I finally learn something from PACBI

Leeds Student Union is having a nail-biting referendum on whether or not to adopt the EUMC Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. I think it’s a good definition which leaves plenty of leeway for everybody’s favourite pursuit: ‘criticising’ Israel. However, some Israel critics find themselves at at a loss for how to operate under it and are loud in their lament. My feeling is that these people are antisemitic and in denial. But there’s no telling them.

PACBI is an Israel-boycotting organisation led by a choreographer called Omar Barghouti. Whenever I think of PACBI I think of Saen Sans’ Danse Macabre.


PACBI are urging Leeds students to reject the EUMC definition because PACBI depends on antisemitism to function.

What I learnt from them today is that Jews Against Zionism, their definitive source on what we should think about Zionism, have only got 150,000 members. What percentage is that of 14 million? One and a bit.

I also learn to carry on thinking that PACBI are scarey. They brush concerns about antisemitism aside in a classic example of David Hirsh’s Livingstone Manoevre – even to the extent of using the JAZs as their ventriloquist dummies:

Jews against Zionism, an organization which represents over 150,000 Jews world-wide, commented that “One of the well-known tactics of Zionists to silence their critics is to accuse them of anti-Semitism. Of course, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two separate things.”

It’s well known that antisemitism exists and is increasing throughout Europe. It is also these days, and on the political left, couched in the language of anti-Zionism. The anti-Zionist voices which are not also antisemitic voices are very weak at the moment and they don’t have any answers.

Other racisms are also increasing but the Jews remain an enduring scapegoat – most recently in Mumbai. The Jews targeted, sought out in their community centre and ultimately killed in Mumbai weren’t Israelis – they were plain old Jews.

PACBI comprises people so ignorant and hate-filled that they can’t seem to criticise Israel without getting into bed with Jew haters. This is quite easy to avoid. Just take a cool, unprejudiced look at the situation (there are 10 of these – simply insert the relevant number into the Web address).

For the Palestinians, an economy and a commitment to seizing political process bull by the horns. A return to negotiations and abandoning the murderous Hamas Charter. Israel can and must assist with the former, by facilitating free movement, by equitable distribution of resources like water, by sharing technological advances, by freezing and shrinking the settlements, and by withdrawing from the West Bank as soon as possible. The rest is down to the Palestinians. It’s their war too.

Sound copyright and bad intellectual property law

From the Sound Copyright Campaign:

“Dear Sound Copyright petitioner,

The flawed proposal to extend the term of copyright protection afforded to sound recordings, robbing consumers in the name of performers but for the benefit of the world’s four major record labels, is being fast-tracked through the democratic process. Earlier this month MEPs from the relevant European Parliament committees presented their draft reports (1) at a meeting of the legal affairs committee (JURI), the Committee which will make recommendations to the European Parliament on how to vote on the Directive early next year. They proposed a host of worrying new amendments which threaten to:

  • Weaken further already inadequate measures intended to allow orphan works, and commercially worthless but culturally significant recordings to pass into the public domain (Culture (CULT), Internal Market (IMCO) and the Industry, Technology and Research (ITRE) committees draft reports).
  • Allow record labels to deduct “costs” from a fund intended to benefit session musicians, further shrinking the pot of money made available to performers in favour of labels (IMCO committee draft report).
  • Dramatically widen the scope of the Directive to include audio-visual recording, even though no relevant impact assessment has been conducted into what effect this might have on consumers and follow-on innovators. (JURI and ITRE committee draft reports).

(1) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/term-extension-committee-draft-reports.zip

At the JURI meeting, Dr Lionel Bently of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law (CIPIL) Cambridge, dismissed the proposal stating that “record producers will gain the lion’s share of revenues on sales in the extended term”. He warned that the Directive would accrue serious social and economic costs, and concluded that MEPs should “oppose this measure in its totality.” (2)

(2) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/prof-bently-juri-speech.pdf

Bently is not the only expert to oppose the Directive. In an open letter to MEPs, Europe’s leading intellectual property research centres unanimously condemned the proposal (3). The European Broadcast Union has also stated publicly that the proposal will make consumers foot the bill while stifling innovation (4).

(3) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/term-open-letter-and-statement.zip
(4) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/ebu-position-paper-extending-the-term-of-copyright-protection.doc

Earlier this month ORG met with MEPs in the European Parliament to express our serious concerns about the proposal. We warned that the European Commission’s own figures demonstrate that performers will benefit little from the extended term (5), while the world’s four major record labels will gain millions of Euros direct from consumer’s pockets. We argued that this damaged the respect necessary for a functioning IP system.

(5) http://www.openrightsgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/openrights-scotsman-oct-08.pdf

But our voice is not as powerful as yours. It’s vital that you contact your MEPs now (6) and tell them why term extension is bad news (7).

(6) http://www.soundcopyright.eu/system/files/MEP+lobbying+tips.pdf
(7) http://www.soundcopyright.eu/system/files/Briefing.pdf

With all the evidence pointing against this measure, you can call on your MEPs to put a stop to bad IP law and reject this proposal. You can also also tell the appropriate government department in your own EU country (8) (in the UK it is DCMS), as they will be meeting in the Council of Ministers to discuss term extension.

(8) http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/urls.jsp

With the European elections next year, Parliament is set to move quickly on this issue. It’s up to you to remind your representatives that their job is to look out for your interests, not to rush through bad law.

Thanks again – we’ll keep you updated.

The Sound Copyright Campaign

Run by the Open Rights Group and EFF”

Short term thinking on the climate will kill somebody’s kids

Monbiot in The Guardian. Naturally, everybody wants $4.2 trillion but I reckon the climate should probably be a priority:

“A paper by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows that if we are to give ourselves a roughly even chance of preventing more than two degrees of warming, global emissions from energy must peak by 2015 and decline by between 6% and 8% per year from 2020 to 2040, leading to a complete decarbonisation of the global economy soon after 2050. Even this programme would work only if some optimistic assumptions about the response of the biosphere hold true. Delivering a high chance of preventing two degrees of warming would mean cutting global emissions by more than 8% a year.

Is this possible? Is this acceptable? The Tyndall paper points out that annual emission cuts greater than 1% have “been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”. When the Soviet Union collapsed, emissions fell by some 5% a year. But you can answer these questions only by considering the alternatives. The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed – an 80% cut by 2050 – means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme, the figures in the Tyndall paper suggest, is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming, which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet. Is this acceptable?

The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on the second world war when adjusted for inflation. Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?

This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world’s energy infrastructure involves “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels”, which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest. This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people “to make short term, radical sacrifices”, cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years.

There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system – even an absolute monarchy – could survive an economic collapse on this scale.

She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk’s proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological new deal I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.

Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No, we can’t.”

The Republic of Iceland is a shipwreck

This is a must-listen.

Paul Henley, investigative journalist and broadcaster, says his goodbyes to an Icelandic interviewee:

“And I’ve just left him for the night, in the middle of a field, in a run-down junkbox on wheels with barely any heating, looking forward to the Icelandic winter. I expected my trip to Iceland to be depressing under the circumstances but… not, NOT quite that depressing – to be reduced to this by a national financial crisis out of your control. So I get into my taxi and go back to my warm hotel and speculate on the future of Iceland and look forward to many more stories along these lines. In this edition of Crossing Continents I’m going to try and tell the individual stories of people who’ve been hit by Iceland’s financial crisis.”

Iceland sounds like a wonderful place – some say because Christian missionaries never really made it there (too remote – hooray). So they lost a load of British investment – surely that’s what happens in a system where you expect money to accrue from just having money in the first place.  If the shit hits the fan here in some way I was planning to convince Matt to emigrate there.  But today Iceland is in shock.

“You are observing a nation in dire straits. The republic of Iceland is like a shipwreck. I think society is collapsing and the next year or two will be terrible.” (Former Foreign Minister).

“I’m ashamed to be an Icelander. how do you think my Christmas will be? My children and grandchildren – I won’t be able to give them anything.” (Man in the food queue).

“I had just normal ordinary loans – nothing I couldn’t handle … When the bank collapsed I had to sell everything and I lost everything … This is all that was left after they took my house [he lives in a camper van] It’s absolutely horrific. Threee months ago I came from a very nice house with nice new furniture and a nice new car outside – to this. This is the biggest let down of my life. Sixty years old and I come to this … When the bank collapsed I had to sell at a very low price and this was all I could afford to keep a roof over my head … You see the people lining up for food – this is the picture of Iceland today.” (A sculptor of repute, former homeowner.)

“Whereas their grandparents lived in fisherman’s huts with earth floors many of todays young Icelanders have come to expect gourmet food, high speed internet and under-floor heating. Officially this was the fifth richest country in the world – until last month. Imports, so necessary here have become almost unaffordable. 65 Icelandic kroner used to buy a dollar – now it’s 130. Thousands of people advised to take our mortgages in dollars yen or swiss francs suddenly found they owed twice as much. Shop prices are soaring. Companies are either slashing wages or laying people off at a rate of 5000 a month. The bubble has well and truly burst” (Paul Henley).

That was when I started to cry lightly over dinner preparations.

There are 1,300 families relying on the state for food handouts, and this number increases by – Jesus – 10% a week. Iceland’s only export seems to be horses. Bank debts twelve times bigger than its GDP.

When I started to cry I realised with passing interest that I was cured of the habit of thinking about affluent people that I somehow picked up when I was younger – the schadenfreude of seeing somebody get it when you are convinced they have it coming. Only a couple of years ago I remember railing against Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who wrote, in his book The Dignity of Difference, that (I paraphrase) a wealthy man is tortured by sudden poverty on a scale which a man who has always known poverty could stoically endure, and should be treated accordingly. Iceland illustrates this and I understand now what he meant. The scale of the dispossession has been absolutely devastating. Icelanders are reeling.

I still have a relatively puritanical streak – I disapprove of wealth or more surplus than is required for a rainy day. But material security according to our norms is something I think we can all claim. What we owe ourselves – all of ourselves from Bahrain to Mozambique – is to make sure that those norms are at a level we can all claim.

Get the Crossing Continents podcast.

Hot water bottles I have known and would like to meet

When I was 7 I was allowed a rabbit. Because my dad’s allergic to hairy creatures, she lived outside in a hutch that he made from an enormous salvaged sideboard. On winter nights my dad organised for us to cover the hutch in blankets and polythene, give her a bowl of hot milk (whoever heard of such a thing – but she was enthusiastic!!) and to cap it all, a Nescafe jar of hot water slipped into her straw. I love my dad. He was just making it up in his usual empathetic way. After all, everyone in our family had a hot milky drink and hot water bottle at bedtime. (I was also not allowed to touch my rabbit very much and she grew up combative. She used to snarl and lunge like General Woundwort and it was hard to get the hot water bottle in and out without lacerations to the hand  – I used to have to wear my dad’s gardening glove. But she was my favourite thing on earth until she died on my lap before her time.)

These days from October onwards my time at home is spent with a hot water bottle in a faux sheepskin jacket tucked into my waistband. But this tends to pop the buttons and interfere with mobility so what I’m after is a kind of specially moulded hot water bottle like a papoose which hangs over the region of my chilly heart and liver but also my kidneys. Anybody know of such a thing?

And last night – disaster! I’d taken two to bed and after handing one over to Matt, decided the other had too much air in it so I sat up and untwisted the top a fraction and squeezed gently. Then Matt justifiably began to gripe about cold air getting under the blanket so I tried to hurry, burnt myself on the steam, lurched and tipped a load of water into my lap! Out of bed I leapt clawing off my steaming pajama bottoms, called Matt every name under the sun and tried to pin the blame on him for making me err in haste. “What would you have said to me if I was doing that over the bed?” he asked appositely. I lied that I’d have merely told him to take his time and be careful. That shut him up. Then I settled myself sorrowfully on top of the now-cold wet patch in the bed which luckily aligned exactly with where the scalded part was.

As I write to you now it’s still rather sore.

PLO’s historic message to the Israeli people

See Gush Shalom. I’m not in a very good position to weigh up the terms of the peace agreement but if it’s acceptable to senior Kadima ‘realist doves’ like Shimon Peres, that means a lot. What I find significant is that the PLO are speaking to the Israeli people. This is beautiful.

Haaretz may have taken the wind out of its sails though:

THE DAY before yesterday, two documents appeared side by side in Haaretz: a giant advertisement from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the results of a public opinion poll.

The proximity was accidental, but to the point. The PLO ad sets out the details of the 2002 Saudi peace offer, decorated with the colorful flags of the 22 Arab and the 35 other Muslim countries which have endorsed the offer.

The public opinion poll predicts a landslide victory for Likud, which opposes every single word of the Saudi proposal.

THE PLO ad is a first of its kind. At long last, the PLO leaders have decided to address the Israeli people directly.

The ad discloses to the Israeli population the exact terms of the all-Arab peace offer: full recognition of the State of Israel by all Arab and Muslim countries, full normalization of relations – in return for Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and the establishment of the Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The refugee problem would be solved by mutual agreement – meaning that Israel could veto any solution it considered unacceptable.

More at Gush Shalom. For some justifiable, sharp griping about the main political rival to Israeli peace-makers in the up-coming general elections from an Israeli voter (and I will play along with Snoopy the Goon by not oxygenating him with keyword publicity) see Simply Jews.