True love just left the building

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Book Review: Robin Sloan ~ Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore (2012)

I’d read two books by favoured authors consecutively and had a Monty Python moment – I wanted something ‘completely different’. But what? So I did a search for an elusive ‘completely different’ book by putting key indicators into Mr Google. Out popped a few (ha-ha) suggestions which I filtered and, unusually, I read reviews for guidance. Normally I trust my own snap judgement. Reviews on this occasion were vital as a filter.

And I was richly rewarded. Sloan’s book is what I wanted: ‘Something completely different’. It’s fantasy mixed with irony, Google-world satire, San Francisco, and books, books, books! Museums, Kindle, ancient artefacts, Wit and Wisdom, obsession (I identified strongly with this) and joy. I loved it.

Try this:

Speed-dating for nerds,” she says. “They have one every month at Google. The male-to-female ratio is really good, or really bad. Depends who—”

You went to this.”

Yeah. I met a guy who programmed bots for a hedge fund. We dated for a while. He was really into rock-climbing. He had nice shoulders.”


But a cruel heart.” pp 57-58

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Knock, Knock

Two astronauts were circling earth. One went on a space walk to do some minor maintenance. When he returned the cabin door was locked.

So he knocked. There was no answer.

He knocked again. Louder this time.

There was still no answer.

Finally he hammered at the door as hard as he could.

He heard a voice shouting, “Who’s there?”

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And the cow jumped over the moon

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P G Wodehouse for newcomers

1) “Mike nodded. A sombre nod. The nod Napoleon might have given if somebody had met him in 1812 and said, “So, you’re back from Moscow, eh?”

P.G. Wodehouse, Mike and Psmith

2) “Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.”

P.G. Wodehouse, The Best of Wodehouse: An Anthology

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The perils of special deals

An airline introduced a special half-fare rate for wives accompanying their husbands on business trips. Anticipating some valuable testimonials, the publicity airlines PR department sent letters to all the wives of businessmen asking how they’d enjoyed their trip.

Responses are still pouring in from angry wives asking, “What trip?”

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Yitzhak Rabin: Nobel Lecture 1994

At an age when most youngsters are struggling to unravel the secrets of mathematics and the mysteries of the Bible; at an age when first love blooms; at the tender age of sixteen, I was handed a rifle so that I could defend myself – and also, unfortunately, so that I could kill in an hour of danger.

That was not my dream. I wanted to be a water engineer. I studied in an agricultural school and I thought that being a water engineer was an important profession in the parched Middle East. I still think so today. However, I was compelled to resort to the gun.

I served in the military for decades. Under my command, young men and women who wanted to live, wanted to love, went to their deaths instead. Under my command, they killed the enemy’s men who had been sent out to kill us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my current position, I have ample opportunity to fly over the State of Israel, and lately over other parts of the Middle East, as well. The view from the plane is breathtaking: deep-blue lakes, dark-green fields, dun-colored deserts, stone-gray mountains, and the entire countryside peppered with whitewashed, red-roofed houses.

And cemeteries. Graves as far as the eye can see.

Hundreds of cemeteries in our part of the Middle East – in our home in Israel – but also in Egypt, in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. From the plane’s window, from thousands of feet above them, the countless tombstones are silent. But the sound of their outcry has carried from the Middle East throughout the world for decades.

Standing here today, I wish to salute loved ones – and foes. I wish to salute all the fallen of all the countries in all the wars; the members of their families who bear the enduring burden of bereavement; the disabled whose scars will never heal. Tonight I wish to pay tribute to each and every one of them, for this important prize is theirs, and theirs alone.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was a young man who has now grown fully in years. And of all the memories I have stored up in my seventy-two years, what I shall remember most, to my last day, are the silences.

The heavy silence of the moment after, and the terrifying silence of the moment before.

As a military man, as a commander, I issued orders for dozens, probably hundreds of military operations. And together with the joy of victory and grief of bereavement, I shall always remember the moment just after making the decision to mount an action: the hush as senior officers or cabinet ministers slowly rise from their seats; the sight of their receding backs; the sound of the closing door; and then the silence in which I remain alone.

That is the moment you grasp that as a result of the decision just made, people will be going to their deaths. People from my nation, people from other nations. And they still don’t know it.

At that hour, they are still laughing and weeping; still weaving plans and dreaming about love; still musing about planting a garden or building a house – and they have no idea these are their last hours on earth. Which of them is fated to die? Whose picture will appear in a black border in tomorrow’s newspaper? Whose mother will soon be in mourning? Whose world will crumble under the weight of the loss?

As a former military man, I will also forever remember the silence of the moment before: the hush when the hands of the clock seem to be spinning forward, when time is running out and in another hour, another minute, the inferno will erupt.

In that moment of great tension just before the finger pulls the trigger, just before the fuse begins to burn; in the terrible quiet of that moment, there’s still time to wonder, alone: Is it really imperative to act? Is there no other choice? No other way?

And then the order is given, and the inferno begins.

“God takes pity on kindergarteners”, wrote the poet Yehudah Amichai, who is here with us tonight,

“God takes pity on kindergarteners,
Less so on schoolchildren,
And will no longer pity their elders,
Leaving them to their own.
And sometimes they will have to crawl on all fours
Through the burning sand
To reach the casualty station

For decades God has not taken pity on the kindergarteners in the Middle East, or the schoolchildren, or their elders. There has been no pity in the Middle East for generations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I was a young man who has now grown fully in years. And of all the memories I have stored up in my seventy-two years, I now recall the hopes.

Our peoples have chosen us to give them life. Terrible as it is to say, their lives are in our hands. Tonight, their eyes are upon us and their hearts are asking: How is the authority vested in these men and women being used? What will they decide? What kind of morning will we rise to tomorrow? A day of peace? Of war? Of laughter or of tears?

A child is born into an utterly undemocratic world. He cannot choose his father and mother. He cannot pick his sex or color, his religion, nationality, or homeland. Whether he is born in a manor or a manger, whether he lives under a despotic or democratic regime, it is not his choice. From the moment he comes, close-fisted, into the world, his fate lies in the hands of his nation’s leaders. It is they who will decide whether he lives in comfort or despair, in security or in fear. His fate is given to us to resolve – to the Presidents and Prime Ministers of countries, democratic or otherwise.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Just as no two fingerprints are identical, so no two people are alike, and every country has its own laws and culture, traditions and leaders. But there is one universal message which can embrace the entire world, one precept which can be common to different regimes, to races which bear no resemblance, to cultures alien to each other.

It is a message which the Jewish people has borne for thousands of years, a message found in the Book of Books, which my people has bequeathed to all civilized men: “V’nishmartem me’od lnafshoteichem”, in the words in Deuteronomy; “Therefore take good heed to yourselves” – or, in contemporary terms, the message of the Sanctity of Life.

The leaders of nations must provide their peoples with the conditions – the “infrastructure”, if you will – which enables them to enjoy life: freedom of speech and of movement; food and shelter; and most important of all: life itself. A man cannot enjoy his rights if he is not among the living. And so every country must protect and preserve the key element in its national ethos: the lives of its citizens.

To defend those lives, we call upon our citizens to enlist in the army. And to defend the lives of our citizens serving in the army, we invest huge sums in planes, and tanks, in armored plating and concrete fortifications. Yet despite it all, we fail to protect the lives of our citizens and soldiers. Military cemeteries in every corner of the world are silent testimony to the failure of national leaders to sanctify human life.

There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications.

The one radical solution is peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The profession of soldiering embraces a certain paradox. We take the best and bravest of our young men into the army. We supply them with equipment which costs a virtual fortune. We rigorously train them for the day when they must do their duty – and we expect them to do it well. Yet we fervently pray that that day will never come – that the planes will never take flight, the tanks will never move forward, the soldiers will never mount the attacks for which they have been trained so well.

We pray it will never happen because of the Sanctity of Life.

History as a whole, and modern history in particular, has known harrowing times when national leaders turned their citizens into cannon fodder in the name of wicked doctrines: vicious Fascism and fiendish Nazism. Pictures of children marching to the slaughter, photos of terrified women at the gates of crematoria must loom before the eyes of every leader in our generation, and the generations to come. They must serve as a warning to all who wield power:

Almost all the regimes which did not place Man and the sanctity of Life at the heart of their world view, all those regimes have collapsed and are no more. You can see it for yourselves in our own day.

Yet this is not the whole picture. To preserve the Sanctity of Life, we must sometimes risk it. Sometimes there is no other way to defend our citizens than to fight for their lives, for their safety and sovereignty. This is the creed of every democratic state.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the State of Israel, from which I come today; in the Israel Defense Forces, which I have had the privilege to command, we have always viewed the Sanctity of Life as a supreme value. We have gone to war only when a fearful sword was poised to cut us down.

The history of the State of Israel, the annals of the Israel Defense Forces are filled with thousands of stories of soldiers who sacrificed themselves – who died while trying to save wounded comrades; who gave their lives to avoid causing harm to innocent people on the enemy’s side.

In the coming days, a special Commission of the Israel Defense Forces will finish drafting a Code of Conduct for our soldiers. The formulation regarding human life will read as follows, and I quote:

“In recognition of its supreme importance, the soldier will preserve human life in every way possible and endanger himself, or others, only to the extent deemed necessary to fulfill this mission.

The Sanctity of Life, in the view of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, will find expression in all their actions; in considered and precise planning; in intelligent and safety-minded training and in judicious implementation, in accordance with their mission; in taking the professionally proper degree of risk and degree of caution; and in the constant effort to limit casualties to the scope required to achieve the objective.” End quote.

For many years ahead – even if wars come to an end, after peace comes to our land – these words will remain a pillar of fire which goes before our camp, a guiding light for our people. And we take pride in that.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are in the midst of building the peace. The architects and engineers of this enterprise are engaged in their work even as we gather here tonight, building the peace layer by layer, brick by brick, beam by beam. The job is difficult, complex, trying. Mistakes could topple the whole structure and bring disaster down upon us.

And so we are determined to do the job well – despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite fanatic and scheming enemies.

We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude.

We will not let up.

We will not give in.

Peace will triumph over all our enemies, because the alternative is grim for us all.

And we will prevail.

We will prevail because we regard the building of peace as a great blessing for us, and for our children after us. We regard it as a blessing for our neighbors on all sides, and for our partners in this enterprise – the United States, Russia, Norway, and all mankind.

We wake up every morning, now, as different people. Suddenly, peace. We see the hope in our children’s eyes. We see the light in our soldier’s faces, in the streets, in the buses, in the fields.

We must not let them down.

We will not let them down.

I do not stand here alone, today, on this small rostrum in Oslo. I am the emissary of generations of Israelis, of the shepherds of Israel, just as King David was a shepherd, of the herdsmen and dressers of sycamore trees, as the Prophet Amos was; of the rebels against the establishment, like the Prophet Jeremiah, and of men who go down to the sea, like the Prophet Jonah.

I am the emissary of the poets and of those who dreamed of an end to war, like the Prophet Isaiah.

I am also the emissary of sons of the Jewish people like Albert Einstein and Baruch Spinoza; like Maimonides, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka.1

And I am the emissary of the millions who perished in the Holocaust, among whom were surely many Einsteins and Freuds who were lost to us, and to humanity, in the flames of the crematoria.

I am here as the emissary of Jerusalem, at whose gates I fought in days of siege; Jerusalem which has always been, and is today, the eternal capital of the State of Israel and the heart of the Jewish people, who pray toward it three times a day.

And I am also the emissary of the children who drew their visions of peace; and of the immigrants from Saint Petersburg and Addis Ababa.

I stand here mainly for the generations to come, so that we may all be deemed worthy of the medallion which you have bestowed on me today.

I stand here as the emissary of our neighbors who were our enemies. I stand here as the emissary of the soaring hopes of a people which has endured the worst that history has to offer and nevertheless made its mark – not just on the chronicles of the Jewish people but on all mankind.

With me here are five million citizens of Israel – Jews and Arabs, Druze and Circassians – five million hearts beating for peace – and five million pairs of eyes which look to us with such great expectations for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank, first and foremost, those citizens of the State of Israel, of all generations and political persuasions, whose sacrifices and relentless struggle for peace bring us steadier closer to our goal.

I wish to thank our partners – the Egyptians, Jordanians, Palestinians, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Mr. Yasser Arafat, with whom we share this Nobel Prize – who have chosen the path of peace and are writing a new page in the annals of the Middle East.

I wish to thank my family for their support.

And, of course, I wish to thank the members of the Nobel Committee and the courageous Norwegian people for bestowing this illustrious honor on my colleagues and myself.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to close by sharing with you a traditional Jewish blessing which has been recited by my people, in good times and in bad, from time immemorial, as a token of their deepest longing:

“The Lord will give strength to his people; the Lord will bless his people – all of us – with peace.”

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Book Review: Bruce Hood ~ The Self Illusion: who do you think you are? (2012)

Moving out of an intellectual comfort zone is bracing. Am I making decent critique or is it all a tedious misunderstanding?

Hood’s principal point is a, “major discovery is that there is no centre in the brain where the self is constructed.” Note ‘discovery’. Hood’s discovered this by looking at trauma to the brain, disease, maternal deprivation, social isolation, brutal authoritarian ‘research’, and so on. His evidence comes from, “studies of unfortunate individuals who have suffered some form of brain damage either through aging or accident.” This seems to be a neo-Platonist concept of perfection.

How does Hood ‘know’ the self doesn’t exist? He says that if a brain has a tumour behaviour is altered; if a child is denied speech opportunities it never achieves normal speech. Hood’s book is a study of harm. What else? It’s a study of imposed normality. He’s using standardisation procedures.

Hood’s book worries me because it defies Popper’s verification principle. Parents with more than one child know that very similar environments nonetheless only contribute to the child’s personality. The child’s self filters the environment. Worse: Hood’s problem is attempted enhancement as opposed to harm. Try this, “….importantly, there is little evidence that we can improve upon Mother Nature to supersize the early learning environment for a better intellectual outcome.” (my emphasis) In Hood’s context this a counter-factual.

At no point does Hood build a narrative about creativity, paradigm shifts, or anything else beyond the banal. Hood’s jog-trot through the human condition has some memorable moments but they don’t sustain his principal point.

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The Square Isn’t There

Bruce Hood The Self Illusion: Who do you think you are
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The Gaza Strip and Israel, 2014

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the blockade of the Gaza Strip, describing the

territory as a “prison camp”.1

Israel controls Gaza’s territorial waters and maintains exclusive control in the air space...[It] controls the entire ….border including the Erez and Kami border crossings…[It} supplies Gaza with electricity, fuel, telecommunications, water and sewage removal…[It] has identified security considerations and reserved for itself the right to enter Gaza for, broadly self-defined ‘self defense…2

Israel took control of the Gaza Strip after the ‘Six Day War’ in 1967. Gaza, in effect, became part of ‘Greater Israel’, which was the worst of all possible worlds. It was incorporated economically but kept at arms length politically. The Gaza population weren’t offered Israeli citizenship for example. Worse, Israel seemed to suggest Gaza was a Trojan horse, carefully forgetting they’d conquered it in the first place. In 2014, Israel handed out a punishment beating to Gaza. That war was a classic imperialist campaign. The campaign was heavily armed and there were militarily invincible armed forces against a civilian population who were basically defenceless. This led to attempted suppression which was a recipe for disaster.

Neo-imperialist campaigns follow a pattern.3 The Israelis used their fire power to cause massive casualties in the 2014 campaign. Additionally they introduced mass imprisonment. A short brutal campaign and ‘job done’. Except it isn’t. Historical events aren’t a template: this happened and so that must happen. Nonetheless history can be a diagnostic tool – the French ‘civil’ war in Algeria; Britain in India 1920-47; the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s; apartheid in South Africa from 1960s-80s – are telling examples of suppression provoking a negative outcome for the suppressor.

David Cameron in 2010 said Gaza was a “prison camp”. The Palestinians claimed the 2014 campaign was a ‘war crime’ in their submission to the International Criminal Court.4 Having powerful friends is very helpful in international relations and Israel has the USA. Israel’s Palestinian policy is repressive, illegal and conducted with impunity. Only transformative and sophisticated diplomatic remorse of the kind west Germany showed post-1945 can begin to rescue the Gaza situation.

Israel is trapped in a ghoulish moral hazard, which, “is when an entity has an incentive to increase its exposure to risk because it does not bear the full costs of that risk..”5 The 2014 Gaza campaign was meant to enhance Israel’s security. So how did it turn out? “…our reports show that there hasn’t been a month in recent years where at least dozens of attacks haven’t taken place. Finally, in Gaza, there have been, to date, 112 rocket attacks launched by Palestinian terrorists targeting Israeli communities in 2020. In 2019, there were over 400 such rocket attacks.”6 This is a fairly normal outcome for acts of imperialist suppression (the British imprisoned 100,000 Indians in the 1940s Quit India campaign and lost).7

Israel is a young country born in the worst possible circumstances: the Holocaust. Britain, the colonial power, did everything it could to prevent Jewish immigration in the 1940s to mitigate inter-communal violence. The situation was intractable because Palestine was a minor piece in their imperial jig-saw. Britain withdrew and Israel won a war of independence with a substantive agreement which lasted until 1967. A lightning campaign left Israel’s enemies crushed and huge territorial gains. The security of Israel was weakened by those gains. The classic challenge was Gaza. The narrative could have been written in 1967 and yet 54 years later it all seems a surprise.

Yitzhak Rabin, lifelong soldier and politician won the Nobel Prize for his peace efforts. No one could describe him as a ‘peacenik’. Rabin knew war inside out and agreed with Clausewitz. He said in 1994:

There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications.

The one radical solution is peace.” (my emphasis)8

In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist following a vitriolic campaign against him by Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel’s current prime minister).

Gaza is a plaything of right-wing politicians who describe anything that looks like diplomacy as ‘weakness’. Suppression doesn’t work but it’s embedded in the bombastic rhetoric of some Israeli politicians. The moral hazard of suppression for Israel it that, unlike the British in India and Palestine in the 1940s, Israel doesn’t have a viable exit strategy.


1 David Cameron describes blockaded Gaza as a ‘prison’ – BBC News 27th July 2010

2 Samson, Elizabeth Occupation of Gaza and the Arguments for “Effective Control.” Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, 2010, pp. 12–15, Is Gaza Occupied?: Redefining the Legal Status of Gaza, Accessed 9 Feb. 2021.

Eran, Oded. Another Casualty of the Third Gaza War: US-Israel Relations. Institute for National Security Studies, 2014, p2 Accessed 9 Feb. 2021.

3 The Amritsar massacre in India in 1919 is a British example. See Jallianwala Bagh Massacre | Causes, History, & Significance | Britannica For the Gaza war (2014) see Timeline of the 2014 Gaza War – Wikipedia For a newspaper article about the 2014 campaign see Gaza conflict: Withdrawal of Israeli soldiers reveals the shell-strewn detritus of humanity | The Independent | The Independent

4 para 12 (section i to vii) pp6-7

5 Moral hazard – Wikipedia

6 Sky News corrects ‘segregated Israeli bus stop’ claim, but errors remain > CAMERA UK (

7 Quit India Movement – Wikipedia

8 Yitzhak Rabin – Nobel Lecture – For his assassination see Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin – Wikipedia For Netanyahu see Benjamin Netanyahu – Wikipedia

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