3D campuses on Google Earth

Oh wow. Somebody made the Stanford campus look like Ancient Rome (maybe it really does – ordinarily I’d be able to check the fidelity of the representation by clicking on the little camera icons, but there aren’t any in Stanford yet).

Some of the Purdue’s buildings looks like they’re clad in tartan. Do we have to settle for these graphics?

Unlike Stanford, Purdue opted to superimpose their campus on existing Google Earth satellite images of the ground so there’s an amusing mix of flat and 3D – love how they carefully modelled their fountain but balked at the adjacent trees and cars (which as a result still looks like different-coloured pancakes).

It would be good to see inside the buildings too. Maybe next month?

Great project. (Alter ego Slippery-Slope Flesh is nervy – this is clicks versus bricks and clicks are winning. Watch all our campuses get sold off – I give them 5 more years. Students and academics will never smell or touch each other again.)

Google-Adoring Flesh: on Google Earth my journey from Stanford to Purdue was a 4 second whisk over the curving globe.

Google 3D campus screen shot

What a night – only £5

I’ve been pushed aside and shouted at. Seen a shooting, a bare-knuckle boxing match and a man hanged. Had a howitzer pointed at me, attended several demonstrations, heard rousing speeches and, for the first time, watched a punch and judy show.

Holding Fire at Shakespeare’s Globe. A very simple play about the Chartists but – especially for groundlings who are surrounded by the action – a hugely invigorating bit of theatre.

John Pilger – expect nothing better

I’ll add my 2p to the critics of John Pilger’s latest. Think I’ve probably been too mild, though.

Anybody familiar with the Israel boycott debate will find his New Statesman polemic against Israel unremarkable, except maybe for its comprehensive coverage of nearly all of the anti-Israel themes in currency at the moment. The article is intended to reinforce these and broaden their reach – the boycott campaign will only succeed if it manages to construct Israel as the world’s worst state.

An early rhetorical reference to Elliot Abrams’ Zionism signals to alert readers that if they’re expecting a trustworthy report they’ll be disappointed. Had Pilger merely wished to point out a bias then describing Abrams as a pro-Israel US policy-maker would have been more accurate – but ‘Zionist’ achieves far more than pointing out a bias. Used here it will stigmatise Abrams not just for being pro-Israel but for his ethnicity. It’s a sleight-of-hand which communicates that Elliot Abrams is a Jew. Is he even Jewish? It doesn’t matter – an increment of damage is done. This use of ‘Zionist’ as a dirty word is widespread now, intended to strip Zionism of any positive association and make it a byword for an aggressive, supremacist, cleptomaniac, Jewish supporter of a privileged Jews-only state on stolen Palestinian land. But ‘Zionist’ is an extremely baggy term – only the most extreme feel entitled, by virtue of their birth, to live in Hebron, for example. Secular political zionists believe in the emancipation and ongoing self-determination of 5.3 million Jews residing in a currently hostile region, and therefore believe in Israel’s continuing existence. It is not acceptable for Pilger to use the word ‘Zionist’ in this way. But it is typical of the boycott movement.

There follows a stale litany of Israel’s abominations. He shakes his head in faux astonishment. Nothing like it in UN history. No other tyranny has such a record of lawlessness. No country enjoys such immunity. Certainly this creates a very, very bad impression. But by what standards does he assess UN history, or tyranny, or immunity? Has he weighed Israel against Iran, currently persecuting trades unionists and academics while financing military aggression across the region? Or China in its occupation of Tibet, imprisonment of large numbers of dissenters, harassment of AIDS activists, knowing sale of weapons to Darfur and censorship of the Internet? US? UK? Russia? Myanmar? Malaysia? We should vigorously condemn the evils of Israel’s occupation and we should uphold the equal rights and opportunities of all ethnicities in Israel. And, if we really care about human rights, we shouldn’t allow our selective concern for Israel to divert our attention from other states. So exactly why does Pilger insist that Israel is the world’s worst state? He doesn’t dignify us with an explanation. Impressions are what’s important to Pilger – we’re to take his word for it.

For regular Engage readers Pilger’s inaccuracies veer in familiar directions (read the comments to the piece for more fisking – he gets certain specific claims very wrong). There’s an attempt to cast anti-boycotters as partisan “friends of Israel” – of course they cannot be pigeonholed as that – they all have their own reasons for opposing the boycott and many are (Amir Hanifes, Ken Livingstone and Cath Palasz for example) often actively critical of Israeli policy. Pilger holds up South Africa as a precedent but the analogy fails because Palestinians and Palestinian Israelis, once the same, now exist in very different circumstances – Palestinians are occupied non-citizens whereas Palestinian Israelis – the 164,000 who remained in 1948 and their descendants – have imperfect but improving legal rights (the recent Land Law ruling is a deplorable relapse which is contested in Israel). None of this is any comfort whatsoever to Palestinians but should give pro-boycotters pause for thought: Israel, an occupying state, not an apartheid state and not a racist state.

That the boycott is ‘Jewish-led’ is neither here nor there – Jews can be antisemitic. So when Pilger dismisses the charge of antisemitism as ‘intimidation’, he is complacent. The recent union boycotts and condemnations, in the absence of similar treatment of other states according to universally applicable standards, are fundamentally discriminatory. They are also frequently defended with antisemitic tropes and stereotypes. Pro-boycotters have had to compromise their anti-racist credentials to make their case, and Pilger doesn’t seem to mind.

Pilger is right that the influence of pro-boycotters is growing. But he is wrong to present their campaign as a grass-roots movement, when in fact it’s the work of a small, assiduous group of ultra-activists who take advantage of union apathy and political process to push their boycott agenda. So far they have been conclusively over-ruled in the AUT and NUJ once the membership gets involved, and this summer Oxford, LSHTM and Imperial UCU members have already discussed and rejected the boycott in local ballots. They realise that the conflict to is more complicated than Pilger will admit and that if we want to end the occupation we should support the Israeli and Palestinian Left.

Dedication to the world’s oppressed and downtrodden is an unquestionably honourable thing, and Palestinians need the support of strident voices like Pilger’s in building a state and claiming an equal shared of resources, infrastructure and opportunities to succeed. Racist and violent acts against Palestinians by Israelis should be exposed and subject censure. But Pilger’s piece represents the worst excesses of underdoggism – unconditional, uncritical support for Palestinians which therefore never acknowledges that they, and regional string-pullers, have independent roles in the conflict. In Pilger’s essentialist view, helping the underdog means demolishing the oppressor rather than ending the oppression. This prevents him acknowledging the real fear of 5.3 million Israeli Jews that, if the ongoing project to end their independent state succeeds, it will be they who deserve his most avid ministrations.

Israel is a relatively successful state and in some areas – including academia and technology – an outstanding one. There is ample hope that the occupation will end and no indication that more than an extremist fringe of Israeli Jews feel they have the right to hang on to the Palestinian territories. Polls (such as OneVoice’s and PSR’s ) register a commitment in the majority of Israelis, Palestinian Israelis and Palestinians to two states. This is why balanced presentation of the facts about Israel and Palestine hasn’t been enough to galvanise union support for boycott and in order to achieve the longevity for their campaign, pro-boycotters have had to sacrifice the anti-racist character of the boycott and tap in to existing anti-Israel and antisemitic fervour.

So, during this pro-boycott ideological offensive, expect more of the Pilger variety of demonisation and be ready to dissect the half-truths and plain untruths.

Dirty words: jazz

I’ve never really understood free jazz and nobody I know who likes it has ever convinced me that it’s anything more than a petulant and obscurantist rebellion against convention and a platform for primadonnas an irritant.

I say that from a position of profound ignorance – I can hardly tell you how profound. I’m bound to get in trouble for this from at least one quarter.
Nevertheless, I’m averse to free jazz I feel I’m destined to remain ignorant about free jazz.

So it tickles that bad arguments are becoming known as ‘jazz’ (can’t point to any examples – just something I’ve noticed lately). The type of bad argument that’s, like free jazz, an unending rudderless deviation peppered with squawks, aimlessly repetitive and ultimately ending up nowhere.

Hey – doesn’t Gilad Atzmon play jazz? I wonder if it’s free? Bet it is.

War on want – you’ve lost me

Out of all the want in all the world, War on Want have decided to… push for a suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Unlike UCU boycotters, they have an endpoint for their boycott – ‘the wall must fall’.

But that’s silly. Meaningless. Come on, what’s the real endpoint?

OK, I’ve found it in one of their copy and paste letters for our MEPs – the end of the occupation. Do they mean that the occupation is the same as the wall?

So, what’s the reasoning? It’s a familiar morass of well-meaning and poorly-channelled indignation.

“Increases in poverty are a direct result of Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinian Territories and its intensification of action against the Palestinian people over the past four years.”
Israel’s policies are a large factor in a lot of the evils which beset Palestinians. But they are not the only factor. Iran, Hamas, Hizballah are also factors. Fatah is a factor. Islamic Jihad is a factor. If you think that Israel has a right to security, what are we going to do about those other factors outside Israel’s control? How are you, War on Want, going to distinguish between Israel’s security excuses and its genuine security concerns?

“Confiscation of Palestinian lands.”
Any engagement with Israel’s rationale for this? Surely that would strengthen the boycott campaign, move the debate on? No engagement. Hey, don’t worry though – just take War on Want’s word for it. Actually I can’t and have to inclination to excuse the confiscation of Palestinian lands, and I detest the settlement project. Netanyahu and Sharon can both go to hell. But this boycott is cheap and shoddy. And the wall (which for a proportion of its length is a modest fence), controversial as it is within Israel, has been credited with stopping the suicide attacks in Israel.

“The wall exists”.
Suicide bombings have stopped in Israel. Isn’t that worth something?

“The wall is very long.”
So? Nobody seems to be scrutinising the length of walls in Belfast or India.

“Checkpoints are blighting Palestians’ lives”
An excellent reason to protest. The occupation has to end. But there are many worse situations in the world – why punish Israel like this now? It should be enough to monitor, point out and criticise. Boycotting produce from the occupied territories would even be understandable – but isn’t proposed.

“The EU gives Israel preferential trading treatment.”
Israel has been officially boycotted by its nearest neighbours since its inception. Another way to think of the preferential treatment is a levelling of the playing field for Israel. For the same reason (regional boycott) Israel plays football in the European league. That said, Israel is an excellent trading partner with Europe. Europe benefits.

“Suspension of EU aid to the PA”
I thought this had been reinstated (obviously not to Hamas just now, right?) and what’s this got to do with Israel anyway? Could there be just a tiny bit of kicking the cat going on here?

The War on Want campaigns page is deranged. Where the hell are Ethiopia, Mozambique, India, with their particular problems?

And I traipsed up to Edinburgh in white for the G8 Summit. Better find a sounder anti-poverty charity to support.

I’d recommend using their handy Find My MEP service to identify your MEP, paste WoW’s text into an email, make the required changes to request that your MEP ignores their demands but persists in encouraging the EU, as a member of the Quartet, to hold Israel to the commitments it made in previous peace plans and do everything it can to return political process to the Gaza strip and sustain it in the West Bank.

Helmand, Kensington

I steeled myself for this exhibition on Afghanistan at the National Army Museum but in the event found steeling strangely unnecessary.

The exhibition is the story of the 16 Air Assault Rifle Brigade’s tour of duty in Helmand Province. Its members, who planned and built the exhibition, are half of Britains rapid reaction force and were the first NATO troops into Helmand in April 2006. They call themselves ‘air-minded’ – used to working with helicopters. The web site says:

“The unit is made up of assault infantry, airborne troops and helicopters. The unit’s main combat mission profiles are deep strikes into enemy territory, seize and hold, interdiction and raiding operations as well as support for Special Forces operations. The Brigade’s composition also makes it very well suited to humanitarian, evacuation and peacekeeping operations.”

It was fitting for the exhibition to begin with footage of September 11th. Then you progressed through different zones listening to (or reading) themed excerpts from interviews with polite young man after polite young man (one polite young woman from the medical corps). They talked about things like mending bombed coms cable under fire, improvising food, investigating deaths and accidents, rescuing injured mates, negotiating working relationships with the Afghan allies, receiving daily briefs, making good relations with local people, suicide bombs, finding things to do with dead time, being effectively imprisoned in enclaves, defending their bases, getting supplies from A to B in the sand, dealing with poppy farmers, coming under and returning fire, the way Afghanistan knackered their kit, the little polystyrene desert hawk toy plane drones. Remember the squadron which trod on land mines and didn’t have enough medical supplies to avoid using T-shirts for tourniquets? One of them talked about that.

Use of multimedia was excellent. There was a lot of ambient noise (including Green Day, Metallica, Cranberries and looped interviews) contributing to the immersive experience of an army base, but the positioning of the kiosks and the quality of the sound was like somebody talking right next to you – fine and much better than a sterile silent environment with headphones. The kiosks were like large army chests containing equipment or objects on a theme (investigating accidents, rations – 4000 kcal – lots of Yorkie bars- and day-to-day apparel. Embedded into them were laptops under persex with separate rollermouse console. The video and audio were themed – communications, supplies, combat, &tc – and chunked into short excerpts with a menu.

The photos and videos lent great immediacy. One which will stay with me was a video – maybe with a mobile phone – in which there was an unexpected explosion 100m away. The camera operator jumped so violently your heart turned over for him. The clattering and franticness of combat came across, as did the bleakness and brokenness of Afghanistan.
There were also conspicuous gaps. I don’t know whether there was bromide in the instant white tea sachets, but there was no mention of sex whatsoever. Matt explains that’s because they weren’t conscripts so were more self-contained and resourceful in distracting themselves. It may have helped that they were sleeping in pod tents made of net curtains and showering out of black plastic bags. No mention of family either. One solitary unfavourable mention of Selly Oak. Very little death, and relatively little injury, and understated accounts of what little there was.

16 Air Assault Rifle Brigade left in October 2006. They lost 19 soldiers on that tour. Since then fatalities have increased. On the journey I read that three Helmand soldiers had just been killed in US F15 (blue on blue) fire.

The exhibition was excellent for a sight, sound and feel of British army life in Helmand and definitely worth a visit.

Durban II – this time fight racism not Jews

An impeccably anti-racist state takes a place on the committee planning Durban II, the UN’s World Congress on Racism.

I’m being sarcastic – we know about the anti-Israel blinkers in the UN Human Rights Council – look at Durban I with its scarey NGO document (the conference ran on a full day after it was scheduled to end and the document was eventually amended by a narrow majority which voted to expunge references to racism and apartheid).

If I tell you that Libya is chairing the committee, does that help?

You guessed it – Iran. From Ynet:

When asked how a state which openly denies the Holocaust could find itself in such a role, the spokesperson said: “The Preparatory Committee is an inter-governmental body, meaning States were chosen freely to sit on the Prep-Com. It is the Member-States who decide.”

The UN-HRC has been hijacked by a political creature called the Organization of the Islamic Conference which is characterised in its UN dealings by antipathy to Israel.

In Gaza

From earlier this week, Jane Corbin reports from Gaza for Panorama (YouTube, 5 chunks).  She talks to victims of Fatah-Hamas roof-top infighting, bereaved and tortured family members from rival factions, an IDF major, Qassam rocket-makers, and Haniyeh himself. Her assessment is that Hamas is getting weaker by the day but, with 70,000 unemployed because of the blockade and food practically hand-to-mouth, the impact of Fatah corruption, Hamas putsch and Israeli blockade is going to last for generations.

Jerusalem Post reports that Haniyeh’s spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, quit over Hamas’ failure to negotiate with Fatah, and also that Iran acknowledges funding Hamas as well as Hizballah.

On Lebanese TV, so-called moderate, Hamas’ Osama Hamdan justifies suicide bombings killing civilians in ‘so-called Israel’ (transcript).