The Contentious Centrist’s blog has this strap:

“Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization — you are done.” (Ortega y Gasset)

Definitely something to live by, and the reason so many hundreds of people are in Iranian prisons as I write, why others are bleeding and others, dead.

Mehdi Khalaji on Iranians’ fight to wrestle religious authority from the ayatollahs, which will intensify in the coming two months of religious observances.

See Kellie’s links one of which is to Mod’s piece.

Photo-blogger Arash Ashoorinia, scroll down for the permalinks.

Revolutionary and other socialists signal their narrow concerns.

Technology commentators say that blogging doesn’t count – that only street work counts. But it’s not true that moral support is useless. If I were risking my life, it would encourage me to know that writers, even vanishingly minor ones in the bosom of comfort, were noticing. And watching Iranian dissidents is also about our own state of preparedness and our own defences, as Contentious Centrist might agree.

By comparison the mobilisation to purchase Rage Against the Machine depresses me, and not only because it was and remains such a pathetic, futile and nauseatingly macho-puerile pop song.

It’s all for them

Monday before Christmas, outside the Royal Exchange facing the Southern wall of the Bank of England, an artistic installation had appeared. The child-sized papier mache merry-go-round ponies were plastered with newsprint bearing the year’s financial panics. Printed UK currency decorated the carousel poles, which were fixed to nothing. As I passed that evening the ponies bore a covering of snow. The following morning the snow had melted, dampening the ponies. The ink of the currency denominations had run. One of the ponies had slid down its wooden pole and was lying on its front on the flagstones, legs splayed, broken at the shoulder and hip.

Tuesday before Christmas and the seasonal ice-rink near Finsbury Circus continued the impression the City gives me of going nowhere. It was actually cold enough not to need artificial chilling but I think the prospective skaters were on Oxford Street, buying. Europop was blaring (it was this which lured me up the steps to see) but there was virtually nobody there.

Wednesday before Christmas, observe the piss-up close to work prior to going to see Stewart Lee at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Stewart Lee was extremely funny – he just gets better and better. Everything he ripped into was stuff I wanted to see ripped into – Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, prosperous UK emigrants and people who move to the country for “quality of life”, and that utter shit Frankie Boyle. Oh, it was very, very, very, very good. Then we went to Gaby’s where I ordered pickles and they came like a Union Jack. Could this be a coincidence, like when Jesus appears on pieces of toast?

Essex, Christmas lunch. My nan-in-sin, waiting for her grub, enjoying the Coldstream Guards’ band playing the theme from The Great Escape.

I don’t celebrate Christmas, I just go along with it*. Last week as John Lewis parted me from a large wodge of loot, I remarked to the woman behind the counter that Christmas was too costly** and I was thinking of changing my religion. She (Chinese if I had to guess) let out a peal of laughter and told me that everybody celebrates Christmas. “You’re Muslim aren’t you?” she said, turning to her fellow till operator, “and you celebrate Christmas”. “Oh yes”, he replied, “Everybody celebrates Christmas”.

I celebrate my dad’s birthday, which is tomorrow. Everybody is coming to Matt’s and mine, including my oldest friend, her mum, her bloke, their little girl, our next-door-but-one neighbour, who was also Matt’s grandad’s good friend, our mums and dads, Matt’s nan, my brother. It’s going to be good – we have many different kinds of vegan sausages, chestnuts, an open fire, and I made (veganised) a chocolate and chestnut terrine which contains 375g of marg and half a kilo of chocolate.


The heart-attack terrine, with a garnish which isn’t as funny as I hoped:

And the alternative, nectarine and marzipan slice, easy and extremely delicious:

My mum made one of her excellent rich fruit cakes (I don’t indulge any more because of the egg) for my dad’s birthday, and my dear friend Peggy, knowing that puff pastry is my favourite food, brought sausage rolls and a mincemeat strudel, but I haven’t captured them here.

* In fact, “it’s all for them” is a little game I play on myself where I say Christmas is nothing to do with me. While outwardly it looks like I celebrate Christmas in fact I’m discreetly doing the winter solstice. Yeah right.

** It’s not true these days that I find Christmas too costly – I just said it to shock at the till.

Reasons to love the BBC

Amanda Goodall is one of a growing number of academics who are actively putting the brakes on the corporatisation of higher education by making arguments in the interest of their disciplinary and intellectual allegiances, and with reference to the ethos of the academy. On BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week, hear her explain how important it is that academic leaders aren’t merely professional managers but leading scholars in their own right. Evgeny Morozov, about whom I’ve talked before and to whom I was introduced last week (he was prepossessing, I wasn’t) was there too.

And here are Suitably Despairing’s schedules – mostly BBC – of Green in the media for Copenhagen weeks minus 1, 1 and 2.

And probably the best thing I’ve heard all the long year was the My Lai tapes on Archive on Four:

“Robert Hodierne reveals the truth about the infamous My Lai massacre of 16 March 1968, based on the transcript of a Pentagon enquiry conducted by Lt General William Peers. The findings of the investigation were so uncomfortable for the US Military that they were suppressed. Some 400 hours of tape show that US soldiers raped and murdered hundreds of civilians in not just one but three villages in an orgy of killing that proved to be a turning point in the Vietnam War.”

In the course of the programme you will hear original material excerpted from the thousands of hours recorded in the course of Lieutenant General William Peers’ inquiry into the massacre. Most interestingly for me, this is a story of the effects of demonisation on the proclivities of soldiers in their dealings with civilians. It is also a story of the mendacity of leaders in hierarchical organisations when under pressure, what it means for subordinates to speak out in such circumstances, and the vulnerability of women in wartime.

And you absolutely have to – must – watch Jonathan Dimbleby’s roadtrip round Russia. Matt said it was “alright” and that he “didn’t learn anything”, and indeed this is above all a social and contemporary history of Russia. You look with your eyes and see that many roads in Russia are unpaved, there is no focal point for Russian commemoration of the gulags, the Volga is enormous, most of Russia is like the horrible fens, Muslims and Christians get along very well in a city in a semi-autonomous region whose name I forget, hundreds of young conscripts die or are badly injured at the hands of fellow soldiers, the inside of a working steel mill is majestic, the admirers of Stalin are banal and the Urals, piddling – why bother dividing continents with them when they couldn’t even divide a country?

The BBC is one of the best things about this country. It produces programmes for thinking, responsible beings. Without it we’d be treated as mere consumers.

Which brings me neatly back to where I started.

Our chief negotiator at the Copenhagen Climate Summit

The name of our negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen this fortnight is Jan Thompson. She is very private and a woman, so The Guardian finds itself talking more about her red patent boots than her political position.

Luckily she is being tracked by somebody more communicative. Her name is Anna and she’s from Warrington. She’s one of many youth climate activists who have adopted a negotiator at the behest of Global Climate Action, meet with them, shadow them and are relaying their actions to us. They exist to keep Copenhagen negotiators connected to the populations they represent. Far from all of the 192 countries at the summit have trackers, but some of the biggest emitters do including China, the US and India.

It sounds like Anna is struggling to stay positive:

“It’s been 6 months now since I ‘adopted you’ and today I set off for Copenhagen. I can hardly believe time has passed so quickly.

Before I start my journey, before we all return to the UN, and before the craziness and seemingly inevitable frustration sets in I wanted to take this time to write to you.

Over the last 6 months I have developed a much deeper understanding of the way the UNFCCC works. 6 months ago in Bonn I was fresh to this, eager and if the truth be known probably a little naive. As time has passed and we have been through Bangkok and Barcelona, as the process has developed and Copenhagen drawn ever closer, you know, I have often become frustrated. I have grown weary of the process, tired and often overwhelmed by it all. I’m sure at points you have felt all these things too. At times it maybe seemed you did.

Often when we meet at the UN the intensity of the situation, the long hours we are all working and the simple hugeness of the task in hand brings all these emotions to the surface for me. I know that’s true for my friends at the UN as well, and I’m pretty sure you could say the same for you and many of the other delegates.

That’s why I wanted to take this time to write to you now, before Copenhagen.

I wish sometimes we could meet away from the process, away from the UN, because then you would experience a very different me.

Away from the UN I am laid back and calm. I like to laugh and joke around, most of all I am optimistic, hopeful and happy. I see climate change not just as a challenge but also as the greatest opportunity our generation has ever had.”

Jan replies. The letter made her cry. Which in turn made me cry until I diverted myself with the red patent boots.

Here’s Anna’s collection of pieces about Jan. I now know that Jan hasn’t had a weekend off since the beginning of October. Bless her.

On this first day of the summit, Leela Rainer, tracking the Indian negotiator, has deja vu – same old spiel, different day. There doesn’t seem to be much energy. And the signage is really bad – people are lost and missing their meetings. And there are delegation offices at the conference venue (the Bella Centre), so people aren’t mingling. And fucking hell:

“From the UNFCCC documents to the free bags in the NGO centre, from the Copenhagen bottle to the green raincoat, to the badges, stickers, and posters; it was RAINING freebies and Bella Centre residents were scrambling to get each one to not miss on their COP collection.

If people could have spent even 50 % of that energy putting pressure on the negotiators as they moved around, we might be expecting fireworks by the end of this thing instead of months or a year from now.”

This is a lively, humorous and critical blog about a summit which will probably fail and indirectly kill us all. Read this from Anna trying to negotiate about her future with Jan’s boss.

Update: the front page of the Adopt A Negotiator site has chosen to foreground the most commented posts. These are not reliably the most important posts, but ones like Why Shouldn’t I Date and Annex-1 Guy. For those, look in the top right hand corner for the Recent Entries From: list.

UCU’s boycott of Israel blinds it to antisemitism. Is this solidarity?

In a post on Engage, David Hirsh gives context to the invitation UCU, the main British trade union for academics, extended to Bongani Masuku to speak against Israel. Last week, Bongani Masuku was found to have incited hatred against Jews by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Self-righteously, UCU rubbishes the SAHRC and the blogs which have tried to raise the alarm about Masuku. What is the word for an organisation so self-regarding that it considers the actions or decisions of its activists sufficient benchmark of goodness, regardless of any other objective criteria? UCU is like that. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t so serious.

David Hirsh points out:

“The Human Rights Commission is a national institution of post apartheid South Africa. Part of the antidote to the old racist system, and independent of government, this institution functions as the linchpin of the new constitution which endows the rainbow nation with a set of legal and democratic guarantees.

The Human Rights Commission ruled last week that the statements of Bongani Masuku on the subject of Israel amounted to antisemitic hate speech. He is a senior official in the South African trade union movement and is currently in the UK on a trip paid for by the University and College Union to promote the exclusion of Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic community.

The Human Rights Commission does not makes its judgments frivolously. The Human Rights Commission is aware of the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. The Human Rights Commission is not pro-Israel and is not concerned with defending the reputation of Israel. It is concerned with racism.”

He then summarises the history of the anti-boycott campaign in UCU, which warned against precisely this welcoming of antisemitism.

To quote a comment which once caught my eye on Engage, UCU’s insistence that its anti-Zionism cannot be antisemitism is “A bit like the commercial for a car where the would-be buyer asks “Do you have any colour but black?” and the salesman replies “Yes, we have noir””.

What kind of trade union would allow law to become the only thing standing between a group of people and the enactment of another trade union’s prejudice against them? Is this what solidarity has come to mean?

Honduras elections, a bit more

New Centrist reviews the elections and responds to some of Bob’s concerns.

The conclusions I’m drawing is that the clampdown on coup opponents Bob is rightly worried about could reasonably be pinned on their violent acts; at least, few commentators consider it profound enough to invalidate the elections. Like New Centrist, I’m inclined to see this election as a triumph of Honduran democratic structures over a power hungry president, his undemocratic ally and neighbour, and the lawlessness and repression of coup. There was a reportedly good turnout (still waiting for news of spoiled ballots) and voters overwhelmingly supported two candidates who rejected the idea of changing the constitution (but there were no international observers). Basically, looking at the news from the concerned writers I trust, nobody is saying that this election has been invalidated by a clampdown, so I’m glad that European powers are recognising the election.

However, there was a coup. Maybe the coup and elections passed off peacefully because Zelaya was the only person threatening the political elite, and he was not doing so in a transformative way but as an elitist, and in a manner which consolidated the elitist, strongman values of the elite. He became the common enemy of both Liberal and National Party. All that was necessary for Honduras’ political elite to return things to (bad) business as usual was Zelaya’s removal. In fact, the coup was political inertia reasserting itself. This is a poorly-substantiated idea, I realise. I don’t really understand how elites with political differences work when they perceive a common threat.

Goodbye and good riddance to Zelaya – now it’s necessary for Honduras not to simply move on, but to bring the coup perpetrators to book.

Greg Weeks, whom I read because he’s above all interested in democracy and law rather than writing as a partisan, has his eye on recognition of the new Honduran government. As a pre-condition, anti-coup governments broadly agree that Zelaya should be briefly reinstated prior to Porforino Lobo assuming presidency. But Congress has voted against this reinstatement (ignoring the wishes expressed in Honduran opinion polls). Nevertheless Brazil’s Lula is acknowledging that the passing of the election puts a different slant on things.

Greg Weeks points to a salutory and reorientating article in Foreign Policy by Kevin Casas-Zamora – Democracy Loses the Honduran Election. Again, who will bring the coup perpetrators to book?

Honduras seems poised to return to politics as usual, instability as usual, inequality as usual, and elitism as usual. It is a deeply conservative country. Where is the left?

A Serious Man

You know how when you were tiny you’d go to the cinema and they’d show a short before the feature? A Serious Man, the new Coen brothers film, has a little short prefixed to it about a shtetl couple and a macabre encounter. After it, the film seems like an non-sequitur. But in the light of the film, you wonder if what occurred in the short was the origin of a curse, or of a consequence, or, then again, nothing of consequence. The film, it turns out, is about existing: significance, purpose, reaction, consequence, insignificance, meaninglessness, and unenlightenment.

Larry Gopnik, a physics lecturer, spends the film reacting to events. The only time he initiates an action, his reward is prematurely punctured by the arrival of a police car. In contrast his son, Danny, is insouciantly assertive. After his bar mitzvah the gnomic rabbi neglects to make any sort of moral intervention, and Danny, uninterrupted, contemplates delaying the repayment of a debt on the off chance that his creditor may be killed by a tornado. But this film is so heavy with religion and we have been so well primed that we wonder if the tornado might do for Danny instead. Perhaps the most masterful masterly thing the Coen brothers achieved in this film was to slip so much death into it without anybody noticing – a bit like life.

I could write a lot about A Serious Man but Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review says everything else, and in fact that review is damn near as perfect as the film.