Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Queen Rania and Saudi Arabia

Queen Rania of Jordan has just called on Europe not to turn its back on Syrian refugees. My first thought was that the Jordanian queen should have addressed her plea to the more logical direction of the Gulf states. After all, they are fellow Arabs, fellow Muslims and they are rich.

And then I remembered reading some time ago that the Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait) had set up a US$ 5 billion fund that invests in capital projects in Jordan … 

The Queen of Jordan is perhaps not really free to talk frankly to Saudi Arabia. Much easier to tell the Europeans what to do. And yet, we should not forget that Jordan itself has been bearing much if the burden (like Turkey), having had to take in great numbers of Syrian refugees: more than 600 thousand in Jordan and almost two million in Turkey.

So how about it Saudi?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Don't buy Scottish Sturgeon

There is good sturgeon to be found in many countries, often producing the most wonderful caviar. 

For some reason the Scots are going wild over a local sturgeon: a recent poll has shown that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s popularity continues to rise. Sadly, there’s nothing like blatant nationalism to boost popularity. 

Amazingly, Sturgeon whines about the fact that the Scottish electorate voted with their heads and not with their hearts: If we’d asked people just to vote for what was in their hearts we’d have won a majority. Where we lost was in the head.” She too understands that voting for separation is not a clever idea. But, Sturgeon and her party are obsessed with separation and – having lost last year’s referendum – she already is talking about a new referendum. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Do you know a Lufthansa pilot? Tell him(her) what you think of him(her).

Just back from a short visit to Armenia and Georgia. There is probably not much one can do to provide 100 per cent protection from Montezuma’s revenge, which I caught in Tbilisi, on the last day of the trip.  I would, however, wish a heavy dose of the same revenge on the Lufthansa pilots, whose union called a strike on the very day we were meant to fly back.

Something must and can be done about the outrageous conduct of Lufthansa pilots; This was their 13th strike in the last 18 months. These German pilots, terrorise their employer as well as the wide air-travelling population, by calling short strikes with extreme short notice to prevent any planning of alternatives.

This is an abuse of the important right to strike by a bunch of high earning fat cats, and German politicians are doing nothing about it. At a time when Europe is cracking under the burden of an enormous refugee crisis, the best-paid pilots in the whole of Europe want more money.

Do you know a Lufthansa pilot, or someone who knows a Lufthansa pilot? Tell them how despicable they are. (No need to invite the pilot for dinner; let them eat alone. A phone call will do.)

Austrian Airlines / Turkish Airlines

For the flight to Erevan, we flew with Austrian Airlines who sometimes seem to almost monopolise the Eastern European routes. (I recently also flew with them to Romania.) If possible, this is an airline to avoid. You get almost no food on their flights. They are an unfriendly, arrogant lot, who probably think that Austria still owns the Austro-Hungarian empire.  

On the other hand, Turkish Airlines, which – because of the Lufthansa strike - flew us from Tbilisi via Istanbul, was a nice surprise. For a second, it sounded weird when the voice from the cockpit was a rough sounding Turkish-speaking male. But, it was the pilot and not, as the lady who sat next to me thought, a high-jacker. On both flights, the planes were new, spacious with attractive interiors. The service was very friendly; they seem to have more cabin staff than other airlines have these days. The food was good. I would definitely fly them again.  

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Germaine Davys

Today is the 100th birthday of my mother’s first cousin, Germaine Davys. Germaine was murdered in 1944, as she – according to an eyewitness – tried to flee from Auschwitz. She was born in Bucharest, had apparently been an active youth leader in the communist cell in Bucharest before leaving for Paris to study for her doctorate in philosophy at the Sorbonne.

In 1942, she was arrested by the French police, who at the behest of the German authorities rounded up Jews and delivered them to the SS for deportation to Auschwitz. 

Her mother, my great-aunt Feli, told me how for years, whenever she heard steps in the Garden, she would instinctively look out hoping that it was Germaine who had survived and come back.

  This portrait of Germaine 
hung in my great-aunt Feli’s small flat in Tel Aviv.

Opera (this) Week

After Tristan and Isolde in Bayreuth, there was Figaro in Salzburg and last night Evgeny Onegin (with the great Anna Netrebko as Tatyana) in Munich. The week will end with Norma (Cecilia Bartoli) in Salzburg.

BUT, someone must put an end to all these tiresome directors who force their irritating productions on the opera loving public. A difficult-to-pronounce and no-reason-to-remember named director turned Evgeny Onegin into a gay plot taking place in an unclear time and place that seemed like a workers’ holiday resort in the Soviet Union. Netrebko was wonderful, even if you occasionally had to close your eyes. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Back from Temple Bayreuth

Back from Bayreuth, the Wagner temple, where worshippers of Wagner flock for their annual ritual. The quality of the opera productions in Bayreuth has been deteriorating for years – a not untypical outcome of a family run business, in which the main criterion for leadership is being a descendant of the founder, in this case of Richard Wagner.

There was special anticipation this year, for the opening night was a new production of Tristan und Isolde, directed by the now sole director of the Wagner Festival, great granddaughter of Richard W, Katharina Wagner. In true Nibelungen style, Katharina got rid of her co-director and half-sister Eva. Eva has not been killed but rumour has it that she is not permitted to tread the “Green Hill”, i.e., the temple grounds. 

The production had some quirky und unnecessary ideas. Unfortunately, most of the time, the stage was under lit, and it was hard to impossible to distinguish facial expressions and mimicry. This would point to Katharina’s lack of professionalism. But, all-in-all, it was fairly safe, which should ensure Katharina’s acceptance by the Wagnerians.

The evening’s real disappointment – to my mind - was the great Wagner and Strauss specialist, conductor Christian Thielemann. In interviews he explained how the music had drug-like impact on the senses, that it could in fact be life threatening. It didn’t. The second and third acts of Tristan und Isolde, in which one normally gets goose bumps, left my skin in peace. But, Wagnerians love their Thilemann, who has so clearly tied his flag to the Bayreuth (“a house to which my heart is bound”). He is indeed a very gifted conductor, whatever his other failings may be and the singing (except perhaps that of last minute cast change Isolde) was very good.

Thus, the druids of the Wagner Temple, had a good opening shot for this year’s events.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I hope that you have all registered, as I no longer send emails informing of new blog items. 

I continue to be grateful for comments!


The Iran Deal

Both sides are feeding us spin. The American administration, through all avenues open to it, is explaining why the Vienna agreement - that will bring an end to the sanctions on Iran - is the best we can all hope for. In Israel, virtually the whole of the political class - including the parties that call themselves opposition - are briefing against. Netanyahu is the leader of the doomsday evangelists.  And yet, you get some of the most senior of Israel’s defence and security experts (including some former heads of Mossad and of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service) explaining that the agreement with Iran is in fact good for Israel.

So what to think? Trying to form a view is probably impossible. At the end of the day most of believe what fits our worldview and what we want to believe.

In matters pertaining to risk assessment I tend to have more faith in security experts than in politicians of the extreme right, or any politician in fact. You cannot expect a politician to forget his or her ideological convictions. Indeed, most will not hesitate to lie, to promote their political stance. 

Netanyahu has a long track record of lying to mislead his listeners, including in his speeches to the US Congress. That makes him and his flock of message repeating ministers and spokesmen worthless. Not irrelevant – as people do listen to what official Israel is saying – but definitely not trustworthy.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Donald Trump and John McCain

Donald Trump decided that it served his purpose (whatever that may be, as even he must know that he will not be the Republicans’ presidential candidate) to insult John McCain where it really hurts: “He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

I actually think that Trump is right. Being captured does not make you a hero. Drunk, disorderly and insubordinate McCain had a second rate naval career on which he has based his whole political career. He finished fifth from the bottom in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. In his very short flying career, he lost several airplanes and when his plane was shot down in Vietnam and he was captured, it was after he had disobeyed orders to abandon the mission. He got away with it all because both his father and his grandfather had been highly decorated admirals.

For once, Trump is right.