Friday, 1 November 2019

Better than the rest

In my youth, my friends and I defined ourselves literarily. We always had a copy of a personal thin paperback with us.
I remember one friend who was into James Joyce. His carrier book was “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. He would have preferred “Ulysses”, but that was too thick and heavy to always lug around with you.
My taste was the Collected Essays of George Orwell.

We also used to trash popular television series. The kind of series my sister liked.
These were some of the ways we positioned ourselves as not being part of the low-brow herd.
No, we were not cultural snobs, we were just better than the rest.

Nowadays, some of this television trash of yesteryear is viewed fondly. The series are seen as examples of earlier British culture.

Nowadays, I always have a copy of my medicine list, not a paperback, with me.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Holocaust, a dog and a tape recorder

Holocaust survivors usually did not like dogs.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis not only used dogs to guard Jews. They were also used to attack and kill them.

Ronnie and Michaela, a Belgium couple from my garin (group), arrived at the kibbutz with a small, friendly dog. The Romanian Holocaust survivors on the kibbutz were upset about this, but it was not forbidden.
It was not a major ideological problem like Danny’s tape recorder.

Danny and Judith were a brother and sister from a rich, left-wing Swiss Jewish family.
Judith arrived first. She was a bit too fancy for the Marxist-Zionist kibbutz. It was rumoured that she trimmed her pubic hair.
I never had the inclination to find out if the rumour was true or false. My friend Tzvi from Austria said it was true.

Danny arrived later with a (big) tape recorder, which he wanted to keep for himself because he could not live without his music.
This was a direct attack on the principle of equality in our garin.
We did not even have radios and we were still living in huts. Yet he refused to give up the tape recorder.
A solution was found.
He gave the tape recorder to the kibbutz library but kept it in his room, as he was allowed to borrow it indefinitely.

A solution was also found for Ronnie and Michaela’s small dog.
Someone poisoned it.
I remember seeing them distraught in the communal dining room after the poisoning. They were crying and shouting that the kibbutz had killed their dog. They did not get much sympathy.

Ronnie and Michaela left the kibbutz, as did Judith.
Her brother Danny is still there. He is quite important nowadays; sits on the Board of a number of peace organizations.

The kibbutz must be doing well, it even has a listing on the Bloomberg site.
"The Company's line of business includes the manufacturing of synthetic resins, plastics materials, and nonvulcanizable elastomers". It has 250 employees.
According to the site of the "company", it is the largest international manufacturer of solar swimming pool heating systems, with wholly-owned subsidiaries in the USA and Germany.

The kibbutz, like the country, has changed. The Holocaust is an ever dimming memory and I do not think they worry about dogs and tape recorders any more.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Diversity and Cultural Divide

Nieuwe Zakelijkheid, translated as New Objectivity or New Pragmatism, is a Dutch style of modernist architecture that started in the 1920s and continued into the 1930s.
I have a distinct antipathy towards this form of architecture.

I live across the road to a synagogue building that is a prime example of Nieuwe Zakelijkheid. It is now used as an auction hall.
The actual synagogue is in a small annex that is not an example of any form of architecture.

Opposite the annex lives an old homosexual couple.
Their yellow roses are in bloom.
One of the men dresses like an old professor, the other like a young man from the 1950s.
The old professor type told us his partner’s legs were bad and he could not walk very far, but he wanted to keep up appearances by dressing like a young man.

Next door lives an older woman who used to be the madam of a brothel. 
Her red roses are in bloom.
She is a nice, chatty person who changes the colour of her hair every month. She once told me she had an invalid husband who she looks after, but I have never seen him.
There is always another old lady with her. I wonder if this is a sister, a friend or a lover.
I also wonder if she has a past with her homosexual neighbours.

My Dutch wife says I should stop wondering and ask her. This illustrates the cultural divide between us.
One does not ask these things, one speculates.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The shtetl Jews of Amsterdam

"The 'Nieuw Israëlietisch Weekblad' (Dutch for New Israelite Weekly), in short NIW, is the only Jewish weekly and the oldest functioning news magazine in the Netherlands.
Founded on August 4, 1865, it has tried to inform the Jewish community on issues concerning Jews and Judaism in the Netherlands and in the world."

It is also quite good, much better than English-language Jewish newspapers like The Forward and the Jewish Chronicle.
The NIW journalists can actually write.

The NIW was a newspaper of and for progressive "shtetl" Jews in the progressive city of Amsterdam. Most Dutch Jews live there.
"Shtetl" in the sense that they kept their heads down and relied on their contacts with people in power to resolve problems for the Jewish community.

Amsterdam used to be a fine city for Jews. The Dutch Labour party, where Jews often held prominent positions, had been in power there since the end of the Second World War.
Amsterdam mayors, who always came from this party, were usually Jewish. 

However, from the 1980s onward, Amsterdam began to change demographically.
The indigenous Dutch workers started moving to the small towns outside the city.
The guest workers from Morocco and Turkey stayed. They sent for their families. Waves of new immigrants came after them. 

Most of the immigrants were Muslims. The progressive Jews welcomed them enthusiastically.
There were those who warned that many of these migrants had been fed a diet of Jew and Israel hatred in the countries they came from.
This was dismissed as right-wing bigotry.
Job Cohen, one of Amsterdam's Jewish mayors, invoked the history of his family in the Holocaust to justify his identification with the Muslim immigrants.

The demographic changes led to changes in institutions of the city, like the political parties, civil service and police.
The city was no longer pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.
Instead, virulent hatred of Israel and anybody who supported Israel was growing at an alarming rate.
The shtetl leaders did not seem to notice.

Small antisemitic demonstrations started appearing regularly on Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam.
A group of Jewish activists who had no connection to the shtetl dignitaries staged counter demonstrations.
The NIW was furious.
The Jewish weekly demonized the activists in acrimonious articles. They framed the activists as irresponsible and right-wing.

Eventually the prominent Jews of Amsterdam did realize what was going on, in June 2015.
The mayor of Amsterdam had proposed a twinning agreement with Tel Aviv.
This was greeted with an enormous negative backlash on social media and from the "new" citizens of Amsterdam. The majority of the city council opposed the agreement and the mayor rescinded his proposal.

Jewish dignitaries took to Facebook, Twitter and articles in newspapers to express their shock at what had happened.
Their greatest shock was at the betrayal of the Labour party, who had also voted against the twinning.

There are now many more and much larger antisemitic demonstrations on Dam Square. The police only intervene to arrest people who protest the antisemitism.
The new mayor from the Green Left party and the new city council are not interested in the Jewish entreaties.

However, the Jewish activists do still turn up to protest.
The NIW now supports the activists (it used to demonize).
Unfortunately, it is too little, too late.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The Age of the Simpleton

I can remember the forlorn, solitary figures with sandwich boards around their necks who walked the streets of London in all weathers. The message on their boards was simple: "the end is nigh".
Sometimes the presence of these figures annoyed me. I thought: simpletons, why don't you just piss off.
Other times I felt sorry for them.

The advent of the computer and internet changed their lives completely.
They could now come in from the cold, communicate with each other and, as a group, spread their simple message with a keyboard.
The forlorn, solitary figures formed pressure groups and later political parties. 

Nowadays, they walk the corridors of power. No longer forlorn and solitary, but esteemed and worshiped.
Their message is still the simple: "the end is nigh".

And yes, they are right. When simpletons take over, the end is nigh.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Brexit Blues

The politicians are not to blame. They are representative of the people. And the people are suffering from a Dissociative Identity Disorder.
The people want to leave I am told, and they want to remain I am told.
They are willing to revolt and fight for the right to leave and to remain.

If you represent the real will of the people you cannot compromise, because that would be a betrayal of the people.

All hail the revolting people with mental health issues.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Blame it on Bismark, not on the Jews

I wrote about the octogenarian Dutchman who told me Churchill was responsible for the Second World War and that if the Jews had not tried to control the world, Hitler would not have had to kill them.
(As an aside, the Dutch Strasserist leaves the option open of some “good” Jews who did not try to control the world; sounds very modern.)
This is a form of extreme historical revisionism that tries to downplay the evil role of the Nazis, and is only voiced by right-wing and Muslim Jew-haters.

Unfortunately, other forms of revisionist claptrap are supported by more people.
One of the most popular delusions is the assertion that the (draconian) reparations Germany had to pay at the end of the First World War led to the election of Hitler and the Second World War.
Not in the sense of one of the contributing factors, but in the sense of a causal relationship.

On social media everybody is a historian and everything can be explained with a one-liner. In this case: it was the reparations.
The claim paints the German people as victims who chose Hitler because of the persecution of the allies and usually blames the Jews, who are said to have controlled the finances of the reparations system.
It is mainly voiced by historical revisionists. However, there are also stupid, naive people everywhere who lap it up.
I have just seen it presented as “fact” by Jews on a Dutch FB-friend’s site. I did not comment as I have nothing to say to them.

In the following paragraphs I will take a short, casual look at the revisionist claim: there was a causal relationship between the reparations, the election of Hitler and the Second World War.

Did the Germans actually elect Hitler during the democratic period of the Weimar Republic? No they did not.
In the last free elections of November 1932, his party received 33% of the vote. That was a drop of 4% from the previous election.
It was the fragmentation of the vote and the peculiar working of the system of proportional representation, not a majority of the German electorate, that helped him seize power.

What about the reparations then?
Yes the reparations were draconian, but 1933 was 15 years after the end of the First World War.
And, I would add, have you never heard of the Dawes plan and the economic "Golden Years"?

In April 1924, an American economist named Charles Dawes was recruited to help set a new, realistic, target for Germany’s reparations payments.
This was called the Dawes Plan. Besides reducing the reparations, his plan reorganized the German National Bank and called for a loan of 800 million gold marks (emphasis on gold) for Germany.
The loan, financed primarily by America, was given. 

These measures eased the economic pressure on Germany.
The economic improvement led to the years between 1924 and 1929 becoming known as the “Golden Years”.
In October 1929 the Wall Street Crash occurred and the German economy collapsed. 

There are libraries full of analyses of the factors that contributed to the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.
Some refer to political science theories, like the J-curve of frustrated “rising expectations”, to explain the growth of left-wing and right-wing extremism in Germany in the interbellum years.

Even I have tried my hand at analysis. I wrote a paper on the subject that was well–received by my peers. Unfortunately, my epistle was written many years ago and I can only remember the highlights.

I highlighted the fact that Germany had no democratic tradition.
Bismark had united Germany under Prussia through wars. He did not allow any real democracy. The tradition of militarism and autocracy was predominant.
The Weimar Republic created wonderful democratic institutions. However, they were not populated by democrats and were not a buffer to the rise of extremism.

So my one-liner would be: blame it on Bismark, not on the Jews

Sunday, 12 May 2019

In Western Europe, Jews have become expendable - again

You may have read about it. It is déjà vu.
May 4, 2019: Remembrance Day in the Netherlands. Official commemorations with deep emotional empathy for the Dutch Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
May 5, 2019: Liberation Day in the Netherlands. There is a public celebration in The Hague. A group of some 50 supporters of the Rotterdam football club Feyenoord chant the usual Jews to the gas chant.

Hundreds of people are there.

Nobody does anything, except one Jewish man.
He tries to talk to the haters.
They rough him up a bit.
He goes to a policeman who is nearby. What does the policeman do? Does he call for more police to arrest the chanters?
No, he sympathizes with the Jew and does nothing.

May 5, 2019 an article by a Jewish columnist, Rosanne Hertzberger. She is not anti-Israel, just against the current Israeli government.
She comments in her article that she is proud of how the democratic institutions function towards Jews in the Netherlands: “I see a lot of concern and involvement with the fate of the Jews, and I appreciate that.”

If I connect the Jew-hating event in The Hague to Ms Hertzberger’s article, then I should appreciate the policeman who expressed sympathy and did nothing.
Many Diaspora Jews, including Ms Herzberger, do not seem to realize you should judge people by their deeds not by their words.
They do not realize that Jews have become expendable. 

The Netherlands endorsed the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Nice words of support for Jews.
Should I be cheering?
After all, hate speech is a criminal offence in the Netherlands.

No, I am not cheering at this “concern and involvement with the fate of the Jews”. 
They did not incorporate it into law. Therefore, it has no validity.

In the centre of Amsterdam, on Dam Square opposite the Royal Palace, stands the 22-metres high National Monument. 
This is the Netherlands’ most important memorial to World War II.
Most of the dead were Dutch Jews who were killed in the death camps.
Yet, there are regular manifestations of hate speech against Jews in front of this monument.
The police do nothing. If you intervene, you may be arrested.

Jews have become expendable - again. Not just in the Netherlands, but in most of Western Europe.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Bloody Foreigners

I went to hospital today for a check-up on my aches and pains.
The start of my journey was a short bus ride to the metro. The only other person waiting at the bus stop was an African Muslim woman who was engrossed with her mobile telephone.
A few minutes later a stocky, light brown, middle-aged male - a North African type - joined us.
He was obviously a migrant or an asylum-seeker.

When the bus came, the African Muslim woman was the first to board. The North African type smiled at me and signaled with his arm that I should get on next.
Now, you cannot pull the wool over my eyes. He was clearly trying to hide his evilness by being polite to strangers.
I put on my best Cheshire cat smile and gestured with my arm that he should get on first. 

He replied with another smile and another arm gesture, signalling that I should board the bus before him.
I thought to myself, two can play at this game, you evil man.
I gave him my Rudolph Valentino smile that I usually reserve for special occasions and entreated him to get on the bus with an expansive arm gesture. 

The bus driver was getting impatient. He glared at us. Eventually the North African type got on the bus first.
Bloody foreigners.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Falling over een reminiscence: Poor San Francisco

Jerry was a Vietnam veteran and suffering from what is now called PTSD. He was living in Sally’s house on Eddy Street in San Francisco.
I met him when we stayed there in 1977.

When we arrived in San Francisco in our pickup we went to the American Express to check for mail. 
Our friends, Jan and Sietske, were also driving up the west coast from Mexico in a pickup. There was a letter from Sietske. She wrote that Jan had been admitted to San Francisco General hospital.
We did not know where that was.

A middle-aged woman dressed in green was talking to a young man with red hair who was sitting on a motorbike.
We thought she was someone official and asked her the way to San Francisco General.
She told us she was Sally, a social worker from Montana. The young man with red hair was her son, Red.
They directed us to the hospital and invited us back to their house for coffee afterwards.

Jan was very ill. They only found out later he had some kind of rare genetic disease. This had been triggered by the loss of his toenails after walking down and up the Grand Canyon in new shoes.

After the hospital we went to Sally's for coffee.
She lived in an old Victorian house that she was slowly renovating with a small group of miscellaneous people who were staying with her.
Sally offered us a room, which we accepted. We stayed there for three weeks.

Jerry said, do you know why Europeans smoke Stuyvesant and Pall Mall?
I replied, no.
He said, because when the Americans liberated Europe they gave all the shitty cigarettes to the people there. They kept the good ones, the Camels and Lucky Strikes, for themselves.

I used to smoke Camel plain. I rolled the pack up in my t-shirt sleeve.

I passed my driving test in San Francisco in a Ford F100 pickup.
The theory was easy.
A lady gave me the test paper and told me to fill it in and come back.
I went out to the pickup and copied the answers from a book. Then I returned to the nice lady and gave her the test paper back.
Congratulations, she exclaimed. You got 100%, the first one today.

Jerry gave me his hand-embroidered jeans jacket as a present.
Then it was too big for me. Now it is too small.

Poor San Francisco, it has changed. Nowadays it is not like the song any more.