Saturday, February 25, 2017

 

Nobel Lecture by Harold Pinter


The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to English playwright, screenwriter, director and actor Harold Pinter nearly twelve years ago. Although Pinter had been stricken with a serious infection at the time of the award (he died a few years later), he videotaped his Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics", and projected it at the Swedish Academy on the evening of 7 December 2005. It should be viewed by everyone (particularly Americans) who has the opportunity to do so:



Wikipedia:
Pinter's career as a playwright began with a production of The Room in 1957. His second play, The Birthday Party, closed after eight performances, but was enthusiastically reviewed by critic Harold Hobson. His early works were described by critics as "comedy of menace". Later plays such as No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) became known as "memory plays". He appeared as an actor in productions of his own work on radio and film. He also undertook a number of roles in works by other writers. He directed nearly 50 productions for stage, theatre and screen. Pinter received over 50 awards, prizes, and other honours, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the French Légion d'honneur in 2007.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

 

This is How Empires Fall


The headline (above) is obviously an oversimplification. Nevertheless, given the premium placed on knowledge in today's advanced economies, THIS is a telling piece, and it must be read from beginning to end.

I share this fear:
I fear we are moving beyond a natural skepticism regarding expert claims to the death of the ideal of expertise itself: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, teachers and students, knowers and wonderers—in other words, between those with achievement in an area and those with none. By the death of expertise, I do not mean the death of actual expert abilities, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors and lawyers and engineers and other specialists. And most sane people go straight to them if they break a bone or get arrested or need to build a bridge. But that represents a kind of reliance on experts as technicians, the use of established knowledge as an off-the-shelf convenience as desired.
(...)
The larger discussions, from what constitutes a nutritious diet to what actions will best further U.S. interests, require conversations between ordinary citizens and experts. But increasingly, citizens don’t want to have those conversations. Rather, they want to weigh in and have their opinions treated with deep respect and their preferences honored not on the strength of their arguments or on the evidence they present but based on their feelings, emotions, and whatever stray information they may have picked up here or there along the way.

This is a very bad thing. A modern society cannot function without a social division of labor. No one is an expert on everything. We prosper because we specialize, developing formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust one another in those specializations and gain the collective benefit of our individual expertise.

Friday, January 13, 2017

 

Qiyan Music & Abdel Karim Ensemble


I am choosing to start off the New Year with some sublime music.



The Qiyan, (above):
From the 8th to the 13th centuries, female slaves trained in musical composition and performance, the recitation and composition of poetry, the art of embellishing their conversation with entertaining literary and historical anecdotes, the crafts of calligraphy and shadow-puppetry, as well as other art forms, were one of the most elegant and refined expressions of Islamic culture in Spain. These women (Ar. qiyān) were major contributors to, and conduits for, the transmission of the arts during the golden age of Islamic Spain (Ar. al-Andalus).


Also, not to be missed:



Abdel Karim Ensemble, (above):
Formed by professional musicians from several countries (Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Spain) and under the direction of Abdel Karim, this ensemble has the purpose of studying and popularizing Arabic classical music. Its repertory includes music from throughout the Middle East, from Turkey to Egypt, ranging from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Abdel Karim Ensemble also performs Andalusian Arabic music, a genre that originated in Al-Andalus, Islamic medieval Spain, where it was cultivated as a poetic-musical form known as Muwashaha.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

 

Syria Update


Elijah J Magnier, from whose blog I am quoting, below, has a pretty good track record in reporting on the Middle East. In his personal blog, he describes himself as a "Senior Political Risk Analyst with over 32 years’ experience covering Europe & the Middle East. Acquiring in-depth experience, robust contacts and political knowledge in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan and Syria."

His analysis in this particular POST includes a very cogent synopsis of what a Clinton administration policy might look like regarding Syria. As we should all know by now, there was recently a serious but perhaps futile attempt by the US and Russia to eke out a "seven days cease-fire during which humanitarian convoys would be allowed into besieged areas (in Aleppo, I assume) by both the belligerents." If anything, it was an attempt by the two principle suppliers of war machinery to this conflict to seek an alternative to the continued obliteration of the country by the belligerent parties. While we can engage in endless discussion of whether or not this was indeed a fool's errand, at least it was an attempt to begin seeking a different solution to the problem. Who knows what could have developed afterwards if it had succeeded? As we all now know, the "plan" was stillborn. There are some important indicators as to whom may have ultimately been responsible for the failure of the plan, but that isn't the most important "message" of the piece.

Elijah J M's analysis of the situation in Syria as stands is both thoughtful and well-informed, and merits being read in its entirety (everyone will undoubtedly arrive at their own conclusion as to who ultimately caused the plan to fail, but the whole truth may likely never be known, lost as often is the case in these situations amidst the "fog of war"). Nevertheless, there is one party whose actions are unequivocal, and Elijah J M makes this patently clear:
But what happened and why did the agreement failed?(sic)...
Al-Qaeda, excluded from the ceasefire deal, has no interest in seeing it working. Its forces, along with US vetted group of Ahrar al-Sham and Beit al-Maqdes attacked the Syrian forces south of Syria, at al Hader, supported by the Israeli Air Force. Twenty-one artillery positions were destroyed by the Israel Air Force hours before the attack along the Golan border.

Elijah J M's most significant attempt at a "prediction", however, is encapsulated in the title of the piece: The mistrust between Washington and Moscow portends a long war. In particular, he states:
"Hillary Clinton, if she becomes president, understands that the Kremlin is determined to protect its interests in the Levant; and that the war in Syria concerns Russia directly because it demonstrates success or failure in the Middle East. The US will do its best to see Russia and Iran drown in Syria and will not accept that the US administration has failed to reach its goal."

Considering the photos/reports of the tragic situation in Syria which the western (and particularly the US) mainstream media have chosen to highlight for some time already (as opposed, say, to those depicting the equally dire situation in other places like Yemen) we can only say (if we accept Elijah J M's eminently plausible "prediction") that such reporting is once more a reflection of the utter hypocrisy of western governments that have no intention whatsoever of seeing an end to this tragic conflict. The reports and photos of casualties in the western press are mere props in a politically motivated propaganda campaign of one-upmanship. The Syrian people be damned as long as the west can bleed the Russians dry in an ongoing proxy war which nobody can know the ultimate duration of.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

 

A Thinly Veiled Threat to the Freedom of Speech in the U.S.A.


While I have been following these disturbing developments over recent years, the renown American investigative journalist best known for his role in covering the Iran-Contra affair (among other important issues) Robert Parry, has summed them up in a timely and hard-hitting piece that even shocked me to my core. While doing an excellent job of summarising and providing links on the subject of the United States propaganda onslaught against Russia, which revolves primarily but not exclusively around happenings in Ukraine, it is his observations in the latter part of his ARTICLE which shook me and should trouble the American public in general. He quotes a piece in the Washington Post:

“U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions. … “The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation. … A Russian influence operation in the United States ‘is something we’re looking very closely at,’ said one senior intelligence official,” while admitting that there is no “definitive proof” of such a Russian scheme.


Parry correctly points out:

The danger of this investigation – and what a normal news media would focus on – is the U.S. government taking an unfocused look at how Russia supposedly influences the U.S. public debate, a probe that could easily cross the line into questioning the loyalty of Americans who simply dispute what the U.S. government is claiming about current events.


The following sent chills down my spine because in my own interactions with people on the social media, I have already been accused of this on several occasions:

In other words, any reporting or commenting on significant foreign policy issues could open a journalist or a citizen to a U.S. government investigation into whether you are part of some nefarious Russian propaganda/disinformation scheme. This McCarthyistic investigative style has already begun to have a chilling effect on public debate in the United States where dissident views on Russia, Syria or other hot topics are quickly disparaged as enemy propaganda. Almost anyone who questions whether a new, costly and dangerous Cold War is necessary is immediately tagged as a “Russian agent of influence,” a “Putin apologist,” or a “Moscow stooge.”


I want to take this chance to reiterate what I have been and will continue arguing every chance I get over the social media about this supposed new "Cold War" developing between Washington and Moscow, owing largely to the instigation of the former, but I will do it via a quote from someone far more eloquent than I:

"Western diplomats, politicians, and media are highly selective about tyranny. Boris Yeltsin’s state was not much superior to Vladimir Putin’s. Yeltsin used tanks to shell his own parliament. He waged a barbaric war in Chechnya. He blatantly rigged his own re-election with the aid of foreign cash. He practically sold the entire country. Russians, accustomed to corruption as a way of life, gasped at its extent under Yeltsin’s rule. Yet he was counted a friend of the West, and went largely uncriticized. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who locks up many more journalists than does Mr. Putin, who kills his own people when they demonstrate against him, and who has described democracy as a tram which you ride as far as you can get on it before getting off, has for many years enjoyed the warm endorsement of the West. His country’s illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, which has many parallels to Russia’s occupation of Crimea, goes unpunished. Turkey remains a member of NATO, wooed by the E.U. As for Saudi Arabia and China, countries much fawned upon by the Western nations, the failure to criticize these for their internal despotism is so enormous that the mind simply refuses to take it in. But I need not go on. The current attitude toward the Putin state is selective and cynical, not based upon any real principle."


I can't really add much more perspective to that very congent observation. However, I want to end this post with the following, which was brought to my attention by a dear friend and former teacher. Please see it all the way through:

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Sunday, September 04, 2016

 

You have not lived...


Until you've witnessed this. I'm doing you a favor.



You're welcome!

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Monday, August 29, 2016

 

The "Deep" State


This is the big story of our time. Whether you accept it or not is another question entirely.



...And for a current example of the "Deep" State pulling at strings to achieve its goal, you needn't go much further than THIS.

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