Tree Tuesday

In the small Palestinian village of Al Walaja, just outside Bethlehem,  lives an ancient olive tree, that may be one of the oldest trees in the world. It has been carbon-dated to an age range of 3,000 to 5,500 years old and it is the job of one man, Salah Abu Ali, to protect it.

Ali wakes every morning to tend to his family’s orchard. Entering through a neighbor’s yard, he trots down the grove’s narrow paths in a way that belies his age, occasionally reaching down to quickly toss aside trespassing stones; briskly descending verdant terraces, one after another until he comes to the edge of the orchard. It is at this edge where Ali spends most of his day, pumping water from the spring above or tending to the soil. It is where he sometimes sleeps at night, and where he hosts people that have made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But many come for the tree, an olive that some believe to be the oldest in the world.

The olive tree of Al Walaja, like all trees in the world, is under threat from climate change and is recovering from a recent drought.  It is also under the added threat of Israeli expansionism.

But the olive tree of Al Walaja has become something else to its residents. Now, it’s a symbol of resistance. The village is a shadow of its former self. Most of the village’s residents were forced to flee their homes amidst heavy fighting during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. “In 1948, we came here and slept under the trees,” Ali says, as Israeli military personnel chant during drills in the valley below. After the dust settled and the demarcation lines were drawn, Al Walaja had lost around 70 percent of its land.
The town was further eroded after Israel captured the West Bank during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel then expanded the Jerusalem Municipality, annexing around half of what was left of the village.

More recently, Israel’s separation wall threatened to once again cut the village in two, isolating the Al Badawi tree. But residents won a court battle which saw the chain-link wall diverted around the village. The wall now stands just below Ali’s family orchard, separating the new village from the site of the old, just across a narrow valley.

Despite the court victory, dozens of homes have been bulldozed to make way for the Jerusalem Municipality. Al Walaja still sits isolated, hemmed in on nearly all sides by Israel’s separation wall and no longer able to access uncultivated farmland or many of the village’s once-famed springs.

It is because of these threats that Ali guards the ancient olive tree, and he considers it his life work to protect it. Ali now receives a small sum from The Palestinian Authority to take care of the tree, due to reports of Israeli settlers and soldiers cutting down and burning ancient olive trees in other parts of the West Bank.

According to the United Nations, approximately 45 percent of agricultural land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip contain olive trees, providing income for some 100,000 families. “The Palestinians are attached to the olive tree,” Ali says. “The olive tree is a part of our resistance and a part of our religion. With the olive tree we live, and without it we don’t live.”

 

Story from Atlas Obscura

Behind the Iron Curtain part 34 – Prices

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


There is a lot of sentiment now about that during the Communist Party’s reign everything was cheaper and thus living was by default better. But that is not something I wish to talk about since it is really difficult to evaluate. Statistics about income from that era are not particularly reliable and one cannot directly compare today’s prices with prices then.

What I want to briefly mention is how wares were actually priced – centrally. Every piece had its selling price printed on the packaging straight from the manufacturer, and it was given. There was no such thing as “a discount”, there was no haggling and no local fluctuation of prices. There was also no sales tax. What item X cost in the center of Prague, it did cost in the smallest mountain village as well, and what it said on the packaging was what you paid.

(One of the biggest cultural shocks during my visit to the USA was local sales taxes. You go to the store, you pick up an item for $ 4.99 as per label, and at the counter, you are asked to cough up 6.00 or some such, which I found, and still do, to be utterly idiotic.)

Not only wares were thus priced, but services and rent were tightly regulated too. I do think that such strict regulations d were a bit too inflexible, but on the other hand, what is happening now is the opposite extreme. For example in Prague near the main tourist routes, some ware can cost several times as much as it does just a few streets away. Predatory landlords are a thing now, thriving on the welfare state that is supposed to help their customers, etc.

I do not think we have found the proper balance yet.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 33 – McGyver in Every Household

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


“Zlaté české ručičky” (Golden Czech Hands) – a self-flattering saying that Czechs like to say about themselves for fairly long time. I was not able to google-fu the origin of the phrase, but one of the speculations I believe the most is that it originated during the times of the Iron Curtain.

I have already mentioned the centrally planned economy and the many negatives it has lead to. But I did not mention one of the at least somewhat positive things – the widespread ability to get the most out of whatever little there was available.

For example one of my uncles wanted to have a gramophone, but those were hard to get by. So he scraped and scrounged parts from defunct gramophones and has built a functioning one out of them. He also has built two high-quality loudspeakers for it – and they worked and sounded good for a long time. Previously he also has built a simple radio. And a bicycle from parts.

This uncle, a Ph.D. mathematician, has emigrated to USA when I was only about six years old and he took this mindset with him. He married a Korean-American woman, whom I have met in 1999 during my only visit there. One of her complaints about her husband was that she rarely gets to buy new stuff, because whenever something breaks – be it TV, vacuum, microwave or a kitchen robot – he repairs it. And indeed all these items around the house were visibly repaired.

I have this mindset too. I wanted a nice sturdy knife to take with me on forest walks, but they were expensive and hard to get by, so I have made one. I am not as handy with electronic as my uncle is, but have repurposed parts from his old radio project and used the speakers for building myself high-quality horn-speakers. And many other things.

But around here, this was not exceptional. Every man had to be a handyman, knowing a bit about electronics, plumbing, carpentry, masonry and, if you were lucky, car repair and maintenance. Because when something broke in the household, buying replacement was often not an option and getting a professional to do the job for you was not easy or fast enough. Of course, some were better at somethings than others, and a thriving black market of skills has emerged. Indeed the only way to thrive was to have a network of skilled friends or you were screwed.

Towards the end of the regime, in 1987, there emerged a TV show dedicated to this kind of “DIY” thing, named “Receptář nejen na neděli” (Recipe book not only for Sundays), whose spinoffs and follow-ups run until today under different names. There was also a periodical of the same name as the TV show, another periodical “Udělej si sám” (Do It Yourself :-)) and even one of the periodicals for children that I have previously mentioned (ABC) had sections dedicated to small crafts.

Today there is a lot of moaning about how this aspect of our culture is slowly disappearing. The availability of cheap goods on demand did lead to a decreased need to be inventive and frugal. Some of the moaning is just that – the regular moaning about the corruption of youth and the good old times – but some of it is to my mind justified. Indeed when working in Germany, I was often able to come up with creative solutions to some problems with the things I found in a drawer, exactly because that is what I was used to doing, whilst some of my colleagues were content with listing through a catalog.

I think that being poor is not a virtue, but being frugal and inventive is. The only problem that remains is how to raise inventive and frugal people when being lazy and wasteful is easier.

The Art of Book Design: The Poetical works of John Keats

Today’s book was sent in by one of our readers, Vanessa. The book has a simple cover, but it’s beautiful inside and comes with a touching story that Vanessa is graciously sharing with all of us.

John Keats. The Poetical Works of John Keats. London, Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1917

[Read more…]

History Rhymes – the Betrayal of Kurds

In my country, the Munich Agreement is still perceived as one of the most important lessons of history – the lesson being that western allies are not to be relied upon and that meeting the demands of fascist authoritarians only leads to further demands.

The recent betrayal of Kurds by the USA, via their imbecilic and barely literate president, has many similarities. And many more will follow, including mass graves.

The behavior of Turks, as I observed it on Twitter – before turning away in disgust – is jingoistic and racist, celebrating the violence being perpetrated and cheering the prospect of Kurds being driven into the desert. It drives home another similarity – Turks see Kurds just as Germans saw Slavs prior to WW2 – as lesser, as subhuman, as beings not worthy of consideration. Racism towards Kurds is, at this moment, one of the most prominent and defining features of being a “true Turk”.

Turkish persistent denial of the Armenian genocide is a stain on the country’s reputation and now they are starting another one. And the USA, the self-appointed world policeman, just watches and supplies weapons. Turkey is in NATO after all.

YouTube Video: Original Vs Reproduction – Which is better?

What I find the most interesting about his video is the realization that our modern perceptions of what is and is not beautiful are heavily skewed towards unreasonable and sometimes unachievable perfection. Sometimes perfection that you can only evaluate up so close, that you need a magnifying glass and calipers.

I blame the industrial revolution and mass-produced machined goods.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 32 – Money Lenders

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Lending money was a very tightly controlled activity behind the Iron Curtain. The regime had a de-facto monopoly on big lending and strictly regulated the activity. It was only possible to get a loan from a bank, and many young people did so when they started a family, just as they do today – to buy or build a house, an apartment, furnishings, etc.

My sister got a loan too when she got married. So did my parents.

I never heard of anybody having trouble with payments. The law regulated what rates can be given, what securities can be required and what payments can be requested, so for people getting into financial trouble this way was not common. Loan sharks existed – on those another time – because organized crime existed. But it was that – a crime. If it was possible for anyone getting into insolvency or personal bankruptcy because they could not keep up with their legal payments, It was rare and I never heard of it.

That has changed rapidly after the Iron Curtain fell. The bad thing about that was that our first finance minister and late president Václav Klaus is Randian libertarian, and he governed the state finances with the assumption that “the invisible hand of the free market” is a panacea for all problems. One of the legacies of that time was the abandonment of many regulatory laws, including those that defined and outlawed loan-sharking. Suddenly it became legal to loan money at thousands of percent interests, with short payments, exorbitant fees, etc. etc. A few thousands worth of debt could, and still can, balloon into thousandfold and suddenly you pay more in monthly fees than the original debt was worth. Speculations with debts became rife and a whole money-sharking industry emerged from the free market quite naturally.

Only it is not a solution, but a cancerous growth. Today roughly 8% of our little country’s population got caught in these financial traps. Some people even very obviously through no fault of their own – they were indebted by their careless or clueless parents or inherited a debt without knowing it.

And thus the free market provided a new class of people – the working poor, the debt-slaves and the homeless. I think this too was one of those few things the regime did actually handle properly, or at least better than the current one which still did not catch up with this entirely unnecessary crisis and still did not put the money lenders on a short leash.

Mni Wiconi- Water is Life: In Memory of Caine

A year ago today our community was devastated by the death of our beloved Caine. The team here at Affinity struggled with how to honor Caine on this day and we finally decided to carry forward her message to love and honor the planet. Caine stood with the tribe at Standing Rock in their struggle against the DAPL and today we’re passing on a few stories about the continuing struggle of Indigenous communities to protect the land and water. We are in no way qualified to speak about Indigenous culture or history, but we do so today with great respect.

First, a few reminders of the meaning of Mni Wiconi – Water is Life.

Mni Wiconi – The Stand at Standing Rock

Mni Wiconi – Water is Life

Hear the message of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Honor tribal sovereignty and the Earth we inhabit by telling President Obama to deny the easement by calling 202-456-1111. We need every person to call Obama this week before Dec. 5th. Please share. For more information visit standwithstandingrock.net#NoDAPL#StandwithStandingRock#standingrock#bankexit

Posted by Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Also:

In an article on Indian Country Today, Woonspe—Education Gives Meaning to Mni Wiconi—Water Is Life they tell of the origin story behind the meaning of Mni Wiconi.

An origin story of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, which make up the Lakota, Nakoda, and Dakota people, tells us that the blood of First Creation, Inyan, covers Unci Maka, our grandmother earth, and this blood, which is blue is mni, water, and mahpiya, the sky. Mni Wiconi, water is life.

The entire article is worth reading and the above link will take you right there.

♦♦♦

 

Many Standing Rocks: Three Years and Still Fighting, by Tracy L. Barnett – The Esperanza Project)

LaDonna Allard, center, and Cheryl Angel at a march led by the women of Sacred Stone to the backwater bridge one week after a brutal attack there by law enforcement. (Photo from social media) – The Esperanza Project

 

So water is in danger, globally. Right now Indigenous communities are still at risk, and they are standing up, because they have to stand up.  When you finally realize — WATER IS LIFE — you understand why you can’t sit back down.

People keep saying “after” Standing Rock – but I’m still of the same state of mind, I still have the same passion for the water,  it has to be protected. It was when I was at Sicangu Wicoti Iyuksa that I learned about the aquifers that were in danger and when I was at Standing Rock I learned about the rivers that were in danger.

We encourage you to read the article. Cheryl Angel passes on wisdom from a lifetime spent in activism for the planet. Her reflections on the movement at Standing Rock are insightful, as is her take on the ongoing struggle to protect water and land resources.

♦♦♦

Next, we’re providing links to 2 reports on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s website.

SRST – No DAPL Remand Report Final, from February 5, 2019.

This first story is a damning and infuriating report on the deficient Corps of Engineers Analysis of the environmental impacts of the DAPL. The courts finally sided with the Standing Rock Tribe, but then decided that since the pipeline is already built they will let the oil flow.

Impacts of an Oil Spill from the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from February 21, 2018, so that you can see just how much is at stake.
Both stories connect you to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s website and we encourage you to have a look around. The About Us section contains lots of information about the history of the tribe and the reservation, as does the section about environmental issues.
♦♦♦
Next, we’re going to point you toward the Indigenous Environmental Network.
IEN is an alliance of Indigenous peoples whose mission it is to protect the sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by strengthening, maintaining and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws. Adopted in 1994 by the IEN National Council, Denver, Colorado
The IEN website has a broad focus and they carry a variety of interesting stories about the ongoing fight to protect the land and water. It isn’t all just talk, though. The IEN runs several important environmental campaigns including the Keep It In The Ground Campaign run by Dallas Goldtooth. Dallas was born into an activist family and stood as a water protector at Standing Rock. He’s an accomplished activist, teacher, writer, poet and comedian who uses story and humor to tackle difficult subjects.
Here he is with his comedy troupe, The 1491’s, at Vasser College in 2018. His message is full of hope.

And finally, we leave you with a clip found on Twitter 2 days ago by rq. It’s a true message of hope from The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the it’s the perfect way to end this post.

 

The Art of Book Design: Are We a Stupid People, by One of Them

Charles Joseph Weld-Blundell. Are We a Stupid People, by One of Them. London; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1908.

A book of commentary about the social and moral conditions in Britain at the turn of the last century.

 

Cover photo via: Nemfrog

The book is available to read at The Internet Archive

YouTube Video: What Can House Elves Teach Us About Slavery? (Harry Potter Theory)

In the past, I have expressed the opinion that just about the only really decent person in the whole Potterverse is Hermione Granger and I stand by that statement. Every single wizard was way too keen on having slaves.

I found this guy’s pronunciation a bit difficult to understand, but I got over it and the video was informative. I did not know that the argument “slaves are happy” was actually really used in the UK by anti-abolitionists since education about the minutiae of slavery is not really part of the curriculum in our schools.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 31 – Freedom of Speech

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


If you have read enough of my writings and comments, you know that I am no free speech absolutists. I do think that there should be legal limits to what, where and how is discussed because unregulated free speech is actually not free at all – it allows toxic ideas to spread at the detriment of sensible ones. The old paradox about tolerating intolerance does definitively apply.

However I do on occasion wonder how much of this attitude is due to my growing up in an environment where freedom of speech was de-facto nonexistent. Oh, people were allowed to say anything they want about whatever they want – as long as it did not contradict the official party opinion on the matter. Criticizing USSR or the Communist Party was not allowed and the punishments for transgressions were not trivial either.

During my life, the regime has mellowed a lot already, so people did not just disappear overnight for saying something wrong, but they still could get into trouble if they said something critical of the regime and it got to the wrong ears. And it could be enough if one of your kids babbled in the school about how one of their relatives was criticizing the communist party.

I have found myself in this situation as a kid. One of my uncles was a fervent follower of the party in the 60s, then he got shortly out into West Germany in the 70s and after seeing the standard of living there in comparison to our “socialist paradise”, he made a U-turn in opinion. The only reasons he and his wife got back were their two sons, who were still small and whom they did not have with them – and whom they might not get back if they emigrated illegally.

Ever since that he did not have a kind word for the Communist Party and he vented often in front of the TV during the evening news. I was present a few times for that and it caused me great discomfort to hear what he said. It was in direct contradiction with the “truth” that was told in school, with the “truth” printed in Pravda, and with the “truth” on TV. He was critical of all those amazing and all-knowing party officials! At the time I had no way of discerning on whose side the actual truth lies, but luckily I did not go to our teacher for answers, but first to my parents. Who have told me that I should try not to think about this and to never tell anyone what my uncle was saying because he could go to jail.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, this was summed up in a saying “One of the most difficult things in parenting was to convince your kids to tell the truth at home, and not to tell it in public”.

Finding the right balance between unregulated speech and an iron grip on what people are allowed to say is not an easy task and I do not have the answer where the exact line lies. I have seen both extremes in action in real life and on the internet and both extremes do not work in the long run. Too much regulation and you end up with an isolated bubble, an echo chamber (and I do not mean state regulation only). But too lax or absent regulations lead to toxic environments overrun with those who shout the loudest and who have no squabbles to spout lies faster than they can be reasonably debunked. So I can only say the balance is worth seeking.