Month: May 2018
A Little Bilbao Before Gernica
I write from San Sebastian, Iberia. I use the term Iberia because San Sebastian is in the Basque region that sits on territory claimed by France and Spain but which a good many of those of Basque heritage claim to be autonomous from either. We, my ex-father-in-law, Bill and his friends Judy and Gary, have been touring Iberia for over a week now. We gathered first in Granada where we shared a carmen—a traditional style of house in the hills above the city in the district where the Alhambra sits. A carmen is a house with a patio that is shaded by overhanging grape and other vines and a pool of water of some kind, all to provide a cool place to sit when the summer heat comes, temperatures in the summer rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. From our patio, our carmen, across a deep canyon at the bottom of which and up the hillsides sit many houses like ours, of white plaster, we can see the walls and towers of the old Muslim fortress.
I reported previously on Granada where we left from a few days ago headed north to Madrid on our way to the Basque region. We stopped in a place an hour away from Spain’s central city and drove in to town that evening to have dinner with a professor of sociology and his wife, a well-known artist who showed us her studio, her work, and several pieces by other artist who she knew, interesting paintings, lithographs, photos, and sculpture, all crafted by men and women of Basque decent, our hosts being Basque too, owners of a second house in that part of the world. We talked art but mostly sociology, mostly the sociology and the history of Basques in Iberia, the Basques and the piece of territory they had claimed their own for many centuries and were still trying to wrest free from Spanish political domination.
My father-in-law, my ex-father-in-law at this point in time—I may have mentioned this in the last post—who is not a Basque except by title granted many years ago by the Basque government for his years of work studying Basque culture and Basque diaspora—and this man have covered much of the same ground over the past four decades so the conversation was about much about the region, the war, its aftermath and independence movement afoot around the world, in Iberia, in Scotland, the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq and everywhere else. Armando, our host, is currently working with a group tracking the status of religion in Europe the findings clearly showing that is one the decline, this particularly upsetting to the Spanish hierarchy in which the Catholic church plays a major role.
We talked too about the Basque independence movement, ETA, from the perspective of people who support the cause, this on the day after ETA announced that it was disbanding. Both Bill, my father-in-law and Armando, who invited us in and cooked us a fine Basque meal, knew intimately many of the Basque commandos and the civilians, politicians, and clergy who either supported independence or sided with Spain on the question, ETA, for Bill and Armando not a terrorist organization as they have often been branded, but a liberation group with a most legitimate cause. So we talked about liberation movement in general and recent liberation actions around the world in the kind of way I appreciate, with a sound understanding of why a particular group of people would want to sever ties to political entities that play a dominant role in their lives, in these cases in ways that do not necessarily serve well the interests of those dominated. Control, exploitation, subordination and disenfranchisement were concepts that with regularity found their way into the conversation.
Hot at the table was the plight of the Palestinians because the Israelis had in recent days killed more than 50 people in Gaza who were participating in demonstrations at the Israeli border, demonstrations sparked by the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, highly contested ground, the move transparently Trump administration provocation to show the world where it stood and with whom—against the Palestinians. So, before us, was an immediate example of what we were speaking, an example in the context of the scholarship of two men who had studied long and hard the reality of peoples who saw themselves to be oppressed, weak against the very strong, driven to means that they understood to be the only available to them in light of terrible imbalances of power and dominance by controlling entities they felt were little concerned with their rights as human beings.
The next day we drove to the Basque County, by green hillsides that turned into mountains, some with outcroppings of granite, the mountainsides scarred by quarries from which giant slabs of marble had been taken. We wound through the canyons and crossed broad valleys and treated ourselves to vistas punctuated by field of wildflowers and grasses and parked finally in Bilbao, the unofficial capital of the Basque nation. It is a large, modern, beautiful place, the crowning feature now being the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gary, an almost whimsical movement of walls, round at times, pointedly angular at others, a creation that is so obviously of man, of artful design, but with contours that provide it with something akin to a natural sensibility.
We did not visit the museum on our first day because Bill has arranged for us a luncheon in Gernica (that is how the city sign reads!) with his “Basque sisters,” two women, one in her 80s, the other in her late 70s who lived in a house where he stayed on his first visit to the region in the 1960s. With them was the husband of the younger sister and their daughter, Teri who, to my delight, worked for a company that is a part of the Mondragon group, a conglomeration of industrial corporations that operate under the Mondragon plan that requires businesses situated there to exist in good part for the good of the community and the citizens of the Mondragon community. The idea of Mondragon has always been to use capitalism for humanitarian purposes and, according to Teri, such has been accomplished, the workers understood to be the reason the companies exist with a banking system that supports the development and growth of such businesses.
I learned of Mondragon more than twenty-five years ago at a conference for educators working to build what was called the STS curriculum, STS standing for science, technology, and society, an integrated curriculum that would draw from the science disciplines and the social sciences disciplines to build an understanding of science grounded in an understanding of the consequences of science for societies and the contribution of the social sciences disciplines to insuring that science exist to serve society, understand the effects of its discoveries on human beings. A man who had been to Mondragon described the theory and its application in the creation of the community and I, who was feeling terribly uncomfortable with the way of capitalism and its exploitation of people and its use of science and technology to exploit rather than serve the vast majority of people through its exploitation by giant companies who used it to illuminate decent paying jobs, replace skilled workers with machines while, at the same time refusing to insure that the technology would not be used in ways that harmed the planet. Ever since that session, I had kept up on the Mondragon experiment and badly wanted to go to the town. So talking to Tere was a wonderful thing and I think I will be seeing her again when I pass through Gernica on my way to visit the coast of the Basque Country next week.
I will tell of the visit to Gernica next chapter.
We are back at our carmen, our house that is a “carmen” because it has a shade garden, ivy and grapes hanging down from an arbor. Cool, nice and cool in the afternoon and next to beds of roses and other fragrant flowers that make the moist Mediterranean air ever so easy to breath. We spent a part of the evening in a cave where we ate tapas and watched a rather incredible Flamenco show. In this part of Granada, up in the hills above the city, the Albaicin, there are many caves and caves are a favorite kind of cite for Flamenco clubs. This afternoon we walked up to even higher ground, to the Sacromonte, the Gypsy enclave where many of the homes are built into caves. So, caves are important around here.
Our place is in the Albaicin on a calle inaccessible by car. To get to anywhere from here we walk through narrow passages that wind up and down the hills in a labyrinth that is disconcerting the first time or two that one tries to go somewhere and no directions are good directions because the streets start here, end there, one splitting into a few or several more every so many steps up or down the cobblestone pathways. On occasion a walker encounters a street where cars are allowed, compacts only because these streets, the streets with cars, are narrow too so that walkers are pretty much up against the cars as they pass.
We went to the market today and filled our bags before trudging up the hills to the house. You have to do some trudging if you want to eat. If you want to eat at home. A few cartons of orange juice, on of milk, a pound of chicken and a pound of fish, a cauliflower (huge is the only size), a few tomatoes, yogurt and some incidentals made for a heavy load.
A bit more on the streets of Albaicin. They are filled with people who do not know where they are going, how to get to where they want to be. So, everywhere along the streets there are people trying to get beyond language difference to help one another find their ways. Google maps, if you have cellular, get one so far and then blink out before you can get it to tell you where to turn or not turn next (derecho is a term that is used often—go straight—but there is not a straight street in the district—Derecho also means to stay on the same road but any single road, as noted earlier, will eventually split off left or right, sometime left and right at slight angles and sometimes into a T and so derecho means, a good amount of the time, use your instincts if you have any. It seems possible that some people knowing where they want to go have been wandering around for days!
It is a place to love and mastering the terrain is actually a pleasant way to spend time, if you can get to where you want to go and eventually isn’t too much later, is a game of sorts, a puzzle that I felt very good to have solved enough to allow me to wander a decent distance from the house, something difficult to accomplish accomplished, nothing yet mastered, but the possibility of a decent level of mastery within my capabilities.
There is a tile on the wall in the courtyard here that translates to mean something to the effect of ‘I am a very poor woman, made poor by her blindness, her blindness made terrible by the beauty of Granada that her blindness keeps here from experiencing. Certainly, you can spare a blind old woman a coin before you go out to enjoy that which I cannot.’
Responding to Hill article concerning the worry of democrats over the effect the “better” economy will have on the midterm vote
Democrats are worried that the state of the economy, perceived by many to be getting better, might cause voters to vote for republicans in the midterms. It is probably so that it is the economy (stupid!) that counts most for good numbers of voters, something rather dangerous that maybe should be given thought because if what is most important, so important that it cancels out consideration of other things important–environment, foreign policy, education, gender equality, issues concerning race and ethnicity–justice issues–and so on, then we live in a let all go to hell as long as I have more to spend, then our sensibilities, our social and political sensibilities can be, are being bought and sold. By whom? A very interesting question, the answer to which is obvious IF we can turn away for moment from consumption and look into the future just a bit to get a glimpse of what the cost of this focus and the blindness that comes with it really is, the continuation of the kind of public policies that serve a relative few at a very high cost to the whole of humanity and to all those people, the vast majority, who think they work for their own prosperity only to find, within a relatively short space of time, that they really work for the prosperity of others, theirs a pittance of what is made off their labor by those others who use their riches to increase their political power, power used to buy government to work their will.
Things that badly need to change will not be changed if those who vote are satisfied with pennies on the dollar for their labor and can be moved forcefully when the penny wage is raised by two or three–the “give back” to labor by corporations after the GOP tax cut and was a find example of the throwing the inmates a crust of bread and they being thankful for it not knowing when their fortune will be so good again.
Highly educated cheap labor pool!
“This proposal also betrays the uniquely regressive labor politics in academia — which is, ironically, populated with many tenured scholars who call themselves Marxists and teach and write about class consciousness, but ignore the economic exploitation of adjuncts and other non-tenure-track colleagues. Academic culture and institutions also continually reinforce the privileged myopia that “loving what you do” makes up for not receiving monetary compensation.”
This article says a lot about the role of colleges and universities in promoting exploitation culture, a signifying characteristic of our exploitation based economy that is capitalism. I once thought higher education to be an element of society that stood for the improvement of the society, that existed to find truth even when the truths discovered upset the status quo. In fact, I thought that upsetting the status quo WAS a major role to be played by institutions of higher education, this in order to bring about necessary changes to better the lives of human beings.
While our attention is on other things and there is so much out there to be worried about, it would probably be a very good thing to consider what has become of universities and colleges, how they are funded, by whom, and for whom and for what they now operate. If the higher education system has been coopted by those who now own the country, what entity does their exist to study what is wrong with “democracy” for the profit of a few?
For institutions of higher learning to exploit its workers and its graduates is a problem at least as important to remedy as dependence on fossil fuels, hunger, or corrupt politics, income inequality, because hardly anyone would know of such things or take the time to find cures if uncorrupted universities and colleges did not exist. Consider the path on which we are traveling.
A thought on coup
Another thought about our current reality. We are currently in the midst of a coup. More accurately, were are in the midst of competing coup attempts. If coup is the attempt to overthrow government, then, the current administration’s attempts to interfere with the work of duly constituted government entities such as the DOJ, the FBI, the EPA, constitute a coup, not just attempts to change policy, but to upset and/or destroy those agencies, the way in which their agents do their work, what becomes of the work they do, and how that work is translated into action.
At the same time, those trying to preserve government as an instrument of the will of a democratic people residing in a democratic society, in order to preserve democracy are involved in staging a coup against an administration that is involved in the dismantling, defiling, and denigration of government of the sort that work, should work, to serve democracy and the needs of a democratic people.
Musing: Out of control
I just sit down and write sometimes with nothing to say until something comes up that I begin to say something about and, in doing this, I often find thoughts that are somewhere in my mind that are not yet connected to present consciousness but are obviously there because they make themselves known when touched upon. I am sitting here and it is one of these moments and the reason that nothing in particular is coming to mind is that there has been so much going on that is bizarre that the bizarre has come to be what is expected. The president of the United States. The president of the United States. I cannot begin to say what comes to mind when I think those words now. This is an elected leader. The president of the United States. And he should be beyond comprehension because he is so absurd. But he must be understood because he is the president of the United States. And, yet, there is no kind of logic I can find that can help me explain him to myself. He, logically, cannot be real because who he is makes on sense. How he thinks makes no sense. What he says and does makes no sense. But he is the president of the United States. He holds the power of a president of the United States of America. He is understood around the world to be the president of the United States of America. This does not make sense, but it is real and that is the problem with my current state of mind, the real not making sense. If there is not sense in what is real, what can be sensibly understood? Where are the reference points that ground thought in reality when the reality that is can only make sense in the irrational universe of our current cultural sensibilities? What does one have to accept of that universe to begin making sense with reference to what is really happening in the world around?
Dizzying is a good word for it, for the present states of mind I am experiencing. On a particular day, after taking time to watch the squirrels and the bunnies and the birds–maybe I want to think like them for a few moments–I cannot help myself but to get back to thinking and as I do I begin to feel unbalanced, teetering on a narrow plank that is my rationality and bracing myself for the inevitable fall that will come the moment I tune back into the news of the hour, worse, the collected news of what is still early in the day.
Unbalanced, teetering, beyond something into a somewhere that I cannot fathom but must if I am going to be straight with myself, honest with others. Reality is a dimension of lost perspective, of items bumping against one another but having no real effect because none of the objects for consideration can be real except that they are and when they make contact they cannot absorb anything of the other because there is no way to trust that there is anything meaningful in what any or all have to offer. Free flowing entities that don’t really collide but, rather, brush against one another if they make contact at all.
Israel! Bebe! Left, right, righteous, foul, Korea, Nigeria, Guatemala, Honduras, Stormy, the lawyers, the prosecutors, the judges, the spokesperson, lies, Hannity, Rachael, Comey, Kanye???, Cosby, Star Wars, Super Hero, comics, comedians, NRA, ACLU (anchor), Breitbart, NFL, NBA, herons, warriors, Parkland, Las Vegas, night clubs (Paris, Fla.), Iran, Iraq, Hillary, George, Berkshire Hathaway, bitcoin, Mueller, Netanyahu, Abbas, Hamas…
Parts, a few of the parts, swirling without orbital principle, an indigestible stew, minutae made substantive in a news cycle. Warriors win, 17 students dead, Iran nuclear deal to be disrupted, negotiations with Kim, Kias from the south, Samsung, Zyppah, Joy Reid, Fox News, MSNBC, the Times, the Post, Intercept, a better dog biscuit, a better grooming tool, concert tickets for three hundred dollars, baseball for five, Collin Kappernic.
Rambling out of control.