Picking Figs

10 oct 2018



I was picking figs this morning from a fig tree that hasn’t, in the fifteen years I’ve been here, ever proposed anything other than a few puny sprouts here and there.  And yet there I was, in the early morning sunshine, the dew still on the leaves, gently squeezing this one and that one, among the tens of potential candidates for my little wooden woven pail. 

Not normal to have figs in Burgundy.  Maybe down south, where it’s hot, really hot, a good part of the year.  But Burgundy?  Yeah, you can find them here and there if they’re planted in just the right spot, but they’re kind of finicky, and will produce only when they, or their particular micro-climate, decides.

So it was this year.  It was really hot.  And we’ve not had a lot of rain.  Water tables are down everywhere.  Water restrictions have been imposed.  The farmers (some of them) are feeding the cows their winter hay already, there’s so little grass left in the fields to eat.  Everything is brown.  Digging our potatoes was like trying to dig into cement.

And yet, there I was, picking one of the most delicious fruits imaginable, thinking of the Palestinians who can’t even access their own gardens.  Pretty fucked up world.

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The Left and Wiggle Room

26 sept 2018


Patrick Cockburn’s recent article is one example of why I read CounterPunch less often than I used to.  Or, at the least, why I have become more critical of their editorial stance.  With this article, I have the impression I’m reading a Bernie Sanders speech, of being Judas-goated into the camp of what I consider a kind of useless caviar Left.  While maybe not as bad as The Guardian (I prefer OffGuardian), there are too many weasel words, phrases, and statements that reek of Establishment consensus.  That if you’re going to refer to the head-chopping proxies, armed and funded by the US and its good buddies, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and other assorted vassals, as “rebels” rather than the paid lieutenants of the criminal gang in DC, London, Riyadh or Paris, you’re basically saying it’s okay to murder at arm’s length, to somehow plausibly deny any real, true, strong connection to the crime or the perpetrators.  Plausible Deniability being spook-speak for basically lying, when timidly asked, about any crime they’ve just committed.

Here’s one example:

Pundits are predictably sceptical about the agreement reached by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi on Monday to head off an imminent offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces directed against rebels in Idlib province.

See what I mean?  No qualifications or explanations of who these “rebels” are or why they are there.  If they’re “rebels”, they must be the good guys, right?  We all love a “rebel” when he’s creating mayhem in another country or in some movie theatre.  That statement is also a subliminal reminder that if they’re “rebels”, they must be “rebelling” against something, and that  “something” must be bad, hinting that Assad must be bad, even though words like “brutal dictator” or “thug” weren’t used.  This time.


And speaking of “brutal dictators” or “thugs”, it’s pretty obvious that the US is now, as has been for quite a while, a dictatorship, and a brutal one, at that.  As are most of its allies/vassals in the West and elsewhere to differing degrees.  We’ve even got our own murderous “proxy army” right here, in the “Homeland”.  It’s called the Police, who go around murdering with impunity, armed with surplus military gear.  How many homeless, uninsured, hungry, and dubiously incarcerated (modern day slaves, working in private prisons) do we have?  Do you think that minuscule percentage of the people (or their paid hitmen/women in Congress – Oligarch money put them there in the first place) who actually run things give a rat’s ass about any of this?  That’s what they do.  All of them.  They look around the entire planet to find (or create the necessary conditions for creating) the weakest possible “enemies”:  People who just want to be left alone to figure out their own futures, on their own terms, who don’t have imperial aspirations or the military means of carrying them forward even if they wanted to, but, for most part, don’t.  They’d rather spend what means they have on their own populations.  Call that behaviour what you will, but it certainly doesn’t include a blind obedience to the diktats of the Money Men and their military enforcers.


But our “Left” editors at CP have a difficult time of saying that up front.  The term “rebel” also supports the claim/point of view that the conflict in Syria is a “civil” war.  It’s total nonsense, but here it is:

The Syrian civil war long ago ceased to be a struggle fought out by local participants. Syria has become an arena where foreign states confront each other, fight proxy wars and put their strength and influence to the test. 

“Long ago”, Patrick?  It was never a “civil” war.  In fact no wars are “civil”, but that’s kind of beside the point here.  The conflict in Syria was aided and abetted, if not instigated, by the US and its local (and not so local, but closer to the scene, allies, ie, France and the UK, the FUK of FUKUS) allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, two theocratic states who hate the idea of having a secular, tolerant, independent state in their neighbourhood, especially one friendly to/allied with other independent states like Russia and Iran.

Why can’t you say that?  Why can’t anyone, except for belittled independent journalists (Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett come to mind) let us know what’s really going on?  What really happened?

It’s a sad day when we we are pretty much denied by the MSM the reports of a couple of female journalists who apparently were really “there”, on the ground, as they say, and all the while tout the female #metoo movement.  There’s no coherency in all this.  But yes, I’m giving too much credit to the #metoo movement, and all the cat fights that ensue.  Still, it takes up too much space in whatever media space you choose.

On to other stuff.

Then we have the term “arena” used as a descriptor for an invasion.  As if we’re sitting in the stands in the Colosseum watching an entertainment or in one of the corporate-sponsored arenas of the NBA.  War has suddenly morphed into spectacle and sport.  This kind of linguistic sleight of hand is clever and maybe downright deliberate.  But maybe he couldn’t come up with a better way of stating it.  Just goes to show how the whole idea of “otherness” and spectacle have come to invade the consciousness of much of the so-called Left.

There is a striking note of imperial self-confidence about the document in which all sides in the Syrian civil war are instructed to come to heel.

“Imperial self-confidence”?   Do you see what I mean?  It’a a ”document”.  Not an invasion.  There’s absolutely nothing “imperial” about it.  It’s an open declaration of what they see as a solution to a problem.  In other words, “Here’s what we’d like to do, given the circumstances.”  It’s an invitation to dialog, not a pre-emptive invasion.

And then, here we go again:

Moscow helped Assad secure his rule after the popular uprising in 2011 and later ensured his ultimate victory by direct military intervention in 2015.

“Popular uprising”?  Right, just like vicious coup in Ukraine was a “popular uprising”?  The US supposed, I guess, that the Syrians were just as venal as the Ukrainians.  Or, if they had figured out that Syria would be a harder nut to crack, why not just simply create a reason to send money, arms, and the cooperation of its ideological opponents to do the dirty work?  Not the same situation at all.  But Cockburn would have us accept these fairy tales that anyone who hints that they might want to make an independent decision must be categorised as a dictator, a thug, someone who needs to be punished, not by his own people, but by the US.  By proxy, of course.  Can’t forget that.

And then there’s this “direct military intervention”.  As if Russia simply decided, unilaterally, that enough was enough.  Assad asked, invited, if not begged for Russia to help him out.  They are allies, after all.  Again, not quite the same thing.  Cockburn may believe all his nonsense, or he’s being very careful not to upset too many “humanitarian intervention” Lefties who still believe that Assad is a “thug” or whatever, as probably a good many of his readers, and those of CounterPunch do.

  … but politicians and commentators continue to blithely recommend isolating Russia and pretend that it can be safely ignored.

Again, “safely ignored”?  Then what about all the Russophobia constantly hyped by the MSM?  That’s not what I’d call ignoring something.  The architects for total world dominance by the US and its vassals (or should I say Israeli-US dominance?) are probably shaking in their collective boots at the new geo-political reality staring them in the face.  It’s not what I’d call “blithely recommending”, but it might pass for UK diplomatic-speak saying, “How did we get ourselves into this mess?” Or, on the other hand, it could mean, “We have to do something, quickly, anything (does the Skripal case come to mind?), to turn this thing around.  Doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, if it’s a total fabrication.  We’ll use our tried and true method of simply repeating our version, ‘creating our own reality’ as the Yanks are so fond of doing.”

Plus, Russia doesn’t need to show the world it’s a power player.  It has been since Mr Putin began turning Russia away from, in Taibbi’s words, “the vampire squid”.  Granted, he hasn’t quite succeeded completely, has had his setbacks, but without spending trillions, he has stymied the overthrow of yet another middle eastern nation.  At least for the moment.  Things could get nasty.

If you read the entire article carefully, you’ll find all kinds of these little hidden exits where the author can argue pretty much anything, if you were to put the question to him.  It’s the intent, deliberate or not, that I have a hard time swallowing.  Too much wiggle room.

I’l like to add that Jonathan Cook has just written, in my view, two excellent analyses of the interplay of media and socio-political consciousness.  Must read.  The articles to which I am referring are here and here.

My problem is, when reading an article like this, I have the impression of submitting to a lecture by someone conveniently “left”, and of a certain stature, who can be trotted out when necessary.  Not a pleasant feeling (and yes, I admit that “feelings” are counter-productive, or not necessarily the best lens through which you can examine any particular phenomenon, in some sense, because marketing depends mostly on emotions) in that I sense a lack of empathy, a certain comfortable distance from what is actually happening.  Some may call it “objective reporting”.   But it affects me as a subtle sort of propaganda.  It reinforces the “us against them” paradigm but in this “imperialistic” manner, if I may say.  I refer to my “spectator” reference above.  We’re invited to see this from afar, as if we were pushing around armies on a map.  Cook’s argument, that we need to step back from the screen in order to see the big picture, does, in no way, contradict what I’m trying to say.

In other words, to use Cook’s analogy of being scrunched up against the IMAX screen so we can’t interpret the entire picture, we have to take the word of whoever is sitting at a comfortable distance as to what’s going on.  What may seem contradictory is the fact that some journalists may actually be present at the scene about which they are reporting.  Compare the reporting of Venessa Beeley or Eva Bartlett to Cockburn’s piece.  That is to say, they are, in a sense, close to the screen.  So do they have necessary perspective to provide us with an accurate view of what is going on?  While we, the readers of the reporting, aren’t even in the theatre.

Cockburn works for a mainstream publication, part of the present power structure.  What are we to make of that?

I’ve no personal beef with Mr Cockburn, nor is this really about him.  He does what he does for his own personal reasons.  I can choose to read his stuff or not, agree with him or not.  That’s not my point.  The only reason I’m writing this is that, given the present circumstances, I tend to carefully parse what I do read.  Call me a nitpicker if you like.  This particular article happened to make me grimace, contained an element of dissonance that made me stop and consider its possible effects.  That, plus the fact that I saw this article on a self-proclaimed, left-leaning, “muckraking” web site.  The writer is of less importance than the message conveyed.  Language is important and, outside of personal intimacy, it’s the only means we have of communicating. 

I think we do ourselves an intellectual favour by entering into that contradictory world of being up close and distant at the same time.

Note:  All bolds are mine.





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Elementary Notes On Bacteria*

Another great post by Russell Bangs.  Agree with it or not, it’s a fascinating article.  I tend to agree.  In fact, I love stuff like this.  Seems to make sense, since I’ve had my encounters with Gaia here and there, on land, at sea, encounters which tended to direct my attention to what I consider the important stuff in life.

Here’s an anecdote that probably doesn’t have, on a superficial level, anything to do with what Bangs is talking about, but which I think demonstrates the necessary haphazard nature of things (if I understood his post).

The guy who supplies us with firewood called this morning saying he was ready to deliver the couple of “stères” (two cubic metres) I had called about, and would I be at home towards the end of the morning.  Perfect, I answered.  I had just come in from gathering walnuts and was sufficiently warmed up for helping him unload his beautiful old Peugeot benne truck.

The wood unloaded, I invited him in for a coffee and we sat on the edge of the back of his truck and started talking about stuff.  The weather, of course, was first up because it’s been really dry this summer, and it’s causing all sorts of problems for all kinds of activities, mostly agricultural, except for the wine producers, who are going to have a bumper crop.  And the weather question lead to climate change and the question of what kind of world our kids were going to live in.  We agreed that the prospects weren’t encouraging.

Because he didn’t have the necessary change with him, he offered to go back home, get the change, and bring it back.  I suggested that I follow him home, and relieve him of another round trip.

To make a long story short, we ended up sitting in his garden in the late morning sunshine, drinking a couple of rounds of pastis accompanied by freshly fallen hazel nuts, and finding that we were basically on the same page regarding where things are heading, then realising that it well past lunch time, and we had stuff to do.

It was the kind of Saturday morning of dreams.

You can’t make this kind of stuff up.  It just happens.  It was an extraordinarily beautiful Autumn morning.  Not a cloud in the sky, a slight breeze from the northwest, the temperature, in the shade, at 15°C.  In the sun, we were shedding our jackets, our shoes and socks and wondering what we were going to eat for lunch.

But what was enlightening about all this was the fact that there are people out there who are wondering, just as we are, about where we are going.  It only takes the haphazard conversation to get things going.

* Note.  I stole the title of this post from Bangs’ post.  Hope he doesn’t mind.


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Can’t Be Said Enough

Russell Bangs’ most recent post is one of the things that can’t be said often enough.  Here’s the link:


I’ll attempt an update later.

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No Title. Give it your own.

As you can see by the date, I wrote this piece towards the beginning of summer as a note to myself, a journal entry of sorts.  Having limited internet access, there are no links, so you’ll have to find them on your own.


15 juin 2018


I read an article a while ago somewhere on the web entitled something like “What Happened to My Country?” (referring to the US, but the same question could be asked by pretty much anyone anywhere the US has managed to colonise in one way or another) and while I agreed that there might more than few others asking themselves that same question, I had to admit that any reasonable appraisal of what our country might have been has been answered by any number of researchers and historians who have pointed out that the United States, in spite of its rhetoric, has never been a place of which one could be proud.

For most of its history, from the moment the first Europeans stepped ashore on what is now known as North America, it has represented the absolute worst tendencies of the human race.  There is nothing revolutionary about genocide.  Every empire, since time immemorial, has used this barbaric means of theft.  You can give it any label you want, discuss the various “-isms” that may or may not have justified outright murder and theft, but it comes down to, in my opinion, something very simple:  The Few against The Rest.  And that isn’t very profound, nor should it be news to anyone.

The situation in the US, and ever more so in The West (or its vassal states, wherever they may be) in general, has become so toxic (in every sense of the word), and dangerous to The Few, that they no longer even attempt to hide their disdain for the rabble.  Major crimes of all sorts go unpunished.  They simply do what they want to.  Right out in the open, as if to say, “Whatcha gonna do about it, huh?”.

They’ve managed to divide what could be an international coalition of peace-loving people into distinct socio-political straightjackets, fighting amongst themselves for the right to lead what’s left of The Left or The Right (there’s little difference these days), an exclusionary and divisive tactic that has largely succeeded.

A lot of people (most people, probably) think that the internet, and social media in general, have been a boon to society.  I tend to disagree for a number of reasons.

1  Speed kills.  Whether you drive too fast or indulge in the chemical known under that name, there’s a good chance you’ll end up dead or physically or mentally handicapped.

With optic fibre and constant increases in the speed of wireless communications, we are inundated (overloaded?) with information.  And I would reckon that most of it is pretty much useless.  How many updates do we need, for example, on the lives of celebrities, on Trump’s latest mood, or even the suffering of the Palestinians or Yemenis?

In the first case, who cares what celebrities are up to?  They don’t care what you think.

In the second case, it’s just The Donald being The Donald, even though now he’s President.

In the third case, we’ve known about the plight of the Palestinians since 1948 and no one seems to care.   At least not enough people to inculpate/stop the Israeli slow genocide.  Most people probably can’t find Yemen on a map.

So what good has all this instantaneousness provided?  I’d say not much.  Since the inception of the internet, aside from an initial buzz in the public sphere, its monetisation has pretty much destroyed any hopes the same public had for the Net, and has gone the way of most “technological miracles”.  Into the hands of a tiny elite, and their acolytes, their “good little Eichmanns”, whose only goal is to become rich.

If you think about “speed” in the mechanical sense, it’s the result of the compression of molecules which creates heat which creates “work”.  It’s a desireable outcome if it eliminates arduous tasks.  Or so they say.  But at what price?  Or cost, if you prefer.  Economists refer to these costs as “externalities”.  I refer to them as “collateral damage”.  Neither the bankers nor the bombers give a rat’s ass about these externalities, the peripheral damage done by their choices.  See Nick Davies about the bombers, Michael Hudson (or Paul Craig Roberts, the Galbraiths, Bill Black, or any other not bought, honest economist) about the bankers.

If you consider the idea of the compression of molecules relative to the number of people on the planet, you might get the idea that too many people in a finite place might cause the same kind of combustion that occurs  when molecules are compressed in the cylinder of an automobile motor.  It’s called an explosion.  I don’t particularly want to be part of something like that.  Which leads to a second point.

2. Continual or constant growth.  The idea behind Ponzi schemes and a core tenet of capitalism. 

Ponzi schemes are pretty simple.  Promise investors above average returns, and as long as you attract a continued increase in investors, you can pay the previous investors the promised returns with the money coming from the new investors.  Until the number of new investors declines or, in the vernacular, until the shit hits the fan.  Ask Bernie Madoff.

Capitalism is a big subject, to say the least.  The Canadian film, The Corporation, gives a pretty good idea of the psychopathic nature of capitalism, its total disregard for anything resembling a humane way of looking at, and participating in, the world.  And it, too, is based on continual/constant growth:  the very characteristics of a cancer.


One of the reasons I’m writing this is that I’m finally coming to realise that I really no longer believe that all this speed, all this “stuff”, all this screen gazing is going anywhere good.  I have the privilege, being retired and able to spend rather quite a bit of time in this hamlet, without TV, of having to face myself and the small things that affect my daily life.

For example, there are days when I don’t speak with anyone, except for an occasional word with the lizards who inhabit the cracks and crannies of the stone walls of this two hundred year old house and become less and less timorous as the season progresses.  Or several kinds of birds who frequent the place, flying in and out of the open windows (mostly swallows), or the plants in the vegetable garden.  Of course, there are no replies, except in the form of a strange complicity, or so I imagine.  The lizards quickly gather at the stone sink on the terrace when I fill the slight depression with water.  The birds nest and sing.  The garden grows, the flowers bloom, the bees provide a humming background to it all. 

The other day, as I sat in the shade of the open shed roof after lunch, I came across a passage in the book I was reading, Ma Provence d’heureuse rencontre, by Pierre Magnan, that struck me as being pretty appropriate in these times.  I’ll cite the original, in French, then attempt a translation.

Venez respirer Forcalquier quand la nuit tombe.  Vous y gagnerez à ses terrasses la vacuité de l’âme qui convient au repos et je crois qu’à partir d’ici vous serez à même de comprendre pourquoi ce pays me convient et pourquoi, y étant admis, je peux en toute quiétude être atteint d’incuriosité totale pour le reste du monde.


Come breathe Forcalquier at nightfall.  Its terraces offer a sense of existential peace and quiet and I believe that from here you might be able to understand why this place appeals to me and why, once accepted, I can easily become infected by a total lack of curiosity for the rest of the world.

(Pierre Magnan, Ma Provence d’heureuse rencontre, Denoël, 2005)


Now, if I could just convince our neighbour Odette to lend me a couple of sheep to trim the grass.

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We Tried. Kind of.

10 sept 2018


Missy Beattie had a piece on CPunch this weekend about the frustration involved in writing just about anything having to do with the US these days, using the refrain “words get in the way”.  And while I’m just another old guy with a need to scribble, I think I get what she means.

The opportunity for changing things has come and gone.  Raised in a world divorced from reality, it took us way too long to realise that we’d been had, that too many of us were too comfortable to go beyond our feeble, non-threatening protests and demonstrations, or to join those who did put their lives on the line for a chance at change.

In other words, we blew it.  Thus our frustration and anguish at what could have been had we been more courageous.

We can still send a message, however late it might be.  We can create a huge BDS movement against the media and retail giants who are taking control of pretty much everything simply to let them know that we’re on to their game.  But I sincerely wonder how many screen-gazers are inclined to go into detox.  On the other hand, if Robert Hunziker isn’t crazy, we probably don’t have enough time remaining to do much of anything since our Planet is just about ready to get rid of us.

Thus our frustration and anguish at our own stupidity and cowardice.  And yet here I sit in this fifty person hamlet, tapping away at this ecocidal device, trying to make sense of it all.  It would probably be better to simply find a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and put a message in a bottle:  “We tried.  Kind of”.

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Is this even possible?

Of course it is.  A little gander at the zombies around you lets you know that anything is possible these days.

1 mai 2018


-David Walshwsws.org

Back in the mid sixties, when I was in high school and the Women’s Lib movement was sharing the spotlight with the war in Viet Nam in our late night weekend discussions, I commented that I saw men’s liberation as being just as, if not more, important, in that with men running the place, any kind of peaceful, equitable, just world didn’t seem to be in the offing.  That if Women’s Lib meant that women were going to be more like men, they were trying to climb the wrong ladder.

The article linked above brought that youthful evening back to mind.  And while that comment may have been naïve and less than nuanced, I still consider the male ethos that has brought us Neo-liberal globalisation, ecocide, and brutal, endless neo-colonial war, just so they can be rich, must be recognised for what it is, and not held up as an example to be emulated.  You’ve got to be a pretty sick puppy to write stuff like this:

She concludes, “I want to make the kind of money that allows me to jet to Mexico on a Tuesday, to meaningfully contribute to nasty politicians, to afford a shark of a lawyer if any man ever lays a finger on me again. If anyone calls that obnoxious, I want to do what men do, and shrug.”

Consider some women who have recently acceded to male (or near male) equivalency:  Madeleine Albright, Hilary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Samantha Power, Victoria Nuland, Nicky Haley.  Lovely bunch, that.  Which is why it is so frustrating trying to talk to so many so-called “liberal” friends who still defend, tooth and nail, a psychopath like Clinton and, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, continue to believe that Russia, or China, or the beleaguered Syrian people under the “tyranny” of an optometrist are somehow threats to the well-being of the 99%, of which, though they may not believe it today, are definitely a part.  Because they are still floating just above that no-man’s land, that “no-go zone” of poverty, protected as they are by legacy investments and a flippant ignorance of the world, distracted by a pre-adolescent culture of spectacle and narcissism, this issue-divided cohort, blind to its own superficiality and ultimate uselessness (except, perhaps, to the nefarious plans of our oligarchs), will probably be dumb-struck by the failure of their virtually constructed lives to protect them from their inevitable fall.

We can expect outrage and lots of temper tantrum foot stomping when their personal assistants (real or electronic) disappear.  The former because they’ve joined the revolution (or gone back to their former countries, joining the people who stayed and fought the US there), the latter because the Net has been “temporarily” suspended or taken down by the government or by hackers who can no longer put up with the supercilious CEOs of the various (anti-) social media.  They’ll find themselves wandering around in an unknown world of books, actual conversations, unable to photoshop themselves into their own meta-reality, having nervous breakdowns because someone might really see them for who they are.  They might even have to talk to their neighbours.

Walsh comments:

As we noted at the time, that the Times should carry such an open appeal for women to be single-mindedly greedy and power-hungry and identified that program with contemporary feminism and the #MeToo movement was revealing. It was refreshing in the face of the innumerable attempts by the pseudo-left organizations and various commentators to portray the sexual misconduct campaign as something progressive.

Knoll takes this one step farther, by arguing that the appropriate response to sexual assault is to become rich, powerful and selfish.

The novelist passes on this repugnant view to her readers, but she did not grab it out of the blue. This is the product of decades of intellectual debasement in America, the creation of an anti-culture that bows down before money and fame. In fact, money is viewed as the antidote to every problem, the “truly creative power,” as Karl Marx termed it in 1844, “the general confounding and confusing of all things—the world upside-down—the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.”

The entire article is worth reading.  Especially today, May 1st.

Granted, today’s the fifth, but who’s to say that the revolution has to have a precise date?  It’s not like we’re going to go shopping for it.

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