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My friend M, a libertarian, posted a Buzzfeed article which detailed much of what Kim Yo Jong actually (or is purported to be) up to in North Korea. He noted this as a contrast to how the liberal media is treating Kim Jong-Un’s sister and her attendance at the Winter Olympics (as if she’s the anti-Trump and the most wonderful thing to come down the pike since Trump took office).

Another friend of his replied ‘But the Left-wing press and the imbeciles who worship them think her classy, but murderous ways, are so lovely.’

And here’s where I fucked up. While I don’t worship the left-wing press, necessarily, I am decidedly a member of the left wing. I took it personally and did one of those things that drives those who are working for justice so mad when it comes from the other side.

People who have agendas against, for example, female empowerment or the desire of African Americans not to be judged guilty on the street for simply being Black often bring decidedly disingenuous questions to the table: ‘What about what this one woman did’, or ‘What about when some Black person did something else?’ But it’s not the responsibility of any one member to stand up for or denounced what any other member of any group does. If you’re honest about your position, you do the research and don’t waste the other side’s time. If you’re dishonest, you waste the person’s time (and the movement’s time) with basic education questions that have been answered multiple times before.

asshatI am an asshat: Instead of doing my own research and looking up recent reports in the news (both left and right) about Kim Yo Jong, I asked ‘Such as?’ M’s friend called me out as an ‘asshat’ in the context of his reply in such a way that I would never do with someone I’d never met. He then linked to a NY Times article that gushed about Ms. Kim.

My reply was, ‘That’s how you interact with someone you’ve never met? Wow.’

And he came back with ‘It’s how I interact with asshats who speak before they think and prominently display quotes from antisemitic dirtbags like Cornell West.’ Still not endearing himself to me, but what’s that about Cornell West? I have one sentence in my FB Intro: Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. ~Cornell West.

Why? Because, as I mentioned in my reply to him, justice is key to how I try to interact with the world. I usually fail, but justice is the goal. And I like the conflation of justice with public displays of love. When one loves one’s fellow human being, one fights for their justice. The two go hand in hand and West’s single sentence sums it up.

Note that I know that I’m still giving the person who insulted me the benefit of the doubt, even though he reduced another human being (whom he doesn’t know) with a pretty despicable epithet.

However, time for more research. What else do I know about West? Um. He’s an African American public intellectual. Yeah. That’s about it. I search Google on the string ‘Cornell West Antisemitism’ and get conflicting answers to the question at hand from HaAretz and The Forward. Oddly, a DuckDuckGo search on the same string finds far more returns against West on this question, most having to do with Palestine.

I occasionally write on the Palestinian issue (which seems to be at the heart of the accusations of West’s antisemitism), but I try to admit to both a serious left-wing bias and a decidedly emotional response to the situation. For me, the occupation and the settlements are the elephant in the room regarding any solution. Friends on the ground in Israel point out the very complex issues of the various factions supporting the Palestinian cause and their long-stated goals of pushing Israel into the sea. There’s a lot to unpack there. I have a Palestinian colleague who didn’t endear himself to me when he saw my tattoo of the Hebrew word for truth on my arm. ‘Your truth is a lie,’ he told me. I’ve so far not cornered him on his experience, but one of these days, I’d like to. (I did send him links to blog entries in which I discredit the Zionist credentials he seemed to be affixing to me.) While I’m understandably unwilling to get into it with M’s friend what with his introduction to me, and his defense of it, I’ve got a lot to think about.

Image credit: Attila the Mom and her occasional Asshat of the Week posts.

Without too much comment, this is what I read last year. Mostly sci-fi/fantasy. I tend to read for amusement when I go to sleep and sometimes on the train in the mornings on the way to work. And in the middle of the night. My preference for midnight reading is for very light as I'm prone to nightmares. Hence there's not much that's too heavy…
Books 2017
1. The Locksley Exploit by Philip Purser-Hallard
The second book in the Devices Trilogy, a modern setting of the Arthurian conflicts with a heavy helping of Robin Hood. Quite good stuff.
2. Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel
Humourous mystery with interesting notes of vinyl addiction for those who collect records. Apparently it's the first in a series, but I didn't feel the need to buy the next ones.
3. The Red Thumb Mark (A Dr Thorndyke Mystery) by R. Austin Freeman
Thorndyke was an early Sherlock Holmes knockoff narrated by a Dr. Watson knockoff. The collected works might have set me back 99p.
4. Katherine by Anya Seton
One of my sister's and #1 niece's favourites. Well-researched historical romance about the mistress of John of Gaunt who was the ancestress of several centuries of English monarchs.
5. Year Zero by Rob Reid
Another cheap sci-fiesque read that might have been a Humble Bundle purchase. Amusing tale of Intergalactic music copyright infringement.
6. False Covenant by Ari Marmell
The second Widdershins novel – good, but I was bummed that he killed off a character I really liked. So bummed, that I decided not to move on to the next.
7. Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
8. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Really good speculative fiction about the origins of space travel with a good dollop of dystopianism that looks like the early Trump years. Scary as heck.
9. Aftermath – Life Debt by Chuck Wendig
The second of his novels that bridge episodes six and seven of the Star Wars saga. Good stuff.
10. Moonglow by Michael Chabon
Latest offering from the author of Kavalier and Clay. Narrator tells of his grandfather's adventures in WW2 and the early atomic/space age. Four stars.
Read the rest of this entry »

There’s nothing political in this one, except an admission that I’m well aware of how privileged I am to be able to take a two+-week vacation in a nice country and do next to nothing.

Note also that these notes get a little repetitive. Apologies in advance.

Holiday – 25 August – 10 September 2017
25/8 – Flew to Split, taxi to our AirBnB – probably got ripped off a little by the cab driver, but not enough to sweat. Airport is very small – saw JayWay Travel’s man on the ground, but he was gone by the time I thought to say hi. Had lunch in the centre near (in?) the palace at one of Charlie’s recommendations. R had a really nice tuna salad and I had a tasty steak sandwich. We wandered the old centre for a little while – identified the location of the old synagogue, but it was not open (not surprisingly). Had supper at Apetit, another recommended joint where I had beef and R had fish. Aside from the astounding quality of the mains, the olives were divine. Saw a band play some cool rock and roll by the waterfront for a little bit. Also nice.

26/8 – Explored the palace some more, got my hair cut. Breakfast at Galerija – R had shakshuka and I had a really nice chia pudding with mango. Visited a church and the underground part of the palace (part of which was used as a Game of Thrones location – lots of those in Croatia). Supper at Mazzoon – we both ate ratatouille. Nice. Window shopped a little, but didn’t buy anything.

27/8 – Breakfast at Banana Split, just a bit downhill from our apartment and then packed our stuff and got the hire car. Two stops on our drive to Starigrad – Klis fortress which was another GoT location (and a good hike up a hill) and to some lovely waterfalls just south of Zadar in Krka National Park. Getting to the waterfall involved a nice hike, but then we could bathe just in front of the falls. Very cool. Arrived at the hotel in Starigrad at about 7, dropped our gear, and walked across the street to Degenija, a restaurant owned by the family of one of my colleagues. I had the mixed grill and R had fish. Well pleased. (We went back four times, I think.) Josip’s aunt, who runs the place, and his cousins had already returned to Zagreb, so I didn’t get to meet them. By the time we got back to the hotel, several coach loads of English people had arrived to share the holiday with us.

28/8 – Got up early and ran 4.4km up the road before 9:30 orientation. Mostly relaxed after checking out the things on offer. R did some sailing theory and then we had cocktails at the sky bar at sunset. Read the rest of this entry »

Just arrived home from a two-week holiday in England. My wife and I took the ferry over to Harwich and had breakfast with her 92 year old cousin Margaret. The family calls her Auntie Margaret because even though she and my mother-in-law Mary are first cousins, they are 20 years apart in age.We’d only planned to spend an hour or so with her, but after three hours of stories, we looked at the time. (Rachel describes conversations with Margaret as ‘giving her a good listening to’.) One of Margaret and Mary’s common great-grandmothers (if I have the story correct) was one of 22 children. Their grandmother was one of three whose children were born over the space of about twenty years. I think this is right. I want to write to Margaret and ask her for a family tree because I know there’s a great novel in their backgrounds.

We then continued our drive up to the midlands where we spent Xmas week with Rachel’s parents. Too much food, as always, but we got a couple of walks in, and (as is tradition now) Xmas eve with Rachel’s brother and his kids. Rachel has been very attentive to them as they grow up and bought gifts that were very appropriate to the interests they’ve been showing. She feared that this would make her ‘Crazy Aunt Rachel’ which I assured her was already guaranteed as she’d wed Crazy Uncle Joe, and that it was a title worthy of esteem.

Rachel’s parents aren’t in the best of health and had not been able to attend to the graves of Mary’s parents and grandparents (indeed – the aforementioned grandparents) in over a year, so we went up to the cemetery with garden tools and cleaned them up. Other than that, we mostly relaxed and took a couple of walks.

ETA: I forgot to add that we had a wonderful luncheon with three more cousins and their spouses. The daughters of Rachel’s uncle Bob all live (relatively) close to Rachel’s parents and they came to a newly reopened carvery in the village. It was really great to see them as we hadn’t seen one another in several months. They’re a great bunch.

Every year we gather for New Year’s Eve with a crowd of Rachel’s college friends for a week or so of walking in someplace hilly. This year, the place was Ilkley Moor in the Yorkshire Dales. James Herriot territory. On the first full day there, I’d planned to walk maybe six or seven kilometres. Nope. Rachel and I set off with one group to the Cow and Calf Rocks and then we separated. I joined a group that ended up walking almost 16km all told. The next day we took it easy – a slow 10km walk near Bolton Abbey that included child in pushchair. The following day our walk included Malham Cove and Gordale Scar, the attraction of the first being that it was used as a location for one of the Harry Potter movies. That walk was also less than 10km.

One more walk of note was another 16km doozy that included Simon’s Seat (a great big rock with a trig point). I can now say that I’ve been to Arthur’s Seat, Simon’s Seat, and Sea-Tac.

I’d had a discussion with a couple of our friends about the life of native Americans on the reservation. They’d been to one in Utah (I think) and found it quite depressing, especially with regards to the levels of technology/mod cons available to them. One friend wondered why the North American natives hadn’t developed technology at the same rate as was found in Europe at the time of the explorations. I know that it’s quite complicated, and I wasn’t prepared to delve too deeply into my own ignorance, but I brought it up with Rachel as we walked up to Simon’s Seat. One way of looking at it is as a microcosm of the Drake Equation. We’ve only been developing civilisation on this planet for a few thousand years. It was never evenly distributed, but more to the point, in the absence of that interchange of ideas, one tribe in isolation isn’t going to hit upon those ideas that take that tribe to the next level of technology. They’ll probably get there, but an offset of a few hundred or even a thousand years is negligible in the grand scheme of things. There’s a blog entry in it, to be sure.

Today’s adventures included a wander around Harrogate and a really fantastic chicken sandwich for lunch before heading to the airport for an uneventful and on-time journey back to the Netherlands.

I hadn’t seen Casablanca in several years when I started this little essay, save for the clip of the Marseillaise which I always pull up on Bastille Day (but before that horrible attack in Nice). I watched it again on a flight back from the US a few weeks ago, though, to make sure my notes made sense.

As we get to know Rick Blaine, the facts of his life come in drips. We learn that he lives by his own code which is honourable but not in the most conventional sense, that he’s carried a torch for a woman he never expected to see again, and that he’s on the run from the US for an arms-related issue. (This is tricky because what we learn from Laszlo is that he fought in Spain on the side of the Loyalists. Is that sufficient to put him on the wrong side of the US? We don’t really know the reason he’s on the run.

He’s anti-fascist on principle, and seems to thrive where there’s little in the way of order.
Having been in Paris at the time of the initial occupation, he packed up for French-administered Morocco and set up Rick’s Cafe Americain, expecting he’d be able to do business there for the duration. The Americans hadn’t taken sides and didn’t look set to do so.

The movie came out in November, 1942, so about a year after US entry into the war. But when precisely does it take place? We get one hint: in a stupor, Rick asks his friend Sam ‘If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?’ only to receive the answer, ‘My watch stopped.'(What is the nature of their relationship? They’ve been together for several years, and Sam is something more than an errand runner, pianist, and drinking buddy, but he’s those things too.)CasablancaJP

Having identified the ‘beginning of a beautiful friendship’ with the French police captain, we can guess that either the next day or the day after that, Casablanca will hear the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Rick will be back in the war.

As we near the 75th anniversary of US entry into World War II (and shortly after that, the 75th anniversary re-release of the film), we find ourselves on a similar precipice. There’s a whole lot of war going on, but we’ve not formally declared World War III. Does Brexit signify that the UK (the Untied Kingdom?) will enter hostilities with Turkey and Russia on a different side than the US and the EU? For example.

In 1991, I was oh so certain that we wouldn’t get out of the 20th century without another great war. I think I figured that by the time I turned 50 we’d be at the other side of it, not just getting ready to enter it. But, as I’ve argued elsewhere (and not originally), we’ve spent the last century fighting the ongoing skirmishes of WW1. Alliances shift, but we’re still keen to be at war. Just because we can’t picture an Anglo-Russian invasion of Iran today doesn’t mean equally strange alliances aren’t afoot. In that category of unintended consequences (you know, everything that’s going on in the Middle East that was predicted in 2002 in some form or another), the results of the Brexit referendum are just all of a piece.

Every time I skim social media, there’s a link to some new atrocity (all the places we’re bombing or the bombing of which we’re financing) or case of legislative poor judgement (today’s example is France banning the burkini – let’s alienate all the people we really don’t want to alienate, shall we?). Each one leads me to the conclusion that the war is just going to get closer even if we don’t declare it. Happily sat in relatively unharmed Nederland, I can claim my own neutrality. At what point to I have to declare which side I’m on?