“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Archive for September 2007

UCU Boycott

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So the proposed boycott of Israeli academics is off, about time too. Three events seem to have come together.

o UCU has decided after taking legal advice that implementing a boycott of Israeli academics would be counter to anti-discrimination legislation in Britain and the EU

o The head honcho of the SWP, Alexander Theodore Callinicos has decreed that the SWP is no longer actively supporting the proposed boycott.

o Two organisations, Engage and UCU Ballot were pressurising for a national ballot of all UCU members, which was gaining steam, and would have led to the issues being put eventually to the full membership of the union.

These events have been debated on Engage and Harry’s Place, look out for David Hirsh’s contributions in response to some meaningless misrepresentation of proceedings by an online SWP intellectual and UCU member, who shall remain nameless.

No doubt there will be plenty of sour grapes from the pro-boycotters and mumblings of ” Zionist power” or “control the media”, etc.

I think it might have been better that this issue had gone to a full ballot of all members and been comprehensively defeated.

But either way the racist and discriminatory nature of the boycott campaign to attack Israeli academics and deny them access to UK campuses is clear for all to see now.

Well done Engage and their supporters!!!

Written by modernityblog

30/09/2007 at 22:43

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Lynching in Gaza – faked.

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I have been informed that the lynching story from Gaza was faked, so have taken it down.

Update: see roger l simon for more background to this story.

(Hat trip: Noga)

Written by modernityblog

29/09/2007 at 23:57

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Of Onions and Celebrities.

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Do you ever stand by and accidentally look at those celebrity magazines, but never buy?

I have the misfortune of scanning their covers on a regular basis when shopping.

So although I am not fully privy to the goings-on of Jordan or Peter Andre, I can recognise them at 200 yards. I am not proud of that skill.

Nevertheless Olly’s Onion has a funny piece on those two.

Olly’s Onion is always worth a read, funnier than Private Eye and cheaper than those celebrity magazines.


Written by modernityblog

28/09/2007 at 00:17

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Lee or The President.

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No comment required.

An extract from the transcript of Lee Bollinger’s address

“Let me now turn to Mr. Ahmadinejad.


Over the last two weeks, your government has released Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Parnaz Axima; and just two days ago Kian Tajbakhsh, a graduate of Columbia with a PhD in urban planning. While our community is relieved to learn of his release on bail, Dr. Tajbakhsh remains in Teheran, under house arrest, and he still does not know whether he will be charged with a crime or allowed to leave the country. Let me say this for the record, I call on the President today to ensure that Kian Tajbaksh will be free to travel out of Iran as he wishes. Let me also report today that we are extending an offer to Dr. Tajbaksh to join our faculty as a visiting professor in urban planning here at his Alma Mater, in our Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. And we hope he will be able to join us next semester.

The arrest and imprisonment of these Iranian Americans for no good reason is not only unjustified, it runs completely counter to the very values that allow today’s speaker to even appear on this campus.

But at least they are alive.

According to Amnesty International, 210 people have been executed in Iran so far this year – 21 of them on the morning of September 5th alone. This annual total includes at least two children – further proof, as Human Rights Watch puts it, that Iran leads the world in executing minors.

There is more.

Iran hanged up to 30 people this past July and August during a widely reported suppression of efforts to establish a more open, democratic society in Iran. Many of these executions were carried out in public view, a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

These executions and others have coincided with a wider crackdown on student activists and academics accused of trying to foment a so-called “soft revolution”. This has included jailing and forced retirements of scholars. As Dr. Esfandiari said in a broadcast interview since her release, she was held in solitary confinement for 105 days because the government “believes that the United States . . . is planning a Velvet Revolution” in Iran.

In this very room last year we learned something about Velvet Revolutions from Vaclav Havel. And we will likely hear the same from our World Leaders Forum speaker this evening – President Michelle Bachelet Jeria of Chile. Both of their extraordinary stories remind us that there are not enough prisons to prevent an entire society that wants its freedom from achieving it.

We at this university have not been shy to protest and challenge the failures of our own government to live by these values; and we won’t be shy in criticizing yours.

Let’s, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.

And so I ask you:

Why have women, members of the Baha’i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?

Why in a letter last week to the Secretary General of the UN did Akbar Gangi, Iran’s leading political dissident, and over 300 public intellectuals, writers and Nobel Laureates express such grave concern that your inflamed dispute with the West is distracting the world’s attention from the intolerable conditions your regime has created within Iran? In particular, the use of the Press Law to ban writers for criticizing the ruling system.

Why are you so afraid of Iranian citizens expressing their opinions for change?

In our country, you are interviewed by our press and asked that you to speak here today. And while my colleague at the Law School Michael Dorf spoke to Radio Free Europe [sic, Voice of America] viewers in Iran a short while ago on the tenets of freedom of speech in this country, I propose going further than that. Let me lead a delegation of students and faculty from Columbia to address your university about free speech, with the same freedom we afford you today? Will you do that?


In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as a “fabricated” “legend.” One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers.

For the illiterate and ignorant, this is dangerous propaganda. When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.

You should know that Columbia is a world center of Jewish studies and now, in partnership with the YIVO Institute, of Holocaust studies. Since the 1930s, we’ve provided an intellectual home for countless Holocaust refugees and survivors and their children and grandchildren. The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history. Because of this, and for many other reasons, your absurd comments about the “debate” over the Holocaust both defy historical truth and make all of us who continue to fear humanity’s capacity for evil shudder at this closure of memory, which is always virtue’s first line of defense.

Will you cease this outrage?


Twelve days ago, you said that the state of Israel “cannot continue its life.” This echoed a number of inflammatory statements you have delivered in the last two years, including in October 2005 when you said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

Columbia has over 800 alumni currently living in Israel. As an institution we have deep ties with our colleagues there. I personally have spoken out in the most forceful terms against proposals to boycott Israeli scholars and universities, saying that such boycotts might as well include Columbia. More than 400 college and university presidents in this country have joined in that statement. My question, then, is: Do you plan on wiping us off the map, too?


According to reports by the Council on Foreign Relations, it’s well documented that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that funds such violent group as the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran helped organize in the 1980s, the Palestinian Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

While your predecessor government was instrumental in providing the US with intelligence and base support in its 2001 campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, your government is now undermining American troops in Iraq by funding, arming, and providing safe transit to insurgent leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr and his forces.

There are a number of reports that also link your government with Syria’s efforts to destabalize the fledgling Lebanese government through violence and political assassination.

My question is this: Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and civil society in the region?


In a briefing before the National Press Club earlier this month, General David Petraeus reported that arms supplies from Iran, including 240mm rockets and explosively formed projectiles, are contributing to “a sophistication of attacks that would by no means be possible without Iranian support.”

A number of Columbia graduates and current students are among the brave members of our military who are serving or have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They, like other Americans with sons, daughters, fathers, husbands and wives serving in combat, rightly see your government as the enemy.

Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi’a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?


This week the United Nations Security Council is contemplating expanding sanctions for a third time because of your government’s refusal to suspend its uranium-enrichment program. You continue to defy this world body by claiming a right to develop peaceful nuclear power, but this hardly withstands scrutiny when you continue to issue military threats to neighbors. Last week, French President Sarkozy made clear his lost patience with your stall tactics; and even Russia and China have shown concern.

Why does your country continue to refuse to adhere to international standards for nuclear weapons verification in defiance of agreements that you have made with the UN nuclear agency? And why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world with nuclear annihilation?

Let me close with this comment. Frankly, and in all candor, Mr. President, I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately, I am told by experts on your country, that this only further undermines your position in Iran with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there. A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party’s defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.

I am only a professor, who is also a university president, and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.”

Written by modernityblog

26/09/2007 at 02:50

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Fractured Trade Unionism

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The events unfolding in UCU are a prime example of how not to conduct trade unionism.

The posturing boycott of Israel campaign has proved divisive, disruptive and counter-productive to activism within UCU.

Since the vote at UCU conference to campaign for a boycott, Jews and others in Universities have been leaving UCU. Past activists are tearing up their union cards, as UCU is perceived as a union that is hostile to Jews.

But it gets worse, now there is the spectacle of previous “activists” arguing against the participation of members in union affairs, simply because they think they will lose the vote on the proposed boycott of Israel, when it is put to the wider membership.

A new site is arguing that this issue should be put to the full UCU membership, Campaign for a UCU ballot.

Written by modernityblog

24/09/2007 at 22:03

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Middle East Peace?

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There are tantalising stories on the Web suggesting that Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert is finalising some deal with President Abbas which could signal peace in the Middle East, or at least that is an optimistic reading of the JTA report:

“Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his deputy, Haim Ramon, said concessions in Jerusalem and the West Bank were key to achieving a peace agreement.

In a Yom Kippur eve interview on Friday, Ramon told Israel Radio in his bluntest terms to date that Israel must hand over Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem over to Palestinian sovereignty, going so far as to blast Israel’s 1968 annexation of the eastern part of the city. “This annexation threatens Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people,” Ramon said. “It will bring about its transformation into a Palestinian capital with a Palestinian majority.”

Addressing a Kadima Party conference Thursday night after wrapping up meetings with Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, Olmert slammed Israelis who oppose concessions, saying they are seeking excuses “to avoid seizing opportunities and not look for real chances to break the ice between us and the Palestinians. I do not share this view.” Olmert called Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president a partner for peace.

Rice’s visit to the region comes ahead of a November peace conference to be convened by the United States.

Abbas, who will meet Monday in New York with President Bush during the launch of this year’s U.N. General Assembly, made it clear in his remarks with Rice that the conference would address final status issues. “We assured Dr. Rice of our genuine endeavor to reach a final status framework agreement in order to implement the final status issues including borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water and security,” Abbas said. “We believe that the time is ripe for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and for living side by side in security and tranquillity with the State of Israel.”

Written by modernityblog

23/09/2007 at 01:47

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Libels or Blogs

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British libel laws are notoriously harsh and are often used to restrict legitimate freedom of speech, an example was David Irving’s disastrous court action against Deborah Lipstadt.

Now British libel laws are being wielded by Russian/Uzbekh billionaire, Alisher Usmanov.

Usmanov has already closed down Tim Ireland’s blogger sites, bloggerheads, apparently on account of an article written by Craig Murray about Alisher Usmanov.

Iain Dale covers it here.

HP has a discussion on the issues.

Even Drunken Trots are posting about it.

The Times and Indie have articles on the subject.

The article concerned is posted at Indymedia, which is in the public domain, you can read it for yourself and decide if it is libel or not.

Daylife has more.

I think that bloggers across the political spectrum should be united against Alisher Usmanov’s attempt to silence Craig Murray, and they should post on this story.

Update: I have included selected articles by Craig Murray here

Written by modernityblog

21/09/2007 at 01:16

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Too Radical for China?

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Are you one of life’s dissidents? Do you hold radical opinions? Are you against pollution and exploitation? Can you spell Tibet? Are you mildly critical of the dictators in Beijing?

If so, then your blog or web site is probably blocked by the regime in mainland China.

But don’t despair, there is a handy web site that tests, if you’re blocked by China’s firewalls:

Written by modernityblog

17/09/2007 at 18:07

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Wot Education?

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Education is one topic that everyone has opinions about, the broadsheets are often filled with heatedly debates on the benefits of selection, corporal punishment and streaming.

Those debates go on in every country and are as subjective as you might expect them to be, everyone tends to feel that their opinion is as valid as everyone else is.

But who’s right? The BBC World Service has come to the rescue, a recent programme, Top of The Class, discusses worldwide educational concerns and asks what lessons can be learnt from the different techniques employed across the globe.

Written by modernityblog

13/09/2007 at 02:39

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Cuddly Not For Profit ?

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Working for private companies has its disadvantages, but at least most of them don’t give out a pretense about the bottom line: profit

So you might think that not-for-profit companies, such as the Fremantle Trust, are a bit more cuddly and nice than their cutthroat cousins?

Not so, as their actions indicate:

“Fremantle Trust is a not-for-profit company that took over care home contracts five years ago. The cuts include lower wages, increased hours, no sick pay, shorter holidays and reduced payment for working unsocial hours. Even pensions to which contributions have been made during the workers’ service are to be dramatically cut by more than one third.”

Fremantle Trust even tried to strong-arm an Internet Service Provider, when Labourstart’s campaign got off the ground and they had to relocate to servers outside of the UK, as Barnet Unison reports:

“When the legal threats did not work, Fremantle went to LabourStarts ISP and complained.

The ISP gave LabourStart notice to take off the campaign by Friday 7 Sept at 12 or be closed down. LabourStart were unable to get an assurance from the ISP that they would close them down so yesterday reluctantly on Friday 7 Sept at 12 noon they took down the campaign”

Written by modernityblog

12/09/2007 at 20:27

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Smoker’s Benefit ?

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Yes, do they according to new research as reported in the Guardian:

“The number of people being taken to hospital with heart attacks in Scotland has fallen significantly since the smoking ban was introduced, the most detailed study into the impact of the measure has revealed.

Researchers found a 17% drop in the number of people admitted for heart attacks in the year since the ban came into force, compared with an average 3% reduction a year over the previous decade. The reduction was most marked among non-smokers, with a 20% fall, compared with a 14% drop among smokers.”

Written by modernityblog

11/09/2007 at 20:51

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MEMRI, Islamophobia and YouTube

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MEMRI comes in for a great deal of stick, much of it seems unjust, in my view.

The criticism tends to hang on the veracity of the translations when it comes to the various demagogues in the Middle East who openly preach hatred on television.

It is hard to comment either way as my Arabic is limited to only a few words, but I was interested in an recent article at MEMRI by A. Mahjar Barducci:

“Video-sharing websites such as YouTube, Dailymotion, and MySpace contain a large amount of racist and violent material, including both Islamophobic videos that defame Islam and incite against Muslims, and jihadist videos that praise and promote terrorism against the West.

MEMRI will address this phenomenon in a series of reports presenting videos from the major video-sharing websites, focusing on videos promoting jihad and Islamophobia as well as on videos containing antisemitism and other types of racism and bigotry. ”

(Hat tip:Dan)

Written by modernityblog

08/09/2007 at 19:39

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Remembering Mesopotamia

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Everyone has talked about Iraq, at one time or other, the good, the bad and the ugly. The debate over the invasion of Iraq has subsided and the question now is, when will people pack up and leave?

But in all of this heated political debate how many people have actually been to Iraq, talked to the Iraqis and empathised with their plight?

A few but not that many.

One individual that has, is Harry Barnes, who blogs that three score years and ten.

Harry’s latest recollections are a joy to read.

Written by modernityblog

07/09/2007 at 02:34

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Dog’s Dinner or Cats Cream?

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George Galloway is rarely out of the limelight, not least because of his recent dispute with the SWP.

Irrespective of the facts and whether or not we think Galloway is a demagogic spiv and friend to all types of nasty dictators, we should not forget that he is an entertainer and second to none in cat impressions.

So I am happy to present, George the Cat

Written by modernityblog

03/09/2007 at 20:42

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Pilger’s Non Apology

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After reading the online version it seems that this week’s New Statesman contains a few letters which are critical of last week’s John Pigler’s awful article, but not much else, those hoping for an apology will be disappointed.

Written by modernityblog

02/09/2007 at 16:26

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