Monday, November 19, 2012

Causation and Consequence in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict

Last night on ABC's Lateline uncritical anchor Emma Alberici “interviewed’ an embedded Palestinian journalist in Gaza whose dubious interpretations included some inaccurate and exaggerated statistics  re both the number of Palestinian casualties, and the number of  supposed civilians amongst these. These made up figures were supplied for  both Operation Cast Lead and the current attempts to halt Palestinian missiles. This was followed by a long “interview” with an Arab academic at the American University, Rami Khourie, who was not challenged even once, but simply given a platform to spout fiction after fiction without being called out on any of these. For example that the Arab world has essentially accepted Israel’s right to exist, and has ceased to attack, demonize, delegitimize, and discriminate against Israel at every opportunity and in every international forum.

When questioned as to why Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had labelled Israel’s actions “terrorism” Khourie insightfully explained it was because “Erdogan is not afraid of upsetting Israel.” The interview compliantly nodded and then allowed Khourie to continue. Perhaps a more informed or critical interviewer might have examined Turkey’s bid for leadership in the Islamic world, and the way any Islamic leader can and does use anti-Israel rhetoric to garner popular support; the more extreme the rhetoric, the greater the knee-jerk support. A more critical interviewer might have examined how governments throughout the region have used – and continue to use – popular anger and identification with the Palestinian cause to distract from the more immediate challenges they face.

Khourie’s basic thesis: the instability, corruption, low productivity, lack off freedoms, factionalism, economic mismanagement, authoritarianism, and general decay in much of the Sunni Arab world is no one’s fault but Israel’s, and the growth of various forms of Islamic supremacism – from Salafists to Al Kayda to the Moslem Brotherhood – is all Israel’s fault. It is this very abdication of responsibility and culture of blaming the other which continues to perpetuate systemic dysfunction in many of the societies Khourie claims are now democracies. During the interview it seemed to me the meta text unwittingly slipped out. The profound sense of inferiority felt by many (men?) in the Arab world re the West, the resentment this engenders, and the psychological need to eradicate “reminders” of this perceived inferiority, such as Israel.

His thesis (his threat?) that Israeli intransigence has created radical fundamentalism and that Israel had better deal with its current opponents before worse ones come along can easily be reversed. It is the implacable belligerence and hostility of the surrounding countries and populations which has created, and continues to create, an increasingly radicalized and right leaning Israel. It is not easy to persuade Israelis that further territorial concessions and a Palestinian State will provide stability when ceded territory becomes one giant launching pad for missiles and mortars.

I hope that at the least, Lateline will allow equal and opposite views to be aired – for example an interview with celebrated Israeli historian Benny Morris, or with journalist David Landau (formerly Haaretz editor),  and give them as much freedom and latitude to provide alternative views of causality and consequence in this long running conflict.

Israeli victims of Palestinian torture ...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Art of War Al Pi Ashton

Catherine Ashton, Vice-president and high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, made the following statement on Friday 16th November. "The rocket attacks by Hamas and other factions in Gaza, which began this current crisis, are totally unacceptable for any government and must stop,” Ashton said.“Israel has the right to protect its population from these kind of attacks. I urge Israel to ensure that its response is proportionate,” she said.

This comment can be explained in two ways. It may mean: "When you are attacked, do not try to overwhelm your opponent, rather leave them in a condition where they can attack you again the next day" 

or it might be advising the Israeli's to treat the Palestinians in Gaza in a way similar to the way Palestinians have treated Israelis, perhaps even copy the Palestinians exactly, to make sure everything is fair and in proportion. If the latter, she seems to be suggesting that Israel should indiscriminatel shoot 12 000 rockets into civilian centres of Gaza (which is basically the whole of Gaza), and pack these rockets with nails and bolts so they can maim and kill as much as possible. In addition Israel should send suicide bombers into Gaza to blow up buses packed with Palestinians, places where Palestinians are celebrating religious holidays, pizza parlours (or the Gazan equivalent) and coffee houses, bus stops, and so forth.

Which do you think she meant? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Have A Good Day - Sutra 3

What does "have a good day" mean?
it means "go away you've paid"
it means "I will dismiss you before you can dismiss me"
it means "leave me alone I will not show you anything that might make me vulnerable"
it means "I am not available for any kind of interaction"
it means " you may still have something I can benefit from in the future"
it means "I'm in the groove, at least this way I can live with the numbness"
it means "I don't wish to know you or myself and I hope I never have to meet either of us"


Commentary: there is a direct link between the fear that halts process and offers up stunted incomplete versions of relationship, and the simultaneous or subsequent ways in which people attempt to unstick themselves and get their needs for authenticity, integration, autonomy, bliss and oblivion met. Every synthetic "have a good day" multiplied across hundreds of commodified relationships creates the kind of despair and numbness which ends in drunken MVA's, incessant use of pornography, uncontrollable gambling, workaholism, obesity, and all the other addictions and afflictions of affluence.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A List of Meaningless Statistics

Use these as needed in advertorials, direct marketing etc

Most people only use 10% of their brain
90% of the world's wealth is controlled by 10% of its population
Kills 99% of all germs (if they do they are wiping out the beneficial bacteria upon which we depend)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Two poems

 Of what use is a poem?

 Of what use is a poem
can it wipe away the tears
of a frightened child
(only if it is printed on soft toilet paper)

can it prise apart the bars
of habit and indifference
that line the dayless pens
of factory farms
(only if it is to reach beyond the converted)

can it unclench the angry fist before it strikes
(no, nor stop the missile in its flight, that moment
has passed)

of what use is a poem?
can it become milk in the dry breast
can it comfort the senile and infirm on their bedsores
bring hope to the prisoner
pry the addict from his needle embrace

of what use is a poem
can it cook the supper
cool aching feet
pay the mounting bills
can it stop obsessive thinking
soothe the clutching mind

of what use is a poem?
can it heal the wound of memory
stop time in its tracks
halt the terrible roaring
of having a cause
make me into G-d?


 Unusually I feature someone else's poem, in this case the third prize winner of the Reuben Rose Poetry Competition 2011 - Dina Yehuda

Bombing in Jerusalem

for Mary Jane Gardner
"and you shall love the stranger"

You had already travelled
far from your native Scotland
taught Bible in Africa for twenty years
but you wanted to get closer to the source
so you came here to study the Hebrew
teachings that came forth from Zion
and the word of God from jerusalem

Did you hope we would welcome you?
because to us in earthly Jerusalem
carrying heavy bags
past stations of sorrow
you were invisible
with your foreign accent and assumptions
a stranger on a strange mission

And when the owner of the kiosk
ran out to warn the people
standing near the black duffel bag
perhaps you did not understand him
because it was not the Hebrew of divine Jerusalem
he was shouting
but the harsh language of our lives here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Please Note

I think most men go to sex workers in order to be reminded that sex, or at least the purely physical mechanical dimensions of sex - are not really that important to them

mean are sexually polygamous and emotionally monagamous

Advice to middle aged men who are not in a relationship or who are temporarily stumped as to how to reinvigorate the sexualdimension of their relationship, and who over eat too much. Everytime you want to spend money on a little pastry or coffee or burger or shwarma or icecream in an attempt to nurture yourself, but which your spreading stomach and wasitline testify that your body does not need, instead put the dollars aside in a little money box. In a short time you'll have enough saved to go for a nurturing massage or to a sex worker for a hand job or anything else you agree upon... probably more nurturing , and much healthier than abusing the body with uneeded food.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ralph Suttner (Rooveyn ben Yisraeyl) 19th July 1902 - 5th June 1996

Grandpa Ralph was a practical man, not a philosopher or academic. He was a man who, when he thought, thought of how to solve mechanical or electrical problems. He was good at working with his hands, and was always making, fixing, - or at the end of his life - breaking ­things. He had a big body, standing six feet tall and well built. A 'breeker', as we used to say in South Africa. His wrists and arms were much thicker than mine. When he was young, he told me, he would do a hundred push ups in a row. Grandpa was in the army briefly during the 1922 great revolt, but saw no action. He was a good shot and at ease with guns. He had a .22 Winchester repeater he brought back from America. He also had a Baby Browning pistol and a German Luger. He once - so he told me - shot 18 rats with 18 bullets from the rifle.

Once he'd done well in business, he indulged himself. He played golf, bridge, was a long-time member of the Wanderers Club, went on overseas trips, ate at good restaurants, and pursued his hobby of photography. (Grandpa had several enlargers, did his own B&W and colour developing, and also had a large collection of very good cameras built up over a lifetime. Some of his old plate cameras he eventually donated to the Ben Susan museum of photography.) But he always worked extremely hard, still putting in a long, full day in his late seventies.

He was born in Graaf Reinet, a small town in the Cape Province, between Beaufort West and Somerset East. The third of five children, he outlived all but the youngest. His father Israel (born around 1872) had come from Shebilin, a village outside Riga in Latvia, and arrived in South Africa about 1890. There is a picture of Israel in a red coat doing something for the British during the Boer war. Israel started out as a smous, an itinerant peddler who sold goods to farmers. He married Rose Levinthal, who had came out to Port Elizabeth with some of her family - there were five sisters - from Middlesborough, Yorkshire. It seems he prospered, because by the time grandpa was born the Suttners had an Ostrich farm outside Graaf Reinet, and a furniture shop inside the town. They were prosperous. Israel brought one of the first cars to Graaf Reinet and Lou, the eldest brother, would drive it. But the ostrich industry collapsed, and the furniture shop burnt down. They left Graaf Reinet for Bethlehem where Israel bought a hotel with the remaining funds he had salvaged from the shop and farm. But he knew nothing of hotels, and lost the rest of his money, whereupon the family came to Johannesburg, the centre of economic opportunity. They lived in Doomfontein, where Israel opened up a grocery shop, which was also not particularly successful. Hence Grandpa's leaving school, and his apprenticeship to Metropolitan Vickers at age 14.

He learnt the considerable amount he knew about things mechanical and electrical on the job. As a young man, raced motorbikes, when the sport was in its infancy in South Africa. He also courted Lily Langstein - as Jacob did - for seven years, and then married hel. At that stage, as she told the slightly embarrassed young rabbi who came to see her immediately after Grandpa's death, she was still a virgin. Lily Langstein's father was born in Prague. Her mother, Isabel Cohen came from England. Her parents too, were unsuccessful in business, and ended up owning a boarding house, Villa Georgetta, in Louis Botha. Before that they had variously owned a hotel, a fruit shop, something in the Tattersalls (7). Lily said her father liked good living, bridge, entertaining, more than working. She says her parents were a very harmonious couple, and when her father had money he was good to his wife by "buying her lots of jewellery.

Theirs was an Anglo-Jewish home. No yiddishisms, samovars or recollections of the old country. They had both been born in South Africa, shaped by British culture as it was represented in South Africa, spoke English without accents, (or with the South African version of upper crust English in my Gran's case), carried no hint of the ghetto. Granny and Grandpa had two children, a daughter, June, who ran away (partly from them) to Rhodesia after marrying a goy who became a Judge which redeemed him in status conscious granny's eyes, and a son, Ron, who stayed close, very close, perhaps too close and never separated from them until his fifties. Neither Ralph or Lily were what I would consider good parents in the modem sense of connected and nurturing. They could be unfair. June didn't continue her music lessons so Dad was not allowed to learn the saxophone, something he desperately wanted to do. They were limited, almost stunted, it seems to me, in their capacity to empathise. In 1937 when their children were 5 years old (Ron, my Dad) and 9 (Aunty June) they were both put into a boarding house run by a Mrs Rudd, while Ralph and Lily went off for a trip to America. They motored across the States from New York to San Francisco. The children, by the way, were rescued by Rose Suttner, who took them to her house in Doris Street, Yeoville.

Grandpa admired America and all things American. He went to America at least five or six times. He once, when we were discussing the situation in South Africa (before 1990), much to my surprise, because, as I said, Grandpa was not much interested in philosophical statements (if he read, he read detective novels), suddenly threw out something Benjamin Franklin had said. He imported big American cars to South Africa, for his own use. He bought out a Buick Rivera in 1968, then a mid-engined Chev Corvair Coupe, a Pontiac Firebird, and after he sold that, a Chev Monte Carlo with a monster five litre engine and a bonnet that seemed to me, as a kid, to stretch for ever. I remember the smell of the interior of those cars, a leather and car polish smell, and his hands on the steering wheel in leather driving gloves. He kept on driving till 91, when he could hardly hear and was very weak. Dad took the key away from him - it was now a little old white Toyota corolla he was driving - how age humbles us - because he was a danger to himself and others. He was quite remote from us grandchildren. When I was a child he called me by some affectionate nickname Sam Bedeegs or Sam Bedoodle, from a movie or something, a name which had nothing to do with me or him, and we never progressed much beyond that level. There was no attempt to ever really get to know us, in the sense of exploring the nooks and crannies of our beings (I doubt he knew anyone, including himself, in that way) yet at the same time there was an acceptance of us as a simple fact of life which is a different - and perhaps even more profound - kind of knowing. I think everything was like that for him. Simple and uncomplicated. Not one to get tied up in knots of the mind.

He learnt on the job, at Metropolitan Vickers. He was a pioneer of radio manufacturing, making some of the first radios in the country in the back of their house in Muller Street, in Yeoville, in 1933. Crystal Radio sets, which he gave or sold to friends. One of the first went to the mayor of Benoni, George Rennie. In 1937 he became an Associate Member of the American Institute of Radio Engineers, quite an honour at the time for a non-American.

He founded Teleoptic after leaving Metro Vickers, and in 1944 established one of the first ­perhaps the first - production line making radios here. He was also chairman of the South African manufacturers association for a while, and well respected in the industry. Grandpa, as I have already indicated, felt at home with mechanical things. He used to buy smashed up cars and fix them to make extra money - this when they were starting out. He was wonderfully adept with his hands, whether fabricating a part on a lathe or putting a braai together that had stumped his grandson in law - also an engineer. In his eighties he'd still make a part he needed on a lathe at work. He was always putting things together, or taking them apart. The latter propensity kept him occupied, and Granny furious, at the end of his life. He'd take the bedroom lamp apart and have it spread across their bed in a thousand springs and screws and cords. He'd fiddle with the washing machine or heater, and Dad would sometimes have to make good the damage. Near the end he had bouts of senility. Would wonder around the flat at 2:00 am turning on all the lights and shouting "Mary" for the maids because he wanted his meal. Though the lamp cords were snakes, and cut one of them, luckily not electrocuting himself in the process. He was still largely lucid three months before the end, but withdrawing more and more. And there were all the attendant problems of old age - incontinence for one, which shorted the electric blanket and had him banned from a neighbour's bridge game because he 'stained the furniture.' Grandpa dribbled. Special nappies eventually solved that, and restored some dignity, and some relief for those around him.

His prejudices and loyalties - to his 'own way' , to his family, to his wife - reflected his white South Africaness and his Jewishness. I imagine they were all put in place early on in his life. Adult blacks were boys and girls, workers in his factory or domestic servants in his home. He had none of the guilt of grandchildren born into affluence. As a 'self made man' he expected others to make good as he had done (irrespective of whether they had the same opportunities as he had had.) They simply knew their place and did their work or he'd boot them out. But I never heard him say something that was pointedly racist, that went beyond the unthinking and crass pueralisation and caricaturisation of blacks which was normative across white South African society. For he was never a mean or cruel or petty or vindictive man. Afrikaners, as he told me his father had told him 'were not to be trusted further than they could be thrown.' Yet he spoke Afrikaans quite fluently, and reverted to it frequently at the end of his life. He conversed with Mary Nakedi, the black domestic worker who looked after him, and her sister Martha in Afrikaans.

I don't think he thought much of rabbis as a professional class. He wouldn't buy German cars or products after the second World War. (Although he became the agent for Becker, a major German car radio manufacturer.) When his daughter June married Tony Smith, a young advocate who was not Jewish, he was upset and angry about the divergence from something he held terribly important at the ground floor of his being, if not in the upper stories where he lived his daily life. Years later Andy Q'Dowd, the boyfriend of June's daughter Mandy was tragically killed in a car collision, as he and Mandy were driving back to university (son of Michael of Anglo American and Kathy of Mt Everest) Mandy came back to Johannesburg and spent the night with the grandparents. Grandpa gave the young woman, obviously in a state of enormous shock, a lecture about how the rot had started with June marrying a Gentile, and that she Mandy should not repeat the mistake. Supremely insensitive, but loyal to what he understood was his. Hurtful, but an innocent (as we all are) who hurt in blindness.

His was not a delicate soul, blown over by other people's like or dislike for him. When he got older Gran or my father would yell at him and he would smile gently as if a pleasant wind had just fanned him. (Sometimes my Dad's anger and frustration did get through, and then he showed pain). There was a sense of him being chiefly tuned in to some internal voice, a voice so loud and clear in him it seemed to effortlessly block outside voices, sometimes to the point of making it frustrating to work with him, and difficult for those close to him to be with. Hence the yelling. Of course the yelling was also a function of his increasing deafness, and his ongoing refusal to use a hearing aid. Stubborn. Stubborn as hell.Even when he was old and very infirm he wouldn't give in. We went shopping for meat for the maid one day, in Killarney, at Checkers, and he insisted, although he could only walk very short distances, he come with, "to show you where the meat is". I said hold on I'll go and get the meat and he said no the meat's over there and headed off down the wrong aisle. In exasperation I yanked him back to where I was going and he had to come with - he was too weak to do otherwise - but as soon as I let him go he was back of down the wrong aisle, like a guided missile on its fixed trajectory. Sure of himself in his Ralphness. He wrote to me once "You still have more to learn than Granny and I have forgotten."

My Gran was a tough woman who in her prime could be very demanding and confrontational, and was good at intimidating and bullying those less assertive than herself, but she beat helplessly against the wall of his indifference to her anger, and perhaps also to some of her other needs. I can't imagine him as a particularly sensitive lover ... He wasn't easily hurt in daily quarrels and tiffs, and seemed to be practically immune in his thickskinedness. But he cried easily at funerals and at weddings, and could become very sentimental on occasions, as when talking on the telephone to grandchildren living overseas. He cried at my mother's funeral, while my Gran remained stony faced and patted her hair style. That stubbornness had what I see as a very positive side, a gutsiness. Grandpa was unafraid of life and people. Or, if he was afraid, he'd buried it so deep no one, especially himself, saw any sign of it. Perhaps he was unafraid because he was uncomplicated.

When he was already well into his seventies he was mugged outside Teleoptic, which was in Main Street, Jeppestown. Two black men attacked him, but Grandpa wasn't one to let people take his hard earned property. He fought them off, kicking one in the groin. The other managed to snatch his wristwatch and made off. The next day Grandpa went back with his gun and waited for them but of course they didn't show. His loyalties were strange and limited as they were strong. Grandpa was a reliable breadwinner, and viewed himself as the 'titular head' of the Suttner family. His loyalty to his wife expressed itself in many ways. When I fought with Granny and did not have anything to do with her for several years he gave me an ultimatum - I must make up with her or break off contact with both of them. He would also consult with her on major issues. He asked her, for example, if it was OK with her that he leave Metro Vickers and start up his own company: "I told him" recalls Gran, "that I had every confidence in his ability to make a success of it." He acknowledged that "she had stood by him through thick and thin, with never a word of complaint." Yet he had girlfriends, relationships or affairs he pursued outside his marriage. He was fussy about food. Granny had to cater for a long list of things he wouldn't eat. He couldn't stand onions - even the smell of them (although if they were cooked with something else and he wasn't told they were in the food he'd eat them quite happily.) Garlic. Gravies. Pickles. Anything spicy. He liked starches, but wasn't a great fan of greens. Wouldn't eat squid, or prawns(?) And he had a very sweet tooth. Granny would hide the chocolates from him so that he wouldn't eat them all. In the last few years he kept lemon creams next to his bed, ready for midnight devouring.

Grandpa was also something of a hypochondriac, a pill consumer and frequent doctor consulter, who liked to be reassured that all was in good shape. "Doctor Gritsman says my hearts strong as anything," he'd tell me proudly. His cupboard and chest side drawer were filled with medicines - antihistamines, analgesics, sleeping tablets (ranging from over the counter stuff to Welconal), laxitives, decongestants, Voltarin, powders for heartburn and to assist digestion (he'd had his gall bladder removed), bandages, anaesthetic pastes for mouth sores, all sorts of vitamins, and denture cleaner (he'd long since lost his teeth, and didn't like the false ones. So he mostly didn't use them, and 'chewed' his food with his gums.) He'd doctor himself with these medicines, sometimes with inappropriately strong ones, and also dish out his own prescriptions to Granny, and to the maids. But the up side of that fussiness was a scrupulousness in business, in never owing anyone money, in paying promptly for things ordered or bought. And because he was honest, he saw other people that way as well. He told me that in his business dealings he had found most people to be honest. Grandpa understood bartering in business and getting a fair price for his goods, and he was far from being a sucker. He understood cars and machinery and photographic equipment and radio technology, and he was quick to grasp the implications of the new medium. He also understood hard work and the value of a good business reputation. But he was unwilling to take the kind of calculated risks which make businesses really happen. Because of having had to support his and Lily's broke parents, the young couple vowed together never to have their children support them. So Grandpa never invested in stocks, never borrowed big capital in order to really expand, and in the end the business ran at a loss, shrank and became non-viable. It also meant my father had years of frustration in this family business, Teleoptic, because his ideas and creativity were quashed by Grandpas's insistence on doing it "his" way, or perhaps because Dad never stood up for his own way.

Grandpa didn't know much intellectually about Jewishness as religion or history or culture, could hardly read Hebrew or understand Yiddish, and related to synagogue chiefly as a social function and duty (like all of his contemporaries) - something which maintained a sense of identity, community, and his location in that community. He didn't keep kosher (he never touched pork, on religious grounds, but he would occasionally eat oysters) or observe other structures and strictures, and nor was he knowledgeable about, or emotionally identified with Zionism. But he knew he was a Jew, and that was enough. He was a believer, no convoluted atheism or agnosticism for him, and no complicated codes of behaviour resulting from belief either. He knew the orthodoxy cum traditionalism he had encountered was the proper Judaism, and was happy for it to be there. Granny and Grandpa had a little bedtime prayer on a card given to them by some synagogue union; Krias Shema Al HaMita - the reading of the Shema upon retiring. In the last few weeks of his life he would often say Shemo Yisroayl Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echod, Hear 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One, to himself before going to sleep. Before this he's already taken to saying little prayers for the family, asking that they be kept safe and well. Apparently he especially mentioned Rosemary, of whom he was very fond, and whom he had seen more of than the other grandchildren.

When we were going through his cupboard after his death I found a little card with Psalm 23 printed on it in English: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He lies me down in green pastures, and leads me besides the still waters, He restoreth my soul...  Unlike me, his existence was chiefly in the world of actions - maasim -and practical thought. Not that he didn't respect learning in general. He said his dad had been a Hebrew scholar, and seemed proud of it. He certainly admired professional people (I think he would have said professional men), particularly medical doctors. Having left school himself at age 14, a university degree probably represented a strange and elite world. But he himself vanished leaving behind no notes to himself, no record of his inner life (other than perhaps a letter or two) - just pill bottles, laundry tickets, old voltmeters, guns, golfballs, pictures of him in America, Japan, Hong Kong, a standard 8mm film of him throwing snowball at someone else in Germany, tools, a grease gun, micro calipers, several fountain pens (he loved them), boxes and boxes of bills, receipts and invoices (he never threw old paperwork out, never know when you might have need of them, he said), old adding machines, bullets, and a bottle of developer - a flat full of the physical artefacts of a life lived fully in the physical world. He was more of a warrior than a worrier, and there seemed to have a deep acceptance of life as it is. Selfish on occasion, but a free spirit in essence. I always respected him, with the respect of one who does not fully trust himself for one who seemingly did.

One day, about three or so years before his death, when he was well into his retirement, we were discussing making money, or talking about the state of his dwindling savings. "That's how life is," he said to me, "one day you're up, one day you're down." And he smiled. He told Doctor Gritsman that he had worked his whole life so that at least he could die in his own bed in his own flat, not in some old age home. And what he wanted - he got.

When my grandfather grew very old
he also grew so deaf
he could not hear his footsteps
or the creaking of his joints

As a boy he rode bareback
on the ostrich farm near Graaff Reinet
no horizons weighed on the fence of his days
and time was not a necklace in the safe deposit box

But at ninety the fields of his youth had shrunk
too small for even his toes
and colours which dyed his being for years
floated or melted away

the world which once held him easily
rolled beyond his gasp
the planet became a sea blue pea
the size of a bead in a baby's rattle

which grandpa watched though a telescope
or breathed hoarsely down the phone at
and when he couldn't see it at all
he stopped

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teach your children

We teach our children not to lie
and then show them adverts all day

Monday, September 3, 2012

Forward to the Past

Nothing new under the sun wrote King Solomon or whoever was the author of the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiasteces). I was reminded of this when, browsing around in a second hand bookshop, I found a book in the Judaica section called 'Dvinsk: Its Rise and Decline.' I knew nothing about the author, other than the few biographical facts given on the dust jacket. His name was Yudel Flior and he was born in Dvinsk in 1886. He died in Johannesburg in 1960. It emerges from the book itself that he left Dvinsk in 1928. What he did in South Africa for 32 years is not mentioned. Someone else called Maurice Flior holds the copyright, and the book is dedicated to a Mendel Flior killed in action in Italy in 1944. Presumably this Mendel was the son of either Maurice or Yudel. I later discovered, in an article on the 1930's Johannesburg Jewish Workers Club, that Jack Flior, a furniture maker and club member, was one of the few South Africans to fight in Spain as part of the International Brigade. Presumably they were all related.

 The publication date of 'Dvinsk: Its Rise and Decline' is absent, but because the price appears in both Rands and shillings, it was probably brought out in 1961, when South Africa declared herself a republic and went over from the British monetary system to one of Rands and cents. I had been doing research into the early history of the South African Communist Party, or Communist Party of South Africa as it was then known, and hoped the book might shed some light on the subject. It didn't, but as I read from page to page I became more and more fascinated by its little vignettes of Jewish life in Dvinsk.

This small town, in what is today Latvia, was home to around 90 000 people at the turn of the century. Roughly half of these were Jewish, and like Jewish communities everywhere they had nothing more in common - and nothing less - than that. There were religious Jews, and Jewish factory owners who paid their Jewish workers miserable wages and conspired with the Tsarist authorities to have bund officials arrested and deported. There were the workers, and the lumpen proletariat, pickpockets, thieves, and pimps with names like Shainke mit der goldener yodayim, Zuske One-eye andYisrolke Savinsky.

 What really fascinated me were the verbal sketches of character and place, the descriptions of people caught up in conflicts of their own or others making. They were fascinating because they were all instantly recognisable, because nothing has changed except for the names of the actors and the scenery in the background. The script remains the same. Take the following brief passage where Yudel describes an incident from his Bundist youth:

 "Yeremov took us into a courtyard, where fourteen youths and four girls were lined up. He moved up and down the line slapping faces and cursing as he did so. His underlings assisted with their rifle buts. My share of what was going on was a bloody nose, a swollen face, and bruised sides.We were eager to be taken to a police station so as to escape his sadism ...then began the whole formality of taking our names, addresses, and other details about us. They charged us with organising a demonstration, challenging state authority, and wounding a number of policeman. We refused to sign the statements they had placed in front of us. At one in the morning they transferred us to the political police."

If we were to substitute the name Theunis Swanepoel ( a South African police chief interrogator, tortured ANC and SACP activists over two decades, and at time of writing had not yet been brought to trial) for the bullying sadist Yeremov, and young black trade unionists or high schoolers for the Jewish bundist youth, then the above description could be South Africa in 1968, 1978, or 1988, instead of Dvinsk in 1908. Yeremov, by the way, was later shot in the head by one Mendel Deutsch, but did not die. For me, the parallels were not just with parts of South African history we have all directly or indirectly experienced: In the second half of the eighties, when South Africa was experiencing its worst years of repression, (and let's hope that statement will still be true by the time the next elections roll around) I was a soldier in the Israel Defence Force. Sometimes we brought prisoners from the Gaza Strip to a prison camp in Israel known as Ansar Three. (The earlier Ansars had been camps built to house PLO prisoners taken during the Lebanese war). Whatever the ethical merits and demerits of detaining vast numbers of people, (and this question certainly troubled me), there was a troubling recognition which niggled even if one approached the whole thing from an amoral, survivalist point of view: we were actually building Palestinian nationalism by the very actions designed to curb it. The prisoners came from different parts of Gaza Gaza city, Chan Yunis, Rafiach, Gibalia, Shati. They had often never met before, but in the time they spent in Ansar courtesy of the of the IDF and State of Israel friendships were formed, friendships based on a common struggle, friendships as firm as those formed between Irgun or Haganah men in British jails a half century before. Not for nothing do Palestinians refer to Israeli jails and detention camps as 'universities', for a great deal of learning and shaping takes place in these institutions. The politically unaware come into contact with hardened political activists, Hamas
fundamentalists have the chance to spread their version of Islam under perfect conditions (there are no rival distractions), and a common enemy and a common lot forms a new 'we' that never existed before.

Which brings us back to Dvinsk and the following description: 'The leaders had correctly assessed the position when they said thatprison was the finest school for producing revolutionaries. While we were [held] in the basement we organisedlectures and study groups, ranging from political economy to scientific subjects. We discussed and debated withmuch zest. Everything proved of the greatest interest, with so much time on our hands.

There were two innocent Talmudical students among those who had been arrested. The police accused them of being underhand revolutionaries. But they were as innocent as a new born babe. They separated themselves from the rest ofus, and spent all their time in a corner of the basement ...swayed to and fro as they offered up prayers without end. Now and again one recited to the other a page of Gemara from memory. One day we were taken aback when Noah, the smaller of the two, entered into the discussion as to the origin of certain Hebrew words. And from that time onwards a friendlier relationship existed between us. They participated more regularly in the discussions we held.When I left the basement they were still there. Tsar Nicholas had not only provided me with thirty days free board and lodging, but I was actually paid seven kopkes for each day of my incarceration!"

It would be interesting to know what became of those two yeshivah bocherim, if they emerged from jail unchanged, or perhaps were more aware of class and national identities and issues. The book does not say. It does, however, tell us that the Jews of Dvinsk, like Jewry everywhere, responded to the meeting with modernity in different ways. Some clung to the old customs, some became Zionists or Bundists, some assimilated and became social democrats, affluent factory-owners, or bourgeoisie professionals. Their options was not all that different from those we face now, but perhaps their decisions had to be made more consciously than ours. Unlike many Jews of today, whose Jewish identity is so vestigial it hardly needs to be deconstructed to collapse with a crash, they did need to negate a tangible Jewishness in order to become something else. Those Jews, and even the most atheistic and class conscious of them, knew what time of the Hebrew year it was, knew their gefilte fish from their tzimmes:

"On top of all my misfortunes (Yudel was unemployed at this point in his story), our house abutted on the Beth Hamedrash. A fence separated us. Every morning the "Shamos" stood at the head of my bed, shaking me into wakefulness. "Come Yudel," he nagged, 'We're short of a tenth for a I minyan'. Its a yahrzeit." At the beginning I yielded to him. But he never knew when to call it a day. His presence in the morning so irritated me that I chased him. But what was the use ? The yahrzeit himself would come and plead with me. And can one turn his back on a mourner, who is pleading for the departed one to be elevated to Paradise ? However much I resented it, I, the atheist, was the one who helped quite a number into Paradise."

Today some Jewish communities are shrinking, encouraged by apathy and by accepting host societies which make it difficult to recall why its worth being different. Others are in potential or actual physical danger from Islamic fundamentalism, chauvinistic nationalism in the CSR republics, or simply unstable political and economic climates, as has been the case in South Africa. Those who can leave places like Yemen, Syria, the Ukraine or Azerbaijan try to go to countries which will allow them to prosper materially. Many go to Israel because they can't get in elsewhere. So what's new ? Yudel Flior:

"By 1927, Lettish nationalism tended towards chauvinism ...the cry was 'Latvia for the Letts !" A clandestine anti-Semitism was prevalent in Dvinsk. Jews were forced out of the economy. It was difficult to make ends meet, and they began to look for a way out. Immigration was the only hope. The Jews with foresight had left early on for America, which closed its doors in 1927. Quite a number sailed for Argentina and Brazil. Many of the youth settled in Palestine. The Jewish population of Dvinsk was dwindling fast. At the end of 1928 I left my beloved hometown of Dvinsk. Together with eighty three other Jews I sailed for South Africa. That was the last I saw of Dvinsk."

As stated previously, I knew nothing of the author and his descendants. But intrigued by Yudel's descriptions, I looked in the phone book to see if there were any Fliot's still listed in Johannesburg. There were, two of them, and a Maurice Flior Fertilizer company. I dialled a few of these Fliors, and the first to answer was Roy, the grandson of Yudel. He explained that Yudel had had three sons: Maurice, Jack and Mendel, who was killed in action in the Second World War (remember the book's dedication.) Roy explained that the book on Dvinsk was a translated excerpt from several volumes of Yudels memoirs in Yiddish. Apparently the literary bent had passed on to Maurice, who, besides establishing a lucrative fertiliser business, had also had found time to publish two novels. One, called `Herald of the East Wind' dealt with the Sino-Russian conflict. The other, "Sarah', chronicled the movement of Johannesburg Jews from proletarian immigrants to settled affluence. The third brother, Jack, who had gone off to fight for the International Brigade way back in 1937, was the only one still alive. Jack had been on a Russian gun
boat during the war, a secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa, and had had to flee this country several times.

Roy, Maurice's son, hinted that the relationship between the two brothers had been stormy, but now Jack was back for good, to end an adventurous and troubled life working in the fertiliser company of his recently deceased brother.

Here ends the story. I did not ask of the existence or whereabouts of the rest of the Flior clan. I might have
persued the matter, and been told that one of Yudel Flior's descendants, a second or third generation South

African, was shot in a car hijacking whilst waiting at a red robot in Edenvale Or was alive and well and happy to talk about grandfather Yudel and the strange ways of providence. Or had set sail - as Yudel did sixty years before - for securer shores than the country of his/her birth. But I left it alone. Ignorance is bliss, and leaves one free to speculate, to invent missing details and marvellous parallels. Besides I don't need things as trivial as facts to convince me that history is a repetitive affair, which cannot be reduced to the suffering or triumphs of the past. No, it keeps on spilling over uncontainably and reincarnating in the present. The author of Kohelet knew it long ago: " That which was been is that which shall be, and that which has been done is that which shall be done. " (written in 1993 or so)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Content-less thought #32

"I could have done more with my life"

If I could have I would have.

Who's more? Which of the internal voices sets itself up as knowing what more looks like? More killing? More symphony writing? More fathering of children? More consumption of meat? More earning money through owning casinos?

My life? Is it really mine? Or do I mean "I could have done more with the story of my life?"

Everything happens by itself.

everyone is ripe
for some transition
but not necessarily the one
you have decided for them

Monday, August 27, 2012


I continue to confuse

willfullness with willingness
stubbornness with strength
self esteem without self justification
assertiveness with aggression (I think if I say what I want in a situation I'm being "aggressive")
compassion with weakness
acceptance with permissiveness

how fine and important are these distinctions!

Like many men I confuse

seeking help with weakness
showing emotion with increased vulnerability (i.e wound ability)

The Hebrew word bochen comes from the root to test, to check, check it out against (or with) your reality. Lehavchin is to take note of what differentiates one thing from another. Check out if that rope is a snake, or if that snake is a rope. in Hindu thought discriminations is called viveka. Viveka is right discrimination between the true and the false, the real and the unreal (vi, away, without + veka from root vic to sift sever seperate)*
*From glossary in I Am That

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Jewish equivalents of Karma

Amidah al haraglayim - standing on your feet. If you can't stand on your legs, what can you possibly stand on ? Legs are a metaphor for both mobility and immovability ( "I'm taking a stand").
While the angels are stable monopods ( in Jewish tradition angels have only one "leg", and are messengers of G-d, only ever tasked with one type of assignment or portfolio, for eg the angel of healing, Refael, or the angel of ATM's Caspiel), in the human realm a tripod is more stable than a bipod, which is perhaps why the Jewish calendar has three legs: Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. In Hebrew these festivals are known collectively as the three legs... usually translated as pilgrim festivals because the ancient Israelis used to go up to Jerusalem where the Temple stood on those holidays.
Could it be a useful practice to discover this not-visible-to-ordinary-seeing third leg in the same way as we work with the not at first visible third eye?

The Jewish understanding of angels - called messengers - in Hebrew - is that they are units of causation. The angel of healing causes healing to occur, the angel of death brings death. Above each blade of grass is an angel which strikes it and causes it to grow. People create angels with their actions. This from the Ari. So underneath all the religious discourse lies a theory of causation. Mtzva gorrerret mitzvah ve aveyrah gorrerret aveyra. Bederech sheadam rotzeh lalechet ba molichin too. Shalom aleichem malachei hashalom. Nothing is advised. Nothing is forbidden. And nothing is free (i.e everything has a consequence, creates angels who bring a message...


Jewishness: difference for the sake of difference or difference that makes a difference?


"האור הגנוז לצדיקים..."

אבל למה רק לצדיקים כאשר זה ה"רשעים" שזקוקים במיוחד לאור הזה


(לא אמות כי אחיה (תהילים
= "I was not born and I will not die"
the body will dissolve, my stories will dissolve, but that which makes them possible will neither appear or disappear, come or go...
והוא היה והוא הווה והוא יהיה



(i.e "Mashalim" lo "Mashlim" aval ee efshar lenaked)

"ממקומו הוא יפן ברחמים"
"From G-d's place G-d will turn in mercy...."(from the shabbat liturgy)

The stillness of
and everything in its
this is the SatGuru
who manifests
from the formless space
in a particular
time and place

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pregnant with Eternity

Isn't it amazing that the Hebrew word for "world" is the same as the Hebrew word for "universe" and the same as the Hebrew word for "eternal" and all of them come from the root ayin- lamed-mem which means "hidden". Perhaps it is to suggest that something eternal is hidden beneath the appearances of this ephemeral world...I think Blake knew this when he wrote:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour


The Kings Cross debate: What is the point of only addressing the supply side, with curbs on alcohol, or pre-limting "pokies" (poker machines), or the "war on drugs", or censorship of pornography, without simultaneously addressing the demand side? Cultures which do not offer people pathways to bliss and ways of serving the divine leave people trying to self-medicate with addictions of one sort or another - either because they want to feel more, or because they want to numb out and feel less. The cure for addiction is bliss, and bliss comes from gratitude, and gratitude comes from questioning our assumptions about the way things should be.
“A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years....Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it... it's just easier if you do." Byron Katie

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Welcome to Australia, But

My life as a chameleon....

I've long felt a bit inferior
to plumbers and tradesmen
who come in
and do their job
brick by brick
who resolve leaks
restore tiles
rewire circuitry
and leave
their job done
while I
work with words
on jobs that have no
or end
during the war
I hid in an office
for seven years
until it was safe to come out
pizza delivery men
smuggled food to me
that tasted the same
as the boxes it came in
I watched the world go by
on a wind-up DVD player
and watered the plants
with my pee
it was only
when I grew tired of hiding
that I came out into
whatever was there 

as I get older
it becomes increasingly important to me
to maintain balance
and to grow the brand
of Immanuel Suttner

As the story of your body's ageing unfolds
everything just keeps on getting easier and easier
you find yourself simply doing
whatever needs to be done:
making school lunches
flipping a cockroach back onto its legs
reversing into a lamp post
attending an art exhibition or rally
picking up the scans which reveal arthritis
restructuring your insurance
shouting at a teenager
burying your parents
and the dog
enjoying your coffee
writing in your blog
going bankrupt
picking up the dishes from the caterers
lying awake at night consumed by anxiety
enjoying and often grateful
as you slowly become
exempt from it all
unable to move
even a millimeter
from the invisible trajectory
of the bullet fired by life
with your name on it 

(just seeing everything
happen by itself)

poetry is my affliction
poetry is my contradiction
poetry is my addiction
poetry is my benediction


It aint personal said the slaughterer
so please don't bleat
we don't want to hurt you
we just want your meat


Michael's Boat is Sinking

After the seduction
I wake up bruised and sore
the green lawns and loving families
in the margarine ads
has turned out to be trench warfare
the food they said would make me healthy
has made me fat
the car they said
would take us on adventures
ran over someone's beloved dog
I look out all around me
whadda I see
I see a row of cosmetically whitened teeth
coming for to swallow me

For Pessoa

I've had this strange pain in my side
I think G-d is trying to make
a woman out of me

If I had known you
like Adam knew Eve
I would not lie
in the dark and grieve

coming through customs
I try to look innocent
despite the fact
that I am
please don't bring the war here
leave it at the door
U think you want excitement
but you want peace much more

please don't bring the war here
you burn to prove your right
but peace is what you"ll come home to
when shadows call the night
Walking to the
"Welcome-to-Australia" March
from shule, a kipa unusually and ostentatiously
on my head, so as to flag that Jews
are also sensitive to these issues
I need to pee
so I step into a pub
in William Street, all pints of beer
and blaring tv screens
to use the loo
but before I do
I cover the kipa with a baseball cap
just in case

Glimpses of Home
Secular love songs
are really songs of love for the Divine
only their composers do not know it
Its hard
No, maybe its not that its hard but that its
hard for me
No, maybe its not that its hard for me but that its
actually me that that makes it hard
No, maybe it not me but its my thoughts that make it hard
yes, that's it, its my thoughts
which thought?
the thought that
"its hard"

its easy
I like that thought
I like thinking that thought
its easy to get born
its easy to die
easy to find yourself
doing what you're doing

Finding my voice

They said once you find your voice you’ll be ok
and its fine to imitate and anyway
even your imitations are original
because everyone has been set ringing
with their own song
but years and years of trying to figure out what other people want to hear
and give them that
can make it really hard to hear
like a woman who weights 350kg
and has no idea if she’s hungry or not
and can’t taste anything she eats
or if she's unhappy
or perfectly fine.
I am an example of the uncommon lesser donged shy poet
I have to be ferreted out from the cracks in which I take comfort

Poems on Desire

May I lie against the small of your back
may I may I
May I knead the tips of your rack
may I, may I?
may I move about in your crack
may I, may I

may I take and not give back
may I, may I


100 Women

Although my outsides are greying
inside my desire feels fresh and new
to lick the skin
of a 100 women
and know the different tastes of each
what do I imagine
that will give me?
immunity from desire?
a body knowledge that makes me complete
women as bestower
man as receiver
sometimes to be serviced
sometimes to kiss their feet
a young slim hand
on an elder penis
that never aged
though its owner did.


My peace time feels like a war zone
bills landing all around me
like kassims from Gaza
obstacles to the left
unknowns to the right
regret behind 
anxiety ahead  
sleepless nights
my bed my trench
and every morning
I go over the top

all depends
upon a balance
of presence
and absence
parenting and
the wheel's grip and go
the rests in music
the pauses in our conversation
bread rising
life on earth
not too much
and not to little


Crossing the line

sometime in the sobre 40s
I crossed a line
unnoticed at the time
where the could be's became might have beens
expansion became contraction
I thought less of what might be attained and more of what might be retained
and body scribbled notes in joints and eyes that it would not serve for ever
unexpectedly soon my vitality drained out of me like water drains out of a bath tub
one moment there, the next gone
like a cruise ship white and immaculate
that sets out from its home port
but gets battered by storms, runs aground on reefs
and can't quiet remember
why or who set sail 

Crossing the line

we cross a line
unnoticed at the time
where the could be's became might have beens
expansion became contraction
we think less of what might be attained and more of what might be retained
and body scribbles notes in joints and eyes that it will not serve for ever
like a cruise ship white and immaculatethat sets out from its home port
but gets battered by storms, runs aground on reefs
and can't quiet remember
why or who set sail

I had a friend
I inherited from my mom
who grew older
without a husband or children
and when she thought about taking flight said:
I can't just get up and go
I have responsibilities, there are things I must look after, things I must come home to
like my flat
and I
who have a wife and two children
and some pet mice
and a house
am like that women
only my flat is a little bigger


she spoke passionately 
her voice growing louder and her eyes more blazing
about how the Jews had been chased out of Hebron in 1929
how 67 of them  – including many women and children – were murdered and 
another 50 wounded and how this savage attack
was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting
with synagogues desecrated, and the  Jewish hospital, 
which had provided treatment for Moslems, attacked and ransacked, 
and only the personal courage displayed by Raymond Cafferata  
the one British Police Officer in the town (who was Jewish)
prevented the number of Jews massacred from being even greater
and how the cowed Jews of Hebron had turned down offers of help from the Haganah
the day before and that we could never allow such a massacre to happen again
and I nodded and all the time stole hungry glances
at the rise and passionate fall
of her breasts 

they call me a mexican beaded lizard
i wrestle for hours and hours
i don't know why
(just as Yaakov didn't know why he wrestled with His Self
and called it G?d)
if i win
i mate before i die

I like to hide
under a job
inside a pub
next to a book
beneath a film
locked up in
a bank account

The indignities of emigration #74: the household inspection

Friends of ours, emigrants, and economic refugees from Sydney, live in a hired house in Cairns. Once a quarter they have a house inspection by the letting agents, and the husband, who by virture of not having been able to find work for several years, is a house husband, begins cleaning and polishing several days before each inspection. During the last inspection he was given a "unsatisfactory" on the oven and so this time, determined to improve his score, he bought some highly toxic oven cleaner, b

However he was failed on the washing line, which still had washing on it (albeit clean and dry) when the inspection began 

Courage there is
scoop it up by the handful
the great sea of courage
is never emptied

everyone is ripe
for some transition
but not necessarily the one
you have decided for them

our dreams and wishes
paper boats set asail
on the burning lake

come back into your sockets
cheeks release
your taughtened brow
hands unfurl
your clutching fingers
mind stop
your grasping plans
make way for the blessing
that's already here
on the one hand
the fire of resentment
on the other
the icyness of the grave
do I call you?


After the massacre
the attribution of blame begins
it was the killer
with his 6000 rounds and weird message on the answering machine
it wasn't the lax gun laws
it wasn't the tv shows
it wasn't the dismissal in "have a nice day"
inflicted ten thousand times
it wasn't the macdonald's "rester aunts"
or 20 years of the bbc calling people who blew up arbitrarily selected victims "militants"
it wasn't the stream of illusions and images
(we were supposed to know they weren't real)
if we can just get ahold of the oiled fish of causation
we can make it jump through the hoops
of our likes and dislikes

I'm sitting in my car
and next to me is a big breasted young woman
unpacking her shopping
I'm a fine upstanding citizen by day
and because of that
a crazy absolutely normal impulse
to flash my pekelach
wells up in me
so that I may go from 0-100 with her
without an inbetween
so that a spark of recognition
can flash between us.
I reach down and unzip my pants
wrestle with my undies
but to my horror
there's nothing there
my penis has vanished
she puts the last bag away
gets into her car
and drives away


I am mature
and I have a wedding ring
that no longer fits my finger
to prove it
but still I look at young women and adore them
in the abstract
sans breath and blood
they are my greatest aspiration and inspiration
after peace


The good old days

Ah bring back the good old days
when people weren't so rude and impatient
when things were so much simpler
when everyone had a place
(Jews in ghettoes or cattle trucks
blacks on slave ships or sans hands on rubber plantations)

ah bring back the good old days
when people had time
to attend public executions
and children respected their elders
so much so they did not interrupt
even if their elder raped them

ah bring back the good old days
when people were honest
and knew what it was to work

When desire goes out the door
true love comes in through the window

the non-biological taboo: mommy, daughter, lover


"I embrace all of my son with love
(beginning with him it will move to me)
as he becomes a sexual being
and perhaps disappears into the
solitude of his room to masturbate
and delight in the new feelings
his body can provide

as his answers in monosyllables
eyes averted
as he challenges and misinterprets
my every word
as he accepts my good night hug
as he comes near and goes far"


If only the Tanach had commanded us:
young men and women are urged to have protected sex daily
as a thanks giving offering to the Lord
and old men and women
may take willing young partners
as their heart desires
but responsibly

running in the morning
trees chiselled against the sky
things that were One
now apart

running in the morning
trees chiselled agains the sky
even the gravestones
look better

(Boston Literary Review)

running in the morning
trees chiselled agains the sky
even the gravestones 
are bursting with being

See also I hold me