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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas in a village

In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. Matthew 2:18
The picture's owned by the Queen. An earlier owner - Rudolf II -  found certain details so unacceptable he had them altered, so it looked as if the soldiers were poking over sacks of plundered goods instead of swaddled babies. Little faces were painted over, replaced by snow, sacks, poultry, animals and cheese. Massacre of the Innocents was renamed Sack of a Village. Even now, if you didn't know the painting's proper title, it seems like a lively village scene, sibling to that favourite Hunters in the Snow. Isn't the daily life of villagers a theme of the elder Breughel's? But something's happening, and even after the original was restored some of the worst things remain left to the imagination, in this masterpiece of evil's detailed banality (Ruben's treatment is quite the opposite).

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

This genius of the extraordinary in the ordinary painted The Fall of Icarus in which the tragic hero's leg sticks, almost comically, from a sea shading from mazarine to spinach green, as the world gets on with its business.
Knowing the picture would stand as a fine landscape, I could imagine a powerful patron, for different reasons, but with similar duplicity, ordering redaction of the leg;  re-naming the picture The Golden Age or some such,  treating a momentous accident as a blemish.
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Dave and Trish and family on Corfu have arranged by phone and email to have their Christmas lunch at our house on Democracy Street. Trish shared the news that G. in Ipsos is very ill and has returned to hospital in England; that CJ's Bar is closing and re-opening as Sally's, and that between them they've pumped out rainwater that rose above Summer Song's cabin sole (an idea of how it rains in Corfu). Here I've put up and decorated the Christmas tree, hung mistletoe over the porch; a wreath on our front door.
Παραμονή Χριστουγέννων στολίζαμε το δέντρο
We will be nine for Christmas lunch this Saturday - Lin and I, her parents Dot and Arthur, Richard our son, Amy our daughter and Guy our son-in-law, and our friends Liz and Matt....and news of a Christmas celebration - η χριστουγεννιάτικη γιορτή - for parents and children from the primary school and the kindergarten - του Δημοτικού Σχολείου και του Νηπιαγωγείου - in the Agricultural Co-operative building in Ano Korakiana.
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A great gift that came to me from the ill-judged invasion of Iraq has been my friendship with Dhiaa (see: in the Forest of Dean with my Japanese students), who having come here as a refugee with the help of CARA, has been studying matters that have become increasingly fascinating  - the post-invasion politics of his country and, looking further back to the political thought and practice of Mohammed Baquir al-Sadr executed by Saddam in 1980, founder of the Dawa Party, and the Sadrists, who are now, conditionally willing to participate in government though regarding US presence in their country as an 'occupation'.
Ph.D. candidate; intellectual involved in the redefinition of Shi’i practice and political thought through reading and work with Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr - murdered by Saddam - Dhiaa explores the socio-activism of the Sadrist movement; argues it constituted a paradigm shift in modern political Shi’ism.
Dhiaa's theme is Shiísm, Politics and Development in post Saddam Iraq, the impact of Sadr’s socio­political ideas on the formation, roles and development of governance.
A few days ago Dhiaa told me in confidence - now unnecessary - that he'd accepted an invitation to become a minister of state without portfolio in the new Cabinet (see also) of his country. We met for coffee in town to say our farewells. He was leaving for Baghdad to meet the Prime Minister and take the oath of office. I imagine him hearing the sounds of helicopters heading to and from the green zone, the sound of electricity generators, small arms in the night and the company of his security. We talked between phone calls from Iraq, congratulating him. I pondered the possibility that one day I may be able to visit Iraq and see its beautiful ancient places - so devastated by war. Dhiaa, a devout Muslim, has given me - faithless - insight into the beauty of my birth religion, helping explain the mystery of the Trinity, the bizarre differences over the filioque clause in the Latin Creed and the contrast between knowing via scientific enquiry and faith that comes through revelation.  We've been amused by that; recognising how scientific breakthroughs are - in the biographies of their progenitors - experienced as revelations - εὕρηκα -  and so much that has been arrived at through science is a matter of faith. How many can actually argue the case for heliocentrism verus geocentrism, evolution versus special creation, or anthropogenic climate change? I gave Dhiaa my copy of The Bridge over the Drina. "Ivo Andrić did a Phd. on The development of spiritual life in Bosnia under the influence of Turkish rule before he wrote his greatest novel. Perhaps one day you can write a book based on your experiences here and in Iraq with the material in your thesis providing background and understanding."
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In the Ano Korakiana Kafenion on Christmas eve - Παραμονή Χριστουγένων:
Στο καφενείο του χωριού, παρά το τέλος του χαρτοπαίγνιου, η κουβέντα δε λέει να σταματήσει, αφού οι αφηγήσεις των παλαιοτέρων γυρνούν πολλές δεκαετίες πίσω, ξεσκονίζοντας παλιές ιστορίες του χωριού… «Καλά Χριστούγεννα» θα είναι η τελευταία τους φράση πριν την αναχώρηση για τα σπίτια…
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In Birmingham's Corporation Street I saw a member of the Police Firearms Unit getting Christmas presents. I was reminded that we are at war, albeit some version of what's called assymetric, while there are others having a go at each other with guns and knives amid the shopping.
This image posted on Flickr began a discussion on the police that moved from observations on firearm technology to the matter of their bearing arms:
  1. ....Policing in UK seems to carry lower risks than mining, oil or gas rigging, deep water fishing or roofing, but when an officer is killed 'in the line of duty' the public tends to know about it. Fatalities are often perceived as a more general attack on the principle of law and order or the wider community as well as on an individual.
    In 1995 a survey of more than 73,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector in England and Wales revealed that officers want greater protection, including access to body armour, while facing increasing threats on their lives, but 79% of rank-and-file officers said they were opposed to being routinely armed.
  2. That's the thing, people tend to have an image of British police as unarmed policing with the assistance and consent of the public, truthfully that's all a carefully stage managed image dating back to Peel
    the idea of an unarmed consent based police service, who were no threat to the public, unlike the much feared French model of agents provocateurs and “spys”
    the reality is that from day one British police have been armed, and in fact there was something of a struggle to get officers to give up the cutlasses they carried along side single shot pistols
    even until relatively modern times (WW2) officers on night duties could request to carry a pistol, WW2 brought about proto-ARVs roving patrols with officers carrying rifles to stop spy's and saboteurs
    going into the 50's plans were made that in the event of the cold war turning hot, mobile fighting columns of officers with rifles and sub-machine guns were planned, then of course with the terrorist threat from the 70's onward you had ARVs
    so whilst that a somewhat shortened history of the subject it does go to show how the police have always had access to arms
    As for the 1995 survey well if memory serves that was carried out by ACPO so well not to be unkind but they got the results they paid for
  3. 'they'd have a job thats a safariland (I suspect the 6004 SLS) which has a locking system for the sidearm'
    But if he's 'out of service' and there's no-one watching his back...
    Your absolutely right about the stage management, I shot with MET officers in the 80's who did normal beat work whilst being armed with a revolver in a high-ride under their woolypully (Brixton so not so surprising). The ACPO LTD and Federation are effectively both organs of the Home Office anyway.
  4. Yes but, no but....the underlying principles of institutions from marriage to democracy are stage-managed. Someone - Oscar Wilde? - described marriage as a very public confession of a strictly private intention. Churchill - and others - said democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. A lot of people including me and a lot of police (my daughter is one) approve and even cherish the principle of unarmed police. I don't deny the experiences and insights above, but I recall that at university we were supposed to be in by midnight or be locked out, but it was made known early in undergrad life that a convenient space between the spikes on one of the college walls was in repeat Churchill 'the English seldom draw a line without blurring it." The line between hypocrisy (rightly exposed) and the convenient ambiguity surrounding the principle of an unarmed police force fighting crime with the support of the community, tapers to the thinnest yarn. But it's a thread I'd choose to hang by.
    My first wife, American, replied, when long ago I commented patronisingly on gun wearing US police "Yeah! That's because our bad guys are a lot worse than your bad guys." Hm. What do you think?
    The 'code red' cross-examination in 'A Few Good Men' captures, encapsulates and dramatises the issue on a larger stage.

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Simon Baddeley