Does anyone think that if our governments fail to keep to their austerity targets and fail to keep bailing out the banking sector, that the banks will just shrug and say, “Well, thanks for trying” and accept their fate? Or do you think the banks might have a Plan B of their own?
First let’s be clear about Plan A. That plan is to enforce an era of long-term austerity cuts to public services, in part to cut public expenditure so as to free up money for spending on the banks, but perhaps more importantly to further atrophy public services so that private providers can take over. A privatization of services which will bring great profits and cash flow to the private sector and to the banks who finance them, and a further general victory for those who feel that private debts rather than public taxes should be what underpins our national life and social contract.
Plan A therefore requires that governments convince their populace that private debts should be taken on to the public purse and that once taken on, the contracts signed by governments on behalf of the tax payers/citizens, are then sacrosanct and above any democratic change of mind. If governments can hold their peoples to this,then the banks are ‘saved’ with the added bonus that democracy and the ‘Rights’ it once guaranteed will all have been redefined as subordinate to finance and its contracts, and our citizenship will have become second to one’s contractual place in a web of private debts. Debts to the private lenders will become more important than taxes to the public exchequer. And as they do the State will wither away, leaving free-market believers and extreme libertarians exactly where they have always wanted to be – in charge – by dint of being rich. It is, in my view, a bleak future which I once described as A Toxic Debt Wasteland.
BUT it does all depend on governments being able to suppress discontent and to outlaw opposition in the sense of saying to people you may disagree but we have now declared these debts and their repayment to be outside democratic control and immune to any attempt to rescind or repudiate the agreed debt contracts. As the severity of the austerity cuts to social services (health, education, pensions etc) becomes painfully clearer to people and the ‘necessity’ for them is ‘regretfully’ extended year after year, it will become harder and harder to justify, let alone impose, such suffering. We will enter an era of vicious sectarian blame. We are already in it, but it will get much darker.
The banks and those whose wealth and power is tied to them, would obviously prefer Plan A to succeed. It makes governments do all the dirty work and it would profit the banks far more in the long run. If you want to bleed a man – kill him and you get about 5 litres/quarts. But strap him to a gurney with a catheter in his arm and a drip feed in his nose, and he will bleed for you for as long as his system can stand it. That is Plan A. But what if it fails?
I cannot believe the banks, with everything at stake, have not thought it prudent to have a plan B. So here are my thoughts on what that plan could be. Let me say now, I do not think this plan was a long term conspiracy. I do not think the end game was in mind when the first elements were put in place. It has, I think, been constructed opportunistically. But the end result is no less dark and threatening.
What I offer from here on is thinking out loud. I obvioulsy have no proof at all that there is a plan B. All I can hope to do is show you the elements which I think could make a Plan B for the banks. Then my argument is that if the mechanism I describe could work, if I have not simply misunderstood something, then I think the banks will surely have thought of it before me. And so it either already exists or it will. I think there are scraps of information that suggest it does exist and the collapse of MF Global might even be the first example of Plan B in action. The MF Global case certainly contains all the clues.
MF Global imploded when it could not get the short term funding it needed. There were two kinds of funding MF Global relied upon for its liquidity/cash flow: repo and hypothecation. For those not familiar, Repo is when a bank or brokerage ‘sells’ an asset for cash but with the agreement that it will re-purchase – hence ‘repo’ – the asset at an agreed date for an agreed price. It is not really a sale but a loan. Repo is the oxygen the financial world breathes. Repo is a $10 Trillion market.
The other main source of the essential short term funding was Hypothecation. This is when a bank or brokerage pledges an asset to a ‘lender’ in return for cash but the asset remains in the possession of the borrower. What the ‘lender’ gets is hypothetical control of the asset. Although the asset never actually changes hands, the new ‘owner’s’ hypothetical control of the asset allows her to do what she wishes with the asset. Including re-hypothecating the asset to another bank or brokerage. If she does so then the hypothetical control passes to yet another ‘owner’. Even though physically it remain where it started.
Like repo – hypothecation and re-hypothecation are truely massive parts of modern debt-based banking. So the first thing the MF Global case tells us is that what happened is not due to some peripheral, parochial rogue trader-esque, isolated problem. What happened was as a result of a mechanism right at the very heart of the financial system.
In the MF Global collapse what ZeroHedge, and following them, I and others wrote about, was the way in which not only did MF Global go bankrupt, but so also did some of their clients when they found the money they thought MF Global was holding for them, went unaccountably missing. Client’s money went missing because it was ‘mingled’ with the brokerage’s money when it should not have been. Brokers should keep them separate. But it seems in the ‘re-hypothecation’ of assets it was mingled. Former CEO of MF Global, Mr Corzine has sworn under oath he knew nothing about his co-mingling nor the irregularities with his company’s re-hypothecation. It has been rumoured the client’s money may now be, possibly, in the hands of JP Morgan.
This hint of illegality has grabbed everyone’s attention. But I think it is actually the legal part of the story not the possibly illegal part which is by far the more important.
In my opinion the key to the bank’s Plan B is in understanding why any money/assets were taken from MF Global after it had gone bankrupt and how exactly it went under in the first place. We all know MF Global had huge holdings of dicey European sovereign debt. But those debts have not become worthless so what caused MF to collapse? .
The answer to all these questions lie in a change to Bankruptcy laws that happened around the world between 2002 and 05. This might seem like a detour into nerd city but it is not. It is the key.
When a company declares bankruptcy there is what the Americans call an ‘automatic stay’, which means all the assets left in a company at the moment it goes bankrupt are protected from the rush of creditor’s demands until appointed auditors can sort out who should get what. The automatic stay prevents a first come first served disorderly looting where those with the most muscle getting everything and everyone else getting nothing. As we are all painfully aware now, there is a legal pecking order to who gets paid before who, with Senior bond holders at the top. But, in America culminating in 2005 with the passage of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA) the order was changed. And that change is the crucial event.
At the time the law was being passed few were aware of this change and even fewer were aware of how important it would become. At the time the furore was all about changes to personal bankruptcy. The Credit Card industry (AKA Banks) had spent more than a decade and its rumoured as much as $100 million lobbying to make bankruptcy much harder and more punitive for ordinary debtors.
An article from 2005 in the Boston Globe quoting a very senior Republican Senator, gives a flavour of what was then being said about ordinary people who fell into debt.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has said that millions of Americans are bankrupt or near-bankrupt because “they run up huge bills and then expect society to pay for them.”
After 4 years of bailing out banks who did exactly that the irony is enough to gag on.
But what was not talked about was an amendment which was put into the bill and, as far as I know little debated. Don’t let the word ‘amendment’ mislead you. Amendments are generally not there as refinements and improvements on the original idea. Whenever a bill goes through Congress every lobby group and industry with something it wants done, gets their tamed/owned/ political friends to tack on the change in the law that suits them in return for supporting the original bill. The bill emerges from this process festooned with ‘amendments’ to other vaguely related laws. Amendments are the price of getting the original bill passed. They are often little understood, written by and for the benefit of the sponsoring lobby group and can be far more influential than the bill they are smuggled in on. This is certainly the case here.
According to a scholarly article in the American Bankruptcy Law Review,
“the provisions [in the amendment] were derived from recommendations from the President’s Working Group and revisions espoused by the financial industry”
The President at the time was Bush and one of the most vociferous sponsors of the amendment was none other than Senator Leach whose other claim to fame was the Gram-Leech-Bliley Act which repealed most of the Glass Steagal Act of 1933 whose repeal virtually assured that the present debt crisis would happen. When bankers play pocket billiards, Senator Leach is what they prod their balls with. Ribaldry aside Senator Leach can certainly be described as one of the principle architects of our present global misery. But I digress.
What was this ammendment? The ammendment exempted repos (and hypothecated and re-hypothecated assets) and a whole range of derivatives from the automatic stay. It also allowed lower quality assets to qualify for the exemptions.
The special bankruptcy treatment given repos and derivatives means that repo lenders and parties to derivative contracts can keep the collateral if their trading partner becomes insolvent. This exempts them from the “automatic stay” rule in bankruptcy, which prohibits most creditors from trying to collect ahead of others.
Or as the official report from the US Financial Crisis Inquirey Commission said,
under a 2005 amendment to the bankruptcy laws, derivatives counterparties were given the advantage over other creditors of being able to immediately terminate their contracts and seize collateral at the time of bankruptcy. (p. 48)
So when a bank goes bankrupt, BEFORE even the most senior bond holders, the repo lenders and derivatives traders can remove, or keep all the assets pledged to them.
This amendment which was touted as necessary to reduce systemic risk in financial bankruptcies also allowed a whole range of far riskier assets to be used, making them too immune from the automatic stay in the event of bankruptcy. Which meant traders flocked to a market where risky assets would be traded and used as collateral without apparent risk to the lender. The size of the repo market hugely increased and riskier assets were gladly accepted as collateral because traders saw that if the person they had lent to went down they could get your money back before anyone else and no one could stop them.
It also did one other thing. Because the repo and derivatives traders ran no risk – they could get their money out of a failing bank before anyone else, it meant they had no reason at all to try to stop a bank from going under. Quite the opposite.
All other creditors – bond holders – risk losing some of their money in a bankruptcy. So they have a reason to want to avoid bankruptcy of a trading partner. Not so the repo and derivatives partners. They would now be best served by looting the company – perfectly legally – as soon as trouble seemed likely. In fact the repo and derivatives traders could push a bank that owed them money over into bankruptcy when it most suited them as creditors. When, for example, they might be in need of a bit of cash themselves to meet a few pressing creditors of their own.
The collapse of both Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG were all directly because repo and derivatives partners of those instituions suddenly stoppped trading and ‘looted’ them instead.
According to Enrico Perotti, professor of international finance at Amsterdam Business School speaking at the London Conference on The Future of Bank Funding, held in June of this year, 2011,
The financial crisis happened when repo lenders and derivative parties lost confidence in the mortgage-backed securities they’d accepted as collateral for repo loans and credit default swaps. They demanded to be paid, forcing their troubled trading partners into fire sales of their holdings to raise cash. They were unconcerned that they might drive their trading partners into bankruptcy, because they were exempt from the automatic stay.
Professor Perotti went on to say,
As often in financial regulation, this leads to unintended consequences. As a default leads to repossession of collateral for all safe harbor claims, repossession accelerates fire sales, resulting in a disorderly resolution, with a rush to sell collateral ahead of others, creating a downward spiral in valuations. The timing of the jumps in risk spreads on Lehman, two days after the default, demonstrates this effect, as does AIG.
Should the bankers and their political fluffers like Mr Leach have known? Well they were warned at the time. In 2005 a paper entitled “Derivatives and the Bankruptcy Code: Why the Special Treatment?” by Franklin R. Edwards and Edward R. Morrison, in the Yale Journal of Regulation
… the Code’s special treatment of derivatives contracts cannot be justified by a fear of systemic risk…. Indeed, exempting derivatives counterparties from the automatic stay may make matters worse by increasing systemic risk….Our analysis, however, should worry members of Congress and legislators in other countries. They have been lobbied heavily by special interest groups (such as ISDA) to expand the special treatment of derivatives on grounds that such legislation is necessary to prevent a systemic meltdown in OTC derivatives markets should a derivatives counterparty suffer financial distress.
Our analysis casts serious doubt on this proposition. Systemic risk may be a real threat, but bankruptcy law has no role to play in addressing it.”
The same changes to the bankruptcy laws were also adopted in the UK and throughout Europe. In fact they may well have preceded them. I simply have not done that research yet. And the changes in the UK and Europe were also lobbied for and sponsored by the banks via among others the ISDA (International Swaps and Derivatives Association). Most of the Big banks are ISDA members.
OK all of that was the back-ground to show you how we got here and that it is all ‘legal’. On the basis of laws sponsored by the banks of course. Now lets come to the present.
MF Global is where I started. There was something about its collapse which did not seem right to me. Mr Corzine’s claim that he ‘didn’t know’ where his clients’ money had gone might be true, but I was and am still, left with the feeling that there is a deeper story here.When I wrote about MF Global and the renewed crisis of bank lending, I came across the fact that in the six months to June 2011 the global trade in Derivatives increased by 18% to an astonishing $707 trillion in nominal value (the face value of all the contracts). And remember the Repo market is $10 trillion.
Somehow MF Global’s collapse and the huge increase in derivatives trading felt related. For me it was not the huge exposure to risky European bonds which MF Global had deliberately amassed, it was the nature of its demise, the trigger, and what happened to its assets afterwards, which were key. MF Global collapsed because it could not get short term funding. It could not get other financial institutions to accept its assets as collateral for Repo agreements nor hypothecate tham any longer.
When MF Global went down it did so because its repo, derivaitve and hypothecation partners essentially foreclosed on it. And when they did so they then ‘looted’ the company. And because of the co-mingling of clients money in the hypothecation deals the ‘looters’ also seized clients money as well. The co-mingling story is what brought the whole thing into the light but also provided a wonderful distraction.
The important point is that the change in the Bankruptcy laws. The change, as illustrated by Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG has made the markets more not less systemically unstable. Yet the banks have defeated all attempts to reform these unwise laws. The Dodd Frank financial reform act in eth US did nothing to address them AT ALL. Mr Dodd was lobbied very hard to make sure of this.
Here, finally, is my answer.
Let us say you are a bank or broker that has bought up a lot of European bank and sovereign bonds from Italy, Spain and Greece for example. You would be very exposed to great losses should those countries or their banks default. You are relying on the politicians forcing their tax payers to bail out you and the other banks you trade with. What if they don’t?
One solution would be to sell as many of those bonds as you could accepting the inevitable losses as being better than a much larger loss if the banks or nations or both, defaulted. The other solution, counter-intuitively, would be to do more business with them. But make sure it is repo lending and derivative trading. Specifically offer the banks in troubled nations CDS insurance on their own bad debts and currency swaps. How would this help?
First, lets keep in mind that the trade in both these types of derivatives did increase by 18% in the first 6 months of 2011 precisely as the Euro crisis has worsened.
If a bank or nation was to default on you as a mere bond holder, you would have to wait in a the queue of creditors to see what you were going to be given back. And some ‘hair cut’ would be likely. But if you had done rather a lot of derivatives trading (CDS insurance and currency swaps are both derivative trades) then you would not have to wait. You would seize all the collateral the bank had pledged to you for repo lending or derivative trading and walk away. Now you will say that if you had done CDS insurance then you might well have to pay back out the money you had seized. Except that possession is nine tenths of the law. While lawyers set about arguing about what you owe, the critical fact is that in the mean time, in the height of the crisis you HAVE the money. JP Morgan allegedly has MF Global money while other people’s lawyers can only argue about it.
This will also be true if you have also rather wisely been on the right side of lots of re-hypothecation deals and repo deals with the collapsed bank. In both cases if the collapsed bank had pledged to you assets for Repo or hypothecation then you get to keep all those assets in the case of the bank going bankrupt. We have the clear proof of this already. As Zerohedge reported some days ago, “HSBC Sues MF Global Over Disputed Ownership Of Physical Gold”. It seems HSBC’s gold may have been hypothecated or re-hypothecated. Someone else, some other bank, has their gold and all they have are lots of lawyers charging them fat fees.
So what we have, courtesy of the change in the bankruptcy laws is the means for banks to loot each other. Simply become a major short term funder via repo or hypothecation or a major counterpary in derivatives deals with the ailing bank and in both cases should the bank you are lending to go bankrupt, you will keep all the assets it pledged to you before any other creditor get a chance.
If I am right then MF Global was the first hint of Plan B in action. The bankruptcy laws allow a mechanism for banks to disembowel each other. The strongest lend to the weaker and loot them when the moment of crisis approaches. The plan allows the biggest banks, those who happen to be burdened with massive holdings of dodgy euro area bonds, to leap out of the bond crisis and instead profit from a bankruptcy which might otherwise have killed them. All that is required is to know the import of the bankruptcy law and do as much repo, hypothecation and derivative trading with the weaker banks as you can. To me, this gives a possible answer to why there has been such a surge in derivatives trading.
If I am right about all this, I think this means that some of the biggest banks, themselves, have already constructed and greatly enlarged a now truly massive trip wired auto-destruct on the banking system. If they have and they have explained any of this to our politicians then it would explain why our governments have been so abjectly willing to bail out any and all of the biggest banks and sacrifice anything else in the process. Any hint of relucatnace and the banks can make veiled reference to the extreme ‘risk’ of systemic ‘panic’ and forced liquidations. None of which is really a panic, since they have engineered it.
Are the banks threatening us? No, no, good lord no! Just pointing out the reality of the state of the system. There just happens to be a gun pointed at our head and the banks just happen to find their finger on the trigger. All they ask is that we do nothing to make them feel that their best interests are served by pulling it. And all we have to do to avoid that is stick to plan A. Simple.
But now I come to the really ugly part.
For the last four years who has been putting money in to the banks? And who has become a massive bond holder in all the banks? We have. First via our national banks and now via the Fed, ECB and various tax payer funded bail out funds. We are the bond holders who would be shafted by the Plan B looting. We would be the people waiting in line for the money the banks would have already made off with.
It is the money we have been putting in to bail out the biggest banks which they have then been using as collateral for offering weaker banks in weaker nations, repo loans or hypothecation. And the money or government bonds the weaker banks are using to pledge as assets and collateral for those loans or in derivative deals with the bigger banks is also from us. We have and are funding both sides of the deal.
The result is that the assets which the big banks would be legally allowed to seize and keep in the event of the failing bank actually going under would be ours.
To give a concrete example. Spain or Greece puts its tax payer money in to one of its insolvent banks.That bank then uses that money to get a short term repo or hypothecated it for loan. Or it uses it to hedge its currency problems via a currency swap or buys CDS insurance on assets it is deeply worried about. If the weak bank then goes down all those assets are seized by the big bank who was lending or was the counter-party to the derivative deals. The tax payer gets zero. And there is no redress. It was legally done. And the money the Big bank would have used to get themselves into this position would be the bail out money we had earlier given to the mega banks. They would have used that money against us – again.
The largest banks, those with the greatest exposure to bank and sovereign bonds from the most indebted euro nations, have the most to gain from doing derivative. repo and hypothecation deals with the troubled euro area banks and nations. The more assets the weak banks and nations have pledged in deals with teh Big banks, the more theBig banks will walk away with in the event of a crash. I suggest this is why, even as this crisis has worsened, the Big banks have been increasing by 18% their trade in derivatives and why Repo and hypothecation is as large or larger than even before the crash.
I am sorry this has been such a long piece but I wanted you to see exactly how I came to this because I hope you can show me how I am wrong. Please do so politely and I will go downstairs and celebrate my stupidity with a cup of tea, before apologizing to you all. I would very much like to be wrong.
But if I am not wrong, then the banks have created a financial Armageddon looting machine. Their Plan B is a mechanism to loot not just the more vulnerable banks in weaker nations, but those nations themselves. And the looting will not take months not even days. It could happen in hours if not minutes. Our leaders would have only a few hours to decide who they would side with: the banks or us. The past four years give me no faith they would chose us.
David Malone is author of the “The Debt Generation“. David has a career spanning nearly twenty years producing and directing documentaries for both the BBC and Channel4. His series Testing God was shortlisted for the Royal Television Society best documentary series and was described by The Times as “moving and startling – as close to poetry as television gets.” For the last three years David has focused considerable attention on the financial system. His BBC documentary High Anxieties- The Mathematics of Chaos, first broadcast in September 2008, was one of the first films to be made about the financial crisis accurately anticipating the problems that were to unfold in the economy. The Debt Generation was published in November 2010.
David Landy, an Irish-Jewish academic and a Palestinian solidarity activist has written a book about Jewish Identity and Jewish dissent in the Diaspora. The book, published on 7th July 2011, was largely ignored by most pro-Palestinian outlets and dissident journals. Almost four months later, Landy’s book was re-launched by JFJFP (Jews for Justice for Palestinians), in the hope, presumably, that it might divert attention from my own The Wandering Who.
Following the JFJFP’s enthusiastic endorsement, I was looking forward to reading Landy’s book, expecting to find, for the first time, some arguments that may counter my own take on Jewish identity politics. But I was disappointed: Landy’s findings only supported my reading of the subject in general, and confirmed my critical take on Jewish anti Zionism in particular.
Like me, Landy, makes a clear distinction between ‘Palestinian solidarity’ and ‘Jewish anti Zionist activism’: “I do not call them (the Jewish anti Zionists) Palestinian solidarity either” (pg. 6). He prefers to refer to his ‘Jewish Diaspora dissident voice’ as ‘Israel-Critical Jews’. Landy has grasped that Jewish dissent is actually more about ‘Jewish liberation’ than about liberating others. It is largely about Jewish secular craving for identity as opposed to any attempt to really change the reality in Palestine: “Few, if any, of my interviewees thought that they were working exclusively for the Palestinians” says Landy and goes on to explain that “This is partly because some participants think they’re protecting the Jewish collectivity from anti Semitism by promoting peace in the Middle East” (pg. 26.)
Such an observation should have alerted Landy to the possibility of something slightly dishonest within the ‘Jewish anti Zionist’ cell. After all, we know that Landy’s ‘Israel-Critical Jews’ completely fail to confront the Jewish Lobby in the UK or the USA. And if that were not enough, they will even join forces with Zionists and hasbara, and are clearly willing to use every possible means to stop others from attempting to expose the lobby and the extent of its political influence.
Despite Landy’s attempt to portray a growing, vibrant Jewish dissent, he is at least honest enough to admit that the Jewish Diaspora is largely supportive of Israel, and that ‘Israel critical Jews’ are still no more than a marginal calling.
But this is more or less where the good news ends, for unfortunately, on every other front Landy’s book is totally lacking in substance. .
For some reason, Landy has completely failed to address the criticism leveled by a rapidly growing number of Palestinian solidarity activists and intellectuals against his protagonists, the ‘Jewish anti Zionists’
In the last few months in the UK, more and more exiled Palestinians and solidarity activists have been kicked out from PSC and other solidarity organisations, thanks to relentless pressure from the so-called ‘Israel Critical Jews’. Francis Clark- -Lowes, former Chair of the National PSC was thrown out of the PSC a few months ago due to demands mounted by the infamous Jewish activist Tony Greenstein. Admired Palestinian poet and writer Nahida Izatt was also cleansed . This time it was no Israeli or a ‘Zionist’ who barred her from her local Palestinian solidarity group – it was a Jewish ‘anti’ Zionist Greg Dropkin who had been harassing her and other intellectuals for years. A similar fate was awaiting Gill Kaffash, an admired London activist, who was asked to resign from being Camden PSC’s Secretary. Sammi Ibrahem, Palestinian activist and radio journalist, originally from Gaza, was Chair of Birmingham PSC – at least he was, until he too was expelled due to Jewish ‘anti’-Zionist pressure.
Landy fails to address the embarrassing fact that here in Britain, there is now a wide awareness of the negative and subversive input of some of his ‘Israel critical Jews’. Through the years, Jewish ‘anti’-Zionist Roland Rance achieved a reputation as a leading figure amongst the notorious ‘Wikipedia Jews’. Rance specialises in vandalising Palestinian Solidarity entries on the free online encyclopedia. Tony Greenstein is famous for repeatedly harassing, smearing and defaming an endless list of both Palestinians and solidarity icons. Naomi Wimborne Idrissi, the leader of J-BIG (Jew Only Boycott Campaign) has been exposed numerous times for running clandestine operations against myself and other pro-Palestinian activists. Earlier, in 2005 I myself exposed the ceaseless activity of JPUK members intent on blocking free and vibrant discourse.
One is entitled to ask: how could Landy, a supposedly impartial academic, possibly fail to address the growing fatigue that so many of us feel towards this bunch of ‘Israel critical Jews’? How did Landy manage to miss the glaringly obvious fact that the subjects of his research are regarded by so many of us as being little more than a bunch of AZZ (anti-Zionist Zionists), people who are on the verge of actually being Israeli sayanim ? Landy’s failure to address the subversive McCarthyite nature of the Jewish ‘anti’ Zionist operation is indeed disappointing — but it is hardly surprising.
Landy spends a lot of time elaborating on the need for an alternative ‘Jewish identity construction’; yet he fails to ask the most crucial question -is such an identity a viable concept?
‘Identity construction’ only becomes meaningful once ‘identification’ comes into play, once one is consciously and practically ‘identifying’ with the ‘constructed identity’, yet such a mental or intellectual process can only carry one away from authenticity or authentic realisation.
Moreover, Jewish anti-Zionism may aspire to ‘universalism’ – but Jewish culture is fundamentally tribal, ethno-centric and, in most cases, racially oriented. It represents categorically, the direct opposite of universalism. So it is not clear how an inherently tribal, political, ethno-centric and exclusive setting can genuinely uphold a universalist standpoint.
Thus, it was inevitable for Zionism to become the voice of world Jewry and a dominant Jewish identity political discourse.
As opposed to the ‘anti Semitic’ early Zionist school of thought, post-1948 Zionism is shaped as a wet dream – it is supremacist; it is tribal; it is expansionist; but most importantly, it is saturated with self-love. Zionism provides the Diaspora Jew with an opportunity to love oneself against all odds. Israeli military and technological power, for instance, can be realised from a Jewish perspective, as a valid verification of chosen-ness and superiority.
Yet, from an identity perspective, anti-Zionism offers the Jew very little, if anything at all. None of the alleged ‘Jewish anti Zionist’ values are in any way truly Jewish. Solidarity with others is certainly not Jewish (Jewish solidarity is based on clannish brotherhood); universalism is far from being Jewish; and peace, harmony and reconciliation are certainly no Jewish inventions.
Landy provides us with some quotes from his ‘critical Jewish’ interviewees. They all speak in the name of ‘Jewish universal values’ and ‘Jewish justice’; and yet, neither Landy nor anyone else ever provides us with a single reference to a text that actually portrays or explicates Jewish secular universal standpoints. Instead, Landy refers to Jewish ‘diasporist identity’. He tries to draw lessons from Jewish Marxist intellectual Isaac Deutscher, who regarded himself as a ‘non-Jewish Jew’. But Deutscher was the complete opposite of Landy’s ‘Israel Critical Jews’: Deutscher had little time for ‘Jewish politics’ joining the Communist Party in Warsaw rather than the ‘Jews only’ Bund whose ‘Yiddishist’ views he so opposed. Unlike Landy’s ‘Israel Critical Jews’ who are largely driven by Jewish self-interests, Deutscher was captivated by, and adhered to a universal thought. He believed in unconditional solidarity with the persecuted. Deutscher didn’t need a secular synagogue, a ‘Jews only’ cell or a Jewish party. He was a successful product of Jewish emancipation, an individualist who shaped his ethical views by means of judgment rather than by adherence to any orchestrated ‘identity’ with a ‘constructed emblem’.
The 2nd Category Jews Vs. Landy’s Israel-Critical Jews’
In The Wandering Who I divide Jews who identify themselves as Jews into three categories:
1. Those that follow Judaism.
2. Those who regard themselves as human beings that happen to be of Jewish origin
3. Those who put their Jewishness over and above all of their other traits.
I have no doubt that Isaac Deutscher belongs to the 2nd category; while Landy’s ‘Israel critical Jews, who all operate within ‘Jews only’ political cells, fall into the 3rd category. .
Here, I am about to make a most arrogant suggestion. I’d better just come out with it. My guess is that Landy could have done with reading a bit of Atzmon. It would have saved him from many categorical blunders. And it would certainly have made his text more relevant.
Landy has systematically managed to miss the significant contribution of the 2nd category Jews – those who are genuinely interested in universalism and ethical thinking, yet refuse to operate within ‘Jews only’ political and spiritual cells. It is clear that those amongst those ethically driven Jews who express solidarity and empathy with Palestinians, operate as ordinary human beings by stripping themselves of any trace of Jewish exceptionalism and exclusivity. Amongst those Jews you will find some of our leading thinkers and writers such as Lawrence Davidson, Jeff Blankfort, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, and many others.
It is also true that Landy’s ‘Israel Critical Jews’ have produced a rather limited body of intellectual work, if any at all. They certainly write enough about ‘anti Semitism in the movement’; they tell us what is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’ for Palestine, and they spend a lot of time pursuing any activists who don’t fit into their kosher vision of Palestinian solidarity. They, consciously and enthusiastically, use hasbara tactics – smear, defamation and misinformation – and, if necessary, are not averse to joining forces with their Zionist brothers and sisters. But still, they write little, if anything, about their own identity or ideology. They don’t produce any music, poetry, cinema, plays, literature, plastic art or indeed anything that could be seen as a uniquely Jewish cultural contribution, something that could be considered as offering an alternative ‘identity construct’. That Landy has managed to miss this obvious and crucial fact is staggering.
This lack of Jewish anti-Zionist culture is particularly significant when compared to the wide and varied cultural contributions of Israeli and ex-Israeli dissident voices. Laor, Avnery, Weitzman, Yoav Shamir, Gideon Levy, Shahak, Israel Shamir, Tzabar, Beit-Halahmi, Pappe, Abarbanel, Bereshit and many others are at the forefront of the discourse and in the vanguard of the cultural anti-Zionist battle. Unlike Landy’s ‘Israel-Critical Jews’ (noticeably uncreative culturally and lame intellectually) the ‘Israel-critical Israelis’ operate as a fountain of ideas, using their creativity to push forward the Jewish Diaspora identity discourse. .
I suppose Landy has failed because he was just too engaged in sociological jargon and mired in postmodernist clichés without understanding the true uniqueness of his subject matter; i.e. Jewish identity. Philosophical thinking also seems alien to Landy so he is unable to grasp the metaphysical depth of questions connected to identity, identification and authenticity in the context of Jewish culture and ideology.
But most important, Landy fails because he is a politically motivated activist, and his reading of his subject matter is shaped by political considerations and political ‘correctness’ rather than by a desire for genuine truth seeking.
Though the aspiration of this book is promising and challenging, the result is slightly disappointing.
To buy Landy’s Book Jewish Identity & Palestinian Rights on Amazon.co.uk
The Wandering Who-A Study Of Jewish Identity Politics, available on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
 Sayanim – Diaspora Jews who provide assistance to Israel and the Mossad.
 Early Zionism may be viewed as a unique critical moment in Jewish history. It was often defined as a promise to ‘civilise the Diaspora Jew’ by means of re-settlement, labour and productivity.
With this assassination of Osama bin Laden under his belt, President Obama has fulfilled yet another of his campaign promises. It was during the Presidential debates when then Presidential-hopeful Obama solemnly declared: “We will track down Osama bin Laden and kill him.” And it was at that precise moment that my decision was made–I would not be casting my vote for Barrack Obama.
The issue of who initiated the attacks of 911 has deeply polarized the U.S. and it is not the intent of this reporter to dive into that briarpatch at this point in time. Rather, it is the implications of his statement that merit revisiting– that a man who would be President expressed such disdain for our legal system, a system which vehemently protects the accused until he is proven guilty in a court of law. And to add to my growing unease, this Presidential hopeful proudly declared himself to be a Constitutional scholar.
By making that declaration during his bid for the Presidency, Obama was clearly pandering to the deep psychic wound inflicted on the United States by the events of September 11. Obama played a psychological card with his kill-call, a card which revealed an opportunistic mindset which considers Constitutional protections to be irrelevant And I remember wondering, who will he go after next?
It didn’t take long for that question to be answered. In 2010, Obama ordered the targeted assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric. As reported in the UK telegraph at the time, “officials now argue privately that Americans who side with the country’s enemies are not ultimately “entitled to special protections”…..Dennis Blair, the director of US national intelligence, confirmed that its security agencies had the authority, having obtained specific permission, to kill American citizens if they posed a direct threat to the United States.”
While some argue that these two men, Osama and Al-Awlaki, are “enemy combatants,” it has become clear that the war on terror has redefined the concept of a battlefield. No longer restricted to a physical location, defined by longitude and latitude, where men draw arms and attempt to diminish, if not destroy, an enemy army, the “war on terror” has broadened the concept of the battlefield to include the entire world. In this world wide war, assassination is now an acceptable weapon against a “terrorist”–who is a person who has not been so determined by a bonafide legal proceeding but only through a dictum of a head of State.
In other words, The Red Queen had nothing on Obama. The nemesis of Alice in Wonderland, the mad Red Queen, also cried “Off with her head!”
We can only expect that the “terrorist” designation will expand outward. Indeed, in 2007 Jane Harman sponsored the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, which passed in the House but failed in the Senate. Dennis Kucinich called the Act a thought- crime bill, containing language which seemed to promote the identification and detention of U.S. citizens who harbored animus towards the stripping of rights which was the fallout from 911.
This fallout– the destruction of our Constitutional protections– should be a matter of gravest concern. In 2009, the Department of Justicepublished a report concerning the surveillance programs launched by Bush after the events of September 11. The report openly admitted that there were two programs in effect, one targeting “the terrorists.” The report declined to discuss “the other” surveillance program, ostensibly targeting us. The unclassified report, in fact, referred to the “other” surveillance program as classified.
The destruction of our freedoms and our rights has been a heavy price to pay. Many Americans are not aware that these Constitutional protections, largely dismantled after September 11 by the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act and concomitant legislation, were in place to protect us NOT from “terrorists” or “Communists” or other bogey men- of- the- moment, but from intrusion and attack by our own government. We are now more vulnerable, more at risk than any other time in U.S. history to abuse of process and actual abuse by agents of the United States itself.
So now that the big bad wolf is dead, what becomes of this massive surveillance and targeting machinery put into motion following 911? Does it get dismantled? Now that the arch enemy has been hunted down and slaughtered, are we gonna get our rights back?
A few days ago, I published a short piece about a BBC global poll gauging attitudes towards various countries worldwide. In the poll, Israel came pretty much at the bottom. The world seems to dislike the Jewish State, and this is not a big surprise.
The text of the BBC Poll can be found here.
The text is actually far more revealing than I had initially realised.
The following diagram illustrates the popularity and unpopularity of Israel in various countries.
In the last decade Israel and Zionist lobbies have been doing their very best to incite anti-Muslim feelings amongst Europeans. Yet, it seems as if this revolting tactics has backfired. It is actually the Jewish State which European seem to dislike. In France 56% hold negative opinions of Israel and in Britain the figure is 66%.
In spite of the relentless and powerful Jewish lobbies operating in both France and Britain, the people actually see Israel for what it it. They seem to detest the Jewish State in rapidly growing numbers.
But here is the most significant statistic. In spite of the emotional blackmail the Germans have been subjected to for the last sixty years, it is becoming clear that Germany is just about to liberate itself from the Shoa tyranny of collective guilt . In Germany only 15% are positive about Israel. 65% expressed a coldness towards the Jewish state.
It might well be possible that the Germans have grasped by now that the Palestinians are the last victims of the Hitler. It is also possible that German’s regret of their past has eventually matured into a collective humanist insight , and perhaps it might be that they now realise it is the Israelis that are the ‘Nazis of our time.’
As much as Israel’s world popularity is at its very lowest level, the BBC poll reveals that Germany is “the most positively viewed nation, with 62% rating its influence as positive.”
I guess there is a clear message here for Zionists and Israelis: your dirty game is over — Germany and the rest of the world are now officially liberated.
However, I wonder how long it might take for Germany before it gets the stomach to officially strip itself of its guilt, and look at its glorious past with pride, for they are responsbile for some of the world’s greatest symphonies, philosophy, science, poetry and industry.
I wonder, how long will it take for the Germans to look into their history with no fear ?
I guess that it will happen pretty soon.
[Orlando, Florida] – It wasn’t just a hot one in O’Town on the last Sunday of February 2011, because the thermometer registered 83 degrees in the shade at Lake Eola during the first Arab American Cultural Festival, but because of the heat that emanated from voluptuous belly dancers, award winning Debkeh dancers, singers and passionate hip hop poets who energized the crowd of thousands and caused hundreds to dance in celebration of a culture that most of the non-Arab Americans in attendance had never experienced before.
Hip Hop artist, Omar Offendum is also “an MC/Architect hailing from the great nation-state-of-mind known as ‘SyrianamericanA’ where everything is connected and everyone is welcome.”
SyrianamericanA” is also the title of Omar’s first solo CD.
From center stage that was adorned with an American flag draped on top and flanked below with flags from the United Arab Emeritus, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco, Tunisia, and other Arab states, Omar explained that hip hop is the modern incarnation of the blues, jazz, rock and roll, reggae and as over 60% of the population of the Middle East is under 30, Rap has become the music of The Revolution.
Inspired by the power of the people of Egypt that recently rose up, several notable musicians from North America teamed up to release a song of solidarity and empowerment, entitled “#Jan25″ which commemorates the date the Egyptian protests officially began in Egypt, and its prominence as a trending topic on Twitter.
Omar Offendum, appeared on Al Jazeera to explains that this track is a testament to the revolution’s effect on the hearts and minds of today’s youth, as well as all who unite in the spirit of resistance in solidarity for justice for oppressed people:
Omar informed this reporter, “My family is Arab Syrian and I use Hip-Hop as a platform to express opinions of my community to make our struggle relate-able to the average American, as our struggle is the universal struggle for peace and justice.”
Remi Kanazi, is a Palestinian-American poet whose kinetic energy and unabashed poetry of resistance and searing indictments of the military occupation and ethnic cleansing of his homeland awed me.
Remi’s “POETIC INJUSTICE: WRITINGS ON RESISTANCE AND PALESTINE” is a collection of poems and includes a CD, highly praised by Pulitzer Prize winners, award winning journalists, drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Ronnie Kasrils, the former South African Government Minister and anti-apartheid activist.
Remi brought me to tears with “A POEM FOR GAZA” not because I am Palestinian or Arab, but because I grew up comfortable in Greenwich Village and on Long Island, but after my first of seven trips to Palestine beginning in 2005, I have not been able to look away because the injustice made me hot, loud, angry and political.
On September 29, 2009 the Goldstone Report was released and it accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes perpetuated during the 22 days of assault on Gaza when the Israeli military launched Operation Cast Lead; a full-scale attack on Gaza that killed 13 Israelis and 1,400 Palestinians.
Operation Cast Lead also injured over 5,000 Palestinians and 400,000 were left without running water.
Operation Cast Lead destroyed 4,000 homes and rendered tens of thousands homeless because of Israel’s targeted attacks upon them, their schools, hospitals, streets, water wells, sewage system, farms, police stations and UN buildings.
Operation Cast Lead’s, 22 days of attack on the people of Gaza was enabled by US-supplied weapons and we the people of the US who pay taxes provide over $3 billion annually to Israel although Israel has consistently misused U.S. weapons in violation of America’s Arms Export Control and Foreign Assistance Acts.
America is the worlds largest arms supplier to Israel and under a Bush negotiated deal with Israel-which Obama signed onto during Christmas 2009, we the people who pay taxes in America will now also provide another $30 billion in military aid to Israel over the next decade.
For Operation Cast Lead’s assault on Gaza, “Washington provided F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, and a wide array of munitions, including white phosphorus and DIME. The weapons required for the Israeli assault was decided upon in June 2008, and the transfer of 1,000 bunker-buster GPS-guided Small Diameter Guided Bomb Units 39 (GBU-39) were approved by Congress in September. The GBU 39 bombs were delivered to Israel in November (prior to any claims of Hamas cease fire violation!) for use in the initial air raids on Gaza. 
In a 71-page report released March 25, 2009, by Human Rights Watch, Israel’s repeated firing of US-made white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.
“Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” provides eye witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza.
“Human Rights Watch researchers found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended in January.
“Militaries officially use white phosphorus to obscure their operations on the ground by creating thick smoke. It has also been used as an incendiary weapon, though such use constitutes a war crime.
“In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.” [Ibid]
During the 22 days of attack on Gaza, the UN Security Council, Amnesty International, International Red Cross, and global voices of protest rose up and demanded a ceasefire, but both houses of Congress overwhelmingly endorsed resolutions to support a continuation of Israel’s so called “self defense.”
In November 2006, Father Manuel, the parish priest at the Latin Church and school in Gaza warned the world:
“Gaza cannot sleep! The people are suffering unbelievably. They are hungry, thirsty, have no electricity or clean water. They are suffering constant bombardments and sonic booms from low flying aircraft. They need food: bread and water. Children and babies are hungry…people have no money to buy food. The price of food has doubled and tripled due to the situation. We cannot drink water from the ground here as it is salty and not hygienic. People must buy water to drink. They have no income, no opportunities to get food and water from outside and no opportunities to secure money inside of Gaza. They have no hope.
“Without electricity children are afraid. No light at night. No oil or candles…Thirsty children are crying, afraid and desperate…Many children have been violently thrown from their beds at night from the sonic booms. Many arms and legs have been broken. These planes fly low over Gaza and then reach the speed of sound. This shakes the ground and creates shock waves like an earthquake that causes people to be thrown from their bed. I, myself weigh 120 kilos and was almost thrown from my bed due to the shock wave produced by a low flying jet that made a sonic boom.
“Gaza cannot sleep…the cries of hungry children, the sullen faces of broken men and women who are just sitting in their hungry emptiness with no light, no hope, no love. These actions are War Crimes!”
I asked Remi what is the one thing he wants non-Arab American’s to understand and he replied, “Fundamentally when people come together they can make a difference-not the cliché Barak Obama way-but in the Tunisian, Egyptian, South African and Palestinian way, which is an anti-apartheid struggle.”
On July 5, 1950, Israel enacted the Law of Return by which Jews anywhere in the world, have a “right” to immigrate to Israel even if they have no historical ties to the land which is known as Palestine.
Israel’s very statehood was contingent upon upholding the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines Article 13:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
But ever since the state of Israel was established in 1948, they have denied that inalienable right to the indigenous people.
The following nine categories make up the necessary, sufficient, and defining characteristics of apartheid regimes:
1. Violence: Apartheid is a state of war initiated by a de facto invading ethnic minority, which at least in the short term originates from a non-neighboring locality. In all main instances of apartheid most if not all members of the invading group originate from a different continent. The invading ethnic minority and its self-defined descendants then continue to dominate the indigenous majority by means of their military superiority and by their continuous threats and uses of violence.
2. Repopulation: Apartheid is also a continuation of depopulation and population transfer. One example is seen in the obliteration of the indigenous Bedouins that Israel denies free movement to graze their herds and are silently transferring the Bedouins to new locales, such as atop of garbage dumps.
3. Citizenship: The indigenous people are often denied citizenship in their own country by the apartheid state authorities, which are ironically and irrationally, run and staffed by the recent arrivals to the country.
4. Land: Apartheid entails land confiscation, land redistribution and forced removals, almost without exception to the benefit of the invading ethnic minority. Usually, members of the ethnic majority are forced on to barren and unfertile soils, where they must also try to survive under impoverished and overcrowded conditions.
5. Work: Apartheid displays systematic exploitation of the indigenous class in the production process and different pay or taxation for the same work.
6. Access: There is ethnically differentiated access to employment, food, water, health care, emergency services, clean air, and other needs, including the need for leisure activities, in each case ensuring superior access for the favored ethnic community.
7. Education: There are also different kinds of education offered and forced upon the different ethnic groups.
8. Language: A basic apartheid characteristic is the fact that only very few of the invaders and their descendants ever learn the language(s) of the indigenous victims.
9. Thought: Finally, apartheid contains ideologies or ‘necessary illusions’ in order to convince the privileged minorities that they are inherently superior and the indigenous majorities that they are inherently inferior. Much of apartheid thought is shaped by typical war propaganda. The enemy is dehumanized by both sides’ ideologies, words and other symbols are used to incite or provoke people to violence, but mostly so by the invaders and their descendants. 
Also at the festival at Lake Eola, was Dr. Khaled Diab, whose life was the inspiration for my first book, KEEP HOPE ALIVE
Dr. Diab stated, “For those who say that it is not the right time to have a Festival when so many are dying in the Middle East, I say we celebrate the victories and the bright future that Democracy and Freedom will bring. We pray for the Martyrs who gave their lives to give us better life and future. According a verse from the Quran, ‘Wala tahsabanna allatheena qutiloo fee sabeeli Allahi amwatan bal ahyaon AAinda rabbihim yurzaqoona.’”
Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord -3:169
Dr. Diab continued, “Freedom and Democracy will come to all the Middle East Arab nations no matter how long it takes. I pray and support freedom and democracy similar to what we have and enjoy and not for the false democracies that sponsors Occupation and Dictatorships. I am also very certain that it will come to the Palestinians and they will be free from Occupation. Here is a manifest that is being circulated by the youth of Palestine.”
We call on the governments of the West Bank and Gaza to respond to the legitimate demands of the people:
1 – the release all political detainees in the prisons of the PA and Hamas
2 – the end of all forms of media campaigns against each others
3 – the resignation of the governments of Haniyeh and Fayyad to re-build a government of national unity agreed by all Palestinian factions representing the Palestinian people.
4 – the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization to contain all the Palestinian factions and get back to its initial aim: Palestine’s freedom
5 – the announcement of the freeze of negotiations until the full compatibility between the various Palestinian factions on a political program
6 – the end of all forms of security coordination with the Zionist enemy
7 – the organization of presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously in the time chosen by all the factions.
Another manifest by Remi Kanazi – Coexistence
Truly audacious hope was understood by St. Augustine who wrote, “Hope has two children. The first is ANGER at the way things are and the second is COURAGE to do something about it.”
And truly audacious hope also makes one hot, loud, angry and political for justice!
2. Paraphrased from pages 71-73, Apartheid Ancient, Past, and Present Systematic and Gross Human Rights Violations in Graeco-Roman Egypt, South Africa, and Israel/Palestine, By Anthony Löwstedt. Page 77.
“Love in the Time of Dinosaurs”
Dinosaurs and insightful writers…or am I being redundant? Well, I’m happy to say reports of their mutual demise have been greatly exaggerated. Case in point: Love in the Time of Dinosaurs by Kirsten Alene.
The Portland, Oregon resident is the author of Chiaroscuro (2009), a poetry chapbook and “several stories and poems currently circulating the worldwide web.” Most recently, she’s penned the above-mentioned Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, a novella from Eraserhead Press, that’s been said to portray “a world filled with complex politics, spirituality, history, and a sense of actual existence in some parallel dimension.”
As I dug into Alene’s novella, I was at the ready for metaphors, allusions, and other buried treasures within the Bizarro context. After just one chapter, I was too busy getting attached to the characters, plot, and pace to analyze. That could wait for the ensuing interview…which went a little something like this:
Mickey Z.: Extinct creatures have returned to wreak havoc using modern weapons. Seemingly pious monks are trapped by long-obsolete paradigms. Limbs and other body parts haphazardly reattached and reanimated with help of magical kung fu. Forbidden love. And so much more. Can you provide a roadmap of sorts through the metaphors and meanings?
Kirsten Alene: All summed up in those words, I would say the only roadmap is that I was very recently a teenager. I will try to say this without being poetic but, to be young is to be at war with the world, isolated, estranged, in conflict internally and externally, and dying all of the time just to be sewn back together again by people you don’t really like. That’s where that could probably came from. When I was writing it I was just thinking that dinosaurs with guns are fucking awesome. The plastic guns were inspired by a character in Cameron Pierce’s Shark Hunting in Paradise Garden who has something like the Midas Touch only he turns things into mannequins.
MZ: It feels to me that you’re still at war – not with the world but with those fucking up the world, those using all kinds of new weapons to create all kinds of new extinctions. Yet at the root of the story is star-crossed love, growing and thriving amidst all the sliced off limbs.
KA: Well…. I’m getting married in eight days, so there had better be some epic romance in there. I’ve been in the love-y mode. Maybe my next book will be less obvious on that front.
MZ: I’ve written: “All you need is love…and a small, well-trained army.” Looks like you might agree?
KA: And some chickens and a goat. And also 2-3 solar panels and a large plot of land. And corn. Other than that – yes.
MZ: Can you walk us through the process that brought you to not only becoming a writer but a writer of Bizarro fiction?
KA: When I was seven (soon after winning a school poetry contest with a touching prose poem entitled “I Opened My Eyes”), I told my grandfather I was going to be a writer when I grew up. He told me that was fine, but that I would need to get a real job. I decided to be an English professor. For practice, I read every book on the Harvard Classics Library bookshelf and preached obnoxiously to my three younger siblings. But despite my classical literature obsessions, I’ve always written weird, disjointed fiction where a lot of people die and get eaten by monsters. I started talking to Cameron Pierce a year ago and he directed me to a free download of Andersen Prunty’s Zerostrata. It was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to write. It made me angry that someone else had written it. I read a bunch of Bizarro really quickly after that and Love in the Time of Dinosaurs erupted out of my brain.
MZ: Was the book’s relatively short length by design?
KA: I felt like it was a story that needed to be told relatively quickly and without any nonsense. (My goal was 20,000 words and it ended up being about 19,000.) I am a huge fan of short novels. There is beauty in brevity.
MZ: Any advice for wanna-be writers?
KA: About writing: write all the time and be published everywhere. Short stories, news articles, poems, horoscopes, it doesn’t matter.
About editors: be gracious and not afraid of compromise. No story is ever complete when the author finishes writing it. Most editors know what they’re talking about, even if you’re 55 and they’re 22.
About books: people have told me over and over, and I have discovered myself that no one can ever do more for your book than you can. Agents, publishers, editors…no one is going to promote your book as well as you.
MZ: William Burroughs once said that artists were the true architects of change. What would you like readers to take away from reading Love in the Time of Dinosaurs? What change might your work inspire?
KA: I think the only thing I (and this book) want to tell people is that they should love one another and themselves. That sounds a bit lame. But it’s the only thing worth telling people. This book doesn’t have a message – but I think every time love sneaks into a conversation or a story and changes someone, it’s a little triumph for people.
Kirsten Alene is also the editor of the webzine Unicorn Knife Fight.
“America Plops and Fizzes”
Some guy named Percy Shelley once said poets were the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” So, I’m thinking maybe Percy’s been hanging out in Canton, Ohio with Andrew Rihn, author of the inventive new poetry collection, America Plops and Fizzes from sunnyoutside press.
the best things
Rihn’s no Ivory Tower purist or coffeehouse boor. Sure, he’s the got the English degree from Kent State and six chapbooks to his name but as he told me, “My politics are reflected in my writing. Much of my writing deals with working class issues.” Putting his values into practice, Rihn has run creative writing workshops in a domestic violence shelter and currently volunteers reading manuscripts for a non-profit (Reentry Bridge Network) that connects prisoners with the performing arts. (Reentry Bridge Network publishes four books per year of prisoner’s writing.)
are more meaningful
“The concept of ‘responding’ is a central one in my writing and activism,” explains Rihn and the 50 poems in America Plops and Fizzes, to me, read not only as “response” but also as a provocation to respond. Described as deviating to the “edge of formlessness,” Rihn’s latest collection (and the excellent, complementary artwork by David Munson) seems to build a momentum as you read through it—the poems sneaking up on you, gaining steam, daring you to stop and contemplate…and perhaps even take action?
to the sparring
“Being a writer is such a privilege,” says Rihn, “and the ability to respond is just one of the ways to fulfill the responsibility that comes along with it.”
Our conversation went a little something like this…
Mickey Z.: America Plops and Fizzes kinda reminds of the story about when an art writer declared that Jackson Pollock’s paintings lacked a beginning or an end and Pollock replied, “He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was.” Did you embrace of “no form” by design or by natural process?
Andrew Rihn: By both, actually. America Plops and Fizzes was written while I was an undergraduate at Kent State, and one of the important tasks for writing instructors is to expose their students to a diversity of forms. Good students are able to learn these forms, but good writers must also I think experience a sense of un-learning, that is, embracing these forms in different ways. I was very conscious of forms like haiku and haibun, as well as less formal styles like aphorisms and contemporary advertising slogans, but the decision to blur and blend was a very natural one.
Having “no form” implies the existence of form, and vice versa. I find that tension fundamental to language, and it is made especially visible in creative writing. Humans seem to have an innate impulse towards language, but the languages we create are of course human systems, and imperfect. They’re terrific because they make our thoughts visible; at the same time, structuring our thoughts imposes limits on them as well. So there’s a regulatory function to any formal structure.
But as David Munson’s artwork in the book illustrates, sometimes that regulation can be a good thing.
MZ: Patti Smith once said the role of the poet was that of a Paul Revere of sorts, e.g. not necessarily about solutions but all about waking up the populace. Any thoughts on that appraisal?
AR: I think that’s a wonderful description! Poetry is a rhetoric: a way of writing and speaking that shapes the way we interact with the world. It’s a way of thinking. In that regard, it’s the opposite of advertising. Good poetry, like good food, is a slow process. It takes time to digest; it gives you strength. But we’re inundated with junk food – empty calories, empty words. Fast food, Twitter updates, celebrity marriages. We’re left, individually and culturally, bloated, weak, and constipated.
MZ: But do you see any chance of us to a more nutritious, poetry-based diet? Perhaps one day, long after industrial civilization has imploded, humans will live a modern version of the clan or village-based life and this would be more conducive to storytelling?
AR: I think a balanced diet should include a bit of poetry, but also some fiction. And non-fiction: histories, biographies, academics, manifestos. I’m not a nutritionist, but I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to limit our diets to just one thing. We need painting, and music, and theatre, too. I don’t know how exactly an arts-based civilization would function, but it would be a welcome change from ours based on property, militarization, and surveillance.
Poems will never be as flippant as the “Twinkie defense,” or pad the profit margins like a marketing campaign. A poem will never have the same impact as a bomb, but I’m pretty comfortable with that.
MZ: If not the impact of a bomb, what then did you have in mind as you compiled America Plops and Fizzes in terms of both choosing poems and the order appear in and potential reader response?
AR: At his sexiest, and most subversive, the poet Pablo Neruda said “I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.” That’s the kind of explosion I am interested in. Of course, Neruda said it in Spanish so most of us in the US need a translator to read his poems. But that’s something I wanted to capture in this book as well: translation, negotiation, reconstruction.
Our memories are always selective – just ask a racist about the cause of the Civil War – but in critically reflecting upon our experiences we can begin to see the spaces where real, potentially radical options existed. What I hope these poems will do is reconstruct, little by little, the reader’s own experience, the way bricks from a torn down wall can be used to build something new.
It is one thing to know where you have been and where you’re heading, and that’s vital, but is something altogether different to look at where you could have been, where you could be going. So it’s that moment of stepping forward, after the book has been read and put down, that I’m most interested in. I want to encourage people to disrupt the paths of least resistance – the political, the social, the personal – and to do so creatively, emphatically, and with love.
MZ: One last thing – since you suggest it in your new book – what is the poet’s equivalent to a sparring partner?
AR: A boxer’s sonnet, maybe. A martial artist in blank verse.
Alain de Botton is a Swiss public intellectual, author, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur living in the United Kingdom. He has written several books on literature, philosophy, art, travel and architecture. In August 2008, he established a new educational enterprise in London called “The School of Life”. Among his prominent books are “How Proust Can Change Your Life”, “The Consolations of Philosophy” and “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work”.
De Botton is an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The title was awarded to him in recognition of his services to art and architecture. His books are translated into several languages and are among the best-selling works of literature in so many countries, including Iran. What follows is the complete text of an in-depth interview with Alain de Botton where we discussed a variety of topics and issues concerning philosophy, art, literature, travel and architecture.
Kourosh Ziabari: Dear Alain; I’m the second Iranian journalist who conducts an interview with you. How’s your feeling about that?
Alain de Botton: I’m delighted to hear from Iranian journalists and readers. In most countries, one signs an agreement with a publisher to sell a book and therefore there is an immediate and direct connection with a country and its readers. However, with Iran, it didn’t happen like this for me. One day, from the blue, I received an email from my translator and she offered to send me a few copies of my books in Persian. This felt like a great surprise and honor. I know a lot about Iran, Its architecture, its history, its landscape, but I have never visited, so knowing that my books are read in the country helped to solidify a connection which is very vivid in my imagination already.
KZ: “How Proust Can Change Your Life” is your most widely-read book in Iran. Many Iranian booklovers with an inclination toward philosophy have read both Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” and your book on Proust’s work, as well. You published this book 13 years ago. If you had to rewrite or revise your book, what would you change, append or remove? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this book in your own view?
AB: I continue to be rather happy with this book. It is short, so it doesn’t say everything one could say about Proust, but it tries to say what is most important. I imagine it like a conversation with an imaginary friend who asks me ‘Why should this book matter? Why should I bother with it when life is short and I am so busy?’ So my book is my answer. It attempts in clear and non-academic language to convey the importance of one of the most intelligent and sensitive writers in the history of humanity. A man like Marcel Proust comes along once every 300 years or so… not more.
KZ: You admire Marcel Proust for what is believed to be his “simple and straightforward” language. What are the features of such a language? What makes a piece of writing simple and appealing to an ordinary reader? According to your response to one of Mr. Kamali Dehghan’s questions, they’re only the idiots and stupid people who seem complicated; the genius, intelligent man is simple and straightforward. Why do you think so?
AB: There can of course be pleasure in complex pieces of language: some very beautiful poetry is very complicated. Nevertheless, I especially admire clarity and logic, where one feels that a very complex thought has been understood so profoundly that it has been distilled into a perfect clear jewel. For example, consider this aphorism by La Rochefoucauld: ‘We all have strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others’. This thought contains years of experience, one could write an entire book on this, and yet he has condensed it into one beautiful, brilliant sentence. Marcel Proust does this too – one finds one’s own thoughts in his work, but in a way that teaches us more about ourselves than we ever knew on our own.
KZ: You started your literary career at a young age and published your first book when you were 23. How did writing in the youth days contribute to your future career as a professional writer?
AB: Sometimes I wish I had started writing later, but I felt ready at 23, and I wrote the book that I still perhaps love best, Essays in Love. I felt so unhappy about love; it was as if I had no choice but to write. I felt the full agony of late adolescent unrequited love. Many works of literature have arisen from such feelings. They are among the most powerful we have.
KZ: Tell us a little about your School of Life. How did the idea of establishing this enterprise come about? What activities are usually carried out in the school? How and for what purposes do you connect people together in this school?
AB: If you went to any university in the modern world and said that you had come to study ‘how to live’, you would be politely shown the door, if not the way to an asylum. Universities see it as their job to train you either in a specific career, e.g. law, medicine, or to give you a grounding in ‘the humanities’, but for no identifiable reason, beyond the vague and unexamined notion that three years studying the classics or reading Middlemarch may be a good idea.
The contemporary university is an uncomfortable amalgamation of ambitions once held by a variety of educational institutions. It owes debts to the philosophical schools of Ancient Greece and Rome, to the monasteries of the Middle Ages, to the theological colleges of Paris, Padua and Bologna and to the research laboratories of early modern science. One of the legacies of this heterogeneous background is that academics in the humanities have been forced to disguise, both from themselves and their students, why their subjects really matter, for the sake of attracting money and prestige in a world obsessed by the achievements of science and unable to find a sensible way of assessing the value of a novel or a history book.
The chief problem for anyone in a history or an English department today is that science has been too successful. Science can make your car work, fix your liver, send spaceships to Mars and turn sunlight into electricity. In other words, science is to be valued because it gives us control over our fate, whereas in W. H. Auden’s defiant words, “poetry makes nothing happen”. Auden’s stance may be a heroic rallying cry for the freelance poet, but it becomes more alarming as a job description for a young academic who has just completed a doctorate on Biblical references in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s later verse.
The response of humanities departments to their status anxiety has been to mimic their colleagues in physics or astronomy, in a move that has had short-term gains, but is in danger of asphyxiating their subjects in the long run. Academics in the arts have decided that they, too, should be viewed as ‘researchers’ and that their principal value should come from their capacity to discover new things, like chemists might uncover new molecular structures. There are clearly occasions when scholars do make genuine discoveries which can be compared to breakthroughs in science, but it surely represents a distortion of the value of the arts as a whole to make their value entirely dependent on factual, verifiable criteria.
To do so is to behave like a man who has fallen deeply in love and asks his companion if he might act on his emotions by measuring the distance between her elbow and her shoulder blade. In the modern academy, an art historian, on being stirred to tears by the tenderness and serenity he detects in a work by a 14th-century Florentine painter, typically ends up answering his emotions by writing a monograph, as irreproachable as it is bloodless, on the history of paint manufacture in the age of Giotto.
It was in the 16th century that the greatest anti-academic scholar of the West launched his attack on the bias of universities. Michel de Montaigne, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the great texts, nevertheless deplored the way in which academics tended to privilege learning over wisdom. “I gladly come back to the theme of the absurdity of our education: its end has not been to make us good and wise, but learned. It has not taught us to seek virtue and to embrace wisdom: it has impressed upon us their derivation and their etymology. We readily inquire, ‘Does he know Greek or Latin?’ ‘Can he write poetry and prose?’ But what matters most is what we put last: ‘Has he become better and wiser?’”
It was because of my time at Cambridge that I started to dream of an ideal new sort of institution which could welcome Montaigne, or indeed Nietzsche, Goethe or Kierkegaard, a University of Life that would give students the tools to master their lives through the study of culture rather than using culture for the sake of passing an exam.
This ideal University of Life would draw on traditional areas of knowledge (history, art, literature) but would angle its material towards active concerns, how to choose a career, conduct a relationship, sack someone and get ready to die. The university would never take the importance of culture for granted. It would be calculatedly vulgar. Rather than leaving it hanging why one was reading Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, an ideal course covering 19th-century literature would ask plainly “What is it that adultery ruins in a marriage?” Students would end up knowing much the same material as their colleagues in other institutions, but they would have learnt it under a very different set of headings.
On the menu of my ideal university, you wouldn’t find subjects like ‘philosophy’ and ‘history’. Instead, you would find courses in ‘death’, ‘marriage’, ‘choosing a career’, ‘ambition’, and ‘child rearing’. Too often, these head-on assaults on the great questions are abandoned to the second-rate efforts of gurus and motivational speakers.
So I came to feel it was high time for serious culture to reappropriate them and to consider them with all the rigour and seriousness currently too often lavished on topics of minor relevance.
That’s why, in early 2009, some colleagues and I came together to start a little educational institution in London that we’ve called The School of Life (www.theschooloflife.com). The idea was to offer instruction in the great questions of life in a way that would be intelligent, imaginative, revolutionary and playful. At the school, you can sign up for courses in politics, work, family, love – or indeed, talk to a therapist, learn how to garden in the city or go on a communal meal for strangers. The spirit of the place is anarchic and yet serious at heart. We’re throwing down a gauntlet to traditional education, trying to reinvent how learning gets done. There are similarities with what I have tried to do in some of my books, though here we’re attempting to demonstrate, rather than simply describe, the advantages of the examined life.
We have had a very successful first year, which suggests to me the depth of frustration that many ordinary people feel for the pedagogic approach of traditional universities.
KZ: You serve in the Living Architecture organization as the Creative Director. You’ve also been appointed the honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in recognition of your services to architecture. How is your professional career as a literary author related to your admiration for sublime, transcendent architecture? How do you make a connection between architecture and literature?
AB: Is it serious to worry about design and architecture? To think hard about the shape of the bathroom taps, the color of the bedspread and the dimensions of the window frames?
A long intellectual tradition suggests it isn’t quite. A whiff of trivia and self-indulgence floats over the topic. It seems like something best handled by the flamboyant presenters of early evening TV shows. A thought-provoking number of the world’s most intelligent people have always disdained any interest in the appearance of buildings, equating contentment with discarnate and invisible matters instead. The Ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is said to have demanded of a heart-broken friend whose house had burnt to the ground, ‘If you really understand what governs the universe, how can you yearn for bits of stone and pretty rock?’ It is unclear how much longer the friendship lasted.
And yet determined efforts to scorn design have also long been matched by equally persistent attempts to mould the material world to graceful ends. People have strained their backs carving flowers into their roof beams and their eyesight embroidering animals onto their tablecloths. They have given up weekends to hide unsightly cables behind ledges. They have thought carefully about appropriate kitchen work-surfaces. They have imagined living in unattainably expensive houses pictured in magazines and then felt sad, as one does on passing an attractive stranger in a crowded street.
We seem divided between an urge to override our senses and numb ourselves to the appearance of houses and a contradictory impulse to acknowledge the extent to which our identities are indelibly connected to, and will shift along with, our locations. I personally side with the view that it does (unfortunately as it’s expensive) matter what things look like: an ugly room can coagulate any loose suspicions as to the incompleteness of life, while a sun-lit one set with honey-coloured limestone tiles can lend support to whatever is most hopeful within us. Belief in the significance of architecture is premised on the notion that we are, for better and for worse, different people in different places – and on the conviction that it is architecture’s task to render vivid to us who we might ideally be.
Our sensitivity to our surroundings can be traced back to a troubling feature of human psychology: to the way we harbour within us many different selves, not all of which feel equally like ‘us’, so much so that in certain moods, we can complain of having come adrift from what we judge to be our true selves.
Unfortunately, the self we miss at such moments, the elusively authentic, creative and spontaneous side of our character, is not ours to summon at will. Our access to it is, to a humbling extent, determined by the places we happen to be in, by the colour of the bricks, the height of the ceilings and the layout of the streets. In a house strangled by three motorways, or in a wasteland of rundown tower blocks, our optimism and sense of purpose are liable to drain away, like water from a punctured container. We may start to forget that we ever had ambitions or reasons to feel spirited and hopeful.
We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need – but are at constant risk of forgetting we need – within. We turn to wallpaper, benches, paintings and streets to staunch the disappearance of our true selves.
In turn, those places whose outlook match and legitimate our own, we tend to honor with the term ‘home’. Our homes do not have to offer us permanent occupancy or store our clothes to merit the name. To speak of home in relation to a building is simply to recognize its harmony with our own prized internal song. As the French writer Stendhal put it, ‘What we find beautiful is the promise of happiness’.
It is the world’s great religions that have perhaps given most thought to the role played by our environment in determining our identity and so – while seldom constructing places where we might fall asleep – have shown the greatest sympathy for our need for a home. The very principle of religious architecture has its origins in the notion that where we are critically determines what we are able to believe in. To defenders of religious architecture, however convinced we are at an intellectual level of our commitments to a creed, we will only remain reliably devoted to it when it is continually affirmed by our buildings. We may be nearer or further away from God on account of whether we’re in a church, a mosque – or a supermarket. We can’t be good, faithful people anywhere.
Ordinary, domestic architecture can be said to have just as much of an influence on our characters as religious buildings. What we call a beautiful house is one that rebalances our misshapen natures and encourages emotions which we are in danger of losing sight of. For example, an anxious person may be deeply moved by a white empty minimalist house. Or a business executive who spends her life shuttling between airports and steel and glass conference centers may feel an intense attraction to a simple rustic cottage – which can put her in touch with sides of her personality that are denied to her in the ordinary press of her days. We call something beautiful whenever we detect that it contains in a concentrated form those qualities in which we personally, or our societies more generally, are deficient. We respect a style which can move us away from what we fear and towards what we crave: a style which carries the correct dosage of our missing virtues.
It is sometimes thought exaggerated to judge people on their tastes in design. It can hardly seem appropriate to pass judgment on the basis of a choice of wallpaper. But the more seriously we take architecture, the more we can come to argue that it is in fact logical to base sympathy for someone on their visual tastes. For visual taste is never just simply a visual matter. It’s indicative of a view of life. Any object of design will give off an impression of the psychological and moral attitudes it supports. We can, for example, feel two distinct conceptions of fulfillment emanating from a plain crockery set on the one hand and an ornate flower-encrusted one on the other – an invitation to a democratic graceful sensibility in the former case, to a more nostalgic, country-bound disposition in the latter.
In essence, what works of design and architecture talk to us about is the kind of life that would most appropriately unfold within and around them. They tell us of certain moods that they seek to encourage and sustain in their inhabitants. While keeping us warm and helping us in mechanical ways, they simultaneously hold out an invitation for us to be specific sorts of people. They speak of particular visions of happiness.
To describe a building as beautiful therefore suggests more than a mere aesthetic fondness; it implies an attraction to the particular way of life this structure is promoting through its roof, door handles, window frames, staircase and furnishings. A feeling of beauty is a sign that we have come upon a material articulation of certain of our ideas of a good life. Similarly, buildings will strike us as offensive not because they violate a private and mysterious visual preference but because they conflict with our understanding of the rightful sense of existence.
No wonder then that our discussions of architecture and design have a tendency to be so heated. Arguments about what is beautiful are at heart arguments about the values we want to live by; rather than merely struggling about how we want things to look.
Because of my feelings towards architecture, last year, I began a new organization called Living Architecture; we build beautiful modern houses around Britain that people can rent for a holiday. It is a combination of an artistic firm and a holiday company. I love to combine business and art in this way. It is an immensely fulfilling project. www.living-architecture.co.uk
KZ: As you know, ancient Persian architecture and Islamic architecture are two of the most prominent schools of architecture in the world. In Iran, you can find the most glorious and magnificent instances of inspirational architecture. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve dedicated one part of your documentary film “The Architecture of Happiness” to the Islamic architecture. Tell us about your familiarity with the Persian and Islamic architecture. Which elements are the most striking and eminent features of Persian and Islamic architecture in your view?
For the modern world, what Persian architecture shows most of all are the possibilities of decoration. For 100 years, decoration became taboo in the secular west. All buildings had to be plain, white or grey – but with nothing on them. Persian architecture reminds us that a building can also be a jewel, or as something as bright and intricate as a piece of lace. This kind of architecture speaks of delight, of transcending the ordinary, of touching something that makes us awed and humble. All this we need to relearn and remember – and buildings should help us to do this.
KZ: In your book “The Art of Travel”, you’ve elaborately discussed the delicacies and subtleties of traveling and presented guidelines on how to make one’s travels more enjoyable and fruitful. How may countries have you traveled to? How do you make a travel enjoyable for yourself? May I ask you to give us some clues on how to employ the “art of travel” in order to turn our exhausting, arduous voyages into pleasurable and interesting trips?
I think we need to recognize that traveling is not only difficult practically; it is also a psychological experience. At its best, travel should change our souls, should make us into better, wiser people. However, only too often, it is ruined by our lack of expectation. Religious pilgrimages show the way: pilgrims use travel for inner transformation. This is always the way one should do it.
KZ: You spent one week at the Heathrow Airport and talked to the airline staff, senior executives and travelers about their attitudes and viewpoints about the time which they spend there. The result of this one-week research became your instructive book “A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary”. Unquestionably, Heathrow Airport is a unique and unrivaled venue in Europe. What did you extract from your researches, interviews and observations there?
AB: There are not too many books about airports in the world, given how central airports are to our experiences. Very often, when airports are written about, they are covered in the context of disasters. The airport becomes significant when there is a tragedy, a plane crashes, or else when there is an appalling strike, a snowstorm, some kind of disruption. I was resolutely against focusing on these extraordinary events. What interested me was to describe the ordinary, precisely because it is so very unusual and special.
The real problem with airports is that we tend to go there when we need to catch a plane and because it’s so difficult to find the way to the gate, we tend not to look around at our surroundings. And yet airports definitely reward a second look. They are the imaginative centers of the modern world. It’s here you should go to find, in a concrete form, all the themes of modernity that one otherwise finds only in an abstract forms in the media. Here you see globalization, environmental destruction, runaway consumerism, family breakdown, the modern sublime etc. in action.
Airports are so fascinating because they are places where high technology meets consumer culture, where we feel in the presence of the giant collective mind of the modern world. So often, we are in environments which haven’t changed much since the 19th century; suddenly at the airport, we see the promises of modernity: the promise of speed, transformation, infernal bureaucracy and nightmarish loss of individuality. It is a mixture of horror and beauty, which as an artist one can celebrate and lament.
Airports are a mixture of horror and beauty. The sight of an aircraft taking off to the skies is an intensely moving and amazing scene, not only for small boys, but for grown ups too. Boy’s dreams are often the right ones. The question is why men are not allowed to exploit the dreams of boys, why we have to put those dreams away. As I get older, I try more and more to do the sort of things I liked when I was 8. Boys are quite right to be excited by technology, like the Airbus A380 or the new Rolls Royce Trent engine, which is as fine a human document of human creativity as a cathedral.
Airports help to put us in touch with the idea of alternatives, they relativize us. They make us think that right now, be it at 10am or 3pm, somewhere on the other side of the globe, very different things are happening. They do that very basic task of the places of travel; jolt us into remembering that the world is stranger, more exciting, more various than we imagine it when we are in familiar surroundings, and in danger of boredom and routine.
KZ: While looking through your books, I came across to an interesting point and that was the diversity and variability of your works. You have not limited yourself to a certain dogma in writing. You have produced works on philosophy, literature, architecture, travel, social class etc. We don’t have so many notable authors with such a diverse background. It might be an attractive mission to be able to explore so many fields of study simultaneously. Isn’t it?
AB: We live in a very specialized the world: the engineer must only do engineering etc. The same has become true of writing. Yet I am a naturally restless soul, always curious about things, and the questions that haunt me exist in so many different spheres. The question of meaning, happiness, fulfillment, love… these topics are everywhere, in airports, in love stories, in architecture…
KZ: As a Western author, what are in your view, the most challenging predicaments of the Western society? In the oriental communities, especially in Iran, there’s a common perception that the foundations of morality are becoming shaky in the West. As evidence, we can cite the dissolution of the foundation of traditional family in the West. Do you agree with me that at the same as experiencing technological, industrial, political and economic advancements, the Western societies are undergoing a cultural, moral setback?
AB: It is certainly true that the West is experiencing some very serious problems in the area of morality and community. We are having a hard time finding replacement for a religious structure. The rational Enlightenment thought that guides the West has paid too little attention to the emotional needs of man. It has always called for freedom, very important, but we also need guidance and a sense of belonging. I have just finished a book about religion, arguing that even atheists need to learn things from religion, and in it, I make many of the points you hint at.
KZ: In your “The Consolations of Philosophy”, you’ve tried to reconcile philosophy with the daily life. Your effort has been focused on employing philosophy to appease the pains of mankind. How is it possible for the intricate, complex concepts of philosophy to find solutions for the daily problems of the humankind? Does the philosophy of the six philosophers which you’ve presented in your book address the problems of humanity in one way or the other?
AB: Philosophy is something that, alongside religion, should guide us in our everyday lives. At many moments of our lives, we need assistance of a psychological kind, either someone to explain what we are feeling, or to put a feeling in context, to make us feel less strange to ourselves.
KZ: Our world is witness to a growing wave of violence, inhumanity and atrocity absorbing different countries. Discrimination against the minorities, repressive regimes which violate the human rights and restrict the natural freedoms of their own citizens, bloody wars and battles which are fought in the four corners of the world and the imperialistic powers which are looking to expand their dominance over the subjugated nations constitute the major concerns of the international community today. Are these problems solvable in short run? Does philosophy provide solutions to these problems?
AB: I very much believe that writers should be engaged in the problems of our world. They should not retreat into the domestic, or only consider abstract intellectual questions. Of course, it is easy to despair, to feel that one person can never do very much. But history shows a number of writers in every age who manage subtly to influence things, who awaken their countrymen, who frighten those who are corrupt, who say things that need to be said, who do with words what could not be done with guns and prisons. So yes, I remain hopeful that writing can in its own small way alleviate the human condition.
KZ: For my final question, let me ask you about your general perception of Iran. Although the country which you reside in and the country which I belong to are at odds, literature can bridge the gaps between us. What is your special message for the Iranian readers of this interview?
AB: I would like to say to them firstly how very honored I feel that they read my work. I know that it is a great commitment and investment, and I am deeply grateful. Also, I would like to say that though our two countries are at odds, the ordinary people of the UK, like the ordinary people of Iran, have no dispute with one another at all – we are all at heart vulnerable creatures in need of forgiveness and understanding. In a modest way, books can help to build bridges, and I would be greatly pleased if my own books helped Iranian readers to feel that there is someone a little like them living in another country far away. I sincerely believe in the international family of mankind, and that literature has a role to play in reminding us of it.
Erri De Luca is an internationally-renowned Italian poet and writer. “Corriere della Sera” literature critic Giorgio De Rienzo has called him “the writer of the decade”. He started writing since he was 20; however, his first book was published in 1989, when he was 39 years old. Upon graduating from high school in 1968, he joined the newly-established far-left, extra-parliamentary organization of Lotta Continua. The political activities of the organization were terminated early in 1976. Erri De Luca speaks several languages, including English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish.
He is the author of several books including “Montedidio” which has won him The Prix Femina award. Erri De Luca has translated several books of Bible into Italian, including Exodus, Jonah, Ecclesiastes and Ruth. His works have been translated and published in various countries such as Spain, Iran, Portugal, Germany, Holland, USA, Brazil, Poland, Norway, Danmark, Romania, Greece and Lithuania.
De Luca joined me in an exclusive interview and answered my questions on his works and his views on literature, culture, politics and society.
Kourosh Ziabari: What made you interested in literature for the first time? You published your first novel when you were 39; however, you had experienced various professions and jobs before that. You experienced carpentry, masonry and apprenticeship and then moved to writing. What were the first motives which moved you towards literature?
Erri De Luca: I owe my approach to my father’s library. I spent my childhood in a small room with books to the ceiling, I slept surrounded by books. I’ve been reading and writing since I was a kid, books have been the best company. I published my first book late because I wasn’t looking for a publisher. I wrote and write personal stories, always with me telling the story and I thought these would never interest anybody else.
KZ: Our world is filled with materialistic approaches to life. Morality is losing its place in the interpersonal relationships. People disregard the principles of honesty and decency very easily. Is this world compatible with the ideal world which you have portrayed for yourself?
EDL: I’m used to sit at table for lunch where one eats the fruit of one’s work. At these tables, which are the majority on the planet, my principles are not ideals but daily practice.
KZ: Naples is the prominent setting of your novel. Its people speak a variety of Italian language which is even unintelligible to a number of Italians. What’s the significance of Naples for you? How do you seek your desires and ambitions in this ancient city?
EDL: Naples is my place of origin and Napolitan my mother tongue. Italian came later, with books and conversations with my father, who wanted to teach me perfect Italian. In Naples, I had my sentimental education – not to love, but to the sentiments of compassion, anger and shame which are the fundaments of any human being. Naples is not a birth town, but it is a “cause town” and I am one of its effects.
KZ: You speak several languages including French, English, Hebrew and Yiddish. How is the sense of being a multilingual writer? Jock London believes that every book is a gateway to a new world. Do you agree that every language is also a gateway to a new world? With several languages which you know, do you usually feel that you live in different worlds?
EDL: I learnt languages to read them rather than to speak them. My desire was to follow the authors of pages which touched me in their vocabulary and their combination of syllables. Thus I find a personal extract, a glass [of wine] and I go directly to the source. The world which attracts me is that of an author rather than of a people. That’s why I’m not interested in geographically visiting countries whose language I know. I can read in Russian out of love for its poets and writers but I have no desire to find myself in Odessa or Moscow. With the languages I have learnt I have no need to move from where I am.
KZ: Some people believe that the Iranians and Italians are very similar to each other. They say that among the European citizens, Italians are the most similar to Iranians. This similarity can be found in the appearance, social interactions, character and dispositions. Have you ever noticed any similarity between the people of Italy with the oriental nations?
EDL: I find common ground with all people with feet in the Mediterranean Sea. I recognize all trees, goats, dry walls and wrinkled faces. For thousands of years we have mixed, via invasions, immigration, epidemics, wars. Iran and the East are a key premise of our civilization, the first layer, the first seed of our bread.
KZ: Iran and Italy are home to two of the most important ancient civilizations in the world; Persian Empire and Roman Empire. Although the political developments have separated the two countries, how can the cultural ties serve to bring the two nations together and benefit them mutually?
EDL: Iran is the most important country in world politics today. Iranians must know that their decisions with respect to pacific development will be decisive for the next decade. Iran is today, even more than in the past, on the front lines of history. Everything that happens in your country will affect the four corners of the horizon [the rest of the world]
KZ: An Iranian critic of your novel has said that the bitter comedy of your novel “Montedidio” is inspired by Italo Calvino. What do you think about it? Has Calvino ever inspired you in your writings?
EDL: I am not a reader fascinated by Calvino or by 20th century Italian literature in general. I know I owe much to Napolitan literature, its theater, its songs, and to other foreign litteratures which educated me in my youth thanks to my father’s choices and tastes.
KZ: In your short story “The Trench”, you’ve tried to show the difficulty of earning a living and portrayed the complexities a low-ranking laborer faces in dealing with a low-rate job. In one part of your story, the protagonist states: “why in the world should a human being have to earn bread for his children with a noose around his neck? For me it was a question of pride, but for him it was only bread, and still he had to soak it in that salty water of ours, which tasted so much like tears.” I think it’s the essence of your story. What’s your own idea? Why is our life intertwined with difficulties and complexities so inextricably?
EDL: I write stories of my life and the one you bring up is simply a tale of a slice of experience on a construction site in France. Nothing to add, maybe something to take out. My life shares with the majority of other lifes, anonymous and normal. The fact that I am able to write stories does not change that biographic fact. I am someone from the ground floor and my stories are the same.
KZ: Have you ever had the ambition of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature? What do you think about this award? Has it been always awarded to those who deserved it?
EDL: Often, the Academy has rewarded names unknown to me and I was able to discover them thanks to these choices. So I enjoy their literary tastes, most of the time. For my part, I don’t think that I am under consideration for the Academy.
KZ: Dario Fo was the last Italian writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. What do you think of him and his works?
EDL: Dario Fo is an international personality, one of the few Italian personas appreciated worldwide, and he deserves the honor conferred by the prize.
KZ: How much time do you dedicate to studying the world’s literature? How many books do you read in a year? Do you have a special criterion for the geographical distribution of the writers of whom you read novels and literary works? How much time do you spend on reading Italian literature?
EDL: During the day, the time to read and write is squeezed in a small space. I read old works, poetry from all over the world and I don’t follow Italian literature.
KZ: Are you among those thinkers who believe that artistic work is solely produced for the sake of pleasure, or the art itself? What’s the ultimate objective of art? Is it aimed at entertaining the addressee? Is it aimed at creating cosmetic beauty? Which sort of literature do you prefer; a literary work which is created for pleasure or a literary work which is admired for its moral points?
EDL: Literature is for me the best dialogue. I prefer it to any other art form. It should keep its reader company, save him time, be worth the time spent with a book. Literature’s sole responsibility is to create desire to reopen the book. In difficult circumstances, under dictatorships, it can also have the responsibility to save speech. In jail, a book is a fortune and a huger capital for resistance.
KZ: And my final question. What’s your recommendation for those who want to become professional readers of literature? What are the best ways for comprehending the essence of a literary work, whether it’s in the form of poetry or prose? How can a good reader relate to the core of what the writer intends to convey?
EDL: A book is always half of the trip from a writer and a reader, who must complete the work by mixing it with his/her life, moods and needs. A book is a meeting, with no utilization guide, and thus always different, failure or success. Every book is ultimately led by its reader, linked to his/her experience, friendly to his/her human adventure to enrich it. No formula and no advice – “have a nice ride reader” is what I tell myself when I open a page and begin to read.
On September 26, 2009, the New York Times deemed it fit to run an article called “Thousands Hold Peaceful March at G-20 Summit,” in which propagandist Ian Urbina informed us of “several thousand demonstrators” converging on downtown Pittsburgh in light of that city’s hosting of the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting. Urbina called it a “peaceful and permitted march.” The demonstrators, he said, were “calling for solutions to a range of problems that they attributed to the economic policies of the world leaders.” Later, he told of speakers urging demonstrators to “fight for an array of social issues they felt had been largely ignored in global economic policy.”
“They attributed” and “they felt.”
Okay, in a rare case of actual objectivity, Urbina was careful to clarify that not everyone agrees with the protesters. However, that’s where the any attempt at journalism ended. If Urbina were capable of even an iota of independent thought, he’d have found out why demonstrators feel and attribute what they feel and attribute. But…it’s so much easier to just describe what they looked liked.
Some wore fatigues, some chimed cymbals, one played a French horn, 400 “self-described anarchists” were clad in black, and dig this: one very radical group even “held aloft with bamboo poles a giant fabric replica of a dove.” None of these dissidents, Urbina reminded us, ever got closer than the steps of the city-county building, blocks from where the G-20 meeting was being held.
Ain’t dissent neat? Surely peace and justice will be upon us soon.
When telling his loyal readers about a group called “Students for Justice in Palestine” and what they were calling for, propagandist Urbina was extra-cautious to use quotation marks: “the Israeli occupation.” A practicing journalist might have at least used a search engine to include some context from United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), which refers to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calls for the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
Unburdened by such rudimentary journalistic standards, Urbina goes on to end his report by quoting a 20-year-old student from Duquesne University, who was somehow “optimistic that it would be hard to ignore thousands in the street.” As the student explained: “They will listen to a certain degree. They might not necessarily do anything.”
Take home message: Fuck the New York Times and fuck peaceful and permitted marches that won’t necessarily do anything.
You take a black kid, Hispanic kid, Italian kid, and a kid of undefined ethnicity…and let’s say each of them—surprise, surprise—has meager pecuniary prospects. You know, the whole “economic downturn” thing everyone is yapping about.
So…the undefined guy weighs his options and promptly enlists in the United States Marine Corps. The few, the proud, and all that.
Everyone—and I mean, everyone—in his immediate circle applauds this decision. Not only will undefined guy pull himself out of financial hardship, they reason (sic), but he also gets to “serve his country.” Bravo…
Meanwhile, the poor black kid weighs his options and promptly “enlists” in the Crips.
The poverty-stricken Hispanic weighs his options and promptly “enlists” in Latin Kings.
The uneducated Italian kid weighs his options and promptly “enlists” in the Mafia.
Like the “heroes” in the military, these three kids are also facing a stark choice—being poor or choosing a uniform and gun—but no one hangs yellow ribbons for them, no one makes excuses them when they kill innocents.
No one argues when these kids are called “criminals.”
Well, there’s one colossal difference between them and the men and women who volunteer to join the US military and get paid to wage illegal and immoral war:
Even though the US military is far more dangerous than any street gang or Mafia family, the US military is considered legal.
The mainstream media is reporting that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein told his FBI interrogators after his capture that he lied about having weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because he feared Iran. But there’s just one problem with this claim: Saddam Hussein never claimed to have WMD, but , as everybody knows, repeatedly denied that this was so.
This propaganda line had its origins early on following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. David Kay, who early on headed up the CIA’s effort to find WMD, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), suggested at the time that Saddam had “bluffed” about having WMD in order to deter Iran.
The deception served to absolve the Bush administration of responsibility for having lied about the “threat” by making it seem as though it was reasonable to arrive at that conclusion since Saddam had claimed to possess WMD, even though he did not.
In actual fact, however, far from admitting possession, Iraq repeatedly denied having WMD in the months and years leading up to the invasion.
The “Saddam ‘bluffed'” claim, though, has lived on. It reared its ugly head again in January 2008 when Saddam’s interrogator, FBI agent George Piro, was interviewed for CBS 60 Minutes. Piro explained that he told Saddam he liked his poetry, and Saddam boasted that he wrote all his own speeches, too. Piro saw an opportunity and said he assumed some of his speeches had been written by someone else, because they had a different style. Piro recalled telling Saddam, “And in June 2000 you gave a speech in which you said Iraq would not disarm until others in the region did. A rifle for a rifle, a stick for a stick, a stone for a stone”.
The 60 Minutes report here inserted, “That June 2000 speech was about weapons of mass destruction.” And the interviewer, Scott Pelley, asked Piro why Saddam would put his nation at risk “to maintain this charade” of having WMD. Piro replied, “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.”
The George Washington University National Security Archive released the FBI summaries of Saddam’s interrogation received through a Freedom of Information Act request this week, and the “Saddam ‘bluffed'” claim is again making the headlines.
The Associated Press reports, “The documents also confirm previous reports that Saddam falsely allowed the world to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction – the main U.S. rationale behind the war – because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.”
The USA Today blog “On Deadline” similarly reports, “Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, in 20 formal interviews and at least five casual conversations with the FBI, said he was bluffing publicly about having weapons of mass destruction because he feared showing weakness to Iran, according to newly released FBI summaries.”
The Christian Science Monitor’s “global news blog” , under a headline reading “Why Saddam Hussein lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction“, states that “Saddam Hussein encouraged the perception that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because he was afraid of appearing weak in Iran’s eyes, according to nearly two dozen declassified transcripts of an FBI agent’s conversations with the former Iraqi dictator released Wednesday.”
A London Telegraph headline reads “Saddam Hussein ‘lied about WMDs to protect Iraq from Iran‘”. The article states, “Saddam Hussein told the FBI that he misled the world into believing Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, according to declassified interview transcripts.”
The Israeli daily Haaretz carries a Reuters report headlined “FBI: Saddam told us he lied about having nukes to deter Iran“, which states that “Saddam Hussein believed Iran was a significant threat to Iraq and left open the possibility that he had weapons of mass destruction rather than appear vulnerable, according to declassified FBI documents on interrogations of the former Iraqi leader.”
The only quote from the documents used to support the assertion that Saddam “lied” about having WMD is a statement in the interrogation summaries that reads, “Hussein believed that Iraq could not appear weak to its enemies, especially Iran.”
But that statement says nothing about WMD.
The entire relevant section from the released summary of a June 11, 2004 interrogation reads: “SSA Piro then asked Hussein if he wrote his own speeches and they come from the heart, then what was the meaning of his June 2000 speech. Hussein replied this speech was meant to serve a regional and operational purpose. Regionally, the speech was meant to respond to Iraq’s regional threat. Hussein believed that Iraq could not appear weak to its enemies, especially Iran. Iraq was being threatened by others in the region and must appear able to defend itself.”
The only reference to WMD comes in the next sentence, which belies the assertion that the documents show Saddam “lied” about having WMD: “Operationally, Hussein was demonstrating Iraq’s compliance with the United Nations (UN) in its destruction of its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)” (emphasis added).
The reference to Saddam’s June 2000 speech is also important. First, this was well before the move had begun under the Bush administration to implement regime change, an effort that began in earnest in 2002. U.N. inspectors returned under a resolution passed in November 2002.
Second, while 60 Minutes asserted that this speech “was about weapons of mass destruction”, this is merely a widely propagated and dubious interpretation. In that speech, Hussein noted that the U.S. has “used the United Nations as a cover” to “issue resolutions” against Iraq before saying, “However, we must protect our country because we will not give them Iraq. We do not like to collect weapons for the sake of collecting weapons. But we consider the provision of the necessary means to protect our country an ethical and moral responsibility that every Iraqi man and woman must shoulder.”
Hussein continued on to say that Iraq would be “most enthusiastic” to limit weapons. “We told President Husni Mubarak: You can go ahead and announce that the Arabs are prepared to join any treaty to rid the region of the so-called weapons of mass destruction. We told him: This does not mean only ballistic missiles, which are no more than artillery of a longer range”. His condition was “that the Zionist entity”, Israel, “is the first to sign such a treaty.”
The “weapons” Saddam was referring to were not WMD, but Iraq’s conventional weapons, including its ballistic missiles. Long-range ballistic missiles were proscribed for Iraq under U.N. resolutions. Saddam referred not to biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons in his speech, but to ballistic missiles and other conventional arms.
Hussein continued, clearly demonstrating that the “weapons” he was referring to were not WMD, but the conventional arms of Iraq’s military forces. “If the world tells us to abandon all our weapons and keep only swords,” Hussein said, “we will do that. We will destroy all the weapons, if the destroy their weapons. But if they keep a rifle and then tell me that I have the right to possess only a sword, then we would say no.”
The claim that Hussein was declaring in this speech to possess WMD is simply false, dependent entirely upon the dubious interpretation that his talk of rifles and swords was a metaphor for “anthrax” or “mustard gas”, and willfully ignorant of the fact that the only “so-called weapons of mass destruction” Saddam actually claimed to have in this speech were conventional ballistic missiles forbidden under U.N. resolutions, and not WMD.
The bottom line: It wasn’t Saddam Hussein, who lied about Iraq having WMD; it was the U.S. government.
OBAMA’S MAIN ‘PUPPETEER’ IS THE HUNGARIAN BORN JEW – GEORGE SOROS. With his financial ability in the billions of dollars to back whatever cause he chooses and his powerful control of the media, Soros has the means to engineer the political and economic destinies of entire nations. Indeed, Soros has already implemented his global agenda in both Georgia and Kosovo.
The latest “cause” backed by Soros is the Obama presidency. Known as Obama’s “money man,” Soros’s involvement with Obama’s national political career began in 2005 with Soros fundraising for Obama’s campaign for US Senate and continued through the 2007 Presidential campaign launch with huge fundraising operations managed by Soros.
Soros, a proponent of the “hard left,” has also been funneling money into the Democratic Party and to its candidates with the intent on building a slate of Senators and Representatives with socialist leanings. “George Soros has purchased the Democratic Party,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman, Christine Iverson, “and he who pays the piper calls the tune.”
Through his Open Society Institute, Soros has contributed to left wing socialist groups such as, Human Rights Watch, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, The New American Foundation, ACORN, MoveOn, and his own, Center For American Progress, of which, Obama recently appointed its senior fellow, Todd Stern, as his ‘Climate Czar.’ Stern, a Zionist Jew, is the chief architect of the socialist-inspired Climate Change Bill, just passed by Congress.
George Soros now has a superhighway to Change – ‘Socialist Change.’ We are already beginning to see the largest growth in government in the history of America. Hell-bent on destroying the American dollar and installing a global currency, Soros has got his bought-and-paid-for White House stooge now installing his socialist agenda.
FOR IN HIS FIRST 100 DAYS as president, Obama has passed a flurry of deficit-deepening legislations such as the Stimulus Bill, the Equal Pay Bill, the Global Poverty Bill, the Tobacco Bill, the Climate Change Bill, and his upcoming Health Reform Bill. These will bring an already bankrupt America into a deficit of $2 trillion dollars including interest on the debt, paid to the Zionist Jews who own the Federal Reserve Bank. Obama’s next plan is to pass a UN sponsored Bill which will force Americans to pay a global tax. View Entire Story Here & Here.
And who will be the ruling elite of the socialist American state now in the making? Wealthy and powerful Jews – like George Soros – who have eliminated all capitalist power blocs that would oppose them. And with Obama’s creeping socialism becoming more and more apparent, George Soros emerges as the chief mogul behind Obama’s Marxist policies.
In his book, Dreams From My Father, Obama admits developing a close relationship, “almost like a son,” with Davis in 1977, whom he repeatedly refers to as “Frank.” Writing about attending “socialist conferences” and coming into contact with Marxist literature, Obama reminisces of listening to Frank’s “poetry” and getting advice on his career path.
One particular piece of Marxist literature, Rules for Radicals, penned by the Chicago Marxist Jew, Saul Alinsky, had oft been quoted by Obama in campaign speeches during his run for a State Senate seat in Illinois in 1996.
Obama’s embrace of the ideology of Saul Alinsky began when he was 24 years old, unmarried, very accustomed to a vagabond existence, and according to his memoirs, Dreams From My Father, was searching for a genuine African-American community.
White leftists of the Developing Communities Project of Chicago were looking for someone who could recruit in a black neighborhood in the south side of Chicago. Obama answered their Help-Wanted ad and soon took up a paid position as a community organizer. The Developing Communities Project was built on the Alinsky model of community agitation, wherein paid organizers learned how to “rub raw the sores of discontent.”
“The agitator’s job,” according to Alinsky, “is first to bring folks to the realization that they are indeed miserable, that their misery is the fault of unresponsive governments and greedy corporations, then help them to bond together to demand what they think they deserve.”
As a confirmed atheist, Alinsky saw an opportunity to cynically spread his socialist ideology in already-formed church communities as being the perfect springboards for agitation and creating bonds for their demands.
WHEN OBAMA FIRST UNDERTOOK HIS AGITATION WORK, he was un-churched. But to fulfill the Alinsky manifesto, Obama joined a huge black nationalist church, whose pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, (whom Obama called his spiritual mentor), preached a “black” gospel. Denouncing white supremacy and decrying black inferiority, Wright would intone from the pulpit: “GAWD! Has GOT! To be SICK! OF THIS S**T!” View Entire Story Here & Here.
In 1996, Obama received the endorsement of the Chicago branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for an Illinois State Senate seat. Later, the Chicago DSA newsletter reported that Obama, as a State Senator, showed up to eulogize the Jew, Saul Mendelson, one of the “champions” of “Chicago’s democratic left.”
The Democratic Socialists of America is the principal US affiliate of the Socialist International, which enjoys a “consultative status” with the United Nations. This international connection is significant because two of Obama’s recent legislations, The Global Poverty Act, and The Climate Change Bill, are both pieces of the UN’s socialist agenda to siphon the wealth of Western nations to Third World Muslim countries and ultimately, to implement its plan for a socialist World Government.
SOROS WAS BORN OF JEWISH PARENTS IN BUDAPEST IN 1930 as Gyorgy Schwartz. When young Gyorgy Schwartz enrolled at the Fabian socialist London School of Economics in 1949 he changed his surname to Soros. At the London School of Economics he became friends with Marxist philosopher Sir Karl Popper, founder of the Association of Socialist School Students and author of the 1945 book, The Open Society And Its Enemies.
In 1956, in an “open society” of America, of which Soros now wishes to expand into a “borderless society,” young George Soros arrived on Wall Street with $5,000 and quickly demonstrated a Jewish “knack” for investing other people’s money.
Soros soon came to be called “the greatest money manager in the world” by satisfied clients of his multi-billionaire international hedge fund called the Quantum Fund. Today, Forbes Magazine ranks him the 28th richest person in the United States, with an estimated fortune worth $7 billion.
In 1993, Soros established the US branch of his Open Society Institute as a “tax-free” foundation to support his socialist foundations in Central and Eastern Europe. The President of the Open Society Institute is the Jew, Aryeh Neier, who as Director of the Socialist League For Industrial Democracy, personally created the radical group Students For A Democratic Society in 1959.
Though he likes to be considered a “stateless statesman,” Soros, in fact, is more accurately described as the “Godfather of World Socialism.” For through his Open Society Institute, Soros funds an army of socialist organizations that advocate abortion, open borders, amnesty for illegal aliens, a global currency, prevention of global warming, and a world poverty tax. View Entire Story Here.
Again, two of Obama’s recent legislations, The Global Poverty Act, and The Climate Change Bill, are both pieces which are consonant with the George Soros agenda.
OBAMA’S SOCIALIST CONNECTIONS EXPLAINS WHY he has libertine views on sexual matters such as abortion and homosexuality.
One of Obama’s first actions in office was to issue an executive order authorizing federal funds for pro-abortion groups that operate globally. Obama supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which would make abortion an entitlement that the government could not limit.
This falls in line with the socialist agenda of George Soros, the “puppeteer” pulling the strings of his “puppet,” Barack Obama. Among Soros’s demands are to make abortions freely available and to legalize gay marriages. Soros also demands full rights for illegal aliens and felons, as well as the legalization of euthanasia for the “infirm.” And, oh yes, Soros demands the end of US global supremacy through a borderless society.
Unless we wake up soon, our “infirm” nation will soon be put to an eternal sleep by Barack Obama & George Soros, SOCIALISTS, who now run a Marxist White House
Okay, short attention span crowd: Grab your remote (or mouse) and get ready to click, click, click…
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I don’t wanna die without any scars.”
– Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
William Burroughs once wrote about how we humans-like the bull in a bullfight-tend to focus on the elusive red cape instead of the matador. Indeed, we are all-too-easily distracted from real targets by an attractive image or illusion.
Of course, some bulls see right through the red cape, uh, bullshit…and quite justifiably introduce the matador to the business end of their horns. Before you mistake that for a lesson and/or inspiration, don’t forget that such bulls are promptly killed while the matador is mourned as a brave hero.
Here’s my question: If every bull in every bullfight were to gore every matador, how long would it be before bullfights were a thing of the past?
Malcolm X sez:
“It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”
In the late 1960s-thanks to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW)-deciding whether or not to buy grapes became a political act. Three years after its establishment in 1962, the UFW struck against grape growers around Delano, California…a long, bitter, and frustrating struggle that appeared impossible to resolve until Chavez promoted the idea of a national boycott. Trusting in the average person’s ability to connect with those in need, Chavez and the UFW brought their plight-and a lesson in social justice-into homes from coast-to-coast and Americans responded.
“By 1970, the grape boycott was an unqualified success,” writes Marc Grossman of Stone Soup. “Bowing to pressure from the boycott, grape growers at long last signed union contracts, granting workers human dignity and a more livable wage.”
Through hunger strikes, imprisonment, abject poverty for himself and his large family, racist and corrupt judges, exposure to dangerous pesticides, and even assassination plots, Chavez remained true to the cause…even if meant, uh…”stretching” the non-violent methods he espoused:
Once in 1966, when Teamster goons began to rough up Chavez’s picketeers, a bit of labor solidarity solved the problem. William Kircher, the AFL-CIO director of organization, called Paul Hall, president of the International Seafarers Union.
“Within hours,” writes David Goodwin in Cesar Chavez: Hope for the People, “Hall sent a carload of the biggest sailors that had ever put to sea to march with the strikers on the picket lines…There followed afterward no further physical harassment.”
To me, the following quote reads like a poem…so that’s how I’ll present it:
You’ve got to learn
that when you push people around,
some people push back.
As they should.
As they must.
And as they undoubtedly will.
There is justice in such symmetry.
– Ward Churchill
When early American revolutionaries chanted, “Give me liberty or give me death” and complained of having but one life to give for their country, they became the heroes of our history textbooks. But, thanks to the power of the U.S. media and education industries, the Puerto Rican nationalists who dedicated their lives to independence are known as criminals, fanatics, and assassins.
On March 1, 1954, in the gallery of the House of Representatives, Congressman Charles A. Halleck rose to discuss with his colleagues the issue of Puerto Rico. At that moment, Lolita Lebrón alongside three fellow freedom fighters, having purchased a one-way train ticket from New York (they expected to be killed) unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and shouted “Free Puerto Rico!” before firing eight shots at the roof. Her three male co-conspirators aimed their machine guns at the legislators. Andrés Figueroa’s gun jammed, but shots fired by Rafael Cancel Miranda and Irving Flores injured five congressmen.
“I know that the shots I fired neither killed nor wounded anymore,” Lebrón stated afterwards. With the attack being viewed through the sensationalizing prism of American tabloid journalism, this did not matter. She and her nationalist cohorts became prisoners of war for the next twenty-five years.
Why prisoners of war? To answer that, we must recall that since July 25, 1898, when the United States illegally invaded its tropical neighbor under the auspices of the Spanish-American War, the island has been maintained as a colony. In other words, the planet’s oldest colony is being held by its oldest representative democracy-with U.S. citizenship imposed without the consent or approval of the indigenous population in 1917. It is from this geopolitical paradox that the Puerto Rican independence movement sprang forth.
This movement is based firmly on international law, which authorizes “anti-colonial combatants” the right to armed struggle to throw off the yoke of imperialism and gain independence. UN General Assembly Resolution 33/24 of December 1978 recognizes “the legitimacy of the struggle of people’s for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial domination and foreign occupation by all means available, particularly armed struggle.”
Prison did not dampen Lebrón’s revolutionary spirit as she attended demonstrations and spoke out to help win the long battle to evict the US Navy from the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003.
Emma Goldman sez:
“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law.”
In her excellent 1995 book, Bridge of Courage, Jennifer Harbury quotes a Guatemalan freedom fighter named Gabriel, responding to a plea to embrace non-violent resistance: “In my country child malnutrition is close to 85 percent,” he explains. “Ten percent of all children will be dead before the age of five, and this is only the number actually reported to government agencies. Close to 70 percent of our people are functionally illiterate. There is almost no industry in our country-you need land to survive. Less than 3 percent of our landowners own over 65 percent of our lands. In the last fifteen years or so, there have been over 150,000 political murders and disappearances… Don’t talk to me about Gandhi; he wouldn’t have survived a week here. There was a peaceful movement for progress here, once. They were crushed. We were crushed. For Gandhi’s method to work, there must be a government capable of shame. We lack that here.”
Huey P. Newton sez:
“In the spirit of international revolutionary solidarity, the Black Panther Party hereby offers … an undetermined number of troops to assist you in your fight against American imperialism. It is appropriate for the Black Panther Party to take this action at this time in recognition of the fact that your struggle is also our struggle, for we recognize that our common enemy is U.S. imperialism, which is the leader of international bourgeois domination. There is no fascist or reactionary government in the world today that could stand without the support of United States imperialism. Therefore our problem is international, and we offer these troops in recognition of the necessity for international alliance to deal with the problem … Such alliance will advance the struggle toward the final act of dealing with American imperialism. To end this oppression we must liberate the developing nations … As one nation is liberated elsewhere, it gives us a better chance to be free.”
(Excerpted from an October 29, 1970 letter to the National Front for Liberation and Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Viet Nam)
Arundhati Roy sez:
“People from poorer places and poorer countries have to call upon their compassion not to be angry with ordinary people in America.”
In his book Endgame, Derrick Jensen tells of a discussion he had with a longtime activist. “She told me of a campaign she participated in a few years ago to try to stop the government and transnational timber corporations from spraying Agent Orange, a potent defoliant and teratogen, in the forests of Oregon,” Jensen writes. All too predictably, the dedicated demonstrators assembled to protest the toxic spraying were, “like clockwork,” ignored by the helicopter pilots. Both humans and landscape ended up thoroughly doused with Agent Orange-time and time again. The protest campaign obviously had no effect, so a different approach was taken. “A bunch of Vietnam vets lived in those hills,” the activist told Jensen, “and they sent messages to the Bureau of Land Management and to Weyerhauser, Boise Cascade, and the other timber companies saying, ‘We know the names of your helicopter pilots, and we know their addresses’
“You know what happened next?” she asked.
“I think I do,” Jensen responded.
“Exactly,” she said. “The spraying stopped.”
“When you’re right, you can never be too radical.”
Yes, I’m quoting Simon and Garfunkel. “Like a bridge over troubled waters….” And this song somehow reminds me of all the people in both Israel and Palestine who are laying down their lives in nonviolent protest against the injustices that Palestinians — both Muslim and Christian — have had to endure for the past 61 years. And it’s getting harder and harder to ignore these injustices — it’s been over four months since the slaughter at Gaza and still nothing has changed there, the cities still lie in ruin and still no aid is getting through.
And every day it is getting harder and harder to be a bridge over these troubled waters, to put one’s body on the line and lay down in nonviolent protest against the growing arsenal of death machines that just keep coming and coming and coming at Palestinians — simply because they were unlucky enough to be born in the shade of the ancient olive groves of Palestine .
Unlike Paul Simon’s silver girl, Palestine’s time has obviously not come.
If you look at a map of Palestine today, you will see only a few splattered ink blots and odd spaces depicting the present-day shtetls that are all that is left of a once-thriving civilization that has existed in Palestine for thousands of years. Troubled waters indeed.
Israeli neo-cons spend approximately seven million dollars of American taxpayers’ money a day in order to play-act at being Cossacks and raid Palestinian shtetls, using white phosphorus bombs and F-16s and tanks instead of swords and horses. And the Palestinians fight back — by making the best olive oil in the world.
“All your dreams are on their way. See how they shine.”
White phosphorus in the night sky over Gaza does shine and shine and shine. White phosphorus exploding in the moonlight over Gaza is a beautiful sight — like fireworks on the Fourth of July — as it rains down death upon the sleeping orchards below.
“When darkness comes — and pain is all around….”
Europe and America stood silently by when six million Jews and gypsies and protesters against injustice were slaughtered during the Nazi Holocaust. And now Europe and America also stand silent as a smaller, more intimate holocaust takes place over in Palestine — not like the one that took place in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, but more intimate, like Cossacks riding through shtetls on horses breathing fire — white phosphorus fire.
Europe and America are sending aid to the dying people of Gaza — and it is sitting and rotting in huge cinderblock warehouses in Israel. Americans and Europeans are happy — they’ve done their part. They’ve given their money. They’ve brought the poor Palestinians medical supplies and baby formula and beans and flour and rice. And the food and the humanitarian supplies just sit in these warehouses in Israel and never get to Gaza. And the Israelis also are happy because they get to employ Israelis to mind the warehouses and receive monies for housing the aid workers and be all smug. “I will ease your mind.” And the consciences of Americans and Europeans ARE eased. They have managed to appear to be doing something about this new, intimate holocaust — but without really doing anything.
All I can say now to the people of Palestine — and the people of Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and America too — “All your dreams are on their way” — and mine are too.
If I had my way, if all my wishes would come true, I will comfort you. “When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all. I’m on your side…”
I’m on the side of everyone who longs for a better life for their family and who wants their children safe and who decries Cossack raids and concentration camps and man’s inhumanity to man everywhere that it occurs — be it in Israel or the West Bank or the Congo or even in America. But I must admit that I have a special place in my heart for the people of Palestine.
“Sail along silver girl.”
Here are the facts behind the poetry.
According to the Palestine Chronicle, “Israel and Egypt continue to enforce a deadly blockade on Gaza despite international condemnation. Gaza still awaits an international aid package for reconstruction nearly three months after Israel’s 23-day attack on the besieged coastal sliver.” Nothing is happening to help the Palestinians? Nothing?
“John Ging, Head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, says none of the USD 4.5 billion package of reconstruction aid pledged in March has reached the impoverished region because of border restrictions. ‘There is no prospect of recovery or reconstruction until we can get access for construction materials,’ Ging told a news briefing during a visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels.” NONE of it is getting through?
“‘Billions of dollars were pledged for recovery and reconstruction and yet none of that can actually connect with those whose lives were destroyed,’ [Ging] added. Israel continues to enforce its 21-month blockade of the Palestinian territory despite international outcries. This is while Egypt has also restricted crossings at its border with Gaza.”
“Furthermore, Ging called on the international community to explore avenues in an attempt to come up with a productive and promising solution to the issue of border crossings and provide more access to goods and services for Gazans. ‘Today the money is out there in pledges and the people of Gaza continue to subsist in the rubble of their former lives and the attention of the world has sadly moved on, which compounds the despair that people feel,’ he commented.”
Gaza, all your dreams ARE on their way — they are on their way to a bunch of gigantic Israeli warehouses, where they will sit and rot forever.
“Three weeks of Israeli air strikes and a ground incursion resulted in the death of over 1,500 Palestinians and the injury of about 5,450 people in the Gaza Strip. Most of the victims were civilians. The carnage also inflicted more than USD 1.6 billion of damage on Gaza’s economy.”
The single most irrigated crop in the United States is…(drum roll please) lawn. Yep, 40 million acres of lawn exist across the Land of Denial and Americans collectively spend about $40 billion on seed, sod, and chemicals each year. And then there’s all that water. If you include golf courses, lawns in America cover an area roughly the size of New York State and require 238 gallons of (usually drinking-quality) water per person, per day. According to the EPA, nearly a third of all residential water use in the US goes toward what is euphemistically known as “landscaping.”
We have become a nation of pawns with lawns. Food comes from the drive-thru, entertainment is televised, the concept of play exists on hand-held computers, democracy is a reality show every four years, and that tiny parcel of land we allegedly share with some bailed out bank is inevitably set aside to be a lawn.
As described by Ted Steinberg, author of American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, when it comes to lawns, social and ecological factors often work in coordination. “Perfection became a commodity of post-World War II prefabricated housing such as Levittown, NY, in the late 1940s,” writes Steinberg. “Mowing became a priority of the bylaws of such communities.”
Lawn mowers produce several types of pollutants, including ozone precursors, carbon dioxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (classified as probable carcinogens by the CDC). In fact, operating a typical gasoline mower produces as much polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as driving a car roughly 95 miles. Since some folks are legally required to maintain a lawn (more about that shortly), here’s a suggestion or two: human-powered mowers or try using your bicycle.
Besides the air and noise pollution of mechanized mowers, there’s another form of toxicity directly related to America’s lawn addiction. “Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial farmland,” writes Heather Coburn Flores, author of Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community. “These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.”
“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials,” wrote Rachel Carson almost five decades ago, “it is surely because our forefathers…could conceive of no such problem.”
We now produce pesticides at a rate more than 13,000 times faster than we did when Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962. The EPA considers 30% of all insecticides, 60% of all herbicides, and 90% of all fungicides to be carcinogenic, yet Americans spend about $7 billion on 21,000 different pesticide products each year. “Prior to World War II, annual worldwide use of pesticides ran right around zero,” says author Derrick Jensen. “By now it’s 500 billion tons, increasing every year.” As a result, about 860 Americans suffer from pesticide poisoning every single day; that’s almost 315,000 cases per year.
As mentioned above, maintaining a noxious and unproductive lawn isn’t just a simple case of one-size-fits-all conformity in the face all logic and evidence; it’s often the law.
In October 2008, for example, Joseph Prudente of Beacon Woods, Florida, was sentenced to jail for failing to sod his lawn as required by the local homeowner covenants. Before you label Mr. Prudente a modern day insurrectionist, take note that the reason he failed to live up to his suburban obligation was predictable: he couldn’t afford to replace his sprinklers when they broke. “It’s a sad situation,” said Bob Ryan, Beacon Woods Homeowners Association board president. “But in the end, I have to say he brought it upon himself.”
I’m guessing Mr. Ryan has never heard of Food Not Lawns.
Imagine, as the folks at Food Not Lawns do, each house not with a lawn but instead with a small organic “Victory” garden from which the family is fed. Imagine those without a lawn joining their local community garden to re-connect and grow their own. Or perhaps you’d like to imagine them engaging in some green graffiti and/or seed bombing.
(For the uninitiated, seed bombs are “compressed balls of soil and compost that have been impregnated with wildflower seeds. Jettisoned onto barren, abandoned, or otherwise inhospitable land, including construction sites and abandoned lots.” Liz Christy-who started the “Green Guerillas” in 1973-coined the alternative term, seed grenades. Smaller versions are commonly called seed balls. No matter what you call them, seed bombs are part of the ever-increasing international trend of guerilla gardening and you can find kindred spirits here.)
“The vast expanse of forever-green American lawn is not only the most resource intensive agricultural crop in the world,” writes Tobias Policha in Green Anarchy, “but also an obscene icon to our arrogant privilege and total alienation from a life in harmony with nature.”
The sterile lawn-complete with its requisite sprinkler, chemical cocktail, bug zapper, and “keep off the grass” sign-is an ideal symbol for America’s cookie cutter culture. Lawns, writes Ted Steinberg, are “an instrument of planned homogeneity.” He asks: “What better way to conform than to make your front yard look precisely like Mr. Smith’s next door?”
To which we must reply: Fuck homogeneity and fuck conformity.
Why don’t more people step away from the coast-to-coast mall mentality? Once reason is the looming Green Scare, a term which refers to “the federal government’s expanding prosecution efforts against animal liberation and ecological activists, drawing parallels to the “Red Scares” of the 1910’s and 1950s.”
The answer to this tactic, as always, is more solidarity. More of us need to embrace ideas like dumpster diving, off the grid living, wwoofing, billboard liberation, monkey wrenching, radical love, bartering, freeganism, veganism, transition towns, and other forms of the DIY ethic. We need organic vegetable gardens, not lawns. We need two wheels, not four. We need food not bombs. We need immediate courageous collective direct action, not “hope and change.” We need comrades, not pawns with lawns. And we need it all now.