Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Greece

This is an unexciting post. All I am doing is admiring the first mandarin oranges on the tree that I planted a few years ago, with an empty and inefficient brain.

The weather is unseasonably warm, perfect for half-heartedly tidying the garden and making salads. Today it was beetroot.

This is very easy to make. To do it Greek-style, buy fresh beetroot with the stalks and the leaves still attached. These are an integral part of the dish and it is always sad to go into a shop in the UK to see that they have all been trimmed off. Of course, the condition of the leaves will also tell you how fresh the vegetable is.

Trim the stalks and leaves and boil the beets in salted water for around 40 minutes, depending on size. In the meantime, chop the stalks and leaves, then add to the pan with the beets for another 20 minutes. Peel and slice the beets, place them on a dish with the cooked stalks and leaves, dress with olive oil and red wine vinegar - heavy on the vinegar, it takes loads without becoming too acid - and, this is the trick, garnish with thin slices of garlic. Let it stand to absorb the flavours and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stolen goods

Christopher Hitchens made the case better than this piece from Henry Porter, which begins curiously by stating his disagreement with Hitchens on everything else. But the argument is well made and I liked this:
It’s enough to say that a return of these sculptures would be a magnificent gesture to world culture and to the Greek people themselves. These works, commissioned and executed nearly 2,500 years ago, have meaning for all mankind, but they also lie at the core of Greek identity and self-esteem. 
It would be a small act of solidarity in troubled times. Give them back.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Nobel winners

The peace process swings into action. Talks may or may not begin in Geneva as Assad and Putin become partners for peace. The chemical weapons inspectors are doing sterling work in dismantling Syria's stockpile of weaponry. We can relax, sit back with our copy of the Guardian and feel satisfied that we have stopped any precipitate forceful intervention now that progress is being made towards a settlement.

And the people of Ghouta must be so relieved that the threat of chemical attack has been lifted and that, instead, they are merely being slowly, systematically and deliberately starved to death.

It is always the children who die first, with protruding ribs and swollen bellies, their eyes seemingly too large for their skulls. If you can bear to read them, there are distressing reports here and, even more passionately, here. There is a cogent condemnation of western inaction here.

What to do? Up to now the west has stood aside whilst grotesque crimes against humanity were committed, setting their non-intervention up against the active support for Assad from Russia and Iran. The lack of help for the opposition has made space for murderous jihadi loons recruited from international networks, much to the horror of ordinary Syrians. The chemical attack on Ghouta changed all that. Now there is a diplomatic process that has given Assad some respectability, bought him time and deprives him of his chemical arsenal whilst allowing him to use any other weapon at his disposal to continue the slaughter. And it is not just the killing, millions have been displaced into inadequate camps as winter sets in. This is a major humanitarian catastrophe. Which policy is the worse?

And Syrians are angry.  Razan Zaitouneh writes:
Syrians will not forget that the international community forced the regime to dismantle its chemical weapons, yet could not force it to break the siege on a city where children are dying out of hunger on a daily basis. “Could not” is not an accurate word for what has happened and what is happening; “did not want” or “did not have the interest” might be more accurate. The Syrians will not forget that.
Who knows what consequences will flow from such a policy failure?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Passing thoughts

It was a bleak afternoon. Rain lashed the concrete shelter on the station platform as I set out for a journey to Hull. A woman bearing the unmistakable signs of mental health problems and poor diet, wearing inadequate, cheap clothing, stumbled in and began talking incessantly. She was joined by two men. I wore my privilege silently as the words flooded out about court orders, rent arrears, the bedroom tax, irrational bureaucracy, petty injustices and the general impossibility of life on the margins.

And there were the contradictions. "They want to kick out English people to make way for foreigners". "Aye, they say twenty thousand Romanians are coming soon". We never learnt who "they" are. We never do. Then, "everyone must vote Labour to get rid of the bedroom tax". "Vote Labour whenever you can".

As I listened, intruding into their lives as an eavesdropper and uncomfortable voyeur, I couldn't help but think that the Britain lodged in the minds of the political elite is nothing more than a fiction. Their policies are directed towards a world that doesn't exist. They pontificate about the evils of a dependency culture, which, in reality, is little more than a harassed, undignified scramble for survival. And by living in the land of fantasy, not only are they ineffective, they are cruel.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Second chance blues

If you want to know why I am sitting here writing a blog post rather than working at the job that I loved, was rather good at, and, at only 61 (but a child), am more than capable of doing, read this article.

It is mainly about the Open University, but this was not the only way people accessed second chance education later in life. At Hull we used to run part-time degree and sub-degree courses in hundreds of locations both directly and in partnership with employers, trade unions and the voluntary sector. But, along with many other universities' lifelong learning departments, it is no more. The only reason is the changes to university funding. And contrary to the sub-editor's heading to Laura McInerney's piece, the damage was done by successive governments, including Labour administrations.

We all remember the presentation evenings; those moving affirmations of the value of learning. McInerney does too:
There's nothing quite so electrifying as watching families jump to their feet when mum, dad, or even great-gran takes to the stage. The years of juggled childcare, jobs and family finances melt away as the graduate beams down from the stage, amazed that their moment has come. And in the audience you see the cavalry: the proud partner who poured endless cups of tea, the parents who babysat, the children who hugged mum the morning of her exams and almost made her cry when they said: "We love you whatever."
And now departments have closed and fees have escalated. Mature student numbers are down and part-time enrolments have shrunk by as much as 40%. The reason is simple. The somewhat dubious bargain of early debt to be repaid by a lifetime's earnings premium does not apply when you are older. If you have a mortgage or rent to pay, children to feed and educate, elderly parents to care for, the money for education must come lower on your list of priorities, even if you are on an average income. Second chance learning already entails sacrifices, but if the cost is too high and the debts pile up, then it can't be afforded by anyone with adult commitments. Anyone who has worked in adult education knows how price sensitive it is.

The relentless focus on education for younger people has masked the vandalism of adult education in all its guises. It is a tragedy. As McInerney concludes:
People who slipped through the education net first time around do not need mawkish sentimentality. They need low-cost options for accessing higher education. If they, and their families, have the determination to do all the rest of the hard work, the least they can expect is that politicians on both sides will fight to support them.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hey babe!

Today the Guardian made my heart soar with this line:
I'm a slim, 31-year-old woman attracted to older, obese men
Yes, I knew it. A sex god; that is what I am. She lets herself down a bit by worrying that she is sick, but I can reassure her. She is not sick, she is wise and has great taste in us hunks. After all:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oh dear

He's really lost it now, hasn't he? John Pilger was part of the mood music of my youth - angry about Vietnam, Cambodia and East Timor, together with injustices wherever he saw them, all described in clear, accessible prose. But now?

Let's take the last two Guardian pieces. The first argued that the attack on Syria had been long planned because, "With al-Qaida now among its allies, and US-armed coupmasters secure in Cairo, the US intends to crush the last independent states in the Middle East: Syria first, then Iran."

Engineered by "John Kerry, with his own blood-soaked war record" (presumably not when Kerry was active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and testifying against the war before Congress), after reducing "Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare", "whether or not Bashar al-Assad or the 'rebels' used gas in the suburbs of Damascus", the "liberal fascists" in the US administration seized the opportunity to ... er ... do nothing. Oh.

Never mind. It is probably because they are planning something more dastardly instead. They are indeed. They are preparing to invade China. Yes, I had to read his response to the Kenya massacre several times, but that is what he is suggesting. And at that moment I realised that he had abandoned reason and become a theological thinker. Let me explain.

I don't say this because he is indulging in the fashionable embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood as a liberation movement, instead it is because he has ceased to look at cause and consequence and instead fits all events into a pre-determined faith system. In this case it is one that sees the source of all evil in the world as the result of the actions of a single diabolic entity, the United States.

What is curious is that this belittles the very people he claims to speak for. They bear no responsibility for their actions, they have no free will, no struggles of their own; they are merely pawns in a great game moulded by the consequences of a brutal imperialism. This is the condescension of an imperialist mindset, employed in reverse.

The old battles of the freethought movement to replace theology with reason still need to be fought. But in the meantime, how on earth does this stuff get published? Don't answer. I know why. It's in the Guardian.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Excuses, excuses

Well I suppose someone has to do it;
A forcible instance favourable to polygamous relations consists in the great preponderance of females, brought about by wars and other unwholesome employments of men, and the effect of political government generally. If exclusiveness were rigidly enforced, the greater number of women would be compelled to live and die without a single experience of the pleasures of love. The amount of mental and physical suffering thus caused would not be compensated for by the observance of any amount of what is called morality, for morals that injure health are a superstition and a sham, and it is the duty of everyone to violate such as opportunities permit.
 Henry Seymour (1888). Individualist anarchist and a bit of a shagger it seems.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Crap towns

For the last ten years Hull has been saddled with the crap town title. The injustice rankled. This year the competition organisers have done much better. The crappest town in the UK is ... London.
The city's trump card was undoubtedly its most affluent parish, Mayfair: "Its inhabitants are virtually without exception the biggest shower of needy, self-important bumwipes in London, with a self-pity complex and misplaced sense of entitlement to match."

Friday, October 04, 2013

Pots and kettles

A charge of hypocrisy is no defence. Just because the pot is black, it doesn't mean that the kettle isn't. But when the pot is as black as this, it becomes funny. The Mail's attempt to portray the anti-Stalinist Ralph Miliband as a Stalinist is more than unpleasant, it is downright embarrassing given the very real history of the paper's crush on Hitler.

This is an excellent post from a source that the Mail used in its sloppy and lazy 'research' for its hatchet job, John Simkin of Spartacus Educational. He details the entanglement of the late Lord Rothermere with the Nazis, now fully supported by the opening of MI5 and MI6 files. This is a classic example of a smear rebounding by exposing a truth about a genuine fellow traveller with fascism. Lord Rothermere; the man who loved Britain so much he went to live in the Bahamas once the War started. Oops.

Thanks to Anne via Facebook

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


The arguments about the Daily Mail's unpleasant smearing of Ralph Miliband and, by association, of his son continue. The obvious points have been made, particularly the one about ignoring Miliband's war service in the Royal Navy, seeing action at the Normandy landings, in favour of a cherry picked piece of juvenilia from an earlier diary to 'prove' what his views were. I would have marked down any student who produced something so academically shabby. Norm provides an eloquent personal defence here.

But there is something else that disturbs me. Miliband was a Marxist and that is the main reason the right think that they have something to beat his son with. This is dangerous because it marks an attempt to introduce the notion that a set of commonly held, critical beliefs is somehow anti-British; thereby importing the US concept of un-American activities. This is staking out the claim that only holders of a certain ideology should be seen as proper citizens. And, of course, he was Jewish. Is this inconsequential or is it an echo of the Mail's pre-war roots supporting fascism and appeasement?