country’s sex slaves and they will just barely form a film over the floor of your aquarium. Add all the people who fill the shelves of all your country’s grocery stores. Add all the street sweepers, all those who wash all the floors in hospitals and all the floors of your cities’ innumerable office buildings… The tide is rising in the aquarium. You still haven’t added the unemployed.

What about the majority of your rural population, which is probably “at risk of poverty and social exclusion“, as the EU puts it: “The at-risk-of-poverty rate is the share of people with an equivalised disposable income (after social transfer) below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, which is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income after social transfers.”

Please, PLEASE note that we are talking about 60% of the MEDIAN “equivalised disposable income”. In plain English: half the population have an income above the median and half have an income below it. In my country 18 % of all fully employed people are “at risk of poverty and social exclusion”.

Who do they vote for? Do they vote for Labour, or whatever the equivalent of Labour is called in your country? Will our Labour-equivalents truly improve their conditions? Will any major party that respects rule of law? My guess is that the answer to that question is “no”, and that our “at risk of poverty and social exclusion” voters know that.
No wonder, then, that wild-eyed preachers, charlatans, megalomaniacs and sycophantic scoundrels find it easy to deceive consumers and even voters by offering a deceptive ray of hope.

Take a look at your country’s median income in 2021. You might consider how far the median income would get you if you had to pay rent, electricity, transportation, childcare, insurance, internet, phone bill, etc. etc. etc. oh, and I forgot food.

Aug 242021

A few hours ago the Israeli military butchered a fifteen year old unarmed Palestinian. This is the 12th child on the West Bank killed by Israeli soldiers so far this year.

On 13 August the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) (OHCHR), wrote:

From the start of the year until the end of July 2021, Israeli military forces have killed 11 Palestinian children in the West Bank. This is more than the recorded deaths of Palestinian children under the occupation in all of 2020. As well, a reported 67 Palestinian children were killed in Gaza during the violence of May 2021.

Moreover, the OHCHR substantiates that the Israeli authorities will balk at nothing in order to prevent the truth from being known, even to its own citizens:

UN human rights experts have called on the Government of Israel to immediately return confidential documents and office equipment that its military seized from the offices of Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) in Al-Bireh, in the occupied West Bank.

In recent years, DCIP has critically and reliably reported on the patterns of arrests, maiming and killings of Palestinian children by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. The silencing or hindering of these activities violates the fundamental human rights of expression and association, which Israel has committed itself to uphold through its ratification of the two 1966 International Covenants.

It is high time that the governments of the EU, the EEA, the UK and the US make it clear that no country that so blatantly disregards human rights can be considered an ally. By failing to do so the said governments will have been accessories before, during and after the facts, to heinous crimes against humanity that have been going on for decades. By failing to do so, they are, in fact, no better than the non-Western countries they so love to ridicule and denounce.

Aug 112021

If Trump said that, it must be wrong, right? Wrong. (Alas, when will we learn that even our enemies may occasionally have a point?)

Even the New York Times, even the Washington Post and even the Guardian and Le Monde need sponsors, sponsors with large purses, very large purses, people like Jeff Bezos. I bet Jeff Bezos is a Washington Post sponsor…

Hold on! The Washington Post is actually OWNED by Jeff Bezos, you know the guy behind Amazon (a company where employees are afraid they’ll get sacked if they have to go to the loo). Put it this way: Jeff Bezos would not be someone I would like to work for. I would not vote for him in any political context. I would not want my children to have anything to do with him or his offspring or his companies. You see, my theory is: Tell me what company you own and/or run, and I will tell you who you are.

So do I trust the Washington Post?

Jeff Bezos took a little ride into space the other day. Good for him. It must have been fun. I don’t like the way he makes his money (by treating employees like machines), but I don’t care how he spends his leisure time. What I do resent, however, is that according to Aljazeera’s Listening Post, the CBS Morning News Show devoted no less than 212 minutes to Jeff Bezos after his space jaunt, “almost as much” as the show had devoted to climate change over the entire past year. (So I certainly don’t trust CBS.)

Now, do I trust Aljazeera? Of course not. Aljazeera, too, is owned by somebody, the King of Qatar, I gather. Working conditions are no better in Qatar than at Amazon (possibly no worse either). My point being: Aljazeera and the Washington Post are both news outlets that pride themselves on delivering top-of-the-shelf, intrepid journalism. They are very important sources.

Sources of their calibre hate peddling outright falsehoods. Deceit, however, takes many forms, as we know, one of them being silence. What is not said is as rhetorically forceful as what is said. In my previous post I wrote of the Israeli Pegasus spy-ware. The Listening Post on Aljazeera, a program I warmly recommend because, as they say, “we don’t cover the news, we cover how the news is covered”, said not a word about how the spy-ware is used in so-called Democratic countries. Not a word.

But they did discuss the role played by the German Springer tabloid “Bild” in German politics. Very interesting, that. Very reminiscent, indeed, of the role played by the Washington Post and Fox News in US politics.

Meanwhile, I find myself wondering whether Jeff Bezos intends to try to run for president. (As you see, my distrust of the man is visceral.) There is something vaguely megalomaniacal about the man’s “visions” for us earthlings in space. Maybe I am reading the wrong text? Maybe the man is merely grieving, as I grieve, about the fate of humans all over the globe, about animals, and plants – species, no less, many of which have been eradicated in the course of just a decade. Is he mad enough to imagine that he will save humanity? Or is he merely planning his own and his friends and family’s escape to another planet?

Let’s forget about whatchamacallit Bezos! We are, after all, marching now, inexorably, towards something that hardly bears thinking about. Let us NOT forget, though, that beauty still exists and will always exist in one form or another no matter what happens to our planet and the species that inhabit it. Listen to Ravel’s Bolero, for instance, to the music’s sore-footed, determined march towards a somewhere “over the rainbow”, which inevitably, again and again, turns out to be way past the horizon for the refugees, say, or the elephants and zebras and squirrels – just a trickle of them at first , then more and more, and more…

Poor consolation, perhaps, but: There will always be music, always be glorious sunsets, always be stories told at dusk. And there will always be acts of generosity and solidarity and simple kindnesses that warm a frightened heart.

For years, even the most excellent sources of top-notch journalism have been evasive about climate change. When will they do their job? Or to put it differently: When will their sponsors allow them to do their job? Will they ever? Or will theys just rely on Jeff Bezos getting them away from a ruined planet to continue their business of getting rich on Mars?

What the rest of us need to know is how to respond to climate change. We don’t just need warnings. We need – let’s face it – a revolution, an inter-disciplinary, knowledged-based revolution.

I envisage the empowering of marine biologists, meteorologists, entomologists, agronomists, epidemiologists, anthropologists and of social scientists of every order, economists, psychologists, etc., etc. in every country in the world and from every economic echelon. Not just them, their students too. At the local level I envisage citizens being invited to discuss, in every municipality: HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THIS?

This would all of course entail a certain amount of chaos, so some rules of engagement would have to be established, and I certainly don’t know what rules, but I want to be asked. I want all of us to be asked! These are times of urgency and urgent measure are needed.

I leave you here. For now. THINK. THINK HARD.

Aug 082021

The winged snow-white horse Pegasus was the offshoot of a Gorgon, Medusa (the lady whose hair consisted of vipers). Since he now resides among the stars in the sky (the great square of Pegasus), we may have forgotten what his mother was. But we have recently been told that he now also resides in an unknown number of mobile phones.

Mainstream media have made a big fuss about the Pegasus spyware issue. Indeed, the issue merits a rumpus, but just what have the Guardian, the Washington Post, Le Monde and BBC been saying about it? If you open the links, you will see that the articles are near identical.

This is the take of all the articles linked above: Israel has been naughty because it has been selling cutting-edge spyware to countries that regard political opponents, journalists and human rights activists as terrorists.

The journalists have discovered that everywhere Netanyahu went, Pegasus went too, as in the nursery rhyme:

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And every where that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go

Put differently, Netanyahu was on an ingratiation spree, offering Pegasus to his hosts. Since time immemorial people have brought gifts when they went a-visiting. I am sure that offering a beautiful white horse was not uncommon in the Middle East.

Somebody joined the dots and found that Kashogi was killed shortly after Netanyahu’s visit to Saudi Arabia and that Pegasus had been lodged in the phones of several of his closest contacts. This effectively indicates that Israel might have been accessory to Kashogi’s death. But then again, Israel maintains that the country is perpetually at war, and that collateral damage is therefore unavoidable. For my part, I have never had the impression that loss of non-Jewish lives worries Israeli authorities, so this is not “news”.

Now you will not often catch me defending Israel, and strictly speaking I shall not do so now either, except by pointing out one small detail: selling weapons and drones (and other devices that disseminate death and despair) to any country that is willing to pay is not normally the stuff headlines are made of. It is what most countries do on a regular basis. I mean, honestly, our so-called democratic countries doing business with murderous dictators is what keeps those dictators afloat. Not that I defend such practices, but the press is distorting the Pegasus spyware issue. Israel is merely doing what most other countries do.

The problem about Pegasus is not that Israel has been naughty, but that Pegasus exists at all. When your mother is so hideous to behold that you are struck dead from just a glimpse of her, no wonder you turn into an instrument of evil. Pegasus is an example of scientific advances that are detrimental to the future of mankind. I quote Edward Snowden as quoted by the Guardian:

“for traditional police operations to plant bugs or wiretap a suspect’s phone, law enforcement would need to “break into somebody’s house, or go to their car, or go to their office, and we’d like to think they’ll probably get a warrant”. But commercial spyware made it cost-efficient for targeted surveillance against vastly more people. “If they can do the same thing from a distance, with little cost and no risk, they begin to do it all the time, against everyone who’s even marginally of interest,” he said. “If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect.”

These are, I repeat, Snowden’s words, not the Guardian’s. Snowden is, you will remember, already a fugitive because he spoke out about the massive unconstitutional surveillance being conducted by NSA against his country’s citizens. The Guardian’s reporters are perhaps not willing to risk everything, as did Snowden, by broadcasting what the existence of Pegasus actually means for the future of news reporting.

Nor do the above linked articles even hint at how so-called democratic countries to whom Israel has sold Pegasus – including the countries home to the Guardian, Washington Post, Le Monde and BBC – how those countries use the spyware. Do the said countries’ legislators even know it is being used? Are the courts duly informed each time a subject is subjected to the most invasive surveillance known to history?

I put to you that the journalists writing the near identical stories in the above linked articles will have been near paralysed. Petrified. I put to you that they are asking themselves whether Pegasus has already been stabled in their phones.

Jul 262021

Have you noticed that some countries are simply unbearably smug? Take the United Arab Emirates, for instance, that have the gall to do exactly as they please, because they are rich. They don’t even pretend to care about such trifles as “freedom of expression”, for instance, because nobody will presume to castigate a country that is home to a futuristic paradise for the rich (Dubai). Nobody interferes, nobody even lifts a finger, although the emirates have, de facto, occupied Socotra, which is formally part of Jemen. And as for the press …. Have you even heard of Socotra?

By contrast, Norway’s complacency is too subtly disguised to attract much negative attention, but what lies behind the country’s cleverly manicured self-promotion?

It is true, you don’t often hear of people getting arrested in Norway for publicly making rude comments about the King or Prime Minister. But then again, people rarely do (publicly make rude comments, that is), because Norwegians don’t seem prone to get seriously angry. Are they too well-fed, too busy watching Netflix?

Norway claims to be committed to defending human rights all over the world, but has important arms industry or, as the Government terms the exported goods, “defence-related products”. A 2020 press release gives a favourable impression. But does it present the full picture?

In 2018, it became clear that Norway had been selling arms to the UAE, despite “concerns they could be used in the war in Yemen“. Note Reuters’ courtesy in the choice of the term “concerns”, although every informed adult knew perfectly well that the goods were certainly being used in Jemen. Of course, the Government was disconcerted over even the remotest possibility of such misuse of innocently exported goods, and immediately prohibited all export of arms to the Arabian Peninsula.

Yet, just a couple of weeks ago, there was a new “shocking” disclosure of arms sales to the UAE. Again, the Government promptly prohibited export of arms to the Arabian Peninsula. Nobody seemed to remember that they already had done so back in 2018.

Norway claims to be committed to reversing climate change, and if you run a search on the web for “Norway + climate”, sure enough, you will find plenty of results with the key words “climate fund” and “… invests in green energy” – all bollocks, of course, because, Norway has not even started to reduce its CO2 emissions and continues to peg its future to hydrocarbons. Mind you, the country also invests heavily in “promotion”, “public relations” and image building, so the truth of its carbon footprint is not immediately evident.

You may not know, for instance, that the state-owned company Equinor has, since 2007,

…. invested around 40 billion USD in the USA, mainly in offshore and onshore oil and gas exploration and production. Through a series of acquisitions, totalling over 10 billion USD, Equinor built a substantial business in US shale gas and oil, or so called “unconventionals”.

Equinor report 09.10.2020

You won’t find many articles calling into question Norway’s commitment to the “forces of good”. I believe Norway, like the UAE, is so rich that it can pay to have the world look the other way when it behaves badly. It pays liberally for reconstruction of Gaza every time Israel bombs Gaza back to the Stone Age and kills a sizeable proportion of the Gazan population. At the same time, Norway is one of the few nations that never condemns Israel’s concerted efforts to exterminate Palestinians. Norway is best-friends with everybody. Norway can pay and Norwegians sleep well: They have Netflix, plenty of space and social security.

Not everybody living in Norway is Norwegian, however. The country reluctantly admits a trickle of political refugees, though every attempt has been made over the past decades to curtail immigration. An acquaintance of mine ended up in Norway after 9/11 1973. That’s right: 9/11 nineteen seventy three. When he was arrested in his home country during the US-assisted dictatorship there, many of his friends and contacts had already been tortured and/or killed. Thanks to a prisoner exchange program, he was exported to Europe, and he has lived and worked in Norway, and paid taxes to Norway for over 50 years. 50 years! He was granted permanent residency in Norway soon after his arrival, but has nevertheless since had to apply to the police every two years to have his ID card renewed. Every time, he has to go through a humiliating application process on the internet, answering all sorts of intrusive questions such has “how many days have you spent abroad over the past two years.” Now, with Covid, he has been informed that he will have to to wait for several months before he receives a valid ID card. After 50 years!

Norwegians love travelling. They might go shopping in London, spend a weekend or two on a beach in Spain, enjoy a safari in Africa, meet friends at a bar in Copenhagen, all in a single year, without a second thought. But my acquaintance must record each and every entry to and departure from the country. And now, without an ID card, he cannot travel at all. After 50 years!

Last year, the authorities finally allowed people to apply for naturalisation without relinquishing their original citizenship, so he spent a few hours filling out the forms on the Internet, clicking “Next” and “Next and “Next” each time he reached the bottom of a screen. The last screen he reached contained only one word: PAY. The fee, he learnt, was NOK 5500, (USD 642.22 or EUR 540). After 50 years!

That’s a lot of money. Maybe not for you, but for many people, yes, it is an insurmountable amount, certainly for immigrants. Even Norwegians would scream if asked to pay such an amount for anything other than a weekend at 5-star hotel.

Some countries are just simply indefensibly self-satisfied.

Jul 042021

During the period 1122–1133, Ari Froði (the Learned) wrote Íslendingabók “the Book about Iceland”. This remarkable piece of scholarly literature was written in Icelandic, or Norse, if you will, although the writer was probably much more fluent in Latin, at least when writing. In those days, Latin was the language of choice for European scholars, of whom there were embarrassingly few, most of them clergymen.

Parenthetically, I should add that in Spain there were lots of scholars at the time, not least Arabs and Jews, and lots of linguists. In the thirteenth century, Spain was even lucky enough to have a king (Alfonso el Sabio 1221–1284 ) who understood the potential of the country’s wealth of learned subjects. Under his reign, tomes and tomes of invaluable scientific literature from all over the world were translated into the vernacular and Latin. Had it not been for this tremendous effort to translate as much as possible of all available knowledge, goodness knows how long Europe would have continued to languish in darkness.

So, during Europe’s Dark Ages, a light shone in the South, in Spain, and in the far North, in Iceland. In the rest of Europe, almost nobody could read or write, and even the Bible was just abra-cadabra for almost everybody.

Ari Froði writes in the “Book about Iceland” that all of the island’s farmsteads date from the first 60 years after the initial settlers arrived in (according to Ari himself) 870. Each and every one of the settlers who reached Iceland’s shores during those first years, is accounted for in another truly iconic historic document, it too in the vernacular, Landnámabók, presumably also written during the first part of the 12th century; author unknown. Of course, the settlers must have had slaves, livestock, wives and children, though there is no mention of livestock, and only occasional mention of wives and children. (An infinitesimal proportion of the settlers were, actually, women!)

Landnámabók sometimes mentions slaves (mostly Irish), either because they were particularly deserving, or because they betrayed their masters, and in some cases, we learn how many slaves a settler brought. Please note that these slaves had been captured or ensnared, as wild animals are captured or ensnared, during their owners’ raids on the British Isles. In other words, the brave and supremely enduring settlers were, in most cases, the same brutes who killed left, right and centre, on their jaunts through Europe.

Yet, having reached Iceland, they almost all demonstrated extraordinary courtesy, asking previously arrived settlers for permission to go ashore. Iceland appears to have been, until about 1262, an anarchist’s wet dream. People (mostly men) occupied large tracts of an otherwise vacant island, respecting the rights of both prior and subsequent arrivals until the island was “fully settled”.

In other words, they were all miraculously governed by a system of common consent which soon evolved into a body of laws recited once a year at Thingvellir. “He who recites the laws” was elected at regular intervals from among the country’s wisest men. There was no army, no police, no king, no president.

What’s more, we must assume that many of them could read; otherwise, why would Ari the Learned have written his book in Icelandic? Not only that: many of them could write! They wrote the most wonderful stories, lots and lots of them, the Sagas.

They had their feuds, true; they sometimes killed a man or two and were driven from the land, as a result, but by and large, they took pride in doing the honourable thing, whatever that was, and were extremely civilised.

WHY? How come bloodthirsty bandits turned a country into a lighthouse on a dark and gloomy continent? I have a theory about that: Of course they had common sense, and common sense told them that unless they were able to cooperate, they wouldn’t survive.

Almost equally important, though, was their concept of honour (sæmd). They knew their actions were being recorded and would go down in history. They assumed that not only their offspring, but whole generations, followed by generation after generation, would know the name not only of every hero but also of every bastard that had ever lived on the island. They behaved well in the hope of immortalising their honour.

Alas, common sense is not our strongest suit. A human being will only be guided by common sense up to a certain point. The same sense of honour that prevented Golden Age Icelanders from misbehaving, would drive them to exterminate one another in a series of skirmishes, including an utterly ludicrous naval battle, during the first half of the 13th century (described in Islendingasaga by Sturla Þórðarson, written early in the 14th century.) Rather than live sensible lives, they died ludicrously honourable deaths.

The chieftain Kolbeinn Tumason allegedly offered up his prayer “Heyr himna smiður” the night before his ludicrously honourable death in 1208. The translation is literal and does not convey the musical beauty of the verse. (Source: Wikipedia as at 4/7/2021)

Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

In the course of the following three centuries, Iceland would turn into a depressing blot on European maps. For hundreds of years, the godforsaken island would be inhabited by near-starving bedraggled primitives. WHY? How come these eminently civilised farmers in the far north lost everything?

For the same reason that those of us who live in wealthy countries in the twenty second century are soon going to lose everything: Common sense, I repeat, is not our strongest suit.

The nice part of this story is that even after Iceland was virtually wiped off the map, its people’s sagas would live on, translated into many languages. To this day, then, readers all over the world can enjoy compelling tales about how Icelanders dealt with greedy bastards. No doubt, in time to come, future generations will read about our scuffles with the greedy bastards who will have turned our beautiful planet into a wasteland and our young democracies into neo-liberal fiefdoms.

Jun 122021

The race trick has been played since time immemorial, you may be sure. For all I know, it dates back to when we were competing against and possibly exterminating the Neanderthals.

Our race plays the power game with all kinds of tools, some of them legal. No country’s legal code has been able to foresee all the low-down, dirty tricks a totally callous person can concoct, and the race trick is one of the simplest.

If, for example, you can convince your compatriots that blue-eyed people belong to an inferior race, you are in business. Blue-eyed people, you will explain, tend to be less resistant to heat and sun than people with darker eyes and skin colour, and since our planet is growing hotter, heat resistance will prove to be an asset. You might suggest limiting university admission to those who have passed an infernal heat resistance test. Some 30 years later, you will find, to your delight, that relatively few blue-eyed kids have parents who can afford sending them to university even if they pass the heat resistance tests. Then you can say you told us so: “they are born losers, ” you will explain.

You will not find it quite as easy to explain that people with a certain shape of nose and – say : large feet, narrow hips and thick lips – are members of a superior race, in spite of eager sponsoring from the Botox camp. True, Hitler managed to pull off the Arian Race hoax a few years ago, but I’m not sure voters would make the same mistake again, at least not yet.

No, for the “superior race” trick, you should ally yourself with a religious charismatic movement such as that of an Ayatollah Khomeini – if it makes you feel comfortable – or that of a Pentecostal Flor-de-Lis, if you prefer. (Jair Bolsonaro hoodwinked under-privileged Brazilian voters by claiming to be Evangelical. The Guardian has a very interesting article explaining why Evangelical movements attract so many people in the favelas.) Let the preachers do the work for you. Let them chant that those who vote for you are God’s chosen people. “The others” are scum.

God will protect his chosen people from Covid. In Israel, he does so by providing vaccines, whereas the others (who have been denied vaccines) will die like flies in the window sill. In Brazil, God admittedly withholds vaccines from those who cannot afford them. But they will survive anyway, thanks to the Lord, of course. (Those who don’t won’t live to tell the tale.)

Denying vaccines to an ethnic group is one of the measures that can be used to achieve “ethnic cleansing”. “Ethnic cleansing” is a modern term for one of the darkest and most horrible crimes known to humanity. We used to call this particular form of crime “genocide”.

Ethnic cleansing is practised to this day. In China, it appears, it is practised against the Uigurs; in Myanmar against the Rohingyas (cf. the euphemistic “displacement crisis” of 2017 – NB before the recent military coup); and in Israel’s occupied territories and Gaza against the Palestinians.

So what about the term “racism”? If, strictly speaking, there are no human “races”, may we no longer denounce white supremacists as “racist”? Of course we may! Whoever actually believes or pretends to believe in racial hierarchies is obviously a racist.

E.g.: Israel maintains that anybody who condemns Israel’s treatment of the population on the West Bank is “Anti-Semite”. This means that Israel nurtures a racist ideology.

But please note that no modern government will admit it differentiates between people on the basis of “race”. The reason Tom, Dick and Harry still imagine there are genetically significant bases for identifying discrete races is that the powers-that-be have not made it sufficiently clear that such is not the case. There are, in many countries, political, religious and/or economic forces that benefit from nurturing racist ideas.

Let’s face it, the Homo sapiens sapiens is not angelic, no matter how evangelic it claims to be.

May 142021

A friend from a country far hotter than my own, sometimes asks me: “How can you consort with other species?”

— I don’t consort with…
— You live with a dog.
— But I never let her into my bed!
— Dogs carry parasites, diseases. They pick up all sorts of nasties from the ground and…

He’s right about that, of course, but my dog regularly gets de-wormed and vaccinated against a plethora of diseases and there is plenty of literature attesting to the beneficial effects dogs can have on humans’ mental as well as physical health. In fact, ever since I was a child I knew I had much less to fear from dogs than from humans. So, yes, I can live with other species (cats, dogs) but can I live with humans?

Today, all humans are members of the human race, of which there is only one, as opposed to in the very distant past, when there were Denisovars and Neanderthals and goodness knows what else. Though scientists are still uncertain as to why all the others vanished, I’m convinced that our race, the homo sapiens sapiens, exterminated them. After all, “we”, the sapiens sapiens have demonstrated certain sinister proclivities throughout history. To this very day we continue to exterminate opponents, contestants, protesters and heretics, not to mention species..

So “The Human Race” it is. To quote a Harvard University website, which in turn quotes the Scientific American, “two people of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian person than they are to each other”. In short, it would appear that the concept “race” (with regard to humans) is claptrap, a social construct, more often than not used for convenience, or out of old habit, or to excuse a rabid aversion to people perceived to be trespassing. To make matters very much worse, politicians are often quite happy to let us blame immigrants (“Blacks”, “Arabs”, “Latinos”…) for our misfortunes.

No, I’m not being politically correct! I’m merely being reasonably informed. So if you loathe your neighbour, do not, please, be a hypocrite and do not cower behind an ignorance for which you have no justification. Have a conversation with yourself in the mirror. Do you dislike your neighbour’s political views, and/or the way he/she dresses, and/or his/her ignorance, and/or his/her arrogance, and/or the fumes that emanate from his/her kitchen, and/or his/her car, and/or his/her dog? Fine, so do I. But have, at least, the decency to admit that is why you dislike him/her.

Do you dislike his religion? Ask yourself, then, why his religion should concern you. Do you not expect others to accept that your religion (or non-religion) is your business and yours only?

Does it annoy you that he insists on continuing to live in your neighbourhood although you have made it clear that you want him to leave because you know he hates you because your people drove his people off their farm? I put to you, then, that the problem is that his family was driven off their farm. You’ll solve no problem until you admit that injustice was done. The disadvantage of such an admission is the price of making amends. Yet, the cost is far less than perpetual mutual hatred and perpetual external condemnation.

Do you ostracise him because he is an underdog while you have the upper hand? Ah, well then I admit you can play the “race” card, because you are after all only a homo sapiens sapiens, and being rather despicable is unfortunately a widespread trait of your race… ours, that is.

Fortunately, there are other people in your neighbourhood, and mine, that are not despicable even though they belong to the same race. And for that we must be grateful.

Please see B’Tselem

May 082021

The lesson should have been learnt a long time ago, back in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that the United States helps itself to just about any information it wants, about anybody. I won’t go into details about his assertions, as they are very beautifully explained and substantiated in his book Permanent Record.

US surveillance programmes also cover European and goodness knows what other countries, including mine, the purpose allegedly being national security, just as the invasion of Iraq was for national security reasons. In practical terms that means that if somebody reveals anything that embarrasses the powers that be, that person must be hunted to the ground and destroyed, to wit, the shameful case vs Julian Assange (see Deutsche Welle), and that vs Snowden himself who has had to apply for citizenship in Russia, of all places, so as not to suffer Assange’s deplorable fate. I’m sure Putin must be laughing.

Now the US is definitely not the only country that destroys those who would cast aspersions on its greatness and best-ness and Democratic-ness. On the Press Freedom Index, the US now ranks as no. 44, which isn’t so bad, really, only marginally behind South Korea, though considerably worse than the UK which ranks at no. 33.

Nonetheless, I guess no whistle-blower in his sane mind would turn to US American bona fide media outlets — not that I’m suggesting that Snowden was insane. As a matter of fact, he didn’t turn to the US American press but to Glenn Greenwald; speaking of whom, I urge you to read his latest article on substack.

At any rate, today, the New York Times has a very dry article, way below the main headings on its website, the sub-heading of which is directly misleading: “Federal prosecutors sought phone records for three Washington Post journalists as part of an investigation into the publication of classified information in 2017.” The main heading which, I repeat, was way below the rest of the news, is actually more accurate: “Justice Dept. Seized Washington Post’s Phone Records“. The key word here is seized. I don’t know about you, but I almost overlooked the heading. Justice departments are always seizing something or other, it’s their job. (The highlights are mine.)

The point is: The authorities not only sought but obtained all they wanted in order to uncover certain journalists’ whistle-blowing source. This was, admittedly, onTrump’s watch, but is the US Justice Dept. the President’s lapdog? The NYT fleetingly mentions, en passant, “a case where prosecutors secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records. That case signaled a continuation of the aggressive prosecutions of leaks under the Obama administration.” The NY Times refrains from going into details here; after all, the present incumbent of the presidency is on Obama’s side, as it were. The NY Times knows who butters its bread, let’s face it.

Nevertheless, the USA’s position 44 on the Press Feeedom Index is vastly better than that of the United Arab Emirates, at 131. You don’t get much worse than that, do you?

Or what? Well, yes, you do: India at no. 142 – repeat – one hundred and forty two – is the world’s largest so-called Democracy. The country’s president, Narendra Modi, is a pretty nasty piece of work, if you ask me. I leave you to a few sources in chronological order (all regarding India).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claims to be a-political. Already in 2018, the organisation noted red lights for the Indian press: Troll armies in PM Modi’s “pay”

In February this year RSF reports: Raids on critic al outlets in India.

In April the New York Times started looking at the matter.: NYT: India’s press not so free and NYT: Covid – Critical posts taken down

Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post, which discusses how the media discusses big topics, has been following India for a while, for instance here: Al Jazeera: Navigating bad Covid stats

Finally, a wonderful Indian author writes about Covid in India: Arundathi Roy: Covid in India

And the lesson? The one I referred in my first paragraph? It is very simple: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt.

Apr 222021

Now that spring has reached the northern hemisphere, now that we northerners can raise our faces to the sun, pull our hands out of our coat pockets or, even, take off our coats, we tell ourselves once again that the task of living is indeed worth the effort. After all, birds are a-courting, yellow flowers humbly brighten road-sides, and nothing but nothing can dim the optimism of swelling and bursting buds on tree tops.

Sitting in a nearly empty subway carriage today, I longed for the pre-pandemic afternoon throng, the tired faces, the weary postures of people of all social classes on their way home from work. (Where I live, even the fairly rich use public transportation, if only because there is hardly any parking in the city. The extremely rich are probably driven to work by chauffeurs. ) Today, we were few and far apart, most of us dressed neither for work nor play, our expressions literally veiled by masks.

I wondered: Who are they? Have they been laid off?

What about you: Have you by any chance lost your job or been evicted from your house? Or are you working from home? Maybe you are what is called “a critical employee”, so that you have to brave Covid on a day-to-day basis. Whether you belong to the first, the second or the third category, I should stress that I do not belong to any of them. What I’m trying to say is that regardless of how life is hitting you, I am unable to imagine what it is like.

True, I am not without imagination, so I have a fair theoretical idea of what it means to inhabit categories 1 and 3, both of which involve professional activity coupled with social paralysis. Category 2, however, …

I was once poor, many years ago and for many years. Really poor. But then I got lucky, and the pandemic has left me high and dry. The strange thing is, however, that I am now unable to remember what it was like to be “really poor”. At least I know and will never forget that anybody, absolutely anybody, could be born into poverty, struck down by poverty, or slide into poverty through an amalgam of unfortunate circumstances. And I shall never ever forget that being poor is very expensive. To put it differently: Getting out of poverty requires money.

In Utopia for Realists (2016), Rutger Bregman cogently stressed that part of the problem “poverty” is the sadly prevailing fallacy that poverty is due to laziness or other kinds of good-for-nothingness. If you are, say, a Central American illegal alien working till your hands, lungs or feet bleed, you will be socially branded as lazy or at least delinquent, alcoholic or otherwise undesirable. Let me tell you, in case Rutger Bregman has not yet hit your bookshelf, that poverty is due to anything but laziness.

If the pandemic has struck you where it hurts, you will know what I mean. Maybe you have contacts that can lend you a hand. Maybe, on the other hand, you find yourself on your own. If that is the case, all I can say is, to quote Bob Dylan, “the times are a-changin”. True, wealth inequality has augmented during the past 15 months, BUT so has awareness of wealth inequality.

I did not take much note of the news of the conviction of George Floyd’s murderer – after all, we’ve all seen the video. What moved me to tears, however, were the images on the evening news of people sobbing in the streets. Sobbing for joy! I had not fully taken in, until then, that blacks actually feared Chauvin would be acquitted. Gosh! I mean, really: Wow. Can I even imagine what it must feel like to be a 24/7 walking and talking bullet target for so-called law enforcement? No I cannot.

Imagination is a strange thing: Under certain conditions, most of us are able to imagine unlikely situations and events. Some of us honestly fear that the air plane they are in might fall down, or that a sinister creature could be lurking in a corner or under the bed. Some fondly fantasise about the sweet scent of wood burning in a fire place. Oddly, however, few of us are able to imagine spending a cold night in a refugee camp, or even on the pavement, home to the homeless, in any one of our big cities.

The pandemic has left each and every one of us more or less imprisoned, alone or with household members, hence also far more emotionally vulnerable, perhaps also more sensitive. We are vulnerable not only to what surfaces from our own interiors, but also to what the few voices we hear tell us. From an anthropological viewpoint the past 15 months have been a tremendously exciting global experiment. Have our baseline attitudes changed?