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Friday, 30 January 2009


“You know” remarked Nancy, in one of the tiny gaps in our conversation the other evening, "that this country is not ‘Greece’, we call it ‘Hellas’.” Who’d have thought it? Least of all cack-handed me that I’d been applying a 1.2mm stone cutter on an angle grinder to shape a skirting of marble from Evvoia for the upstairs room. It’s not sculpture (several reincarnations away if I’m very good) but the joins, as we work round the room, look sound and neat. Other countries have crude oil so that people will come from across the world to drill wells in their lands but for their gifts in building and making images of men ‘Hellas’ – a name made of old words for ‘bright’ and ‘stone’ – got marble. * * * How does a child learn to understand and think for itself? Some never do, living always within hearing of the chimes of certainty; some from conception use every sense to parse the world. Is one luckier? From early on I wondered at those sweet and sour fantasies offered children – not quite aware I was a child, full of enquiry but with limited intelligence. My first magic was stars, gazing up at them from a veranda in a village in Hampshire with my great grandmother, before peacetime light pollution. She and I shared her house almost on our own, my parents working on the war. She named the Milky Way and the Plough and said no one knew what was beyond them but that "it went on". I lay in bed – I recall this – wondering at my first mystery – that we were surrounded by a space that went on. I shifted – logically – to the puzzle of time. “So when did it begin?” “No-one really knows,” she said. Wonder filled me at the idea of something that could not begin because even if you defined a beginning you could not truthfully answer the question “but what came before the beginning?” and more than imagining some end to the universe you could answer the question “but what’s beyond that edge?” By saying “I don’t know” to a small child my dear great grandparent from Oldham had shown me a mystery, at a time of joyful childhood innocence – so puzzlement and wonder and excitement at the unknowable became intertwined. It made it easier to share in the fantasies while knowing they were there for those who shared them. I believed and knew at the same time - ‘Father Christmas might be’ - the magic old man in deepest red and green velvet bringing grown-up’s presents in bright crackling silvery paper. I happily wondered at the magic of conjurors at London Theatres who could cut ordinary people, from the audience, painlessly in pieces and make birds appear from their pockets. I saw a colour picture in a book of a man bleeding with nails through his hands and feet and felt nauseated, horrified. This man had been deliberately hurt by some people. I didn't understand but it looked unspeakable. There was no magic, nor wonder in the matter, just nails through flesh in wood (no picture of this atrocity needed). I was too ashamed to ask about what I'd seen. I was told at school, much later, stories about heaven and resurrection - magic not as mysterious as the infinity I’d been helped to see by my great grandmother. Growing up I struggled dully with methods of enquiry, which, to someone cleverer, would have led me to the discipline of science. I was actually more attracted to the methods – though I didn’t think of them as that – for approaching mystery, getting closer to my first experience of infinity, the devotions that gave insight into ‘the eternal’ - in school English, Divinity, History and Art - subjects in which I was quite good, because I enjoyed them, unlike my dismal performance in maths and latin (requiring logic). I learned beautiful sounds, language and music; secular and religious merged; rituals and example kept me striving to be good, instilled conscience, explained frightful things, defined compassion and love and instilled doubt as a proper way to approach faith while teaching that despair was a kind of sin. Thus my religion has never clashed with wonder at the infinite and the stories of Adam and Eve, of beginnings – of which my favourite is St John’s in which the beginning is a word and the word was light; mystery contained in shifts of tense. I'm moved by words that doubt and wonder have inspired – the face of the deep, the wings of the morning, nunc dimittis, we shall be changed, in sure and certain hope, , behold I show you a mystery, he shall stand at the latter day. Long ago my stepfather told me that although he didn’t believe in hell, his actions were influenced by the fear of it instilled in him as a child of Methodists in Huddersfield. I don’t think he regretted this. It is good that although I’m faithless on the subject of incarnation, miracles and resurrection, I wonder at their magic. I gladly share in devotions that bring me closer to such mysteries, yet long ago my step-father, pondering the church as an institution, asked me if I knew that the Queen Elizabeth – that behemoth of a ship whose exploded image I’d once assembled in a wooden jigsaw – that that ship, so he’d been told by an engineer, “if you stopped stoking her boilers or fuelling her turbines, would continue through the ocean, like a city freighted with her thousands of passengers enjoying her shops, dining rooms, lounges, swimming pool, promenade decks, cinema, and her many state cabins with private baths through to crowded steerage, for another ninety miles before she finally stopped.” [Back to the future 24 March 2009 - piece by Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent 'Why we are all haunted by religion', that it monopolised an appetite - or Larkin quote 'a hunger in himself to be more serious']

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Homework for here and there

It’s been raining a good deal. The house remains dry and warm. I’ve paid an electric bill in town and our water rate at the council offices in Ipsos – both bills collected for us from the shop where Democracy Street turns downhill. We’ve started putting down the marble skirting in the upstairs sitting room – bedding it in silicone propped by matches to allow for movement in the floor. Mr Leftheris advised against marble edging above wood but we think we can get away with it this way.In the day while we work or read we have music from Hajidakis, TheodorakisAxion Esti and Rembetika from Smyrna plus Bob Marley, Mozart, Dixie Chicks, Vaughan Williams, Kinks, Maurice Jarre, Jimmy Cliff, Callas, Billie Holiday, Azure Ray, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Blondie, Kings of Leon, and marches (mainly funeral) from one of the Corfu bands, to mention just a few – songs and music chosen by Amy and Richard as well as both of us. Each evening we’ve had a stunning selection of films to watch – Appaloosa, The Spanish Prisoner, Burn after Reading, Changeling, Seance, The Proposition. The big fig tree on the empty property beside the house has been cut down over Christmas. Its roots, said Mrs Leftheris, were lifting the concrete on the path to her and our front doors. We and they get more light but less shade. Within hours of arriving Bubble and her grown kittens, Double and Trouble, called round.We were invited to Sunday roast at Mark and Sally’s down the street. Arrived late afternoon, left very late. Talked, ate, drank. Drank, ate, talked. What was so delightful was that we could get away with breaking the rule about discussing religion and politics at table. We might have even touched on money. There were seven grown-ups, though you mightn’t have guessed it all the time, one delightful child but 6 months old and Teal, Mark’s beautiful black Labrador. Venerable G played the rebel from the valleys for a good part of the evening and even Lin joined in my suggestion that not all English people are perfidious though it was a truth widely known that no Welshman can be trusted to tell the truth, prompting G to repeat a slander about how many Welshman it took to kill a score of Englishman which drew from me the reminder that in Chester the law still allowed an Englishman to kill a taffy trespassing into the town. “With a bow and arrow” said G, which brought us to whose arrows fell on the French cavalry at Agincourt to greater effect. For G it was a Welsh victory. “Come off it G” I cried “you’ve got such a Celtic chip. Our greatest queen was a Tudor and where did she come from? Who beat the Plantagenet Richard at Bosworth Field to succeed him as King but Henry Tudor from Wales?” but there was no silencing him, nor wish to, until I admitted to being 80% Scots. “Well why didn’t you say so? Scots are Celts” says G. “Oh no” says I bent on provocation “my family’s probably more Norman” “Mine too” chips in Lin diverted momentarily from a grown-up conversation at the other end of the table. This led to us explaining to G the difference between Normans and Saxons and the continuing tension between the two to this day, but he dismissed this as a distraction, so I mentioned my great admiration for Winston Churchill and G rising to the bait began to speak of the rogue who’d ordered the Anglo-Saxon army to crush the striking miners at Tonypandy, which finally drew from Nancy, the only Hellene among us, the remark that we were behaving like Greeks, which undoubted compliment spurred a chorus from the whole table of “Lloyd-George knew my father, father knew Lloyd-George…” Arm-in-arm, Lin and I staggered a hundred yards home around one-o-clock wondering how Nancy’s daughter, that little girl who, on and off had watched the evening’s proceedings with bright intelligent eyes, would remember our happy evening, and we hadn’t even got on to the Irish.We learned that a friend of our supper companions, a lawyer, had been crossing the road by San Rocco Square a few days ago. Perhaps her mobile rang. M spoke of her being momentarily distracted. A truck ran her down, widowing her husband, half orphaning three children. The truck driver - distraught - lies in a mental ward. Such a cruel thing seems closer, not only because of acquaintance with the dead, but because this is an island more than half of which we see with a glance from our windows. * * * * My e-mail to Dhiaa – 19 Jan 09
Dear Dhiaa. I need to talk with you soon about these things. And this... S
Dear Simon, I'd love you to see this. In the links you sent me, I have seen nobility and self-denial at work. He reminded me of a very fascinating story of a man whose name was al-Hurr bin Yazid al-Riyahi (in English it means ‘the free’) who with less than an hour favoured death with Imam Hussain to leading the governor's army against him. Best Dhiaa
Dear Dhiaa, You will see from my blog that separating Judaism from the acts of the Israeli government has been difficult because of what I learned as a child. I had felt that if I came to speak against Israel I would be rejecting Judaism – from which I have learned so much - and expressing racist views about Jews, with consequences that all the world has seen in Europe’s dark century. I am in a moral limbo, made self-censored before the evidence of my eyes and ears about the terrible things happening in Gaza. I burden our friendship by sharing with you such moral hesitation. I like to be reminded by Obama – his inauguration today – who quoted in his memoir from 1 Chronicles 29:15 ‘For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.’ Once we were strangers to each other and know I think we travel together and I count myself fortunate that we have met and that I can tell you things that make me happy but also things that are less good. Thank you for telling me about ‘the free’. My best wishes to your dear family. Simon
Dear Simon, I highly appreciate your understanding and moral obligations toward other faiths. I am not cajoling you: On Sunday evening, our Iraqi community assembled at xxx Church to recite the Quran and Du'aa for the rest of the soul of a deceased Professor in Iraq (the father of a woman in our community), we also remembered the Martyrdom of Imam Hussein and the lessons learned from that episode. Some side exchanges took place between me and some other Iraqi friends who came from Holland and other parts of Europe; we talked about Britain, Birmingham and the co-existence and ethnic and religious tolerance in this country. No body was watching, no authority was observing and no personal gains were sought. We said the truth bluntly because we also felt morally obliged to say the truth. That was so subtle and delicate an issue: to distinguish between the UK policy since the 1920s towards Arabs, the Middle East and Muslims, and the way the British government treats Muslims and other foreigners on its soil. In the Middle East - probably because we are free of the guilt of the Holocaust - we never mixed between Judaism as a respected/ acknowledged religion and Zionism as a movement that will definitely ruin the whole world if it continues to be unchecked. There are Jews still living in most of the Arab and Muslim countries; there is a well-established Jewish community in Iran as well. In the Middle East the Jews have never suffered any consequences due to their faith, they have always been part of the community if not among its elites. In Iraq, Jews were merchants and goldsmiths; they had never been subject to boycotting or hatred. I think the three main world religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) can and must save the world, because they are also capable of destroying it. Every time I remember you - since I knew you - I thank Allah for this friendship. As I told you once, it was a turning point in my (and my family's) life. Please, take care and pass our kindest regards to your dear family. Dhiaa
Dear Dhiaa. Thank you for your generous reply. You say in beautiful words and logic “I think the three main world religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) can and must save the world, because they are also capable of destroying it.” What responsibility to place on such frail and wayward shoulders! A limited understanding of history has formed my views. Without deleting what I feel I know as truthful, I must enrich my grasp of a deeper and wider history which I have only heard about as ‘noises off’, distracting from the main drama. Now knowledge that I have long either ignored, viewed as irrelevant to, or which seemed to create ugly distortions in, my understanding of the story I had learned, must be assimilated into a richer narrative – one in which there are more ambiguities, contradictions and inconsistencies, and where human fallibility and misjudgement play a stronger part than in my simpler drama of heroes and villains engaged in an eternal conflict between good and evil. Such moral simplicities are for God who can offer redemption, not men, unable and unwilling – most of the time - to discern such bright distinctions (...and even God spoke from the whirlwind...Can you hook Leviathan? Book of Job). I did not think for one moment you were cajoling me. You’ve never done that, nor has it ever been part of our friendship. It was I who first read, then saw, Gerald Kaufman’s speech at the debate on Gaza, on 15 January, for myself. Only later, I received, your reference to the video of the Rabbi protesting. The timing seemed typical of the ways our communications coincide. The Rabbi’s distress is expressed, during a demonstration in the street, with fervour. His pain at the cruelty of men makes him distraught. He is like a reed, blown upon so strongly, it cannot hold a note. I’ve known for a long time that there are Rabbi’s who have opposed the state of Israel since its inception. Kaufman influences me because though equally distressed he speaks almost quietly and with such clarity and from such a wealth of experience and principles. He has for a long time struggled with his loyalty to the idea of an Israeli state and has not abandoned that position, but his words express, with dignity, the pain of a dissolving dream; sadness at the way successive Israeli leaders have colluded with and driven policies that undermine the humane principles that for him are inextricable from allegiance to Judaism. Kaufman has, like so many Jews, been forced to stand outside the shining city on a hill because it has been occupied by ordinary men - not guilty of crimes on the scale that were visited by the Nazi’s and their allies on Jews, but – and this was where I have felt so uncomfortable since I still believe the comparison invidious - possessed of a banality that has parallels with that which Hannah Arendt so acutely perceived as a defining the unimaginative thinking of a man like Adolf Eichmann. Kaufman rightly complained of the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza “They are not simply war criminals; they are fools.” It was Arendt who said Eichmann deserved the death penalty less for his direct involvement in genocide than for his lack of imagination – his banal incapacity to understand, as he pursued his career in the Third Reich, the consequences of his thoughts and the actions that followed. We are all capable of that, but his myopia fell into a uniquely malign category – or did it? Is there a reproach in what you and others are saying about century old Western European policies towards the Middle East? Where my thinking has been as dull is on that issue ‘so subtle and delicate’ that you were discussing at xxx Church. I have so little grasp of the distinction between ‘UK policy since the 1920s towards Arabs, the Middle East and Muslims, and the way the British government treats Muslims and other foreigners on its soil.’ I am perhaps like a liberal in the 1920s confused by the need to defend sovereignty in pursuit of the principles of the League of Nations while also confused by the problems for minorities created by the intensification of ethnic nationalism. I could try to imagine assimilation as the right route in some countries but the creation of a new nation for those without a homeland. Jews, as you say, were able to live safely and even successfully in many European countries at the price, to them, of assimilation – a measure that ultimately failed hideously under national socialism’s genetic methods of murdering even the most ‘German’ of Jews. From what you tell me it seems as if Jews could co-exist in many Muslim countries without being required to convert; that assimilation or co-existence did not mean abandoning faith and theology. I think this is the lesson many European leaders (and peoples) have re- learned now – and which was part of their earlier culture prior to the rise of European nationalism – that our strength must derive from our diversity. That anyone who obeys the law can succeed in the secular polity of a country in any walk of life regardless of their religion or ethnicity (and many other distinguishing differences) and indeed if they respect due process of law can partake in those processes that may lead to changes in the law. The trouble with this, I am learning, is that there are men who dislike a state that derives from the work of jurists; that in the late 19th century and early 20th century in Europe there were men and groups who derided constitutions created by lawyers. They wanted something more exciting, more zealous, less democratic, less humane. They saw ‘due process’ as a kind of weakness, inadequate as a means of realising grander goals than the well-run polity, in which civil assemblies can strive to negotiate their differences. They found such deliberations boring – language having, in their minds, no relationship to action, they exploited language for monologues, diatribes and subterfuge, spreading contempt for words among the people, turning the agora into a parade ground. As you know I spoke of the banality of evil – a concept capturing the ordinary ways evil begins with small incivilities of thought, words and action. But pondering Arendt’s wise invention, I’ve acquired faith in its converse - the banality of good. We are – even in wise maturity - children of our times, trapped like flies in the fixative of global trends, blind to the implications of our loyalties, as unable to see our way as most of our wisest predecessors, yet now and then separate and ordinary actions by men and women unknown to history may have determined - in ways I can only know by faith and conjecture - that a matter of import took a turn for the better rather than the worse. Tolstoy struggled with this – that a great battle might turn on the courage or cowardice of one human being who would themselves be unaware of their deed, seeking, expecting and knowing no renown but acting on some principle learned in their heart beyond the reach of history – the banality of good. Best wishes to your family. Simon
* * * E-mail from Karen L. 21/01/09 re Lozells and East Handsworth Ward meeting on 21 January
Simon. I attended the ward committee meeting. I came in late and left soon after the item on the allotments. Alan Orr outlined the facts - I think you know most of them already. Said the sports pitches were starting in a week or so and would hopefully be ready in spring. There might be some changes regarding the changing rooms (unspecified) Said that regrading work would start on the allotments within 2 weeks and that if everything went to plan they could be ready as early as the summer, but that would depend on legal bureaucracy etc. Both councillors asked him questions. Kim Brom (I assume it was she) asked him how come after so long and so many promises how could we have any faith that Persimmon would do anything now? He said that in the past, Persimmon and/or its subsidiaries have not had any specialist dealing with this issue, whereas now it's the dedicated role of one man and that man wants to get it all done by the end of the year. He said that if they didn’t make progress the council would start enforcement proceedings. I asked whether they had a cut-off point for starting enforcement and he said no, they would just see what happened. A lady called Rachel who knows you asked whether they were following normal project planning methods of simply making sure that they had the relevant timetables for planning stages etc planned in for the sports pitches and allotments to make steady progress. She suggested that if no progress had been made by the next ward committee meeting, they should start enforcement proceedings. I should have thought of that myself. Mahmoud Hussain then requested that Alan come back to the following ward committee and report on whether there was progress, and that this should be a standing item until it is resolved. 3 other members of the public asked questions about the sports pitches or allotments so the councillors will have been made fully aware that people are bothered about it...That was about it I think - Rachel might know more. I didn't stop around to discuss it with anyone as I had a lot to do this evening but Rachel came over and introduced herself as I was getting into my waterproofs...Hope that was all better than nothing anyway! Karen
E-mail from Rod Ling to whom I copied Karen’s account of the ward meeting
Simon. Thanks. I'm copying Geoff into this correspondence as he takes an interest in the VJA as well. Rod
From Simon to Philip Singleton, BIG City Plan and HAIG supporters:
To: Philip Singleton, BIG City Plan Team, 16th Fl. Alpha Tower, Suffolk St., Queensway B1 1TU Re: BIG City Plan Work in Progress Public Consultation: 12 Dec 2008-6th Feb 2009 From: Simon Baddeley, Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG), Thank you for inviting views on the BIG City Plan. Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG) speaks as a voluntary research and campaigning group, formed in 1994 to oppose the development of housing on the private Victoria Jubilee Allotments next to Handsworth Park. We have links to similar groups across the city and maintain links with others in the UK and beyond interested in urban food growing. We celebrate Birmingham’s reputation as ‘an allotment city’ with a tradition of encouraging local food growing. We offer these comments at the end of a ten-year campaign that will see Persimmon Homes, as part of a S106A, handing over to Birmingham City Council whose planning committee brokered the agreement, the largest new public allotment site in the UK since the Second World War. We suggest that policies and values that have protected and encouraged food growing in the inner suburbs – should be adapted so as to be applicable to the areas covered by the BIG City Plan. These comments are submitted as a digitised attachment to an e-mail – enabling us to include URL links to support our comments. Any final plan for which the BIG City Plan (BCP) is the blueprint, will be realised in circumstances that could be very different from those that held at the time that plan was conceived – conditions that add urgency to those elements, absent from the current blueprint, that could see the emergence of an agricultural sector in our city centre. Green space figures in the BCP as parks, gardens and tree-lined squares decorating their built surroundings, but current land values inside the plan’s boundary make the idea of releasing any of this space, and indeed yet more space, such as derelict land scheduled for building, for even temporary agriculture, out of the question. The BCP offers a means to make such a vision imaginable. Academics around the world are beginning to circulate terms like 'coming famine' and ‘peak oil’ when referring to western modern, post-industrial, cities. We suggest, on both the precautionary principle as well as for its inventiveness, Birmingham should have contingency plans for feeding its population, formulated in the same detail and with the same urgency as the WW2 domestic front initiative ‘Dig for Victory’, or subsequent peacetime civil defence plans. We should try to anticipate a bold response to depression, not just recession, especially in planning the future of a city in which finance and banking have come to play such a part. This emergency response which some might call alarmist, promises impetus to existing plans to reduce our city’s carbon-footprint, shortening food-miles, moving us faster towards the global vision of sustainability. A conceptual shift in attitudes to land usage in Birmingham’s centre, driven by a sense of urgency over the state of the economy, can be an example to the region and beyond, mitigating the effects of depression on citizens, complementing other moves to make Birmingham cleaner and greener. Existing policies in Birmingham that relate to allotments and smallholdings – a key dimension of urban agriculture along with city farms and gardens - should become applicable in the city’s core, supplemented by initiatives to bring more land in the area into short and long term cultivation. We are unaware of any strategy in Birmingham for urban agriculture (though we acknowledge questions 17 and 18 in the consultation circular as those touching on this). London is leading on releasing land for food growing with a number of initiatives that recognise the high premiums associated with inner city land. Its policies in this area, which we would like to see matched by Birmingham’s and included in the BCP, are part driven by Whitehall’s realisation that the 1908 Smallholders and Allotments Act’s 'requirement to provide' is now impeded by a loss of slack in the system. This is unprecedented – at least since the 1940s. Allotments are full up in many places especially in the capital. The Greater London Authority has published a report on this problem (scroll down to see 'A lot to lose'). There are lengthening waiting lists in other cities, including Birmingham with its hitherto generous post-war allotment provision. Birmingham’s Big City Plan (BCP) – in the summary circulated for comment – makes no reference to agriculture. In the capital, Rosie Boycott has been appointed by the newly elected Mayor of the Greater London Authority (GLA) to act as a public champion for an agency called London Food. Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s City University and advisor to DEFRA, is tasked with pushing a policy to reduce food miles. In Middlesbrough a policy has emerged devoted to the idea of ‘the edible city’, promoting urban farming on an ambitious scale - developed around a comprehensive audit of existing and future agricultural land in the city and its surroundings. The edible-city programme is complemented by policies aimed at employment and recreation for an ageing population (‘don’t vegetate, grow vegetables’), at improved health, environmental education and sustainability. We need thinking within the BCP that will prompt Birmingham’s political leadership to exceed such initiatives. Another GLA policy called Capital Growth (‘Two thousand and twelve new food growing spaces for London by 2012') focuses on identifying growing spaces in the capital that includes allotments and city farms, but also targets waste land and domestic gardens – exploring short term leasing and legal arrangements that could even include compulsory purchase. Birmingham’s planners, in collaboration with local university geography departments, could create an equally specific audit of land available – short and long term – for agriculture within the BCP boundaries. This may have been done already but it’s not part of either the BCP or indeed the latest Structure Plan – prepared at a time when allotments were still seen primarily for recreation rather than part of urban agriculture in a different world. There is talk in London’s centre, where land prices are astronomic, of finding ‘meanwhile’ gardens, popular in New York in the 1980s – releasing, for cultivation, land temporarily taken over by the city in lieu of unpaid taxes from landowners in financial difficulty. Economic pressures on landowners suggest such possibilities should figure in the BCP. There is a politics of city agriculture and urban food growing in London and other cities for which there could be an equivalent, special to Birmingham, using the BCP as one of its expressions – prompting policies that will encourage inner city and city centre people to grow at least some of their own food. We move that Birmingham’s Scrutiny function should explore this further. City centre agriculture must be included in a credible BCP. At the debate in Westminster Hall on 5 November 2008, the Government said they would not impose time scales on local authorities’ duty to provide allotments, on the grounds that Whitehall is already accused of not allowing local authorities sufficient autonomy. The ball is in our court.
[Back to the future - 4 March '09 - A diversity of ideas - city home food produce - and fashions - sobriety chic - mentioned on David Barrie's blog] [This on 10 March about Van Jones joining Obama's administration to give impetus to a Green agenda] [Back to the future - 15 March '09 - see Cuban farming, evolved under blockade fover a generation, as a model for urban agriculture in the west]
[Birmingham City Council consultation portal ~ 28 January 2009]

Saturday, 24 January 2009

A place to keep silence

Last night we arrived in Ano Korakiana to find the house dry and sweet. Mr Leftheris greeted us with a fine five kilo marrow rescued from rotting in our garden. This morning the sky's grey. Rain's been falling in abundance, but not a drop in the house, warmed by our log stove, lit with one match. Having coached from Birmingham, we flew from Luton to Bulgaria, landing at Sofia after midnight. Until five-o-clock, we waited in the airport café for the first bus – 84 - at a stop by the terminal. Dobran, a student cameraman, finishing security duty, jotted down our bus connections, helped with fare paying and pointed out Hotel Pliska, where we changed buses for the central station. We were driven slowly through Sofia's outskirts on carriageways edged by dirty snow heaped against indefinite frontages lit by tall yellow lights. A fellow passenger - Emir Kusturica - seeing us gazing at this placeless streetscape nodded that he was going the same way as us. I like public transport for the likelihood of helpful locals who read the minds of strangers. Our bus route ended beside the neon-lit concrete of central station rising conspicuously from shiny streets, suckled by yellow cabs, a cavernous old modernist atrium where we were swiftly befriended by a man over keen to assist. Queuing behind five sets of passengers, we watched the clock marking our train time drawing closer as two women, having started the day with a smoke, opened a counter for the tiresome business of issuing tickets. One customer, ashen and elderly, abruptly taken by shakes, peeled away to steady her wrist with her other hand. I wished I could have made her well. One of the women behind glass stared interrogatively at her before getting on with writing dockets, printing tickets, stapling papers, receiving fare and explaining procedure. Realising plastic wasn’t currency, I scurried to a nearby money changer and bought levs with my euros getting notes in Bulgarian currency but small change in euro's. Three students - one called Goran Bregovic - pointed us towards our platform but our helper, bent on some return, picked up Lin’s bag, led us to a carriage and a compartment. I tipped him лв5 and he, seeing change, asked for more, but Lin restrained me.The train – a Greek one - slid away almost at once. For six hours we sped through a damp grey landscape on a single track to Thessaloniki - a comfortable compartment to ourselves. 1055 we were checked at Kulata, the Bulgarian side of the border. At Promachon, the Greek border station, a young Greek policeman inspecting our papers said “You’re in Hellas”. I smiled and punched the air. He responded with a gleeful grin. At Thessaloniki at one – about twenty-four hours since we’d left Birmingham – we were to take a bus to Meteora, but learned that a "sort of a strike" had cancelled it, so we caught a six-o-clock train to Kalambaka, chatting and snoozing and reading – Lin, a thriller, and me engrossed in Mark Mazower’s Dark Continent: Europe’s twentieth century – a whodunit with a cast of millions, many plots and measureless violence, and I still don't know who did it. Kalambaka was the end of the line. At nine thirty we strolled from the station up a narrow street to our guesthouse beneath dimly lit rocks soaring into darkness – Meteoro, ‘the wide rocks’. How could we ever ascend such dizzying heights? We rose Thursday morning and started upwards. The road from the guest house became a lane, then a well crafted path winding between mossy boulders, grassy spaces, small trees and shrubs. After an hour's walking we came to the monastery of Holy Trinity - closed Wednesdays and Thursdays - connected by a small cable car to the plateau behind Meteora, over which a road could bring visitors by car and coach. As we gazed at the great rock pillars, the town of Kalambaka and the winding river Pinious far below, a friendly man on a scooter called Kostas arrived and gave us free souvenir postcards, a cigarette lighter and a map, plus some handouts to pass on, encouraging us to stay at his guest house. For the climb we had the pleasant valley and the towering rocks to ourselves and the wheeling birds. Going down Lin went ahead. I walked down alone in quietness broken by the occasional rumble of jets. This place was defined by its holy inaccessibility, providing isolation and refuge for prayer in a dangerous world. Serving a secular economy Meteora's strengths might, but for modern engineering, have become a weakness. Patrick Leigh-Fermor, travelling in Roumeli over forty years ago, wrote of the recession of spirituality in Greece. His wonderful writing has the same touch of melancholy as Matthew Arnold's line on faith's long withdrawing roar - both writers understood and only part regretted. Modern guides celebrate what has been inherited, preserved and restored, courtesy of EU, UNESCO, the Greek government and the region’s Metropolitan - and much voluntary work by the few remaining inhabitants of the monasteries. How ever far we trek along what ever enticing route, a car park, landing strip or a marina will mark our destination and if they don’t they will. I shan’t forget our walk up and down that path between Kalambaka and the road to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. We saw signs of goats beside our track. Once I slipped on my back missing a small pile of dung but was unhurt. We spied goats standing quietly in a clearing among the hollyoaks across the valley between the rocks. The ground about us was bursting with small plants and even early flowers. Later in the evening, my knees aching, we ate tasty lamb roasted on an open fire along with properly chopped chips and local red wine. From the bus station next morning we took a coach through a whitened landscape to Ioannina where we caught another to Igoumenitsa. From that now familiar jetty we sailed on the Saint Irene to Corfu Port, enjoying the company of two young Australians, Katherine and Roseanne, visiting Corfu to meet a sick relative, on their first visit to Greece.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Leaving for Democracy Street today

For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding. King David's thanksgiving 1 Chronicles 29:15
* * * This afternoon we take a coach to Luton and then a plane to Sofia and the train to Greece, to Thessaloniki tomorrow, travelling on by bus to Trykala, to Kalambaka below Meteora, then to Ioannina in Epirus to Igoumenitsa and by ferry to Corfu and our home at 208 Democracy Street in Ano Korakiana.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The letter cost

The Guide for the Perplexed (Hebrew:מורה נבוכים, translit. Moreh Nevuchim, Arabic: dalālat alḥā’irīn דלאל̈ה אלחאירין دلالة الحائرين) is one of the major works of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides or "the Rambam". It was written in the 12th Century.
The letter cost. I woke feeling loss, my conscience uneasy as in the aftermath of betrayal, then (how do these things happen to the faithless?) a small voice, one of utmost tact and gentleness, seemed to say "The things you love and respect and - yes - greatly need in Judaism aren't going away, you silly." Here I paused, unknotting grief and remorse. The voice became even sweeter, yet imperative. "You will never have to makes some hypocritical conditional caution about what you do and don't feel on that score. Jerusalem stands. Maimonides lives, as do his predecessors and a million successors to teach, to hint, to listen and guide your learning. These terrible things are done by men, not Jews. That was always true. You've always known it of your birth religion; assumed it in your growing understanding of Islam. You did not make a mistake in thinking too highly of the religion and philosophy that preceded them, but you made a category error that silenced you on matters about which you should strive to speak."
* * *
I hadn't heard about Standard and Poor's or Fitch Ratings until I read the news that Greece's credit rating - actually it's called Sovereign Credit Rating - had just been downgraded. I pulled this from Reuters dated 16 December 08:
The unrest, which has caused more than €200 million worth of damage, has fed on anger over political scandals, high youth unemployment and low wages, and the impact of a global recession on Greece. In bond markets, the spread between Greek debt and German benchmark bonds -- a measure of perceived investment risk -- reached its widest point in nearly a decade on Monday, at more than two per cent. Analysts said the political crisis had compounded concerns due to the global economic downturn. IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned there was a risk of social unrest spreading unless the global financial sector shared wealth more evenly. Copy-cat demonstrations have taken place in many European countries...Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis's ruling New Democracy party has denounced the riots as the work of a small group of hardcore anarchists, but at their peak early last week thousands of youths ran riot through 10 cities, wrecking hundreds of cars, banks and businesses, spooking investors. "Even if you don't believe that Greece could end up exiting the euro, you will not want to take on risk," said Peter Mueller, interest rate strategist at Comerzbank in Frankfurt. Chris Pryce, sovereign analyst for Greece at Fitch Ratings, played down the political risk to the government. He told Reuters Television he had no plans to alter Greece's A rating. "It will stay stable I would have thought: single A -- the lowest in the euro zone -- for some time to come," he said.
I don't talk this language. I may glance at it. I don't study it. On January 13 the Financial Times Tony Barber wrote of Europe 'weighing the risks of debt against the misery of recession':
Credit ratings agencies are in the doghouse in Brussels, both for their supposed role in making the financial market crisis worse than it need have been, and for their alleged failure thereafter to put their houses quickly enough in order. But that isn’t deterring the agencies from taking a hard look at the way Europe’s recession is straining the public finances of certain governments in and out of the euro area. Last week, Standard & Poor’s, one of the world’s three main agencies, warned that it might cut the sovereign debt ratings of Greece and Ireland.
Then on 14 January 2009 Agence-France Presse reported:

Standard & Poor's cut its credit rating on Greece's sovereign debt on Wednesday due to a rising public deficit and deteriorating economic outlook, stoking fears of downgrades to euro zone states as the global crisis bites. The news sent Greek bond (SB memo: scandal about these in May 2007 involving North Asset Management, Hypo Vereinsbank, Akropolis and JPMorgan reported to the FSA by the Greek civil service union ADEDY) spreads sharply wider and helped drive the euro to below $1.31 versus the dollar, amid concern S&P downgrades to euro zone economies like Spain could follow. S&P cut Greece's sovereign rating, already the lowest in the 16-nation euro zone, to A-/A-2 with a stable outlook from A-/A-1, citing the government's repeated failure to pare back its fiscal deficit despite years of solid economic growth.

And Margaret Pagano in Sunday's Independent:
If (Euro) notes carry the Y, or S for Italy, or V for Spain – (German) savers are asking for them to be exchanged for X-rated euros printed by the Bundesdruckerei in Berlin. Under European Central Bank (ECB) rules, each country prints its own notes based on its economic credit worthiness and weight. So theoretically, all the notes printed – whether by the Bundesdruckerei or the Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato in Rome – are equal and interchangeable. So are the Germans being driven by a bout of Teutonic angst over the future of the Teuro – as they call their notes – or a much deeper fear that the eurozone is in danger of cracking up under the pressure of this recession? Greece looks, at the moment, like the one most likely to make the split. Its current account deficit is above the 14% of GDP set by the ECB while its public debt will rise to more than 100% of GDP by 2011 without big spending cuts. So Greece has three options: it quits the euro and devalues; assets prices deflate hugely to reflect the higher cost of capital or there is an EU bailout. With Greece's pivotal geo-political role in the region vis-à-vis Cyprus and Turkey, it's unlikely it would be allowed to exit the euro. This leaves some sort of combination of a bail-out by Y of the richer countries – X and U (France) – plus a tough few years of deflation.
These events help explain why the concrete caissons that were supposed to be sunk in the sea to form the jetties of a new marina in Corfu's old port have been left blighting a panoramic view towards Pantokrator, Vido island and the great mainland mountains of Epirus and Albania. John's Corfu World blog shows pictures and after I made enquiries I learned that the contractors, owed a great deal of money by government, have stopped work and left the caissons in the most prominent place.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

"...the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust..."

Map from Martin Gilbert's The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy Collins:London 1986
I read from the Commons debate on Gaza on Thursday. Sir Gerald Kaufman (Member of Parliament for Manchester Gorton):
I was brought up as an orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in our kitchen, there was a tin box for the Jewish National Fund, into which we put coins to help the pioneers building a Jewish presence in Palestine. I first went to Israel in 1961 and I have been there since more times than I can count. I had family in Israel and have friends in Israel. One of them fought in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and was wounded in two of them. The tie clip that I am wearing is made from a campaign decoration awarded to him, which he presented to me. I have known most of the Prime Ministers of Israel, starting with the founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Golda Meir was my friend, as was Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister, who, as a general, won the Negev for Israel in the 1948 war of independence. My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the holocaust. My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count. On Sky News a few days ago, the spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians—the total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that “500 of them were militants.” That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants. The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts that her Government will have no dealings with Hamas, because they are terrorists. Tzipi Livni’s father was Eitan Livni, chief operations officer of the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, who organised the blowing-up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, in which 91 victims were killed, including four Jews. Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism. Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together with the terrorist Stern gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. Today, the current Israeli Government indicate that they would be willing, in circumstances acceptable to them, to negotiate with the Palestinian President Abbas of Fatah. It is too late for that. They could have negotiated with Fatah’s previous leader, Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him. Because of the failings of Fatah since Arafat’s death, Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006. Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was democratically elected, and it is the only game in town. The boycotting of Hamas, including by our Government, has been a culpable error, from which dreadful consequences have followed. The great Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, with whom I campaigned for peace on many platforms, said: “You make peace by talking to your enemies.” However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever and however the fighting ends, there will still be 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and 2.5 million more on the west bank. They are treated like dirt by the Israelis, with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the Jewish population in Israel. It is time for our Government to make clear to the Israeli Government that their conduct and policies are unacceptable, and to impose a total arms ban on Israel. It is time for peace, but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis’ real goal but which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals; they are fools.
Letter to Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Sat 17 January 2009:
Dear Sir Gerald. My political opinion and actions are nearly irrelevant - except to me. I'm now 66. Ever since I learned about the Shoah - as a 10-year-old stumbling upon a book with black and white photos of scenes - obscenes - I steadily congealed, then froze into a position as immovable as an insect in amber - not only revulsion at what happened, but at the relentless convergence of banalities, incivilities, myopia and minor moral failures that converged to help bring about such monstrous things. I don't experience this as guilt - though I could be defined as a gentile - but as something more implacable, disconnected from identity, making me psychologically incapable of distinguishing between anti-semitism - to me, an evil far greater than any other for its demonstrable consequences - and opposition to the policies of the government of Israel. I can deplore but I've been morally stupefied by the imprint of certain images seen in childhood. If mere images, and as I grew up, texts, can have such effect, I can only try to imagine the influence of more direct experience. No-one reproaches me, since my opinion is of such minimal importance and because they're nice to me or trapped in parallel fixative. Your speech in the Commons on Thursday moved me - in both senses of that word - helping me to see through the moral fog in which I've existed for so long, but it would a great reproach to me if anyone thought that I was persuaded by you rather than by my own conscience. Yours sincerely, Simon Baddeley
 [Back to the future 22 March 2009: Evidence to which I've opened my mind in recent weeks 'Burning Conscience: Israeli Soldiers Speak out' - a Youtube clip from 2006 - two good men - Avichai Sharon and Noam Chayut, veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces and members of Breaking the Silence Israeli soldiers speak out about recent war crimes in Gaza Breaking the Silence (Hebrew) Breaking the Silence (English) and some analysis of Israel's 'worst enemies - Liberal Jews' Piece on UK government 'backtracking' on preventing war crimes charges against members of the IDF visiting the UK]
[Back to the future - 25 Feb 2010 Listen to the heroes of Israel - the moral courage of Israeli dissidents - Rami Elhanan]
** **
23 October 2010: Only this week have I heard of my friend Miriam Margoyles' support for the ENOUGH - a coalition made up of more than 50 organisations including Pax Christi, War on War, Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Interpal, Medical Aid for Palestine and a number of Trade Unions seeking an end to the Israei occupation of Palestine:

[30/3/18 Notes on how to criticise Israel without being anti-semitic]

Friday, 16 January 2009

Greek police demonstrate against violence

From the European Edition of the International Herald Tribune

...Some protesters were in uniform as they gathered in the city's main Syntagma Square. Last months' riots were sparked by the fatal police shooting Dec. 6 of a teenage boy. Police were targeted in shootings Dec. 23 and Jan. 5; one officer was seriously wounded. The far-left group Revolutionary Struggle has claimed responsibility. "Our colleagues are not afraid," said Giorgos Vlachos of the Greek police officers association. "Of course we remain on guard — that is our duty. "Vlachos said police are hoping to improve their image. The Beatles' song "Let it be" blared as police gathered under a banner that read "no to violence." "We are protesting because we are part of society," said Vassilis Alimaras, a 23-year-old policeman. "Violence against the Greek police is violence against Greek society. We're against any kind of violence." In a 9,000-word statement published in an Athens newspaper Thursday, Revolutionary Struggle vowed to continue attacks on police. "The only way to disarm the cops is for revolutionaries and the armed public to disarm them," the group said.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

A Corfu narrowcast channel - AFTONOMOSTV - on YouTube

On 29 December 2008 AFTONOMOSTV, a Corfu narrowcasting channel started posting on YouTube, with Greek and English podcasts going back five years and more - part uncontentious local interest, part political comment, describing, for instance, concerns about investment - or lack of it - in the island's infrastructure. Harry Tsoukalas has made the bold decision to put his head even further above the parapet by putting these films on YouTube. Earlier in 2008 Malcolm Brabant, a good reporter but not knowledgeable about public finance, reported that Tsoukalas was campaigning for 'autonomy' for the island. Tsoukalas refuted this, repeating the point that he wished to draw reasoned attention to the social and economic consequences for Corfu's infrastructure of inequitable central-local funding. As a businessman participating in the island's economy, he has an interest in its health, but in proposing cures he draws unwelcome attention to the woes of an economy whose chief harvest is its visitors.
A piece about the British Cemetery in Corfu that ends with a collage of black and white images referencing the Corfu Channel Incident of October 1946.
Tsoukalas makes a connection between road crashes in Corfu and under investment in highway maintenance.
A film about practical ways to meet the EU's requirements on landfill and waste disposal and reduce Corfu's notorious flytipping problem.The last third of the narrowcast is about a recent event at the British Cemetery in Corfu. Following a moving speech by George Psailas who looks after the cemetery, the British Consul makes a presentation honouring Psailas' 55 year stewardship. Aftonomostv credits are shown at the end. As well as Tsoukalas, they include Hilary Paipeti. Sarah Wood, who we met in Acharavi (if she's the same) when we started seeking a house in Corfu in 2006, provides 'secretarial services'; report by Roz Kershaw; research by Katie Martinou, Spiros Spingos and Alexandros Merikis; editor and studio director Yiannis Sakkos; camera Harris Andriotis, Kostas Michalaros and Yiannis Hitiris; programme advisor John Payne and subtitles by Marilena Sfaeliou.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A wet day in Birmingham

I enjoy this weather; raincoats, umbrellas, wet streets and at one point - as though he'd walked out of a Giles cartoon a sour face framed by a damp turned up collar sees me on my bicycle and, I swear, alters course towards me and when I steer away, alters course again, to savour being discommoded by 'another ruddy cyclist'. I cycled into town for a tutorial from Ash at Apple Bullring on using Final Cut Express - a more sophisticated piece of film editing software than I've been using so far; then over the road to New Street Station and a swift free train ride to Coventry and a three mile cycle along the Kenilworth Road - well protected from the drizzle - to meet Jonathan Davies on Warwick University campus, to talk about our overlapping interest in networked governance and the possibility of doing some joint research that might challenge a concept worth 12400 hits when I checked it on Google just now. Could we, in J's words, produce original research 'exploring the proposition that networked governance is better understood as a mechanism for the construction and maintenance of hegemony than as the institutional form of the differentiated polity?' * * * I found Amy on patrol the other evening. It was freezing. She'd been on duty several hours with six more to go. I cycled to Black's, got her a neck warmer and lent her my gloves - rather better than her standard issue. Later she came over to cut Oscar's dewclaws that we'd allowed to grow so long they'd turned back on themselves and were pricking their pads. Oscar trusts her especially and she'd clipped them free in seconds. Lin put Teetree on the small wounds on each dewpad. The swelling on them was down by morning. On a lot of working dogs dewclaws and pads are removed when their born, but we didn't get Oscar until he was over 3 months, by when removing dewclaws is complicated. * * * I spoke to John Martin in Australia on skype. I'd just had a morning shower; John and Annie were about to go out for the evening. John's going to film some politician-manager conversations in Australia to mix in with the films I've made, when I make another visit to run workshops later in the year. * * * * There are lots of conversations I enjoy for their tension and their potential for achieving greater wisdom and even conciliation but some are more challenging: colour inside race; mutable gender inside feminism; class inside equal opportunity; dialogue with someone who can't talk because of illness that disrupts speech; is a stranger always a danger - caring for an unknown child amid paedopanic; differentiating between anti-semitism and opposition to Israel's state policy; how to do the right thing if conversation takes a turn.... * * * * Some scamps at Greenpeace have gone and bought a little allotment astride the proposed route of the third runway at Heathrow. We've signed support to oppose its compulsory purchase.
From Greenpeace: It started like most good ideas around here, with a conversation down at the pub. And there have been many times over the last few months when I wasn't sure we were going to pull it off, but we're now the proud owners of a small piece of land within the site of the proposed third runway at Heathrow. We're expecting the government will announce that they're going ahead with expansion at Heathrow this week and we now need you to join us. Sign up now to get your own piece of the plot. It's not a financial thing, but you will be included as an owner on the legal deed of trust. Heathrow expansion isn't only an issue for those of us unfortunate enough to live on the flight path. If expansion goes ahead Heathrow will become the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the whole country. As legal owners of this plot we will take the opportunity to oppose airport expansion at every stage in the planning process. We're joined on the deeds by Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson, comedian Alistair McGowan and prospective Tory parliamentary candidate Zac Goldsmith. Along with Greenpeace UK, that's the maximum number of owners we can put on the deed, but sign up to add your name and stand beside us to resist all attempts of a compulsory purchase of the land.

Friday, 9 January 2009

'the thistle for wheat'

'I have taught pale Artifice to spread his nets upon the morning' wrote William Blake in the 1800s - railing against the imperial impulse in men, rending the veil of Newtonian appearance with radical visions - the exquisite form of the house fly, the rat's civility, the lark's song - a shriek of protest at human cruelty. The distinction between Whigs and Tories in British political history had the Tories, their faith grounded in common-sense recognition of crown and nation, mocking their Whig opponents for their preoccupation with ideas and counter-intuitive statements of principal. For the Tories what was right was self-evidently lodged in faith and inherited trust. "I refute it thus" (the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley) said Samuel Johnson to Boswell, kicking a large stone on a Dover beach. Tory bedrock was Whig quicksand. This opposition is as familiar today. What for those of a Tory disposition is no-nonsense crime to be treated accordingly, is for the Whig a symptom. Blair tried to coin a middle ground phrase with his slogan "I'm tough on crime and on the causes of crime" but its success in bridging different ways of understanding the world was partial. Close linked to politics as this piece by Costas Douzinas shows, there's an enduring philosophical tussle over the nature of reality, emerging in the street in squabbles (see Brabant for BBC on arguments over the shooting of Diamantis Matzounis) about what can be seen by anyone with a pair of eyes in their head, and in current culture in the image of the choice between a red pill or a blue pill in that initially clever sequence of sci-fi films the Matrix Franchise - the red pill Whig, the blue Tory. Costas Douzinas, Law Professor and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London, has written a piece 'What we can learn from the Greek riots' in this morning's Guardian. This interesting voice from the Greek diaspora comes to me, even as I sit in a lecture by my colleague Andrew C, on Local Area Agreements and external scrutiny. Andrew's running through a taxonomy of governance structures and the means by which they may be scrutinised. To understand why this article attracts my attention, especially during Andrew's talk, I need to explain my growing interest in arguments challenging the frameworks within which I've been understanding modern government.

Douzinas: Contemporary politics aims at marginal (re)distributions of benefits, rewards and positions without challenging the established order. In this sense, politics resembles the marketplace or a town hall debate where rational consensus about public goods can be reached. Conflict has been pronounced finished, passé, impossible. The convergence of political parties in the centre ground exemplifies this 'conflict-free' approach. But conflict does not disappear. Neo-liberal capitalism increases inequality and fuels conflict. When social conflict cannot be expressed politically, it becomes criminality and xenophobia, terrorism and intolerance. Or a reactive violence, the emotional response of those invisible to the political system. In the Greek case, antagonism resulted from the tension between the structured social body with its political representatives and groups, causes and interests radically excluded from the political order. Huge numbers of people cannot formulate their demands in the language of politics. The protesters do not say, "I want this or that" but simply, "Here we are, we stand against"...

We all see the world through theory that becomes common sense, becoming no more aware of the underpinning of that common sense than a snake of its skin - until its sloughed - or a fish of water - until its on the bank. Theory disappeared under the cloak of TINA. Discredited theories - Newtonian, Marxist, Keynesian - have remained visible and the efforts of creationists to get intelligent design into the science curriculum requires us to do more than rely on received wisdom about the probability of evolution. We must understand a theory to rebut its detractors. I don't understand current theories of government well enough to defend, refine or abandon what I've taken for granted.
Douzinas: No political organisation directed the insurrection, no single ideology motivated it, no overwhelming demand was put forward. The persistent question, "What do the kids want?" often led to the conclusion that the events were not political because they could not be integrated into existing analytical frameworks. What seemed to unite the protesters was a refusal: "No more, enough is enough." A stubborn negativity characterised the insurrection. Is this a new type of politics after the decay of democracy?
Jonathan Davies, Associate Professor (Reader) of Public Policy Public Management and Policy Group at Warwick Business School has been asking question about the ‘network orthodoxy’, developing and refining criticisms of the 'regime-theoretical conception' of governance. J sees matters of class being ignored or reduced to a taxonomy of types familiar to marketing analysts. He's been picking through what he sees as the dysfunctional dynamics of networked urban governance in the UK. He speaks of the almost triumphal way social theorists have celebrated the network society where hierarchy has been succeeded by heterarchy with power dispersed across interdependent agencies, and interests, rather than being held by a dominant class. In so far as anyone is left out of this social arrangement, they can be saved - it is perhaps far too casually assumed - by various assimilative measures. My comment on Douzinas' article:
"The possibility of changing the rules of what counts as political". This strikes me as the key point you are leading to - also changing our understanding of what we are seeing in Greece and if you are right, elsewhere. Comments shuttle between keyboard colonels and keyboard liberals, between vexation and venom and, as you observe, 'incredulity'. incomprehension and puzzlement as to what is demanded, wanted, desired? Where I've been asking are the politics? It looks too much like street therapy. You argue that 'these events were not political because they could not be integrated into existing analytical frameworks; and ask if "this (is) a new type of politics after the decay of democracy?". That intrigues me. Are you saying that the powers that be within our current polity have become so skilled at assimilating, diffusing, dispersing, tranquilising, co-opting, and suppressing demands that can't be met, that what we are seeing is a form of political expression that evades articulating demands that can be absorbed? This sounds counter-intuitive - but then most new ideas are. Please elaborate. Take us through your reasons for thinking democracy has 'decayed', rather than being the familiar flawed form of government that just about survives because we can't invent anything better. Perhaps, as recession familiarises more here with the enormous and widening rift between rich and poor in other places, the expressions we see in Greece will spread, a new spectre demonstrating your thesis that there's something rotten rather than merely flawed in our present condition. Are we struggling to manage the symptoms of a political illness current expertise has, as yet, failed to diagnose?
Professor Douzinas has also argued that human rights, rather than providing a moral and legal framework for challenging and regulating the actions of the powerful, have become their ideological tool. * * * The Birmingham Mainline was iced up completely. At Gas Street and along the Birmingham Worcester the ice was broken by a few narrow boats on the move, but I had the towpath to myself this morning. * * * Finally saw This is England just before Christmas - the most honourable film I've seen in the year, talented acting, intrepid plot, ghastly and cruel, yet worth all for its writer's and actors' integrity. At last people I recognise and Lin used to teach - and a document of the consequences of certain policies and attitudes in the 1980s; effects whose trajectory I experience and see every day - the pity and the waste.
‘Depravity in the oppressed is no apology for the oppressor; but rather an additional stigma to him, as being in large degree, the effect, and not the cause and justification of oppression’ Herman Melville, Chapter 14 White Jacket
[In a roundabout way I stumbled on this reaction to This is England as well as a link to a portal to more on urban food growing - thanks to Nick Booth, Podnosh]

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Simon Baddeley