The power of symbols and the dance of death


The power of symbols is that they come up to enlighten us when we no longer know what to ponder out.

For ten days Paris is mourning her dead, honouring her heroes and licking her wounds. With a question on the lips: “What’s next ?”

In front of the restaurant ‘La Belle Équipe’ nineteen people felt down on Friday 13. Monday they were tens to come to honour them. Many uninjured -or not quite as they try to forget, but the images, they won’t forget at all. Try to sleep when you cannot, reviewing the scenes while horror images permeate the drawers of memory. Nonstop. Lifeless bodies. A “war scene” some said -which some would say is incorrect, but we understand them, we nod, keep silent … and would like to surround them with our arms and comfort them.

Eighty-nine people at the Bataclan. Carnage. First aid and emergency physicians arrive soon, they exhaust all their available pressure dressings in minutes. Outside, relief, support to other victims attacked in the neighbourhoods. The Bataclan area is too dangerous and the organization of the evacuation of the wounded is a daunting task for relief.

And then there are all these orphans since there is a significant number of young parents died.


And then there are those, anonymous or not, who were there at the moment they were needed the most … those who opened their doors to people stuck around the places of the attacks –simple Parisians. But also, and especially, those police officers, firefighters and medical personnel who flocked in a generous impulse, solidarity, more an impulse of humane duty than professional (BRI, RAID, and the military to relieve the police scenario). A duty of humanity, yes, that’s right. They deserve the nation’s gratitude.

But there are also invisible wounds that rescuers, even the most seasoned, are not always prepared to face up: no health professional has seen as many bullet wounds in such a short period of time. But then what’s going to happen ‘after’ –the time of so-called defusing will come: the aid will be extended over time for many survivors, a psychological therapy often provided by the Val-de-Grâce armies service to help all these “collateral” injured to help them evacuate –or learning to live with- images of horror embedded into the retina. It will take time.

All the week out, Paris lived at the rhythm of bomb threats and suspicious packages. Everyone is on guard. With a dose of psychosis, no doubt, but how can you do otherwise?

What not to do after Paris

Paris, my home town, is perhaps the city where I’ve felt most at ease. I’ve never been to Baghdad (where Paris style Islamic State terror events are relatively commonplace); or Beirut, where they just began; or Syria’s ravaged Aleppo (thank you, Bashar al-Assad of barrel bomb terror fame); or Mumbai (which experienced an early version of such a terror attack); or Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, now partly destroyed by the US backed Saudi air force; or Kabul, where Taliban attacks on restaurants have become the norm; or Turkey’s capital, Ankara, where Islamic State suicide bombers recently killed 97 demonstrators at a peace rally. But I have spent time abroad and always came back to Paris. And so, as on November 13, 2015, I find myself particularly repulsed by the barbaric acts of civilian slaughter carried out by three well trained, well organized, well armed suicide teams evidently organized as a first strike force from the hell of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

Think of the Islamic State –and various Al Qaeda– crews as having developed (to steal a term from John Feffer) “splinter lands” strategies. To continue to grow, they need the United States and its allies to lend them an eternally destructive hand to further smash the worlds around them. So in response to the Paris attacks, French President François Hollande’s statement that “we will lead a war which will be pitiless” was just what the terror doctor ordered, as was the growing pressure in Washington for a “big military response” to Paris. The first French reprisal air strikes against IS’s Syrian “capital,” Raqqa, were indeed launched within two days.

All of this is like manna from heaven for the Islamic State, the more “pitiless” the better. After all, that group’s goal, as they write in their magazine and online, is “the extinction of the grey zones” in our world. In other words, they seek the sharpening of distinctions everywhere, which means the opening of abysses where complexity and interaction once existed. Their dream is to live in a black-and-white world of utter religious and political clarity (and calamity), while engaging in what American pundits like to term a “clash of civilizations.” And—what a joy for the Islamic State!

In the European context and with the destruction of those “grey zones” in mind, the Paris attacks should also be considered the Islamic State’s first incursion into the politics of the 2017 French presidential campaign. Think of those mass killings as an enthusiastic endorsement of the extremist candidate Marine le Pen, whose poll numbers were already on the rise even before the attacks, and her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant National Front Party. She is now, effectively, IS’s chosen candidate, the one most likely to go after grey zones. In the process, of course, pressure on France’s large, increasingly isolated Muslim population will only increase.

Such attacks are guaranteed to put wind in the already billowing sails of far-right wing parties all across Europe.

Crisis? What Crisis?


« What Crisis? » Says EU Boss Jean-Claude Juncker

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker dismissed calls for a new EU summit on immigration, saying member states should stop dragging their heels and implement existing agreements on the matter.

Juncker’s comments in an opinion piece published in France’s Le Figaro and Germany’s Die Welt on Monday come ahead of a meeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande in Berlin to discuss immigration.

Juncker repeated his criticism of European governments failing to take migrants from Italy and Greece where tens of thousands arrived by boat have over the last months to escape poverty and war in their home countries.

“We don’t need a new summit. Member states have to adopt the European measures and apply them to their territory,” he wrote.

Juncker added that the European Union should draw up a uniform list of “safe countries” to which migrants could be returned.

Huh? Did he REALLY say that? What planet does this man live on?

No question. It’s heartwarming to know that this is the man who rules over the EU with a firm hand…

More in The Irish Times

To quote Captain Jack Sparrow:

“The problem is not the problem.
The problem is your attitude about the problem”

The gender gap grasps climate change too


A survey indicates that the gender gap has poured out the climate change debate, with a French report suggesting that men are bigger eco-offenders than women.

Two independent studies carried out by separate teams of European scientists looked at data on the consumption and daily lifestyles of men and women in industrialised countries. One found that a typical French man causes emissions of 39.3 kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas a woman causes 32.3kg.

Author of the French report, Frederic Chomé, said:

Although our calculation method is very approximate, I believe the results are a good indicator of the differences in environmental contamination resulting from the different behaviours of men and women.

The second report, undertaken by scientists from Sweden and Finalnd, found that men consum more meat and processed drinks than women and use cars more often and for longer journeys, thus creating greater CO2 emissions.

It was also found that, apart from differences in eating and transportation habits, it is the consumption of alcohol and tobacco that drives up men’s share of emissions.

Experts from Germany‘s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research noted that the polluting habits attributed to men are largely the result of the role they play in society, commenting that these differences could be balanced in future…

to the extent that equal opportunity allows women to climb the labour ladder, while men take on more household duties.

Indeed, the studies found that the only instance in which women caused greater greenhouse gas emissions was during household tasks like cooking and cleaning.

Men were also found to use more energy in general, with differences in energy use between genders ranging from six per cent in Norway to 39 per cent in Greece.

According to Annika Carlsson-Kanyama and Riita Raty, authors of the second report, these findings suggest that European governments should refocus their emissions-reduction efforts on convincing the male population to modify their transportation and eating habits to increase energy efficiency in related activities and save unnecessary emissions.

24 hours to stand with Paris

Hundreds of thousands will march through the streets of Paris tomorrow to support the beautiful French values of equality, fraternity and liberty – and we can be there with them.


The entire world will be watching what happens as people take to the streets in response to the brutal murders of 17 people on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Counter protests are planned, Europe’s far-right is mobilising throughout France, and two Muslim places of worship have already been attacked. This is just what the gunmen wanted: division and fear.

But tomorrow we can show them that citizens everywhere also support the values the journalists, staff and policeman died for.

On Sunday, marchers will be joined by French President Hollande, Germany’s Angela Merkel, the UK’s David Cameron, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, and many others. But this isn’t just a moment for France or even just Europe. This is one of those moments when those of us who stand for tolerance and freedom of expression everywhere can raise our hands, our pens and our voices. Because the effects of violence like this ripples out, and threaten all of our freedoms.

Many of us found the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo offensive, racist and purposely infammatory. Along with the Prophet Mohammed, they targeted immigrants, nuns, the pope, Jews and more. But free speech is easy to support until we’re asked to stand for the speech we don’t like. We can help define the message this attack sends to the world’s reporters, editors, and publishers. And to those who would like to see them silenced.

We can’t all be in Paris on Sunday. But we can stand in solidarity with those in the streets, joining to them where marches are called: it means an important message of global unity at a time when it is so desperately needed.

What happens after these attacks will affect all of us. The world will be choosing between a crackdown and anger or unity in the face of fear. This is our chance to respond with a clear call for hope and cooperation, for liberty, equality and fraternity.

With sadness, but also so much hope and determination.


The Attack on Charlie Hebdo (The New Yorker)

Charlie Hebdo Editor Killed in Paris (TIME)

People Around the World Are Pouring Into the Streets to Support Charlie Hebdo After the Paris Massacre (Mother Jones)

No, we are NOT all Charlie (and that’s a problem) (openDemocracy)

America is a long game

The problem was always bigger than any one particular case, trial or lack thereof. If Darren Wilson had been indicted, the larger problem would not have been all fixed. And the fact that he wasn’t indicted isn’t going to stop the process of political awakening by which millions of Americans are standing up at last to the institutionalized racism, police brutality, militarization of police forces and incarceration-for-profit that has black men feeling too often at a disadvantage should they wish to … oh, I don’t know…walk down the street.

The President Obama asked protesters of the Ferguson decision to be peaceful and non-violent, which is understandable. But a system that incarcerates on average one out of every three African-American men, keeps 500,000 non-violent drug offenders locked up, and has the largest mass incarceration rate in the world, has a lot of nerve telling those who complain about this to be peaceful and non-violent. The system itself is laced with violence. The polite kind.

The Michael Brown grand jury decision is a shock to all, but should be a surprise to no one. The American criminal justice system gets it right sometimes and gets it wrong sometimes. But when it comes to African American men, the statistical trend towards getting it wrong is wrong in itself. And this must stop.

The American experiment has never been perfect; it’s a process. It is as perfect or as imperfect as the people who foster and protect it in each generation. The US is a country that’s gotten it wrong many times before, but it’s a country that over time does tend to make things right. America, quite simply, is a long game. And now, for the current generation, the challenge is clear. Hope they won’t be the first generation to wimp out on the job of making right in America a thing that’s so clearly wrong.

Darren Wilson will not stand trial, but the American criminal justice system absolutely must. The jury is the American people and the trial has only just begun. May justice be done, in this and all things. And may it be done through us.

Lima Climate Talks should deliver first draft for 2015 climate deal

1922061_700198980057201_8218442381976835140_nUN summit to steer the course for a binding global commitment on carbon emissions in Paris

The meeting of nearly 200 governments in Peru in mid-December this year for a major UN climate change summit must produce the first draft of a global deal to cut emissions.

But one must be aware that slow progress at the last round of talks in Warsaw, Poland, meant significant progress is needed in key areas including climate financing and how to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.

The meeting in Lima in December is a staging point towards a crunch summit in Paris in 2015 when it is hoped world leaders will agree, for the first time, a global deal on cutting emissions that includes both rich and poor countries.

A solid working draft is mandatory

Significant progress would also need to be made in Lima on the Green Climate Fund (a mechanism to transfer money from the developed to the developing world), the issue of “loss and damage” (whether rich countries should pay poor ones for damage caused by climate change) and a UN scheme to tackle emissions caused by forests being cleared.

Not easy to be optimistic but realistic about the meeting since its success would depend on the political will of the heads of state who attended the preceding UN climate summit in New York in September.

The UN secretary general’s idea is precisely that the presidents bring the political will to give the COP the momentum it needs to be sufficiently successful and to count on the political support to make a decision. Would the Lima summit leave a legacy in Peru’s fast-developing and industrialising pace by fixing its sights on green growth with clean technologies and low emissions…

Peru has a lot to lose from climate change. People in the Amazon region, the Andes Mountains and on its arid coast are already feeling the impact, and the country is one of the most biodiverse on Earth.

It has the world’s largest concentration of tropical glaciers, but has already lost 39% of them due to a 0.7C temperature rise in the Andes between 1939 and 2006. Peru has the world’s fourth largest area of rainforest and deforestation accounts for more than 40% of the country’s carbon emissions. Approximately 20% of emissions are generated by ranching and farming, the Peru environment minister Mr Pulgar-Vidal said.

Peru’s climate authorities priority is obviously the forest and they are working out the state of the forest –they are working with the Carnegie Institution for Science to use state-of-the art technology to map the country’s extensive tropical forest and scientifically measure its carbon stocks.

“People must understand that the standing forest has value and rewarding ecosystem services can lead to a change in behaviour, the issues are complex but we have clear strategies to tackle them,” says Mr Manuel Pulgar-Vidal. He pointed out recently of schemes including financial compensation for indigenous communities who conserve the rainforest and attempts to involve the private sector in forest preservation.

But illicit logging and an exponential increase in illegal gold mining in the Amazon since the 2008 global economic crisis present the biggest threats to Peru’s forest cover.

Spotlight on murders of activists as Peru prepares for Lima climate talks

Peru Government is regularly accused of neglecting people defending their land and forests against mining and illegal logging.

Two weeks before Peru hosts a key global climate conference, the country has come under fire for failing to protect activists who were murdered trying to defend the country’s rapidly diminishing rainforest and other ecosystems.

The South American nation has become the fourth most dangerous state in the world for environmental and land defenders, according to the NGO Global Witness, which accused the government of putting a dangerous emphasis on exploitation rather than conservation of natural resources.

Yet another innocent humanitarian beheaded


Seeing yet another picture of an innocent humanitarian beheaded by ISIS, my mind seesaws between hawk and dove. Civil wars statistically last twice as long as they otherwise would when an outside agent intervenes, yet something about this doesn’t feel like simply another civil war. I can’t help wondering what makes ISIS any different than Nazis on the march? Then I think about an all-out war against them… what it would mean, what it would take… and my heart just freezes.

We are seriously in trouble now.

There is so much to say about how this happened, but most of it has been said. We have so much to atone for, and that alone takes you to your knees. But our question still has to be, “So what do we do now?”

I don’t know what we should do now. But no one else does either. No politician knows for sure and no military commander knows for sure. If anything should be obvious by now, it’s that. It isn’t simply bad political decisions or military strategies that got us here. It’s karma that got us here. The US -and other westerners, let us not forget- became a warmongering nation, attacking a country that hadn’t even attacked us … and look what it led to. God forgive us. And God help us now.

I’m going deep into my heart, into my prayerfulness, and into atonement for the arrogance and recklessness of our  bellicose countries. I pray for forgiveness for irresponsibly sending people to die in another country, in a foreign war, for no reason. For there, at that level of Atonement, I know we enter a place where God’s ears are open and miracles do happen. “God shall not be mocked” means that He isn’t. Until America owns up to what it has become and what it has done — allowing war to become a huge business empire, maintained by military contractors and politicians alike to fight wars that should not have been fought for no more reason than money and oil – then Cause and Effect will continue to operate, and the blowback will increase, and a great country will be brought to its knees.

There is an alternative: We can fall to our knees right now…


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