Monday, 18 January 2016

WOULD YOU LIKE SOME ANTI-SEMITISM WITH YOUR HUMMUS?

I'm not writing this because I am upset about the Australia Day ad. It's a marketing device to sell more lamb, after some 5 years or so of creating an association between the eating of Australian lamb with the patriotism of Australia Day. The ad is pretty silly and has its tongue firmly in cheek. It tries to please everybody - there's Sam Kekovich, for the footy legend lovers! There's Lee Lin Chin for the Multi-Cultis! There's a bearded hipster type who has 'gone native' (hmm, poor choice of expression as you will soon see) and vegan in Brooklyn, allowing for some sledging of vegans. There are other people who are probably some sort of celebrities but I have no idea. It's a silly but pretty expensively produced ad which makes no concession at all to political correctness. I fond it pretty funny, but it won't make me buy more lamb because kosher lamb it hellish expensive and my lot aren't such big fans anyway. And thumbing one's nose at PC is pretty Australian, so I guess I like the ad more than I dislike it.
Now, one of the rules of life is that no matter what happens, there is always someone who will take it too seriously. And political correctness is the latest and greatest way to suck the joy out of anything remotely light hearted or humorous in life. And the next step in PC is not to open avenues of discussion but to shut down debate and shout down anyone who might have another opinion. So comedians such as Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld no longer give free shows on university campuses because there are too many people who take offence at the 'microaggressions' in their comedy routines, and the po-faced PC student activists have won. Way to go. <slow handclap>
And of course any political opinion that varies from the PC brigade's is protested and shouted down, often violently, no debate is allowed, and this occurs at universities. Back in the day, the university was the place where all ideas were supposed to be discussed and exchanged freely and fearlessly. But not now, in many such places of higher learning. Never let truth distort one's preconceived opinion or belief! And that's progress.

Enter Ruby Hamad.
Her piece was forwarded to me, because I had no idea who she is, but I sure know now.
She starts off with a tirade about this ad, pointing out that the ad 'contributes to everyday cultural erasure.' The use of the term 'Operation Boomerang' in the ad, where Aussies overseas are brought home to Australia so they won't be deprived of lamb chops on Australia Day, well, that's cultural appropriation. On a day which many indigenous people of Australia call 'Invasion Day', to use an icon like the boomerang, to talk of bringing white people 'home' to Australia, is 'to celebrate the triumph of colonisation.'
As I was reading this, I actually thought she made some good points. Yes, the Indigenous people of Australia had a terrible time of it. Yes, the history of colonisation is a cruel one. When a Mother Country sends out its people in order to exploit resources or land or native peoples, the outcomes are rarely pleasant for either side, one the side that 'wins' is usually the invader, because they have more sophisticated weaponry among other reasons. We see how things played out over the centuries, some ways better than others. From Cortez and the conquistadores in the Americas, to the Portuguese in South America, to the Dutch in the East Indies, to the British in India, in Africa, in the Middle East, and the French in Indochina, and the Belgians in the Congo and so on. And the British in America, whether the 'Founding Fathers' or the military; and the British in Australia, looking for where to park their petty criminals while expanding the Empire.
The era of colonialism spanned many centuries. And that's just 'White European' colonialism. Do I have to go as far back as the Roman Empire? What about Imperial China? Or even modern China, in Tibet. What about Arab Slavers exploiting Africans, and forced conversion to Islam?
Long, long history. Mother country, sends out its people to exploit the resources of another country for reasons of expansion and acquisition of riches. Indigenous people suffer, die, are converted to different religions, are treated as inferiors. Strong establishes mastery over weak. Indigenous culture destroyed by disease, by alcohol, by conversion. That's the scourge of colonialism.

Now for the concept of 'cultural appropriation'. The boomerang as a 'potent and recognised symbol' used to celebrate the 'triumph of colonisation.' Using the recognisable symbols of a defeated people in mockery of them, or just for fun, or because it's there. I confess, I don't like it when Australians or other non Native Americans wear feather headdresses, at parties or for fun. I certainly don't like it when people dress in blackface or brownface for fun, and I have been guilty of this at times in the past (specifically on Purim, wearing a sari and brown makeup complete with bindi. I wouldn't do that now.) I have learned to be more sensitive to issues of race/ skin colour mainly from the US experience, where the twin historic facts of destruction of indigenous people and importation of African slaves have given rise in certain parts (but not all parts) of the country to a form of 'White Guilt'. The struggle to become a post-racist society is a real one, and it continues. (But would I boycott the Village People, because one member is an 'Indian Chief'? No. Would the group, if it formed to day, feature such a character? I don't think so.)

So for the first few paragraphs, Ruby kind of had me agreeing with some of what she had to say, although I didn't like the strident and sophomoric way in which she said it. But she had some decent points.
AND THEN.
And then. She managed to segue into an anti-Semitic rant.
Somehow, selling lamb chops as 'Australian', even though the sheep is not even a native animal! becomes how the Israelis  (i.e., the Jews, not the Israeli ARABS), have stolen hummus.
And in this act of cultural appropriation, they have erased the indigenous link of the Palestinians to their national food; not 'cultural appreciation', but 'cultural erasure'.
And it was then that I realised that Ruby Hamad is an anti-Semite who has completely swallowed the canard of White Jewish colonialism, fed directly by the 'Palestinian narrative' aka the bullshit story negating any historic truth, which fuels the current conflict there today.
Nobody seems to care about historic truth anymore, and this piece will go on forever if I spell it all out, so I will try to use bullet points to destroy her 'argument'.

  • Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel. We would not be sitting on the floor and mourning the loss of Jerusalem for the past 2000 years every Tisha B'Av otherwise. We would not pray for Jerusalem every day in every prayer, at every wedding, after every meal, after every Yom Kippur and Pesach Seder, if the connection to Jerusalem and Israel and the Jews were not a deep and true one. 
  • There has always been a Jewish presence in the land, whether after the Roman destruction all the way to the Ottoman Empire and after, in the modern era. All the attempts by the (Jordanian) Muslim Waqf to destroy the ancient historic record of the Jewish Temples etc, are doomed to failure, because the record is so strong. And try as you want, Mahmoud, the Menorah is a far more potent symbol of Jewish identity than anything you can come up with. And they just keep finding these coins and sherds emblazoned with menorahs EVERYWHERE.
  • From 1948, 800,000 Oriental Jews were stripped of all assets and kicked out of their Arab countries where they had been for hundreds if not thousands of years. Most of these Jewish refugees went to the nascent state of Israel and became Israeli citizens. I can assure you that these Levantine Jews knew what hummus was. (BTW, many spoke Arabic and followed Arabic customs, but they observed the Jewish religion. You could say that these Jews were also Arabs, but don't let that do your head in.)


  • Thus, to speak of the Jewish Israelis as if they were all of Ashkenazic origin, or 'white', is complete nonsense. Ditto, to say that modern Israel exists only because a bunch of Europeans who were guilty about the Holocaust decided to give Israel to them in order to assuage their collective conscience is a puerile and ignorant opinion.
  • Who are the ethnic Palestinians? I can tell you with certainty the the term 'Palestinian' was reserved for the Jews in Mandate Palestine, and an Arab would have been offended to be called that term. The Arabs were proud to be called Arabs. 'Arab' is not a nationalistic term; it describes a people of a certain culture who speak Arabic. The Arabs of the area had links over family and tribal lines which did not adhere to any borders drawn before or after 1948.
  • The term Palestinian, referring to Arabs, mainly but not exclusively Muslim, only came into common use after the 1967 war. There is no ethnic group called 'Palestinian' who have a special and unique culture. They are Arabs and they enjoy Arabic food and music and clothing and language.
  • If Jewish Israelis are colonialist, please tell me 1) what Mother Country sent them? and 2) what resources were they exploiting? What sort of colonialism is this? Answer: IT'S NOT. It's return to homeland.
  • I could go on and on, filling in the gaps and going over the historic record, but I think this is enough for here and now.
Ruby, I see it like this. The Jews in Israel SHARE with the Arabs a culinary tradition which relies on foods that grow in the area. A Jewish Israeli, as well as an Arab Israeli, is entitled to call the falafel an Israeli national food. Because it is. I'm sorry if you feel that this causes 'cultural erasure' of the noble Palestinian people. Jews and Arabs have a long and chequered history in the area, and I'm sorry if you think that having light skin or blue eyes makes a Jew less of a Jew and less entitled to be in the Jewish homeland. That actually makes you racist, I think. My (blue-eyed) grandfather and (brown-eyed, olive-skinned) grandmother were natives of Tzefat; they were Ottoman Palestinians. They had every right to be there and eat hummus as well as couscous and preserved lemons, and stuffed courgettes and ful, and so do I. 

Your attitude may feel oh-so-noble to you and your fellow travellers, but it's just another example of racist anti-Semitism, and it just feeds into the lies that perpetuate this tragic conflict. Not to mention the reversal of reality. It's not the Jews who want to 'erase' the Arabs; it's the Arabs, specifically the Muslims, who want to annihilate the Jews, and make no secret of it. If the Palestinians wanted peace, they would have had it a while back. They would be minting currency and printing stamps and welcoming tourists to the beautiful Gaza beaches and the historic (Jewish) heartland of Judea and Samaria, aka 'the West Bank'. But they, and all the Arab states, only seek the destruction of the Jews and the appropriation of their land which they have paid for over and over again, with blood and treasure, for centuries.

Yesterday I heard on the radio how avocado on toast was a 'classic Aussie breakfast'. Why, If I were a MesoAmerican, having my native avocado appropriated like that- why, I would ...what would I do? Nothing. Just eat it. Bon Appetit! (Oops, that's French!)

Sunday, 17 January 2016

CHOOSING TO DIE/ CHOOSING TO LIVE

I have just read two articles about euthanasia, specifically , of elderly people self-euthanising, that left me immeasurably sad. Nikki Gemmel tells of her mother, crippled by chronic pain after foot surgery 10 months earlier, who chose to end her life alone; and the other of a suicide pact of two scientists, Pat and Peter Shaw, both 87. In both cases, the fear was of dependence on others, having to be cared for in nursing homes, or being 'in the hands of medicos', losing all autonomy. In the case of the Shaws, Peter was concerned that his mind was not as sharp, while Pat was increasingly frail and had recovered from a broken femur not long before. They had 3 daughters who knew of their plans, which they had discussed for many years, and could do nothing about it, nor did they feel that they should. Their parents had always been rational, intelligent and independent people who had lived a full life, travelled extensively, climbed mountains, skied, hiked, had rich lives appreciating music, theatre, wine etc, and had been generally fit and active. One daughter when interviewed said that she would have wanted the parents of 10 years earlier to stay around; but the parents at the end, no; it would have been too hard for them and too hard for her as well, she admits.
Legally, no other person can be involved in these cases of voluntary self-euthanasia, or suicide, as that make them accessories and thus liable to prosecution. So although the Shaw daughters knew of their parents' decision and when they planned it, they were not culpable in any way; but the police and paramedics still descended on the couple's home and there had to be an investigation. This disturbed what had been a peaceful decision to 'go to sleep and not wake up'. Nikki Gemmel feels that 'If the family cannot by law be involved in the wishes of a person wanting to be euthanised, then you are condemning that person to a monstrously bleak and lonely death. One that I, as the daughter, will never recover from.'
These cases are not identical, and I would say that no two are. One was of a woman racked with pain, addicted to painkillers, doctor shopping for them in fact, whose life had been destroyed essentially by a bad medical decision for which the doctor involved has not been questioned, nor does it seem that there has there been any legal measure taken for compensation or any accusation of negligence, according to the article Ms Gemmel published.
The other, a suicide pact between two rational people who were suffering in their own ways and who decided that life did not offer them enough in order to make them want to live.
In neither case were the people demented, nor did they think they were depressed. In both cases, the people were not religious and did not talk of an afterlife etc. It was about fear of dependence, loss of autonomy, and release from physical pain or frailty.

So why am I so saddened by this? Why am I not hailing Dr Philip Nitschke as the saviour of Mankind? There is a part of me that thinks it is a good thing to be able to legally end one's suffering, and I won't argue against it. My religious beliefs do not allow me to commend it, because it is against the basic tenet of Life being sacrosanct and suicide being a sin, because life is a gift from G-d and it is not for us to make these decisions; but the doctor part of me knows that there is such a thing as unbearable suffering and untreatable pain. The big problem is who gets to decide, and how. A doctor and a psychiatrist? A panel of medicos and ethicists? The patient ? The family? Everyone? Surely it would have to be disinterested experts, for there are many situations where children don't want to keep frail parents alive; they would rather push things along a bit to end their own misery or to get an inheritance. A friend of mine is involved in a case where an adult son, who lives interstate and hasn't visited his elderly mother for 4 years, had his mother evicted from her home where she had been living comfortably with carers (but that was getting expensive), placed in a nursing home, and then attempted to expedite the sale of the home, clearly for his own gain; this sale has been blocked by my friend who is the only person advocating on behalf of this elderly woman, who has been a lifelong friend but has no blood ties to her. Meanwhile, in the nursing home, the previously ambulant woman has been confined to a wheelchair, has developed, terrible eczema,  bedsores- an indication of poor nursing if ever there was- and has slipped into early dementia. The court case is pending, but it is pretty clear that the clock is ticking and it will probably be too late for her no matter what the decision. So I don't think it's a good idea to have family involved in decisions regarding euthanasia, even on the basis of this one case.

So who should decide?  When is a rational, non-depressed person who fears dying without dignity and loss of autonomy, really able to make a sole decision, or a suicide pact? Maybe the pact was the idea of the dominant person in the relationship? Poor pain control, emotional despair, loneliness - no, these things are not 'depression', but quality of life issues; maybe these can be improved.
There is a 'slippery slope' here, and I'm not the first person to say that. But I don't argue that life can become unbearable and people can become fixed on the idea of 'the final exit', the 'big sleep' as the answer to their suffering.

But I have recently lost my father-in-law who passed away on his 93rd birthday after a difficult couple of years of declining health, especially in the last 2 months. His physical dependence was great and his quality of life had plummeted. Yet still, he never ever talked of ending it all. He relished every minute of life, every minute spent with his family; his wife, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Especially his grandchildren, for whom, with his very last breaths, he had advice and expressions of love and support.
He refused to have carers and his wife took on the burden of his care, despite her own health issues. After 63 years of marriage, she wasn't going to allow him to be humiliated by his frailty and loss of physical autonomy, to be handled by strangers.
She made sure he took his meds, she drove him to his appointments with his doctors, was in constant communication with them. When one of his doctors became ill himself, she took him chicken soup and inquired after his health; the doctor later said that it was the only time ever that such a thing had happened. You might call it blurring boundaries, but it was sincere on her part, and it fostered perhaps a more caring relationship that could only benefit my father-in-law; although his own charm was enough to elicit caring from his doctors and nurses, with the increasing frequency of medical events and hospital admissions.

We talk of dying with dignity and think that this can't be done in hospitals 'in the hands of medicos', which had been a great fear expressed by Pat Shaw. Yet my father-in-law passed away peacefully and comfortably in hospital, surrounded by loving family who were all there to witness his last breath. The 'machines that go beep' were all disconnected at this stage and the staff were solicitous and respectful of the family and looked in on them without disturbing the active dying that was taking place.
It was not easy for us, as observers, but the 'medicos' soothed us and explained every step, and we all remained calm; it was a 'good death', and that is a good thing.

So why so different?  I think that my father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor and a religious Jew, who had been through the depths of Hell 70 years earlier, losing all his family but one brother, had a profound respect for and love of Life. He might have been angry at G-d but he also loved G-d and his religion and sought every other way possible to prolong his life; he felt he had so much more to do, and was tying up loose ends and getting his affairs into order for quite a while before. He left written instructions on how he wanted his funeral to be run, and they were followed to the letter; I and many others thought it was the best funeral service we had ever seen. Here was a man who wanted to be in charge! But he never wanted to hasten the inevitable end. He had something to live for. He had meaning in his life. Despite his pain and frailty and the indignities that they entailed, he loved and was loved.
I think of the Shaws, with their wine appreciation and culture and daughters, and wonder; why was this not enough? I can't imagine that there were grandchildren, at least, they are not mentioned. Wouldn't grandchildren have given more meaning to their lives? Wouldn't they want to be around to see them grow (I almost said, to dance at their bar mitzvahs, but whatever the equivalent, to see them graduate school and university and marry)?

We learn that the patriarch Jacob was the one who prayed that death should come slowly; we see for the first time a deathbed scene in the Bible, where he has time to bless his children and grandchildren. What we think of as an awful, protracted dying, can at least at some stage actually be a part of healing for the children, as they farewell the dying one and they witness his passage from life. Those who have lost a parent through trauma, or sudden death, have a harder time adjusting, as a rule.

So why would someone choose life, and others choose death? It isn't just about pain or loss of independence, and it isn't just about being lonely or being loved. It even isn't just about belief in G-d, for there are even those who, despite belief in G-d, cannot overcome their suffering and plead for death. It's certainly not about having had a wonderful easy life, for we all know stories of people who seemingly had everything, charmed lives, yet chose suicide. But my Holocaust survivor father-in-law loved and savoured every moment of life, despite, or perhaps because of what he had suffered.

It is about a belief in Life, and its worth.

I confess that a part of me is conflicted. Morally, I am against euthanasia; but I have seen situations where I could only envy veterinarians who can euthanise beloved pets who are just suffering too much (yet plenty of pet owners decline this service even for their animals, and prefer to take expensive and extreme measures to keep pets alive). And if there can be a case made for euthanasia, then, shouldn't it be legalised so that family can be involved and not blocked out of the process, condemning the patient to a bleak and lonely death?

I don't know the answer. I hope that I can have the courage to choose Life if the choice is given to me.

Monday, 11 January 2016

SOMETHING STINKS IN COLOGNE

Well, the new year began with lads behaving badly. Cricketer Chris Gayle was fined $10,000 for making inappropriate comments to sport reporter Mel McLaughlin during an interview, basically chatting her up on camera. Jamie Briggs lost his ministerial position for what sound like a drunken pass at a consulate employee in Hong Kong. Lots more, but let's stay with that for a minute.

Let's pick this all apart. Firstly, what is striking is the size of the punishment for these misdemeanours. I am not for one second saying that these actions were not deserving of some degree of opprobrium, but I'm not sure that the punishments fit the crimes. So one can chew on that for a bit.
Then, nothing terrible happened really, and if Gayle had made his offer for a drink AFTER the interview was over, or if Briggs had behaved with a bit more decorum, then really, who cares. Private lives. So it's all a storm in a teacup, or is it?

But what also disappointed me was the attitude of Brendan O'Neill, whose columns usually have me nodding in agreement. He is a pretty common-sense sort of fellow, but in this case, I part company from him.
His take is that 'flirtation' has been crushed by the grim, joy-sucking PC people who are acting like a) the nuns who taught him in school, and who are 'schoolmarmish feminists', and b) grim advocates of the perennial victim status of women, thus ironically disempowering women who should be, and usually are, perfectly able to handle unsolicited 'flirtation' themselves.
He goes on to pull more examples of the PC destruction of all that is fun in life, e.g., how campus activists in the University of Wyoming inform students that 'sex that occurs while a partner is intoxicated...is sexual assault'. Says Brendan, 'This would mean that I and absolutely everyone I know has committed sexual assault. Who didn't have drunk sex at uni?'

Well, I for one didn't. Ditto  almost everyone I knew. And it was then that I had this insight: You know when people talk about bullying in school? At school reunions or whatever. There are often people who say how they were bullied and how difficult their school lives were and how they managed to overcome their trauma, etc etc; and then there is always someone who denies that there was any bullying. And that's the way you know who the bully was; the one who denies that bullying took place. It was just fun! It was kids mucking around! What bullying? Don't be so sensitive.

So Brendan, your statement reminds me strongly of this, and therefore I think it is actually quite likely that you did commit sexual assault in some way. Oh, just a bit of fun, a bit of  drunken sex at uni, hahaha, and I wonder if your erstwhile partner would reflect in a similar way on those good old days. Maybe. Probably with great embarrassment.

So I guess what I am saying is, that if you think it's OK for  men to say 'flirtatious' things to women, and I don't mean while on a date or in a romantic situation, but while at work or otherwise 'inappropriately', then you bloody well don't get it, do you?

Men who think that it's perfectly OK to stare at women or to make comments to passing women about their looks or whatever, or who stand about in groups whistling and cat-calling women, or who think it's OK to pinch or pat or grope women, or who think it's fine to pat a female employee on the bottom or make suggestive comments, all the way through to the further end of the spectrum of what went on in Cologne on New Year's Eve, which was indeed violent sexual assault, all have two things in common.
1 A sense of male entitlement, and
2 Profound disrespect for women.

You may think that I am being a bit extreme in comparing a bit of sleazy chat to rape, and I am not saying that they are of equal evil, or even of equal intent. But I see it as a spectrum of behaviour.

Firstly, what gives men the right to even stare at pretty women? And just for the record, I understand that 'men like to look'. So look! Take a quick admiring glance at the beautiful young woman. But anything more than 3 seconds is not a look, it's a stare or an ogle, and it makes the recipient uncomfortable, and that is often deliberate. And any - ANY- accompanying sound made, whether a whistle or a 'phwoar!' or a comment- makes it into a leer, or even a verbal assault, and can either frighten a young girl or truly piss off an older woman. And please don't insult me by saying ' but it is just an appreciation of beauty!'. Yes, I'm sure that everyone who goes to Florence to look at Michelangelo's David is whistling and commenting on his butt. Not. They are usually reverentially silent out of RESPECT.

But women are strong enough to deal with this themselves! They don't need to be told that they are victims! Friends, by the time a woman is old enough to deal with this shit, it's pretty certain that she doesn't have to deal with it any more because she has become invisible to the male gaze, which only bothers ogling/patting/harrassing young pretty things who ARE often bothered by it. Because there is an imbalance of power. So young unempowered women do in fact need a level of protection and advocacy even if only to learn their rights and how to respond to these behaviours. (Mel Mclaughlin laughed it all off and good for her; but an 18 year old apprentice in a bakery or workshop might just need someone to talk to about inappropriate workplace behaviour, just maybe?)

Oh, another thing is the older woman who says, 'I wish someone would whistle at me or chat ME up!' No you don't. What you wish for is to be young again, or prettier than you think you are. You actually do want to be respected, unless you have some sort of personality disorder or have been so inured to disrespect and male entitlement that you think it's normal and acceptable, oh, boys will be boys.

Men who respect women do not ogle or leer or grope them. Ergo, all this 'laddish' behaviour all the way to violence and rape can only exist in the toxic atmosphere of disrespect, male privilege and entitlement. Notice I have not actually said 'misogyny' because that term has been bandied about a bit too freely, but that's there too, at the further end of that spectrum. That was there, in Cologne, and it's there in Sweden, which has become the rape capital of the Western world in the last 10 years, corresponding with an influx of Muslim migrants, and in plenty of other places where male entitlement and disrespect for women exist. And I'm not saying that this is solely Arab Muslim men attacking western women, because it isn't. But that toxic brew of entitlement and disrespect/misogyny  certainly was a feature of what happened on New Year's Eve.

And where there has been perhaps an over-reaction to sleazy cricketers and drunken ministerial behaviours, there has been a shocking under-reaction by the authorities in Cologne and in other places in Europe where similar events have occurred, and the police seem to be paralysed. Let's hope that they are actually working on something to prevent such outrages and to identify and punish perpetrators.

Grim PC, nunnish, schoolmarm feminist, signing off.


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Brave New Year

I hate New Year resolutions but I really need to lose a few kilos and my poor old joints will thank me.
So.
I WILL NOT BUY CHOCOLATE.
I won't. I will ignore the come-on red wrappers and whatnot, designed to catch my attention. I will not buy it so then it won't come into the house and it won't be there to waylay me.
Of course I will have to get rid of what is in the house.
Well, I've been doing a bit of 'getting rid of' via my mouth, so at the moment there is not much there in the pantry. I finished the last 3 mini Kif Kafs on Shabbos. The next logical step would be to eat any dark chocolate - less favoured- but it looks like someone ate that already. Maybe it was me, last week? Not sure. The next level of chocolate is cooking chocolate, but fortunately that was actually borrowed and used by one of my kids to cook with. (How about that? Am I the only person who knows the delight of dipping a finger of the Szmerling or Alprose cooking chocolate into hot coffee and licking off the melted bits? Not that I have done that for a while. Not since having milk chocolate in the house, that is.) Drinking chocolate powder doesn't do it for me so that can stay.
OK. Gift packs of after dinner mints? Meh. I think I'm safe.

I WILL NOT BUY CHIPS.
Potato chips, that is. The other kinds do nothing for me. Quinoa corn chips, puh-leeze. I actually made a batch of kale chips, but fortunately one of my kids ate the whole container, so I didn't have to pretend to myself to like them. So I think I have one more pack to dispose of, and maybe a tube of The Devil's Chips, aka Pringles BBQ flavour. I only bought these because they were half price in Coles. I never pay full price. Except when I eat them, then there's a price to pay all right. So NO MORE.

I WILL KEEP ALL ICE CREAM IN THE BASEMENT FREEZER because that way, I have to shlep all the way down to get it, and by then I won't want it any more. PROBLEM: the basement freezer is actually in my basement garage so I will have to walk past it on the way from my car into the house. No, don't tell me I have to not buy Tempo Vanilla ice cream anymore, there would be mutiny from the ranks here. It's not as if I live alone.

It's been a while since I had a personal crackdown on these treats. Of course I've done it before and of course it didn't last. My big problem is that when I deny myself these things, my brain goes all William Wallace on me, paints its face blue, picks up a sword and screams 'YE CANNA TAKE MA FREEDOM!', and proceeds to destroy my efforts in ways I can't even describe, but it ends up with mini chocolate bars magically finding their way back into the pantry and sacrificing themselves to the Maw, the Unfillable Void that can just rear up out of nowhere.

So Zero Tolerance doesn't actually work for me. Well, at least, it hasn't UNTIL NOW.
Now it will work. Now I am SIXTY. I am OLD. I am WISE. I can DO this thing. If I don't do it, I'll have some doctor warning me about my weight and my salt intake and my sugar intake...Oh wait a minute, they already have. But NOW I will really take notice!

Wish me luck. And happy 2016.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

ADIEU, OLD FRIENDS

I've been talking about my 60th birthday celebrations which included a party at a kosher Russian restaurant in Queens (man, do those Russians know how to have a good time!), a dinner with friends in Jerusalem, and a dance party in Melbourne last week. But there was something else I did, not exactly celebratory, spurred by my turning 60.

I had my ovaries removed.

I'm not Angelina Jolie, and that won't make headlines. But the reason that I had my hardworking little girlies removed was that I was increasingly afraid that they would go rogue on me. My maternal grandmother was 55 when she died of ovarian cancer; I never knew her. My mother was just 66 when she died of ovarian cancer; my older kids hardly knew her, the younger ones never knew her at all. And here was I, smack in the middle. It's called 'the hot decade'.

About 8 years ago, when genetic testing started, I decided to have the test to see if I had the BRCA1 or 2 genetic aberration. It was done at the Peter Mac (cancer hospital in Melbourne) Familial Cancer Centre, and I have to say that getting my patient appointment card to a cancer hospital already had me sweating a bit.

I made the appointment on advice of a colleague who is a Gynaecological Oncologist, who, when I disclosed my family history in a sort of inappropriate social situation (umm...at my Shabbos table where he was a guest), sort of drew himself upright in his chair and told me to get tested asap.

They have this whole way of doing things there at the Peter Mac. First they told me to go away and think about having the test, and all that it means, and how it might affect my medical and health insurance. And then I had to schlep back and do the test which I had wanted to do at the previous visit. And then they said to come back with a support person when they gave me the results. They also said that they would try to find the 'tumour blocks'- i.e. tissue samples, which would have been taken from my mother 25 years earlier when she was operated on (and diagnosed at the time of surgery; it was a big shock for everyone, surgeon included. He thought he was repairing an umbilical hernia). Since the operation had been done in a different hospital which had since been relocated, I didn't like their chances too much, and in fact they couldn't find them.
So I brought my husband with me when they called me in to give me the results. We were sat in a bleak little room with a box of tissues on the table. The ladies who came in and out of the room, asking us how were were, were very nice and solicitous, which actually made me more anxious. And then the doctor came into the room and, in a roundabout way, which kept me guessing right to the end, informed me that I did not have the BRCA mutation.
Well! The relief! But Doctor Circumspect wasn't smiling; because they did not have the genetic material from either my mother or, of course, my grandmother, they didn't know their BRCA status, so they couldn't actually tell me what my chances were of getting ovarian cancer. And in fact, most cases of ovarian cancer occur in people with normal genes. It's just that if you have the BRCA mutation, your chances of getting cancer are extremely high. (And then my usually slightly more sensitive husband said that we could exhume my mother and thus obtain a DNA sample. Mr Practical. Mr Only Trying To Help. Just..NO.)
So it was really back to square one for me. I sought advice from several doctors and a medical ethicist, and although there was a good case to having the op, it was not really something I wanted to do at that time.

Why not? Mainly because I am a big chicken when it comes to surgery. Stuff goes wrong.
Also, who has time for this? I was busy with kids' weddings and babies and travelling and and and.
And then, maybe my ovaries were still useful! I wasn't having hot flushes etc, but my blood tests did show that I was menopausal. But maybe I was running on empty! The motor was working well enough, why rip out the Oestrogen fuel tank?
And my OB GYN of many years was very keen to do a total hysterectomy, with the kind of insouciance that male surgeons often have. I mean, that uterus isn't doing anything anymore, why not just take out everything.
Poor old uterus. She never did a wrong thing in her life. Never a minute's trouble. I never even had a period pain my whole life. Never bled when she wasn't supposed to. When I wanted to conceive, I did. When I didn't, I didn't. My pregnancies were uneventful, my deliveries uncomplicated. And for all the years of faithful service, you want to just whip her out? She's an innocent bystander! It just seemed wrong. OK, maybe there were some auxiliary lady issues, like a bit of a prolapse here and there, but really, nothing that bothered me. Everything was well worn, but had worn well, so to speak. So, no thanks. Oh, but technically it's simpler to just do a full clearance, and repair this and that and yada yada; and then another GYN started talking about robotic surgery and multiple staged this and that, and FORGETABOUTIT. Not going to. Freaked out.

So for the last 10 years or more, I have been having pelvic ultrasounds and keeping an eye on the ovaries. That's all you can really do. There is no precancerous detection, as there is in breast cancer. Any change means cancer. And although annual ultrasounds sound like a good idea, in fact, ovarian cancer can go from go to whoa in as little as three months. So what's the good of that. Blood test (Ca 125) is non-specific, and I had those too, for all they're worth. And that's the state of the nation, folks. This is why you should buy a ribbon on Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day, because there needs to be more research done, looking for a pre-cancerous marker that would then make screening possible. Right now there is nothing.

So as the years went by, the anxiety mounted. I passed the age that my grandmother died. It felt like a milestone. And as I approached the age that my mother became sick, I felt that it was time to take action. After the last scan, I spoke to the GYN who did it and he heard me out, about the ovaries and the uterus and the prolapse and the robotic surgery and how I just did not know what to do. So he asked, 'What is bothering you the most?' and I answered, 'The fear of ovarian cancer.' So he said, 'Just have the ovaries out and see how you go.' So simple.

Because when you have the ovaries (and tubes) removed, the risk of ovarian cancer is pretty much zero.
And suddenly I knew what to do, and I made the appointment with the original GYN who told me to do it nearly 10 years earlier. After a couple of months' wait, laparoscopic removal, overnight stay in hospital, take it easy for a couple of weeks, no worries. Pain was minimal, took some Panadol; 4 tiny little cuts on my tummy, healed up. On the 3rd day post op, I saw a patient. On the 9th day, I went to an ACDC concert (Amazing BTW).  On the 13th day, danced like a fiend at my 60th. After 2 weeks, back at water aerobics. (Not looking forward to going back to gym, I have been enjoying getting up later than 6am. But.)
So BH it all went well, the pathology results were fine, and I feel exactly the same.

I was afraid of feeling castrated, gonad-less, less of a woman, blah blah. Nothing like it. I'm glad that I can cross off that potential cause of death from my list.

I'd better not be hit by a bus. The irony would be too much.


Sunday, 13 December 2015

SIXTY

So the 60th birthday celebrations are coming to a close. Last night was the party, along with a good friend, who also turned 60 not long ago; our kids put it all together. It was also the last night of Chanukah, so we were all burning with full light, to strain a metaphor. There was a DJ. I danced. Today I cannot move. But it was worth it.
Here's the speech I made; my brief was to be funny and I think I was. Well, people were laughing anyway, and I hope it was with me and not at me.
I still can't believe I'm this old.

BEN SHISHIM LE ZIKNO

In Pirkei Avot, 'Ethics of the Fathers', there is a reference to the arc of life and what is expected at various ages:
5- LeMikrah, 10- LeMishna, 13- LeMitzvah, 15- LeGemarah,
18- LeChuppah, 20- Lirdof- ie pursuit of a livelihood
30- Koach- full strength
40- Binah- Understanding
50-Eitzah- Ability to give advice!
60 - Zikno. OLD. Over the hill.
ZIKNO. Age. Comprised of 4 letters, Zayin, Kuf, Nun, Heh, which forms a neat acrostic:
Ziftzin - Sighing
Krechtsen- Groaning
Nissen- Sneezing
Hissen- Coughing

70- Seivo – ripe old age
80-Gevurah – Great strength; Because 'getting old ain’t for sissies'.
Goes downhill from there.
BUT I note that this is all BEN and not BAS. SO could it be it only applies to MEN? Huh?

3 things happen with aging:
ONE, your memory isn’t so good.
I forget the other 2 things.

It’s good that women over 50 don’t have babies, they would put them down somewhere and forget where.

SCIENTIFIC FACT: Brain cells come, and brain cells go, but fat cells live forever.

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.

When you go through menopause, they say you are going through the change of life. The change. But they don’t tell you what you’re changing into – in my case, my dad.(Stroke bristly jaw of nana whiskers) But like a hot, itchy, mental version.

Age doesn’t always bring wisdom: sometimes, age comes alone.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED: WORDS OF WISDOM-RULES OF AGING *

Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Never pass up a toilet; never waste an erection; never trust a fart.

Never lick a steak knife

Never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she is pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

Do not confuse your career with your life

There is a very fine line between ‘hobby’ and ‘mental illness’

People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

No matter what happens, somebody will find a way to take it too seriously.

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, this person is crazy.

The most destructive force in the universe is gossip.

A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person. (THIS NEVER FAILS, pay attention.)

Your friends love you anyway.


Here are  few more:

1.
Most things don’t matter.
Stuff that you think really matters usually doesn’t. You can work yourself into sickness worrying about things that, in the long term, are unimportant. Anyone planned a wedding?
What IS important: Being kind and being a mensch.
2.
Nobody is thinking about you.
You are certain that everyone spends half their day talking about you or discussing your weight or denigrating your work. But really, NOBODY is thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves, just like you.
(I wish I could tell this to self-conscious young women, especially about their looks. They are all beautiful. Youth is beautiful. Joy is beautiful.)
3.
There comes a time in life when you have to stop trying to strengthen your weaknesses. It’s ok with kids, you see some gaps and you try to help things along, or it might work on the sport field, but not in life. In life, in maturity, if you attempt to strengthen a weakness, you will get weaker. BUT if you keep playing to your strengths, people will not notice you have weaknesses. Don’t believe me. Take singing lessons. But it’s true.
4.
Give honest, frank and open criticism to nobody, ever.
Someone, friend, relative, workmate, employee, whatever, has behavior or character flaws evident to all but themselves. You think that an honest, frank, pull-no-punches conversation will show them the error of their ways. They will see the light at once! And be forever grateful for your kindness and candor and courage. Better still! They will reform their ways, their lives will be redeemed and improved and they will owe all that you candid, courageous you.
FORGET ABOUT IT. Don’t do it. Who here likes to be criticized?
This relates to my previous point: Nobody is thinking about you, UNLESS you tell them about their faults. Then you can be sure they are thinking of you. They are thinking of killing you.

On that note:

Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance anyway.


Friends, family, thank you for coming tonight to this celebration.
At my age, I know how much easier it is to stay home. Not to mention how much more enjoyable, as a rule. I love when things get cancelled and I can just stay home. I’m sure I’m not the only one. So thank you all for making the effort.


Thank you to the young ‘uns (Maaryasha, Nechama, Rosa- sorry if I forgot anyone, my memory isn’t so good) for organizing this and not letting it fizzle into a couple of 60 year olds being overwhelmed by the thought of being that old, and hiding under a blanket while soothing ourselves with chocolate (Just me, then).

Thank you to Ralph and Tilly for giving their home for the party, I really appreciate the work involved. I hope nothing got too trashed, guests included.

Last but not least, thank you to my loving husband for always being there, for his support and forbearance and being an all-around good guy (WHO IS NEVER RUDE TO WAITERS BTW)

And finally- people rarely remember what you say in a speech. But they sure remember if you took too long to say it.

I conclude! With-

A TOAST:

TO PUTTING THE ‘SEXY’ BACK INTO SEXAGENARIAN!

May the light of this last night of Chanukah stay with you all throughout the year.

LECHAIM


* Although I wish that all these points were original, I did in fact scour the internet and came up with these. Some are from Dave Barry, and the 4 points are from Roger Rosenblatt’s ‘Rules of Aging’. The line about ‘change of life’ was from American comedian Mrs. Hughes. (Link above.)










Friday, 6 November 2015

A Chunk of the Apple


Every time I go to NYC I learn something. 5th Ave divides the East and West. 6th Ave traffic goes uptown. Pedicab drivers charge $4 per minute.  I stumble upon pockets of peace in the midst of the rush and activity. Some of the doorway embellishments are just gorgeous and there is so much Art Nouveau and Deco around.

 I saw one of the prettiest horses I have ever seen carrying a traffic cop near the Rockefeller centre. 

It's 18 degrees Celsius on the 5th of November, unseasonably warm, but they have the Rockefeller Plaza ice rink up and going and the skaters are out. Yesterday I read that they have cut down the tree that they will shlep to the Plaza and decorate for Xmas. 
There is a joke, 'how many New Yorkers does it take to change a light bulb?' And the answer is 'None of your business! Get out of my way!' The real joke is that New Yorkers are not like that at all. People are extremely polite, in the city at least. It's all 'excuse me' and 'thank you' and 'you're welcome'. Some guy standing on a corner handing out leaflets for a comedy club, when asked (perhaps a little brusquely by my husband) about the number of the street we were standing on (Little Brazil, but I think it's 42nd?) admonished 'Hey, first say good morning, I'm not a tour guide!' Then he pointed out the number just below the name. So it helps to smile and make eye contact and be polite. There are so many people from so many backgrounds and skin color/race is a real issue here, that you must not even remotely appear to be disrespectful; and maybe the politeness has an edge to it but it is a necessary thing. So every one is actually very polite and I don't know where that joke came from. Maybe things were different a few years ago. Or maybe it refers to the Bronx. (But you don't want to linger more than a millisecond when the lights turn green. In the car, all semblance to politeness disappears.)
Anyway as I was shpatziring along looking at the buildings and the doorways and the shop windows and the people and the other tourists with their sneakers and baseball caps and fanny packs and 'I ❤️ NY' T-shirts, looking and spending and craning their necks like me to look at the skyscrapers, I was thinking yet again, what a great city is NYC. Really, as my young Tajiki pedi-cab driver, who had won the green card lottery and came to NY with his wife with whom he now has an American baby, said: it truly is a city that never sleeps. This guy left Tajikstan and here he is peddling a fat old lady tourist to her hotel, living the dream. I'm sure his son will grow up and go to college and who knows, be President one day. You never know. 

So what makes this city so great? Why is NYC so great in ways that say, Riyadh or Doha are not? I suppose I could substitute 'NYC' with London or Tokyo or Paris, and they are  fantastic and amazing cities, but the difference is that they are 1000 years old. Moscow is also an amazing city, also 1000 years old but with a crazy post-Soviet twist which gives parts of it this manic insane no-holds-barred excess energy. New York is only what, 300 years old? With really most growth in the last 150 years? That's when the robber barons made their mark and became the upper class. The Rockefellers and Roosevelts and co. And the skyscrapers are only since the 1920s when they were made possible by the invention of the elevator and other technological advances.  That's not even 100 years ago. But you can't think of NYC without thinking of skyscrapers. (And the Twin Towers of course. That's a whole other thing. Not going there now.)
So much growth and vitality and wealth. And yes there is a port and all sorts of reasons why there was a town put there in the first place. But I think the biggest and most powerful thing that the city has is the drive and the desire of its people to get on, get ahead, reach for the brass ring, and take advantage of the myriad opportunities that are there. Sure you have to work hard and you need some luck. But anyone can be anything in NYC. 
And one of the reasons that this is possible is tolerance. All religions, all races, all points of view. Ok, nothing's perfect and there were dark days during the stewardship of some Mayors. But overriding all is the vitality of freedom. 
And that is why despite all the wealth of the Emiratis or the Saudis  (for as long as it lasts) and no matter how many ski runs and skyscrapers they build in Dubai on the backs of slaves,  their cities will never result in anything remotely approaching New York. No freedom, no tolerance, and of course no Jews. No chance.