A friend posted an image the other day depicting dead Syrian children, massacred by who knows who for their own inscrutable reasons. Here’s part of it. Howls of protest. As gadflies do, by way of comment I posted a YouTube link to ‘The Battle belongs to the Lord’ – a rather cheesy battle hymn around the theme of Proverbs 21:31 which had the desired effect – one poster, by all accounts an Anglican priest, demanding angrily ‘what has this got to do with it?’ I’ve deleted additional exclamation marks. If we imagine for one moment that God is unconcerned in our affairs then the right response is ‘nothing at all – the song is just a few overexcitable arm-wavers getting wound up and those of us who’ve grown up don’t buy into such silly nonsense any more.’ If, on the other, we suspend disbelief for a moment and just dare to speculate that the Evil One whom all right thinking people believe doesn’t exist has raised his ugly rebellious head again and carnage and devastation result, then I can think of fewer places in the world where his Babylonian river of evil has surfaced so manifestly clearly. I’m not sure which outrages me more, the disregard for human life in Syria or the willingness of some in the Church to attribute such to nothing more than mankind’s inevitable propensity for screwing it up.
Every year I say it to myself – ‘never again’. Marking external papers is a challenge to wit, ingenuity and the ability to crawl inside the head of the Chief Examiner – probably not a very wholesome environment if you get off on setting physics questions. In times past, postpersons in Transit vans delivered piles of scripts to the front door. You marked them , filled out large swathes of paper and sent them all back, laden with red ink. Not so nowadays – did I really use that word? How very twentieth century of me. This year, as last, the Internet has caught up with us and we – the physicists and mathematicians at least – are using an online marking ‘tool’. Scripts are scanned then “zoned”. RSI notwithstanding, one clicks away and the answers obediently pop up and a single click awards the mark. It’s new and feels over-engineered, so it falls over a lot, rather like an overfed woolly mammoth toppling into the undergrowth. When this happens, the last hour’s work is flushed away in a welter of random bytes which the system euphemistically describes as ‘refreshing data’. There then appears a pleasing cloudiness on the screen and a little rotating bezel, which, well, just carries on rotating until you hurl the machine off the balcony with weeping and gnashing of teeth. In addition, one script in ten is ‘seeded’. This means that His Nibs, the Chief, Big Brother to us all has already marked this one and if one’s modest efforts are not consonant with his own, the system is supposed to throw up a disapproving little message saying that one has been ‘suspended’, or confined to Room 101 until the errors are rectified, which so far has not happened. It’s all a bit Orwellian – Winston Smith drowned his paltry sorrows with gin which of course is no substitute for the fresh red grapefruit juice which I rather prefer these days.
Quis custodiet custodies, je me demande…
I think I’ve worn away enough dental enamel for one night.
“The sage, Rabbi Yisrael Kagan (1838-1933), known as the Chafetz Chaim, was once visited by a wealthy admirer. When the visitor entered the rabbi’s tiny home he got the shock of his life: The living room was furnished with nothing but an old table and rickety bench. The kitchen was tiny and primitive.
There were no modern amenities at all. The man turned to the Chafetz Chaim and asked him: “How do you live like this? Where are all your possessions?”
The Chafetz Chaim asked him: “How did you get here?” “By coach” the visitor replied. The Chafetz Chaim went outside to look at the carriage that brought his visitor to him. After examining the carriage, the Chafetz Chaim commented to his guest: “I don’t see a dining room, kitchen, or even a bed inside of this thing!” “But Rabbi, I am just traveling through your town. Travellers don’t bring their beds and kitchens with them!”
The Chafetz Chaim answered: “I too am traveling…Traveling through this world to the World to Come. This lifetime is temporary – why should I amass amenities and possessions?”
This is the lesson of Sh’mitta – the Year of Rest: Every seventh year, no planting or harvesting is done. After seven times seven, there is a Year of Jubilee. Life is temporary, almost fragile. We are just passing through.”
As I prepare to leave, it might be worth reminding myself that I have been here for six years. Over that time, I have acquired quite a number of ‘things’
Is there, I wonder, a suitable alternative to shaking hands besides face licking and canine bottom sniffing? What are we really trying to achieve with a handshake? We’re trying to ingratiate ourselves, get physically close to someone and show that we mean them no harm by putting them at their ease and show that we are on an even social and cultural playing field . Perhaps we should learn to bow instead. Or, shake penises. Some do.
I sometimes want to write. Writing tries to make sense of the intractable, the Sisyphean stone of despair. People say that you have to write exactly what you know. I wish I could write about Jewish settlers in the West Bank, but I cannot. Their conflicts, mirroring wider confrontation, are in places I can only imagine, their thoughts, feelings and interactions with their neighbours is a closed book. Perhaps for me whatever flowed from my mind would pour forth as a dreary tangle of sadness and pretence, of narcissistic longing, absurdity, inferiority and provincial pomposity, sentimental education and anachronistic ideals, repressed traumas, resignation and helplessness.
Twenty million French stayed home yesterday to watch a televised contest. In the Blue corner, Nicolas Sarkozy, 57, the current champion. Defeated once in a lesser skirmish, he came to the ring bad-temperedly thirsting for the blood of Francois Hollande in the Red corner, who bloodied his nose last time out. Not bad for a marshmallow.
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act V, Scene V)