Friday, 25 December 2009


Here we are again, the unavoidable 25th! I wouldn't mind Christians celebrating the supposed birth of Christ (though if his birthday was noted at all it would have been in the Hebrew calendar), but why did they allow the festival of the mother and babe to be replaced by the festival of the red-cloaked Father, symbol of the economic power of the male? The most amazing thing is that most of the work of this festival of patriarchy is done by women; not only do they do much of the present-buying but they also have to do most of the cooking.

My mother was not an ardent feminist, but she always signed her presents 'Mother Christmas'. That was after I had discovered the awful truth; at the age of six I found my infant scrawl to Father Christmas in the bottom drawer of my parents' desk. I did not cease to cross-examine my poor mother until she had admitted that she was the bringer of presents. I felt deeply aggrieved at this deception, and my faith in my parents was badly dented.

The other thing that gave me a lifelong dislike of Father Christmas was his supposed method of entry, down the chimney. I had been told and re-told the story of the wolf and the three little pigs, in which the wolf gets into the house by the same route, and I knew there were foxes in the garden. Father X became intimately tangled in my mind with these terrible carnivores. It was one thing to hear about a wolf in a faraway country eating little pigs; it was quite another to know that our own chimney had been used by Father X, and it meant that a fox might come the same way to get me. It was only when I actually saw a fox, not much bigger than a cat, that I finally shook off this phobia. Moral: do not lie to children!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Merry Solstice

Greetings on this, the one singular day in December, the end of shortening days! Help to reclaim our good old pagan festival from the Christians who have moved it to the wrong day, who celebrate it for the wrong reason and who have sold it to commerce. Today is the day to enjoy good food that has cost no animal its life and to drink good wine without drunkenness.

When they moved the beginning of the year to midwinter, they got the wrong day. The year should really start with the solstice. That would have avoided the eight days of suspended life that now runfrom 24th December to 1st January.

And while on my annual grumble, could those who spend public money please stop pouring it into reminders of the Christian festivals? Either that or be equally lavish in marking the Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other feast days. Weeks of Christmas, Christmas , Christmas make it hard for non-Christians to feel at home.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


My dying computer has just swallowed a whole page of blog. Very discouraging! It was to say that I'm reading a brilliant book The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion by Finkel and Leibovitz. It shows, with massive documentation, that Chamberlain was not a peace-lover hoodwinked by evil Hitler but a scheming warmonger who thought, like most of the Conservative Party, that they could use Hitler to destroy Soviet communism. Chamberlain told Hitler he could have a free hand in Eastern Europe as long as he didn't attack the West and the British Empire. It was only when Hitler made his pact with Stalin in August 1939 that Chamberlain realized he might make war on France and Britain, but even then he still hoped for an accommodation. Only the invasion of France put an end to his machinations.

Britain had already shown complete contempt for the League of Nations and all it stood for. We had allowed Mussolini to invade Ethiopia, Japan to take over Manchuria, Hitler to remilitarize the Rhineland, rebuild his armed forces and annex Austria, and we had said nothing when Germany and Italy helped Franco to overthrow the elected government of Spain. And yet here we are seventy years later showing exactly the same contempt for the United Nations and international law, conducting foreign policy as if all that matters is the protection of our misconceived interests, propping up corrupt governmments and arming crazy dictators. There can be no peace without justice, but do our governments even want peace?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Bushy Rabbit is still occupying the garage. No serious gnawing yet, but he knocked over a broomstick. He seems to have thought it was a minaret, so he takes himself for a Swiss vigilante. I hope the Swiss will now go all the way and ban the building of churches with belfreys - bell-free churches only please! No seriously, how Nazi can you get without being Nazi? Don't they remember what Hitler did to Jews?

The big joke is that people claim Muslims are against pluralism. Goodness! Don't they know that Muslims restored pluralism to the Eastern Mediterranean after the Byzantine emperors had spent three centuries trying to eliminate every religion except orthodox Christianity? It was the British who enabled most of Palestine to be turned into a state for one religion, endangering the peace of the whole region.

I've just watched a mind-numbing set of interviews with Sarah Palin fans. It seems that the best qualification for being U.S. President is that no one knows your policies, as long as they are thought to be far-right. One bloke thought that Obama's books were about Marxism-Leninism. There was a nice spelling mistake: Sarah Plain!

Thursday, 26 November 2009


How shocking that Obama's administration has announced that it will not sign a treaty banning land-mines! Does he imagine that they present any military advantage that will out-weigh the negative impact on his image? And where are we on cluster bombs and biological weapons? I don't follow military diplomacy, but I don't expect any surprises there either. This is all beginning to look like Clinton mark two.

On the home front I have been invaded by a rabbit whom I can only call Bushy. As soon as he arrived in the house he set about occupying my Iraqi carpet. He never crossed the frontier on to the Algerian one though. Lucky I don't have an Afghan rug. After a fortnight's occupation he suddenly launched himself at my ankle like an exocet, teeth foremost. He did it twice just in case I didn't understand the first time. My only offence was to walk across 'his' carpet. Next morning I offered him his democratic rights and left the French windows open. After five minutes thought he chose the garden. Now he has occupied the garage. I wonder whether a rabbit can gnaw a hole in a bicycle tyre.

I would have liked to get him vaccinated, but he never gave me a chance to catch him. I reckon he needs psychoanalysis. He was probably taken away from his mother too young, and his six weeks in a pet shop must have been traumatic. I am not in favour of pet-keeping anyway, so the whole episode has reinforced my prejudice.

Monday, 23 November 2009

It was amusing to see the conservative press shedding tears because the EU has not chosen A. Blair as the President of the Council. He is apparently the man 'who could stop the traffic in Peking'. Why not Baghdad? If he stepped into a road there several cars would drive straight at him, and good riddance. But I suppose all this is useful confirmation that the said Blair is the darling of all true-blue market fundamentalists. I haven't heard recently how he is getting on in his job as adviser to J P Morgan on their Iraq investments; perhaps business is not booming quite as he had hoped - or perhaps there are too many booms!

I read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine recently. One of the most interesting chapters describes how G W Bush privatized war. The US Army has been reduced to a provider of bodies for corporations to dress, feed, transport and arm. Haliburton, ex-VP Cheney's company, has done particularly well; they receive soldiers in gigantic camps that they have built all over Iraq and Afghanistan, just like a sort of military Butlins. All these corporations make huge profits out of supplying the army with everything it needs, and of course the US taxpayer foots the bill. The nasty thing is that if so many shareholders do so well out of war, they have a strong incentive to press for more wars. Now how about bombing Iran, you guys?

Having said that I can't resist the chance to have another dig at this horrible expression 'you guys'. It seems the word 'you' is just too short, like Spanish 'vos', which can't stand on its own but has to drag 'otros' along behind. Anyway, 'guy' is masculine. You couldn't possible call Madonna a guy. In the same language she is a 'doll'. So it gives me the creeps to hear a young woman saying to a group of women 'Hey you guys'. Just when we've all learnt that a minister or a doctor is not necessarily 'he', here comes sexist language again by the back door.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Somebody has complained about me not blogging. That is the nicest thing that has happened for months, and here is the response.

There was a news item a couple of days ago that really took my breath away. Obama is planning to send thousands of civilian advisers to Afghanistan to tell the Afghans how to run their country. There was a clip of these civilians training in their flak jackets and steel helmets. They will have to go around with military escorts and Afghan translators, so you can imagine the scene: 'Howdy folks! I'm your new civilian adviser; don't take no notice of these soldiers, they're just here to keep me company. Now Ahmad, explain that in Pashtoo.'

I had a visit from an American friend today. He's been in Saudi Arabia for most of the last twenty years, so he knows what happens when well-meaning Americans tell other countries how to run their affairs. He agreed that this idea of civilian advisers is just pathetic. I suppose it all goes back to the days when self-righteous puritans crossed the Atlantic to get away from the corruption of the Old World and set up their ideal society. They seem to have succeeded in handing down the idea that America is uniquely good, 'God's Own Country'.

It would be nice if we knew how to run our own countries. I came across a blog recently, saying that Labour has ruined this country 'as they always do'. In fact the financial collapse of the past two years is the long-term result of decisions taken in 1979, when Mrs Thatcher came to power. She subscribed to the thoery that countries progress from a primitive state in which they mainly produce raw materials, through an industrial stage, to become finally a 'service economy' that earns its way in the world by supplying services such as banking and insurance. Her government set about systematically demolishing the regulations that controlled the financial sector. The City has since just grown and grown. Labour's great mistake - and it was heartily embraced by Brown - was to continue this policy to the bitter end.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Barking mad!

It was very sad to see Americans on TV barking at each other over health care reform. They really seem to hate each other. One young man yelled at a 50-something stranger that she was too old to survive under Obama's system. There are lunatic claims that public provision is nazism or communism - or both!

The town-hall meeting looks like anything but democracy, more like a lynch-mob. There seems to be no procedure, no formal proposing and opposing of a motion, just a roomful of people shouting at the tops of their voices. How can you have democracy when people won't even let each other speak, let alone listen to what they say.

I begin to despair of America. Perhaps the only way to save the world from its excessive weight is for the US economy to collapse. It used to seem that sooner or later there must be a run on the dollar, but no country dares to sell some of its dollars for fear of seeing the rest lose their value. And one of Saddam Hussein's 'crimes' was wanting to be paid for oil in euros.

Friday, 21 August 2009


I've just read The spirit level: why more equal societies almost always do better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It is a brilliant book, though I'd like to have had more information on some of their graphs. The conclusion is that great inequality such as exists in America and Britain makes most aspects of life worse for everyone and not just for the poorest.

I conclude that Obama's effort to reform health-care in America is misplaced; the prime objective should be to reduce the levels of inequality, after which the cost of health care would be much reduced. He is risking defeat on a reform that will make only a marginal difference. The same applies to the British NHS, which has become a National Sickness Service, struggling to pay for a lot of treatments that ought never to have become necessary.

Looking back I wonder where Britain took a wrong turning. Back in the 1950s and 60s we seemed to be becoming a less unequal society; many people from poor backgrounds were rising in society and there was a lot more trust. Perhaps the greatest mistake of the Attlee government in the 1940s was to leave ownership of the newspapers in the hands of millionaires; they should have facilitated trustee ownership. Also, that was the moment to take away the charitable status of public schools, which have never been for the public in general.

Mrs Thatcher knew who she owed her success to, and one of her main projects was to make newspaper ownership more profitable and to allow combined ownership of different media. The result has been a general dumbing down of the sources of information and the victory of the hollow celebrity culture. Can the internet help to find solutions? Take a look at the website of the book:

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Sorry (if there's anyone to apologize to!) - I'd almost forgotten I had a blog. Partly because it doesn't seem to get any comments, which makes it a lonely business. I've been very busy writing the ecology book that I've promised myself to do. I've drafted 14 chapters out of 18, but some of the early ones will have to be substantially rewritten because the project evolves as it goes along.

Having stopped reading newspapers and listening to the Today programme (because we have a washing-up machine, so I don't spend time at the sink in the morning), I have had to fall back on Channel 4 for the best of a bad bunch of TV news programmes. At the moment we have 20 minutes a day on Afghanistan, where our troops were supposed to go "without a shot fired". Now they talk about us having to stay for 40 years.

When are these idiot politicians going to understand that occupation is the problem? Ever since Lloyd-George decided to take over the Ottoman lands we've had nothing but trouble. Now, instead of seeing that invasion was a mistake, they are talking about how to dig in further. And with the recession, army recruitment is booming. I am staggered by the remilitarization of British culture. Back in the 1960s we thought we were going to turn into a peaceful country like Switzerland or Norway.

Part of the trouble is that it seems to pay off. Having left Parliament to a standing ovation, Prof Blair is now combines five jobs - Peace Envoy to the Middle East(!!!), Advocate for Africa, Adviser on Climate Change, Iraq Consultant to J P Morgan (he knows such a lot about oil!) and Professor of Religious (sic) Studies at Yale. And he hopes to become President of Europe!!!! It makes you dizzy!

Saturday, 4 July 2009


People tell me I look rather fierce. I think that is because, being smaller than me, they look up at my face from below. Take a mirror and check for yourself. Place the mirror below face level, keeping your mouth as straight as you can, and the image seems to curve down. Put it higher and your lips seem to curl into a smile, although you haven't moved them. This is because the mouth is never straight; it curves back at the sides - 'up' seen from above and 'down' from below.

Evolution has made men on average taller than women. So does this mean that men are more likely to look stern to women than to each other, and women more friendly? Certainly children usually look up at adults and are more likely to see the corners of their mouths as turning down. Perhaps the curled-lip smile, as opposed to the toothy smile, evolved partly to counteract this signal. Perhaps the respect shown to tall people results partly from their apparently stern lips. There's an experiment for someone to do.

Monday, 29 June 2009

The most important invention

I was reading The Skeptical Adaptationist (Randy Nesse's blog) and came across the discussion about the most important invention of the past 2000 years. He suggested printing. I would say the contraceptive pill, because of its effect on human behaviour.

Feminism has been around at least since the French Revolution, but it only began to take off when the pill gave women control over their own fertility. I remember a discussion at breakfast in my Oxford college in 1961. The other students, all male, were excited at the thought that women would no longer have an excuse not to yield to them. I argued that this would mean the end of marriage as we knew it and perhaps the collapse of parenthood. At the time all my women friends were scrambling to get engaged before their last undergraduate year ended. Every week someone else started showing off her ring.

And what has happened? Where the pill is freely available hardly any students think of marriage. People live together for years without marrying. The age of first pregnancy has moved from the mid twenties into the early thirties. A large proportion of young women say they never want babies, and some are freezing their eggs in anticipation of perhaps choosing motherhood when they are past menopause. The birth rate in most of Europe has fallen below replacement rate. In fact this one factor alone has slowed down the world's population growth and may reverse it just in time to prevent calamity.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

The audacity of boats

Welcome back to the A of B blog! And thank you for reminding us of the self immolation of Jan Palach. I don't remember his suicide as having had much effect. It was one thing to be burnt by the Inquisition - witness the Martyr's Memorial in Oxford, which still sends a chill after nearly five centuries. It is another thing to burn yourself. It seems a sort of self-indulgence to try to make yourself a martyr if no one else will do it for you.

I got a shock today when I googled a church for a bit of research and found that it advertises itself as "a traditional catholic orthodox anglican parish, faithful to the apostolic church and 3-fold (male) priestly ministry". It is as if the Oxford martyrs had died for nothing. The differences with catholicism that cost them their lives have been sponged away, together with the differences between catholic and orthodox that split the churches a thousand years ago. You don't get rid of conflicts by pretending that they never existed.

Obama's speech in Cairo was a brave attempt to mend fences between America and the world's Muslims, but he is still carrying some very heavy baggage. He called the Iraq invasion a "war of choice" as opposed to the one in Afghanistan which is a "necessary war", but he did not apologize for the former, nor did he see the colonial flavour of big, rich, mainly Christian or post-Christian countries trying to impose their solution on a small poor Muslim-majority country. No foreign power has ever managed to control Afghanistan, and eventually NATO is going to have to negotiate with its opponents, so the sooner the better.

I don't deny that the Taliban ideologues are oppressive bigots, but peoples have to conduct their own revolutions, and the presence of foreign armies makes that very difficult, perhaps impossible; can anyone give me an example of a country that transformed itself under occupation? Post-war Germany and Japan are not examples, because they resumed change in a direction they had been moving in before they were taken over by warmongers.

Monday, 25 May 2009


All the big boys have lined up to condemn North Korea for its nuclear test, but when will the world ever learn that the worst way to deal with a rogue state is to isolate it and threaten it? That just enables the delinquent rulers to tell the people what danger they are in and to strengthen their grip. The way to encourage "regime change" is to remove the threats and lower the tension.

I am not sure that Iran should really be called a rogue state. It's electoral system is not much less democratic than that of Great Britain, and if it has a nuclear weapons programme it is surely defensive and not offensive. Iran has not invaded a neighbour for centuries, and the ancient Persian empires were more devolved and multi-cultural than most European ones.

Israel, which has invaded its neighbours at least six times in 61 years, has never been put under pressure for its nuclear weaponry. Indeed it has never admitted to possessing it. Mordechai Vanunu, who alerted the world to the scale of the problem in 1986, was kidnapped, spent 18 years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, and is now not allowed to emigrate from Israel. If the world can't condemn Israel it should not condemn anyone.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Nakba Day! Anniversary of the declaration of independence of Israel and the formal beginning of 61 years of war. So let's pay attention to Sri-Lanka and Burma, where other peoples are being oppressed in their own lands. The cases are not strictly parallel of course; historic situations never are. The Tamils never were the majority in Sri-Lanka, and many of them are descended from ancestors brought in by the British as cheap labour, but they are a big minority - the majority in large areas of the North - and now they are being attacked by a government that offers them no option but surrender. Burma is controlled by one of the most appalling regimes in the world, which has never accepted its defeat in the only general election it ever organized, and which maintains its people in poverty and ignorance.

Just as Palestine was abandoned to Zionism thanks to President Truman of America, who used his power to swing the vote in the UN, so the Burmese generals are kept in power with Chinese complicity and the Sri-Lankan government owes much to Japanese aid and investment. The wider world too has a share of responsibility, failing to use the methods which were so successful in putting an end to apartheid in South Africa.

But the main point I want to make is that no one blames Buddhism for oppression in Burma and Sri-Lanka - two countries with Buddhist majorities, and no one should blame Jews or Judaism for oppression of the non-Jewish minority in Israel and of the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. The aims and methods of Zionism owe nothing to the religion of the great prophets who shaped the Jewish religion, and many of those who most vehemently denounce Israel do so in the name of Judaism.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Stern reality

Last night I listened to a talk by Nicholas Stern, now Lord Stern, on climate change. He was very lucid on the risks that we run, but less so on the remedies. At one point he said 'No doubt, economic growth can't go on forever', but he didn't follow it up. In fact he was talking about how to resume economic growth in a way that reduces our greenhouse emissions. But he spoke only of action by governments and corporations; he did not talk about how individual life-styles can and must change drastically. He made no mention of the fact that livestock production is thought to emit more greenhouse gas than motor cars, though eating less meat is probably the greatest single contribution each of us in the rich countries can make.

The fundamental problem is one of differences in wealth and income. As long as some people are vastly richer than others, the rich will be able to go on spending on forms of consumption with a big carbon footprint. The only way to distribute cuts fairly is by rationing. In World War Two, the British willingly accepted ration books, which ensured that there was enough food for everyone and that we all shared the hardships. Genuine action on climate change will feel like a war; time to rediscover rationing!

Not that it will be easy! Electricity, for example, can be produced from anything from near zero to 100% fossil fuels. It would therefore be difficult to ration its use according to its carbon footprint. Perhaps the simplest would be to ration a few things with a large footprint, such as meat, gas, petrol and coal. This would also have the psychological effect of reminding people repeatedly that all consumption has ecological costs.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Hawks and doves.

Shimon Peres, architect of Israel's nuclear programme in the 1960s, has managed for fifty years to pass as a dove, so what is a hawk like? He has been in Washington this week, warming up the Administration for Netanyahu's visit next week. He warns that Iran's alleged search for nuclear weapons threatens the whole world.

Perhaps it won't work. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said on Tuesday that America wants Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. How awkward it is that Iran is already a signatory, and indeed is on the committee preparing the review conference for next year!

Despite all the propaganda about Ahmadinejad being the new Hitler, there is nothing to suggest that Iranians are irrational. If they obtained nuclear weapons they would be subject to the same logic that kept America and the Soviet Union from mutual destruction. Nor should the language of 'wiping Israel off the map' be taken as a call for the wiping out of Israelis. East and West Germany were wiped off the map twenty years ago without anyone getting killed. The world would be a more peaceful place if those Israelis who don't want to share a state on equal terms with Palestinians went back home to America, Australia, South Africa, Russia and Europe.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Muslims helping Jews helping Muslims

A Palestinian friend sent the following inspirational piece:-

From a talk by Hussein Hamdani

"In his recent book, Among The Righteous (Public Affairs Press), Robert Satloff, who has served since 1993 as executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, unearths the lost stories of Arabs who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

When the Nazis occupied the countries of North Africa and sought to round up Jews and expropriate Jewish property, Satloff notes: 'In every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the persecution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the anti- Jewish campaign spin more efficiently. ... And there were occasions when certain Arabs chose to do more than just offer moral support to Jews. They bravely saved Jewish lives, at times risking their own in the process. Those Arabs were true heroes.'

Nor was it only in North Africa that Muslims saved Jews. During the Nazi occupation, the Grand Mosque of Paris provided sanctuary for Jews hiding from German and Vichy troops, and provided certificates of Muslim identity to untold numbers of Jews.

Satloff quotes reports describing the mosque 'as a virtual Grand Central Station for the Underground Railroad of Jews in France.' This story is told in a 1991 film Une Resistance Oubliee: La Mosquee de Paris (A Forgotten Resistance: The Mosque of Paris) by Derri Berkani, a French documentary filmmaker of Algerian Berber origin.

Albania, a European country with a Muslim majority, succeeded where other European nations failed in dealing with Nazi Germany. Almost all Jews living within Albanian borders during the German occupation -- those of Albanian origin and refugees alike -- were saved. It is the only European country occupied by the Nazis to come out of the Second World War with more Jews then before the conflict.

Norman Gershman has profiled many Albanian Muslims in a photography exhibition and book titled Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II. Besa is a code of honour inspired by the Holy Qur'an and deeply rooted in Albanian tradition demanding one take responsibility for the lives of others in their time of need."


Throughout the Middle Ages, Muslims and Jews supported each other in the face of Christian hostility. When they were expelled from Spain and Portugal they fled together to Ottoman lands, where they could live in peace. In the twentieth century, the Zionist leaders decided to get Christian backing for their plan to expel Palestinians from their country. Given that most Christian Zionists in America see the return of all Jews to Israel as the prelude to their conversion to Christianity, Armageddon and the Last Judgement, I doubt whether it is wise for Israelis to put their trust in that kind of Christian "friends".

It is time for Muslims and Jews to realize that they are each other's real friends. The loudest and boldest voices calling for an end to Israeli racism and oppression are Jewish. Both inside and outside Israel there are dozens of Jewish organizations calling for justice and democracy for Palestinians. It is easy to see why: Zionism is a secular movement, bringing the Jewish religion into disrepute and seeking to involve all Jews in responsibility for past and present injustices. The future lies in Muslim-Jewish collaboration as equal partners within a multi-cultural democratic state.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Armenian Meds Yeghern

Well, we wondered what Obama would say on Armenian Genocide Day (the 24th). Well now we know that he didn't say 'genocide'; diplomacy prevailed and he restricted himself to Meds Yeghern, Armenian for 'great calamity' - better than nothing, but not what he promised last year! Next question: what about 15th May? Will he say it in Arabic - that the Palestinians suffered the Nakba? That too was a great calamity, and it is still going on. And what about the indigenous Americans and Australians and other victims of past racially driven calamities? Will we never admit what our ancestors did?

I wonder what people will remember about the Durban II conference on racism. Most of the media portrayed it as an anti-Israeli rant, a 'hate-fest', personified by Ahmadinejad, but from the blogs of eye-witnesses it accomplished a great deal of good work to restore UN ideals. Actually, the final declaration does not mention Israel or Palestine at all. The motives of those who railed against it seem to be purely negative - to discredit the UN and all it stands for.

Suspiciously, the same people who complained about Darfur II were furious also about Obama revealing details of the Bush Administration's torture methods. They said both that it hadn't been torture at all, and that now Al-Qaida would know that in future they will not be tortured - an interesting example of not having your cake and not eating it!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Now he's admitted it: The bank bailout is going to cost us at least £220 billion, probably much more. What folly it was to save the banks! They should have nationalized the lot. It would have been cheap at the low prices shares had reached. Then they could all have been relaunched as mutuals or cooperatives, owned by their customers and their staff.

Well there's one obvious way to recoup some of our losses: cancel Trident replacement and stop posing as a Great Power. The latest estimate for the cost was £70 billion, but you can rely on that to increase as the £ slides further against the $. Oh dear, the dollar! I was forgetting that British defence and foreign policy are made in Washington. The Americans won't let us cancel an export order for billions of dollars.

Well at least we haven't yet climbed on the bandwaggon to convert the world to US-style Christianity. Here's a little taste of what is coming - and don't laugh!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


What a pity Pres. Amadinejad puts himself forward as spokesman for the Palestinians! He did just what Israeli propagandists wanted. If he had been intelligent, he would have started by talking about the Chinese colonization of Tibet and the Indonesian colonization of West New Guinea and then have moved on to point out that the Zionist colonization of Palestine is exactly the same thing, and he would have thrown in a reference to the Turkish colonization of Western Armenia and the European colonization of the Americas, Australia etc., though it is too late to do anything about that. He would then have been speaking for all colonized peoples.

In fact what he said about Israel is mostly true. It is a colony set up by Europeans, its definition of full citizenship is based on ethnic ancestry (the same definition of Jewishness as was used by Hitler), it was established by driving out most of its indigenous population - 3/4 of a million; it has occupied the rest of Palestine for more than 40 years and is illegally creating more and more settlements there; it has invaded Egypt twice and Lebanon three times and it is occupying part of Syria; it is blockading Gaza and recently attacked it brutally; it was allowed to develop nuclear weapons with impunity... But the fear of being accused of anti-Semitism still seems to be effective in preventing any serious criticism by the West. Anti-Zionist Jews are the only people doing a good job of exposing the wrongs.

Still, when can we expect truth from politicians?! Last night on Channel Four there was a documentary on the banking collapse. They included half a dozen clips of Gordon Brown making speeches in praise of the City and saying how good it was that the financial sector was leading British growth. It has been amusing the past week hearing these fantastic leaders claiming to see "green shoots" of recovery - exactly the same language that we heard in the early 1990s when the Conservatives were in the depths of a recession they had created.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Glove puppets

Notice to the makers of glove puppets: please give them a pair of back legs - and a tail if appropriate! And please could we have some monkeys. I make this heartfelt plea because I wanted to give a four-legged monkey puppet to my grandson Louis, who has just had his second birthday. I had a beloved monkey myself when I was little, and I wanted the same for him. In a week of visits to toy-shops and after examining hundreds of puppets, I found only one with four legs, and it was a kangaroo.

Do the makers of glove puppets not realize the gnawing anguish of children who find that the lower half of their animal has been chopped off? And what on earth can be the reason for this fatal amputation? It cannot be prudishness, since this is the age of anatomically correct dolls, and we have long-since accepted those that wet their nappies. Is this some left-over Platonic prejudice - the idea that the important part of the soul lies in the head and chest? What kangaroo would subscribe to that?!

So there's a business opportunity for someone - a real gap in the market - a chance to climb out of your own recession and to help revive the Chinese economy - an opportunity to spread the love of primates to a new generation! Step in quickly with an order for ten thousand four-legged apes and monkeys; your reward will be in the non-Platonic paradise on earth.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Daily pap

Walking through the sunny streets of London yesterday, I was offered a free paper dozens of times. I did once look at one of these and saw that it contained nothing but trivialities - and masses of advertisements. It is amazing that advertisers can think it is worth the tens of thousands of pounds a day spent on printing and distributing this pap. And seeing people in the tube staring at their free papers, I couldn't help thinking they'd do better to close their eyes and meditate. I hope at least that most of the paper gets recycled, but it would have been better not to cut the trees down in the first place. Perhaps there should be a heavy tax on the producers, with the proceeds used to subsidize real newspapers.

In contrast, I passed a few forlorn Big Issue sellers. I wonder how their daily earnings compare with those of the people who hand out free papers. They certainly have to work harder, looking at passers by, addressing them, thanking them for not buying, wishing them a good day... It must be rather dispiriting. I have to admit that I don't buy the Big Issue; I have more than enough to read already, and I think there are better ways of giving to charity. In Oxford there are only a few sellers, and once you've bought from them it is hard to walk past and not buy again. I'd rather just give them a coin, but I'm afraid they might find that humiliating.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


British politics seems to have descended into complete idiocy. For days we have endless discussions over what Gordon Brown knew or did not know about the antics of one of his stooges and whether he should or should not apologize. Meanwhile unemployment rises, pension funds sag, families lose their homes... and abroad Gaza suffocates, Iraq struggles, Pakistan smoulders, Thailand explodes...

Our parliament is such a charade. Having won a majority of the seats with the support of a quarter of the electorate (as usual), our rulers seem to think only of how to cling to power and the opposition only of how to wrest it from them. Liberal voters have not formed a government in living memory, and no honest republican can enter parliament, since an oath of allegiance to the Crown is required. Yet, when Labour and Blair were 're-elected' in 2005, people did not pour into the streets to protest.

The latest headline 'news': a rat spotted in Downing Street, and the leader of the opposition (whose party was in power for 18 years) says that Labour has been so long (12 years) that it has forgotten whom it serves. Good for the rat! Perhaps if we had a lot more rats and mice, people might begin to protest.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Torture Friday

I have always thought it strange that a day commemorating the torturing to death of an innocent man is called 'Good' Friday. I fear that this obsession with torture is what led to Christianity being the only religion to torture and kill people for not believing in it. Admittedly the Romans might kill you for not worshipping the Emperor, but as long as you paid lip-service to him they didn't care what you believed.

This morning on the news Mr Blair was assuring us that he worries every day about the numbers killed in Iraq, but he still thinks it was right to remove Saddam. Does he really believe it was legal under international law? And was it legal to refuse self-determination to Palestine when we were occupying it for 30 years? And was it legal to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 when he nationalized Iranian oil? And was it legal to collude with Israel and France to invade Suez in 1956? And was it legal to impose crippling sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s? And is it legal to threaten Iran for its nuclear energy programme while turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear weapons? Muslims can hardly be blamed for noticing that the victims of all these injustices were Muslim. Mr Blair and Mr Brown should issue an apology for all Britain's past mistakes.

We were also told that Mr Blair reads the Holy Koran every day; I wonder whether he has learnt Arabic now, after nearly two years as Peace Envoy to the Middle East. Anyway he should take notice of sura 41 verse 34: 'Respond to a bad deed with a better, and the one with whom you were enemies will be like a best friend.' He could start by talking to Hamas, not that their Kassam rockets were a very effective bad deed.

PS I write Koran, not Qur'an because Arabic Q is a sound that English-speakers cannot pronounce, and English QU is pronounced KW which is not appropriate. As for the apostrophe (glottal stop), most Arabs don't pronounce it in normal speech.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Alternative transport

Eurostar is terribly expensive so I chose to come back from Paris by ferry and coach. Surprisingly, it is cheaper to get to Calais by Eurostar than by taking an ordinary express train and changing at Lille. Only two of us got off at Calais; the other one was a retired engineer who supplements his meagre pension by practising homeopathy, faith healing etc. He assumed I had got off because I hated the tunnel. In fact I love it but don't like the price. In case anyone is interested, Paris to Calais was 19-odd euros, Calais to Dover 15, and Dover to Victoria £6-odd, total about £40 (all with old-folks' discounts). Journey time 6 hours.

London after Paris seemed old and tired. Coming in through Lewisham and Peckham it looks as though nothing has been repaired or repainted or washed for decades. And walking around Victoria I thought the provision for cyclists very primitive compared with those in Paris, and we still don't have the "velib" - free bikes that you can pick up and put down all over Paris using something like an oyster card (or with a one-euro-a-day permit). The system works because a central computer keeps a constantly updated record of who has which bike.

Getting into Britain is quite a hassle. I had to show my passport and go through security twice, taking off my belt and purse as well as emptying my pockets and having my bags scanned. Our failure to see ourselves as part of Europe is a constant aggravation to me. Fifty years ago there was no such problem; educated people accepted that our history, geography, language and culture were European, and when we wanted to make a distinction it was between Britain and "the Continent". Now people call that which is not British "Europe". I blame Margaret Thatcher. For my part I feel European before British and human before European, and I am happy to call myself a mammal. Citizens of the Earth, unite!

Saturday, 4 April 2009


After three weeks in France I would not be surprised if the barricades went up in Paris this summer. There is a lot of anger over all the house repossessions, job losses, devalued pensions... Everyone seems to know of some firm that has gone bust or someone who is desitute. There is also a deeper contempt for the President than I ever remember. Many people disliked de Gaulle or Giscard or Mitterand or Chirac, but they did not despise them. Sarkozy has made himself ridiculous, and he share's Tony Blair's excessive fondness for the company of very rich people. This week in Paris there seemed to be surprise that London had been first to see violent demonstrations.

The idea that the G20 meeting has solved anything seems far-fetched. As long as the dollar continues to seve as international currency nothing fundamental will change. As a visitor to the Eurozone I am painfully aware of the weakness of the pound: five pounds for a sandwich!! But it would be no improvement if the euro replaced the dollar. A multinational currency is not the same thing as an international one.

John Major should have sold British Rail to the SNCF. What wonderful trains the French have! Paris to Lyon in less than two hours! No one flies for any journey of less than 500 kilometres. The one thing I can't afford is the Eurostar from Paris to London, but it will take me to Calais for only 19 euros, and ferry and coach will complete the journey for a fraction of the cost of the full treatment. I've started reading Désert by Le Clézio, which is magnificent, so I shan't grudge the extra time.

PS As I write this I hear a noisy demonstration coming up the street, and now police sirens...

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The future for Israel-Palestine

At a meeting on February 23rd for Hesder yeshiva students about to enter the Israeli Army. Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior delivered a fiery and overtly political speech, calling for Israeli sovereignty over the whole of the Land of Israel and criticizing what he described as weak-minded IDF strategies in the face of Israel's enemies.

Citing the Torah, Lior noted that "200,000 Israelites and 10,000 Judahites fought Amalek. Why are the Judahites counted separately from the others? Because the Israelite army pitied Amalek. Today this is called being humanitarian.... Only the tribe of Judah did not pity Amalek, and destroyed it... The sons of Torah are taught not to pity their enemies.... We need ethics from the Torah, not the Christian world, which teaches to turn the other cheek. This hypocrisy is against human nature."

(Jerusalem Post 25.2.2009).

It is sad to hear such a travesty of Judaism from a rabbi. He forgets that Jesus was a Jew and that when he said "Love your neighbour as you love yourself." he was quoting the Torah. Ruthless warfare against people of another religion is more characteristic of those who launched the Crusades and the pogroms against Muslims and Jews. It was not part of Jewish history for two and a half thousand years - until it was revived by Israel.

Information has emerged that the CIA has prepared a confidential report, now no longer confidential, forecasting that the attempt to maintain Israel as a colonial state will collapse within 20 years, giving way to a one-state solution, giving equal rights and freedom of movement to citizens of all religions and of none, and accepting the return of the Palestinian refugees. It is suggested that up to two million Israelis will prefer to emigrate, mostly to the USA.

A democratic, secular, highly devolved and demilitarized state would presumably cease to be attractive to those who are 'Jewish' only by 'racial' criteria and would instead be a magnet to those who define themselves by their Jewish religion.

One may hope that the 'racial/national' definition of Jewishness will then disappear and people will be happy to forget what religion someone's ancestors followed. However there is now an Israeli nation of people who were born in Israel and who speak Hebrew as their first language. Justice and equality requires that they be allowed to continue to live in the country of their birth. Any attempt to expel them or to force them to abandon their language would be as heinous as the attempt to deprive Palestinians of their rights.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

How to spell Anglican

Some people think I am exaggerating when I say that Christianity is dying in Britain, so here are two stories:

I was queuing in the Oxford University Press bookshop in High Street, and the American woman in front of me asked if they had any books on Anglicanism.
Assistant: "How do you spell Anglicanism?"
American: "It's just Anglican plus ism."
Assistant: "Yes, but how do you spell Anglican?"

The other story I can't vouch for. Someone was trying to buy a crucifix pendant.
Assistant: "Do you want the plain one or the one with a little man?"

Well, two stories don't make a history, but there are plenty of other signs. So why do we still have an Established Church? And, as long as we do, how can we complain about Iran being an Islamic Republic.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Mutualize the lot!

So now the mighty Lloyds Bank group has fallen, and the taxpayer is responsible for hundreds of billions of pounds of dodgy assets. We should remember that Lloyds-TSB-Halifax-BoS was put together under government pressure out of what were originally two rather cautious banks (Lloyds and Bank of Scotland) and two mutuals (Halifax Building Society and Trustee Savings Bank). Mrs Thatcher took TSB away from its savers, on whose behalf it was run by the trustees, using very expensive legal procedures to show that its statutes were not watertight. The Halifax was one of several mutuals that went private with disastrous results (Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley were two others) after conservative legislation allowed them to be sold off by the votes of carpet-baggers. So the roots of all this go back to the 1980s and 90s.

So why do we not take all the banks into public ownership? The old Soviet Union enjoyed 70 years without inflation. It also had low rates of growth, but that was quite right in a world of growing population and shrinking resources. Should we not then nationalize the lot? The trouble with that is that it puts too much power into the hands of politicians who, we know too well, are fallible. The answer is surely in mutual or cooperative ownership. The Cooperative Bank is a shining example of how banks should be run.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Darwin marred

Andrew Marr's TV programme on 'Darwin's dangerous idea' was a travesty. He jumped very quickly to German Imperialism and Hitler, as if modern ideological warfare were based on the misunderstanding of Darwin. In fact racism, slavery and colonial invasion had already been increasing for centuries. The British suppression of the Indian Uprising, which had been provoked by the attempt to convert Indians to Christianity, and the shameful massacre of the civilian population of Delhi happened the year before Darwin published The Origin of Species.

In fact Darwinism is only dangerous to the belief that humans are separate from and superior to all other forms of life. Hindus, Buddhists and Jains have no problems in accepting that we evolved from animals, and nor did educated Muslims until they were infected with American-style creationism.

Actually I think creationism should be seen as anti-religious. The idea that the forms of living things are fixed for all time is contrary to the belief that God alone does not change. In the words of the hymn: 'Change and decay in all around I see, O Thou who changest not, abide with me.'

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A chink of light?

Two things suggest there might be some movement in US/UK attitudes to Israel and Palestine. The first is that Obama has appointed Charles Freeman as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He has in the past alarmed Israel by saying that Israeli interests are not the same as American interests. He pointed out in 2007 that Hamas was "the only democratically elected government in the Arab world.

The other possible sign of change, though I long since ceased to hope for anything from Mr Blair, is that he has at long last visited Gaza. He was careful not to meet Hamas, but he was visibly shocked by the destruction he saw. He made a remark that sounded odd even from him: "given the numbers of people that have died I find the conversation about proportionality not really a sensible conversation to have." It sounds as though he means that the disproportionality is so enormous that there is no point in arguing the contrary.

On another subject, poor old Scotland! Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland are both at the bottom of the pile. So much for Scottish prudence! Well, at least people should no longer make jokes about the Scots being mean! They seem to be ready to lend money to any charlatan who asks for it.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

2176 days

US/UK troops have been in Iraq 2176 days. That is equal to the whole of World War II from Hitler's invasion of Poland to the capitulation of Japan. And it is not over yet. Obama says he'll take out combat troops in August 2010, but there will still be lots of non-combat troops, and the biggest American embassy in the world. And NATO's war in Afghanistan goes on. Also, it is now official that there is to be no change in Palestine either. Hillary heaped praise on the discredited leadership of the PLO, and said not a word about Hamas. And you can be sure that America will continue to shore up the regimes in Egypt, Arabia and the Gulf. Business as usual!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Calculus of War

I have just read in quick succession Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves and A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin. The first gives you the experience of the common soldier, slithering about in the trenches, struggling to kill without being killed. The second whisks you up to the level of the ministers and generals, calculating in terms of fronts and divisions, ready to throw away half a million lives to gain a few miles. The big change since 1914-18 is that the leaders of the rich countries now reckon to be able to kill thousands of "the enemy" with remote controlled weapons that minimize losses on their own side; disproportionate suffering has become the norm. A few thousand Americans die in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Thousands of Palestinians die in retaliation for the killing of dozens of Israelis. Underneath is the same cynical calculus.

I also read Tom Brown's Schooldays and Tom Brown at Oxford by Thomas Hughes. Comparing the Rugby of the 1830s, which became the model for the English public schools, with the Charterhouse described by Robert Graves, and the Oxford of the 1840s with the Oxford that produced Tony Blair, one sees the same fundamental problem: these institutions turn out people who are convinced that it is for them to decide how the world is governed. Thomas Hughes' generation was the one that launched missionaries to convert the Hindus and Muslims of India, and which put down the resulting uprising by massacring the population of Delhi. The generation of Lloyd George thought it was the mission of Britain to reorganize the Ottoman lands, bringing 90 years of misery for Middle Easterners. Tony Blair and his contemporaries thought they could impose Western-style democracy on the Afghans and Iraqis: another 90 years of pain ahead?!

Perhaps it is not possible to have elite schools and universities without producing people who consider themselves superior to others. Given the role of money in paying for such institutions, it seems to be just one more way in which money rules the world.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Bottom of the class!

The IMF now tells us that Britain will suffer a worse recession than any other industrialized country. The roots of this lie far back in the past, more recently in the 1980s, when the decline of our manufacturing was justified as marking Britain's transition to a 'service economy', supposedly able to pay for our imports from primary producers (i.e. poor countries) and manufacturing economies by our exports of services such as banking and insurance. Our governments came to boast of the strength of the City, which would ensure our continuing prosperity.

The City having now collapsed into a black hole of debt, we must now accept a steep decline until the pound reaches a level at which our manufactures can compete with those of other countries and can attract investment in their future. If this is part of a process of reducing the gulf between rich and poor countries it will be a good thing. The danger is that it will happen so fast and chaotically that it will disrupt society, strengthening the appeal of extreme political movements. Hold tight for a rough ride!

What we must guard against is the idea that in a year or two we shall be "back to normal". In fact there was nothing normal about the past ten or thirty or fifty years, with the population of the poor countries growing and the average income in the rich ones rising at unprecedented speeds. We must now invent a new world economy and learn to live with a new idea of normality.


Yesterday was 'Holocaust Day'. When Tony Blair instituted this I protested because the word 'holocaust' is almost exclusively used for Hitler's attempt to destroy European Jews (racially defined). I thought it should be 'Genocide Day' and should be an occasion to remember the many peoples (usually defined by culture, not 'race') who have suffered such attack - in the past hundred years: Armenians, Gypsies, Ibos, West New Guineans, East Timorians, Tibetans, Cambodians, Hindus in West Kashmir, Muslims in East Kashmir, Rwandan Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, Palestinians... Hitler's genocide of Jews was bigger numerically than any other, but in terms of the percentage of the population killed it was less than the Armenian, Cambodian and Tutsi cases. The only total genocide in modern times was that of the Tasmanians, annihilated by British settlers.

There are many different forms of genocide - so much so that I wonder whether a single word should apply to all. The classic kind involved killing all the men of a tribe and taking the women and girls to be slaves and concubines, usually keeping prepubescent boys as well. The European colonial method, now applied in Palestine, and West New Guinea, is to drive people off their land and hem them in tighter and tighter, leaving a pitiable remnant like the Amerindians and the Australian Aborigines. The attempted total destruction of a people, applied by Hitler and first recorded as the Will of God (Deuteronomy chapter 20 verses 16 to 18), is relatively rare.

Murderous intent is not much different from murder accomplished. There can be no doubt that, if they had the weapons, Hamas would do to Israeli civilians what Israel is doing to Gazans. The human capacity for hatred is terribly great, and the only antidote is to teach people about each other's values, about the humanity of all human beings and about the need for the rule of law. There will never be peace without justice. If Palestinians have suffered more injustice than Israelis, that does not justify the murder of civilians.

Islam comes closer than Christianity to teaching universal humanity and justice. One of the commonest expressions in everyday Arabic is "kull'na bani Adam" - "We are all children of Adam". Christians are weighed down by their inheritance of the more tribalistic passages in the Old Testament, and by the idea that Christianity is the only way to salvation. The medieval notion of Muhammad as messenger of Satan is still alive and has now spread to many Israelis. The great Jewish prophets, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah had a very different message, which needs to be listened to today if we are to put an end to the demonization of Arabs and Muslims, with all its dangers .

Thursday, 22 January 2009


The past month has felt very strange, and the reason was well put by Mark Steel: "And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing [of the attack on Gaza], as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: 'Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time's up? Come along now, haven't you got homes to demolish?' "

Anyway, the waiting is over and we have a new President. There is a hopeful aspect to the Palestinian disaster: it suggests that Israel may have inside information on Obama's intentions; they may realize that indeed time is up.

It has been a strange period for me, because at the end of the old year I cancelled my order for daily papers to be delivered. I have read a daily paper for most of my adult life, but I found that the British press grew more and more empty and introverted. The Independent is a shadow of what it was when it was launched, and the Guardian is not much better. As for The Times, I have never forgiven its takeover by Murdoch. It seems that now the only serious newspaper is Le Monde, so perhaps I'll take out a subscription to that. On the other hand, I find I can get plenty of news from Radio Four and New Scientist, and it is nice to have more time for reading books.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Gaza again and again!

Back to London yesterday for another demonstration - ten times bigger than last week's. The police estimate was 20,000, and you can safely double that, as usual, which means it agrees with my reckoning of 40,000. Anyway, the organizers had clearly not expected so many, so there were far too few stewards. Some of the demonstrators disobeyed instructions and stopped marching at the Israeli embassy. I just manged to squeeze through the resulting bottle-neck before it got rough and there were arrests. I deplore the violence, but I have to recognize it that the result was the number one spot on the BBC news. Terrible that people only take notice of things when they turn violent!

Today there were again cringing interviews with apologists for Israel - never with Hamas! They talk as if history began at the very earliest in 2001. What the public doesn't realize is that Zionists don't want to be loved; they need Israel to have enemies, because their founding myth is that Jews are always and everywhere at risk and can only be safe in a Jewish State. Their definition of Jews is explicitly racial, copied from the one used by the Nazis: it depends not on what religion you follow but who your parents and grandparents were.

Zionists have succeeded to some extent in spreading hatred of Jews, racially defined, to Muslims, against all the principles of Islam, which ignores ethnicity and respects all monotheists. The painful truth is that anti-Jewish sentiment has Christian origins. Once the Jewish Christianity of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, a theology of rejection developed, seeing Jews as followers of the Devil, who "killed their God" and sacrificed Christian babies. For thirteen centuries, European Jews and Muslims suffered together from Christian persecution and sought refuge together in Muslim lands. The Zionist programme put an end to this long history of understanding, destroying the ancient Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, North Africa and Yemen. Western support for Israel is also paradoxically destroying Christianity in Palestine and in the whole of Oriental Orthodox Christendom.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Gaza again

Poor Palestinians! They are so bad at presenting their case. And how good the Israelis are! Have you noticed how many of them sound English or American or Australian or South African? It is because that is where they really were from before they came to colonize Palestine. It is all part of the plan to make Israelis seem like 'us', while the Plestinians are 'them', the 'aliens', the 'enemy'.

Anyway, here is what Hamas should be saying: "The Zionists came to settle in our country, without asking the permission of its people. Sixty years ago they drove three quarters of a million of us off our land and out of our homes, and they never accepted responsibility, let alone offered us the right to return or to claim compensation. Those of us from the South were driven into this large concentration camp of Gaza and forty years ago they sent in their settlers so that we could see how well they lived and how they filled their swimming pools with our water. Then they pulled out those settlers and expected us to regard that as a concession, though in fact it saved them a lot of money and made it easier to target us. They assassinated our leaders, and when we won an election they locked up most of our MPs and treated the opposition as if it represented us. When we retaliated with our home-made rockets they tried to starve our people into submission. When we respected a cease-fire they broke it on 4th November and accused us of breaking it. Now they have sent in their helicopters and tanks. They know that we have almost nothing except our human resources, yet they bomb our schools and our university and will not allow our students to take up their scholarships abroad. All we ask is to be recognized as human beings, treated as equals and allowed to talk about our future in the framework of international law."

I suppose the reason they don't say these things is that they think we know their history and don't need to be told it. In fact most English and Americans don't even know the history of their own countries. We do not realize that every Arab has heard about the Caliph Umar's guarantee of religious freedom to the people of Jerusalem, about the Crusades, about The Sykes-Picot agreement to divide the Middle East between Britain and France, about the Balfour Declaration, about the terrorist campaign of the Zionists after World War Two...

Monday, 5 January 2009


I went to the demonstration in London on Saturday, protesting against the invasion of Gaza. It filled Trafalgar Square. I was glad to see Jews for Justice for Palestine and other Jewish groups. I believe Israel is doing terrible harm to Jews all over the world by trying to implicate them in its action.

At the last Iraq-War demo I went to a couple of years ago, people threw children's shoes on to the road in front of Downing Street. This time they threw adult footwear, echoing the recent shoe-throwing against Bush - a nice instance of rapid cultural evolution!

On the BBC next morning there was a phrase about "ugly scenes" at the demo. I walked all round Trafalgar Square and saw nothing ugly, nor did I see anything on TV. On the contrary, people were surprisingly good-humoured considering the suffering that we were protesting against.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

So much for celebrity!

My wife forwarded to me the following:-

"A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes

During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by, then a middle aged man, noticing the musician, slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, then hurried on to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till without stopping. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen, but he soon looked at his watch and resumed walking, lest he be late for work.

A three year old boy paid the most attention. He stopped to look at the violinist and continued, turning his head as his mother dragged him along. Several other children looked at the musician, but their parents forced them to move on. Only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About twenty gave the musician money while passing. He collected $32, and, when he finished playing, no one noticed or applauded. No one knew that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days previously, his performance at a theater in Boston was sold out. The seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. It was organized by The
Washington Post, which arranged for Joshua Bell to play incognito in the metro station as part of an social experiment about our perception, taste and priorities."

Suppose it had been Madonna!