The Politics of Hate

A majority of the world is ruled by regimes that are based on hatred. Hatred of the other.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Islamic State, one might hope that the world would be on a path to a better future, but with the turn towards authoritarian rule in many countries, including Russia, Iran and Turkey, this prospect is dimmed.

A group of cyclists on a “kindness tour” were run down and then stabbed to death by a group of ISIS terrorists in Tajikistan.  Before embarking on their round the world tour one of them wrote: “Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own… By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”  So much for the naivete of the self-deluded, unfortunately evil is real, very real and deadly.

I have been watching two series at the same time, “Fauda,” is very violent and deals with Palestinian terrorism and Israeli counter-terrorism, and as an antidote I have been watching the comedy series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”  You might notice that these have one theme in common, namely they both have Jewish subjects.  In “Fauda” the Arab terrorists scheme to “kill the Jews,” they hardly mention Israel, in “Mrs Maisel” the theme is Jewish humor, how Jewish family life becomes a source of laughter that transcends boundaries.  It is indeed remarkable that so many American comedians were Jewish, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Danny Kaye, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers,  Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Seinfeld, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal, well beyond the statistical proportion of Jews in the American population (similar to that of the Nobel Prizes).

I also happened to watch a 2011 movie entitled “Oranges and Sunshine” that deals with the exposure by a British social worker, Margaret Humphreys, of the forced deportation of British children to Australia between 1947-1970.  These children were either orphaned or born to single mothers and were taken away from them and shipped out without their consent or knowledge.  About 130,000 children were transported this way by a secret agreement between the British and Australian Governments, with the connivance of Orphanages, Hospitals and Church organizations that were entrusted with the welfare of these children.  In Australia, these children were exploited, many by Church organizations, particularly the Catholic Christian Brothers, as slave labor and many were sexually and physically abused.  It took 30 years and legal action before the British and Australian Governments apologized for this gross abuse of human rights.

There are of course many other examples of children being abused.  In the US, Canada and Australia there were schemes in the 19th century that justified taking indigenous (Indian and Aboriginal) children away from their parents and bringing them up as “white Christians” in order to destroy their own culture, language and religion. Many of these children were also abused and even murdered.  So evil does certainly exist, and if they do this to children they can do it to anyone who is in their clutches.  So sometimes humans can be generous and kind, but don’t take any chances.


Short Trips Around Small Countries: Ireland

For our visit to Ireland we chose a tour with the Irish National Tour company CIE that circles all around the coast of Ireland.  When we arrived in Dublin we were driven to a hotel in the southern outskirts for the night.

If only I had known, nearby within walking distance, is the Martello Tower which opens the first scene of the great novel “Ulysses” by James Joyce.  These towers were built around the coast by the British to defend Ireland against invasion.  There is no space here to describe this novel, but everything in it is based on actual places in Dublin and events that occurred on one day, June 16, 1915, known as Bloomsday.

The next morning we were whisked away by coach, with a delightful character as driver and guide.  His accent was so strong you could cut it with a knife.  Instead of “thirty” he said “dirty.”  He was a lot of fun.  Our first stop was Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, which was a founding site for Irish Culture, where St. Kevin built one of the first Irish Christian monasteries in the 6th century (I emphasize Irish as opposed to Catholic, since the Catholic Church later banned and destroyed the indigenous Irish Church).  There was also one of the peculiar round towers, a tall, thin tower which gradually becomes narrower towards the top.  They are found throughout Ireland and their real purpose is unknown.

From there we drove to the south-east coast to the small port town of Wexford, where we had a break,and from there to the town of Waterford. We stayed the night there and visited the famous glass works the next morning. It was an amazing display of artistry, how the glassblowers made a jug, then fashioned a handle and in a jiffy attached it perfectly.  From there we drove on to Blarney Castle, which all visitors to Ireland must visit.  On the top of the tower is a stone that if you kiss you are supposed to be given the gift of the “blarney”, i.e the ability to talk persuasively on any subject.  The problem is that to kiss the stone you have to be held and lean out backwards over a precipitous drop.  I declined, anyway I already have that power.

We drove to the city of Cork and stayed there in an excellent hotel overnight.  The name itself is a complete fabrication by the English because they couldn’t understand or pronounce the Irish name (that means something like bubbling waters).  It has nothing to do with the substance known as cork.  That evening we attended a fun get together at a local pub, where everyone was expected to get up and dance their country’s national dance.  We didn’t know whether to do a knee’s-up-mother-brown from England, a jive from the USA, but in the end we chose a hora from Israel.  It went over very well.

Our next stop was the pleasant small city of Killarney, and from there we went on a tour of the lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, which was a circular trip around of one of the Irish peninsulas that stick out into the Atlantic Ocean.  It was very wild and desolate place.  WE continued up the west coast, passing thru many small picturesque towns.  Our driver pointed out along the way where there were mass graves of the million or so Irish who died in the potato famine of 1845-8, that resulted in over a million also leaving for America. We passed thru Limerick and over the Shannon estuary and stopped at the Cliffs of Moher.  They are indeed impressive, rising dramatically sheer about 200 m (650 ft) straight up from the Atlantic.  The wind is indeed very strong there and there is precious little security and it seemed likely one could be swept away.

Further north we stayed overnight in Galway and saw the statue of St. Patrick who is supposed to have landed nearby, before converting most of the Irish.   We continued north to Sligo where we visited the Churchyard of Drumcliff where W.B. Yeats, the famous Irish poet is buried.

From there we headed east, skirting Northern Ireland, only entering it briefly thru Inniskillen, where we noted the difference in the style of the houses, they could have been in England, and the police stations with 20 foot high wire netting around them.  But, the driver said that things had quieted down a lot and currently there was no violence.    We drive then back to the east coast and to the most famous battle site in Ireland at the Boyne Valley.  In 1690 a significant battle took place between the deposed Catholic English King James II, supported by the Irish, and the Protestant King William of Orange, supported by the English, the Dutch and the Scots.  The Protestants won and Ireland has been suffering from the result of that victory for the past 300 years.

Nearby we also visited the reconstructed ancient site of Newgrange, that is a subterranean burial complex, although the significance of much of it is unknown.  From there we returned to Dublin.  Only a few remarks about Dublin.  Enjoyed drinking in some pubs, Guinness of course.  Went to a show of Irish music and dancing.  Visited the National Library at Trinity College.  Did the James Joyce walking tour, an excellent highlight with which to end the visit to Ireland.

Short Trips Around Small Countries: Holland

When I was a scientist working for the US Government I had the opportunity almost every year to take a trip abroad and visit some well-known and also some not so well-known places.  Because of the limited time I had on these trips I could not spend too much time as a tourist.  After some years I thought of writing a travel book with the above title.  But, since I never got around to actually writing this, I thought I would describe some of the less-visited, more interesting places I have visited.  This was partly a result of a discussion I had with some Dutch people I met, when I reminisced about visiting their country.

Everyone who visits Holland goes to Amsterdam, and it is a wonderful city to visit, especially taking the boat tours around the canals (can you say Keisersgracht in Dutch?)  But, relatively few people visit central Holland, a chance I had when I drove with my wife from a conference in Copenhagen to another in Amsterdam via Hamburg.  After crossing the Dutch border we stayed a few nights in a beautiful little city called Appeldorn.  The reason for staying there are the local treasures, the Palace of Het Loo and the Kroller-Muller Gallery that sits in the middle of a forest and has the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world (the largest collection is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam).

The Palace of Het Loo (that roughly means “in the woods”) was built in 1686 in the French Baroque style by King William II of Orange.  But, after his death the ownership passed to King Frederick of Prussia, since all the Royal Houses of Europe were related in some way.  Eventually it was returned to the ownership of the Dutch Royal Family, until it was finally bequeathed to the Dutch Nation.   It is an impressive Palace well worth the visit.  Its gardens are magnificent, in the French style, outclassed only by those at Versaille.  The gardens had fallen into ruin, but were reconstructed in the 1970-80’s to their original design from contemporary drawings.

The Kroller-Muller Gallery was established in 1938 from the collection of Helene Kroller-Muller and her husband Anton.  She was principally responsible for amassing this fabulous collection and was one of the first to recognise the genius of Van Gogh.   The gallery itself is a modern glass-fronted building that is in the center of a large forest.  This forest,. the Hoge Vuluwe, is unique in Holland, being the last wild forest left.  During WWII it was refuge for many hiding from the Nazis, which included youths of Jewish and Scottish ancestry.  (Prof. McLean of the Free University of Amsterdam was one of them and he told me his story; there is a community of Scottish Protestants in Holland, who escaped Catholic persecution in the mid-1700’s).  They were fed by the local farmers and were never captured.


The Smilansky Street Festival

Now that I live in Beer Sheva, I am beginning to participate in local activities.  Every year at this time  they have a Smilansky Street Festival.  I went this evening with my daughter.  It was great!

First a word about Moshe Smilansky, he was a pioneer Zionist leader who moved to  Ottoman occupied Israel in 1890, he advocated peaceful coexistence with the Arabs in British occupied Mandatory Palestine, and he was a farmer and a prolific author.  In almost every city in Israel there is a street named after him.

The one in Beer Sheva is in the Old City.  Most people are not aware that Beer Sheva has an Old City.  It is not nearly as old as the famous one in Jerusalem, it dates mainly from the 19th century, when the Turks decided to develop Beer Sheva as  local capital of the Negev desert region.  It was their intention, as happened during WWI, to use it as a military base from which to attack the British in Egypt.  So they built a railroad to Beer Sheva at the beginning of the 20th century.  The Old City is a mixture of trendy art studios and old family-owned businesses.

We went to see an exhibit of paintings of two friends of mine Roy Rubinstein and Lena Zilberberg that was on for the festival.  Very exciting paintings.  Then we toured the festival, covering several blocks.  The weirdest thing (see Facebook) was a performer who blew up a huge balloon and then actually went inside it!  There were many stalls selling jewelry and crafts and lots of food stalls.  Finally we saw a band playing oriental (Mizrachi) Jewish music, with an instrument that looked like a zither, and the music sounds like Arabic music.  I looked up and saw that they were playing on the corner of Mordechai Anielewicz Street.  Only in Israel!


I went to a lecture on “Dream Interpretation” at our Thursday Senior’s Discussion Group given by Celia Livermore, a psychologist with an interesting background.  She is an Israeli who moved to Australia and was very successful there, but after retiring she moved back to Beer Sheva where she grew up.

She is an expert on dreams and gave an interesting talk on the subject.  She pointed out that modern interpretation of dreams does not rely on simple allegories as in the Bible nor on the largely sexual analysis of Sigmund Freud.  Dreams tend to include some form of conflict, which is now often interpreted as the attempt by the brain to bring issues that bother the individual from the subconscious mind (the id representing the child and the super-ego representing the adult) into communication with the conscious mind (the ego or self).

Dreams are known to occur during the last stages of sleep (after 5 or so hours) during  REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Some people (like myself) who never or rarely dream may be because they never have continuous sleep for up to 8 hours, and if sleep is interrupted never get to the REM stage.  Alternatively they may not “remember” their dreams.  In order to help remember dreams Celia recommended having a note pad and pen next to the bed and writing in it whatever comes to mind immediately you wake up.  Sometimes in this way dreams are remembered that would otherwise be forgotten.  Once people start to record dreams their dreams often become more easily remembered.

The interpretation of dreams is quite complex and often includes recent happenings in one’s life, that the brain is trying to deal with and interpret.  Complexity comes about partly because the sub-conscious mind uses symbols to represent people or things in the real world.  Celia related that there is a specific kind of dream that is particularly vivid and often involves two people talking about a serious subject.  These are known as “lucid” dreams and often are an attempt by the conscious mind to resolve some specific personal problem.  For example, Celia had dreamt that she was talking to someone who had jumped out of a plane.  After analyzing the dream she realized that both people were versions of herself, her conscious self and her sub-conscious self (or id) and that the plane represented a relationship she had recently terminated.  Jumping out of the plane was her sub-conscious mind’s way of dealing with the ending of this relationship.

I mentioned the famous short story of 1938 by Delmore Schwartz, the American Jewish intellectual and writer, entitled “In dreams begin responsibilities,” in which he dreams that he is watching a movie of his father and mother meeting, and he tries to stop the film.  In this he intimates that dreams are a way of dealing with the sometimes difficult reality of life.


Queen Meghan

Prince Harry did what was needed to keep the British Royalty alive, he married a divorced American commoner.  And furthermore she is half-Black and a pretty TY star, what could be better. In fact, the whole wedding was so contrived that it seems to  have been scripted in Hollywood (remember “Capricorn One,” and ” Wag the dog“).  The Royal family is mired in privilege and is distant from the common people and perhaps it’s supposed to be that way.  But, anyone with any sense would advise them to become more relevant or be doomed to follow the Royal families of the rest of Europe to obscurity.

I foresee a TV drama series, a soap, that would star Meghan Markle (or the Duchess of Sussex) in the role of a new American member of the Royal family.  But, she discovers that her husband is only sixth in line to the throne, so in the fashion of “Game of Thrones” and countless real live stories, she schemes and maneuvers her way to remove the obstacles that stand in their way (remember Alec Guinness in “Kind Hearts and Coronets”).  If this means bumping off a few Royals, so be it. Assassinations can be carried out without her being suspected (look how Princess Diana died).  Until finally her husband Harry becomes King.  Then she schemes to replace him.  Long live Queen Meghan!

She could then make a move to become Queen of America, although Oprah Winfrey is already primed for that role.  Well, anyway she had her fairy tale wedding to the Prince.  Meghan’s Mom was supposed to pay for it, I wonder if she at least made a contribution.  All the wedding dress aficionados and hat fetishists will be happy for a while.  The rest of us can get back to reality.  What’s for dinner, Mum?


Ignorance by Stars

The rapper Kanye West made a serious mistake when he stated that if slavery for Blacks lasted for 400 years then it must have been by choice.  Slavery a choice?  Yes, he really said that.  Of course, there was a quick and extensive reaction and he issued an apology.  But, this highlights the phenomenon of pop stars and movie stars who believe their name recognition gives them the right to sound off on all sorts of cultural and political issues, about which they are ignorant.

Another case in point is Natalie Portman, the Israeli-American actress who has starred in many movies.  She was to have been given the Israel Prize, a very prestigious and valuable award.  She had accepted the nomination, but then withdrew her acceptance wen she found that PM Netanyahu was going to speak at the award ceremony.  She said she did not want her presence to be considered as an endorsement of his views and policies.  Now let me ask you, would you think that if she got the award and he spoke that that was in fact an endorsement by her of his policies.  Nonsense.  The real reason she with drew is because her friends in the Hollywood left are anti-Netanyahu (and even anti-Israel) and it would have hurt her chances of getting further parts and support in Hollywood if she had appeared on the same stage as Netanyahu.

We give far too much attention to the uninformed and irrelevant opinions of actors, actresses and popstars.  Who cares what they think about the state of the economy, the issue of gun control and the Middle East situation.  As far as I am concerned Natalie Portman crossed the line and she doesn’t deserve the Israel Prize and she should stick to trying to act.