2013 – the best bits. And some of the other bits.

 

It has been a funny old year.  Funny peculiar, though not without the odd moment of mirth and merriment along the way.

 

I came back from one secondment to my regular job in January, and went off on the next secondment in December.  This new one is a major change – working for HEFCE, based at home when not attending meetings in various exotic parts of the UK (oh, OK then, Croydon, Birmingham, Manchester, Dorking…).  It’s a fantastic opportunity, and challenges the way I organise my life as well as requiring me to acquire new knowledge and new skills.

 

I graduated, again.  Did the whole gown and mortar board thing which I hadn’t been fussed about when I was 21 and graduating for the first time. And then, with barely a pause, on to the doctorate.  Studying part-time, it’s going to be a long haul, with who knows what possibilities at the end of it, but I’m loving it.

 

In February, a beloved friend and colleague died, and we – his family, friends, colleagues, students – grieved but also worked together to put on an amazing event in his honour, the 24 Hour Inspire.  We raised money for local cancer charities, and have raised more since, through an art exhibition, plant and cake sales and various 10k runs/marathon bike rides, etc.   And we’re now planning the 24 Hour Inspire 2014, and the publication of Tim’s diary.  He will continue to inspire.

 

Culturally, my high points in 2013 have been:

 

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the Showroom, talking about Americanah, and Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Peter Hill premiering newly discovered/completed Messiaen at the Upper Chapel (and playing Bach, Berg and Schoenberg too)
  • Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes in the City, playing Mingus at Sheffield Jazz
  • Tramlines – the Enid in the City Hall, Soukous Revelation in the Peace Gardens, Jim Jones Revue and Selecter at Devonshire Green. (And more, but those were the absolute top bits).
  • The 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on life, the universe and everything, including Ed Daw’s blues piano, Rachel Falconer on poetry and birds, Jenny Saul on implicit bias, Claire McGourlay on the Innocence Project, and personal narratives from Brendan Stone and Elena Rodriguez-Falcon.  Plus John Cockburn’s rendition of (What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace Love and Understanding, and my favourite Beatles B-side, Things we Said Today, and more busking from Mike Weir, Graham McElearney and Eugenia Chung.  And more, lots more.
  • Fabulous Beethoven quartets/quintet from the Elias at the Upper Chapel
  • A magical Winter’s Tale at the Crucible
  • Two awesome Britten operas (Peter Grimes and Death in Venice) from Opera North at Leeds Grand
  • New (to me) authors enjoyed this year: Maggie O’Farrell, Louise Doughty, Lucy Caldwell, C J Sansom, Alison Moore, Edward St Aubyn, Rebecca Solnit, Wilkie Collins,  Jonathan Franzen
  • Wonderful new books from authors I’ve enjoyed before: Stephen King’s Dr Sleep and Joyland, Lynn Shepherd’s A Treacherous Likeness, Jon McGregor‘s This isn’t the Sort of Thing…., Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy
  • Finally finished Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe.  Allons-y, to La Prisonniere!
  • I’ve learned to love Marvel superheroes (Avengers AssembleThorIron ManAgents of Shield!), and have thrilled to The Walking Dead, Orphan Black (virtuoso performance(s) from Tatiana Maslany), Utopia and, of course, Dr Who.
  • Speaking of which, not only an absolutely stonking 50th anniversary episode, but also a fascinating and very touching drama about the show’s early days, with David Bradley as William Hartnell, the sweet and funny The Five-ish Doctors, with Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker sending themselves and everyone else up with great affection, and Matthew Sweet’s Culture Show special.  And the Christmas episode
  • Other cracking telly – Broadchurch, Homeland, Misfits, The Fall, Southcliffe, The Guilty, The Americans…  And from across the Channel, not only another masterclass in French profanity from Spiral, but the wonderful The Returned
  • And other top films – Joss Whedon’s Much Ado, Lore, The Hobbit Pts 1 & 2, Lincoln, and Patience (after Sebald).

 

About the blog itself.  It’s been less focused on my areas of research recently, and that will continue to be the case, as I’m working on the PhD.  The odd digression will find its place here – as Tim used to say, tangents are there to be gone off on, and the blog is a good way of nailing those (to mix my metaphors somewhat) and stopping them from distracting me for too long.  I shall be continuing to go on about all sorts of other things that pique my interest.  In particular the blog will continue to be a place where refugee stories are foregrounded, as a riposte to the mean and dishonest coverage which those stories tend to receive.

 

Over the last year, my posting has been somewhat erratic.  I note that I didn’t write anything between March and June (I made up for it in June, however, with a Refugee Week blog-blitz, as well as a piece about Last Year at Marienbad which I still intend to follow up.  That hiatus may have had something to do with being in the final stages of my degree – finishing off my dissertation, and a last batch of essays and presentations.

 

There are so many fantastic bloggers out there, too many to do justice to.  We lost one this year, as the great Norman Geras passed away.  But I’ll continue to enjoy, and to share/reblog That’s How the Light Gets In, Nowt Much to Say, and Futile Democracy, amongst others.  For my research interests, I will no doubt continue to find lots to think about and follow up in blogs from Decayetude and Vertigo.

 

So, thanks to the aforementioned bloggers, to the various people with whom I’ve shared the cultural delights enumerated above, to friends and family who’ve supported me in my ventures and refrained (mostly) from telling me I’m mad to try to do so many things.

 

Thing is, I have a history of depression.  I know that the best way for me to fight that, to avoid sliding back into that dark pit, is to do lots of stuff I care about.  So, not just the job – which I care about, passionately – and my wonderful family, but research, writing, ensuring that we do Tim proud via the charity, and so on.   I am very aware that there’s a tipping point, that if I do too much stuff I care about, given that I also have to do stuff that I have to do, just because I have to do it, the anxiety of having so much going on can itself lead to sleepless nights, which make me less able to cope, thus leading to more worrying and so on and on… It’s all about balance, and about having support when I need it.  So, to all of you who, whether you know it or not, provide that support, and help me to keep that balance, a heartfelt thanks.

 

In particular, over this last year, I’d like to thank:

 

For unstinting support and encouragement through the part-time degree and especially as I reached the final stages – tutors Sophie Belot and Annie Rouxeville, and classmate Liz Perry.  And a special thanks to Chris Turgoose for ensuring that my graduation gown stayed put via an ingenious arrangement of string and safety pins.

 

For support and encouragement to go on to the PhD – the aforementioned Sophie, Annie, and Liz, plus Rachel Falconer, Helen Finch, and my supervisors Amanda Crawley Jackson and Richard Steadman-Jones

 

For their contributions to the work of Inspiration for Life, and the 24 Hour Inspire, and their support in commemorating and celebrating Tim – Tracy Hilton, Ruth Arnold, Vanessa Toulmin, Chris Sexton, John Cockburn, Lee Thompson, Matt Mears and David Mowbray

 

My family, of course, without whom…

 

And, finally, Tim.   I’d have loved to share this year’s triumphs and tribulations with him.

 

Have a wonderful 2014 all of you.

 

fireworks

 

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Letting it get to you: Doctor Who and George Bailey

Once there was a planet much like any other. And unimportant. This planet sent the universe a message. A bell, tolling among the stars, ringing out to all the dark corners of creation. And everybody came to see. Although no one understood the message, everyone who heard it found themselves afraid. Except one man. The man who stayed for Christmas. (Doctor Who Christmas Special 2013, The Time of the Doctor)

So, this is the story of a man who got stuck somewhere.  ‘Everyone gets stuck somewhere eventually, Clara. Everything ends.’  He could have left, but no one else could have protected that small town as he did, from the forces that were besieging it, and from the war that could have burned it and all around it.

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A town called Christmas, blanketed in snow.  A town where truth prevails, and people greet each other warmly, and take care of each other, but constantly under threat, with enemies ready to take advantage of any weakness, and the citizens are all potential collateral damage.

If Stephen Moffat wasn’t consciously evoking Bedford Falls in those snowy scenes, I’ll eat my fez.   Bedford Falls – the town where another good man got stuck, protecting his family and his community.  Where he grew older, his own life on hold whilst he saved other people.   Where he kept his promises,  and watched his chances slipping away.   The enemy from whom he protected people was rampant capitalistic greed, rather than alien races bent on world domination, of course, but it nearly drove him to his death, nonetheless.

George Bailey was a man who dreamed of lassoing the moon, of travelling the world, and who ended up stuck in a small town.  The Doctor of course had done more than dream.  He had travelled the universe, and time itself, but to quote a contributor to the Doctor Who Forum, Matt Smith’s valedictory episode saw him ‘trying to do something small … spend the remainder of his life protecting the people of one town.’

With every victory, the town celebrated. In time, the Doctor seemed to forget he lived any other life. And the people of the town came to love the man who stayed for Christmas.

But the man who stayed did not do so without argument, without at least an internal struggle.  We see George Bailey’s anger and frustration at so many moments in the narrative, even as he does what he knows is right, he rages against what it’s costing him.  The Doctor too has that fight between the promise he must keep and the life he wants to live. 

Clara: What about your life? Just for once, after all of this time, have you not earned the right to think about that? Sorry. Wrong thing to say. We shouldn’t be having an argument.
The Doctor: Clara, I’ve been having that argument for the last three hundred years. All by myself.
Clara: But you didn’t have your TARDIS.
The Doctor: Ah, yes, well that made it easier to stay. True.

The absence of the Tardis may have made it easier, but we can be pretty sure that he would have found a way to leave, if he’d made the decision to do so.  I was reminded here not only of IAWL, but of Albert Camus’ doctor, Rieux, in plague-ridden Oran (referencing Nazi-occupied Paris), knowing he must stay even when he is offered a chance to leave, because he has to save lives:

 “I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” (The Plague)

Or as the Doctor said, ‘Every life I save is a victory. Every single one’.

Doctor Who is not ‘a kid’s show’ in any sense that reduces its value, its quality or its depth.  But it is a fantasy, and one that is aimed at family audiences, in this case, gathered around a Christmas tree, replete with turkey and pud, and possibly still wearing, slightly askew, their paper hats.  So we don’t expect the kind of ending that Camus was prepared to give us.  We know that the Doctor will not be destroyed.  The end that he speaks of is the end of THIS Doctor, not of THE Doctor – though he may not know this as he says it. 

Emma: What’s wrong?

Clara: I just saw something I wish I hadn’t.

Emma: What did you see?

Clara: That everything ends.

Emma: No, not everything. Not love. Not always. (from ‘Hide’)

We’ve often been invited to contemplate what the world would be like without the Doctor.  But that’s too terrible to do more than glance at and then look away.  A world without the sound of the Tardis bringing hope, without the Doctor to bring protection and healing?  No thanks.  None of us would sleep at night if that was what we were confronted with, on a Saturday afternoon, let alone on Christmas Day.

But we are increasingly, in the more recent series of Dr Who, asked to deal with some much more grown-up themes.  Maybe this reflects the changing audience.  When Who launched, it was clearly aimed at children, and adults watched with their offspring, to remind them afterwards that it was only a story (only a story? As if there could be anything more important than stories) and that they could sleep safe in their beds.  As those children grew up they stayed with the Doctor, and watched with their own children.  Some of those parents too, I suspect, stayed with it long after their children needed them there for reassurance, and so we now have several generations for whom it is precious and important.

Someone said to me the other day, who hadn’t seen Who since they were a kid (we reminisced about the terrifying Autons and the Cybermen and the Yeti…) that whilst they could remember being scared, they couldn’t imagine being moved to tears by it.  And yet these days more often than not, I am moved to tears.  This is not just because my tear ducts are on a hair-trigger now – it’s because in Who since the reboot we’ve faced grief and loss, loneliness, ageing, choices made and chances missed, the possibility and threat of change.  The recurring theme of memory has a poignancy now that it would not have had years ago, now that there’s so much more to remember, and the fear that those memories will start to be engulfed in fog.  It gets harder to ‘remember all the people that you used to be’, whether you’re a Time Lord or not.  The young me would not have been as devastated by ‘The Girl Who Waited’ as the middle-aged me was, nor as haunted by the question ‘Are you my mummy?’.  And the young me would not have felt George Bailey’s despair, or the Doctor’s, as keenly. If  you’re old enough to have lost people, to have had to make hard choices, to have got some of them wrong, and to have missed chances that will not come round again – then you can feel for George Bailey, and you can feel for the Doctor too.

Who and IAWL also share a humanistic perspective.  IAWL of course starts with prayers, ‘ringing out to all the dark corners of creation’, and an angel.   George prays too, though he’s not a praying man, and Clarence (AS2) is the answer.  But all that Clarence does is to give George a glimpse of how, and how much, he matters.  The miracle is wrought by human action, by people moved to generosity to help the man who’s been so generous to them.  Remember ‘The Wedding of River Song’?

The sky is full of a million million voices saying, “Yes, of course we’ll help.” You’ve touched so many lives, saved so many people, did you think when your time came you’d really have to do more than just ask? You’ve decided that the universe is better off without you. But the universe doesn’t agree.

It’s people, for good and bad, who make Bedford Falls, or Pottersville.   In Who too, whilst our hero is more than human he is no superhero, nor yet a god.  His judgement is often flawed, his personality too.  He’s prone to grumpiness, to vanity, to arrogance.  He does the right thing but often is prompted or inspired by his own guardian angel, the companion/associate who shows him a truth he’s not able to see, or who intervenes for him when he cannot or will not plead for himself.

As Liam Whitton recently wrote in Humanist Life:

It’s one of the most humanist television shows of all time. In fact, at practically every turn up to now it has presented the philosophy of its title character, the Doctor, as an emphatically humanist one. If there’s one thing the Doctor values, it’s human life, and if there’s one thing he consistently stands in awe of, it’s human potential. He abhors superstition; he scorns pointless prejudices; he believes fervently in reason; he is sympathetic to the beliefs of others, but will not kowtow to them when a fundamental liberty is under threat.

Steven Spielberg once said that ‘ It’s a Wonderful Life shows that every human being on this Earth matters – and that’s a very powerful message.”  It’s also a message reiterated over and over again by Who.  Capra offers us hope based in human nature.  ‘Goodness, simplicity, dis-interestedness: these in his hands become fighting qualities’ (Graham Greene, reviewing Mr Deeds Goes to Town, The Spectator, August 28 1936).

If you believe that humanity is all there is, that makes it so much more vital that we care for each other, because we’re all we’ve got, and these years we have on the planet is all we’ve got.  I believe in Doctor Who.  I believe in George Bailey.  Call me idealistic, naive, if you like, but bear in mind that my academic research interests find me often mired in the history of the most appalling acts that humanity is capable of. So I do know that we don’t all live in a town called Christmas, or Bedford Falls, and that very often no one comes to save and to heal.   But that humanistic vision is vitally important to me.   Joss Whedon said it well, as he so often does, in Angel:

If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now.  Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

But it’s only right and proper that I leave the last words to the Doctor:

Letting it get to you. You know what that’s called? Being alive. Best thing there is. (The Doctor’s Wife)

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You are now in Bedford Falls

IAWL

It’s a Wonderful Life.   Often described as ‘heartwarming’, which I usually interpret as a warning,  a euphemism for cloying and sentimental.  It’s a family Christmas film, yes, but so much more.  It breaks my heart each time I watch it, and at the same time it heals me.  It speaks to the disappointments, the failures, the wrong choices, that are part of everyone who’s been around for a while.   It speaks to the idealism, the sense of values that aren’t monetary, that are part of everyone who gives a damn, whether it’s their turn or not.

It earns that ending, that wonderful, ridiculous ending.  Because we feel George’s despair, and we feel his frustration and anger at the irreconcilable conflict between what he wants his life to be and what it has to be.   He does the right thing, because he can’t not do the right thing, but we see what it costs him.   On an individual human level, we identify with George because he really isn’t OK with the failure of his plans and dreams, he’s not at peace.   And we admire him because nonetheless he will always do what is right.  (Indeed, if it seems frivolous to link him to Mandela and Picquart, the heroes of my last two blogs, so be it.)

But the film is not just about an individual, it’s also about a community.  George’s choices made Bedford Falls what it is.  But this wasn’t because he did it all himself.  He inspired other people, gave them the courage to do the right thing, to be as generous as he was.  The direct impact – the lives he saved through direct intervention – are only part of it.  People who in Pottersville were mean and fearful weren’t born that way, they learned to be mean and fearful because their lives had taught them that other people couldn’t be trusted, that everyone was out for themselves, that mistakes and misfortunes would be punished.   In Bedford Falls, they saw generosity and kindness, and mistakes and misfortunes met with sympathy and support, and they learned to be generous and kind themselves.

It’s so easy to despair, when we see so many examples of meanness, prejudice, callousness to others’ misery.  We’re encouraged to be xenophobic and suspicious.   Watch out!  In January we will literally be unable to move for Romanians and Bulgarians every single one of whom will be coming here to take our livelihoods.  Watch out!  That neighbour who you haven’t seen leaving for work recently is probably spending all day on the sofa in a onesie watching Jeremy Kyle and scrounging huge amounts in benefits.

We can choose instead to live in Bedford Falls.  Why would we do otherwise?  The Potters of our world will continue to spin their scurvy little webs, but we don’t have to acquiesce.  So, for 2014, my mantra will be ‘You are now in Bedford Falls’, and whenever I encounter stories that show how communities can work together, support each other, reach out to those who need help, across the boundaries that might be expected to divide us, I’ll share them, with that hashtag.  There are a couple below, for starters.

I don’t believe that humanity is a lost cause.  I do believe that humanity is all there is, and that makes it so much more vital that we care for each other, because we’re all we’ve got, and these years we have on the planet is all we’ve got.  Joss Whedon said it well, in Angel:

If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if … nothing we do matters … then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.  … All I want to do is help. I want to help because I don’t think people should suffer as they do, because if there’s no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

Postscript

 This year, in particular, these words from It’s a Wonderful Life have greater poignancy and resonance than ever:

 Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

Because we got to find out what an awful hole was left when Tim Richardson died, in February.  The memorial blog we set up for him tells so many stories of how his life touched those of others, and how much he is missed.  And in his honour, we held the 24 Hour Inspire event, a community coming together to celebrate his life, his influence and his inspiration.  It was a joyous occasion.  And it was a glimpse of life in Bedford Falls.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/20/bradford-synagogue-saved-muslims-jews

http://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/a-tale-of-two-villages-it-could-be-a-wonderful-life/

http://aurorasginjoint.com/2013/12/14/its-a-wonderful-life/

 

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A tale of two villages: it could be a wonderful life

cathannabel:

I wanted to blog something for International Migrants Day. Not for the first time, Gerry’s wonderfulThat’s How the Light Gets In blog has done that better than I could. An inspiring piece, referencing the best film ever.

Originally posted on That's How The Light Gets In:

In Marinaleda unemployment does not exist. It is a collective project life, life for all

The path to utopia

Politicians and media whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria. Savage welfare cuts while the super-rich live high on the hog.  Deepening inequality and zero-hours contracts.  Rapacious banks and untamed corporations. Corporate greed gouging the common weal.  In these austere times, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, one can easily become discouraged.  The joyous cacophony of community life in Bedford Falls can seem like a distant dream of the silver screen.

But wait: here’s a tale of two villages.  Real places, inhabited by real people who have taken a stand against profit and materialism, racism and fear.  Two villages.

One….

Spain has been one of the countries hit hardest by the banking crash.  At around 26%, Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU (and youth unemployment is nearly double that figure). In the wake of Spain’s property crash, hundreds of thousands of homes have been…

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‘That is not right’ Pt 2

It was sheer coincidence that in the week that Nelson Mandela died, and having been musing on integrity and courage, I read Robert Harris’s An Officer and  a Spy.  No obvious connection, one might think, between the death of a South African leader and a historical novel set in France at the end of the last century.  Wrong.

An Officer and a Spy is the story of Georges Picquart, one of the key players in the fight to win the freedom of Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of treason, and who suffered humiliation, disgrace and imprisonment himself along the way.  The fascinating thing about this story, and where it differs most profoundly from that of Mandela, is that whereas Mandela, as a young black man in apartheid South Africa, was aware every hour of every day of the injustice that he confronted, Picquart was an establishment man, an army man, who trusted the chain of command and was trusted by it.  But he reached a point when he said, ‘that is not right’, and from that point on, he did not stop, even when it appeared he might lose everything.

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Picquart did not start by believing in the innocence of Dreyfus.  He had no predisposition to see conspiracy, or prejudice, at work.  He became uneasy, as he discovered tiny details which didn’t quite fit with the established version of events, but his crusade began when he realised not only that Dreyfus was innocent, but that the establishment knew this, and had no intention of doing anything about it, but would allow him to continue to suffer on Devil’s Island, whilst the real guilty party (also known to the powers that be) retained his freedom, his army post, his salary.

Picquart wasn’t motivated either by personal fondness for Dreyfus (he knew him, and didn’t like him particularly), nor out of lifelong principled opposition to the anti-semitism which allowed Dreyfus to be made a scapegoat and his guilt to be so easily believed (he shared the low-level anti-semitic assumptions of his era and his class, assuming that Jews put loyalty to their own kind above loyalty to the country they lived in).  His heroism lies precisely in those facts.   Once he suspected that an injustice had been done he had to know, and once he knew, he had to act.   He was demoted, sent abroad to high risk postings, kept under surveillance, his mail opened and his family and friends investigated.    He was himself accused and imprisoned, only vindicated when Dreyfus himself was freed.  He never faltered.

I won’t reprise the story of the Dreyfus affair here, because (a) it’s complicated and (b) you’ll have far more fun reading the account in Robert Harris’s novel. 

My own interest in it resides partly in its place in French history and culture.  Two of my favourite writers played a part in the story – Emile Zola of course produced the famous article ‘J’accuse’, in defence of Dreyfus, and was convicted of libel and removed from the Legion d’Honneur as a result.  

And  reading Proust made me aware for the first time how one’s take on Dreyfus’s innocence or guilt defined one, and divided society – dreyfusard or anti-dreyfusard, pretty much all of his characters are self-declared as one or the other.  As Boyd Tonkin wrote recently in The Independent:

In many ways, the Dreyfus Affair lends In Search of Lost Time its moral spine. For Proust the Dreyfusard, who organised a petition in support of the tormented prisoner on Devil’s Island and avidly attended the 1898 trial of Émile Zola for criminal libel after he published his famous denunciation “J’Accuse”, attitudes to Dreyfus not only split the social milieu he depicts down the middle. They test and define the mettle of his main characters. To the Proust scholar Malcolm Bowie, the case gave Proust his “great experimental laboratory”. It runs like a live wire through those seven volumes.

It clearly also is a fascinating episode in the history of prejudice and anti-semitism.  The case played its part in the founding of Zionism as a political force, as Theodor Herzl said:

“if France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of antisemitism and let the Parisian crowd chant ‘Kill the Jews!’ Where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country? Assimilation does not solve the problem because the Gentile world will not allow it as the Dreyfus affair has so clearly demonstrated”

Herzl was proved right in the case of France, as only 36 years after Dreyfus was finally pardoned, and 7 years after his death, Jews were being rounded up on the streets of Paris, herded into transit camps and then into cattle trucks before being deported to Auschwitz.  Then, as there had been during the Dreyfus affair,  there were people who were driven by hatred, people who colluded in injustice out of fear or complacency but also, throughout that dark time, people like Picquart, who were unable to be passive in the face of such injustice and evil, and who risked everything to stand against it.

 

 

 

Robert Harris – An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson, 2013)

 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/review-an-officer-and-a-spy-by-robert-harris-8859480.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/happy-birthday-to-a-timeless-classic-marcel-prousts-in-search-of-lost-time-turns-100-8937914.html

 

 

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‘That is not right’

It seems that everyone had something good to say about Mandela, the day that his light finally went out.   Everyone admires, respects, venerates the man.   It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way.

There was a time when you would not have found politicians of all stripes queuing up to contribute their eulogies.  There was a time when the evil, brutal apartheid system had its defenders outside of the extreme fringes of  white suprematism.  There was a time when some world leaders saw white South Africa as a bastion against Marxism, and opposed sanctions aimed at undermining the apartheid regime.   There was a time when the public schoolboys in the FCS produced t-shirts saying Hang Nelson Mandela.  (Some of them are in government today, paying their respects, and hoping that those past statements and actions don’t surface.)

There was a time when it seemed hopeless, impossible that South Africa could ever be a place where the black majority and the white minority could live together, without bloodshed.  For all the problems it has today, there is are generations who are and will be born free, and for that Mandela must be thanked, because he was probably the one man who de Klerk could deal with, a man forged by his long imprisonment, who had mastered his anger and bitterness and who was prepared to risk the accusations that he had ‘sold out’ in order to win freedom for his people.

For all the reasons to despair – and there are many – we have to recall how far we’ve come, in my lifetime.  I would not have believed, in my twenties,  anyone who told me that, before I reached old age, we would have a black President in a democratic South Africa, where there had been no bloody civil war.  That there would be a black President in the White House.  That the Berlin Wall would have fallen.  That gay men and women would be free to marry, in so many parts of the world and, soon, here.   These things haven’t come about through violent revolution but through the Mandelas of the world, some well known but many quite anonymous, against the odds, in the face of the haters and the threats, insisting on justice.   As Richard Stengel’s Time tribute to Mandela says:

deep in his bones was a basic sense of fairness: he simply could not abide injustice. If he, Nelson Mandela, the son of a chief, tall, handsome and educated, could be treated as subhuman, then what about the millions who had nothing like his advantages? “That is not right,” he would sometimes say to me about something as mundane as a plane flight’s being canceled or as large as a world leader’s policies, but that simple phrase — that is not right — underlay everything he did, everything he sacrificed for and everything he accomplished.

Nelson Mandela

 

http://world.time.com/2013/12/05/nelson-mandela-1918-2013-remembering-an-icon-of-freedom/

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Kristallnacht: the Nazi’s ‘aha! moment’

Originally posted on That's How The Light Gets In:

A Jewish shop in Berlin on 11 November 1938, after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht.

A Jewish shop in Berlin on 11 November 1938, after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht.

On this night 75 years ago, the Nazis unleashed a series of riots against Jews in Germany and Austria. In only a few hours, thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. For the first time, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps simply because they were Jewish. This event came to be called Kristallnacht or Night of the Broken Glass, a reference to the shattered glass from shop windows that carpeted the streets of German towns.

Kristallnacht was a crucial turning point in Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, and a significant stage in the evolution of the Holocaust. As Simon Schama crisply put in on BBC radio this week:

It’s incredibly important.  You can’t really overstate its importance: not because a thousand synagogues were burned or 90…

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