Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Irish artist retracts anti-Israel stance

by Nicky Larkin

I used to hate Israel. I used to think the Left was always right. Not any more. Now I loathe Palestinian terrorists. Now I see why Israel has to be hard. Now I see the Left can be Right -- as in right-wing. So why did I change my mind so completely?

Strangely, it began with my anger at Israel's incursion into Gaza in December 2008 which left over 1,200 Palestinians dead, compared to only 13 Israelis. I was so angered by this massacre I posed in the striped scarf of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for an art show catalogue.

Shortly after posing in that PLO scarf, I applied for funding from the Irish Arts Council to make a film in Israel and Palestine. I wanted to talk to these soldiers, to challenge their actions -- and challenge the Israeli citizens who supported them.

I spent seven weeks in the area, dividing my time evenly between Israel and the West Bank. I started in Israel. The locals were suspicious. We were Irish -- from a country which is one of Israel's chief critics -- and we were filmmakers. We were the enemy.

Then I crossed over into the West Bank. Suddenly, being Irish wasn't a problem. Provo [Provisional IRA] graffiti adorned The Wall. Bethlehem was Las Vegas for Jesus-freaks -- neon crucifixes punctuated by posters of martyrs.

These martyrs followed us throughout the West Bank. They watched from lamp-posts and walls wherever we went. Like Jesus in the old Sacred Heart pictures.

But the more I felt the martyrs watching me, the more confused I became. After all, the Palestinian mantra was one of "non-violent resistance". It was their motto, repeated over and over like responses at a Catholic mass.

Yet when I interviewed Hind Khoury, a former Palestinian government member, she sat forward angrily in her chair as she refused to condemn the actions of the suicide bombers. She was all aggression.

This aggression continued in Hebron, where I witnessed swastikas on a wall. As I set up my camera, an Israeli soldier shouted down from his rooftop position. A few months previously I might have ignored him as my political enemy. But now I stopped to talk. He only talked about Taybeh, the local Palestinian beer.

Back in Tel Aviv in the summer of 2011, I began to listen more closely to the Israeli side. I remember one conversation in Shenkin Street -- Tel Aviv's most fashionable quarter, a street where everybody looks as if they went to art college. I was outside a cafe interviewing a former soldier.

He talked slowly about his time in Gaza. He spoke about 20 Arab teenagers filled with ecstasy tablets and sent running towards the base he'd patrolled. Each strapped with a bomb and carrying a hand-held detonator.

The pills in their bloodstream meant they felt no pain. Only a headshot would take them down.

Conversations like this are normal in Tel Aviv. I began to experience the sense of isolation Israelis feel. An isolation that began in the ghettos of Europe and ended in Auschwitz.

Israel is a refuge -- but a refuge under siege, a refuge where rockets rain death from the skies. And as I made the effort to empathise, to look at the world through their eyes. I began a new intellectual journey. One that would not be welcome back home.

The problem began when I resolved to come back with a film that showed both sides of the coin. Actually there are many more than two. Which is why my film is called Forty Shades of Grey. But only one side was wanted back in Dublin. My peers expected me to come back with an attack on Israel. No grey areas were acceptable.

An Irish artist is supposed to sign boycotts, wear a PLO scarf, and remonstrate loudly about The Occupation. But it's not just artists who are supposed to hate Israel. Being anti-Israel is supposed to be part of our Irish identity, the same way we are supposed to resent the English.

But hating Israel is not part of my personal national identity. Neither is hating the English. I hold an Irish passport, but nowhere upon this document does it say I am a republican, or a Palestinian.

My Irish passport says I was born in 1983 in Offaly. The Northern Troubles were something Anne Doyle talked to my parents about on the nine o'clock News. I just wanted to watch Father Ted.

So I was frustrated to see Provo graffiti on the wall in the West Bank. I felt the same frustration emerge when I noticed the missing 'E' in a "Free Palestin" graffiti on a wall in Cork. I am also frustrated by the anti-Israel activists' attitude to freedom of speech.

Free speech must work both ways. But back in Dublin, whenever I speak up for Israel, the Fiachras and Fionas look at me aghast, as if I'd pissed on their paninis.

This one-way freedom of speech spurs false information. The Boycott Israel brigade is a prime example. They pressurised Irish supermarkets to remove all Israeli produce from their shelves -- a move that directly affected the Palestinian farmers who produce most of their fruit and vegetables under the Israeli brand.

But worst of all, this boycott mentality is affecting artists. In August 2010, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign got 216 Irish artists to sign a pledge undertaking to boycott the Israeli state. As an artist I have friends on this list -- or at least I had.

I would like to challenge my friends about their support for this boycott. What do these armchair sermonisers know about Israel? Could they name three Israeli cities, or the main Israeli industries?

But I have more important questions for Irish artists. What happened to the notion of the artist as a free thinking individual? Why have Irish artists surrendered to group-think on Israel? Could it be due to something as crude as career-advancement?

Artistic leadership comes from the top. Aosdana, Ireland's State-sponsored affiliation of creative artists, has also signed the boycott. Aosdana is a big player. Its members populate Arts Council funding panels.

Some artists could assume that if their name is on the same boycott sheet as the people assessing their applications, it can hardly hurt their chances. No doubt Aosdana would dispute this assumption. But the perception of a preconceived position on Israel is hard to avoid.

Looking back now over all I have learnt, I wonder if the problem is a lot simpler.

Perhaps our problem is not with Israel, but with our own over-stretched sense of importance -- a sense of moral superiority disproportional to the importance of our little country?

Any artist worth his or her salt should be ready to change their mind on receipt of fresh information. So I would urge every one of those 216 Irish artists who pledged to boycott the Israeli state to spend some time in Israel and Palestine. Maybe when you come home you will bin your scarf. I did.


We don’t want to be “empowered,” thanks

The fad for empowerment in social work and politics is really about making people comply with state diktat

‘I want to empower people.’ This is a common reply when I ask prospective social-work students why they want to become social workers. The choice of terminology is revealing, in that it reflects changes within both social work and politics. In using this word ‘empowerment’, prospective students indicate that they have at least prepared for their interview; the term pervades social-work literature, with books, articles and various organisational statements routinely declaring that they are in the business of ‘empowerment’.

The value of empowering people has also become part of the political process in the UK. It was promoted by the former New Labour government and has also been embraced by the current Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, as ‘a natural part of a Conservative approach to government’.

Despite its current ubiquity, in historical terms the rise of the concept of ‘empowerment’ is a relatively recent one, initially emerging in America before crossing the Atlantic to the UK. For example, the British Journal of Social Work has been published since 1971, but it was not until its sixteenth volume in 1986 that it mentioned the word empowerment. It would take three years for it to reappear in the journal. Since the 1990s, however, use of the term grew steadily: it appeared in more than 150 articles and book reviews in the journal between 1990 and 1999, and in over 250 articles between 2000 and 2009. This trend seems set to continue, as there were 90 citations of the word between 2010 and 2011.

In the most basic sense, empowerment usually refers to a process whereby people are given greater control over their lives and in their dealings with the National Health Service (NHS), social services and other organisations. Taken at face value, it is hard to disagree with such an aim. Individual autonomy and communities’ freedom to generate a civil society free from state diktat are goals that many spiked readers would surely endorse. However, on closer inspection, the notion of empowerment is deeply problematic, actually representing the debasement of real power.

This can be illustrated by the way that the concept of empowerment has undergone a conceptual shift, one very much influenced by wider political change. During the 1970s, when there was strong working-class affiliation in the UK, radical activists had a commitment to the ‘self-activity’ of the working class. In such a climate of collective action, the notion of social workers ‘empowering’ people did not hold much resonance. The belief was that the working class, which, as today, formed the majority of social services’ clientele, was capable of organising itself, of gaining power from below by virtue of its collective strength. It did not need power to be handed down from above by some philanthropic-minded social worker.

In this respect, the rise of the concept of empowerment and its institutionalisation within contemporary social and political life is reflective of both the decline of working-class collective power and the changing conception of power; from something to be fought for and taken by force if necessary, to something to be handed down by the state and its proxies.

The contemporary notion of empowerment as a process that allows people to have more control over their lives can also prove illusory. In reality, it can be a mechanism for drawing people into participating in processes and decisions over which they have little meaningful control.

So, parents are said to be empowered by being invited to attend case conferences, proceedings in which compliance with professional opinion is often the only real option on the table. Psychiatric patients are said to be empowered by being involved in their care plans and subsequent community treatment, but the option to disengage with the professionals or to refuse to continue to take prescribed medication is often non-negotiable.

Applicants for community-care services are said to be empowered by the fact that the assessing social worker is also the manager of a devolved budget - a budget set to meet criteria that have little to do with the needs of the applicant. In other words, the power that is given is bound within certain parameters that can lead to a lowering of expectations as well as being predicated on the client ultimately being submissive to those who, in reality, wield power.

In effect, far from being empowered, such individuals become complicit in their own surveillance, as they are drawn into measures of state intervention in individual, family and community life that are ultimately decided on by professionals and the police. In other words, empowerment can be a term through which the state and its proxy organisations – from housing associations to various charities and community groups – are able to micromanage this newly ‘empowered’ population.

If the rise of the concept of empowerment was in part reflective of the decline of working-class political power, then it was also influenced by the rise of a political class whose lack of ideological coherence and political vision has increasingly led to a focus on the politics of behaviour, a process whereby politics has become something akin to social work.

Also, while the ruling elites have often harboured a disdain for the masses, in the past this was tempered by a real fear of working-class collective power. Today, while they realise that there is little to fear from the working class in terms of an ideological or political challenge to the capitalist system, their disdain is still palpable. For all the rhetoric of empowerment, the government and many campaign groups view us all as needing to be saved from ourselves, so we are ‘empowered’ to stop smoking, drinking, gambling, eating junk food, and so on.

These developments are encapsulated by Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, who sees her political role as giving power and authority to individuals and groups within society. As an example, she talks of how she got eight of her constituents who needed new cookers to buy those cookers collectively as this would reduce the price. Now, that may be a wise and commendable thing to do, but is it really the kind of thing an MP should do? Is it ‘empowerment’?

And what would the empowering MP’s thoughts and actions be if she found out that her constituents chose to use the money she saved them to buy alcohol or cigarettes? No doubt the power she gave them would be seen as good, but their exercise of personal power and autonomy would be frowned upon. After all, Creasy’s other main concern is with health inequalities related to lifestyle.

Empowerment, in reality, is a term used to lower aspirations and to co-opt people into processes over which they have little real control. Too often, empowerment means reconciling people to being powerless.


Britain 'has worst social mobility in the Western world and becomes ingrained in children as young as three'

And the destruction of British education by the Left is principally to blame.  Education was once a way of breaking out of poverty  -- but no more

Social mobility in Britain is the worst in the Western world and the gap between rich and poor has become ingrained in children as young as three, MPs conclude today.

They quote a study showing that the prospects of half of all children born in the UK can be almost entirely linked to the circumstances of their parents – compared to only 15 per cent of those in Denmark.

Differences are also noticeable at a very young age, with toddlers doing far better in vocabulary tests if they grow up in a more affluent household.

Controversially, the MPs call for more intervention in the lives of under-threes. The report also shows that despite all the money spent to get more teenagers into university, the access gap between rich and poor has actually widened in recent years.

Last night Tory backbencher Damian Hinds, chairman of the All-Party Group on Social Mobility, which wrote the report, said: ‘For a long time, we have lagged behind our international competitors in ensuring all Britons can realise their potential.

‘To bridge the gap will require a shared commitment between schools, universities and firms, government and the voluntary sector. The scale of the challenge is immense.’

The report quotes a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which compared the extent to which children’s prospects are predictable from parents’ circumstances.

In the UK, the OECD says 50 per cent of children’s prospects are predictable from the position of their parents – a sign of low social mobility. This was worse than Italy (48 per cent), the US (47 per cent) and  France (41 per cent).

The prospects of poorer children born in Australia (17 per cent) and Denmark (15 per cent) are much brighter.

Britain’s failure means a poor child born in 1970 is less likely to have gone to university than one born in 1958, the MPs say. The report makes it clear the differences become ingrained as young as the age of three.

Studies have shown that while only 42 per cent of parents in the poorest fifth of homes read to their children every day, 78 per cent of those in the richest fifth do so.

Wealthier parents are also more likely to send their children to bed at a regular time. It has led to richer children being more likely to be deemed ‘ready’ for school at three.

They also perform much better in vocabulary tests at five. Children from poorer households are more likely to be hyperactive.

The MPs called on the Government to consider ways of improving the education of those from poor backgrounds, such as means-testing fees at independent schools to get more poor people into top schools and sending more poor children to summer camps.

But it failed to mention either the return of grammar schools or the assisted-places scheme for poorer families, which was abolished by the last Labour government.

The MPs’ report concluded that the biggest impact on social mobility was the quality of parenting, whether the home environment was educational and whether the parents had good mental health.

It says: ‘A child’s development from zero to three is the point of greatest leverage for social mobility. It is acknowledged that this is difficult territory for policy makers as it relates to parenting as well as what happens in childcare and nursery settings.’

The conclusion will be controversial because it could be used to support greater ‘nanny state’ interference into families.

The MPs urged ministers to do more to encourage parents to read to children using techniques similar to the ‘five-a-day’ campaign which encourages people to eat more fruit and veg.

The study also found that the gap between rich and poor on university access has widened.

In 1981, children from the richest fifth of households were three times more likely than those from the poorest fifth to go to university. By the late 1990s, they were five times more likely to go.


Overprotective parents could make playtime MORE dangerous for their children

Overprotective measures from parents make playground accidents more likely to take place, a study has found.  A study conducted by Mineola, New York's Winthrop University Hospital found that each injury reported through the use of a slide occurs after a child rides on the lap of a parent.

Dr John T. Gaffney, a chief of pediatric orthopedic surgery who was behind the research, said that parents are understandably shocked to discover they played a part in injuring their child.   He said: 'The parents were very frustrated and upset to learn that they had inadvertently contributed to their child's fracture when they thought they were helping.'

The original 2009 study was conducted after research by the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that there was an increase in reported playground injuries between 1999 and 2008.

An estimated 205,000 children were found to be injured on playground equipment during 1999. It was less than the 220,000 children who were taken to the emergency room after experiencing playground injuries in 2008.

The most common playground injuries found by the CPSC were fractures, bruises, cuts and sprains, which made up 85per cent of all emergency room visits.

'Parents were very frustrated and upset to learn that they had inadvertently contributed to their child's fracture'

The study also stated that 14per cent of those injuries caused to the lower leg bones occur on a slide.  It also found that no records of injuries sustained by children who sat alone on a slide.

The ineffective safety procedure still exists in the playground today according to Mark A. Reinecke, the chair of psychology and child development at Illinois' Northwestern University.  He told ABC: 'If [a] parent appears anxious or fearful, the child will attend to these cues and respond accordingly.'

The study bears parallels to 2011 research conducted by Norway's Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education, overprotective parents may prove detrimental to a child's natural development process.

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at the university, said that hazardous play allows a child to confront fears such as that of a high bar in a jungle gym or an extra-twisty slide.

She said that upon conquering the fear, a child is left with a sense of accomplishment and a new positive feeling that replaces the fear.

If a parent acts overprotectively towards their child, such as opting to ride down a slide with them, she said it may actually leave the youngster feeling anxious.

Mr Reinecke agreed.  He said: 'Playgrounds are, in many ways, a microcosm of a child's world. The lessons learned there reverberate through their lives.'



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site  here.


No comments: