Gareth Davies
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25 - Dublin - Male

What labels me negates me - Nietzsche.

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Dublin Skies

Dublin skies hang above me, sometimes ephemeral, sometimes like a heavy grey veil. Dublin skies are what I wake up to, and what I go to sleep to. What I work with, and what is often pause for contemplation. The sky in Dublin is larger, and more lofty than others. Walking through the gates to Trinity, the bell tower is dwarfed by an expanse of blankness. Rather than giving birth to feelings of insignificance, the sky in Dublin is inspiring, subject to so much change, and seemingly infinite permutations of pattern. Walking home in the evenings the sun glides over the Liffey and the river becomes incandescent, the sky a hybrid pink, red, yellow, with hints of blue. Giant streaks of cloud intersperse, similarly coloured, yet contrasting. The sky seems to harness some primordial power, a sense of apocalypse rendered ineffectual by beauty. Something pre-human, but ultimately pure and clear. Less smog, less dirt in the air. Fresh air, fresh skies, fresh life.

The Palestinian Archipelago

This October, Sweden became the first western European nation to formally recognize Palestine as a state. Whilst other eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland have made the declaration much earlier, this first acknowledgment from western Europe signals an important step forward in bringing popular legitimacy to the notion of Palestinian statehood. Although Sweden’s announcement has been praised by Palestinian solidarity groups globally, the nation still appears to be condoning solutions which are at risk of becoming outdated.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has said that the current situation “can only be solved with a two-state solution." The call for a two-state solution is one which has been echoed by other Western governments since the 1947 UN partition plan, but can it still be considered a viable solution? In theory, the notion of partition into two separate states is an understandable step for the West to take, but lobbying nations fall short in that their focus is often on the reinstatement of Palestinian lands along the 1967 borders. This would result in Palestine taking the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

To explain why this may not be a viable option requires analysis of how the geopolitical landscape has changed since these proposals were initially put forward. The Palestinian political field has been polarized since the late 1980s with the emergence of Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority, with a distinct lack of coordination between these two parties. During this period of polarization, Israeli settlements have been expanding, with more and more Palestinian land being claimed and built upon by Jewish settlers. Israel’s “creeping” strategy is perhaps one of its most effective methods of increasing its territory.

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Image via Sabbah Report.

Israel uses its complex legal system to justify annexing additional land with the rhetoric that it is seizing land for military purposes, that it constitutes “State Lands,” or that it must be confiscated for “public needs.” What often follows is the building of apartment blocks and houses on the land. Israel ensures that these occupied lands remain under its control by providing financial incentives to foreign Jewish populations willing to relocate. This allows Israel to put people on the ground and keep the areas occupied. Segregated roads are constructed exclusively for Israeli use, connecting the newly built settlements and further dividing Palestinian communities.

The overall impact of Israel’s road and settlement planning strategy has been the territorial fragmentation of the West Bank. This has led Julien Bousac to refer to the West Bank as anarchipelago: a series of isolated Palestinian islands. The West Bank is no longer occupied by a contiguous Palestinian population, but an array of Palestinian communities divided by infrastructure, with an ever-encroaching Israeli population on its fringes. This strategic fragmentation ghettoizes Palestinian communities in these areas in order to facilitate further expansion of Israeli settlements and to prevent the coherent social, economic, and political organization of Palestinian people.


Image by Julien Bousac via Imaginary Atlas.
 

Although Sweden’s recognition of Palestine as a state has already proved fruitful in pushing Palestinian struggles further into the public domain, its call for a two-state solution in its current form is outdated. Sweden is not alone in supporting this plan; the UK government has proposed that a two-state solution could be implemented by arranging land swaps between Israel and Palestine to reinstate the 1967 borders. Given the current geopolitical landscape, it seems unlikely that this could ever be a viable solution. The level of dispersion of Israeli infrastructure, and the growing population within the 1967 borders mean that every month in which action isn’t taken, the old theory of a two-state solution within these borders becomes increasingly unlikely. I would argue that the dispersion of the Israeli population is already too great for this resolution to be practical without the mass upheaval of populations.

Any new proposals need to account for the reality of Palestinian existence: the levels of territorial fragmentation, and the extent of Israeli settlement and infrastructure within the 1967 borders. If governments are truly serious about a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, the first step is recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state alongside Israel, for how can this motion proceed unless Palestine is a state? With that established, it is imperative that the rhetoric of the “two-state solution” is refined by governments into tenable forms which show a true understanding of the current state of the land.

Gareth Davies is an Associate Editor for Warscapes. He graduated from the University of York with a BA in English and Related Literature. He is currently studying towards an MPhil in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict at Trinity College Dublin. He has experience in writing about representations of conflict in film and literature, and his research focuses on genocide theory and military technology.

Originally posted at Warscapes

The Visionary Artist in The Seventh Seal

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Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’ is one of those movies which has sat around in my flat for in excess of two years without being watched. Having finally taken the plunge and committed myself to it I can’t help feeling a little ashamed that I had neglected it for so long. It’s a film whose reputation precedes it. I remember reading about how Woody Allen loves Bergman, and how these Swedish movies were rooted in this kind of Kierkegaardean existentialism. It always sounded up my street, but I had never quite got there, until now.

The movie starts out on a beach on the Swedish coast. A knight and his squire have been washed up on the shore, presumaby after a battle. Upon awaking, the protagonist Antonius Block, finds himself face to face with the allegorical figure of Death, who has come to collect him. Stating that he is not ready to die, he makes a bargain and challenges Death to a game of chess. If Antonius wins, Death will release his grip. If Death wins, he can claim Antonius. During the game Antonius and his squire roam Swedish coast, in one last attempt to understand life, death, love, and the prospect of God.

The medieval Sweden portrayed in the movie is ravaged by the black death, triggering community investigations into the meaning of life, and the fear of death. Bergman’s use of collective investigation into an individualistic issue is novel. The existentialists, by nature, are prone to think in terms of the individual, but what about individuals facing the same personal crisis together? The only other example of this which I can think of is Camus’ ‘La Peste’. We see a range of reactions during Antonius’ travels, including last minute flings, despair, murderous tendencies, and the absurd tension of our protagonist, as he searches for meaning where there is none.

The most fascinating character for me, however, is not Antonius, but rather Jof. He is a performer and entertainer, who leads a nomadic existence with his wife Mia, and young child Michael. We are first introduced to Jof, as he tumbles acrobatically from his cart in the morning, having just woken up. He is full of playfulness, chatting with his horse, and smiling, exuding a joie d’vivre unshared by other characters. During this dawn scene Jof experiences a vision. In the quiet morning meadow in which he sits, he sees an apparation of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. Upon seeing this he runs back into his cart to tell his sleeping wife what he has seen. Jof is such an endearing character because he is naïve, accepting, and seems to live in the present. He is filled with wonder at his vision, but typically no-one seems to really believe him. Later on in the film he is the only character who is able to see that Antonius Block is playing chess with the allegorical Death.

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There is a certain parallel between Jof and the fool characters in Shakespeare’s plays. It always seems to be the coxcomb/fool/entertainer character who is able to see the true nature of things. Jof is able to penetrate the surface reality of situations and see into a symbolic realm beyond. Jof’s character forms a counterpoint to almost all others in the movie. It is telling that the characters who search for meaning, who are past and future oriented, are those who never achieve this higher plane of vision. Bergman seems to be implying that Jof is only able to see these things because his life is totally present oriented. He is the typical idiot character, who, ironically, is able to obtain more answers than any of the others who scrabble around trying to rationalise, or ‘believe’.

Perhaps Bergman is trying to make some kind of statement about the artist as a visionary. After all, the one who can express himself most freely is the one who is able to transcend reality. The amusing thing, for me anyway, is that Bergman’s work undercuts the endeavours of the existentialists like Sartre, and Kierkegaard whose rational philosophy leads to answers, but can rarely lead us into a pure acceptance of the wonder of life and death.

The Pianist

I’m alone tonight in my flat. It’s dark outside, and I live on the main road connecting central and north London. This means that I can hear all of the cars going past, and the more wet it is outside the more of a ‘whoooosh’ noise they make as they go past. To drown them out I’m listening to this:



And sitting here, in this ambient half-light, thinking about Chopin I suddenly realised the significance of that amazing scene near the end of Roman Polanski’s movie The Pianist, where the main character, malnourished, shell-shocked and disorientated is caught by a Nazi soldier in an abandoned house. The protagonist tells the soldier that he used to be a pianist, and so the soldier asks him to play. What the man plays is key - he plays Chopin - not one of the great German classicists like Beethoven or Wagner - but Poland’s crown jewel Chopin.

Now this is significant because what follows is a mind-blowing performance, and at the end of this movie we see the German soldier accepting Polish beauty. He lets the main man leave, unharmed. It seems that he is humbled by the fact that a human being in such a wretched condition is able to express such beauty. But the fact that it is Chopin which elicits this reaction is so awesome. Poles were the ethnic group most severely affected by the Holocaust in terms of death toll at concentration camps.

The fact that Chopin is played is also an expression of pride and nationalism, and a continuing affirmation of identity in the midst of Nazi terror. Maybe I’ve been a bit naïve, but I hadn’t connected the dots before. This has made me love this film even more than I already did.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Based on my experiences in Warsaw and reading, it seems to give a relatively accurate portrayal of the Warsaw ghetto, and the severe destruction the city faced during the war.

The Girl who had a Plan

The jazz café in town. I sit down and arrange my things at a small bar overlooking the street. Through the filthy window, pock-marked with the pattern of dried raindrops, the buses drive past. They are full of passengers, and the windows are steamed up. All I can see are muffled figures, as if through frosted glass. A small child rubs his arm across the window, clearing for himself a portal to the outside world. He looks out, and for a second or two we make eye contact. We stare at each other while the bus is stationary, and somehow, across this space, it’s as if we’re not actually looking at each other. We are separated by a window, and the distance between. The child leans in towards the window, and soon his continued exhalations erase him, as the window clouds once more. The bus heaves a little, and a green light says go.

A girl sits next to me on the bar-like area, which is lined with wooden stools. These stools are so close together that I can’t turn to see her face without visibly moving around, and triggering her attention. Nonetheless what I do see are her hands, which are slender and pale. Up towards her wrist are the first shadows of freckles, and a slim brown watch. She arranges her own things at the table. She has a small black notebook, a pen, and a grey Samuel Beckett book. I consider starting a conversation.

I begin to think: if I was reading a Beckett book in public and someone commented on it, I would instantly like that person. I consider whether she has decided to read this book for pleasure or to study. Anyone who reads Beckett for pleasure must be someone who enjoys reflecting on the aesthetic parameters of hopelesness. It seems apt given the nature of this day. We sit here, looking out onto a grey and dismal street, and the people walk past, like in a Lowry painting, small and miserable and cold. I am too shy and I don’t say anything.

What happens as she sits down is that the Beckett book is discarded in favour of the small black notebook. Far from watching her every move, I am concerned with my own work and trying to make progress in a neutral environment, free of most distractions. As I work I find myself looking across, but still not seeing her face, and I notice that she is writing into this book with conviction. As I sit, trying  my hardest to push even fifty words out of my fingers, I wonder how this girl is just trail-blazing a stream of consciousness next to me. I lean back slightly in my chair, and I can see the back of her head, and medium-length brown hair.

I read the notes she is making, peering over her shoulder. I see that it’s not anything explicitly creative, but instead, of all things, it seems to be a life plan. I see bits of text like ‘Ok, so first I need to…’, making her sound as if she were trying to get her thoughts together. I realised that this actually was a stream of consciousness. Something was coming together. She mentioned that she would need to sell her Cello, and at the bottom of the page her end goal was ‘be free’. Upon reading this a smile materialised on my face. The irony of reading Beckett and writing about ‘freedom’ seemed too perfect in this situation. 

I was reminded of a quote I had read by Beckett during my undergraduate degree: ‘All life long the same questions, the same answers’ (Endgame). The irony of what I saw struck a chord with me. I had read Beckett too, and this time last year I recalled having spent a sullen night in Russia, making my own life plan, feeling like I was trapped and needed to get out. I stayed up that night with a traveller I had met discussing what comes next, and in the company of that stranger I felt unusually positive. My end goal was also freedom of a sort back then. An escape from my working life at that point, and a grand entrance into something different and fulfilling.

Still sat in this cafe, I considered how the girl sat next to me seemed to be doing the exact same thing, and I knew that there was something I wanted to say to her, but I didn’t know what it was. With a kind of sadism I watched her making this plan, wondering how long it would be before she was dissatisfied once again.

Life goes in cycles, and we create prisons for ourselves. Sure, we are slaves to universal bondages, the revolt of the flesh, sexual desire, anger, pain, but more frustratingly, we are slaves to our self-made bondage. What could this girl have been trying to escape from? It must have been something which she felt that she had enough agency to feasibly change. ‘Think about Waiting for Godot’, I wanted to say, ‘and the illusion of progress’. When we make a change, our new life inevitably becomes our new bondage. We make the same decisions again and again, and even though we take a different route, we still ‘try again, fail again, fail better’. Things might be better in the short term,  but by living anything other than an animal existence, we cannot be happy. We may take a different path, things may be better in the short-term, but eventually we become bored, complacent and need to re-invent again. This is a good thing, but at the same time making plans with a view towards attaining freedom is absurd. We may be able to achieve contentment or satisfaction, in a limited capacity, but never will we achieve freedom. As Estragon says in Waiting for Godot: ‘that’s how it is on this bitch of an earth’.

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Untitled

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

blue-voids:

Anna Hepler

(via nminusone)

dictionaryofobscuresorrows:

Sonder [2:39] from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, written by John Koenig.

sonder - n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own

Bitcoin: An Introduction

In May 2008 Bitcoin’s pseudoanonymous creator Satoshi Nakomoto published an article outlining his vision for a peer to peer based currency system which would not be reliant on any financial institutions. The grounding or unique idea behind this was the fact that Bitcoin would be entirely decentralised. Nakamoto identified a central weakness in our current financial system: namely that we have to place faith in third parties to hold our money. For most of us this third party is usually a bank. The key weakness with our banks, as we saw during the wall street crash, is that the stability of our investments in banks is based on public faith. When faith wanes, and people withdraw en masse, the banks will crash.

The Background

Bitcoin has gained significant traction and increased credibility in 2013 despite its inception four years ago now. Nevertheless, although the currency has been around for a significant amount of time, so much mystery continues to surround it. Despite the many Bitcoin simplification videos and articles floating around on the internet, it requires significant cross referencing and ‘digging’ to come to an understanding of how this currency works, and why its design is so revolutionary. Bitcoin has presented itself as an alternative in an economic climate dominated by fear and uncertainty - unlike our current bank-based system Bitcoin is founded on a stable algorithmic base, rather than a trust base, which helps to mitigate risk of financial collapse.

Wikipedia defines Bitcoin as 'a cryptocurrency where the creation and transfer of bitcoins is based on an open-source cryptographic protocol that is independent of any central authority' - whilst this is a technical description, it’s not particularly useful in coming to an understanding of Bitcoin. I think the most challenging stumbling block in terms of understanding Bitcoin is that firstly, it is different to anything we know, and secondly all  transactions are entirely intangible. Therefore I will try to structure my explanations by reference to tangible analogies. 

How does it work?

The easiest way to think of Bitcoins is as physical money. One of the key benefits of Bitcoin is that it is not regulated by a third party. Consider a simple transaction. You go into a shop to buy a bottle of water, and you pay by card. Your card tells your bank to pay the seller the required amount of money. Bitcoin is more akin to cash in that bitcoins are stored by the owner, rather than by an institution. Think about if you have £500 cash. You can store this in physical places, and there is no third party involvement if you want to buy something with it. You simply hand over the cash in exchange for goods. Bitcoin functions in just this wat. It can be stored in a Bitcoin wallet and any transactions result in the coins being transferred directly to the receiving party.

How is new money created? 

One of the most ingenious elements of Bitcoin is the method by which new currency is introduced to the Bitcoin pool. Unlike with the federal reserve or bank of England where money can theoretically be printed in an infinite amount, there is a cap on Bitcoins. There can only ever be 21 million Bitcoins. This is the limit imposed by the system code. Currently approximately half of the total Bitcoin population has been mined, with about 10 million still to be mined. The mining algorithm is incredibly sophisticated and self-regulates the Bitcoin economy.  

When it comes to our current financial system, there is no limit to the amount of money which the Bank of England can print. However, the number of Bitcoins is pre-determined and finite. This gives Bitcoin a stable base. Just looking at case studies such as Zimbabwe, and Weimar Germany in the ’20s, we can see that if new currency is pumped into a system too quickly it can totally lose its value. Conversely, if currency is introduced too slowly or ceases to flow effectively, we experience economic stagnation. The goal of the banks is to try and plot the middle ground, but as empirical evidence shows, this isn’t always so simple.

Bitcoin seeks to mitigate the risk of boom and bust, as its built in algorithms ensure that currency is not released into the Bitcoin economy either too quickly or too slowly. The process through which currency is introduced is known as ‘mining’.

The actual process of mining involves the solving of ‘blocks’ which are complex algorithms. These are solved using keys, which are 64 digit codes. The correct code will release 50 new Bitcoins to the pool. This is effectively free money. Bitcoin mining is becoming an incredibly competitive business, and increasibly people are coming together into mining pools, whereby each person in the group receives their share of coins every time a block of code is collectively solved. Bitcoin regulates the flow of currency through its reactive algorithms. If it were the case that Bitcoins were being released too fast, the algorithm would become more complex and therefore be more difficult to solve, thus slowing the flow of Bitcoins into the pool. To clarify the process of mining the following illustration may be useful. 

There is a room, and in this room there is a metal box including 50 gold coins. However, there is a padlock attached to this box which prevents the gold from being accessed. Within the room you have 100,000 keys to the lock, and only one of the keys will release the gold. It’s a matter of trying to unlock the box and access the gold, but the number of keys results in a time lag, which monitors how often the gold can be obtained. The first one to unlock the box gets the coins.

Now imagine that the keybearers begin to efficiently open these locks through their speed and power. If this were the case, the system would ensure that for the next 50 coins we have the same padlocked box, but instead a significantly higher number of keys. This helps to slow down the release of currency.

What about Bitcoin performance?

A quick glance at the graph below serves to show the extent to which Bitcoin has grown in value over the last 12 months. Since August last year the value of one Bitcoin has grown from approximately $10, to $105 today, representing a growth of over 1000%. The graph below also shows the volatility of the currency. Within one year the value of coins has fluctuated by about $250, starting off at $10, and peaking during April at a huge $260.

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The viability and long term value of the currency is a subject of much debate at the moment, as the use value of Bitcoins continues to be relatively low. Some websites such as Wikileaks, Wordpress, and OkCupid have begun to accept Bitcoins as a valid currency, however the relatively small practical use of the currency constantly threatens to reduce its value. Only when and if Bitcoins are more widely accepted will their values become less volatile.

The currency has also been under considerable scrutiny by financial regulators, who are worried about the presence of illegal activity in the trades of Bitcoins, as a piece of software known as Tor, allows users to hide their identity in trades, allowing them to trade on what is known as ‘The Silk Road’ (An online black- market), with impunity. To clarify here, there is no impunity because to sign up for Bitcoins you are not required to submit the sort of detailed personal information you would expect to submit to a bank (such as name, address, etc). This makes transactions difficult to trace back to an identifiable party.

What next?

What we see with Bitcoin is a radical currency which destablises our current financial paradigm, and proposes something which is entirely digital, and through which we don’t need to place faith in a state run bank, or any other financial institution. Instead we solely put our faith in the Bitcoin code (which is totally open source and anyone can review). Interestingly Bitcoin made such an impression in Canada that the government has devised its own decentralised currency known as MintChip. If more countries follow suit we could see a radical shift in the way we think about and use our money.

But for now Bitcoin still has a long way to go in convincing investors that it is not a high risk product, that it is truly built on a sustainable model, and that the public can use Bitcoins without the fear of coins being hacked and stolen. Nonetheless, I hope that this serves to clear away some of the mystery surrounding this fascinating phenomenon. 

As a final note, Bitcoins can be traded freely on MtGox, which is the most well-established platform for Bitcoin trading.

If that still doesn’t make sense check out this video:

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