Sunday, June 15, 2014

Politics – May 2014

Support is sought to facilitate the work of the Middle East Study Group. Information at

I also welcome promoting the two-state solution. See

In this place, this memorial of the Shoah, we hear God's question echo once more: 'Adam, where are you?'
~Pope Francis at Yad Vashem, quoting from Gen 3:9.
May 26, 2014

Ending the occupation is in the interest of Israel no less than it is a Palestinian interest.

~Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Reflections on May Newsletter
Bibi the Builder
Ehud Olmert’s Sentence
Pope Francis’ Visit to Yad Vashem
On Slavery
Euthanasia in Belgium
My Newspaper Interview
Maccabi Tel Aviv wins Euroleague championship
My Visit to Los Angeles
“Thank you, David”
My New Article
Visiting Israel
Books - Efraim Halevy, Man in the Shadow
Novel – The Book Thief
Movie – Detachment (2011)
Gems of the Month - Antwerp
Gem of the Month – Kevin Durant
Gem of the Month – London Theatre “Twelve Angry Men”
Monthly Poems

Light Side

Reflections on May Newsletter

Several people commented on the premature death of Ron Pundak, saying how great humanitarian and peacenik the man was.

Others were interested to see the diversity calendar.  Is it accessible online at

Dr Alan Roth wrote from London:

Dear Rafi,
Thanks for sending me your Politics column as always.

Good to see you included an entry about the very active Israel-Germany relationship. There are unique and regular consultations between the two governments, the latest one of which involved PM Merkel being accompanied by the 16 German cabinet ministers to meet their Israeli counterparts.

Many countries have research, cultural, academic and even financial links to Israel. So that doesn't make this relationship that 'special'. What makes it truly 'special' is the extent of the senior Israel-Germany governments consultations efforts, which are truly unique in concept, intent and certainly in scale. Never mind with Israel, but between any two nations and not just today but probably at any point in modern history.

Best regards,

Abraham Silverman wrote from Canada:
Over the years I have been a member of several business associations, non profit organizations and served on Government boards. It has always been a challenge to educate these groups who are by enlarge Christians to be aware that others who serve may celebrate different holidays. It was rare that the decision makers did not agree to check calendars and schedule so no one was excluded. It is always important to speak out.

Bibi the Builder

A politician’s policy is measured by the politician’s words and his actions. When the words do not match the actions, the politician’s credibility is lost. Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks of the need for a two state solution, and at the same time he builds in an unprecedented way in the territory of his partner for peace. His actions make his words hollow and meaningless. They undermined the prospects for peace not only with the Palestinians but also with the entire Arab world.

Peace with the Palestinians is the key for Israel’s survival, and for its acceptance as an integral member of the Middle Eastern community. Israel must seek acceptance into the region it resides. Otherwise, it will remain an alien misfit, a bone in the throat of its neighbours and the entire Arab League.

During the nine months of negotiations with the Palestinians, Bibi the Builder has built 50 housing units a day; 1,540 housing units per month. The total number of housing units is estimated to be 13,851. During the same time, he “negotiated” peace, and constantly has blamed the Palestinians for being “not serious” and “not committed” to peace.

Netanyahu’s intentions are clear: he wishes to create facts on the ground, and leave the Palestinians a very small territory, more or less their large cities and the adjacent villages. His future housing plans include 4,793 units in the isolated settlements, which are not part of the major settlement blocs. They account for 73% of the planned units (total 6,561) that are said to be built beyond the Green Line.

The report, published by Peace Now that monitors the government’s building initiatives beyond the Green Line, says that during the past nine months, Bibi the Builder has built four new settlements: one in the Jordan Valley, one south of Beit Lechem, one in West Samariah (Leshem), and a new settlement inside the city of Hebron, “the city of our forefathers”. I must admit: the wisdom of this escapes me.

Bibi the Builder has also legitimized and helped four illegal settlements: two near Ramallah (Nahlei Tal and Zeit Raanan), one in the Jordan Valley (Givat Saleit), and one near Kalkilya (Elmatan).

In addition, Bibi the Builder continues to make East Jerusalem Jewish by authorizing 2,620 new housing units.

Of all sectors of the Israeli society, Netanyahu has associated himself the most with the settlers. He embraced them to his heart, and has put them at the top of Israel’s economy, Israel’s policy, and Israel’s future. By doing this he has undermined the prospects for peace.

I have mentioned Netanyahu’s very capable Minister of Housing Uri Ariel.  Netanyahu knew what he was getting by nominating Ariel the Doer for the job.

Ariel and Netanyahu

Ariel’s party, Jewish Home, responded to the Report by saying that the government should build more in every part of Eretz Yisrael. This is the only way to practice Zionism and reduce housing prices.

Tze U’Lemad (Go out and Learn): Peace? We are stubborn people. No need for peace. Building the Land of Yisrael is important.

Shabtain Bandet, “Netanyahu broke housing building records in the settlements”, Walla News (April 29, 2014) (Hebrew).

Ehud Olmert’s Sentence
Ehud Olmert became the first prime minister in the history of young Israel to be sentenced to serve in prison. An important and sad day in the political and judicial history of Israel.

During the past decade Olmert has battled against a string of corruption allegations. With the help of shrewd lawyers he had managed to escape convictions time after time. Until this one.

Judge David Rozen of Tel Aviv District Court used very harsh words, saying that Olmert was a traitor, when he sentenced him for six years in prison for bribery. He said “The taker of bribes disgusts us, with his power to make the institutions of the state hateful to the public.” Judge Rozen maintained “The taker of bribes smashes the foundation stone of his work and betrays the trust given him.” He forcefully concluded: “The cancer must be uprooted.”

Olmert, 68, will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Pope Francis’ Visit to Yad Vashem

On May 24, Pope Francis visited Jordan. On Sunday, May 25, he arrived in the West City of Bethlehem where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, attended Mass at the Church of the Nativity and made a surprise stop at the West Bank separation barrier. Later in the day, he landed at Ben-Gurion Airport where he was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

On May 26, the pope began his day in Jerusalem with a visit to the Temple Mount, after which he visited the Wailing Wall, Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem. At Yad Vashem, Pope Francis said: "A great evil has befallen us, such as never happened under the heavens. Now, Lord, hear our prayer, hear our plea, save us in your mercy. Save us from this horror."

"Grant us the grace to be ashamed of what men have done, to be ashamed of this massive idolatry, of having despised and destroyed our own flesh which you formed from the earth, to which you gave life with you own breath of life. Never again, Lord, never again!"

Pope Francis left the following inscription in the Yad Vashem’s guest book: “With shame for what man, who was created in the image of God, was able to do. With shame for the fact that man made himself the owner of evil. With shame that man made himself into God and sacrificed his brothers. Never again, never again.” The inscription is signed simply “Francisco” and the date.

On Slavery

I have attended a one-day workshop on slavery with Professor Kevin Bales. The workshop actually lasted four days, designed primarily for MA students. I took part in the first day.

Slavery is about using people as property. It involves exploitation, coercion, and loss of liberty. People are perceived as inferior being, as property. They are not being paid. They have no choice, and they are controlled through violence.

Slavery has existed since antiquity. The beginning of slavery was about orphans brought into a group and told that they should do certain things as contribution to the group. Those orphans were subjected to a system of control and maintenance.

We can discern waves of slavery. Each empire expanded by absorbing conquered people as slaves: Sumer, Babylon, Egypt; the Greek and the Athenian Empires; China; Rome, from where the word “slave” comes from. The word “slaves” comes from Slaves. The Slavic countries supplied many of the slaves for the Roman Empire, which Bales argues, was dependent on slaves as we depend today on oil. It ran on slaves. It was so rich because every military expansion yielded enormous profit, and with each victory hundreds of thousands of new slaves worked for the empire.

The Byzantine Empire (320 – 1453) also exploited large numbers of slaves. And then we come to the Transatlantic slave trade which we tend to identify with our present use of the word “slavery”, 13 million people taken from Africa over 350 years.

The Nazis also enslaved millions of people. The Japanese created the co-prosperity zone, in which they utilized thousands of comfort women.

In the USA, peonage was legal until 1948: (1581 USC Anti-peonage Law). Slavery was allowed under the pretense of returning debt for labour. Slaves were used in factories, mines, fields, and crops.

Unfortunately, slavery is not only a historic phenomenon. It is still very much present. According to Bales, today the number of slaves is estimated to be 29 million. It is the ugly part of globalization. Today rich people are able to exploit people from different parts of the world. They shift markets to cheaper places, with cheap man power.

Globalization is a bonanza if you are a criminal. You can shift money, drugs, and people across the globe. We witness a steady flow of people from poor countries to rich countries.

Bales  acknowledges that there is a definitional problem, and enormous methodological problems in ascertaining the accurate numbers of slaves today. Slavery, of course, is illegal. People try to hide and prevent you from seeing slavery. It is difficult to measure, to know, to discover the scope of the problem. Much of research relies on secondary sources, not primary sources. Another problem is common understanding as to what is slavery. There are at least three UN definitions of slavery.

For further discussion, see

Bales recommends King Leopold and Bury the Chains, two superb books on slavery by Adam Hochschild.

I recommend:
Bales, Kevin, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999 (kindle edition available)

Bales, Kevin, Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007 (kindle edition available)

Euthanasia in Belgium

I was invited to deliver two lectures on end-of-life at the University of Antwerp. First, a public lecture : The Right to Die with Dignity: Ethics & Policy.

A day later, a research seminar : First Do No Harm: Euthanasia of Demented Patients in Belgium.

I told my host, Professor Willem Lemmens (Wim), that my public lecture would be general and not specifically about Belgium as I knew that my analysis of the policy and practice of euthanasia in Belgium is likely to encounter objections and criticisms. I do not mind criticisms but suspected that the general public attending the lecture lacks sufficient knowledge to engage in an informed debate. I see little point in banging my head against well-intentioned but ill-informed walls. I said I am quite willing to engage in debate during my research seminar, designed for experts in the field. Indeed, I circulated my paper beforehand to the group of researchers and benefited from their comments.

My PowerPoint is available on my website:

Discussions about end-of-life concerns in Belgium and in the Netherlands are a mirror image of similar discussions in other countries. In these two countries I hear comments that are very different from comments in other parts of the western world. This was also the case in this visit. The euthanasia lobby in Belgium is doing very well. Thank you. Remind me of the culture in Holland. Dan Callahan terms it culture of death.

I argue that physicians should never propose euthanasia to patients. The request should come from the patients. Physicians should offer care, respect and compassion, not death. A post-doc student said “Killing is caring” to which I replied: Killing is cessation of caring.

I think the key to address euthanasia concerns is to insist on providing palliative care before speaking of euthanasia that should be considered only as a last resort. The role of palliative care is crucial. Many patients' concerns can be addressed and resolved with holistic palliative care that involves physical therapy as well as spiritual, emotional and social therapy.

After my public lecture there was a comment from the audience: Belgium is a world leader in palliative care, ranked 4 in the world. All good in Kingdom of Denmark, sorry Belgium.

Another comment from a senior physician in the audience: "I have euthanized 60 patients". There was a sense of pride and honour in this statement. A bizarre claim for fame. I almost wanted to respond: Good for you!

But is it also good for patients?

Later I learned that this doctor heads the Ethics Committee at the University of Antwerp Medical School.

A nurse approached me and said privately: My patients want care, love, not to be neglected. They don't want euthanasia. I asked her: "Why didn't you say this openly?" To which the nurse answered: "I did not feel comfortable saying this in the open". Me: "pity. Your voice should be heard". In spirit of Belgian openness...

Professor Chris Gastmans of the Catholic University Leuven was invited by Wim to comment on my research paper. Gastmans said that there was a case in the Netherlands when a patient requested euthanasia while competent. She became demented, the family called the GP to end her life, and then she resisted, physically objecting the procedure. The GP said he cannot do this. He went away. Some weeks later the family called upon him again, saying that this is what the patient wanted. The GP returned, the woman again resisted but this time the GP concluded the procedure and euthanized the patient.

I said that what should have been done is to take the patient out of her home and continue to take care of her in a suitable nursing home.

Time and again I emphasized that the medical profession should take care of vulnerable patients, invest in them, taking care of them.

Another commentator emphasized the role and impact of the media in Belgium. The media depicts death as preferable to dementia.

Dr Jan de voelder said that presently Belgian politicians declare that expanding the euthanasia law to include dementia will not happen, but it will. The people support this. The euthanasia lobby will transform this support into law.

de voelder said that there is a clear slippery slope. There are serious implications resulting from passing the Euthanasia Law. Once you open the door, there is pressure on weak people to die. Physicians put the question to patients because the patient becomes a burden on family and society. Euthanasia is a cheap substitute to expensive time, efforts, and economic expenditure. de voelder fears that death will become compulsory. Euthanasia will become an act of good citizenship. Not to become a burden on society.

In the research audience there was a nurse who works in a nursing home. He said that in the third stage of dementia patients are not responsive. They lack autonomy. The nurse feels that he is treating vegetables. He is required to wash them each and every day. He feeds them with a tube. There is no relation between these patients and the nursing home team. There is no sharing, no reciprocity. No form of consciousness. The nurse asked: Is there a sense of taking care of these people?

In Belgium, if those patients have advance directives, it is possible to stop feeding, stop treatment and let them die.

I acknowledged that treating those irrecoverable patients is difficult as no relationship with them is possible. But the frustration is of the nursing home, not of the patient. I explained that nurses honour the sanctity of human life even more when they treat demented patients. There is an ethical duty to treat all people with respect.

I resented the use of the term “vegetable” and then interestingly the nurse denied he was using the term. I explained the difference between philosophy and practice, the value of life, and the great significance of taking life.

A retired professor questioned: Why not ask society to provide infrastructure for suicide? To which I replied: What values you wish to promote in society? Do you want to promote culture of life, or culture of death? Do you wish to see your society growing in numbers or shrinking?

Dr Tom Mortier noted that in Belgium there are seven suicides per day. In the Netherlands, there are three suicides. I would like to know more about the relations between euthanasia and suicide.

Dr Jan De Volder took me to visit a nursing home run by the
Community of Sant’Egidio. It is a small, family type nursing home for eight patients. Each has his/her own room, and there is a shared living room and a kitchen. The place looks like almost a regular house, with a beautiful garden outside. I wish each and every one of us to live the last period of his/her life in such a family home, with the required nursing care. Fabulous. I was deeply impressed.

Next to this home, the
Community of Sant’Egidio runs a shelter for homeless people, where they can have a meal, a shower, and friendly discussions with people in a similar situation as well as with people who try to help them with advice, help them looking for a job and/or a place to stay. The place is clean, pleasant to the eye, friendly and so very important to people in need.

I thank my hosts, Professor Willem Lemmens and Dr Jan De Volder for their kind hospitality.

My Newspaper Interview

I granted a long interview to the Belgian paper Tertio on euthanasia in Belgium. The article was published on 14 May 2014, in Dutch. I’d be happy to send it to interested parties.

Maccabi Tel Aviv wins Euroleague championship

Against all odds, underdog Israeli basketball team defeated the mighty Real Madrid 98-86, in extra time. What an achievement for the Tel Aviv club, quite modest in comparison to the Real Empire, whose football club just won the European Championship in football. Maccabi has this precious winning mentality, where the sky is the limit. The passion, the energy, the zeal to win are able to overcome greater and superior rivals.

Maccabi Tel Aviv is the most successful club in the history of Israel. Its long list of trophies include:

Euroleague: 1977, 1981, 2004, 2005, 2014
Suproleague: 2001
Israeli National League: 50 titles, last 2011-12
Israeli National Cup: 41 titles, last 2014
Adriatic League: 2012


My Visit to Los Angeles

I was invited to the 3rd annual International Feminist Journal of Politics Conference at the University of Southern California to present my paper research “Judaism v Liberalism – The Status of Women in Israel”.

In the first time in my life, after dozens of conferences in different corners of the world, I attended a conference that had more women participants than men. Significantly more. I asked one participant why. She answered that men are afraid to attend such conferences.

I am not sure whether this was a coincidence or this is the case for many/all feminist conferences but there were many links between feminist theories and queer theories.

I think we gain better results in promoting women rights by working with the local communities while respecting the local cultural codes than by trying to enforce our moral values on illiberal communities. One such example is Sister in Islam. This organization believes that the only way is to work with religion, to understand religious scholarship, to use it for advocacy purposes.

I learned that less than 50% of American households comprise of "traditional" families – wife, husband, kids.


Although we lived in LA for a year, I never spent much time in the downtown area. I would go for basketball, a concert or a show and return to Westwood. This time, because my conference was at USC, my hotel was in downtown LA. It is very different from Westwood, Beverley Hills, Bel Air or Brentwood. 

Downtown LA reminds me of south Tel Aviv. The neglect is noticeable. So is the lack of investment in infrastructure and in people. 

The number of homeless people is staggering. So many people are unable to cope with the ruthless capitalist rat-race. Homelessness is a disgrace for the American society.  It is a disgrace for its people, its government and its politicians. Far more needs to be done to solve it. Far more should be done.

Homeless people are invisible. Most people pass next to them as they do not exist. It is a combination of apathy, of what I call “the contagious phenomenon”, and of shame, or embarrassment. Many people ignore homeless people because they are afraid. They are afraid that homelessness might touch them, affect their lives. They dread to be in their position. And they do not trust homeless people. Disparate people can do funny, unexpected things. As for shame, people ignore homeless people because they do not want to show them that they witness their situation. They do not wish to embarrass them. In some countries, people do not come to help people in distress, for instance, people who trip and fall, not to embarrass them by being witness to their predicament. But ignoring won't solve the problem.

Homelessness is not about freedom, people who opt to live on the street. It is about lack of better options. Society should care for them and provide them with safe, better options. Apathy is ruthless.

I admire the USA for its leadership of the free world. It plays the international Godfather that cares about abducted women in Africa, crisis in Mali, civil war in Libya, the Middle East peace process or any other concern which brings to bear the American aspiration to be the leader of the world. I wish to see similar care for the American people at home. There are so many Americans that need help. The greatness of a nation is measured by addressing first and foremost its own problems.

In a few days in LA I saw more cars that cost more than my house than I saw in England during the entire past year.

In a few days that I spent in downtown LA I saw more homeless people than I saw in Beverley, Hull, Leeds, York, Nottingham and Sheffield, combined.

It is a disgrace that people allow others to live in such a condition. The American society, this great nation, can do better. And it should.

“Thank you, David”

Jewish presence in the USA is significant, especially in areas close to my heart: academia, arts, media and politics. May 12, 2014, Good Morning America. One News Item. The refurbishment of the Washington monument has been completed. It had cost 14 million dollars. Half of it was donated by Mr David Rubinstein. “Thank you, David”, said the anchorman.

My New Article

“Press Regulation in Britain – Critical Analysis”, Science and Engineering Ethics, Vol. 20, No. 1 (March 2014).

This article reviews the history of press self-regulation in Britain, from the 1947 Ross Commission to the 2012 Leveson Inquiry Commission. It considers the history of the Press Council and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), analyzing the ways they developed, their work, and how they have reached their current non-status. It is argued that the existing situation in Britain is far from satisfactory, and that the press should advance more elaborate mechanisms of self-control, establishing a new regulatory body called the Public and Press Council that will be anchored in law, empowering the new regulator with greater and unprecedented authority, and equipping it with substantive sanctioning abilities. The Public and Press Council should be independent and effective, with transparent policies, processes and responsibilities. Its adjudication should be made in accordance with a written, detailed Code of Practice.

Key words: Britain, Code of Practice, Leveson Inquiry Commission, Press Council, Press Complaints Commission, Public and Press Council, self-regulation

This is the third and last paper of a recent trilogy on media regulation in Britain. As always, I’d be happy to send the paper to interested parties.

Visiting Israel

On 12-25 June I am invited to deliver lectures in Israel. I’d be happy to see colleagues and friends.

It is always good to return home. I Love Israel.


Efraim Halevy, Man in the Shadow (London: Phoenix, 2007)

This book of the former Head of the Mossad surprised me for several reasons. First, it is very honest. Halevy knows many things, and needs to hide many issues. The book had to undergo close scrutiny before allowed publication. Halevy manages to tell just enough to keep his readers engaged.

The book surprised me also because Halevy has this urge to “rank” people, almost grading them. This is strange. Why did he feel this urge, and why did he choose to do this?

Most staggeringly, Halevy does not hide the bluntest hostility he feels to Shimon Peres. The resentment runs from start to finish. Many pages are dedicated to Peres, and most if not all of them put Peres in a very bad limelight. This hostility comes at the expense of the book’s quality as Halevy, who seems to rely on personal diaries, repeats himself. The book should have enjoyed a more careful editing.

At the beginning Halevy tells the story of the peace negotiations with Jordan. On the same day of the historic event of getting on the verge of peace agreement, there were two suicide terror attacks in Israel, in Afula and in Hadera. There were reports that the attacks were perpetrated by the Hamas headquarters in Amman. Tensions were running high. Rabin and Peres resolved to take a very tough stand against Jordan. Halevy writes: “There was no doubt in my mind that none other than Mr Peres had prevailed upon the prime minister” and to his estimate “we could have easily gone to war with Jordan on false premises had my visit not taken place just at that point in time”.

The following day Halevy met Rabin and reported to him on his talks in Jordan. Rabin instructed that no one be informed of the news without his explicit approval. This instruction was kept until the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan on October 26, 1994. Halevy emphasizes: “Rabin instructed me in no uncertain terms not to report to Peres and to take every necessary measure to prevent him from (p. 51) knowing what was truly going on” [on the Jordanian front RCA].

Then Halevy describes his last meeting with Jim Angleton, former Chief of the CIA, who told him “Never go for an international conference solution”. “This is courting disaster. It would lead to imposed solutions and you would be in a straitjacket. I fear Shimon [Peres] is too sure of himself. In this he is different from Moshe [Dayan], who although outwardly more dashing is extremely cautious. Shimon thinks he can convince everyone and this presents a grave danger to you all”.

This damning critique of Peres continues throughout the book. The animosity is clear.

Halevy is known for the close ties he had cultivated with King Hussein. Whenever there was a need to speak to the King, Halevy was sent to Amman. He was the man for resolving issues with the Hashemite Kingdom. Halevy describes many of his talks with the King. He does not hide his explicit condemnation of the Oslo peace process that was conducted unprofessionally under Peres’s leadership, and which Rabin did not appreciate but, according to Halevy, Rabin was politically unable to extricate himself from the web that had been woven by the nonprofessionals who had championed and produced what Rabin would later describe as a piece of Swiss cheese [Norwegian RCA] where the holes outnumber the actual morsels of cheese.

Halevy writes that King Hussein had cultivated a negative attitude to Peres since “the abortive attempt Peres had made in 1987 to launch a peace initiative in London... This was to repeat itself in November 2003, when Peres paid a secret visit to Amman and then publicly disclosed his trip in a television appearance in Israel a day later... Hussein had made his view of the person abundantly clear when he repeatedly signalled Rabin that if Peres were privy to the intimate discussions between the principals, he felt that the whole endeavour would be in jeopardy”.

“From King Hussein’s vantage point, any event entailing the participation of Mr Peres was more of a public-relations exercise than one of substantive content”. When Netanyahu was elected, Hussein greeted him with a sigh of relief. According to Halevy, for Hussein the election of a Likud leader was a welcome change, given the alternative. He preferred Netanyahu to Peres.

Halevy gives high grades to Rabin and Shamir, good grades to Netanyahu, moderate grades to Barak and Sharon, and a resounding fail to Peres.

Halevy said that every prime minister developed a feel for the Mossad and held it in high esteem, all except one – Shimon Peres. Peres made it clear that he had very little interest in what was done, and not much respect for those engaged in the profession of intelligence.

Halevy thinks Israel should get the moderate Arab states more deeply involved in the political process; that Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States should play a very important role. They can exert pressure on the Palestinians to make concessions.

The book certainly makes an interesting read. It tells behind-the-scenes stories, some of which were unknown to me. It provides a clearer picture of events, at least as interpreted by Halevy.

Novel – The Book Thief

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief (2005)

The book is written from the Angle of Death’s point of view. Location and time: small town in Nazi Germany. The Angle of Death tells the story of one little girl who lost her family, found another, and discovered the joy of literacy. Reading becomes the centre of her life. The writing of her own life story would save her life.

After losing her family, nine-year-old Liesel lives with her foster parents. She strikes special relationships with her “papa” – a kind and decent painter who struggles to hide his anti-Nazi sentiments. Liesel learns how to deal with her constantly bitter “mama” who cannot complete a sentence without swearing. She finds friendship and love with her class mate Rudi, and she learns to understand evil through the special relationships she constructs with an older Jew, Max, who found shelter at her foster home.

Zusak’s writing is sensitive and cynical. He carefully builds his characters and gives them life. The main characters are all good, decent Germans, who try to maintain their sanity, their dignity, their humanity against evil odds. Death is raging around them. Death will eventually reach most of them. It was not easy to escape death during 1942-1943. The Angle of Death had his hands full.

The Book Thief was made into a film with the lovely Marie-Sophie Nélisse as Liesel. She holds the film together and has an impressive screen presence. I am sure we will hear about her in the future.

Movie – Detachment (2011)

Tony Kaye's drama is a powerful story about a man who decided to detach himself from society. Henry Barthes (sensitively acted by Adrien Brody) did not have a great start in life. His father left when he was very young. He does not remember him. His mother committed suicide when he was 7. Henry found her naked and dead on the bathroom floor when he returned from school. He lived with his grandfather who agonized himself over the death of his daughter, blaming himself thinking it was he who drove her to commit suicide. Henry, who describes himself as “empty”, moves around between schools as a substitute teacher with an empty bag, returns every night to his empty flat, has no friends; his only commitment is to his grandfather who suffers from dementia and is institutionalized in one of those not-so-great exit places, where residents have a one-way ticket from the world and those who are supposed to make their exist as comfortable as possible are not truly caring.

Detachment chronicles three weeks in Henry’s life. Henry is a sensitive man who is aware of his sensitivity. As life did not treat him well, he decided to disconnect, not to be hurt by others. Although Henry has a true talent to connect with his students, he has chosen to bury his gift. Henry roams from school to school, imparting modes of knowledge, but never staying to form any semblance of sentient attachment. A perfect profession for one seeking to hide from life. One day Henry arrives at a rough school where no one cares about education. The students and their parents have other issues, and the administrators and teachers understand that taking care of their own sanity and providing students with some guidance are more important than providing them with education. Upon his entry into this troubled school, a secret world of emotion is awakened within him by two girls and one woman. A talented and lonely girl named Meredith asks for his attention. No one in the entire world cares for her, appreciates her or listens to her. A fellow lonely and hurt teacher, Ms. Madison (the stunning Christina Rene Hendricks), is drawn to him, and a very young street hooker named Erica, who was surprised to see Henry shedding tears when she delivered oral sex to an ungrateful customer on a bus. Kind Henry decides to grant her brief shelter at his modest home away from the violent streets. Each one of these women, like Henry, are in a life and death struggle to find some meaning in a seemingly vicious and loveless world. Each of them is drawn to Henry’s sensitivity and seeks to find solace with him. But it is not easy for him or for them.

Detachment is a sensitive drama that will touch your heart. The script is intelligent, Adrien Brody is a great actor who holds the film together, the supporting cast is effective, and Tony Kaye directed the film with talent and care.

**** in Rafi’s ranking.

Gems of the Month - Antwerp

Citizen Number One in the history of Antwerp is Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and I very much enjoyed visiting his home and gardens. Rubens was a superb artist, and his home includes some great master pieces.

Luckily for him, Rubens enjoyed world recognition during his life time. The house is grand and beautiful, and Rubens collected gems of art, paintings and sculptures. It is said that the splendor of the artist home, where he lived and worked, was unparalleled in the Low Countries.

I particularly enjoy Georg Petel (1593-1633) Adam and Eve. This small sculpture is extraordinarily beautiful, with great attention to detail. It is made of ivory, and there is so much that you can do with an elephant’s tusk.

I also enjoyed visiting The Museum Plantin-Moretus. If you like books you will enjoy this museum. The Print Room houses a rich collection of old prints and drawings by Antwerp masters from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. It houses the world oldest surviving printing presses, and some of the oldest books in the world including a 36-line Gutenberg Bible.

The Museum Plantin-Moretus Main Library

Gem of the Month – Kevin Durant

I saw the third playoff game between the Clippers and Oklahoma at the Staples center. The game was even until the last quarter. And then Kevin Durant decided it. Durant was excellent throughout and then, in crunch time, he gave this little extra effort that made the difference.

 Durant is a great all around player who can do most of the things on court. He lacks the impressive physic and elegance of Michael Jordan. But in his impressive, silent way, he wins games effectively. His greatness is that he does everything without imposing himself on the game. Somehow, without noticing, he scores 30 plus points. He is the silent killer. He hardly makes mistakes, most reliable, and he leads by example. He is a joy to watch. A gem player, a winner, MVP.

Gem of the Month – London Theatre “Twelve Angry Men”

Twelve Angry Men is my favourite legal drama. The film brought to my attention Henry Fonda, one of Hollywood all time greatest. It tells the story of a jury in a murder case, all but one (Fonda) convinced that the suspect was guilty and are willing to convict him and send him to the electric chair. Fonda is uncertain. He wants to make sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that the suspect is indeed guilty.

The new London production of Twelve Angry Men is captivating and depicts the various dilemmas. It does not have a Fonda, but the characters are credible: the racist, the one who transfers his personal family story to the case, the indifferent juries, the uncaring, the egoistic, and the decent who are willing to ask questions and change their minds.

If you want a good drama on stage, go and see Twelve Angry Men.

Monthly Poems

Without You

Without you every morning would feel like going back to work after a holiday,
Without you I couldn't stand the smell of the East Lancs Road,
Without you ghost ferries would cross the Mersey manned by skeleton crews,
Without you I'd probably feel happy and have more money and time and nothing to do with it,
Without you I'd have to leave my stillborn poems on other people's doorsteps, wrapped in brown paper,
Without you there'd never be sauce to put on sausage butties,
Without you plastic flowers in shop windows would just be plastic flowers in shop windows,
Without you I'd spend my summers picking morosley over the remains of train crashes,
Without you white birds would wrench themselves free from my paintings and fly off dripping blood into the night,
Without you green apples wouldn't taste greener,
Without you Mothers wouldn't let their children play out after tea,
Without you every musician in the world would forget how to play the blues,
Without you Public Houses would be public again,
Without you the Sunday Times colour suppliment would come out in black-and-white,
Without you indifferent colonels would shrug their shoulders and press the button,
Without you they's stop changing the flowers in Piccadilly Gardens,
Without you Clark Kent would forget how to become Superman,
Without you Sunshine Breakfast would only consist of Cornflakes,
Without you there'd be no colour in Magic colouring books,
Without you Mahler's 8th would only be performed by street musicians in derelict houses,
Without you they'd forget to put the salt in every packet of crisps,
Without you it would be an offence punishable by a fine of up to £200 or two months' imprisonment to be found in possession of curry powder,
Without you riot police are massing in quiet sidestreets,
Without you all streets would be one-way the other way,
Without you there'd be no one to kiss goodnight when we quarrel,
Without you the first martian to land would turn round and go away again,
Without you they'd forget to change the weather,
Without you blind men would sell unlucky heather,
Without you there would be
no landscapes/no stations/no houses
no chipshops/no quiet villages/no seagulls
on beaches/no hopscotch on pavements/no night/no morning/
there'd be no city no country
Without you.

Adrian Henri

Light Side

Gotta Love the Irish – Part 6

You've Been Drinking Again

An Irishman had been drinking at a pub all night. The bartender finally said that the bar was closing.
So, the Irishman stood up to leave fell flat on his face.
He tried to stand one more time; same result.
He figured he'll crawl outside and get some fresh air and maybe that will sober him up.
Once outside, he stood up and fell on his face again.
So he decided to crawl the four blocks home.
Again, he fell flat on his face.
He crawled through the door and into his bedroom.
When he reached his bed he tried one more time to stand up.
This time he managed to pull himself upright, but he quickly fell right into the bed and is sound asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He was awakened the next morning to his wife standing over him, shouting,

Putting on an innocent look, and intent on bluffing it out he said,
"What makes you say that?"

"The pub just called;
you left your wheelchair there again."

Peace and love.

Yours as ever,


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