Remembering slavery in Virginia

Our country here is coming up to the 150th anniversary of the act of secession by southern states that launched the extremely bloody civil war of 1861-65. I am very interested in the civil war, for a number of reasons. For American Quakers and members of the other U.S. peace churches, the civil war was far and away the most morally challenging situation in which to hold fast to a position of pure nonviolence– not least because over the decades prior to 1861 the Quakers had done so much to publicize the appalling situation of the four million enslaved persons who lived overwhelmingly in the southern states that seceded in 1861, and to advocate for their freeing.
Also, the fact that since 1993 I have lived and voted in Virginia, which had been the capital of the breakaway “Confederacy”, has brought the agony of both the institution of slavery and the civil war itself home to me in numerous ways both large and small. Just 300 yards from our home in Charlottesville is a confederate cemetery where those graves that are marked bear on them the name, state of origin and fighting unit of each of the deceased– along with the simple notation “CSA”…
The sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the civil war is revealing many interesting things about the attitudes that many Americans hold today about their (our) country’s history of slavery. This post on a NYT blog tells us that in New York state, which is generally regarded as having been a pillar of the pro-Union (anti-secession) coalition back in the 1860s

    earlier this year, the State Senate failed even to authorize a sesquicentennial commission, much less appropriate any money to support commemorations, exhibitions, retrospectives or any other events around the state to mark the start of the Civil War 150 years ago.

The writer there, Sam Roberts, notes that back in January 1861, New York City’s mayor, Fernando Wood,

    unabashedly embraced the South initially because its cotton merchants were financed by New York banks and protected from loss by New York insurers, and it transported its harvest in New York ships.

Luckily, a proposal Mayor Wood launched to have New York City secede from both the state capital in Albany and the national capital in Washington never got anywhere…
In Atlanta, Georgia, meanwhile, the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” organization is currently reported to be hard at work planning,

    a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession… The events include a “secession ball” in the former slave port of Charleston (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation), which will be replicated on a smaller scale in other cities. A parade is being planned in Montgomery, Ala., along with a mock swearing-in of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.

These days, apologists for the south deny vehemently that what the southerners were fighting for 150 years ago had anything to do with slavery. It was, they claim, all about “preserving their heritage”, “safeguarding states’ rights”, and so on. Numerous scholars have skewered such claims, noting that in the original declarations of secession, the preservation of slavery was front and center among the concerns of the seceders…
So what was American slavery like for those who lived through and survived it? It was unlike just about all the other forms of slavery that have ever existed in human history because of the insistence of the slaveowners and the “legal” institutions that they built (including, I should note, with the drafting help of none other than John Locke, in the case of South Carolina) that the child of a slave would also be a slave, ad infinitum. In other forms of slavery, including those practiced by some native American nations, in early-modern Europe, and in some Muslim societies, the child of a slave would be recognized as having some form of higher legal standing than that of an enslaved person– and very often would simply be assimilated into the broader society. But in American slavery, the children and grandchildren of slaves were nearly always also considered simply the “property” of the mother’s “owner”. There were almost no routes into assimilation either for individual enslaved persons or for the community of enslaved persons as a whole. The only prospect was that slaves and all their issue would continue to be treated as “property” forever.
And as “property”, no human institutions or ties like marriage or the bonds between family members were recognized to have any legal relevance for slaves: A child could be sold to an owner distant from her mother; a brother separated from his sister; a lover from her beloved (if the latter was a slave.) Most importantly, enslaved women had no protection under any law from being subject to the lust of any white man in the master’s family: Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved paramour, Sally Hemings, was almost certainly the half-sister of his wife, Martha, having been owned by (and very likely spawned by) her father before she was “donated” to Jefferson.
Here in Virginia, in the early 19th century, laws were passed criminalizing the act of teaching an enslaved person to read. And of course, helping slaves to escape to freedom was also a serious crime…
Soon after I moved here in 1993, I discovered an amazing book called Weevils in the Wheat, which is a collection of interviews with survivors of slavery in Virginia that were conducted in the late 1930s by African-American interviewers/writers employed by the Federal Writers’ Project. The collection has been edited and re-edited a number of times– including, as the editors of this 1976 edition admit, it has been subject to editorial censorship and bowdlerization of some of the harsher aspects of what was said. But it is still remarkable.
If you click on “Contents” on that Google books page, and then “Interviews”, you can read many of the interviews– though Google has deliberately skipped some pages to try to preserve something of copyright that is held (perhaps not wholly justifiedly) by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. Navigate yourself to p. 206, for example, where you can read five pages of the material from the interview that ace FWP interviewer Susie R.C. Byrd conducted in April 1937 in Petersburg, Virginia, with Rev. Ishrael Massie (born 1849)…
You can even hear some (very scratchy) early audio recording of some related interviews, if you go to this page in the Library of Congress audio collections. However, most of the people doing those recording were doing so mainly to record and study the “dialect” of the former slaves, rather than to record their stories. I find the written collection a much richer resource… Go read some of it if you have time…

Parabéns, Brazil!

Fabulous news that Brazil “won” the 2016 Olympic Games!
I am really sorry Obama put his international status so visible into the ring for Chicago– and then lost. (But I always thought him going after it so intently was a big mstake, as I explained earlier this morning.
At IPS, Mario Osava reported (happily) that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that Brazil has “the happiest and most creative” people in the world, and deserved this opportunity.
At Daily Finance, Ryan Blitstein noted the sizeable movement amongst Chicago’s citizens who had opposed the Olympic bid. He also reported that big US corporations had spent $72.8 million just on the campaign to get Chicago as far as the Copenhagen run-off.
He concluded,

    That’s more than the budget of the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago [the city’s major non-governmental social-service agency], and it doesn’t count the untold millions worth of in-kind contributions from major law firms and other consultants.
    In a city with well over 500,000 people living below the poverty line, that’s serious cash. The best that locals here can say is that, with the city losing its bid, at least they know another $250 million or more won’t be wasted to gear up for 2016.

At, Eduardo Gomez wrote,

    For those familiar with Brazil’s athletic history, today’s decision seems only natural. The country breathes sports — everything from Nascar racing, to volleyball, to soccer, to martial arts. And more importantly, perhaps, to the International Olympic Committee, the country has a long history of hosting international sporting events. In 1963, for example, Brazil hosted the Fourth Pan American games in São Paulo, drawing in thousands of competitors and spectators. The Pan American Games were once again hosted in 2007 in Rio, providing even more recent evidence of Brazil’s commitment and ability to host international games.
    Wisely, however, Lula did not rely on this culture and history alone to propel his bid. In recent years, the president seems to have been taking notes on how other countries have increased their odds. Among the lessons he garnered was the importance of physically attending the presentation and vote to stake his claim. He noted then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts in 2007, for example, when Blair traveled to Copenhagen, made a strong case for London, and came home with the 2012 summer games. In 2005, then President Vladimir Putin showed up before the Olympic Committee in Guatemala to lobby for Russia’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Games, which he won. Following in their footsteps, Lula made it very clear early on that he was planning to travel to Copenhagen to fight for Brazil’s right to the Olympics. In sharp contrast, U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would attend only at the last minute. Loving soccer as he does, Lula no doubt saw this as a competitive challenge — one that he clearly gamed masterfully.
    While in Copenhagen, Lula was also very strategic in his country’s presentation before the committee. He brushed aside concerns of violence and crime in Rio, and to the president’s credit, the Olympic Committee praised Brazil for recent security improvements. Lula also claimed that the Olympics would help build Brazil, and especially the city of Rio de Janeiro, by providing jobs for the poor, integrating civil society, and building a spirit of peace and cooperation through sport. Such a prospect no doubt appealed to the committee as this goal was one of the original touted benefits of the modern Olympics Games, dating back to their genesis at the end of the 19th century.
    Most important, though, was Lula’s argument that Brazil deserved and needed the Olympics. Richer countries had had their turn, Lula said, and now it was Brazil’s chance. Brazil ranks 10th among the world’s wealthiest countries, but it is the only one of them never to have hosted the games. It will be the first South American country to do so.
    International sports tend to mirror politics. Today’s decision will reveal, yet again, that Brazil is an emerging power, and that it has the talent, infrastructural capacity, and political commitment needed to play competitively in global political (and athletic) games.

Go, Brazil!

Ramadan t.v. offerings, 2009

Another Ramadan, another set of soap operas in the Arab world (along with new seasons of old-established favorites like “Bab al-Hara.”)
From Beirut, the “Land and People” blog’s Zayd gives us a quick critique of this year’s crop of soap operas, that he gathered in that center of Lebanese urban life, the local greengrocer:

    Much discussion is given to the current crop of soap operas; Beit ij-Jidde and Bab al-Harra are watched by most; Nabi Yusuf not by anyone. Many complain about the portrayal of Yusuf by an actor. Imm S. adamantly sticks by her Turkish soaps. When I joke with her that on the Turkish soap operas everyone is always crying, she replies, “ay, bass kwayyess ktiir” [Yes, but that’s very good.]
    The difference between Turkish and Syrian soap operas comes down to food. There is no food in Turkish soap operas; whereas no matter what is going on in a Syrian soap opera–siege of the town by the French; fights in the street; death, mayhem, amshakal–there is always food being bought, sold, prepared, cooked, or eaten. Always. The theory in the mahal [the greengrocer] is this is the real reason everyone in Turkey is crying; they’ve given up their alphabet as well as their food culture…

In supplementary research, I learned that in Lebanon, at least, and perhaps elsewhere,

    The most popular musalsal [Ramadan soap opera] of 2009 is the Syrian-produced “Bab al-Hara.”
    The soap opera, whose name means “The Neighborhood’s Gate,” has seen almost unprecedented success since its debut run in 2006. Set in Damascus during the inter-war period of French colonial occupation, the program depicts the last moments of a society yearning for independence.
    In East Jerusalem, giant screens have been erected for fans and it even has a Syrian restaurant in Nottingham, England named after it. Syrian President Bashar Assad is reported to be a huge fan and the program has – perhaps inevitably in the 21st century – already spawned a video game.
    … There are 157 original series being aired during Ramadan, representing three quarters of the Arab world’s annual televisual output. All this extra programming means Ramadan is now big business for advertisers.

Maan News gives us this account of an amusing episode on a new Palestinian-produced soap-opera called “Homeland on a Thread”:

    Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabbo made a guest appearance on the satirical Ramadan soap opera … Saturday night.
    The show, which receives increasing local and international acclaim, is critical of both Palestinian society and its governments, tacking myriad issues in each 15-minute episode. Despite its regular criticism of the government, source say the show is supported by Abed Rabbo.
    The official played himself the episode “Obama in Ramallah,” which saw him excuse US President Barack Obama who apologized for being 60 minutes late for a meeting “because of the checkpoints,” an often heard excuse from the tardy.
    Replying to Obama, Abed Rabbo says, “Sir, you are 60 years late in understanding our suffering under these checkpoints.”
    “But [PLO Chief Negotiator] Dr Sa’eb Erekat did not tell us about the suffering of these barriers,” Obama explained.
    Trying to console the US president’s ignorance, Abed Rabbo replied “[Don’t worry] Erekat doesn’t tell us what happens with him in the negotiations.”

Rollicking stuff (especially if you know some of the personalities involved.)
Qatar seems to have produced at least one soap opera with a biting social edge.
In Kuwait, the Ministry of Information felt that at least one soap opera, “Sotik Wasal” [“Your voice carried”; maybe “I already heard you”] had gone too far in its political commentary, and banned it.
The birthplace of the Arabic t.v. soap opera was originally Egypt. But Amira Howeidy tells us that now, the biggest productions there during Ramadan are not soap operas, but talk shows; and numerous talk show hosts have gained sizeable mass followings.
She writes this,

    Al-Qahira Al-Yom ‘s [Amr] Adib… spoke about the role he plays and the price he pays for it. “If it wasn’t for the protection of President Hosni Mubarak I would be in trouble,” he said, alluding to his own political influence and the “enemies” he has made as a result of expressing his views on air. Adib does not shy away from making grand political statements: “This is a country that has been silent for too long and now is the time to speak up,” is typical of his utterances. When Khalifa suggested during the course of the interview that influential presenters “mobilise and toy with the masses” Adib’s response was: “On the contrary, the masses are impacting me.”
    Adib may well come across as an independent, influential voice, but there are critics who take issue with his agenda. Ayman El-Sayyad, editor of the monthly cultural magazine Weghat Nazar, argues that the Adib-Khalifa episode covertly promoted Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal. “The message was clear, all that talk about change and the talk about how the president protected Adib,” El-Sayyad told Al-Ahram Weekly. A segment of the episode, where Adib predicts that Gamal Mubarak will succeed his father, was censored.
    Al-Qahira Al-Yom has aired live 250 days a year for a decade now. Until 2004 — the year the anti- Mubarak dissent movement Kifaya took to the streets triggering a wave of protests across Egypt — it was mainly a celebrity gossip show. Then came the shift, and for a while at least Adib was the only Egyptian discussing political developments as millions watched. Other talk shows… soon followed. Presenters vied for the loyalty of the audiences. Once they succeeded in securing it they enjoyed an influence that, arguably, no politician or official has ever enjoyed.
    In a country where political groups are denied the right to form parties (the government has denied over a dozen requests to form political parties in the last two years), and where political stagnation leaves no room for change, talk shows and their presenters have unwittingly filled the gap.
    Advertising companies were quick to notice the popularity of such shows among viewers…

And finally, Sumayyah Meehan of Muslim Media News struck a more moralistic note about the Ramadan soap operas:

    Before, most Muslims in the Middle East would gather in the nights of Ramadan to worship or to discuss matters related to the deen [religion]. After all, the region is the cradle of Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (s). However, these days many Muslims gather to watch soap operas together, gossip about what happened in the current installment or speculate what will happen in the one to come.
    It is encouraging to note that not all Middle Eastern countries streamline a barrage of juicy soap operas during the Holy Month. In Turkey, the television programming is geared towards Islamic history, living the deen of Islam and Q&A shows where callers can call in to have their questions about Islam answered live on air by a reputable sheikh. Locally produced and aired music channels in Turkey also pull their programming during Ramadan in favor of airing Islamic nasheeds [devotional songs].
    Storytelling is an age-old tradition. However, Ramadan is a golden gift that should be seized by every Muslim that is willing and able to receive the blessings that come with it. Being glued to the TV and rapturously eating up all the human folly portrayed there definitely tarnishes the reality of what Ramadan is all about.

Ramadan Kareem, everyone.

Deadly hijabophobia in Germany

Many westerners suffer from an irrational fear of headscarved women (‘hijabophobia’). But fortunately very few have gone as far as a 28-year-old German identified only as “Axel W” who last week stabbed and killed a hijab-wearing Egyptian woman, along with the three-month-old fetus she was pregnant with.
And he did this inside a German courtroom, of all places.
I do not understand why anyone should want to “protect” this guy by withholding his full name.
The fully-named victim, 31-year-old Marwa Sherbini, received no useful protections at all for her life or that of her fetus during her time in the courtroom, where Axel W was appealing a fine of 750 euros ($1,050), imposed for insulting her in 2008, “apparently because she was wearing the Muslim headscarf or Hijab.”
I also can’t understand how Axel W managed to get a knife into the courtroom and then to use it 18 times against Ms. Sherbini’s person, killing her and the fetus, before the police were able to gain control over him. Where were the police all that time? Were there no guards standing anywhere near him during the hearing– and this despite his previously proven hostility to Ms. Sherbini?
Ms. Sherbini’s husband was also present, along with their three-year-old son. The husband tried to save her but was reportedly injured both by Axel W and when a policeman opened fire in the courtroom. What a fiasco for the German “justice” system, and what a horrendous tragedy for Ms. Sherbini’s family and friends.

Waltz with Bashir: See it!

I was finally able to get to the movie Waltz with Bashir last night. I was blown away. I thought it was tremendous…. very moving indeed.
I know some people have complained that it doesn’t “tell the Palestinian side” of what happened in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during those two horrendous days in September 1982, or that it “doesn’t give enough of the political context” of the 1982 war. I’ve heard other criticisms of it, too.
It’s true, it doesn’t do either of those things… because, I think, it never intended to. It is not really, in any central way, about the hundreds of Palestinian women, men, and children who were massacred in the refugee camps that day, or about the war in which that Israeli-orchestrated atrocity was committed.
What it is about, it seems to me, is much more memory, in general, and in particular the struggle of one man– Israeli film-maker Ari Folman– to try to recover and put into some kind of context the memories of the role that he and the other members of the IDF unit in which he served had played in facilitating the massacres.
I found it to be a profoundly antiwar movie, primarily in the way it showed that involvement in anti-humane violence– even involvement in violence in the role of a back-up perpetrator or facilitator of it— has a powerful capacity to wound and damage the human soul.
Look, of course it would be great if some of the Palestinian survivors of the massacres in the camps had the leisure, and the financing, and the skills, and the general backing that would be required for them to make their own films about their experiences during those days, and since.
Some day soon I certainly hope that can happen.
But in the meantime, many Israeli film-makers do have all those skills and resources; so I think it’s great that Folman chose to use the many resources at his command to record this interesting quest he made into his own self-knowledge and the self-knowledge– I would hope!– of Israeli society as a whole about the nature of that war, and about the nature of Israel’s wars in general.
As someone wrote recently: Maybe in another 25 years a sensitive Israeli film-maker will make a movie about what the IDF did recently in Gaza, and call it something like “Waltz with Ahmed.”
(Except that, a key difference: they don’t have a Bashir Gemayyel-like collaborating figure with whom they could have worked in Gaza. I guess Dahlan was auditioning for that job at one point, but then he wimped out. Thank G-d.)
Of course the movie is disturbing– because technically, it is so very, very well done.
I knew Bashir Gemayyel quite well. I used often to go to interview him in the Falangist headquarters when I was working in Beirut in the late 1970s and through 1981. I saw his meteoric rise within the party, propelled by his obsession with violence, and in particular by the exquisitely sadistic way in which he and his people used violence against the Palestinians in Tel Al-Zaatar in 1976.
I think the movie captures him and the zeitgeist of his murderous followers very well.
I also knew several young women in Shatila camp, since for a while in 1974-75 I used to go and teach English to them once a week, in one of their homes there. In November 2004 I was able to make a return trip to the camp, which you can read about here: part 1, part 2.
I found a number of aspects of the movie fascinating. On occasion, the sound-track was some heavy-metallish music in Hebrew, with many of the lyrics translated in the subtitles… Many of those were extremely militaristic and/or nihilistic. I’m assuming they were ‘genuine’, period rock songs from the era, or soon after? Can anyone tell me anything about them– or about the general phenomenon of Israeli rock music having some pretty heavily belligerent lyrics?
The comrade-in-arms who’d ended up in the Nethlerlands was interesting. Was I the only one to assume he’d made his fortune not with “a felafel stand,” as he said, but perhaps through some form of drug-smuggling?
Just the idea that a person can get on a plane in Israel and visit an old friend in the Netherlands would be a pretty mind-blowing proposition for most of the people living today in Sabra and Shatila, since they have no citizenship and are still prohibited under Lebanese law from engaging in most of the livelihoods that are open to Lebanese citizens.
Oh, look at the vast disparity in the current circumstances of those two groups of people, the Israeli facilitators of the massacres, and the Palestinian survivors…
Interesting to think that maybe a fairly large proportion of the Israeli men in that age-range– today, around 45-55 years old– are walking around with those kinds of memories, whether suppressed or not, and with some of those same kinds of misgivings and/or stirrings of conscience??
And then, the sea, the sea, the sea. It is a constant (and perhaps psycho-analytically important) presence in the film. But I have been on that rainswept seafront in Tel Aviv with which the film opens– and I’ve also spent a lot of time on the seafront in Beirut. One day soon, I hope, people could travel in peace right along that shoreline, from one country to the other (and also to Syria, Gaza, and Egypt.)
But not, obviously, in tanks and warplanes.

‘Birthright’ project provoking problems in Hillel?

I heard recently from a friend whose cousin is the director of a “Hillel” Jewish student-life program at a west-coast US university that she (the cousin) had been having a problem with the imposition from some outside funders that Hillel employees play an active role in supporting the racist/Zionist “Birthright” project that sends American Jewish students on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, supposedly with the aim of strengthening their connection with that country.
Now it seem my friend’s cousin is not the only Hillel employee having problems with the orders to run the Birthright (or, in Hebrew, “Taglit”) project. Read this intriguing blog-post from Chanel Dubovsky, an employee of the Hillel center at Columbia/Barnard in New York.
She writes,

    Part of the tightrope I walk in supporting my progressive students around Israel requires that I demonstrate my own lefty credentials: feminist activism, an organizing fellowship after college, years spent working on a campus where shoes are considered superfluous. I have to build trust, which is difficult when on the Left, Zionism, a movement I also align myself with, is most often seen as “racist, imperialist, insert incendiary political adjective here: ___________.”
    So what am I doing behind this Birthright table, trying to rally Jews and only Jews to go to Israel with a program whose agenda is to make them rabid, unquestioning supporters of its actions? What am I supposed to say to my students who identify more with Palestinian solidarity than with a Jewish state?
    … Campus activism around the war in Gaza (I refuse to use the term “anti-Israel,” or “pro-Palestinian,” unless presented with a specific situation) has resulted in a tense atmosphere at best. It’s difficult to recruit for a program that not only asks students to travel to a conflicted region at the center of controversy, but markets itself as a birthright to the people who are seem to many as holding all the power in the situation, the undeniable aggressors, the blood thirsty oppressors of a people they occupy for no good reason. As I write this, my own confusion seems overwhelming…

This is great news. It indicates that young, educated Jewish people in the US have become far more prepared than hitherto to buck the many “circle the wagons” and discourse-suppression pressures from within their own faith-group, to challenge the often nepotistically appointed leaders of the mainstream Jewish organizations, and do their own thinking from sound first principles about the rights and wrongs of the Israeli government’s actions…
And that these critically questioning students are able to have an increasing impact on those co-believers who like Chanel Dubovsky are a few (or maybe more than a few) years older than they.

Noa & Mira — confusing the categories

(Update, after making this post, I’ve been alerted that there’s another side to Noa lately that rather undermines her reputation. I’ll post a separate entry above.)
There’s something ironic, yet hopeful in Israel’s entry to the 2009 Eurovision music competition, to be broadcast from Moscow in May. (Think “American idol” — only bigger.) Though not geographically part of Europe, Israel participates as a member of the European Broadcasting Union.
Israel’s entrants this year, “Noa and Mira” (Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad), are “Israeli” singers confusing the categories and getting sniped at from multiple sides inside Israel.
For background, see this recent Ethan Bronner NYT dispatch, which explains how a popular Israeli singer of Yemeni extraction linked forces with a green-eyed Israeli Christian Arab. They’re feeling a bit orphaned by their own country, condemned by many for their criticisms of settlements, Hamas, and the use of violence. Their January selection to participate in Eurovision was criticized even by the “left”:

[C]oinciding as it did with Israel’s Gaza war and the rise of Avigdor Lieberman, the ultranationalist politician who threatens Israeli Arabs with a loyalty oath, the committee’s choice was labeled by many on the left and in the Arab community as an effort to prettify an ugly situation…
A petition went around demanding that the duo withdraw, saying they were giving the false impression of coexistence in Israel and trying to shield the nation from the criticism it deserved.

Conundrum indeed. How does one be a voice for peace, without being “used” by hasbaristas who would abstractly proclaim peace while still building settlements, strangling Gaza, erecting walls, etc? Curious, I scrounged around youtube to learn about this intriguing duo.
Here’s a 2007 interview with Noa & Mira, keyed to their popular rendition of the Beattles classic, “We can work it out.” (Here’s a lively version of the song performed in Paris last year at the “peace of the heart” confab for Israel.)
In the abstract, I rather like Noa’s apparent philosophy. In the interview above, she wrestles with the Christian concept of turning the other cheek, and how it runs hard into the ongoing “exploding & release” of pent up frustrations and hurts. Yet Noa insists that the parties must “apologize, recognize & share.” If only. Mira is a bit more coy, saying that “everyone knows the solution,” even as she professes that she doesn’t know much of politics.
Undaunted by their critics, Noa & Mira on March 2nd performed four tunes before Israeli viewers and judges. In the end, Israel selected this song to be its entry for the Eurovision semifinals: There must be another way.
And when I cry, I cry for both of us
My pain has no name
And when I cry, I cry
To the merciless sky and say
There must be another way
(Full Lyrics here and in extension.)
May we yet find it.

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Khomeini of Palestine

In this BBC report, I saw some quotes used from a former member of the Al-Aqsa brigades whose given name was “Khomeini.” Not surprisingly the young man’s age was given as 29.
It takes me back to when I was working in Beirut in ’78. So many of the Palestinians there were euphoric about the downfall of the (strongly pro-Israeli) Shah. Yasser Arafat incorporated the theme of “Today, Tehran; tomorrow Jerusalem!” into all his rhetoric… Small surprise that this young man’s parents– like, I’m guessing, many others in the Muslim world– gave their son the name of Khomeini that year.
1978 was also the year of the Camp David agreements. I remember that one mother in heavily Shiite South Lebanon gave birth to triplets, and the family were so optimistic about the prospects of regionwide peace after the accords were signed that they named the babies “Carter”, “Begin”, and “Sadat.”
H’mmm. I wonder whether those guys are still walking around with the monickers they were given that year?
(I find it significant that Khomeini Abu Amera, 29, of Jenin never judged it necessary to change his name even during the extremely bloody eight-year war between Iran and Iraq.)

Ever On, Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007)

(Note – this is Scott writing.)
Independent thinkers, activists, and peacemakers have lost a friend in the passing yesterday of Dan Fogelberg. Just 56, Dan “the artist” Fogelberg succumbed to a long battle with prostate cancer.
To be sure, Dan Fobelberg is most famous for his soft-rock hits: tales of loves (Longer, Since you’ve asked); loves lost (The Long Way, Tell me to my face); and greed gone bad (Sutter’s Mill). Dan will also likely be “immortal” for tributes to New Years (Same Old Lang Syne); to the Kentucky Derby horses (Run for the Roses); to Geogia O’Keefe (Bones in the Sky); to under-appreciated fathers everywhere (The Leader of the Band); to abandoned seniors (Windows & Walls) and to the renewing power of nature (To the Morning).
Fogelberg’s range across 20 albums was extraordinary; he could do sappy (Wysteria), driving rock (As the Raven Flies), classical (Netherlands), jazz (Holy Road), or blue grass (High Country Snow).
I encountered his music long before he became a pop icon, via a progressive free-spirit who prized his early albums.

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Lille, London, the art of global conquest

I’m in Lille, in northern France, where I’m teaching a two-week course on Transitional Justice at the city’s Institut des Etudes Politiques (Sciences-Po). It seems like hard work but the students all seem strongly engaged in the topic, which is good.
And I’ve been running around quite a bit over the past couple of weeks… London., Wales, Dorset, and now Lille. Where Bill and I are in an apartment in the middle of a sometimes unnervingly Corbusieresque cityscape… We look out of the windows at extensive, sloping roofscapes clad in metal, boxy apartment blocks clad in metal… a whole swathe of the view brutally clad in the same, with beyond it some hints of an older city and beyond that again, trees, countryside.
However, the city also has an incredibly efficient metro system: sprightly, two-car trains that zip around town with great frequency and rapidity. Only after a day or two did I discover they are completely driverless. In mounting one, the rider puts herself at the mercy of a machine, and becomes perhaps also a part of that machine herself.
Anyway, before leaving London, I did write nearly the whole of a post for JWN about some exhibits I saw in London. Just now, I tried to finish that post up. So even though there’s been a delay of some days in posting it, let me put it in here:

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