Monday 31 January 2011

January Reads

I have managed to get the year off to a good start book wise.  I read five books and listened to three audiobooks.  The most surprising was Kim by Rudyard Kipling.  My first encounter with Kipling as a writer.  Though I did see a rather good TV play about his son who was killed in the First World War.  This confirmed my image of Kipling as a jingoistic warmonger and defender of the Empire.  As I have now discovered, there is more to the man than that.  He was of course an arch Imperialist and believer in war, but then so were most people of his time.  He was also a very fine writer.
Kim was published in 1901 and is set in northern India in the latter part of the 1990s.  The eponymous hero is in fact a young British orphan, though he as been brought up as an Indian in Lahore.  Kim in fact is much more comfortable speaking Hindi than English.  The novel is a kind of picaresque spy adventure story.   Kim uses his knowledge and close familiarity with native Indian society to become a spy for the British.  What is fascinating and revelatory for me, was that Kipling was clearly very knowledgeable about India and very sympathetic to the different religious and language traditions in the country.  Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindis, Punjabis, Afghans and Bengalis are all represented in the novel which presents us with a vivid, colourful and lively account of India at the end of the 19th century.  I was perhaps particularly drawn to Kim as my father was born in northern India, in Kanpore, in 1908.  So the novel gave me a wonderful insight into the lives and places where my grandparents were stationed in the early 1900s.  
Other highlights included a couple of very good contemporary crime novels.  Left early, took my Dog is the latest novel by Kate Atkinson.  This one also features the somewhat beleaguered private detective Jackson Brodie.  This time he is back in Yorkshire and the tale revolves around deception and the abduction of children, and the dog of the title.  As with all Kate Atkinson books, this is written in her traditional slightly playful style.  Still she writes about serious subjects in a non-judgmental way and this was another enjoyable read.
The other crime novel which I particularly enjoyed was Allan Massie’s A Death in Bordeaux.  Massie is a prolific Scottish writer, yet this was my first encounter with his work.  A Death in Bordeaux is set to be the first of a trilogy of novels set in occupied France.  The events in this book take place in 1940, starting just before the invasion and continuing into the occupation itself.  Massie is more interested in the strains and inner conflicts that come from living and working in a time of great uncertainty.  So this is less a who done it and much more a study of human nature.  Written in a deceptively simple and unadorned style I am already eager to get the next in the series, whenever it comes out.
Another unexpected pleasure was listening to the audio version of Sex and Stravinsky, by Barbara Trapido.  A beguiling title, which may disappoint a few readers, as there is virtually no sex in the novel and not a lot of Stravinsky either.  Once over this, you have a well crafted and intriguing tale.  It reminded me a bit of A Comedy of Errors, though it is much, much darker.  In fact it is more a modern version of Commedia del Arte.  The one recurring link with Stravinsky is his ballet Pulcinella, which features some of the stock Commedia del Arte characters.   Masks feature quite a lot too and this is what really links the ballet and the novel.  For the novel is mainly about how people can willingly cover up their real selves and settle for a comfortable life.  This is what the two couples in the novel have done.  One in England and the other in South Africa.  Some chance encounters, or more accurately re-encounters force the protagonists to face up to who they really are and what kind of life they really want to live.  The tale is told through the perspectives of each of the characters in turn.  Which is quite a tour de force as two of the protagonists are teenage girls.  Written with a light touch, and though there is much comedy in the telling, it is in the end a somewhat bitter sweet novel.  But well worth reading or listening to.
For February I already have a few ideas in mind.  First off will by first foray into the East European Reading Challenge, hosted by Amy at Black Sheep Dances.  For this I have selected Turkish Gambit by Russian writer Boris Akunin.  A kind of spy and adventure tale set in 1877 I look forward to it with great interest.  Also lined up are Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Redeemer by Jo Nesbø, and a Spanish language novel - Un Crimen Imperfecto, by Teresa Solana.  Hopefully I will manage a few more.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Gaza 2 years on - A Jewish Voice

Just over two years ago, on 27th December 2008, the mighty Israeli military launched an unprovoked and unannounced air strike on the defenceless population of Gaza.  This murderous onslaught would continue for a further three weeks.  In which time over 1,400 Palestinians would be killed.  Of these, 397 were defenceless, innocent children.  In addition countless others suffered terrible physical and mental injuries.
To honour all the people killed and injured during this onslaught Tayside for Justice in Palestine organized a commemorative event in Dundee last Saturday, 22nd January 2011.  The centre point of this event was an installation by local artist Pat Donnachie.  This featured 357 mini paper coffins wrapped in a Palestinian flag.  The mini coffins were surrounded by 357 pairs of children’s shoes - all to represent the 357 children who were brutally killed by Israeli forces. 
At the commemorative event we had speeches from a wide section of Dundee’s population, including the Lord Provost.  One of the most moving contributions came from Sarah Glynn, who is one of the founding members of Tayside for Justice in Palestine.  Sarah is a Jew and here is her personal testimony.
“I’m standing here as a member of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace. 
Like all of us here I am appalled at what has been happening in Gaza and want to do what little I can to help.
But why do I want to speak with a specifically Jewish voice?
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace exists to tell a very particular message.
To say that, whatever they may claim, the Israeli government does not speak for or act on behalf of the Jewish people. 
Last summer, when the Israeli army attacked the ships bringing aid to Gaza, I tired to write down what it means to be Jewish at a time when people with whom I share a history and an ethnicity have committed such crimes in its name.
Most people sense a pull of family history and a feeling of belonging to a clan. And who could not feel a sense of awe at being part of a clan that has survived two millennia of persecution. Who would not feel a tug on the heart strings when exploring a personal connection to a Polish Shtetl – even if their first introduction to that lost world was through Fiddler on the Roof?
I have been to Poland and seen the small wooden house my grandfather left as a toddler over 100 years ago. And I have seen how the Nazis erased every trace of its Jewish population from that town. Who could not be moved by such a sight?
I have also been to Israel, where others of my family helped build a Jewish homeland. And I am sure that they sincerely believed that they were creating a better world where there would be less persecution. 
But, as I have observed the aggression of the modern Israeli state and read more about its evolution, I have learnt to question the image of Israel that I and so many others of all backgrounds grew up with. I have discovered that the story of a gallant Israeli David fighting for survival against an Arab world committed to its destruction was a foundation myth: a myth that hid a much more troubling reality of another people’s history of suffering and oppression. 
I saw another people’s nightmare. A new exile. A new nation of refugees.
The world not better, but bitter. Crueller. More dangerous.
I saw persecution recreated - in a distorted mirror image with Jews as oppressors. And three generations of Israelis taught to hate.
The Israeli government has tried to use our Jewish history to justify its actions and claim Jewish loyalty and support. I want to claim my history back. I will not boast of Jewish survival - It was not me who was oppressed for two millennia – but, like everyone else, I can learn lessons from that history. I take no personal responsibility for Israeli aggression - It was not me who took Palestinian land and lives – but like everyone else I can do what I can to try and end that suffering. After the Holocaust the world said ‘never again’. That never didn’t just refer to one people’s persecution, nor do we have to wait until millions are dead before we act. 
I will always be moved by the melancholy sound of a Yiddish song; but also by the cries of Gaza’s children.
So I join with you all to say Freedom to Gaza
Free free Palestine”
Though last Saturday was a commemorative event, it is never enough to just remember past sufferings.  Not when the suffering and degradation continues to this very day.  That is why Tayside for Justice in Palestine has chosen this commemorative event to launch our appeal for the next flotilla. This time Free Gaza plans to send a boat bought and supplied by the people of Scotland. We are asking everyone to contribute what they can so that we can demonstrate Scottish support for Gaza and Scottish resistance to this cruel and illegal blockade.
The following list can only give an indication of what the blockade means:
  • 6 out of 10 people have running water only once every 4 to 5 days, and 90% of this is contaminated and not fit to drink
  • Only small amounts of construction materials have been allowed in for UN projects, and nothing has been allowed for private building. Of the 6,000 homes that suffered major damage 2 years ago, 4 out of 5 have not been rebuilt.
  • Because of lack of materials for new buildings, 40,000 children have been turned away by UN schools. 
  • Restrictions on the import of fuel means power plants are only working at 2/3 capacity. There are regular electricity blackouts, which impact on essential services.
  • Gaza’s fragile economy has been destroyed by a combination of the lack of power, restrictions on raw materials, and the almost complete ban on exports. 4 out of 10 people in Gaza are unemployed.
  • 1/3 of Gaza’s farmland and most of its fishing areas are cut off by Israeli soldiers, who will shoot to kill. 
  • Entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip remains severely restricted and unpredictable. Since 2009, 33 patients have died before being given permission to leave Gaza and get to the hospitals they have been referred to.
Regardless of our views on Gaza’s political leaders, or on the tactics some have chosen with which to resist the occupation of Palestinian land, we must condemn this collective ‘punishment’. The real sin of the Palestinians, in the eyes of the Israeli government, is simply to want to be free to live in the villages and towns in which they were born.
Amidst all the horror there is still hope. Israel depends on the support of other nations, especially the USA, and widespread criticism of the Israeli government’s actions can have an impact. We have a long way to go, but, already, an increasing number of people have realised what is happening, and resistance is growing, including within Israel itself. Here in Dundee, thousands of miles from Gaza we can be part of this resistance. 
To find out more, please email us on

Sunday 23 January 2011

More Bargello and a Biscornu

After a brief hiatus over Christmas and New Year I have returned with renewed vigour and excitement to stitching.  So far in January I have completed two pieces and am well on the way with a third.  Not forgetting my collection of thread cut-offs.
My first project was another piece from the book, Bargello Magic, by Pauline Fischer and Anabel Lasker.  In the book they entitle the piece Rose Window.  The pattern is however a variation of the traditional Pomegranate form.  This particular variation is also known as Peacock Eye.  I prefer this title to Rose Window.  Anyway here is the finished work.
I chose this pattern as it allowed me to use a mixture of vibrant and lively colours.  Unlike most Bargello patterns which tend to use a range of colours of the same shade or tone.   The piece was stitched on an 18ct Aida fabric in grey.  The threads are all DMC cotton and I used two threads for the work.  I’ve attached the finished piece to a black cardboard frame which I picked up somewhere.  The black surround helps accentuate the bright colours.
For my next piece I returned once again to a biscornu.  This was No. 92, a 40 pt biscornu, another design by Louison.  She has a seemingly endless talent for creating biscornus.  This one was stitched on a blue 18ct Aida fabric.  I used two strands of Brise Marine - one of the beautiful threads from Les Fils du Rhin.  The outer stitching was done in medium Delft Blue from DMC.  As with most of the biscornus this one was stuffed with lavander.

My current project is a bit of an experiment.  This will be my first attempt at creative embroidery.  Though it is not really all that creative.  Anyway the idea is to cut out a couple of sections from the fabric and fill these with some other material.  In this case it will probably be cut out bits from some paintwork on paper.  The pieces come from my grandsons, Liam and Jamie.  This is what it looks like at the moment.
The fabric is once again 18ct Aida.   The background is another design from Bargello Magic - French Ribbon.  You can probably just make out the two circles which will be cut out once the overall pattern is finished.
The New Year has also brought me a whole new stack of fabrics.  This year I decided to branch out a bit, colour wise.  So I have added celedon green, primrose and a bright Christmas red to my usual range of Aida cloths.  For work in wool I now have a white interlock canvas to go with my usual antique penelope canvas.  I have never used interlock before, so that will be another experiment to look forward to. 
Finally an update on my thread in a bottle collection.  This is my entry into the SAL Poussière de fils, sponsored by Les Loisirs de LN.  Here is my collection after three weeks stitching.  A long way to go - but happy stitching to one and all.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Scottish Election 2011 - Runners and Riders

Although the election itself will not be held until early May, we already have a good idea of the field.  All the usual suspects will be there with one or two surprise runners to add a bit of excitement to the race.  As the elections for the Scottish Parliament use a modified form of Proportional Representation - based on the German system - this means that no one party is likely to win an overall majority.  Also the smaller parties are more likely to win a few seats than at Westminster.  All of which adds to the interest and uncertainty of the election and makes predictions even more foolhardy.  Not that that has ever stopped anyone.
The Runners
While we will not know exactly who will stand where until April, we do know that the election will be dominated by the four main parties in Scotland.  Here is how they currently stand.  The SNP, who are the current incumbents, have held up surprisingly well in opinion polls.  Despite the inevitable opprobrium that attaches to all governments and the fact that as a minority government the SNP has been unable to implement most of its key proposals, the SNP are on course to do as well or even better than four years ago.  Which when you consider that all the mainstream media - TV, newspapers etc - are all agin them, is quite an achievement.
What  somewhat tarnishes this achievement is that Labour appear to be doing even better.  For the last year or so they have consistently been in the lead in voting intentions.  So this is very much an election for Labour to lose.  What seems to have helped Labour in Scotland is losing power at Westminster.   As the Tories are still a very toxic brand in Scotland, Labour has presented itself as the party best able to protect Scotland from the worst excesses of the Tory/LibDem Coalition in London.  This may prove more difficult as the election draws nearer.  By then Labour will have to spell exactly how it will protect Scotland and what cuts it will make in public services.  At some point they will have to stop just blaming the SNP.
The LIbDems and the Conservatives are in a potentially very dodgy situation up here.  The Tories nave been pretty much persona non grata in Scotland since the early 1980s.  They only survive due the use of PR in Scottish elections - ironic, given that they are still vociferously opposed to any form of PR.  Their vote rarely rises above 17/18%, so it probably represents their core support.  In which case they may not lose much if any votes in the election.  Still no evidence of a Cameron bounce for them up here though.
Things are very different for the LibDems.  Unlike the Tories the LibDems have for decades had a very positive image and profile in Scotland.  They have benefitted from a succession of well liked leaders, going back to Jo Grimond and more recently Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy.  They have also positioned themselves on the left of the political spectrum and were successful Coalition partners for Labour in the first two Scottish governments.  However all that has changed, perhaps utterly, with their decision to enter into Coalition with the Tories at Westminster.  Much of their support, as I know from my own personal experience, came from potential Labour or SNP voters, eager to stop a Tory from winning.   They are unlikely to benefit from any anti Tory vote now.  Some of their candidates are well known and liked, so there is unlikely to be a complete meltdown of their previous vote.  However it will be difficult for them to make a convincing case for voting LibDem, given the shambles of their broken promises at Westminster. 
As for the smaller parties, it is shaping up to be quite a mini race of its own.  The Greens have done relatively well in Scottish elections and have managed to get at least one MSP elected in each of the three previous elections.  They currently have two MSPs, though one is retiring.  Though their MSPs are well liked and highly regarded the Greens as a party have still failed to make much of an impression on the electorate.  Though they do have a positive vision for Scotland, too often the media only highlights what they are against.  And that seems to be a lot of fairly popular things - cars, roads, bridges, airplanes etc.  At this stage it looks like the Greens will do well to stick at two MSPs.
Much of the excitement from the election and most of the blood and guts is likely to come from the left wing parties.  Not sure at the moment how many of them will stand, but it seems that at three socialist/left wing parties will stand.  In 2003 combining as one party they managed to get six MSPs elected.  However with the self-immolation of their star turn, Tommy Sheridan,  each little party has gone its separate way and they currently have no MSPs in Parliament.  What will add to the fun and games is the likelihood that two star turns will be competing against each other in Glasgow.  George Galloway, having lost his Westminster seat in London, has turned up once again in Glasgow, as the standard bearer for the Respect party.  While a well kent face, he is possible up against another well kent face, and arguably a prettier one, in Gail Sheridan, wife of Tommy.  Promises to be a humdinger of a fight.  One that is sure to generate lots of media coverage - almost certainly for the wrong reasons.  Whatever the case the prospects for all of these minor left wing parties does not look good.
The Riders
Unlike the race amongst the parties, the leadership race seems a pretty much a one horse affair.  Alex Salmond, current First Minister and leader of the SNP, is so far ahead of his competitors that in boxing terms it would be called a mismatch.  For a decade or more Alex Salmond had been the outstanding politician in Scotland.  Eloquent, witty and charming he is a formidable campaigner.  Though Labour are well ahead in the polls, no-one should underestimate Salmond’s ability to expose Labour’s claims.  If we take in the other key positions as well, then John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon would also appear a more attractive and competent pair than anything Labour can offer.
None of the other main parties has anyone of Salmond’s stature or experience.  Ian Gray, Labour’s leader is as leaden and uninspiring as his name suggests.  Annabelle Goldie of the Tories is regarded as a well liked great aunt, but has made no advances on increasing the Tory vote.  Tavish Scott, leader of the LibDems, has so far made little impression on the wider electorate.  Though their biggest problem is likely to be the albatross of their participation in the nasty Coalition in London.
As mentioned above, both George Galloway and Gail Sheridan are likely to bring a bit of glamour to the hustings if not much else.  In previous elections at least one well-known person has been elected as an independent MSP.  Margo MacDonald, one of our most loved and formidable politicians has stood and been elected as an independent.  Alas she is to stand down, on health grounds this time.  It is unlikely that anyone of similar stature will replace her.
This is a brief overview of the likely runners in May.  In a short while we should begin to get some details about what they would like to do if they ever did win power.  After all this is not just a game.

Monday 17 January 2011

More Zen and less Poirot

The Christmas holiday period was rather disappointing from the perspective of good TV crime drama.  There was a surfeit of the usual suspects - Poirot and Marples - and a distinct lack of new, contemporary writing.  Not that I have anything against Agatha Christie and her detectives.  David Suchet has been a wonderful Poirot and the various actresses who have played Miss Marples have also been very good.  It is just that you can get too much of a good thing.  And in this case the two main offerings - The Mirror Cracked and Murder on the Orient Express - added nothing new to the previous versions.  Both were in fact rather disappointing.
While there is some contemporary work to be seen on TV, most of this tends to rely on old and trusted series.  Taggart and Silent Witness are still going strong, though the Taggart formula does seem to have come to the end of its shelf life.  A good new Scottish based crime series is badly needed. Lynda LaPlante is another who continues to write new work for TV.  Unfortunately here too I feel she may have lost her way a bit.  The most recent run of Above Suspicion - Deadly Intent - was too stuck in stereotypes for my taste.  In particular it was a great waste of Kelly Reilly, who is a really good actress and deserves better material than this.
It was therefore with great pleasure that I awaited the first showing of a new (to TV) crime series.  This was Zen, based on the books by Michael Dibdin.  And I was not disappointed.  I enjoyed all three episodes and very much hope that more are commissioned.  Rufus Sewell, shown above with Caterina Murino, his colleague and love interest, played the part of Aurelio Zen the Venetian detective who works in Rome.  The series was shot on location in Rome and all three episodes explored the darker side of Roman society and in particular the corruption that seems to pervade much of contemporary Italy. 
I am also awaiting with much anticipation another new TV series which is due to reach us soon.  This one will feature Brenda Blethyn as DI Vera Stanhope and has been shot in Northumberland.  The series is based on the books by Anne Cleeves.  I have not read any of these novels, though I have read Cleeves’ Shetland Quartet of crime novels, all of which I enjoyed immensely.  So I have high hopes for Vera.
It is always good to see more new crime drama on TV.  One, relatively easy way to do this is to show foreign series.  Already we get plenty of US series and many of them are excellent, but it would be good to see some of the good work from other countries.  This has already begun to happen.  We have seen all of the two Swedish TV Wallander series, starring Krister Henrikson.  This seemed to be very popular, I certainly enjoyed all of them.  The BBC has also shown three episodes of an earlier Swedish TV series this time featuring Rolf Lassgård in the role of Wallander.  They were excellent as well and I hope they will show the remaining episodes soon.
The BBC has also shown two other foreign language crime series.  The French TV series Spirals was shown in its entirety, covering the two series filmed.  A very gritty and at times violent look at modern France.  Spirals clearly owed a lot to US TV crime series.  Very different in style, approach and look is Montalbano, the Italian TV series, based on the novels by Andrea Camilleri, which feature detective Montalbano of the police force in a small Sicilian town.  Beautifully shot, full of light and with more than a little humour, the two episodes shown still manage to dig into the dark underworld of Sicilian life.  Not sure why the BBC has not shown more episode.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ones shown.
There must be other foreign language made for TV crime series that could be snapped up by UK TV companies.  While subtitled films may never reach a mass audience there is I am sure a large enough potential audience for good quality crime drama.  Let’s hope there is more to come.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Bankers’ Pay and Bonuses - A Suggestion

So, once again our nasty government shows its true colours.  Cuts to the welfare budget and wage freezes for public service workers, yet carte blanche for the bosses of our banks.  Despite promises to do something about the obscene bonus system and despite all these false, hypocritical claims that “we” are all in it together.  Clearly someone forgot to tell the bankers.  What makes all this even more galling is that in this case the government could and still can, do something about it.  After all “we” the citizens own two of our major banking groups - the Royal and Lloyds.
So here is a little suggestion for Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Osborne.  Why not simply impose a new regime for these two banks.  No bonuses and bring down the (already excessive) salaries of the top management of these two banks.  Now this is not just a matter of justice - ie if we are all in it together, then this is one way of ensuring this.  No, this measure would bring about a real measure of competition into the closed and oh so cozy world of finance.
For in effect we would have a four year or more experiment the remaining lifetime of the current parliament.  We are constantly bombarded by the very high earners that they need to get paid all this money because it is a competitive and global industry.  Of course no evidence for this has ever been produced.  Well, under this proposal we would get the evidence.  If, despite the lack of bonuses and the lowering of salaries for top management, the Royal and Lloyds still managed to attract good staff and perform well, then the argument in favour of all these high bonuses and salaries would have been proved to be illusory.  Of course it is possible that these two banks do not do as well as the others.  That’s why the government should embrace this idea with gusto.  After all anything which promotes competition is good in their eyes.  At the very least it would save us some money - in all these bonuses forgone.
However I would doubt that these banks would not be able to attract good experienced staff.  Precisely because it is a global industry!  We do not even have to rely on the English speaking world - large though that is.  After all the language of the world of finance and banking is English.  These two banks can select ambitious yet experienced staff from all over the world.  All keen to develop their own talents and most importantly to show that they can make a difference.  Sure they want to earn lots of money, but not necessarily the obscene amounts that are now on offer.
I have previously mentioned the example of Stephen Hester, the current chief executive of the Royal Banking Group.  He was appointed on an annual salary of £1.2 million.  On top of which he is entitled to annual bonuses of up to £2 million, plus further bonuses in shares.  Now let us just focus on the annual salary.   Before he took on the Royal job, Hester was chief executive of British Land on an annual salary of £400,000.  At the Royal his salary has tripled.  Now as I have argued before, does Mr Hester now work three times as hard?  What level of salary would have tempted Mr Hester to leave the relative obscurity of British Land to lead a great international company?  I have always suspected that for the vast majority of people the thrill and challenge of such a post is in large measure reward in itself.  Sure they would expect to earn more, but surely not three times their previous earnings?  What if Mr Hester had been offered an annual salary of £600,000 - would he have refused the offer?
Well under my suggestion we would at least find that out.  Mr Hester could be asked to continue in his post, but on a much reduced salary, minus bonuses (after all “we” are all in this together, aren’t we?).  He could always say no and walk away.  He will by now of course be a rather rich fellow.  But if he wanted another similar job, where would he get it?  And if he did go, I am sure there are plenty of ambitious and experienced men and women who would love the chance to run the Royal Banking Group.  The same applies of course to Lloyds Banking Group - the other state owned bank.
So why not Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Osborne?  After all this is something you can actually do - you have the power.  It would almost certainly be a very popular decision.  It might even convince some doubters that we are all in this together.  Of course the downside is that it might actually work.  That really would annoy a lot of people in the UK’s boardrooms.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Photo of the Month - December 2010

December was not the greatest month for photos.  Due to the wintry weather I did not venture out too much.  Here are a couple of photos showing the snow bound conditions.

Shops did try to raise our spirits with some lovely and colourful window displays such as the following two.

Most of the time however was spent indoors.  As a prelude to a new project which consists of putting left over threads from my stitching in a bottle, I started to fill up this little bottle with wool threads. 
The highlight of the month is of course Christmas and we spent the day with Elena & Co.  Mark's parents were also there.  Here are some of the photos from the post lunch relaxing.

Boxing Day is when my sister Pat got married and this year they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  Congratulations to them both.
December is also a birthday month for Emma and Kathleen. Unfortunately we could not manage over to Switzerland to help Emma celebrate her 40th birthday, but we did manage out for a lunch to celebrate Kathleen's.  So this is the photo of the month for December.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Jawaher Abu Rahma - A Death at Bil’in

The killing of innocent Palestinians by Israeli forces, whether the IDF or illegal settlers, has become so common-place that the people killed are often just lumped together as numbers and then forgotten.  In the most recent case, that of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, this may not happen.  Jawaher Abu Rahmah died on 1st January from teargas inhalation after she and others were attacked with a CS teargas barrage while at the weekly demonstration against the Separation Wall at Bil’in on 31st December 2010.
As is unfortunately all too usual in these cases the IDF immediately denied that it had anything to do with Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s death.  First they simply asserted that she did not die from teargas inhalation, but that she suffered from asthma or some other condition and it was this that caused or contributed to her death.  They then claimed that she wasn’t actually at the demonstration, so therefore could not have been killed by teargas.  They also incredibly tried to claim that she has been killed by a member of her own family in some kind of honour killing.  Finally they admitted that teargas was used, but only in response to stone-throwing by demonstrators.  All of these claims have now been proved to be lies, all lies.
In this case over 1000 people, Israelis, Palestinians and internationals participated in the demonstration against the Separation Wall.  Eye witness accounts from some of those present provide us with clear evidence of what did in fact happen.  Here is the testimony of her mother, Soubhiya Abu Rahmah, “I was standing beside Jawaher on the hill that is near the place where the demonstration took place, when we were injured by a cloud of tear gas.  Jawaher began to fell unwell from inhaling the gas and started to move back from the place: soon after that she vomited and collapsed.  We took her to the nearest road, and from there she was evacuated by ambulance to the hospital, where she remained until her death.  She was not sick with cancer, nor did she have any other illness; and she was not asthmatic.”  You can read more of these eye-witness accounts here.
Also present at the demonstration was Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf, and here is part of his eye- witness account, “The march was completely peaceful - there was even a brass band present.  From what I could see, the tear gas was fired by the IDF well before the march got even close to the fence - and it was fired directly at the unarmed protestors walking on the main road.  I remember feeling surprised, because the soldiers usually let the march go a bit further before they shoot.   You could see it all very clearly on the following video, taken on last Friday’s protest.  You can see how far the soldiers are from the protest when they start shooting tear gas.  The stones are thrown off the road.  An effort by the protesters (including a brave sax player) to march again to the fence is met with more gas - this time, the canisters are shot directly at the protesters in the illegal way that led to the death of Bassam Abu Rahmah last year.”  Noam’s full report can be read here.   A summing up of the various accounts can be found here.
What is most disturbing about all this is that the IDF’s crude attempts to distort the truth were pretty much accepted by a fawning Israeli press, with the honourable exception of Haaretz.  In today’s Israel the IDF is accorded God like status.  Were it not for the eye-witness accounts, including those of many brave Israeli Jews, and the use of the internet very few people would know what really happened.  For more on the IDF’s attempts to smear Jawaher, Richard Silverstein has an informative article here.  While the ever insightful Magnes Zionist has a great piece on how the IDF spin machine works.
The good news is that more of the truth about Israel and the IDF is getting out to the general public.  As a result more and more people, including Jews both in Israel and the USA are finally beginning to despair of Israel.  This is of course no consolation for Jawaher Abu Rahmah and her family.  Not only have they lost a daughter, but their son Bassam Abu Rahmah was also killed by IDG teargas while on a non-violent demonstration in 2009.  The IDF has a lot to answer for.  
As does the USA and its taxpayers who continue to fund these killings.  The teargas used to kill Jawaher is produced in the USA by Combined Systems, Inc.  They are the leading supplier of teargas used by the Israeli military against peaceful Palestinian protestors.  The type of teargas used in this case is CS, which is one of the most lethal types of teargas available.  Why US taxpayers continue to give away their scarce dollars to fund Israeli killings is a bit of a mystery.  Especially as the use of teargas as an attack weapon against civilians is almost certainly in contravention of US laws.  In another sign that the tide is beginning to turn against Israel, at least some Americans have formally protested to Combined Systems about this misuse of teargas.  You can read their letter here.
Our thoughts are with the family of Jawaher AbuRahmah - may her memory live forever.

Monday 3 January 2011

Reading Challenges - 2011

I came across Reading Challenges for the first time only last year.  I signed up for one - The Scandinavian Challenge.  Though if the truth be told this was not really a challenge, as I just love to read crime fiction from Scandinavia.  I also made a stab a Japanese novels, well one, but did not sign up for this challenge.
This year I have already signed up for a challenge, the Eastern European Challenge, which like the Scandinavian challenge is sponsored by Amy at Black Sheep Dances.  Now this really will be a challenge for me as I have read next to nothing by East European authors, other than a few of the Russian classics.  I also know nothing about the East European writing scene.  So I am looking forward to this challenge immensely.  As with many challenges this offers three levels of challenge.  At the tourist level you only need to read four books over the year, while the Ambassador has to read eight books.  To become a Scholar you will need to read 12 books from Eastern Europe this year.  Amy has helpfully provided us with some ideas to start with and at least one of the entrants has also posted in some suggestions.  First task will be to check the library's catalogue to see how many of these suggestions they have in stock.

Other challenges for 2011 which might interest you include the Global Reading Challenge which requires you to read at least one novel from each continent.  For those of you keen to explore the world of mystery fiction from the past then the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge will suit you fine.  I might even give this one a try myself, as I keep on threatening to find out just what the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle would be like to read.

If you feel really ambitious or are just bored with life and have nothing to do then the 100+ challenge is for you.  Yes, you've guessed, the challenge is to read at least 100 books over the year.  Better get started soon!  If 100 books is just too much to aim for (it will be for me) then you might want to try the Book Vixen's Outdo Yourself Challenge.  This just requires you to set yourself a challenge to read more books than you did last year.  May have to jot down all those books you did read last year.  Finally a challenge for all of you who have collected loads of books in the past, but which have just languished unread on your bookshelf or are just lying around the house somewhere.  The Off the Shelf Challenge may be just what you need to tempt you to actually go and read some of these books.

In addition to the Eastern European Challenge I have some non formal challenges of my own for this year.  I hope to dip into Japanese literature again and may try to read two books from Japan.  I will also of course continue reading lots of Scandinavian crime novels.  In particular I want to finish the Jo Nesbø series.  Next up is The Redeemer.  I also plan to read more books in Spanish this year.  My challenge is to read one each month.  If my German improves I will also try and read the odd krimi novel.

Whatever your reading challenges are I hope you have a great year in books.