Shakespeare deconstructed

Just got this announcement for what promises to be a fun show at the UCSC Stevenson Event Center, Feb 16, 2014.

More detail for those interested: most of the pieces in the show (a staged reading) were suggested by Tom Lehrer. You’ll see some of the sources and authors listed at the bottom of the poster. The A Team that will present: Mickey McGushin is musical director, he and Irene Herrmann accompany the musical portions, and Susan Morgenstern directs. The actors are stars of Cabrillo musicals (Ceglio, Parker, Michaud, Boardman), with a few ringers from UCSC and Shakespeare Santa Cruz (Willey, Warren, Stanley, Torfeh).


Economy of salvation

The newspaper was an interesting splash of contradictions this morning. On one side of the opinion page, ideas about the reduction of inequality and the pursuit of social justice here in the US by Krugman (let’s do it now, Mr President) and Brooks (let’s take our time: it takes a generation to raise social mobility). On the other, Timothy Egan who applauds Gates’ proclamation that the end of massive poverty is in sight. Almost, 2035. According to Gates, an increase in private philanthropy and governments’ foreign aid (low at the moment) remain essential to the goal of bringing it about. Life expectancy is on the rise, epidemic diseases are being pushed back or eradicated, and birth rates are about to stabilize, not explode, as poverty recedes. The Davos chalet crowd can be satisfied and not worry too much about the cry from Oxfam that inequality is massively increasing and threatening the security of everyone. See its report. Quotes from the second page:

• Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.
• The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.
• The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.
• Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.
• The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.
• In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

Not that Oxfam is a radical organization. It accepts the modern view that the pursuit of personal desires is providential—Adam Smith’s invisible hand—and creates better conditions for everyone all around. Quote from the second paragraph on the first page:

Some economic inequality is essential to drive growth and progress, rewarding those with talent, hard earned skills, and the ambition to innovate and take entrepreneurial risks. However, the extreme levels of wealth concentration occurring today threaten to exclude hundreds of millions of people from realizing the benefits of their talents and hard work.

The first word of this paragraph speaks volumes. How much is “Some economic inequality?” The replacement of a deprecated theology of divine providence (= the Church’s economy of salvation) by a supposedly rational belief in the claimed automatisms of a transcendental economic rationality looks less and less like progress.


The US public doesn’t want a war with Iran and supports the diplomatic avenues finally opened by our administration. See Susan Lazare’s article on Juan Coles’s Informed comment. Key passages:

According to the latest count, 59 senators—16 of them Democrats—have thrown their public support behind the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013 (S. 1881), which would advance further sanctions on Iran and impose near-impossible conditions on a final agreement — in what critics, including the Obama administration, say amounts to a call for war.

Many organizations are calling for diplomacy and pressuring those 59 senators to consider realities:

Sixty-two organizations …. released an open letter (pdf) to U.S. senators declaring, “By foreclosing diplomatic prospects, new sanctions would set us on a path to war… We strongly urge you to withhold co-sponsorship of S. 1881 and delay consideration of new Iran sanctions while negotiations are ongoing.”

Realities: the 2003 war against Iraq had disastrous consequences, and the war-type sanctions meant to bully Iran into submission and curtail its potential power in the region haven’t achieved the goal. More of the same would make it unlikely for Iran to exercise their power and help with Syria, Kurdistan (in common with Turkey), proper constitution in Iraq, security in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It means sharing resources in the Persian Gulf area. It means more important actors being engaged in this redistribution of resources, especially Russia, China and India. The plurality of actors could be good for peace and help the US negotiate the difficult and necessary down-tuning of its military power. Diplomatic progress towards a multi-polar world would mean greater security for everyone, including Israel.

I saw Ramallah

Poet Mourid Barghouti’s beautiful and moving book, I saw Ramallah (Cairo/New York, 2001), is written in short, verse-length sentences. Is the brevity due to the influence of the author’s poetry style, that even in prose he thinks and phrases like a poet? Or to the nature of the subject, which prohibits fancy romantic adjectives, all deceptive, and intricate grammatical footwork, also mendacious and artificial? And yet everything he says alludes discreetly to infinitely complex matters that the simplicity of the diction allows the reader to guess or imagine as feelings.

It starts with the shocking contrast between the physicality of the land and what it has become in the heart. A loss and displacement, a humiliation, a constant distance from oneself. My first movement is to think of it as a most insightful commentary on the situation of the Babylonian exiles as sung in Psalm 137, including the rage at the end (both in Psalm 137 and in a few passages of Barghouti’s book). The Hebrew psalm floats in my head, and soon I can’t decide which way the references go: from Barghouti’s testimony to that older story of another dislocation in Babylon, or from the anguished psalm towards his situation and that of other Palestinians. It would be perverse to make the modern situation an illustration of the ancient text. Better say that Psalm 137 is apt commentary on the situation of Palestinian exiles and hope its last verse is fantasy.

He makes eloquent reflections on space and time, describing his birthplace, Dar Ra‘d, for instance, as not a place but a time. Page 13, an arresting passage on names and their impossible task:

And now I pass from my exile to their …. homeland? My homeland? The West Bank and Gaza? The Occupied Territories? The Areas? Judea and Samaria? The Autonomous Government? Israel? Palestine? Is there any other country in the world that so perplexes you with its names?

Israel-US tension

Israel’s present government is not interested in compromises.

According to unnamed sources quoted in Israeli newspapers since last week, Israel Defense Minister Ya`alon repeatedly attacked Secretary of State Kerry in conversations with Israelis and Americans. Among other things, he reportedly said that Kerry was “obsessive and messianic” and that he (Ya`alon) hoped that “Kerry would obtain the Nobel Prize and leave us alone.” The US government considered these words to be personal attacks that, if true, needed to be disavowed by Israel’s government. See NYT’s article. The rift comes from differences about the security arrangements in the Jordan valley being discussed as part of the peace process. Last month, Likud cabinet ministers formally urged Israel, via a non-binding resolution, to annex the west side of Jordan River Valley. No give.

So excuses were made. A weaker statement by Israel’s Minister of Defense Ya`alon was completely rejected earlier today by the US administration. Israel’s government was asked to dissociate itself from the comments by its Defense Minister. The strength of the US statement was unusual and a surprise to me. There is good reason to think the White House has not forgotten Netanyahu’s ill-advised meddling in the months leading to the presidential elections of 2012.

Now, after a two-hour meeting with Netanyahu, Haaretz reports, a somewhat stronger apology was issued by the Defense Minister’s office and coordinated with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office: “The Defense Minister didn’t mean to offend the Secretary of State, and he apologizes if the Secretary of State was offended by the words attributed to the Minister.” Passive voice and floating words: the office is apologizing, not quite the man in the office. Netanyahu and NJ’s governor Christie seem to be in a similar situation: encouraging stalling and retribution and working hard at dissociating themselves from the actual results.

The announcement, published in Hebrew and English, also made clear that “Israel and the USA are partners in the effort to move along the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, under the leadership of Secretary of State Kerry. We value the Secretary of State’s many efforts towards that goal.” It does not speak about Kerry’s commitment to Israel’s security, however.

Nuptiality in France

According to a report on its demographics just published by l’Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (INSEE), France in 2012 counted 160,200 mutual support contracts (my translation of pactes civils de solidarité or PACS) and 246,000 marriages. For 2013, 231,000 marriages (estimation), but no number yet for PACS. Same-sex marriage is legal since May 2013. The number of same-sex marriages in 2013 was estimated to be 7,000 (three out of five being men), whereas 2012 saw about the same approximate number of same-sex PACS: 7,000. The INSEE estimates that about 1% of couples are of the same sex, and that six out of ten are male couples.

The Pacte civil de solidarité (PACS) clearly appeals to many French people. It was started in 1999, in part to give same-sex couples the same protections and advantages as marriage did to heterosexuals. Its greater flexibility makes it equally attractive to heterosexual partners, for all kinds of practical and less material reasons. It bypasses the old, complicated, perhaps worrisome, and sometimes religious dimensions of marriage. In terms of social protection, labor law, taxation, succession rights, and donation, marriage and PACS present the same rights. Same reciprocal obligations also: mutual aid in old age, illness, etc., and solidarity regarding expenses and debts incurred in common life.

Differences: simplicity of initiation and cessation of contract for PACS’ed couples (the acronym PACS became a verb and an adjective: pacsé); filiation is not automatic in a PACS; no joined adoption either; pension (no reversion pension from a partner to the other in a PACS); and inheritance. Inheritance from each other is automatic for marriage partners, while PACSed couples need to write a will.

The number of PACS took off especially in 2005-6, probably because of ameliorations brought to the law and application decrees. Dissolutions of PACS, sometimes to switch to a standard marriage: about 12-13% of number of PACS contracted each year, whereas divorces number about 50% of annual marriages. Since the PACS are relatively new, however, it is difficult to say how these numbers (PACS dissolution and divorces) will evolve. PACS vows appear as solid or frail as marriage promises.

Evolution of marriage numbers, in red, and PACS numbers, in green, since 2000:
Marriage and PAC since 2000

Finally, the decreasing number of standard marriages is a long trend. It was a bit higher in 2012 (246,000), but the downward tendency is clear since 1970. Here is the nuptiality rate per 1000 inhabitants:

1970 7.8
1980 6.2
1990 5.1
2000 5
2004 4.5
2005 4.4
2008 4.1

If 2012 PACS numbers were added to 2012 marriages, the total number of unions would have been: 160,200 + 246,000 = 406,200. This total, divided by total French population (66,000,000), gives .006 or 6/1000, which was the rate in 1980.

Islamophobia and antisemitism

Interesting, clear, historical overview and pressing conclusions on the subject, especially the need to move away from the recent religious hardening, by Reuben Firestone in Arches, vol. 4, edition 7, Winter 2010. Arches is published by the Cordoba foundation, founded and presided by Anas Altikriti, close to Muslim Brotherhood according to that link. The article was made available on


Archaeology is bound to map making and all too often to the political self-serving interpretation passing for scientific history. It rarely escapes the ideology and material interests that accompany and fashion them. It is certainly not cleaning and revealing a mossy, gummed up reality that would be already there, waiting for a properly directed and timely discovery. This self-authorizing discovery is framed as a new, scientific “witnessing” or “viewing” —whether this viewing, scoping, or graphing is that of post-Enlightenment Christians, or the presumptuous, supposed detachment of modern western scholarship. It is making (up) this “reality” while posing as an impartial witness to it. See Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial eyes: travel writing and transculturation (London: Routledge, second edition, 2008). And Abu El-Haj, N. Facts on the ground: archaeological practice and territorial self-fashioning in Israeli society (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001)

Boycott Israeli Universities?

The American Studies Association announced last Monday that it voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions by a large majority. There were 1252 voting members, 66% for the resolution and 30.5% against (3.43% abstentions). ASA has about 5000 members. Its National Council previously announced on Dec. 4 that it was in support of the boycott and asked for a vote. This is a first in the US. Here is the text of the Council’s resolution of Dec. 4:

December 4, 2013

Whereas the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and in the world;

Whereas the United States plays a significant role in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians;

Whereas there is no effective or substantive academic freedom for Palestinian students and scholars under conditions of Israeli occupation, and Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students;

Whereas the American Studies Association is cognizant of Israeli scholars and students who are critical of Israeli state policies and who support the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement under conditions of isolation and threat of sanction;

Whereas the American Studies Association is dedicated to the right of students and scholars to pursue education and research without undue state interference, repression, and military violence, and in keeping with the spirit of its previous statements supports the right of students and scholars to intellectual freedom and to political dissent as citizens and scholars;

It is resolved that the American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The news was widely reported. See for instance the article by Sarah Lazare posted yesterday on Juan Cole’s Informed comment. Lazare notes the unusual support by the membership, including the support of intellectuals like Prof. Angela Davis, and the fact it is a first in the US.

As Lazare says, “a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue.” The strangle hold Israel has on Palestinian territories knows few limits. But boycotting Israeli academic institutions is wrong, and not simply because there are “Israeli scholars and students who are critical of Israeli state policies and who support the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement…” Israeli scholars who are critical of Israeli state policies and do not support the BDS movement do not pass the moral test?

An international boycott that targets companies doing business in the territories conquered in 1967 by Israel makes sense. And even more sense would be continued political action against what drives the rest above, or condones it, namely our insane US military budget (615b in page 1 of 2014 President’s budget submission). It is the last one we must boycott in the US: that is where it hurts (including our pension funds’ investments in companies supplying the military, and much of the general wealth of our society), and what will bring change in the Persian Gulf, in the Near East in general, and in Israeli policies regarding Palestinians (or Egyptian military junta’s policies). It is all too easy to ride the ethical train and target only Israel and the unjust policies of its successive governments, while going along with resolutions like that of BDS that willingly confuse government(s) and what the state of Israel still represents, namely a home.

Since the resolution mentions the BDS movement, I recopy here the BDS platform (see wiki on: BDS = Boycott, divestment, sanctions):

1) equal rights of citizenship for current inhabitants; 2) the end to the occupation; 3) the rights of unlawfully displaced persons to return to their lands and gain restitution for their losses.

Three things that are basic justice: equal rights, end of occupation, and right of return. But for instance occupation in number 2 is not specified: occupation of territories since June 1967, or since May 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel? The end of occupation on the basis of UN resolution 242, i.e. return of all territories conquered in 1967, with swaps (but no consideration for so-called “facts on the ground,” aka settlements since 1973 especially), or the end of the state of Israel? The BDS movement’s vagueness on this issue should not have fooled the ASA, and perhaps it didn’t. See the controversy between Frank Barat and Norman Finkelstein or Noam Chomsky, easy to find on youtube.

Catholic priests, France

I checked the site of the French Bishops’ Conference, looked at ordination numbers, and tabulated them (table below). The number of diocesan priests ordained each year has dropped from about 1,000 in the early fifties to about 90-100 since the nineties. Another thirty or so priests are ordained in various orders (Dominicans, etc.) and are not counted in the table. My statistics are not complete but give an idea of the trend. Another number: about eight priests per year die for each one ordained. The average age for the 14,000 or so French diocesan priests is 75. I estimate there will be about 30 priests per French diocese in fifteen years (or one priest per 20 to 25 000 people). I look at this as evidence of a much larger and radical phenomenon: modern states and religions (even in the US) are losing their position as mediators.

Table Ordinations France

Huñvreoù (Gildas Hamel)