These are all the Blogs posted on Saturday, 2, 2013.
Saturday, 2 March 2013
The Travelling Salesman of Unhappiness
For the man who sees the human tragedy clearly, or thinks that he does, nothing is quite so oppressively dispiriting as blind optimism. Tennessee Williams, who died 30 years ago, came to prominence at the high tide of American optimism. A new biography of him by John Bak — revealing his privately expressed, sulphurous views of his rivals, of actors, of theatre directors and of audiences, not to say of humanity in general — has just been published to coincide with the anniversary.
Williams wrote when the United States accounted for half the entire economic product of the world; no country had ever been remotely as successful or dominant, yet Williams refused to conclude that happiness was the normal, let alone invariable, condition of Americans. He was like a travelling salesman of unhappiness.
Clearly, he was temperamentally incapable of facile optimism; his early life experiences were not such as to encourage a rosy view of human existence. His mother was given to histrionics and was, just like Blanche Dubois, one of the main characters in A Streetcar Named Desire, a snob with pretensions of gentle birth and all that supposedly goes with it.
His father was a drunkard given to insensate rage, who despised his delicate son, not only for his supposed effeminacy, but also for his sensitivity and literary pretensions. Williams’s upbringing marked him for life, and no amount of success and recognition could heal the early wounds. That did not mean, however, that a lack of success and recognition, such as he experienced at the end of his life (a bitter time indeed to lack them), did not have the effect of reopening them. Success could not assuage him, but a lack of success could certainly embitter him.
But what is important about a writer is his work, not his life, irrespective of the degree to which his work grew out of his life. No amount of biographical detail about hardships endured, however interesting, will redeem bad work, nor discreditable incidents tarnish great work. Williams’ amusingly unpleasant outpourings of bile against his theatrical rivals — he called them “vampires” who “want to get out of the actors and the directors everything that they couldn’t put into their scripts”, thereby implying that they were hacks whose desire to write plays was greater than anything they had to say – can’t alter the fact that he was the greatest American playwright of the 20th century and one of the greatest in the world. It is unlikely that his plays will ever cease to be performed because, though they are particular to their time and place, they address perennial problems of human existence.
In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for example, written and performed in 1955, we meet Big Daddy Pollitt, the archetypal American success story. He is like Josiah Bounderby in Hard Times, except that in his case, he really did work his way up from poverty to enormous wealth (there is a snobbery attached to lowliness of origins, just as there is to supposed early connections to the aristocracy). But despite Big Daddy’s success and his fulfilment of the American Dream, or perhaps because of it, Big Daddy has spread nothing but misery and fear around him.
Towards the end of the play, moreover, Big Daddy learns that his success, which has permitted him to dominate or buy off so many people, is powerless against death, which is no respecter of persons or dollars. In other words, success is, in the last analysis, illusory and must cede before the existential limitations of human life. Williams was America’s great naysayer at a time when the positive was unctuously accentuated. But if success is doomed to failure, what of failure itself? In his late play, Small Craft Warnings (1973), Williams exposes the dark psychological underside of meritocracy: for if, in America, anyone can succeed, it must also mean that anyone can fail. To succeed, at least in a competitive society, is to raise yourself above average; but by definition, not everyone can be above average. Moreover, when you fail in a meritocracy you have no one to blame but yourself. It is perhaps better to fail where there is injustice, for then you can blame others for your failure, which brings you at least some comfort.
One of the characters in Small Craft Warnings, which takes place in a down-at-heel bar, is Doc, a doctor who has lost his licence to practise because of alcoholism, but continues to do so anyway, performing illicit abortions and the like. A failed doctor is a perfect symbol for the failure that beckons us all, for to be a doctor at the time Williams wrote the play was a virtual guarantee of prestige. Doc cannot possibly blame his situation on a lack of opportunity, therefore he must have destroyed himself with persistence and dedication. Of how many people is this true?
Williams has a powerful, disquieting and unwelcome message for our time, which regards unhappiness as pathological. Indeed, unhappiness is so pathological that the very word unhappy has now been all but expunged from our vocabulary. We are not unhappy any more, but depressed. The change is significant, for it turns dissatisfaction into a medical condition, with the corollary that happiness is as much normal as is a certain level of haemoglobin in the blood. When the haemoglobin falls, we need iron; when we are unhappy, we need antidepressants. No need to examine the way we live, align our desires with our possibilities, or accept life’s limitations.
In the modern world, Blanche Dubois, Big Daddy and Doc would all have been “diagnosed” according to the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, and given antidepressants. Their serotonin levels would have been considered low and in need of a boost. The antidepressants wouldn’t have worked, of course, but at least they would have prevented them from the need to look inwards, to examine themselves.
Instead of giving us pills, Tennessee Williams hands us a glass, if we would but look in it.
Benghazi – At least 50 Egyptian Christians suspected of trying to convert Muslims have been arrested in the eastern city of Benghazi on illegal immigration charges, a Libyan security official said on Friday.
"Forty-eight Egyptian traders who worked in the Benghazi municipal market have been arrested based on reports of suspect activities," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
He said they were found in possession of a quantity of Bibles, texts encouraging conversion to Christianity, and images of Christ and the late Pope Shenuda of Egypt's Coptic Christians, none of which were for "personal use."A local official, meanwhile, said the group of men were being well treated and would be deported after an investigation over illegal immigration was completed.
...trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, (something that) is strictly banned in Islam.
In December, two Egyptians died in a blast at a Coptic church in the Libyan town of Dafniya
Style Manuals: Their Presumption, Their Stupidity, Their Bullying, Their Tin Ears
From The website of Oxford Dictionaries:
In the past, people tended to use the pronouns he, his,him, or himself in situations like this:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, he can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in his findings.
Today, this approach is seen as outdated and sexist. There are other options which allow you to arrive at a ‘gender-neutral’ solution, as follows:
You can use the wording ‘he or she’, ‘his or her’, etc.:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, he or she can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in hisor her findings.
This can work well, as long as you don’t have to keep repeating ‘he or she’, ‘his or her’, etc. throughout a piece of writing.
You can make the relevant noun plural, rewording the sentence as necessary:
If your children are thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.
Researchers have to be completely objective in their findings.
This approach can be a good solution, but it won’t always be possible.
You can use the plural pronouns ‘they’, ‘them’, ‘their’ etc., despite the fact that, technically, they are referring back to a singular noun:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.
A researcher has to be completely objective in their findings.
Some people object to the use of plural pronouns in this type of situation on the grounds that it’s ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn’t new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It’s increasingly common in current English and is now widely accepted both in speech and in writing.
Bias-free language does not discriminate on the basis of age, physical condition, economic status, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Where possible without sacrificing meaning or euphony, use language that is not gender specific.
Avoid words and turns of phrase that exclude or are insensitive to readers of a certain gender, race, or religion. Equally, avoid any extremes of political correctness, unless required by the text; for example, the neologism "s/he" is to be avoided.
When appropriate, gender-neutral language can be achieved by making the subject plural. Example: Students may register in advance if they . . .
From The Style Guide for the Journal of Scottish Philosophy
Try to reword some instances to avoid using pronouns rather than overusing ‘he and she’. Consider using the plural ‘they’ if it seems appropriate. If rewording is not possible, it is preferable to use ‘he or she’, not ‘s/he’ or ‘he/she’.
Avoid using the word ‘Man’ to refer to the species and avoid its use in stereotyped clichés, e.g. ‘they decided he was the right man for the job’.
Egyptians Against The Ikhwan Angry With Obama Administration
With Kerry on the way, Egypt liberals angry at US
By By AYA BATRAWY, Associated Press
March 2, 2013
CAIRO (AP) — As John Kerry heads to Egypt on Saturday for his first visit as secretary of state, he faces a barrage of accusations from liberal and secular Egyptians who say Washington is siding with the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in the country's sharp political divisions.
The United States has had its own frustrations with the mainly liberal and secular opposition, which has been plagued by disorganization and divisions. This week, it pressed the main opposition grouping, the National Salvation Front, to reverse its decision to boycott parliamentary elections due to begin in April.
For months, Egypt has been locked in political crisis, amid successive waves of protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi that have repeatedly turned into deadly clashes and rioting.
The opposition accuses Morsi and the Brotherhood, from which he hails, of dominating power in Egypt, effectively stepping in to the same role as ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak and failing to carry out reforms while their supporters seek to instill a more religiously conservative system. Morsi's administration and the Brotherhood, in turn, say their opponents are trying to use street unrest to overturn their election victories.
Washington, Egypt's longtime economic and military benefactor, has kept relatively warm ties with Morsi. The Obama administration has praised him for helping resolve last year's battles between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant rulers of the Gaza Strip, and for maintaining Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
The U.S. has said it wants to encourage the building of democracy in Egypt and, amid the political turmoil, has urged all sides to work out their differences. But the opposition says U.S. officials have voiced little criticism of what it calls the Brotherhood's undemocratic ways of imposing power, including pushing through an Islamist-backed constitution despite an opposition boycott at the end of its drafting.
At least two opposition figures said they rejected invitations to meet with Kerry when he holds talks with Egyptian political parties Saturday, ahead of the American diplomat's meetings the next day with Morsi and the head of Egypt's powerful military.
Ahmed el-Borai, a member of the National Salvation Front, was quoted in local newspapers saying that he rejected a U.S. Embassy's invitation "so as to not allow a foreign party to dictate its will on Egyptians."
Similarly, Egypt's oldest opposition party, al-Wafd, said its chairman, el-Sayed el-Badawi, had also declined the embassy's invitation to meet with Kerry.
Also not meeting with Kerry is Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the Salvation Front's top leaders and perhaps the country's most prominent opposition figure — though it is not clear if he was ever invited for a face-to-face.
The anti-Morsi camp's anger with Kerry and the U.S. was on clear display Friday.
On its front page, the independent Al-Tahrir daily ran a large cartoon of Kerry, calling him "the Ikhwani" — or Brotherhood member — and depicting him with an Islamist's beard and the "zibeeba," a mark on the forehead many devout Muslim men have from kneeling in prayer five times a day.
Also on display was the continued, angry polarization in the country's politics.
The head of the Press Syndicate, Brotherhood member Mamdouh el-Wali, was mobbed by young journalists chanting "down with Brotherhood rule" as he left the syndicate headquarters during elections for a new chief of the union. The crowd shoved and jostled el-Wali, with one person slapping him on the back of the head, before he was hustled into his car.
El-Wali has been sharply criticized by other journalists for not taking legal action over the death of a young journalist during street battles between Brotherhood supporters and anti-Morsi opponents in December. He was also a member of the Islamist-dominated assembly that drafted the country's new constitution but did not push for inclusion of articles to protect reporters from imprisonment as many in the media demand.
Several thousand backers of the army on Friday also held a rally in a Cairo suburb calling on the powerful military to come back a take power, a sign of how a contingent in the anti-Morsi camp sees the generals as a possible protection against Islamist rule.
The State Department's call on all political groups to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections particularly angered many in the opposition, who saw Washington's support for the election as backing for the Islamists themselves.
One opposition group, the National Association for Change, denounced the comments as "blatant interference in Egypt's internal affairs."
Hamdeen Sabahi, another senior figure in the Salvation Front, called on Kerry to be consistent in his comments about human rights and U.S. support of democracy.
In an interview with the Egyptian satellite channel ONTV late Thursday, Sabahi said Washington is only thinking of its interests in the region and accused the United States of striking a deal with the Brotherhood.
President Barack Obama spoke by phone this week with Morsi, emphasizing the Egyptian leader's "responsibility to protect the democratic principles that the Egyptian people fought so hard to secure" and urged him and all political groups to find consensus, the White House said.
Obama also "welcomed Egypt's continued role in advancing regional peace and maintaining the ceasefire in Gaza" — in what many in the anti-Morsi camp here see as a sign that Washington is more concerned with ensuring peace with Israel than with democracy in Egypt.
Bahey Eldin Hassan, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, wrote an open letter to Obama earlier this month, saying that Washington should stop commenting on developments in Egypt. He said Washington's comments give Morsi's government "political cover."
Norwegian Government Finds Arab-Palestinian Anti-Semitism Acceptable
This month a Norwegian news media report conveyed a message that is hardly ever addressed by the mainstream media in Europe, namely the reality of common incitement by the Palestinian Authority against Jewish people and the Jewish State. Whilst the news report focused on depictions of Israel and Jews in the Arab-Palestinian media, this is a phenomenon that affects every level of society, beginning in childhood.
The news report, carried on the state-owned TV channel NRK, interviewed Palestinian Media Watch who noted a highly divergent anti-Semitic narrative issued by the PA media in Arabic, which contrasts greatly with its peaceful international voice. A director of the TV channel that the PA control, denied that there is incitement against Israel and that Jewish people are demonised.
However, the report went on to interview numerous ordinary Arab-Palestinians who unashamedly echoed similar anti-Semitic tropes of a classical variety. The reporter even inferred that these anti-Jewish smears are very popular topics of conversation. Moreover, these ordinary folks supported the PA TV channel’s hero worship of Arab-Palestinian terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians en masse.
Most interesting perhaps is the response of the Norwegian government. The Norwegian State has long been hostile to Israel, and a generous contributor to the Palestinian Authority. Secretary of State, Torgeir Larsen, acknowledged the hateful content as being accurate but effectively dismissed it because it was being provided by what he views as a politicised organisation!
NRK narrator: “Since 2008, Norway has given over 300 million kroner a year in budget support to the Palestinian Authority. [The PA] finances and partly controls PA TV. The State Secretary [Torgeir Larsen] has read PMW’s material.”
State Secretary, Torgeir Larsen: “There are examples in the book (PMW’s Deception) that clearly express hatred. There are also examples of Antisemitism, which you find in Palestinian society. But these are examples. And it’s also important for me to emphasize that those (i.e., PMW) who have put together these examples – I do not doubt the content – are part of an ongoing political battle.”
NRK narrator: “He [State Secretary Torgeir Larsen] said Norway has discussed this with the PA, but that it is not relevant to stop the Norwegian financial support [to the PA], which goes to building Palestinian institutions.”
In effect Larsen found the anti-Semitic incitement to be acceptable, and saw no reason to even threaten the suspension of Norway’s generous funding! Mainstream politicians typically reflect the political climate of a nation so it should be of little wonder that Jewish Norwegians find their country to be an increasingly inhospitable place when there is such a blithe acceptance of the very basest anti-Semitism.
The report ends with a response from the Palestinian Authority representative in Norway. He denied there has ever been any element of anti-Semitism in Arab-Palestinian culture! Rather the envoy blamed the problems on Israel’s character as being that of a principally Jewish State. In other words, the PA do not want there to be any existent Jewish State! So much for the two-states for two-peoples peace process, the philosophy upon which all the attempts of peace have been founded since the UN in 1947.
No, It Can All Become Clear, If Islam -- And The Reactions Of Non-Muslims In Its Midst -- Are Understood
A reader comments at lefigaro.fr, under a story about two Arabs (Palestinian) who were hung in Yarmouk by Syrian rebels for collaborating with the Syrian government:
J'ai besoin d'un éclairage par les experts en géopolitique.
Il faut bien avouer que celui qui nous expliquera avec clarté la situation dans ces pays arabo-musulmans n'est pas né.
Peut-être que la seule profession, qui pourrait tenter de démêler l'entrelacement de ces clans, religieux, culturels, économiques, islamiques, c'est la psychiatrie.
De l'Iran à la Tchétchénie, de l'Indonésie au Pakistan, de l'Afghanistan au Liban en passant par le Maghreb, sans parlez de ces pays ce méli-mélo d'intérêts est incompréhensible.
It all becomes clear, it can all be explained -- the "crazy quilt" business in Syria, and in Lebanon, and elsewhere too, if Islam is kept firmly in mind.