June 16

Amber pages

Geronimo, born today in 1829, in the No-Doyohn Canyon of what is now New Mexicoa son of the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.  

Geronimo was his Spanish name. Goyaałé, pronounced "Goyathlay", in his own language, and meaning "one who yawns", though Apache websites say his name was really Goyakhla and "Goyathlay" just an affectionate nickname.

The conquest of the Apache by the Anglo-Saxons was completed on September 4th, 1886, when Geronimo really had no choice but to accept the disgraceful and shameful conditions of surrender imposed by the invaders. He died on February 17th 1909, at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and was buried at Beef Creek Apache Cemetery, likewise at Fort Sill. I am not aware of any campaign to Boycott, Diversify or place sanctions against the United States of America for its illegal occupation of these lands, or for the policy of apartheid that it has practised against its native population for the past hundred and fifty years.

Joan Van Ark, actress, born today in 1943. Never heard of her? Me neither. I looked her up on the Internet and... never heard of any of the things she's done. Do I care? No. Do I have any interest in finding out more? No. Would I even have written this much, were it not for her name? Not a chance. But what really pleases me, and why I'm writing it, is that it isn't a pseudonym, an actor's name, a clever idea by an agent or a PR company to get her noticed; she really is called Joan Van Ark.

Hammurabi died, today in 1686 BCE, in Babylon... I wonder what would happen if we were to publish the Hammurabic Code, and maybe the Mosaic Code alongside it, in an Idiot's Guide to Human Responsibility, as a challenge to those who claim to be Responsible or even Ethical Capitalists? 

Lists, simple headlines, no essays or polemics, just the basics, and put a box next to each one, with a scoring system, 1-5, one equals "fails entirely", 5 equals "hits every target" - and then send it out to every employer and employee in the western world, private retail outlets, home businesses, government institutions, global corporations, everyone, private and public, regardless of size and scale, and with the rider that you must score an overall average 3 or better or you will lose your license to trade....

You can read the entire codex here (well, almost entire, there are fragments of the original which the archaeologists have been unable to discover)

The great Soweto uprising took place today, in 
1976, in what was still apartheid South Africa, but would not be for very long, given who it was that rioted, and why, and what they did. Schoolchildren. Refusing to be taught in Afrikaans. Burning down the schools rather than collaborate in their own victimhood. Nelson Mandela and the terrorism of the ANC? International sanctions and boycotts? Nope. None of them did any good. But when schoolchildren are ready to put their lives on the line and say enough is enough. It would take 12 more years, but this was the catalyst.

The First Congress of Soviets was convened in Russia, today in 1917  - interesting date: Kerensky was still in power, and the October revolution still four months away, Lenin having arrived back from exile in Zurich on April16

And funnily enough, when Lenin was still in Zurich, hoping, plotting, soon, very soon, he spent his days at a café named L'Odéon, which was regularly frequented at exactly the same time by an Irish emigré who the World War had forced to leave Trieste, which he had made his home; and by several accounts they sat at adjacent tables many times, but by no accounts did they ever actually speak, or even know who the other was. James Joyce.

And funnily enough.... because for writers like me, today, more than anything else, is Bloomsday, the day in 1904 on which James Joyce set his masterpiece, "Ulysses" - the date of his first date with Molly Bloom, or Nora Barnacle really. But also, and surely it was this as much as that, though I appear to be the only soul ever to have noticed it, the anniversary of the publication of the only version of Homer's "Iliad" that Joyce knew - today in 1716

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

January 12

Late 2nd century CE

Women do not often get mentioned in the writings of the Jewish Rabbis, not even in passing. The one exception is Beruriah, who is mentioned in the Talmud Bavli as the daughter of Hananiah ben Teradion (Tosepha Kelim, Bava Kamma 4:17), a Mishnaic sage who directed a Torah academy in Siknin, in Babylonia, and was renowned for his scrupulously honest administration of charity funds. He was one of the Ten Martyrs whose stories are told on Yom Kippur, in his case wrapped in a Torah Scroll and burned alive by the Romans for publicly teaching Torah.

By all accounts Beruriah was an accomplished scholar, which may have been a situation particular to her family, or may tell us that universal adult literacy in those days applied to women too. Even as a young girl, it is recorded, her intelligence surpassed that of her brother, though the suggestion that she learned "three hundred laws from three hundred teachers in one day" (Pesahim 62b) is absurd; in the Jewish world there are always at least that number of people willing and available to provide the instruction, but there are only 613 laws, so her entire education would have been completed by period two of day three of her first week in school; the phrase is simply a hyperbolic way of expressing admiration for her knowledge, and then diminishing it by placing her in a context of surfeit, of plethora, of glut, of male teachers obviously, but no other mentioned woman.

Born in the first quarter of the second century, she moved to Tiberias after the Hadrianic persecutions had taken her mother and brother as well as her father. But death pursued her; married to Rabbi Meir the miracle worker, himself one of the great sages of the Mishnaic period, her two sons died suddenly in a single day, and then her sister was carried off into exile.

Her name means "purity" (Psalm 18:27 says IM NAVAR TITBARAR - עִם־נָבָ֥ר תִּתְבָּרָ֑ר - with the pure you will show yourself pure"), and whether of soul or spirit or heart or mind is difficult to say, though accounts of her always point out how very loving and gentle she managed to remain, even with her husband, who was as arrogant a man as ever declared himself superior among scholars. But she could be sharp herself, and is recorded as telling her husband off one time for not saying his prayers properly, and in the same passage (Berakhot 10a) she ridicules a sectarian for being one, while 
Eruvin 53b finds her deriding a student for making a simple error, and then making a complete fool of Rabbi Jose the Galilean when he met her on the road (Eruvin 53b) and dared to suggest that she wasn't fully living up to the meaning of her name.

That name, that meaning, is key to all the myths and legends about her, which end up focusing on male Rabbis asking her opinion on matters of female purity, or male Rabbis daring to suggest that she was secretly something of a loose lady. Quite probably none of the stories relating to her purity are true, neither the positive ones nor the negative, but there was her name, lying around in Talmud with implausible history all around it (did you notice, for example, that her father, who died in Judea, was also the head of a yeshiva in Babylon?), and something had to be said to those male students who asked.

So there is the legend of Beruriah's sister, how she was in fact not killed but spared by the Romans, only to be trafficked by them to Antioch for non-Rabbinic purposes. Beruriah urged her husband to go to Antioch and rescue her, and not only did he succeed but - and again the central core of the story reflects the name - he even brought back witness testimony, signed and actuaried, that confirmed her continuing virginity: her purity. Fearful that the Romans would take revenge for his heroism, all three fled to Babylonia - a very convenient place of exile, if you are also trying to explain that passage that says she was 
Hananiah ben Teradion's daughter.

Purity was the tale of her end as well, and Rashi himself recorded it ('Ab. Zarah 18b), so it must be authentic. According to the legend, she scoffed at a Rabbi who quoted the Talmudic proverb that "Women are light-minded", and her husband responded by telling one of his students to try to seduce her - which, had he succeeded, might have proven her to be "light-bodied", but not "light-minded", and so again we can tell that the tale is a made-up piece of nonsense. Nonetheless it lives on, until, after repeated efforts, she finally yielded, and then the shame of it drove her to the ultimate act of impurity, suicide. "Tortured with guilt and remorse," the Talmud tells us, "Rabbi Meir fled from his home". 

The trouble is, Rabbi Meir had already fled from his home, with Beruriah, and her sister, and proofs of both of their states of purity.

For those of you who can read Hebrew, without pointing, below is from Midrash Proverbs 31:10, and is the principal account of Beruriah:

מעשה היה ברבי מאיר, שהיה יושב ודורש בבית המדרש בשבת במנחה, ומתו שני בניו. מה עשתה אמו? הניחה שניהם על המטה ופרשה סדין עליהם. במוצאי שבת בא ר' מאיר מבית המדרש לביתו. אמר לה 'היכן שני בני?', אמרה 'לבית המדרש הלכו', אמר לה 'צפיתי לבית המדרש ולא ראיתי אותם', נתנו לו כוס של הבדלה והבדיל, חזר ואמר 'היכן שני בני?', אמרה לו 'הלכו למקום אחר ועכשיו הם באים', הקריבה לפניו המאכל ואכל ובירך, לאחר שבירך אמרה לו 'רבי, שאלה אחת יש לי לשאול לך', אמר לה 'אמרי שאלתך', אמרה לו 'רבי, קודם היום בא אדם אחד ונתן לי פקדון, ועכשיו בא ליטול אותו, נחזיר לו או לא?', אמר לה 'בתי, מי שיש פקדון אצלו, הוא צריך להחזירו לרבו', אמרה לו 'רבי, חוץ מדעתך לא הייתי נותנת אצלו', מה עשתה? תפשתו בידה, והעלה אותו לאותו חדר, והקריבה אותו למטה, ונטלה סדין מעליהם, וראה שניהם מתים ומונחים על המטה, התחיל בוכה ואומר 'בני! בני! רבי! רבי! בני בדרך ארץ, ורבי שהיו מאירין פני בתורתן!', באותה שעה אמרה לו לרבי מאיר 'רבי, לא כך אמרת לי—אני צריך להחזיר הפקדון לרבו?', אמר (איוב א כא): "ה' נתן וה' לקח, יהי שם ה' מבורך".
The illustration at the top of the page is not a portrait of Beruriah, because no such portrait exists. What is the nearest you can get to the first and only woman to be mentioned in the Talmud? Regina Jonas, the first woman to be ordained as a Rabbi, in 1935 (see December 27). The portrait is by Marlis Glaser, 2014.

December 28

Amber pages

Manuel Puig, Argentine writer, born today in 
1932... but I've never read him, can't even name a book, just saw the name and thought I ought to...


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published the first volume of "The Gulag Archipelago", today in 
1973... that is going to require an essay.

The photo is also key. From the day that he was kicked out of the Soviet Union, with his Nobel Prize for Literature in his hand, he has been ignored, even derogated, in the West; and not entirely obvious why. Probably it's because, having dedicated twenty-five years to bearing personal witness to the Soviet Holocaust, detailing it with a precision that combined Primo Levi with Elie Wiesel for the Nazi Holocaust, and then some; having decried the religion of Communism for the evil ideology that it was, he spent those latter years in Vermont, a fervent advocate of that other evil ideology which had holocausted the human world for even longer, Christianity, and did so with such vocation that he became a role-model in the writing of Pope John Paul (click here to read it, but caveat lector, as they say in Latin)
   That is why I have posted the photo of him in his prison uniform, beardless, his camp number tatooed on both his heart and brain. The paradox will be the subject of the essay. The work remains among the most important of that most stupidly tragic of all human centuries, the twentieth.

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

December 5

One of several Towers of Babel by Emily Allchurch

"The library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order)."
Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library At Babel”

Early comments on this blog include several asking why so many dates appear to be "random" and "arbitrary" - "why this one's birth but that one's death?" is the most common. And indeed, sometimes, appearance is as appearance seems; blogs get posted in an entirely random and arbitrary manner, because that is when I happened to research it; or on a whim; or because it took my fancy (God apparently works in the same haphazard manner, and also calls it Order); in several cases because I had no date for the item (Beruriah coming soon on January 12 for example, and Nursery Rhymes ditto on March 15), but also dates with nothing at all on them... and so I resolved both problems by employing each other as each other's solution.

But behind the randomness there is also a serious purpose: a wish to break away from the illusion of linear time and create a structure for the book that more accurately represents the helictical nature of time. Helictical, not spiral, certainly not cyclical. That is another of our illusions about time. Cyclical infers that the identical events recur, whereas in reality they are only similar events, containing elements of the previous one, but still uniquely individual, like genomes. But it seems to me that our ability to learn from history depends, to a considerable degree, on our ability to transcend both of these illusions, to see history as part of time, and time as part of history, eternally simultaneous, in constant flux and reflux, and with each cause leading to each effect, but also altered, at least in our perception, by that effect, and by the next cause, the next effect.

So, on today's page, because my diary for December 5th 2003 has an annotated page of possible choices for the day's entry, but almost nothing that I even want to place in amber mode, let alone consider for a journey into the green; so why not take the opportunity to have this conversation - which is, after all, about the method and the substance of this book.

December 5 (2003)

Choices for the Book of Days should eventually, over a period of many years, have the same effect as bowling averages or cost-of-living indexes, the provision of a mean statistical outcome. On any given day that I scour the almanacs, I am looking for something or somebody that interests me sufficiently to pass a half an hour finding out a little more about them. What I choose becomes a predictable pattern, and thereby holds up a mirror to identity. What I do not choose is also a usable statistic, and for the same reason. In between there are people/events that I might well have chosen, and rejected only because they were too similar, or too elaborate, or... so perhaps even these indices are still only provisional, hypothetical, speculative. (Perhaps Douglas Adams’ 42 is not actually an answer in itself, but only the rounding up - or down - of the mean of several possible answers!)

So, taking today, but stopping at 1920 because there is no more room on the page:-

Pope Boniface VIII’s decree Ausculta fili
not interesting
500 Jews are massacred at Nuremberg in Black Death riots
not again!
Bishop Jona of Moscow chosen as Metropolitan of Kiev
how exciting!
Earthquake strikes Naples; about 35,000 die
cf Voltaire’s Candide
Columbus discovers El Hispaniola, Haiti
cf Grahame Green: The Comedians [1]
Jews are expelled from Portugal by order of King Manuel I
again again! [2]
Niccolo Sfondrati chosen Pope Gregory XIV
worth a look; no, looked, not interesting
Giulio Caccini’s “Eurydice” premieres in Florence
never heard of it
Battle at Leuthen: Prussian army beats Austrians
London auctioneers Christie’s holds their 1st sale
could be fun to use Chatwin for this
Phi Beta Kappa. 1st American scholastic fraternity (William & Mary College) is founded
not the college but the Greek & the Oxbridge connections
George Washington re-elected US President, John Adams Vice-President
Government troops occupy Hasselt
Where is Hasselt?
Thomas Jefferson re-elected US President, George Clinton Vice-President
no (any relation of Bill?)
Lubeck surrenders to allied armies
I've heard of Lubeck
Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonique fantastique” premieres in Paris
worth an entry (but I already have Berlioz on Dec 11)
Former President John Quincy Adams takes his seat as member of House of Representatives
Andrew Jackson re-elected President of US, Martin Van Buren Vice-President
Hector Berlioz’ “Requiem” premieres
no, because of 1830
Uprising under William Lyon Mackenzie in Canada
Yes, but only because of my move to Toronto; and then no, because he's already in "Leo Bloom"
C.F.Schoenbein obtains patent for cellulose nitrate explosive
Who? What? Why?
President Polk triggers Gold Rush of ’49, confirms California gold discovery
A good idea for a short story - by Jack London, not me
Aaron Allen of Boston patents folding theater chair
worth a cartoon? [3]
Dion Boucicault’s “Octaroon” premieres in New York NY
Are you kidding?
Gatling gun patented
another cartoon?
Battle of Coffeeville MS
just because of the name, yes
1st American bicycle college opens (New York)
just because it’s so weird, yes [4]
Daniel Stillson (Massachusetts) patents 1st practical pipe wrench
no, because of the 2 above
Fire at Brooklyn Theatre kills 295, trampled or burned to death
possible; best if it was an Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Harry Potter and the Marketing Scam, and they gave up writing or composing altogether in honour of the people killed in the scramble to get me out of here. I'd happily write about that
1st automatic telephone switching system patented
47th Congress (1881-83) convenes
come off it
Stanley’s expedition reaches plateau at Lake Albert, Congo
"Doctor Noah I presume"
Berlioz’ opera “Les Troyens” premieres in Karlsruhe
no - is this coincidence or satire?
Anti-semite Hermann Ahlwardt elected to Germany’s Reichstag
ought to be but not
1st electric car (built in Toronto) could go 15 miles between charges
yes, but see 1837
Georges Feydeaus’ “L’hôtel du libre échange” premieres in Paris
worth a momentary thought, then reject it
Henrik Ibsen’s “Kejsor og Galileer” premieres in Leipzig
Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal) becomes PM of England
no [5]
British Government - Balfour resigns
no [6]
1st football uniform numerals used (University of Pittsburgh)
potential for some serious fun; but no
6th CFL Grey Cup: Toronto Argonauts defeats University of Toronto. 14-2
no [7]
Oil refinery on Curaçao opens
Pro football playoff game Akron v Buffalo 0-0 tie, title undecided
no [8]

[1] and my tale "The View From Hispaniola" in "The Captive Bride"

[2] and see Roderigo Lopes

[3] worth noting that I have no note on the page as to where I found this particular list, but I didn’t generally use American-generated ones, because frankly there weren’t many; and yet this list is quite ludicrously US-centric; did nothing at all happen, in the whole of history, between Baghdad and Kabul going eastwards, between the Yukon and Yokinawa, going west? “A Journey In Time’ suffers from precisely this flaw.

[4] and a follow-up satire on today’s US colleges - PhDs in quarterbacking and the number of top golfers who went to - Atlanta was it? High-school students who I knew, who got scholarships to wear sexy bikinis while playing beach volleyball, or lycra suits for rowing. Or the "experiential" work for another student-I-knew's film course, in which his essay on Truffaut and Film Noir was late because he had to film the training sessions before the college superbowl. I like the idea that Americans need to go to college in order to learn how to ride a bike. With or without training wheels? (On the other hand, see 1908)

[5] shouldn’t that be “PM of Great Britain”? Or of “the United Kingdom” even? Bizarre enough to see what the historians choose to remember, what to ignore, what to wilfully and deliberately leave out; but then there is history as propaganda. “PM of England and its Welsh, Scottish, Irish and other colonies”? I must go back and see what dates of significance are missing from this catalogue, and footnote them.

[6] and then there is the simple laziness or ineptitude of the chronicler, the historian, the journalist. Has he simply cut and pasted data from other sources, not bothering to check, cross-check, edit, correct? How else does "England" in the last become "British" in this? And if so, is that how Wikipedia works - a bot, a computer robot, trawling cyberspace like an Atlantic fisherman, bringing back the intended cod, but mixed up with so much bream and sea-weed, halibut and crab, the entire enterprise is rendered worthless? And sadly, yes, that is precisely how Wikipedia works, and why I will not use it.

[7] that should read "why would anyone have given a damn, even at the time?" And, December 5th 1914 - wasn’t that there a minor skirmish of some sort going on in Europe at the time?

[8] Fool, Prashker - you missed out on an opportunity to write the greatest satirical novel in human history. A sequel to the David Kalischer novel entitled "A Journey In Non-Time", in which a severely dislectic historian writes an account, spelled as best he can, and grammatically and syntactically error-riddled, of all the most insignificant non-events of history, the ones that somebody actually bothered to record, like this one. (And wouldn’t that last entry be even better if it could have recorded that nobody turned up to watch the game).

But there are one or two items that can be parked behind the STOP sign, waiting till the road is tarred and the traffic lights plugged in

Christina Rossetti, born today in 

Fritz Lang, film director, born today in 1890

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, composer, died (yes, this one definitely on his death-date), today in 1791: in poverty, possibly driven to it by Saglieri...

And today in 1955, the bus boycott began in Montgomery, Alabama (see December 1). Did it really take so very little time, from Rosa's refusal to a black people's boycott? Amazing.

You can find David Prashker at:

Copyright © 2018 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press