Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A quick news round-up

No point reinventing the wheel re what's still going on in Gaza, the debate re the Beeb etc. Suffice to say that Auntie is showing its usual orftorfu re the Palestinians: they had an unelected, corrupt leadership that stole all its aid money, then they elected the same mob, then replaced them with another bunch who turn out to also be appropriating cash, as well as attacking their own aid vehicles, and who prefer to provoke a war using the resources they do have, to trying to improve their own society.

Oh, did I mention that Hamas seem to have enough cash to splash that they are going around damaged properties handing out wads of banknotes? Also the irony that these are usually evil Zionist shekels and dollars... Meanwhile normal service has resumed re rockets and border attacks. So the Gazans are on the whole definitely good candidates for a humanitarian appeal.

So here are a few choice stories and links for you (thanks for this first bit to Honest Reporting):

Despite widespread charges leveled against Israel in the international media, some journalists have, to their credit, made the effort to dig deeper amidst the rubble to find out what really went on in Gaza and the crimes committed by Hamas against its own people. Here are a couple of stories that you may not have seen in your local media.

Hamas hijacking ambulances:

According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Palestinian civilians living in Gaza during the three-week war with Israel have spoken of the challenge of being caught between Hamas and Israeli soldiers as the radical Islamic movement that controls the Gaza strip attempted to hijack ambulances.

Mohammed Shriteh, 30, is an ambulance driver registered with and trained by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

His first day of work in the al-Quds neighbourhood was January 1, the sixth day of the war. "Mostly the war was not as fast or as chaotic as I expected," Mr Shriteh told the Herald. "We would co-ordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us."

Mr Shriteh said the more immediate threat was from Hamas, who would lure the ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport fighters to safety.

Hamas's human shields:

Der Spiegel reveals the abuse of Palestinian civilian homes by Hamas:

Hail's house is just a few streets away and only suffered light damage. There are a few bullet holes in the living room walls and all of the window panes are broken. Hail also found out after the cease-fire that the militants had used his house as a base for their operations. The door to his house stood open and there were electric cables lying in the hallway. When Hail followed them they led to his neighbor's house which it seems Hamas had mined.

As Hail, in his mid-30s, sat on his porch and thought about what to do a man came by: He was from Hamas and had left something in Hail's home. He let him in and the man then emerged with a bullet proof vest, a rocket launcher and an ammunitions belt. An hour later a fighter with Islamic Jihad called to the door, then disappeared onto the roof and reappeared with a box of ammunition. "The abused civilians' homes for their own purposes. That is not right," Hail says with disgust while trying to remain polite.


YNet News reports:

A continuing IDF investigation into the number of civilian Palestinian casualties during the Israeli offensive in Gaza indicated that only 250 of the fatalities were civilians.

The military estimates that between 1,100 and 1,200 people were killed during the offensive. Some 700 of are believed to be militants and most are believed to be Hamas operatives.

The IDF is still trying to ascertain the identity of the remaining fatalities, but security sources said many would probably turn out to be militants as well. "Hamas is familiar with the numbers and is doing everything it can to concealed them," said an IDF source....

Many of the fatalities were considered to be civilians at first, because there were no weapons found with them, said a military source, "But that method of operation is consistent with the way Hamas was hiding in the midst of civilians, moving between their strongholds with no weapons. In many cases someone thought to be a civilian casualty turned out to be a Hamas operative after we ran our checks."

Now a few articles from The Times (hat tips to Reuben, Bodie and Lazarus, I think).

Firstly this piece by the masterful Daniel Finkelstein, where he points out that all we want is for the other lot to say they are okay with us existing and actually mean it, rather than ululating and handing out sweets when some Jews/Yanks get blown up. Also here is his recent gem about giving airtime to whoever wants to buy it, so they can just run with their own bias, and we all know what we're getting.

Next up, also in The Times, this excellent piece by Andrew Roberts, pointing out that the charities who might run a BBC appeal have been as systematically biased against Israel as the Beeb itself.

I also caught this superb Times editorial, which really sums it up and has a feel of cool objectivity (ie hundreds of bleeding hearts wrote in afterwards to "correct" it). The only bit that made me squirm was the quoting of that Norwegian doctor, because yes, it is all so tragic, but then he creeped me out when I saw him on the news. So I did a bit of research...

Gilbert is a radical Marxist and a member of the political Red (Rodt) party, a revolutionary socialist party in Norway. He has been a pro-Palestinian activist since the 1970's and travelled to Lebanon in support of the Palestinians during the first Lebanon war in 1982. He has long been a vocal opponent of Israel and the U.S. Gilbert has acknowledged that he cannot separate politics from medicine, stating, "there is little in medicine that is not politics." He even criticizes the group Doctors Without Borders for providing medical assistance to both sides in a conflict instead of taking a strong stance and supporting only one party. In a 2006 article in Nordlys, journalist Ivan Kristoffersen lamented the fact that Gilbert allows his humanitarian efforts to be politicized by his radical agenda.

Mads Gilbert is described on his Wikipedia page as a “Communist politician as a member of the party Red”. The Red party was previously the Workers Communist Party, which supported Pol Pot:

AKP openly endorsed the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, and when that party’s forces invaded Phnom Penh, Klassekampen had “Long live the free Cambodia” as their front page headline. Support from AKP endured in spite of the killings which were reported during Pol Pot’s rule which AKP at that time considered to be lies, and AKP had delegations visiting the country.

Mads Gibert himself supports terrorism. This is what he told a Norwegian newspaper, the Dagbladet, a couple of weeks after 9/11:

If the U.S. government has a legitimate right to bomb and kill civilians in Iraq, then there is also a moral right to attack the United States with the weapons they had to create. Dead civilians are the same whether they are Americans, Palestinians or Iraqis.

Do you supports the terrorist attack on the United States?
Terror is a bad weapon, but the answer is yes, within the context I have mentioned”

Full articles here at CAMERA and Harry's Place.

Let's conclude with a classic piece of BBC emoti-journalism from the incomparable Jeremy Bowen (I think Jim Bowen would be a better reporter). Here is his heart-rending diary entry about Dr Izzeldeen Abuelaish, a Palestinian doctor who has worked in Israel for many years, and lost daughters and nieces in a shell explosion at his house, yet still puts a brave face on it, likes his Israeli colleagues, and is happy for his surviving but injured family to be rushed to Israel where the best treatment is available (not that Norwegian guy then?!).

So we should start with a few things Bowen forgot to mention. For example, the "neutral" "expert" from "Human Rights Watch", Marc Garlasco. Here is a little snippet about him, and a link to Honest Reporting's article on him, HRW, and some of their previous handiwork. Now whilst the killing of this doctor's family was clearly a tragic accident (unless you are Bowen, Garlasco or Gilbert of course), the IDF's initial reaction was that if they did hit the house with a shell, there was a reason it was targetted. Then they started to carry out a fuller investigation and I found this coverage of the actual tank unit commander's comments.

Not only that, but even Garlasco makes a discovery of "anti-tank shell" fragments - not sure why Israel would be firing those at snipers... surely the other way round? Ah yes, some more evidence of this was apparently found embedded in the unfortunate girls' heads. Pieces of Russian-made, Iranian-sponsored Grad anti-tank missile, adapted from the infamous katyusha. Still a tragedy, not least because this particular family seems to have been genuinely interested in peace and co-existence, but once again the truth in this story is somewhere between blurred enough for Bowen to hold back on the emote button just a bit, and being yet another example of Hamas cynically using parts of civilian infrastructure, knowing the response.

I even saw one comment, apparently from an Arab reader, on a blog about this, where he said it was even more likely that Hamas used this guy's house, knowing that either nobody would fire back because he had protectsia from high-ranking Israelis, or that they would, and the PR "gain" of his loss would be spectacular. Wouldn't put it past them, given the track record.

Think that'll do for the moment. Next, some more light news about Australia...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Freedman Down Under: coasting it

After the boozy delights of Margaret River, we jetted into Brisbane, landing at midnight to a humid 32 degrees. We jumped onto the cheapo shuttle bus and asked the driver what he would recommend we do in the 36 hours we had in the city. His reply was "leave". Not promising. Then we got to another damn youth hostel, which looked modern and pleasant enough, but did involve sharing a shoebox of a dorm with a German couple, and on the most ridiculously squeaky, wobbly bunks of all time, complete with piss-proof rubber-coated mattress.
Following a restless night, Wifey woke up a little before me and wanted to get some totally unimportant object from the bottom of my bag (I schlepped a fair amount of his stuff, as he tried unsuccessfully to shoehorn everything for a 3 week trip into hand-luggage to avoid Tiger Airways stiffing him, which they did anyway). The bag being right by the bed, and me still trying to sleep, he then made the deadly mistake of waking me fully to ask where his unimportant objects might be located. After confirming they were really not up his fucking arse, and trying to rummage sleepily with one hand through 20kgs of my stuff to find his unimportant object, there was only one thing to do. Cue Freedmansdad-esque tantrum upending of bag and liberal dumping of all items across floor, before calmly retrieving said unimportant object from the bottom of the bag, handing it to him, rolling over with an enormous rattle and squeak from the bed, and going back to sleep.
Anyway, onward into Brisbane, where we started with a little stroll along the very pleasant Queen Street Mall, dropping off the broken walking boots and Wifey's Stinkenstocks at a shoe repair place. Then a little Aussie breakfast in the glorious outdoors, including my first taster of ubertreif, a nice rasher of chazer. Totally disappointing experience, not repeating that. Just salty, greasy and a bit leathery. Wondered if I'd sent the bacon to the shoe repair place and had the cafe fry up some boot.
Then we did a little self-guided tour of Brizzie, and fell in love with the place. Shuttle driver obviously just a depressive, because it's really lush. Imagine mini-London with tropical weather... awesome river frontage, a South Bank complete with wicked artificial beach and lido area, with backdrop of nice cluster of skyscrapers and historic buildings, botanical gardens with real wildlife competing to be hand-fed some crisps. Okay, the other difference between Brisbane and London - in fact between Oz and Blighty - is the scum. Or general absence of it in Australia. Well, it is probably there, it just knows what it is and how to behave when mingling with everyone else, coupled with some draconian punishments for people who step out of line. Mostly there is a real sense of civic pride, so public spaces remain unvandalised, and roaming gangs of feral youths are replaced with roaming packs of cute marsupials. The city beach would last about a week on our South Bank, and not just because it would be under a foot of snow just now.
We crashed over that evening with Wifey's lovely friend Catriona, in her sweet-ass flat with city views and a top-notch swimming pool. Out in the evening for a slap-up dinner, then back to the flat for drinks on the balcony and an episode or two of Peep Show. Ought to just big that up and say that during my time here, I was supposed to work my way through the delights of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything and have instead got through every single episode of Mark and Jez re-enacting scenes from my life. I AM MARK CORRIGAN!
Off in the morning to collect the hire car, then a very civilised lunch by the river with Catriona (plate of most excellent marinated salmon and avocado, twice-fried chips, and a very indulgent little dessert, and yes, a bottle of something sparkling), and then the start of our Big Schlepp - a couple of hours' drive up the Sunshine Coast to Mooloolaba. Pretty grim hostel again - just cannot get used to rooming with total strangers who live out of rucksacks smaller than my free bizclass goodybag - but at least it was very near to a proper whack-in-the-wok noodle place, for a kilo of fried carby goodness.
Just up the coast from Moo is lovely Noosa. The plan was to have a night there before heading off for 3 days to Fraser Island, but it turned out we were wrongly advised and all the tours either left on inconvenient days, or were full. So we just hung out in Noosa instead, partly because we had stumbled across a lovely twin room and balcony at Noosa Backpackers, but also because of the total gem of an eaterie next door, Global Cafe, where the quality of the food was matched by the shaggability of the staff. I may have fallen just a little in love with the 18 year old blonde waitress. The food in this place was just superb, down to the wonderful Marco-Pierre-trained Stacey. We ate there every night, and on the last evening she even prepared a Spanish special as we had said it was a fave cuisine - a divine gazpacho and some of the best patatas bravas ever.
We passed our days bodyboarding on the stunning beach, fressing of course, finding a little slice of Zion, taking a walk in the national park, where we saw our first wild koalas and also went skinny-dipping on the nudist beach. On re-emerging Daniel Craig-like (only with even less left to the imagination of course) from the water, a fellow naturist and total raving hom (thanks for that word Jules) came sprinting up, canapés jiggling, and as I sat on a sandy bank, stood right in front of me - you do the maths on this one - and said "would you like me to piss on you?".
I gasped and thought about it for a moment... I've treifed out already, why not give the Other Side a try? He could see my bewilderment and added that my back looked very red (I caught the sun a bit when swimming at Yulara) and he thought it was a jellyfish sting. I declined as politely as one can when a stranger has his cock 2 inches from your mouth, and have since spent several hours perfecting my new gay Aussie accent for recounting this tale.
Moving back down the coast, we stopped off at Alma Park Zoo to meet some domestic furries. Highlight was of course the koala-cuddling. Don't we look like a lovely father and son?! Also we entered into a debate with this kangaroo about zoo funding and the role of the late Steve Irwin in preserving Australian fauna. He was a very deep thinker.
Then back through Brisbane, where we collected our shoes and I caught up with my old boss Grant from BP in Grangemouth, who's from the Gold Coast and has since gone back there to work for a big nasty conglomerate, on their coal-mining side. A man after my own capitalist heart, or what there is of it. After a few pints with him, Wifey and I headed down to Surfer's Paradise, which is an impressive bunch of skyscrapers and big straight beaches, still just tacky and overdeveloped compared to Noosa and other Sunshine Coast beauty spots. Just the one night there. Groan - another youth hostel on the cards. Joy - twin room all to ourselves that turned out to be a very nice self-contained flat, for about fifteen quid each. Groan - no working lightbulbs. Joy - across the road from a dirt-cheap Mexican place. Groan - worst meal so far on the trip, totally not authentic, can make better myself.
And so on down the coast in the car, chipping away the miles, a little stroll here, a little paddle there, a major fress everywhere, nights in motels, hotels, hostels, over the course of 4 days:
- Byron Bay (a little drive around, lighthouse view and picnic, check the box, decide Noosa was more our scene)
- Ballina (I had a swim in the world's biggest pot of tea, Lake Ainsworth, decent dinner by the water, Wifey's most beautiful photo of the trip perhaps)
- Yamba (night in a fairly crazy hotel)
- Coffs Harbour (picnic on the docks, little stroll)
- Port Macquarie (total blank!)
- Forster-Tuncurry (motel, good curry for dinner, nice brekkie overlooking the lagoon)
- Nelson Bay (boom net, dolphins, waterslide off back of boat, excellent tom yum ka soup)
- Newcastle (like our one but with a beach and hot weather, door policy that got shirty about Wifey's thongs - that's the flip-flops, not choice of undies - he was going commando that night anyway)
Then the final 2 hours driving down to Sydney, climaxing joyously in a bombastic rendition of our official tour anthem, John Farnham's You're The Voice, as we crossed the Harbour Bridge.
More on this leg of the journey anon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The return of ORFTORFU

As Israel's Gaza operation seems to be coming to a conclusion, one final blast of Freedmanslife indignation. Orftorfu is an acronym we use down at Freedman Villas - One Rule For Them, One Rule For Us. A useful shorthand first conceived back in 2000 with the Second Intifada, and particularly handy when describing anything to do with Israel and the Jews in general, who are subjected to the orftorfu treatment by the world's media, NGOs, liberal left, almost the entire Islamic world, antisemites of various guises (including self-hating Jews of many descriptions), and in a totally different and vastly more moral and interesting way, those Jews who contemplate what the burden of being the Chosen People is really about.

Some good articles have been written and largely ignored by the mainstream which cover some of the orftorfu's of this particular conflict. For example how reporting of the Tamil Tigers being ruthlessly wiped out by Sri Lanka, in a way that raises many more issues of human rights, war crimes and proportion than Israel in Gaza, has barely featured in the press, despite happening concurrently.

Tempting as it is to get into the orftorfu of how Palestinian attacks, which intend to maim civilians, are somehow seen as morally equivalent, or in view of the "disproportion" of number, method and impact, even MORE justified than Israeli responses, this is evident to any really objective observer.

Instead, let's look at what's happening in the UK and to the Jews.

I will first waste a bit of air-time on that hoax email to the Board of Deps, for which Jewdas (google them for more, in short a collective of wannabe Anglo-Jewish anarchists who have failed to spot the oxymoron) have claimed responsibility, in a rambling, self-congratulatory email that showed nothing but the classic naivete of the bleeding heart liberal whose knowledge of current affairs is by osmosis from the gentle drone of the BBC to the ear and the stain of Independent and Guardian ink to the hands. Reducing it to one line, they believe that we the Jews of Britain should not support any of Israel's military action, regardless of the cause or how it is carried out, because "only negotiations can bring peace in our time". Okay, I may have embellished that just slightly, but you get the idea.

Funny thing is, for a fleeting moment I put Jewdas in that latter category of orftorfu, the one where we Jews hold ourselves up to a higher standard than others hold themselves. But the tone and absolute dogma of their email mean they fail to recognise what Jewish history has shown - if we are not for ourselves, no-one will be for us.

Because of this war, not in spite of it, the USA, Egypt, and even the PA itself, have finally understood Israel's predicament with Hamas and the need, after 10,000 pieces of ordnance over 8 years, to cut off the latter's supply of explosives through the porous border with Egypt. Failure to have done this, and the world's application of orftorfu with first Fatah and then Hamas, have led us here. Nowhere else would this situation have been tolerated, or EVERY attempt Israel made to resolve it (EU observers at crossings, Disengagement, limited targetted response etc) have been met with anything from lack of support to total contempt.

Jewdas seems to think that Anglo-Jewry's support of Israel is "right or wrong", and that it's inherently a contradiction to back the operation AND want or believe in peace. The fact is that peace follows quiet. To get to quiet, the other side has to accept it cannot win through force alone. Israel accepts this - that's why it left Gaza 4 years ago, why it continues to have dialogue with the PA, why it will accept other parties controlling the Philadelphi Corridor, and why it (and Jews at large) is constantly searching its soul and trying to find a compromise of its own factions that also will find acceptance from the Palestinians, Arabs and wider world.

Hamas specifically does not want peace, used the previous quiet of its ceasefire to rearm and then provoke this current operation, and has no capability of dialogue even with its own brethren in Fatah or the PA. But orftorfu - we are Jews so have to behave and think decently, whilst the world expects (in a way that's actually pretty condescending and borderline racist) much lower standards of the other party. I wonder if there is just a general pattern of supporting the perceived underdog, "right or wrong", among our chattering classes (Ken Wilber and Spiral Dynamics fans will know this as mean green meme syndrome).

Orftorfu prevents anyone discussing the absurd irony that Israel continues to wage a war to protect its civilians AS WELL AS THAT OF ITS ENEMY. Whilst it seems that 20%-40% of the (apparently) 1170 dead Palestinians have been civilians - depending on who you believe - Israel continues to try and leaflet areas it may need to target, has a daily 3-hour ceasefire for people to move out or find food (and for Hamas to rearm), goes house-to-house more often than necessary for its military objectives to avoid collateral damage, and so on. This is despite the fact that for whatever reason the Palestinians elected Hamas, and the latter chooses to hide among its population, thus intentionally creating the asymmetry of 13 dead Jews to all those dead Arabs. Also the irony that we are all saddened by their innocent casualties, even organising appeals where you can send an SMS with the word "life" as the text to 81400, costing £1.50, and donate equal amounts to hospitals in Israel and Gaza to help the real victims (where did Jewdas publicise this worthy cause?! Orftorfu even within Anglo-Jewry...), whilst I would be astounded - and of course delighted - if the Muslim community of Britain had set up anything similar, rather than affiliating more with the 'Arab street' that rejoices in our misery and pain.

Meanwhile, the domestic orftorfu continues with the media busy picking up any hint of Islamophobia, whilst ignoring recent attacks on Starbucks and Tesco, targetted because of current or prior Jewish management. This insidious move from protests about Israel's actions to violence against anything Jewish does not bode well, but the lack of decent coverage, especially that explicitly denounces this as antisemitic, is possibly even more sinister.

Let's compare and contrast coverage.

The "peace march" was un-nuanced pro-Palestinian in its leaning, failing to differentiate between Hamas and everyone else (apparently "we are all Hamas now" reared its ugly head), implicitly grieving for the 500-800 dead terrorists and supporters of terror, whilst not even paying lip service to the million Israelis within rocket range of Gaza, the dozens dead and hundreds injured, as well as thousands carrying other well-documented psychological scars. It turned violent at the end, including attempts by a large mob to attack the Israeli Embassy, vandalising several supposedly Jewish businesses, and even a serious assault on a kippah-wearing protester who was coming back from THEIR march.

The "pro-Israel" march, according to the reports I read, seemed to be much more "pro-peace", and encapsulate the general sentiment in Anglo-Jewry that this is a necessary operation where innocent victims are inevitable and to be mourned. It passed off peacefully, and was attended by 15,000 people - one heck of a slab of the community, given the timing, weather, fear of violence, hoax cancellations, and alleged disharmony of opinion.

But hey, some Jews trying to be equanimous are not newsworthy, nor are hundreds of people enacting a small slice of the kind of violent history that forced the establishment of modern Israel as our protection. Just plenty of coverage of anti-Israel rallies everywhere, keeping to the photogenic bits of hijabbed ladies pushing prams alongside dreadlocked students in kheffiyehs, carrying placards and pics of dead babies, with no mention of the marchers' implicit support of the rocket attacks and a terrorist government.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Freedman Down Under: Perthpective

Okay, due to a bit of a technical hitch, photos are not going to be inserted, but instead I'll throw in some links as I go along, and invite you all to check the little album here. Thanks to Wifey for most of the pics.

Now where were we?! Ah yes, down at the Bros House in Perth. Cue endless Facebook status updates involving words I could shoehorn Perth into, ie Perthpective, Perthetic, Pertheption,
suPerthtructures, interperthonal skills and so on. Oh how I laughed.

Anyway, after being fed, watered and cleaned by Momma Bro, including superb home-made schnitzel, we nipped into town for Warren's stag do. Of course it is not right to publicise the details here, but I will say that Wifey and I had managed something like 9 hours of sleep over the previous three days, so were just a tad exhausted. Nothing that a 10 minute dremml on a lav stool in a pub couldn't sort out. Then on to The 'Deen, a crazy pub/bar/club thang with 6 rooms and a courtyard, each with its own bar and different ambience and musical theme. Massive amounts of accessible WA fleisch but it was stinking hot, and as mentioned, we were knackered, and besides, it being a stag do, we knew there was a guarantee of nude lewd behaviour to come... I am saying nothing except I have never seen anyone wear bifocals like THAT before.
Next day was spent napping and fressing, with a stunning home-made curry for Fri night dinner, then an early night and general raiding of the Bros' oversized fridge, then we hopped on a train down to Fremantle to catch the 11.30am last ferry to Rottnest Island. We arrived at the station at 11.28, legged it 400 yards in 2 minutes in the 37 degree heat, and just made it. Turns out eating kangaroo gives you extra special springy-step roo powers.

So Rottnest is just lovely, Caribbean-style white beaches and turquoise seas, and funny little marsupials unique to the island, called
quokkas. They're really adorable, but apparently you're not supposed to touch them because we might give them some nasty diseases or vice versa. Instead, people limit their contact to quokka soccer (allegedly). We got there a bit late and also a bit hot to be cycling around the place, so hopped on the island bus, found a beach, and duly had a good shlump and a nice swim. This was followed by a pretty decent fish and chips, some more strolling and shlumping, and a very nice glass of sparkling at a beachside bar, before reboarding the ferry back.

Landing in Fremantle, we headed off for a little wander around town. It's a bit more old-skool than Perth, very quaint, and we wound up at a lovely rooftop bar and restaurant, on the terrace having yet another glass of something good as a sundowner. As this was a taboo-breaking trip, we went a bit nuts on the seafood platter... again, quite tasty, and glad I've tried all these things once, but the part I liked the most was the only kosher white fish on the dish. Washed down with some bloody good chardonnay.
A quick rundown of the treif experience, for those yidden who will never cross the line:
- Oysters are a real delicacy that looks and tastes just like someone brought up a real good one from the back of the throat and flobbed it gently into a large shell full of seawater.
- Crayfish wins third prize in the ugly seafood contest, behind cuttlefish and Moreton Bay bug (more of which anon). It's like a lobster without the amusing whiskers, castanets and French accent. Tastes okay, but proves my longstanding principle that anything you have to use a burglar's tools to get into is just not designed for us to be eating.
- Octopus is like a piece of rubber tyre braised in a fishmonger's mop-bucket. Mussels are not too bad, but I am really bothered by the little orange cube thingy that attaches the bit you eat to the bit you don't.
- Eating prawns made me realise how accurate the (vegetarian!) flavouring of Walkers prawn cocktail flavour actually is... in fact, the real thing has a "delicate" (ie bland) taste, and a weird texture that grew on me a bit, as prawn pops up in SO many things down here.
- Proper shellfish bouillabaisse, replete with scallops, mussels and prawns, jolly nice soup, could take or leave the treif isles flottantes, but no doubt added plenty of stocky goodness. Also this was more of a consommé, whereas the kosher version is a proper thick soup using the flesh of biblically certified fish. Prefer the latter.
Back to the Bros, night's kip, up next day to raid the fridge again, then off to Warren and Amy's wedding, taking the family's spare Beamer. Scorching hot day, pushing 40 in the shade, best men in black suits, Wifey and I just about staying alive in white shirts and cotton/linen trousers, luckily meant a bevy of hot girls in flimsy summer dresses, including the incredible Marie, photos of whom are available on a pay-per-view basis only.
Decent grub, wedding cake, then on with the bride, groom and friends to a nightclub and casino, where a local ditz saw 2 of us more burly lads march in wearing the uniform white shirt and tan trousers, and asked if we were from the police. Needless to say, the response was "every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you". Wasted on her.
Quick shout out to Laura, who is adopting Independent Love Song by Scarlet as her special song. A little excerpt of the lyrics

I'll show you how to take me
Go down go down
And I'll show you how to turn me
Right on right on
And I'll show you how to touch me
Right on right on right on
Right on right on right on
Now it's fine that many men will look my way
And I'll take them home and let them show me the way
And sure I'll like a few but I'll leave the rest to play
I'm doing it a different way
I'm doing it a different way

Hmmm, maybe a little racier than she had in mind. Back home in the Beamer, more sleeping, then off to Margaret River ("the Marge") on Monday morning. Leisurely potter down some pleasant coastline, including some waterside grilled fish at Mandurah, then into wine country.
Through gritted teeth I agree to stay in a youth hostel, albeit just us and a cute Dutch girl in a room, and the place came with volleyball, footy, swimming pool, a pervasive whiff of pot, and proximity to the main drag. Ate at a really fab little place called Ze Arc of Iris, go before it changes hands and goes downhill, or buy the place. Particularly worthy of mention was the slow-cooked Moroccan lamb, like a spicy yet sweet chulent. Naturally we washed this down with a decent bottle of local shiraz cabernet, delightfully named "Skuttlebutt". Seriously Freedmansmum... I've sent a bottle home just to prove it.
Morning, headed off on a wine-tasting extravaganza with a very camp guide who took a bit of a shine to us. To be honest, after full tastings at four wineries, a brewery, a liqueur factory, a cheese shop and a chocolate factory all in one day, broken up by a fat deli lunch with the most extraordinary red pesto, I was anyone's. Particular recommendations are:
- Brookland '02 cab sav merlot, about to run out, so other than down in the Marge, they are now only selling their '04. The '02 was so good I am sending a crate home before they make the switch.
- Flying Fish '07 rosé, actually tastes of toffee apples, would be a totally amazing dessert wine, or to drink by the gallon on a summer's day.
- Windance '04 cab merlot and shiraz... in fact this is a blind recommendation as we didn't get to the winery, but each of these won about a dozen top awards, so I've freighted back some samplers.
We finished the day by driving up to Dunsborough to stay with the lovely Brett, Amy's brother. He has a very cool villa with old-fashioned pool table, close proximity to the beach and of course a stack of wineries. Off to a very good curry dinner with him, cruised through some decent sav blanc on the starters and another red on the mains. Left the rosé in his fridge.
Back on the road the next day, picking up Dutch girl en route, stopping off for more fresh fish in Mandurah, arriving in Perth early arvo (see how native I am?!), one last stop at the Bros, where Momma Bro tried to feed us AGAIN. Then to the airport where Wifey got his first experience of the business lounge. For an equanimous, spirally-dynamised, meditating, backpacking artiste, he seemed to get really stuck into le snobisme of going through those sliding glass doors and riding the escalator up to above the seething masses and into air-conditioned bliss. Certainly made short work of the buffet bar. Washed down with - you guessed it - some decent sparkly.
Next stop, Brisbane...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just the one

It would be only too easy for me to lose my entire holiday to blogging intensively about what's going on in Israel and Gaza. However, for once I get the feeling that Israel is handling itself pretty well, and that the public are seeing through the usual Hamas and media distortions. So just a few snippets:

Let's start with the text of the unbelievable hoax email "cancelling" the Board of Deps London rally:
The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, in consultation with a coalition of prominent organisations in the Anglo-Jewish community, have decided to cancel the planned Israel Solidarity Rally, due to occur on Sunday 11th of January.

This decision has been taken after intense discussions within the community, due to a feeling that such a demonstration would not be in accordance with the Board's wish to bring the conflict to an immediate conclusion. It was thought that the demonstration might be perceived as the community taking one side in the tragic war in Gaza and Israel, and might be seen as supporting Israel's military campaign.

The Board calls for an immediate ceasefire, immediate negotiations between Israel and Hamas, and for lifting the economic blockade of Gaza, in order to allow the Gazan and Israeli people to live together in peace. There is no military solution, only a political one.

The Jewish community does not wish to be seen as a participant in the conflict, and in taking this stand we hope to be a part of the solution. The Board stands in solidarity with the besieged and injured people of Gaza, as well as the victims of terrorism in Israel, and we oppose all violence as contrary to the tenets of the Jewish religion. We would like to reach out to the British Muslim community, as well as those of no religion who have demonstrated against Israel's military campaign-we share your anguish at the destruction and loss of life caused, and hope that our action in calling off our demonstration will be a small step towards peace.

This is a very clever and insidious fabrication, but let's set aside the sinister motives and capabilities of whoever did this, and ignore the kind of wide media coverage and opprobrium that would land on the whole Jewish community if anyone called Cohen or Abrahams turned out to pull off a similar stunt in hoaxing a pro-Palestinian protest. The Beeb covered it somewhere discreet, good luck trying to find it by browsing the site without that link... but mostly focused on headlines like "UK protesters call for Gaza peace" (until you read the text where it turns out they went on a bit of a pillaging spree, trashing Starbucks for presumably being a US-Zionist stooge, and trying to attack the Israeli Embassy.

The reality is that the Jewish community is a participant in this conflict, whether it likes it or not, because Hamas and its friends have been unashamedly boasting that they will take this war to the doorsteps of Jews everywhere. The reality is that most people in the Jewish community, and I think an unprecedented number outside it, are supportive of Israel's right to defend itself, using military means as a last resort.

The fact is that, unlike most of the media and the British Muslim community, whilst we weep for the loss of innocent life in Gaza, we also understand that intent is more important than proportion.

Israel does not intend the loss of life of civilians: there is no possible argument that would make it in Israel's practical, military, moral or PR interest to do so. Furthermore, if that was their intent, they would and could have killed tens of thousands, rather than about 250 civilians (assuming their figures of 550 Hamas activists dead is correct).

The reality is that 2 out of 3 people they have killed in this campaign have been non-civilian, with the tragic effect that these targets have been in densely populated areas where collateral damage is almost inevitable. The moral burden for those other deaths should surely fall on the bad guys Israel was going after. Bear in mind also that in the past, Israel has paid a huge price for trying to be EVEN MORE moral, for example in the tragic operation in Jenin. By going house-to-house, it lost 23 soldiers and the world lapped up every column inch of a blood libel that a great massacre had taken place there, although it turned out that about 50 people had died, half of whom were gunmen.

On the flip-side, almost every Palestinian terrorist attack is perpetrated intentionally against civilians, the only exceptions being those against IDF targets. Even then, these all too often have a scary parallel agenda: by attacking border crossings and fuel depots, they know the Israeli reaction will be to reduce supplies into Gaza from those places, and bizarrely, they secure a nice big PR victory in the international press, despite being the aggressors. It's amazing how little-reported this is - I had to explain to a friend how the article he had read by Jimmy Carter, claiming Israel had arbitrarily slashed humanitarian supplies to Gaza all the way through the 6-month hudna was putting effect before cause.

Another incredible example of the Palestinian calculus of their war against the Jews is the incident of the attack on the UN convoy drivers a few days ago. This was immediately reported in the media as having been carried out by the IDF, and the UN said they had to cut their supplies, blaming them too. In this, we see the following benefits to Hamas:

1. Bad media image for Israel
2. Further likelihood of bias against Israel from the UN
3. Waste of IDF resources investigating and being overly careful in future, probably risking the lives of Israeli troops
4. More sympathy for Palestinians due to cuts in aid

Bascially, dead Jews are good for Arab terrorists, dead Arabs are good for Arab terrorists, and dead foreigners are also good for Arab terrorists. Dead ANYONE tends to be bad for Jews.

Now in this particular case, the media just splashed Israel's supposed guilt immediately and without question. The UN blamed them straight away too. Hamas rubbed its hands with glee and added fuel to the fire with a range of other stories, none of which seem to have been independently corroborated.

What very few media have covered properly is that Israel has now said it is "100% certain" that it was not responsible for the deaths of those convoy drivers. Think about this. In the past, Israel has always apologised in case it made a mistake, then taken ages to investigate, and not pronounced on the subject until they had some certainty. In the past, this has meant that terrible slurs on the IDF and Israel have been left to stand until long after the damage is irreparably done, even once irrefutable evidence has been found to counter it, or at least enough to pose serious doubt, as has happened with Jenin, the Gaza Beach "shelling", and of course Mohammed Al-Dura.

For Israel to come out and make such a categorical denial means they must be that sure. Now think about what this means. Someone else must have attacked the convoy!

I am just going to let this sink in, in the light of my point above that in the cold logic of our enemy, this attack represented a multiple boon in their struggle. Now rethink every bad PR story you have heard and read in the last few days about how the IDF is carrying out this operation.

For example, there is the horror story of the Palestinian children found tired, hungry and weeping among the corpses of their families. Local staff of the Red Cross (NB these are usually Palestinian) claim that Israeli soldiers ignored their cries, and this amounts to a war crime. The story has yet to be corroborated by anyone else, but we have all been moved by the TV pictures.

Ask yourself which of these possibilities seems the most plausible, and whether it constitutes a war crime, bearing in mind the likelihood that Hamas or another Palestinian terror organisation attacked a UN convoy carrying their own humanitarian aid:

1. The Israeli soldiers hear the children's cries, and decide to do absolutely nothing about it.
2. They hear the cries, but having evaluated the chances of intervening, given a history of booby-traps and human bait, decide they can do nothing.
3. Having heard a noise, they fail to identify it as civilian children, and therefore do nothing.
4. They don't hear the cries at all, because of the noise and confusion.
5. The whole thing is a fabrication; it seems implausible that a shelling of a building would kill all the adults and magically leave the vulnerable children unharmed.

Of all these, number 1 looks the least likely, doesn't it?

Enough already. Comments welcome as always. Otherwise just using this to get frustrations off my chest...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Freedman Down Under: Outback Sideways

So we pick up the story in Melbourne early on Sunday morning, when Wifey and I are driven to the airport by the Rippa, to board our (shudder) low-cost airline flight to Alice Springs. The night before, we had made a pretty valiant effort to eat our way through the Limor's legendary meat fress, and we were feeling the burn. Meat sweats, bloating, and just not enough of the right kind of fibre to help such a mass of protein on its way. And now a 2 1/2 hour flight with the legal minimum seat pitch and 200 selected local and international hoi polloi in close proximity. Just the thing.

After a flight that was uneventful due to everyone's inability to move from the knees up, we touched down in Alice Springs. First thing we noticed was the greenery - there has been a lot of rainfall recently, so as much as semi-arid territory blooms, this was doing so. One downside to the recent precipitation is the number of flies. We fought through a couple of clouds of the little buggers, picked up our Hioldguy Betz and headed off to the hotel, a pleasant enough affair near the edge of town. More bugs on offer, including these cricket/grasshopper things who spring around your face a lot and then sit dumbly on the pavement waiting to be crunched underfoot.

A little pootle into town reveals a whole load of Aboriginal daywalkers just kind of hanging around the place, intense heat and a bunch more bugs. It being 11am, and with some fairly immovable lumps of meat deep in the recesses of the bowel, we do the only decent thing while I am still in treif mode, and go into the only open restaurant (KFC), where we work our way through the Batsman's Bucket in short order. This is a $25.95 coronary-in-waiting, and with that much grease, it slips down real nice at that time of day. All 16 pieces of chicken, 2 large fries, large bottle of fizz and crate of coleslaw.

We waddle off for a little tour of Alice, starting with an abortive trip to the Cultural Precinct, which turned out to be shut until 8th Jan, so I missed out on my chance to see the fab works of Albert Namatjira and visiting the Aviation Museum. We made the best of the day by going on tours of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air (ie where Outback kids learn via radio and internet). Very cute girl giving the talk at the latter, grew up on a cattle station miles away from everywhere, shows that inbreeding really can work sometimes.

Speaking of which, it turns out the Aboriginals have had a practice stretching back a few thousand years that each person is allocated to one of 6 groups at birth based on a look at genealogy, and can only marry someone from a determined other group, which helps keep the gene pool reasonably open. This is especially important given that numbers have dropped below 300,000, and intermarriage bringing in new bloodstock is not all that common. Jews of Britain, take note.

Still doesn't make many Aboriginals use toilets instead of shitting on pavements, and certainly has not encouraged the use of showers and baths on a semi-frequent basis. Apparently this is because of a cultural aversion to "wasting water". Now camels are known as the great "ships of the desert" and retain vast amounts of water, apparently capable of rehydrating at the rate of 200 litres imbibed in 3 minutes. They also make surprisingly good pie, when braised in stout and served with chips, as Wifey found out down at Bojangles in downtown Alice. Having still not had a good poo since the combination of Limor's and the earlier finger lickin' goodness, I was not in the mood to partake.

Anyway, the following day we headed out into the Macdonnells, a range of mountain ridges that extends for a few hundred kms out of Alice and into the middle of bumblefuck. Given the 100km per day restriction on the car, along with our general laziness, we got as far as Trephina Gorge, in the East Macdonnells, where we took a long hike culminating in a dip in the waterhole at the foot of the gorge. After that, we were quite knackered, what with temperatures already being in the high thirties, and having made a 7am start, quite a feat for the likes of Wifey and me, so we sauntered back via a couple of other nice little stops, complete with me going for a good paddle at Emily Gap - or was it Jessie Gap? All these girly gaps I have been diving into whilst on this trip... wow, that wasn't contrived or lewd at all.

The plan was to have lunch outside, but the flies were just infuriating: Wifey's discovery of his inner guru means that I too must practice equanimity towards all creatures great and small. This doesn't stop me squishing a few of them when he's not looking.

Returning to Alice, we devoured our picnic lunch on the strangely fly-free balcony of our villa (perhaps the trail of scattered, shattered insect corpses of a previous moment of unequanimous behaviour on my part had the desired effect), took a long schluff and dip in the hotel's bougainvillea-draped pool, followed by a mooch into town, where we finally bought some fly nets. Then we took in some dinner at Bojangles again - Bo's Aussie Outback Mixed Grill, which describes itself as a "beaut combination of buffalo medallions, camel kebab, kangaroo fillet, emu sausage and crocodile rissoles served on a bed of garlic mash with chilli quandong sauce". Tasted mostly like chicken, beef, lamb and other things I can get at the Golders Green Deli, hence my belief that this treif "wildcard" experiment is just that...

The following morning, we headed off on the 3 day Rock Tour group trip, for a bargain $295. Firstly, I should mention that we breakfasted on these amazing limited edition Toffee Crunchy Nut Cornflakes - easily better than any of the bushmeat I've had out here. So we got on the minibus and met our guide, Beej, a glorious stereotypical native of The Alice. We then did a tour of hotels and hostels, collecting a Yank, 2 Swiss, a Dutch girl, a Brit girl, 4 Germans, a Turk, a Frenchie, and a family of 5 Swedes. We pottered out to King's Canyon, where we took a lovely hike that included a spectacular emergence into a gorge with a deep waterhole for swimming and general lizard lounging.

Beej turned out to be an excellent guide, and we even converted him to the ways of the flynet, for the first time in his 33 years of living in the Red Centre. Shows how bad it was, or perhaps how many we attracted. He talked about the various aspects of geology, nature and Arrernte (local Aboriginal tribe) mythology that came together to form the canyons and monoliths we saw, and ensured we were well fed on chicken satay and rice in the evening, as we settled down in swags by the campfire.

What with being so very far away from everything, we all lay awake under the big sky, spellbound by just how many stars there turned out to be up there. I snuggled up to Wifey, but he was having none of it.

The next morning, up not long before sunrise for a trip over to the Olgas, which are a variation on the more famous Uluru/Ayers Rock monolith, and in many ways much more spectacular. By the Arrernte name of Kata Tjuta, these strange knobbly heaps contain within some impressive views of more gorges and canyons, complete with some nice wildlife, and with an amazing ability to totally destroy my walking boots.

As we set off on the hike, I began to wish I had laid down some of that funky shoe glue in the welts, but had never got round to it. Gradually the crack between the rubber sole and leather upper started to fill with pebbles, twigs and dust, until like some cartoon hobo, I was walking along with the whole front flapping away. After tripping and swearing my way for a mile or two, I resolved to use the emergency sewing kit to temporarily stitch the top and bottom together, but was not factoring in the drizzling sweat and accompanying thousand flies who wanted a bath.

So I hobbled my way around most of this stunning walk, with the soles completely removed and the uppers of my shoes held together with the remaining shards of insole by my socks being wrapped around the outsides. Meanwhile my sweaty sockless feet absorbed the crunchy, pointy rocks underneath as best as possible, while Wifey helpfully kept telling me to be equanimous.

Later on, we went on a visit to the Uluru cultural centre, learned more about how the Aborigines came over from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea by boat somewhere between 25,000 and 65,000 years ago (and have yet to wash, by all accounts), lost David the German, wound up at the foot of Uluru for a quick look at one of the waterholes that forms by collecting the water run-off from the top of the the rock, where we saw a rare perentie lizard baby. There are apparently only about 50 perenties left in the wild, so this is a real coup.

Then we found David the German, headed to the viewing point to cook up some spag boloroo (yes, that is pasta with minced Skippy) overlooking the rock at sunset. Very nice but we didn't get the really spectacular orange glow of the picture postcard. This didn't stop the archetypal group of Japanese tourists taking a gazillion photos and quaffing a champagne buffet. We entertained ourselves with a brief guitar strum with new group member British Matt, and a little sing-a-long of Waltzing Matilda.

On the coach back to camp, we were treated to Beej being posed the best question of all time from British Laura:
"Did the Aboriginals leave Asia because it was shit?"
Mulling over this profound question, wondering if a T-shirt in one of the Aboriginal languages, saying "We're only here because Asia was shit" would be a best-seller.

Another night under the stars, fit 19 year old German girl insisting on sleeping just nicely in my eyeline, on top of her swag, wearing just a little vest and some snug Hello Kitty knickers... doesn't get much better than that. Up before dawn, down to Uluru again for sunrise breakfast, delightful PB&J sarnies on tasty fruit loaf, with swigs of orange and passion fruit juice. Then a 10km circuit around the rock, where Stephen and I romped home in first place, due to the front-runners mysteriously disappearing.

Eerily reminiscent of Meryl Streep's "uh dingo took mah baaaybeh" moment, British Matt and Yankee Bayo had simply vanished. After half an hour of waiting and driving around looking for them, we were about to write them off, as a 10% attrition rate on these kinds of tour is quite acceptable, when a coach coming in the opposite direction screeched to a halt, and deposited the bedraggled pair. Turns out they had been so engrossed in their debate on the metaphysical qualities of Uluru and the Aboriginal legends of Dreamtime that they failed to notice they had completed the circuit, and just kept on walking.

As this was the end of the tour, everyone was heading on a 6 hour drive back to Alice but Wifey and I were being dropped off at the resort so we could fly straight out to Perth. The loss of two trippers deprived us of nearly an hour of extra dipping in the resort pool, but we got a splash before supping a cool bevy in the hotel bar and heading to the airport for our trip to Perth, thankfully on Qantas. No bizclass section on this flight unfortunately, which meant we only managed Row 4, whilst Row 5 was occupied by a couple whose two young children took turns to crap their nappies every 15 minutes for the whole 2 1/2 hour flight. These were changed in situ so we all got to smell the sweet, musky delights of the underage turd.

We got to Perth, cabbed it to the Bros' surgery, got a lift from there to their rather awesome house, and basically flaked out for the next 24 hours. That brings us up to date. Rottnest Island, downtown Perth and Fremantle to come tomorrow, wedding on Sunday, down to Margaret River on Monday. Wifey promises that photos will be inserted retrospectively this side of Easter.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Sad days in Israel

These are very sad days in Israel. Of course, what we are all reading about in the media is Operation Cast Lead, and naturally I am expected to blog about it in my usual style. However, we are instead thinking about our wonderful uncle Meir, who passed away peacefully on Tuesday at the Hadassah Hospital outside Jerusalem. He was well into his 90s, and had been unwell for some time, and went with his family surrounding him, having led a fascinating and full life. Nonetheless, this feels like a tragedy - perhaps because until recently, he was bounding around hilltops like a mountain goat, driving his car even more crazily than a typical Sabra, and finishing his studies into medicinal leeches. A visit to Israel was not complete without a cup of milky tea and an over-feeding on the balcony of Meir and Ruth's apartment, looking down the valley over Jerusalem at sunset.

Here is a portrait of him, painted (I think) by his daughter:

Meir was not a typical Israeli uncle that we had to be guilt-tripped into visiting. He and his brothers had grown up in Beirut, and Meir retained some decent Arabic along with a left-leaning position (definitely adopted by his daughters and grand-daughters!) that neatly offset my own and that of other members of the family. I recall him grinning and describing his wing of the family as the luftmenschen section - a bit hippy-dippy, involved in academia and the arts, and totally wonderful and generous in a profound way that we capitalist materialists can never quite pull off.

I remember being told a story of how he wanted to contribute to bridging the social, cultural and economic divide between Jews and Arabs, and so when he was replacing his car, he drove the old one across to Silwan in East Jerusalem, found the most responsible-looking elder, and handed over the keys. I have a glorious image of Meir in his sandals and baggy white trousers, with his white comb-over blowing in the hamsin, and a startled Omar Sharif-a-like in flowing robes, shaking hands as the sun sets over the hills. Apocryphal or not, it's a great story.

The beauty of Meir and Ruth is that they know something about everything, especially Israel's history and the individuals who built the state. I recall asking them about various street names (in Israel these are invariably named after people from modern and biblical history who have shaped the country and culture), and it turned out that they had known many of them personally, and sat on the Jerusalem street-naming committee!

Meir played the role of family historian, and gave us a marvellous tour of Rishon LeZion, which our forbears, the Hirschfelds, had helped to found in the 1880s. Recently I caught Meir on camera for an hour-long interview, talking about his childhood in Beirut and visiting Grandpa in London. Grandpa was very close to the Rigbi brothers, especially Meir, who was his age and shared the same mild temperament and politics.

Here is an excerpt of Meir talking about when he spent a whole term with Grandpa at Canonbury High School in London, and was picked on by a 9 year old playground bully:

There are so many fascinating stories of childhood, his time as a volunteer for the British Army in WWII, and his role during the founding of the State of Israel. He then had a prolific career in science and academia, as well as volunteering with Ruth for pretty much every political, social and cultural committee and group imaginable. On top of that, he always found time for a cuppa and a good political debate with the more right wing members of his family, and would visit Aunty Deb even when she was at her most grouchy, always finding something positive to say about their discussions.

Of course, his wife, kids and grandkids will still be there for us to spend time with, and they carry so much of his spirit and presence, but our visits to Israel will still be that little bit less colourful for the passing of Uncle Meir.

Normal service re Oz and politics will resume shortly...