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)
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.
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.
In the tall grass, as I bike up to campus, a ground squirrel and a pigeon busy themselves, side by side. I imagine a parody of modern science: establish a study of the bike-path-crossing patterns followed by ground squirrels. Get one hundred students to mark how many squirrels crossed their path, and in what direction. Do this over one hundred days, whether students are on their way up or down, and at different hours. In a second phase, introduce electronic devices to do the counting. Theory: squirrels become aware of their environment and learn from it, or don’t learn and get psychologically bruised. Goal of the study: examine whether squirrels develop consciousness of incoming wheeled objects. Application: develop safety electronic alarms to warn squirrels of impending traffic. Follow-up study aiming at answering this question: do squirrels learn to disregard electronic signals and warnings? do mama squirrels warn their babies about the possibility that one moving wheeled vehicle may hide another one? Establish a protocol for signal-emitting mama squirrels, etc…. Ah, I made it to the library.
The modern discussion on taxation, pension, and health insurance in modern capitalist democracies is often framed as an either or. On the one side, a capital- and competition-driven option, tolerating regressive taxation, and presented by many so-called freedom seekers as being the only solution on which the whole bank needs to be waged, or else, and on the other side, a vast majority of people accepting the idea of progressive taxation and that some basic level of universal support is needed.
I find it interesting to reflect with Maimonides on these issues. Text below. Long ago, he described social aid as constituting a seven-step ladder. He added to it an eighth step, following a powerful rhetorical and religious tradition of transforming (wishing to transform?) the expected into the unexpected. Another example of this 7 + 1 = 8 sort of transformation is familiar. It is the Christian cooptation of the Jewish sabbatic week and resumption into an eighth day, Sunday, a day of sharing in a resurrection.
If you map the behavior of modern societies on Maimonides’ ladder of charity, modern tax, health and security systems are his level 7 (Mishneh Torah 10.7–14):
he who gives charity to the needy without knowing to whom he gives, and without the needy man knowing from whom he takes, for this is a divine command.
I’m translating ‘oni by needy rather than poor to point to a more general situation. That’s where modern democratic systems are, or are called to be: anonymity of the “gift” (which used to be imposed more or less by traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities for centuries), anonymity of the recipient, requiring a system of evaluation of need, then as now. Whereas level 8 of charity for Maimonides is
he who puts within an Israelite’s hand [his] livelihood, and gives him a gift or a loan, or creates [business] associations with him, or finds an occupation for him, to strengthen his hand until he is not in need of people (creatures) and doesn’t beg.
It looks like Maimonides’ highest level in social help fits the modern extreme right wing’s argument. The “teach the man to fish” argument. All the steps are actually necessary to each other. There is no step 8 without the first seven steps. On the other hand, to stop at step 7 and turn social security systems into individualistic, solipsistic solutions, is a recipe for catastrophic upheavals whose form no one can predict. Risky generosity and forgiveness (including that of debts) has to be part of step 7, without which there is no step 8, the step where a well-capitalized economy Maimonides did not see can risk making loans by the thousands and enable anyone so inspired to become an abrahamic figure, hospitable and blessed.
Maimonides’ text on charity and help of others is from Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7-14 (or 10–14). Text (from Mamre.org):
י [ז] שמונה מעלות יש בצדקה, זו למעלה מזו: מעלה גדולה שאין למעלה ממנה–זה המחזיק בידי ישראל שמך, ונותן לו מתנה או הלוואה, או עושה עימו שותפות, או ממציא לו מלאכה, כדי לחזק את ידו עד שלא יצטרך לברייות ולא ישאול; ועל זה נאמר “והחזקת בו, גר ותושב וחי עימך” (ויקרא כה,לה), כלומר החזק בו שלא ייפול ויצטרך.
יא [ח] פחות מזה–הנותן צדקה לעניים, ולא ידע למי נתן, ולא ידע העני ממי לקח, שהרי זו מצוה לשמה: כגון לשכת חשיים שהייתה במקדש, שהיו הצדיקים נותנין בה בחשאי והעניים בני טובים מתפרנסין ממנה בחשאי. וקרוב לזה–הנותן לתוך קופה של צדקה; ולא ייתן אדם לתוך קופה של צדקה, אלא אם כן יודע שהממונה נאמן וחכם ויודע לנהוג בה כשורה כחנניה בן תרדיון.
יב [ט] פחות מזה–שידע הנותן למי ייתן, ולא ידע העני ממי לקח: כגון גדולי החכמים שהיו הולכין בסתר, ומשליכין המעות בפתחי העניים. וכזה ראוי לעשות, ומעלה טובה היא, אם אין הממונין בצדקה נוהגין כשורה.
יג [י] פחות מזה–שידע העני ממי נטל, ולא ידע הנותן: כגון גדולי החכמים שהיו צוררים המעות בסדיניהן ומפשילין לאחוריהן, ובאין העניים ונוטלין, כדי שלא יהיה להן בושה.
יד [יא] פחות מזה–שייתן לעני בידו, קודם שישאול. [יב] פחות מזה–שייתן לו כראוי ליתן לו, אחר שישאול. [יג] פחות מזה–שייתן לו פחות מן הראוי, בסבר פנים יפות. [יד] פחות מזה–שייתן לו, בעצב. [טו] גדולי החכמים היו נותנין פרוטה לעני קודם כל תפילה, ואחר כך מתפללין–שנאמר “אני–בצדק, אחזה פניך” (תהילים יז,טו).
There are eight degrees of charity, each higher than the next: the highest degree without any above it— this is who puts within an Israelite’s hand [his] livelihood, and gives him a gift or a loan, or creates [business] associations with him, or ﬁnds an occupation for him, to strengthen his hand until he is not in need of people (creatures) and doesn’t beg. And on such a person it is said, “You will strengthen him, the foreigner and the resident who lives with you.” (Lev 25.35), meaning, strengthening him so that he doesn’t fall and become needy.
Less than this— he who gives charity to the poor without knowing to whom he gives, and without the poor man knowing from whom he takes, for this is a divine command (?). Like the chamber of the secrets that existed in the Temple, where the pious would give quietly and the poor sons of the elite would be supported from it quietly. And near to this— he who gives to the charity plate (kuppah), and a man shall not give to the charity plate, unless he knows that the money is honest and exact, and he knows how to handle it correctly, like Hananiah b. Tardion.
Less than this—When the giver knows whom he gives to, and the poor doesn’t know from whom he takes. Like the great sages who went secretly and threw the coins at the door of the poor. (It is) ﬁtting to do this, and a good degree (= better way?) if the charity oﬀicials aren’t behaving correctly.
Less than this—When the poor knows from whom he collects and the giver doesn’t. Like the great sages who wrapped the coins in their sadins (sheets?) and rolled them behind them. And the poor come and collect. So that they’re not put to shame.
Less than this—Who gives to the poor in his hand, before he asks. Less than this—Who gives him as ﬁtting, after he asks. Less than this—Who gives him less than is ﬁtting, to keep appearances [on account of pleasant faces]. Less than this—Who gives him with regret (ruefully). The great sages used to give a perutah before every prayer, and afterwards they prayed—as it is said, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness” (Psalms 17.15).
NYT opinion piece on Iran today by Ryan Crocker, career ambassador to Lebanon (1990–93), Kuwait (1994–95), Syria (1998–2001), Pakistan (2004–7), Iraq (2007–9), and Afghanistan (2011–12), specialist of the Middle East (Persian and Arabic speaker), and presently dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A & M. His argument regarding Iran: that the US should engage it directly. Why? Because there is solid, tested, evidence for the existence of a rational calculus on the part of the post-78 Iranian authorities. Iran has provided help regarding the situation in Afghanistan initially, presumably because of its own fears of Sunni Islam, especially the latter’s radical version. It has been willing to help even with certain aspects of Iraq.
How should the US behave towards Iran, according to Crocker? It should hold direct, confidential, multi-issue, non-ideological talks. What is in play? The lifting of sanctions, versus verification to the satisfaction of the “international community” (US + economically and militarily subject states) that Iran’s nuclear program will not be weaponized. His conclusion, after showing what is possible and should guide the negotiations: “the Iranians will have to move first. There can be no question of easing American sanctions until Iran has demonstrated its seriousness in confining any nuclear program to peaceful purposes.” In other words, we have the upper hand, their move.
But is it their move rather than ours? Why does Croker publish this kind of letter today if not because it has slowly dawned upon various Washington circles that the war we have been conducting economically, financially, and technologically against Iran has failed or is in danger of failing *and* leading to unintended, negative consequences for the US? This undeclared war has failed to bring compliance and is likely to continue to fail, given the new foreign policy and energy landscape. Because of this failure, and the tendency of Washington under Obama to hedge its support of democratic movements in the Levant, one aspect of the question is that the Saudis and emirates feel very nervous when considering the US energy landscape for the foreseeable future (short) and the potential strength of Iran in the region. If the US wants to continue to control the area in other ways than by purely military means, it needs to talk to Iran before the regional situation deteriorates further to the detriment of local reactionary US allies.
Interesting that a career ambassador, dean of the Bush School of Government at Texas A & M, is willing to print today that Bush’s “axis of evil” speech of early 2002 in effect killed any possibility of continued diplomatic work with Iran on essential security issues. To many of us from afar, even though we had access only to biased and government-fed newspaper articles (including the NYT), it was obvious that the march towards war with Iraq after 2001, increasing all along 2002, was crazy even from the most conservative, radical capitalist point of view. To attack and weaken the main enemy of Iran and risk changing the equilibrium of forces between Iraq and Iran, no matter the claims of democratic expansion, seemed contradictory and very dangerous, let alone immoral in the number of victims the actual war made. I remember intelligence specialists at the time (2002) recommending not to do it. Crocker seemed to think along those lines too (Burns-Crocker memo to Colin Powell, late 2002?). I wonder what the other US government officials were really thinking at the time, given the nauseating but comprehensible logistical and supportive role in Saddam Hussein’s favor towards the end of the Iraq-Iran war (1988) when Iran was in danger of running over Iraqi defenses. Myths and stories, says Rumsfeld? At the time, were Rumsfeld and coterie of friends ready to contemplate not only the weakening of Iraq but that of Iran, if need be, by surrounding this country physically (Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Persian Gulf, emirates and Saudi Arabia) and strangling it in all possible ways?
A different attitude to Iran and other countries in the region at that time would mean a different outcome now in Syria. I should be glad, I suppose, that Crocker and others are having second thoughts, even if it is still at the service of a certain idea of a US-enforced ideological and economic order.
Birds fishing for anchovies at Mitchell’s Cove (end of Almar in Santa Cruz), this afternoon, around 1pm:
I am surprised to see this in early November. But what do I know? I’ve only been living here since 1974 or so. In August, when pelicans gather in large numbers to fish anchovies, halibut may also come close to the beach (Mitchell Cove). Time for me once upon a time, if water was relatively free of seaweed, to take a sturdy pole, 3 oz to 3 1/2 oz metal lures, finger protection, and step into the water to cast as far as possible for lledan (halibut in Welsh).
Holl sent = All Saints’ day. I walk to the library through the forest and find myself contemplating and puzzling over shadows of images from a childhood in Brittany. Perhaps because a raven is making knocking sounds, xylophone like. The Pacific ocean is reassuringly to the West, as was the Atlantic way back. Fall has come, winter is near, and children last night reminded me of a world of spirits and bogeys that are invited to come out on the night of October 31. To set the mood, Shostakovitch’s piano trio No. 2 in E minor, op. 67, will do. There was no Halloween in the Tregor of my youth, just stories told about ghosts in many a winter’s evenings. Stories of young men going around a countryside of isolated farms in the middle of the night to scare sleeping families. They put lit candles in carved out beets and turnips and hoisted them on a pole long enough to be waved across windows, even second floor windows if farmers were rich and deserved to be frightened by vengeful spirits. Or so we were told, round and round.
Largo movement of the Shostakovitch. On the first day of November, the village celebrated All Saints’ day, Gouel an Holl Sent. It was followed by the Day of the Dead, “jour des morts” in French or “deiz an Anaon” in Breton, day of the souls. This was part of a tangled history, a long-in-coming victory by the Church, since the early sixteenth century or so, when the idea that the dead were not really dead and one could live with them, even cajole, threaten, and use them, was put to rest. Nearly. Christianity was about the dead being really dead. A Mantegna already showed so (below: The Dead Christ). And soon after Mantegna, Holbein and his portrait of the deposition of Christ (below). We were to be birthed on the day of our death. Our saint’s day—which was the date of their death—was what counted, not the day of birth of our biological machine. Life was a long parturition. A project.
And yet. To prepare for these two days, in the cemetery surrounding the village church and not yet replaced by a parking lot and commercial mall, graves were straightened, weeded, cleaned, no matter the weather at this time of the year. We helped plant daisies and bring large bouquets of chrysanthemons or peonies. Unattended tombs could be cleaned and flowered by a neighbor who remembered the family. With her bucket and brush, kneeling on the creaking gravel, an aunt brushed and washed her family’s tomb with such intensity her knuckles bled. We couldn’t tell if hair was disheveled and cheeks wet because of wind and rain. One day, a saints’ day or other, one of the great tides or our forgiving ocean would swallow and wash away all of these bloodied and pained souls. Graves would list, and we would forget how to sing In paradisum deducant te angeli.
Great sheets of rain shroud
the mountains and run to sea
life giving rain, fog, dew
sequoias, soil, sands sift
long tutored grace
wind stoked movement of tree limbs
a long shaking and waters go deep in the earth
springs, streams, rivers, snake
where long forgotten ancestors fished washed drank
we dammed piped and powered
a flow of words and concepts
congeries of frozen symbols
exhausted we sit at the well meaning.
The French top appeal court (cour de cassation) validated a lower appeal court’s judgment concerning scientology and its condemnation as organized fraud (“escroquerie en bande organisée”). Naturally, scientology will file an appeal with the European court of human rights! Let Jesus return and pronounce the same judgment on our dollar religion and that of the US Congress. That would show amazing grace.