Barbara Amiel

Diary - 28 September 2002

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In the electronic age, a social disease is a virus you get from your email correspondents. And often from one-night stands. Three such co-respondents sent me word that as an entry in their 'address book' my computer now had some awful disease. Complicated instructions to erase followed. When questioned, not one of the owners of these infected emails could describe the address or special characteristics of their virus. 'It's the worst and I don't understand it,' whined one. I don't have a card to give out and so I've luxuriated in the belief that my name and details remain my own. Now I realise that when I scribble my email address down on a bit of napkin in order to calm down an inebriated dinner partner searching for confirmation that the evening has been a success, I am likely to end up in the company of people I spend my life avoiding. Either out of laziness or technological ineptitude, instead of sending each infected partner a separate email, these virus warnings contain the entire address book of the sender. I expect all those people from and are as unhappy at seeing my name on the list as I am at seeing theirs, but what's one to do? I wouldn't want to license email users, but is it unreasonable to expect that if you engage in something as potent as electronic communications, you bloody well understand the basics about it?

I don't suppose when the Prime Minister of Japan went to North Korea and made his ritual apology for the horrid things the Japanese did during their 50 years of occupation he expected young Kim Jong-il to say, OK and by the way we kidnapped 11 of your young people but, good news, four of them are still alive. Orientals are said to be inscrutable, but the expression on the Japanese PM's face was easily scruted. I didn't go to Pyongyang but I did go to Palm Beach where a friend was staying at our house. She loves costume jewellery, and Worth Avenue is home to some of the world's best cubic zirconia. I sent her to a shop there, which was a mistake because Maya is (a) Korean and (b) blind, so as she chatted away to the owner she couldn't see that she was an elderly Japanese woman who hadn't heard about Mr Koizumi's thrilling apology and the joys of multiculturalism. Everything was fine till the owner asked Maya if she was Japanese. On hearing she was Korean, she ordered the guide dog out of the shop before it 'dirtied the floor'. 'There is nothing here for your sort,' she said. Perhaps Chairman Kim could kidnap her next time.

Egbert ter Beck was a leader of the 15th-century religious movement called devotio moderna. He held that harmony in music was unseemly and that true Christians should sing 'as frogs croak'. I had a ter Beckian experience at Yom Kippur when I attended services in New York City. I went to a reform synagogue where the cantor was a female with an exquisite voice, accompanied by a choir and organist of similar skill. Eighteen hours into the fast, I was so entranced by the music that none of the usual symptoms of hunger and discomfort or even the bad breath of the devotee next to me, who dutifully hadn't either washed himself or cleaned his teeth, bothered me. But I couldn't concentrate on atoning for my sins while wallowing in such glorious sounds, which may be why Orthodox synagogues have no musical instruments.

Every Sunday in New York is a parade, it seems. This past weekend it was Steuben day or something. There were lots of people in Bavarian dress waving beer mugs. I've always had a soft spot for Germans, thinking it pretty traumatising to grow up with the world telling you at every possible moment, in every international forum, with every bit of rhetoric and metaphor available, that your parents or grandparents are an unholy bunch of sadistic murderers. But given the remarks of Herr Schroeder and his justice minister, the winsome Frau Herta D