30 October 2023

Anger is a bitter lock. But you can turn it.

Anne Carson

Who knows what will happen now, where the violence will spread and increase, what will happen to those who have been displaced, how the humanitarian situation in Gaza will continue to deteriorate, how much civilian life will be damaged and destroyed. But it will not work without recognising the Jewish experience of defencelessness - and the historical causes of it.  Especially when you were born and raised in Germany, where the Holocaust is our never ending stain.

Five things happened on 7 October. 

First, the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas murdered 1400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, with a brutality that one does not even have to imagine. The murderers filmed themselves doing it, posted their deeds on the internet, leaving no doubt that the children they were torturing to death, the old and the weak, were not collateral damage of a military manoeuvre, but that there was no other goal to achieve than to murder as many civilians as possible as cruelly as possible. 

Second, Hamas sealed the suffering and death of countless Palestinians, because even if Israel were just an average country with average security needs, there is simply no country in the world that would not react massively after such a brutal massacre. None of what happens in the following weeks, no suffering, no hardship, not a single dead Palestinian child, was not clear to Hamas beforehand. Even if you condemn every act of Israel, even especially if you condemn every act of Israel, you cannot claim that Hamas did not know what they were doing, that they did not willingly sacrifice their proteges if it only meant murdering as many Jews as possible (Jews, not Israelis, because that is the word they use).

Third, Israelis and Jews around the world lost their basic insurance on 7 October. The conviction that a history of pogroms spanning more than a thousand years had finally come to an end with the founding of this state 75 years ago. The knowledge that - unlike generations before - you have a place that protects you when everyone else no longer does. As Hamas announces a "Day of Rage" and calls for violence against Jews worldwide, we hide in our homes and are closer to our ancestors than ever before. For the first time we understand why they did not leave then. Not because they did not recognise the danger, but because they did not know where they could be safe.

Fourth, the problem, by the way, is not that Jews are afraid - some are, some are not, people, including Jewish people, are different - but that they are in danger. Fear is a subjective feeling that should often not be taken into account. When synagogues are attacked, female rabbis stabbed and airports stormed, it is an objective threat situation.

Fifth, left-wing Jews all over the world realised on 7 October that they had made a colossal mistake. It is not always easy to condemn atrocities because those who commit them usually try to hide them. But it's really not hard to condemn people who broadcast live on social media how they torture and murder civilians. It's really not hard to condemn people who murder not as collateral damage of a military manoeuvre, but for the sheer pleasure of it.

In the days following 7 October, the international left could have demonstrated quite naturally that they are as interested in protecting Jews as in protecting any other minority under threat. Remember: 0.2 per cent of the world's population are Jews. They could have, just for a few hours, once clearly condemned Hamas.

They could have shown solidarity with Israel, just once, to prove that criticism of Israel feeds on a commitment to universal human rights and not on anti-Semitism. It could have assuaged the age-old Jewish fear that being murdered bothers a few and delights many.

Those who just shouted "Woman, Life, Freedom" should have consistently supplemented the "Free Palestine" with a "Free Palestine from Hamas". They could have helped - they preferred to escalate. They would rather make fun of dead Jews, they would rather heroise dead Palestinians than seriously try to save their lives.

Nele Pollatschek, born 1988, writer, author and lecturer (Germany)

read also: 

The Decolonization Narrative Is Dangerous and False
It does not accurately describe either the foundation of Israel or the tragedy of the Palestinians.
By Simon Sebag Montefiore

27 October 2023

There is always this one colleague. In the days last week during my good-byes from the work at the campus, I repeated that I never not enjoyed working.  I made it into a thing, said it in English to stress the concept of a double negative - which to non-English native speakers is seen as one of these peculiar, somewhat amusing aspects of the English language. This one colleague wasn't around, they were on a break.

The top boss wasn't around in person either because attending international conferences, back pain, giving talks, the usual, but he did a zoom call to thank me for my work. There is this work ritual that parting staff members get a gift and I had stressed weeks beforehand that I don't want anything, suggested a couple of NGOs for donations in my name. Well, he said, we cannot do this, you've been with us too long, let me come up with something, just a token, ok?  Decent enough of him, we left it at that. 

So this week I received an envelope in the mail from him with one of these stylish, not Hallmark-ish cards, with a long message, handwritten by him, about my work and how much he always appreciated it etc., ending with,  . . . enclosed is a little something, for you to use for whatever you wish, please do so and don't send it back.

Only there was nothing enclosed. The address on the enveloped was handwritten by this one colleague, back from their brake, and the envelope was re-sealed with sellotape. 

Speculations abound. Whatever did happen, it was a clever move.

22 October 2023


When my daughter was about 15, she had a problematic teacher, someone who would stand very close behind the female students, bending over their shoulders looking at their work, breathing down their necks, that kind of thing. Other parents, mothers had warned us, he's a piece of shit, they said. One day, my daughter told me that she had to stand up and keep standing until she figured out how to answer one of his questions, which she could not and thus remained standing during the entire lesson. I was enraged and told her to walk out of class and come to me if he ever did that again. And he did, my daughter appeared at my office the exact moment I got the call that she had left school unexcused. We went to see the head mistress the next day and to cut a longish story short, probably destroyed the man's career, because suddenly other parents started to complain until one day, he was gone.

When I was in primary school, aged seven, the local protestant priest, a jolly elderly man looking like Santa, was responsible for teaching us things like the ten commandments and catechism. There was a lot of rote learning and reciting involved and if you failed, he would call you to the front desk, make you lie across it on your belly, pull down your pants and hit you with a rubber stick he produced from his briefcase. He only did it to the boys. On Xmas, he visited the families in his parish and my mother always had a plate set for him. I remember his jolly laughter booming across our dining table.

Later, when I was maybe 14 or 15, we had a young teacher who was clearly challenged by us, this snotty, noisy, entitled gang of teenagers, and his method of getting our attention was to throw his set of keys at you. When one day he hit me across the forehead, I admit that I purposefully did not duck, I walked to the headmaster's office and complained. There was an inquiry, witnesses were interrogated, it took a while before any of the adults actually believed us and stopped blaming us for enticing his reaction on purpose, but he was eventually transferred. I did not feel any remorse.

This morning over breakfast, I asked R about his experiences as a pupil of this posh Irish catholic boy's school. Not for the first time, because whenever another report surfaces about sexual abuse in religious institutions in Ireland, I run to him so he can reiterate and reassure me that, no, he never experienced any of that. So today I asked him if he was ever afraid of any of his teachers and he said, in a matter of fact way, oh, all of them all the time. How many would use corporeal punishment I asked. Almost all of them, every day, he said. Usually a stick, a belt, across the hands. But the geology teacher didn't hit us, he was a nice man.

Later we danced to Bruce Springsteen in the kitchen.

20 October 2023

Today was my last day at work, I brought in 75 home baked cupcakes (lemon, marzipan, chocolate, apple cinnamon, banana, nutella flavoured), handed over my keys, wrote the necessary last messages, emptied my email account, deleted tons of files incl. all waste folders from my work computer, hugged many people, picked up my mug and my bits and pieces, had a long conversation about working part time for the top boss for another six months (I'll wait and see what his offer looks like on paper) and went home in the rain.

Now it feels like everything is all over the place.  As soon as the rain stops, R will bring me for a long walk.


Night Bird

Hear me: sometimes thunder is just thunder.

The dog barking is only a dog. Leaves fall

from the trees because the days are getting shorter,

by which I mean not the days we have left,

but the actual length of time, given the tilt of earth

and distance from the sun. My nephew used to see

a therapist who mentioned that, at play,

he sank a toy ship and tried to save the captain.

Not, he said, that we want to read anything into that.

Who can read the world? Its paragraphs

of cloud and alphabets of dust. Just now

a night bird outside my window made a single,

plaintive cry that wafted up between the trees.

Not, I’m sure, that it was meant for me.


Danusha Laméris

15 October 2023

work work work

With the end of my working life approaching (the official end of the official one that is, in other words: I shall be paid a pension and must give up my official job at the university), I was thinking of writing about the various ways I have earned my living - barely or insufficiently incl. - in my life, but halfway through I realised that this would be a very long post, too long really.

But for the sake of record keeping, one never knows how long the mental capacities remain intact, here it goes in chronological order with short info on pay scale and work satisfaction:

  • German tuition, first ever money earned at age 16, I was suddenly rich enough to enjoy sex and drugs and rock and roll etc. but essentially a very boring couple of hours every week.
  • Dairy order processing office, the summer between school and uni, now rich enough to include travel in my life, sent 100 litres instead of 10 litres of full fat milk to a tiny shop on my first day.
  • Waitressing, on and off while at uni, who hasn't, not a good way to make money but excellent training in how to handle awkward social situations.
  • Language tuition, summer camp supervisor, general contact to teenage emigrants/refugees mostly from eastern Europe/Asia (families of German origin, a big thing during the 1980s), lots of work, lots of fun, lots of hard human experiences to cope with, too hard at times, good pay,
  • Milking goats, mucking out stables, chopping wood, making bread, yogurt, cooking with and for 12 people on a daily basis, communal living, excellent life skills, minimal to no pay, supposedly on sabbatical from uni.
  • Cleaning hospital wards while contemplating my university career, quite decent pay once I was promoted to assist the night nurses, supposedly (but not really) writing my master's thesis.
  • Manufacturing hard cardboard rolls, e.g. for use inside toilet paper rolls or as soap containers in a small factory in Dublin, one of the physically hardest things I ever did, lousy pay, amazing co-workers, passed out from glue exposure in the second week and quit. Ireland in the early 1980s, dark times economically.
  • Childcare, cooking and feeding, playing, school pick-ups etc. of wealthy family's children, holding hands of distraught mothers who wanted but could not get a divorce in catholic Ireland at the time, barely enough pay to survive.
  • Chair caning, after a crash course from a visiting American furniture restorer, irregular but excellent pay from the rich owners of the fancy manors of south Co. Dublin. Enjoyable working hours while listening to Irish radio, my English language skills improved beyond all expectations.
  • Co-founder, co-organiser of a workers co-op, cooking vegetarian meals, catering for everything from anti-apartheid, feminist, miners strike solidarity, AIDS hotline, you name it rallies. The night before the unexpected onset of the birth of my baby, we had made a massive vat of black bean chili with brown rice for a concert/party to raise funds for Greenham Common peace camp and we danced into the early hours. The money was almost non-existent. We were all in it together.
  • Having a premature baby, feeding, sleeping, feeding, sleeping, learning and so on. No pay, much love.
  • Setting up a "radical bookshop" (i.e. non-profit) at the workers co-op. Long hours, miserable pay, excellent contacts, meeting many international authors, organising readings, getting lots of rewarding recognition and feedback, always well-stocked supplies of children's books, my daughter's private library.
  • Selling expensive ceramics at a posh gallery, burn-out recovery, pay was tied to sales and could be amazing.
  • Implementing co-operation, administration and accounting frameworks in various semi-state small industries in a very small African country against a stiff wind of nepotism and corruption, wonderful co-workers, generally pleasant and memorable superiors, life skill expansions beyond all expectations, decent pay, still the best job I ever had.
  • Bookseller in a large Dublin bookshop, long hours incl. weekends, good pay for the times just before the onset of the Celtic Tiger years, a year that went in a blur with R's mother's rapid decline and death due to pancreatic cancer.
  • Selling whole foods in a German food co-op while going back to university for a translation degree, making new friends, new networks, new everything for the three of us.
  • Editing and translating for medical research projects at the local university, suddenly I am a civil servant, my job is protected even during long absences after I am diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, my pay is regulated by collective bargaining between state and trade unions, I have arrived in the world where my parents wanted me to be. I have never not enjoyed my work.

And now, we will see. 


12 October 2023

I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystems collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we, (Lawyers) and scientists, don´t know how to do that.


Gus Speth

02 October 2023

back to routines

Monday, October 2nd. It is a hot day, despite the occasional cool breeze. I don't remember days like this in October and neither can anybody I have spoken to. Still, there could well be frost by the end of the week. 

All of the summer visitors have left and are by now safely tucked in at their respective homes. I am slowly realising that for some time now there will be no more large gatherings at the dinner table, no more cooks noisily creating gourmet meals in the kitchen, no more obstacle courses designed around the house and garden, no hide and seek hysterics or story reading before breakfast, changing of towels, filling the fridge, the dishwasher, the washing machine and that for now we two old geezers will have all that time to ourselves again. For what it's worth.  I am only slowly catching up on blogs. Bear with me.

The last load of towels and sheets is drying in the garden next to the brambly bit of the hedge where I pick blackberries every morning now.  

Early mornings start to feel somewhat autumn-ish, but barely so.

There are ten more working days before my official retirement. I go from, oh no only ten more bike rides through the forest, to, thank goodness only ten more climbs up that hill - and this in spite of the e-bike which I got reluctantly - thank you chronic illness - after cycling up there for 12 years, all sweaty achievement.

Today I had the prep day for a three day/two night hospital stay next week to check whether I did actually have an allergic reaction to the local anesthetics during the skin cancer surgery last November. I had to sign a document declaring that I am now fully informed about the risks and that while I will be supervised at all times, cardiac arrest could be one outcome - in which case I have agreed to immediate defibrillation procedures. I mean, who wouldn't. In fact, I was told that my attitude today was a tad too la-di-da. This by a junior doctor who reached maybe up to my shoulder, at a stretch, and please don't think I am putting her down, but I had to fight a smile while I apologised, almost said, sorry mum.

So, on we go into autumn and winter and all it will take is one wrong decision in the Kremlin and we could become refugees. We can only do what Anna did in Frozen - believe me, I have watched it several times by now and know my stuff about Anna and Elsa and Olaf  - which is, move forward step by step. Trust our intuition, follow our body's feelings, keep feeling, keep groping, take risks, keep thinking, always keep thinking, not with a view to miracle technology or technocratic solutions, but with a view solely to the good life for all on our planet.

If you are a pessimist, human history is a history of failure, a history of empires unable to respond to crises. If the glass is half full for you, you see an amazing resilience of humanity to disasters, whether natural or man-made. Probably the second perspective is the more rewarding.

Peter Frankopan