David Cesarani on Arthur Koestler, London Jewish Cultural Centre

Some disappointments tonight – through no fault of David Cesarani – and a scare.

The scare happened on the way as I walked alongside the heath between Hampstead Heath BR and Golders Green – there’s a very dark stretch where the road sinks between steep banks and the single pavement’s is raised with iron railings on one side and scrubby heath on the other. As I walked along the pavement thinking that it was rather dark and very very quiet, grunting, moaning and breathing began abruptly to my right. I looked round quickly and saw a pervert exhibitionist wanking himself off on the opposite bank. Words failed me once again, and I trotted away towards the lights at the bottom of the hill, half expecting him to run across the road, vault the railings and force me to do something or other.

The disappointments were that David Cesarani had only bought 4 copies of The Homeless Mind to sell none of which I could get my hands on, and that hedecided to focus on Arthur Koestler’s Jewishness and Hungarianness rather than some of the other things I’m insterested in. The main point DC makes is that Arthur, while constantly reminded that he was Jewish, chose to suppress this facet of his identity because he judged that it would damage his credibility as a critic of Communism, which many viewed as a Jewish system. I have been reading The Homeless mind in a patchy way to flesh out the existing knowledge I have of AK from his autobiogs, so I don’t know if DC also extended this theory to AK’s Cassandra-like ‘screaming’ about the holocaust. What has been bothering me about AK for a little while now – and DC deals fairly strictly with him -  is the discrepancy between his often scrupulous, even self-abasing modesty in his autobiographies, and a) his propaganda work for Willi Muenzenberg (which he explains away as a symptom of the desperate polarised ’30s), and the dishonesties and misinterpretations uncovered by DC. Maybe it’s meaningless, but it seems that the stuff poor old Arthur is most preoccupied and guilty about is not the stuff those who later commented felt was the right stuff. How could he be so lucid about his own character, and hold the idea of truthfulness so dear, but at the same time have these blind spots. The last disappointment was that mine was the last hand up and he didn’t have time for that question, but I don’t think it would have been a particularly good question. He was a propagandist, in the end, and can’t be trusted on any level - maybe that started in the Muenzenberg years, maybe it was always there.

Feeling gloomy, Angel

Not an entirely satisfactory way to spend a Saturday night, because it was compered by an idiot and his idiot friends who gave it the atmosphere of a local radio show. They failed to mix their CDs properly, or show any flair for easing between moods. And they talked too much, and voice-synched to songs. Utter tits, never again.

OneVoice Town Hall meeting today

OneVoice http://www.onevoicemovement.org is a consensus-building (they say ‘consensus revealing‘) organisation working to empower moderates on both sides of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Work centres on building consensus on ten core points incuding two-state resolution, the issue of Jerusalem, refugees, and responses to terror.

I hate the term ‘town hall meeting’. Anyway, one happened this afternoon in the student union, and there will be more elsewhere until Saturday. Local UCU have posted the notice (though not in time for this local meeting).

The spiel for their London Town Hall meetings:

At a time when every British newspaper is filled with stories of divisions and extremism within and between communities and campuses, OneVoice is launching an enormous program to build coalitions behind its work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Muslim, Palestinian, Jewish, Israeli and Christian groups are coming together in support of OneVoice’s work. Events are scheduled from LSE to SOAS, City Circle to St. John’s Wood Synagogue, UCL, City, UEL, [my institution], Friends of the Arab World and more…

For a full schedule of events between November 19th and 26th, please see the following flyer:

Download flyer – pdf

At 2 I turned up to find an Israeli Anthropology student (call her Ifat) in heated conversation with the chaplain. He brought me up to speed – she objected to the sex-segregated seating. I turned round and sure enough there were white sheets at head height separating two blocks of seating. The chaplain told her that it was usual for women and men to pray apart, which we both found rather ominous since the publicity we’d seen for OneVoice was entirely secular. I suggested we get chairs and sit at the back straddling the barrier, and we did. Then two very youthful Muslim clerics got onto the stage and introduced themselves with a prayer. We both stiffened and I was astounded that OneVoice had failed to mention this on their flyer. A sermon on racism began, with close and simplistic reference to the Koran. Ifat started muttering indignantly about the way the clerics were handling the issue. After a few minutes, I crept into the men’s section to ask the chaplain whether or not we were listening to OneVoice. No, to our enormous relief and enlightenment it had been postponed. Ifat and I crept out and came back at 3.

There were 4 20-something panellists whose names I mostly missed – an Israeli woman from Tel Aviv Office, Political Science grad, I think she might be called Oriella, a man originally from Jerusalem now living in Birzeit called (possibly) Osman, another bloke called Jake who spoke with an English accent, and Saida who runs the London. About 20 came to listen, including Ben F, the chaplain and me.

Each panellist made a presentation. Saida talked about OneVoice consensus work and the high degree of agreement between moderate Israelis and Palestinians. Osman talked about coming home from a football game and being held up at gunpoint by a flying checkpoint. He said he was there not for love of Israel but because he loves Palestine and he wants his children to grow up in their own safe country. He talked about Hamas as a legitimate political party which had been elected as the only viable alternative to Fatah corruption. Oriella talked about her proximity to Rabin when he was shot, her disillusionment and year away from Israel, the failure of the leaders to resist right-wing Israeli and – less explicitly, Arab – extremism, the need to find a way to change internal dialogues, and the need for moderates to find their voice. Jake developed that and big-pictured things up in general, with inspirational reference to the mass movements for peace led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and with a sense of urgency about finding a way round the impasse.

The questions were penetrating and as far as I could gather mostly came from Jews and Israelis. Ben F commented the mass peace movements mentioned were unity movements, and was there a particular approach for something like a binary movement. The answer to that basically was finding common ground, and looking at the “full half of the cup”. Ifat asked how OneVoice is different from the rest of the peace industry – Jake replied that they have a Ramallah office and can work directly in Palestine. Osman said that most peace orgs take away a tiny number of worthies to a spa, ply them with food and drink, and then put them back with nothing achieved. Then a bloke in a kippa asked how Osman could argue that Hamas, insofaras they represent a people under occupation, had a right to resistance, which he understood to mean violence, and at the same time work for a pacifist movement. He also questioned Osman’s view of Hamas. Ifat also separately probed at the contradiction of a peace-worker who claims the right to violence. Osman had heard it all before and his response didn’t come across as conciliatory, which may have been his way. His evident sincerity aside, he became the only Hamas apologist in the room (Jake disagreed with him on many points and brought up the Hamas charter which he said made him “physically sick”). On the first point he rehabilitated Hamas as peacemakers who had offered a 30 year ceasefire and an Israeli state within the ’67 borders, but found themselves without an Israeli negotiating partner. (So his answer gave the impression that essentially that Hamas violence is Israel’s fault? Or Israel’s problem, he’d probably say.) On the second he referred Ira to the Haganah in the ’40s. Ifat stuck to her point, which was about contradictions. Another student possibly with an Israeli accent reinforced it. The debate by this time seemed to be mostly going on between Osman and the audience. Jake reminded us to look at the big picture, Oriella also cautioned against getting bogged down in details before the big questions had been settled. Then a student who mentioned that she was native american and had understanding of how it feels to be settled upon, tried to blur the boundaries between military (or “legitimate”) violence and “illegitimate” paramilitary Palestinian resistance. The other 3 bristled. Maybe because it was near the end, nobody wanted to get into that. On that note, OneVoice packed up to go to the next college, with Oriella coming to reassure Ifat that the reason she felt so troubled is that the situation is difficult, and that you don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with people you hate the guts of.

How did they leave us? Cautiously optimistic, for my part. Their charisma, understanding and perspective were impressive. The most obviously problematic aspect of OneVoice which revealed itself at this particular event – and I’m not sure if this depends on the questions – was satirical Osman, sprawled nonchalantly in his chair, ever so slightly impatient about having to deal with the same stale old questions, batting away comments which delegitimised Hamas. None of the panellists spoke for the IDF when a comparison was drawn between it and Hamas. I wondered at that stage whether OneVoice avoids arguments about the finer points of the conflict, or whether it even welcomes simplistic comparisons like this because they allow people to ignore the boggy details. Based on a single meeting it’s hard to judge. The manoeuvres of the panellists to widen a space for negotiation between two adamant points of view sometimes seemed contorted – is the peace-loving and violence-excusing consensus builder actually a schizophrenic? I’d question whether the peace-loving fighter is a contradiction because pacifism is not something I subscribe to. When they lie down to die because they don’t want to live in a world where they have to kill, pacifists don’t only surrender their own lives, they quit on people who would fight for their lives or their ways of life. Maybe it is enough to like and trust Osman, himself, a role model. If he says he rejects violence while upholding his right to violence, and people trust him, and he is trustworthy, then that’s different from somebody known for lying through their teeth saying it. But OneVoice is a movement where the individual is supposed to disappear so that the average can emerge – interesting in itself it contrasts with today’s highly individualistic society, but also because it seems to reject leadership and so rule out Osman as a role model, or the emergence of a new Gandhi, or MLK. Another contradiction, maybe. But they’re a baby organisation, and they’re still finding their identity.

Perhaps their strategy is very modest – to exploit the paradoxes and wrong-foot people into a position where they have to question their internal narratives.

Ontologies in e-learning

Happened on this, which is worth keeping in mind at all times – particularly in the light of the e-Framework:

However, this ontology mania requires a community consensus and agreement. In a recent interview with Tom Gruber for AIS SIGSEMIS Bulletin — (Gruber, 2004) — he emphasises that ‘Every ontology is a treaty — a social agreement — among people with some common motive in sharing.’ This social agreement between the people on the learning domain is maybe the most challenging aspect of the current evolution of the Semantic Web for learning.

Lytras, M. and Naeve, A. (2006). Semantic e-learning: synthesising fantasies. British Journal of Educational Technology;37(3):479–491.

(The Gruber quotation:  Gruber T. (2004). Every ontology is a treaty—a social agreement—amongst people with some common motive in sharing: an interview with Tom Gruber. AIS SIGSEMIS Bulletin;1(3), 4-8 October.)

Baroque

For the record, a resume of my efforts to set up a workshop at my not-so-endearingly shambolic institution.

Line manager has spent a couple of years recovering from last time he tried to set up an event.

I start off by calling our Conference bloke, who is young, slightly over-confident-sounding, and difficult to get hold of. Naturally, my request for free room is irregular. I want this for free because although it’s external (associated with a JISC research project) it’s free to register. I also want an accessible room (i.e. ground floor in because although the building in question has three floors, they’re all on different levels) with data projection. And moveable tables which don’t jiggle, not hostess chairs. And to be able to eat in there. And a flipchart.

Then I promoted the conference (parallel to the researcher) on our VLE, and through discussion groups (but not with the posters she sent, because I decided they would mystify people here). Then I recruited students, some of whom behaved very immaturely about it. Then I confirmed the students, and sent details to the researcher.I had to book the room through central room bookings – and we couldn’t have lunch in the room and had to go elsewhere. I had to curry favour with the porters about the tables – this was nervewracking and I feel lucky to have succeeded with the negotiations. I had to talk with Scolarest about the catering, which involved trying to figure out the best way of billing it to avoid VAT (i.e. internally, and the researcher reimburses my department). And I had to talk with Conferences about getting a flipchart. I’m scared stiff the data projector won’t work, or that the tables won’t arrive, or the chairs or the flip chart easel. Then we had to a late notice move lunch to the senior common room, to make way for the Warden’s meeting (the SCR is not accessible so if anybody can’t climb stairs they’re snookered – I referred Scolarest to the researcher to find out if anybody did in fact have mobility problems). When I called Scolarest today to ask for water in the room all day, they told me that lunch was down for 3.30. But that was just a mistake. And the Student Union person who was supposed to find 2 extra students didn’t.

This is my testimony: it’s been a right hassle.

November sunbathing

Up until the end of last month you could still sunbathe outside. In spring and autumn  the morning sun smashes through our bedroom window and you can sunbathe on the bed. I couldn’t get too close to Matty this morning because he hadn’t showered for over 24 hours and smelt quite feral. Maybe something to do with his adventure the previous night (my dream).

News dream

This dream is a littered with the news. There was nothing but a ship (maybe this was the quarter-of-a-mile-long Emma Maersk which is making a delivery of Chinese christmas stuff at Felixstowe), but at some stage EJ, Matt and I went on shore and had a look at an enormous molluscy animal (bit like Jabba the Hut) which seemed slow and harmless. EJ was examining its enormous open craw. I had a sense of forboding and told her to watch out because she had her head too far down into its mouth. The scene was like one of those patient, motionless, camouflage alligators who suddenly snap up animals which wander too close. Then quick as a flash it gulped her down into a mouth like a snail’s mouth but peppered with blunt incisors (distinctly Miyazaki’s Spirited Away). Immediately Matt ran up to the animal, forced its mouth open and followed her in. A herculean struggle ensued inside the creature which shook and twitched like a bag of ferrets, trying unsuccessfully to swallow them (like the pelican and pigeon in Regents Park). Eventually it quit and sicked them up. They were perfectly fine, even looked clean, but they smelt revolting.

We stayed with Angela who was looking after Kate’s baby because Kate had gone on shore to Medical School. We slept in a huge and populous dormitory with rows and rows of rustic ‘cottage’ style pine beds. I felt sorry for the people who had to sleep next to the pool tables and pendant lights at one end of the room, because the dormitory was also a games room.

Bonfire night Friday

EJ and I met at Tulse Hill and Dave collected us from the Half Moon next to Brockwell Park. We got Matt on the way in and found Justin with his family next to a crepe place at the top of the hill.

The fireworks were no expense spared and there seem to have been some technological advances – hearts and flowers and some that did a sequence of 3 or 4 different things. I like the ones which go high, and explode fast and wide so you feel you’re being sucked into the sky at warp speed. EJ was really happy that none of us were paying Lambeth council taxes because the whole show lasted about 30 minutes. I was really happy because the fireworks were shaking my solar plexus and Dave was muttering a funny commentary behind me.

Then we went up to Kick on Shoreditch High St where we picked up Matt and Robin and a nice little table with mellow lighting downstairs. Matt and Robin reminisced about summerwork in Aquascutum, we had a mini argument about whether or not George Bush was the biggest threat to world piece, and I don’t know what else we talked about. Robin had met Momus and developed an appreciation of the American People. And he wants the one-eyed golly. But today the shop was shut.

Although I’m not a disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

I did take heart from the news that I’m not alone in getting hot under the collar about music played out loud on London Transport, (http://www.gopetition.com/online/9646.html), to the extent that I diversified. (Actually, it will never get worse than what follows because I’m not so misanthropic as all that, neither do I get a kick out of these altercations, nor do I feel the need to push my point of view all the time).

Early morning and I get onto an empty Central Line train. Next stop, two people take the seats closest to the doors, one of which is a priority seat. This always happens and it’s been a long time since I was bothered. But I do think it’s a really unthinking and selfish thing to do. By Leytonstone the train is crowded, standing room only. I notice an old woman with a stick and an unhappy expression standing near the door. I catch her eye and give her my seat. I position myself so I’m standing in front of the bloke who took the priority seat. He’s seen everything and ignored everything. When the train starts again (more noise, less of a scene) I initiate a conversation: “Excuse me.” Bloke tries to ignore me. I persist, “You should have given that woman your seat.” He muttered that he hadn’t seen her. I replied “But you saw me give her the seat. And you sat in the priority seat even though there were lots of seats free when you got on”. Him: “Do you want this seat?”. In the split second I was thinking about it, he was back to his paper which made me angry so I said “Yes I will have the seat”, and he got up abruptly and stood with his crotch unreasonably close to my face until he got out at Stratford. I spent the rest of the journey scanning the carriage for people who might need the seat and hardly managed to read any of my paper by Ofira Seliktart. That’s why priority seats aren’t a good places to sit – you have to be vigilant. At the same time I wish the long-suffering idiots who stand up with their enormous pregnant bellies and lame legs waiting to be offered would get a grip on themselves and find their own seat, rather than prevailing on people like me. Bastards. All of them. Hrmph.