Who Said It?

“Isn’t there a convention that if you don’t know the author of a quote, you can always attribute it to Churchill?” one character asks another in Zia Haider Rahman’s novel ‘In The Light of What We Know.’

“I suppose you’re right,” the other replies.  “In fact, as Churchill himself said, the false attribution of epigrams is the friend of letters and the enemy of history.”

“Churchill said that?”



That’s just an amuse-bouche from Rahman’s novel, which I’ll write more about soon.  But it seems to me that the epigram convention could as well apply to Kafka as to Churchill.  I suspect this might be the case in the following quote invariably attributed to Prague’s ur-existentialist:

— “The meaning of life is that it stops.”

I love the mordant humor of that (and have never heard it attributed to Churchill.)   My problem with it is that I can’t figure out where it comes from.  Was it really Kafka?   Kafka fan sites (a Kafkaesque notion in itself) list hundreds of quotes, but few bother to source the quotes precisely, and even on those few, this particular one goes unsourced.   A friend says it sounds more like Oscar Wilde, and it does have that sardonic Wildean touch.

So herewith, an appeal:  if you know where Kafka said it (or Wilde, or even Churchill come to that), please do let me know, so that I can give credit where it’s indubitably due.

And talking of crediting quotes, I’m still casting my net for the source of this brilliant definition:

— “Forgiveness is abandoning all hope of a perfect past.

At first blush, this sounds quite Wildean too, but it has a resonance — an afterlife in the mind — that speaks of deep sagacity, though the sage in question remains a mystery.   So again, if you know who said it (perhaps that should be written as whoseddit, as in whodunnit), do let me know.

In the meantime, here’s a sprinkling of well-sourced quotes that have been circling my head this past month:

— “I have decided to stick with love;  hate is too great a burden to bear.” — Martin Luther King

— “To be free of belief and unbelief is my religion.” — Omar Khayyam

— “We don’t even know for sure that our universe really had a beginning at all, as opposed to spending an eternity doing something we don’t understand.” — physicist Max Tegmark

— “I look forward to surviving.  If I don’t, remember that I wasn’t Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield.  I was at home.” — Mohammed Suliman, Gaza City

—  and again from Zia Haider Rahman:  “Listening is hard, because you run the risk of having to change the way you see the world.


lily tomlinAugust 26 update:

That quote on forgiveness?  Identified!

Many thanks to AT reader Nuzhat (see comments), who traced it to…  not Wilde, not Kafka, not even Churchill, but to a wonderful and totally unexpected source:  the wisdom of comedy in the form of Lily Tomlin!

Aron Kader’s War Against War

aron kaderI am going to wage peace upon everyone who disagrees with me. It will be an aggressive, offensive and hostile strike that will continue until I inflict the final death blow to misunderstandings and conflict. I will gather all my available resources & weapons for this assault. I will never surrender until the foes of harmony surrender. I declare war on war. I will inflict peace on everyone and occupy your fear with understanding. You will suffer under my brutal campaign of tranquility. The enemy will endure the horrors of justice, tolerance, compassion and freedom. I will indoctrinate the aggressors with acceptance until the resistance is futile. I will show no mercy for hate. If you are not with me you are against warmth, love and little furry baby animals.

This brief manifesto was posted on Facebook earlier today by Palestinian-American stand-up comedian Aron Kader, followed by this update:

My war against war begins tomorrow. I will be on CNN tomorrow on the Brooke Baldwin program to talk about the murder of my cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the police beating of Tariq Abu Khdeir. Also my plea for ceasefire in Gaza and how you will never convince me we cannot have peace.

To say I’m an instant fan doesn’t begin to cover it.  Finally, a war I can support!


Gaza City

And now…?

gaza city

Photo:  Wissam Nasser for the New York Times

Gaza Morgue

I still have no words that I trust.  Only this photo of a doctor weeping in the overflowing morgue of Shifa hospital in Gaza:

Gaza doctor

(photographer: Oliver Weiken, for the New York Times).

Gaza Beach

My disgust with the Israeli government is so deep that I don’t trust myself with words.

But really, two articles in today’s New York Times say it all.

In the first, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is quoted advocating the Israeli invasion of Gaza in order to ensure “a normal summer vacation for our kids”  (the quote is way down in the 14th paragraph of the story).

In the second, we see what appears to be Lieberman’s idea of a kids’ summer vacation in Gaza:  four boys, ages 9, 10, and 11, killed by Israeli bombs while playing soccer on the beach.  It’s accompanied by this photo by the award-winning Tyler Hicks:

gaza beach

Reports from eyewitness foreign journalists here.

June 28, 1914

In Flanders Field the poppies grow

Between the crosses, row on row.

World War I began a hundred years ago today.  In the next four and a half years, seven million civilians and eight and a half million soldiers were killed, and twenty million were severely wounded.  And 25 years later, World War II began.

Here’s one of the northern France killing fields today:

red poppies

And here’s one of the cemeteries.  Most of the headstones are inscribed “A Soldier of the Great War, Known Only Unto God.”  There are not enough red poppies in the world for this:

mil cemetery

(Photos are from “A Conflict That Shaped the World” in today’s NYT.)

Who Has Kidnapped Who?

From a column in today’s Ha’aretz by former Speaker of the Knesset Avraham Burg, speaking directly to Israelis focused entirely on three yeshiva students kidnapped in occupied territory:

All of Palestinian society is a kidnapped society. Like many of the Israelis who performed “significant service” in the army, many of the readers of this column, or their children, entered the home of a Palestinian family in the middle of the night by surprise, with violence, and simply took away the father, brother or uncle, with determination and insensitivity. That is kidnapping, and it happens every day. And what about their administrative detainees?

What is all this if not one big official, evil and unjust kidnapping that we all participate in and never pay the price for? That is the fate of tens of thousands of detainees and others under arrest, who stayed, or are staying, in Israel’s prisons – quite a few of them for no good reason, falsely imprisoned on false pretexts. The vast majority of them have been exposed to the appendages of military justice, and none of us cares a whit.

All these things have turned the topic of the prisoners into the main subject in the lives of the occupied society. There is not a single household without a detainee or prisoner. So why is it so difficult to understand their joy and our pain, fears and worry notwithstanding? It was, and can still be, otherwise.

However, as long as the Israeli government shuts all the gates of freedom, flees from all real negotiations that could solve the conflict, refuses to make good-will gestures, lies and blatantly violates its own commitments – violence is all that remains for them.



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