Monday, December 01, 2014
Rules? In a Knife Fight?!
Article 23 (d) of the 1907 Hague Convention IV regarding the Laws and Customs of War on Land states that, "....it is especially forbidden....to declare that no quarter will be given".
For those unfamiliar with the term 'quarter', it means that if someone surrenders or is captured, they must not be harmed or killed.
To declare that 'no quarter will be given' is the same as saying 'all prisoners will be killed'. And as stated above, this violates all current rules governing warfare.
Sadly, this is just one of the many laws of warfare that state and non-state Islamic military forces feel free to ignore with impunity.
The western world likes to gloss over these 'lapses' in adherence to international law, even as they engage these forces in a handful of battlegrounds around the middle east. We might as well be standing in neat rows carrying muskets and swords, considering the hopeless disadvantage at which we are placing ourselves on the battlefield.
As we fight in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Yemen, Somalia and other failed states, the only subtle nod to the disparity between the way these laws of war are observed or ignored, is the terminology used.
For example, when Jihadist combatants surrender or are captured, they are 'taken prisoner' by western forces and 'held as Prisoners of War'; subject to at least minimal access and oversight by the International Red Cross and a host of 'human rights' NGOs.
When western soldiers surrender or are captured, they are 'kidnapped' and 'held hostage' incommunicado in undisclosed locations before being ransomed or summarily executed in gruesome public displays.
In the film 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid' there is a memorable scene where a discontent member of the Hole In The Wall Gang challenges Butch to a fight to the death in order to decide the future leadership of the gang. He extends the challenge by offering the choice of 'guns or knives'.
While far from a perfect analogy, I've included this video clip, not for its humor, but for its instructive value:
On its face, the conflict in the scene is a struggle for dominance. But it is also a struggle between chaos (the challenger) and order (Butch, who organized and managed the gang).
I could have used a different illustration of order vs chaos such as a cop telling an armed criminal to 'stop or I'll shoot'. But that's a poor example because no matter what the criminal does, the cop remains bound by his own rules of engagement (actually law enforcement uses the term 'Rules for the use of force').
The film assumes that the conflict is taking place away from civilized society and therefore the combatants can decide what, if any limitations to place on the conflict and its aftermath.
Butch seeks to avoid conflict while retaining order, and tries to negotiate. But he is presented with a situation where he can't back down without allowing the challenger (Logan) to take over (impose chaos... or at least a new order based on force rather than reason).
Once a conflict becomes inevitable, Butch tries to limit the scope of the combat, first by choosing the least lethal weapon, and then by attempting to set ground rules (rules of war).
Logan thinks that the attempt to impose rules is a sign of weakness and is meant to protect Butch, so he makes it clear that there are "no rules in a knife fight" (i.e. no quarter). What he fails to grasp is that this declaration of 'no quarter' frees Butch from any and all restriction in his own course of action (i.e. no limiting Rules of Engagement).
Butch, for his part, still represents society and wants to maintain some semblance of order by planning for a non-lethal attack, but puts in place a fail-safe that will result in the death of the challenger if the non-lethal gambit is unsuccessful.
Now, what does this have to do with the world today and the state of modern warfare?
The Jihadist militants (e.g. Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, et al) do not feel bound by the rules of war to which the western military forces adhere, but they expect - demand, actually - that their opponents respect International Law and the Rules of War.
Their words place the western forces in the position of a police officer facing an armed suspect; with no discretionary wiggle room or ability to set aside the rules that restrict his conduct.
But their actions are clearly stating that 'there are no rules in a knife fight', which should logically place western forces firmly in Butch Cassidy's dusty boots, with the freedom to preserve as much or little of society's trappings as the situation warrants.
What sent me down this path of thought is the ridiculous nature of the current conflicts in the region:
- Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad continuously threaten to "wipe Israel off the map".
- Syria uses both conventional and unconventional (WMDs) weapons to slaughter hundreds of thousands without regard to their allegiance or status.
- Somalia flaunts all semblance of maritime law, turning a huge swatch of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean into a pirate's playground while playing host at home to a grab bag of warlords and militias.
- Al Qaeda declares its intention to attack and overthrow western governments, making good on at least the first part of their threats).
- ISIS captures and executes soldiers and civilians.
I could go on, but why bother? Each and every one of these examples is a full-throated cry of 'Guns or knives?'.
So why are we responding with 'Stop or I'll shoot!'?
The answer is that despite all of our military and technological superiority, we see ourselves as cops and not soldiers. You see, at a certain point after WWII, the west decided that all types of belligerence and warfare are crimes... so anyone who wages war is, by defnition, a criminal. That mindset makes anyone who faces off against a belligerent, a cop.
That's all fine and good, except that at home, a Law Enforcement Officer can engage an armed criminal comfortable and secure in the full support and backing of an organized society. The LEOs job is not to punish or win... but rather simply to take the suspect into custody so that the criminal justice system can do its job and either punish or acquit the perp.
On the other hand, soldiers sent to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen or Somalia is far removed from society. They are out in the 'wild west';far from the rule of law.
Which is not to say that they should abandon human decency and descend into unrestrained savagery. After all, Butch didn't.
But they certainly should abandon any illusions that the perp in their gun-sights will stop when they threaten to shoot, or that somewhere there awaits a court or detention facility capable of passing a meaningful judgement and meting out a suitable punishment.
Which brings us back to the struggle between order and chaos beyond the rule of law.
If we are ever going to have a chance of re-imposing order in the parts of the world where chaos currently reigns, we have to somehow formulate a doctrine that will recognize the special nature of conflicts with groups that offer no quarter, and respect no rules of war.
The commanders in the field need to be given orders to strive to impose order (like Butch), while being released from obvious impediments to victory (not to mention, survival).
The civilized part of the world has been repeatedly attacked and forced to give up control of how and where to make a stand. It seems only reasonable that once our enemies refuse our generous offers to establish and adhere to rules, that we at least understand that this refusal is tantamount to saying "Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!!!".
Far from hindering us, this should remove the shackles that have kept us from winning!
One day the world will have to wake up and realize that we must come up with a creative solution to what is certainly a zero-sum game. There's no such thing as win-win, anymore.
In a knife fight, there can only be one person left standing. Once we understand that, all that remains is for someone to yell 'One, two, three, GO!'. And maybe... just maybe... we'll be able to kick our enemies in the balls until they come to their senses, instead of having to kill them all.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
When the media yells 'fire' in a crowded theater
Not all types of speech are protected under U.S. Law. In fact most democracies have laws that specifically exclude hate speech and any expression that may endanger an individual or group, from free speech protections.
The classic example is the prohibition against yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater (assuming there is no fire) which as famously included in a written opinion issued by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1919:
"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." [source]
This opinion was not focused on the problem of making false statements (which are dealt with quite nicely under laws related to libel and slander), but rather on statements that create a clear and present danger.
Throughout the media
feeding frenzy coverage surrounding the Ferguson shooting and subsequent Grand Jury decision not to indict the police officer involved, there has been, in my opinion, a deliberate and coordinated attempt on the part of the major news outlets to fan the flames of civil unrest and create a situation where protests would turn violent, and demonstrations would turn into riots.
The media obviously has a vested interest in fostering and sustaining such an atmosphere of violence and hysteria because, let's face it, court decisions and protests are interesting news... but regional, or even national violence is compelling news; the kind that sells papers and drives traffic to news sites.
I won't go into deeply problematic nature of the media predicting that a decision handed down by a sitting Grand Jury in the world's premier democracy, will trigger the type of riots, violence and looting normally only seen in the third world.
That the U.S. media created, or at least deliberately fostered, such an expectation is deeply problematic, and smacks of the worst kind of racism. Moreover, it infantilizes a significant portion of the population by making it seem a foregone conclusion that this particular demographic is incapable of expressing dissatisfaction and outrage in a peaceful manner.
But even that doesn't surprise me anymore. If the U.S. media wants to treat minorities as if they are children incapable of reasoned, adult discourse... and that population lives up (or down) to these low expectations, who am I to yell 'foul'?
But when the New York Times actively and deliberately fans the flames of racial hatred and creates and fosters an expectation of violence... and then publishes the home address of the police officer who is the focus of violent protests and riots, that, IMHO, crosses a red line that can't be ignored.
That the New York Times' reporters, Julie Bosman and Campbell Robertson, were allowed by their editors to publish the home address of the police officer who the Grand Jury decided not to indict, is tantamount to declaring open season on him, his new wife and their property.
The Times can't reasonably argue that they didn't expect anyone to attack the officer or his family because all of their reporting to date has mentioned (in a leading and encouraging manner) that violence in the wake of any decision not to indict was a very real possibility.
Some have suggested that a fair remedy would be to publish the home addresses and other private information of the Time's reporters and the entire Times editorial staff.
Nobody cares where in Greenwich or Scarsdale the Times reporters and staff call home.
Rather, I think that the two reporters, and every editor involved in the decision to publish the officer's home address, should be prosecuted as full accessories to any violent crime that befalls the officer, his family and/or property.
Then let them spend a few years reporting on the sorry state of the U.S. Department of Corrections... from an insider's perspective.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
There is a time for everything
[A post by our daughter Ariella, who is a commander in the IDF]
In every day, everything has a time; A time to eat. A time to work. A time to play. And each day there is a time to pray.
Three times a day, actually, we pray. These pauses for prayer are a time of purity. A sacred time to be thankful. A time for spirituality. To cleanse ones soul. To be close to G-d... who created us and all living things. Who created us in his image.
And each and every time we Jews pray, we end with a prayer for peace.
Yesterday morning, just like every morning, Jews gathered for the morning prayers.
But in a neighborhood in Jerusalem, yesterday morning was not allowed to be a time for spirituality or purity... or peace.
Instead of being a time to thank G-d, people where begging him for their lives.
Instead of talking to G-d, five men were dispatched to meet him.
Yesterday morning terrorists walked into a house of prayer and learning, and desecrated that holy time and place by murdering and injuring four men who were in the midst of praying for peace... and a fifth who had taken a holy oath to preserve it.
My soul aches and I am filled with the deepest sorrow thinking about it. But in my heart I am praying; Praying that one day we will not live in a reality full of fear. That our prayers for peace will finally be granted.
I might be naive, but I will never stop praying.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Let the Media Report from Somewhere Else
Because of the relative safety and security here (not to mention easy access to creature comforts and libations unavailable, or even forbidden, elsewhere in the region), most of the world's media outlets base their Bureau Chiefs and reporting staff for the entire Middle East here in Israel.
Although the close proximity and ease of access keeps Israel under a microscope, one would think it would at least have the benefit of ensuring accurate reporting.
One would be wrong.
Aside from the media's usual rush to justify or excuse this savage attack, two of the most 'respected' media outlets got it so wrong that it is impossible to believe that these were honest mistakes.
First, CNN was in the midst of an interview with Jerusalem Mayor, Nir Barkat, when they put the following banner across the screen for viewers to see:
Yes, that's right, for those who had their TV volume turned down or who were not paying full attention to the interview, those savage Israelis had attacked a house of worship of the 'Religion of Peace'.
And as I type this, the New York Times still has the following as their front page online coverage:
Here's a closer look:
Note that nowhere in the article on the left does it mention who carried out the attack. Not "Two Arab assailants...". Not "Two Palestinian assailants...". Just "two assailants armed with gun...". And look at this! Despite the availability of countless moving photos of the synagogue and victims, the Times editorial staff decided to run with a photo of two masked Israeli policemen wielding assault rifles... which could lead the uninformed (i.e. the Times' target audience) to surmise that it was these Israeli police officers who had inexplicably carried out the attack on the Jewish worshipers!
Even when presenting information that is technically / factually correct, the media - NY Times chief among them - loves to arrange the written and visual information in such a way as to confuse the facts and vilify us.
There's an old saying, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you!"
The Palestinian terrorists I can't do anything about. They are lower than animals, and such barbarity is in their nature. But nowhere in international law does it say I have to compound my suffering by playing host to a foreign press bent on destroying my standing in the international community!
I think the time has come to give deportation orders to every last foreign journalist in the country.
I'm not kidding. We give them unprecedented access and freedom of movement (as befits a modern, open democracy) and they still go out of their way to make us look worse than Al Qaeda and ISIS combined!
Seriously, the anti-semites of the world will hate us no matter what we do (or don't do). But I see no reason to play host to a hostile media that spends a disproportionate amount of its time and resources trying to convert the rest of the world into anti-semites.
If the media is going to lynch us even when we are in-arguably the victim, let them do their reporting from somewhere else.
I hear Damascus and Baghdad are nice this time of year.
Monday, November 10, 2014
Today in the center of Tel Aviv, a 20 year old Israeli soldier was stabbed repeatedly in the stomach by a Palestinian terrorist from Nablus (Shechem) who had illegally infiltrated.
The terrorist first tried to steal the soldiers weapon, but after a brief struggle, fled the scene and was arrested by the police a few blocks away.
The soldier was rushed to the hospital with massive blood loss and is currently listed in critical condition.
Getting back to the title of this post, at this point in the proceedings, one typically hears Arab Members of Knesset and EU / UN apologists explaining why the poor Palestinians are driven to such lengths to get out from under the jackboot of Israeli occupation.
And in fact, someone did rush to make such a connection:
"These are hard days for the State of Israel. Terror must be fought against but it must be understood that everything is connected – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Gaza, Judea and Samaria." [source]
But instead of some fifth column Arab MK or a European anti-semite, Israel's own Justice Minister - Tzipi Livni - is the source of that little gem of wisdom.
Mind you, this was her first statement following the attack!
All I can say is, Really?! There's something about this unprovoked act of terror that must be 'understood'?!!! You can look the Israeli public in the face and suggest there's a 'but' here?!!!!
There is only one 'butt' here, and anyone who asks the citizens of the State of Israel to 'understand' terror attacks is hereby invited to kiss mine.
I was recently in the US on a whirlwind visit to see my parents, and while I was there I reconnected with one of my favorite flavor memories from my youth; concord grapes.
Having grown up in upstate New York (yeah, yeah, I know New Paltz isn't technically 'upstate... get over yourself, Zahava!), and Connecticut, fall is always full of wonderful sensory memories for me: crisp air, beautiful foliage, apple picking, hay rides, pumpkin carving, leaf burning... and of course, eating lots and lots of concord grapes.
Concord grapes have a deep purple skin and a green interior, and are the perfect combination of sweet and tart.
There aren't many things I deeply miss (relax, I said 'things'!) from the states, but concord grapes almost certainly top the short list.
While I was shopping with my mom during this recent visit, I noticed a fruit stand selling concord grapes and bought a big bunch. I was in heaven! I went through them so fast we had to restock a few more times just to keep up with my noshing.
What I can't figure out is why these grapes aren't grown in Israel. Is the soil here not suitable for this particular vine? Hard to imagine, given the wide variety of wine and table grapes that are grown here.
Needless to say, if anyone knows where I can find concord grapes in Israel (or has any info as to whether they can be easily grown here), I will be eternally in your debt.
Thursday, November 06, 2014
Vehicular Intifada: How Hamas will Punish Fatah
With this new vehicular intifada starting to gain momentum, I am feeling a bit helpless. Like most people here, I spend a fair amount of time on the roads, and my children (at least my older kids) find themselves standing at bus stops several time per week.
Israel has gotten so good at heading off terrorists before they can act that it has forced the leaders of the terror organizations to come up with new terror methods that are impossible, and more importantly illegal, to anticipate.
Unlike, say, a terrorist wearing explosives or carrying a bomb, knife or gun, a person who intends to use a vehicle (or heavy construction equipment) as a weapon is nearly impossible to preempt or anticipate, because up until the moment that the vehicle impacts someone or something, it and the person operating it are acting completely within the law.
In a free and open democracy, it is perfectly legal to walk around with criminal thoughts, and even criminal intentions. But until you act on those thoughts/intentions, you have not done anything against which agents of the state may legally act.
- Building a bomb is a criminal act.
- Donning a suicide vest is a criminal act.
- Carrying an illegal knife or gun is a criminal act.
- Getting behind the wheel of a car or tractor and starting to drive is not a criminal act...
... until the moment you deliberately drive the car or tractor into someone or something.
The Israeli government has taken baby steps towards anticipating this vehicular intifada. Many bus stops and places where pedestrians congregate are protected from approaching vehicles by big blocks of heavy concrete.
But these blocks are not aesthetic, so the police and military have, so far, resisted placing them in city centers and other places where tourists might be given the impression that there is 'trouble in the holy land'.
As of this morning, the Jerusalem Light Rail platforms (the site of two vehicular terror attacks) have now been blocked off with these unsightly concrete cubes.
And although most of the bus stops in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) already have these concrete bulwarks, it is only a matter of time before bus stops inside the green line will be forced to put up these unsightly barriers.
To be clear, that is the goal.
Just is in the previous intifadas, the goal of the terror leaders is not to maim and kill Israelis. It is to strip Israel of its veneer of aesthetic beauty and security, and force Israelis in general (and the security forces in particular) to view every Arab as a potential terrorist.
One of the things that vexed Hamas during the last Gaza war was the relative silence and indifference shown by the Palestinians living in the West Bank to what was happening in Gaza.
One can debate whether the West Bank Arabs were truly indifferent. But their silence was predicted quite accurately many years ago when Netanyahu became Prime Minister. He predicted that the best way to achieve peace (or at least quiet) with the Palestinians was to help them achieve economic success.
People with good jobs, businesses and homes, he presciently reasoned, had too much to lose to participate in another intifada (or, G-d forbid, a war).
Which is why for the most part, the relatively affluent Arab residents of the West Bank and Israel sat quietly on the sidelines and at most, attended a small demonstration against the last Gaza war.
The flaw in Bibi's strategy is in thinking of the Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank as a unified entity. He forgot that Hamas won the last Palestinian election, and that despite PA (Fatah) crackdowns, there remained many Hamas cells and much sympathy for the group.
It is Hamas and its sympathetic cousin, Islamic Jihad that are firing these first shots of the vehicular intifada. It doesn't matter that the overwhelming majority of Israeli Arabs and West Bank Palestinians are indifferent to the 'resistance' (as armed terror is euphemistically called).
Actually it does matter. The entire point of this new terror endeavor is to force a new wedge between the complacent, silent Arab population and the Israeli Jewish population and create an atmosphere of distrust and hate which will almost certainly result from the inevitable security crack-down, roadblocks, raids, revenge attacks and general distrust caused by these escalating vehicular attacks.
I wish I had a solution to offer. But sadly, the only thing that can throw a wrench in this current uprising is a vocal outcry from the silent, complacent Arabs themselves; some sort of grass roots 'not in our name' up-swell of outrage at these vicious attacks.
But unfortunately it is unlikely to happen. Because even though this is designed as a way to punish the silent, compacent Arabs of Israel and the West Bank (by turning them into objects of suspician and hate), as Bibi previously observed, ideals are expensive... and they have too much to lose.
Monday, November 03, 2014
The 'Unsubscribe' button (no, not the truth) will set you free
Remember when your email account was virginal and new. Nobody but a few friends, and perhaps your family, knew your email address. And any email that arrived in your inbox was something for you that you genuinely wanted to read.
Now think about your current relationship with your inbox.
It happens so gradually that one doesn't even notice it. One by one, you are added to automated email distribution lists that send out daily, weekly and monthly junk emails, political emails, commercial emails, religious emails, conspiracy emails, joke emails... and on and on.
Until one day you realize that the first thing you are forced to do when you open your inbox every single day is spend ten minutes deleting dozens (or on bad days, scores!) of unwanted emails that you have no intention of reading.
If you go on vacation or take a few days off from your computer, it is not unusual to come back to find literally hundreds of unwanted emails waiting for you that must be deleted, one by one (lest you inadvertently delete an important email... the virtual equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater).
It is only after you've performed this onerous task that you can set about actually reading the email communications that are relevant to your life (or at least of momentary interest).
Some email programs allow you to mark unwanted emails as SPAM, and theoretically from then on, emails from those senders will be filtered out before they hit your inbox.
That's all fine and good for emails that are truly SPAM, such as come-ons for discount/black-market pharmaceuticals that are meant to, ahem, enhance one's prowess in the bedroom or increase one's anatomic dimensions in the same realm.
But let's say you are getting 10 or 15 emails every week with Divrei Torah (discussions of the week's Torah reading), and an equal number of comercial and political emails letting you know about sales or discussing current events, etc.
While you may not have signed up for them (and can't quite figure out when/how you got on their mailing list), to signal to the overlords at Google that these are SPAM would flag them to be filtered not just from your inbox, but from all Gmail inboxes.
Unlike the Viagra and Cialis ads, I'm sure many of the people who receive political and religious emails every week actually want to get them, and I wouldn't want the good people who toil over those weekly missives to be tagged as spammers in the Google gateways where real spam is filtered out.
Same goes for the commercial emails from the likes of LL Bean, Amazon and Groupon. Many people like getting those offers... and I know I ended up on their distribution list, not as part of some nefarious plot, but because I bought something from them and forgot to check (or uncheck) the box to opt out of future email offers (usually tucked at the bottom of the screen where you set up your account).
Like spring cleaning, it pays to periodically set aside all your distractions and spend some time ruthlessly getting yourself removed from the email distribution lists you don't want to be on.
At the bottom of pretty much every mass distributed email, there is a sentence or two that looks like this:
You need to pick a day and ruthlessly click on that link to be removed/un-subscribe from the various emails you don't read. The most expedient way to do this is to go into your deleted items folder and go through a couple of weeks worth of junk-mail; scrolling down to the bottom of each one and clicking on the 'unsubscribe' link (and then following the directions).
The first time you do it, it will be time consuming. You may invest up to an hour or more doing it.
IMPORTANT: Make sure you read each screen carefully or you could accidentally end up removing yourself from only a portion of the sender's distribution lists, or worse, subscribing to new lists from the same sender.
After the first time you perform this unpleasant task, you will see that by the second or third day, you are getting almost no unwanted mail (and each of those you do get can be dealt with quickly in the same way I described above).
After a week, you may see a small surge in junk mail because you forgot to un-subscribe from a couple of the email lists that only send out once every two weeks.
But that's it. Once you do this, your daily email routine will be something you look forward to again, and not some hated chore that you dare not neglect because it will build up and bury you.
From then on, anytime you get a new unwanted email, be diligent to un-subscribe immediately. Don't just delete it!
Oh, and if one or two of the emailers doesn't heed your request to beremoved/un-subscribed from their distribution list... go ahead and mark them as SPAM using the tool supplied for that purpose by your email provider. It'll serve them right to end up on a universal blacklist.
The bad news is that what I've described above only works with email distribution lists that are done in an organized, professional manner If you want to stop getting the monthly family update emails from your weird aunt Eunice (the one who subscribes to 'Fate Magazine' and who gets most of her current events updates from supermarket tabloids), you're on your own.
If you don't want to hurt her feelings or cause a family rift... you'll have to continue deleting those emails manually as soon as they land.
[Don't thank me... I'm a giver!]
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
A Close Encounter With Ebola
With the first reported case of Ebola in the US today, I thought it might be an appropriate time to share my own recent close encounter with the disease.
I should begin by mentioning (for those who don't know me) that I am a bit of a germophobe. I'm not sure where such things come from, but from an early age I recall not liking to share drinking glasses or to let anyone take tastes directly from something I was eating. Naturally, my older sister did both at every opportunity just to see all my fuses pop (hi Val!).
My wife can attest to the fact that whenever I have had to go anywhere near a hospital, I have washed up afterwards like a doctor prepping for surgery. And the one time I was hospitalized for a few days I nearly bathed in the sanitizing hand gel they had at the entrance to my room. I mean, seriously... what do you expect? These places are full of sick people!
Anyway, as a result of what I would call a mild phobia regarding germs, I usually keep a bottle of hand sanitizer or disposable alcohol hand wipes in my briefcase/hand luggage whenever I travel abroad.
Back at the beginning of July I had a couple of business trips to countries in West Africa. One of those trips was to Sierra Leone.
Before I left on the trip I was aware that there had been a serious outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. But when I checked with the Israeli health authorities, I was assured that the only cases in Sierra Leone were in remote areas where that country shared borders with Liberia and Guinea, and since all my meetings were scheduled to take place in the capital - Freetown - I should be fine.
However, midway through the third day of my visit, I noticed an ominous development: All of the government buildings I was visiting had set up special stations outside their entrances where masked / gloved employees were requiring everyone who entered to wash their hands in a bleach solution, and some were using thermal scanners to check if anyone had a fever.
I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that certainly got my 'Spidey Sense' tingling.
I had been given a government driver for the duration of my visit, and on the way back to my hotel I asked him what was going on. He informed me that several hundred cases of Ebola had been confirmed in the capital and that the country's leading infectious disease expert and several of his nurses had also been confirmed to have contracted Ebola (they all died within weeks).
When I got back to my hotel, I immediately started making calls to find out if I could move up my departing flight. But the few airlines flying in and out of Freetown were already overbooked with people attempting to leave because of rumors that commercial flights in and out of the country would soon be suspended.
I had one more day of meetings before my scheduled flight out, so I had no choice but to finish my itinerary of meetings and hope that my British Airways flight to London would still be listed when I showed up at the airport.
Getting back to my slight fear of germs, I tend to try to limit physical contact with people I meet on business trips... even in developed countries. I do this by presenting my business card with two hands upon meeting someone for the first time (which eliminates the need for a handshake in most cases), and within a minute or two of exchanging parting handshakes at the end of a meeting, I usually avail myself of a private moment to wipe my hands with the above mentioned hand sanitizer or towelettes.
To be clear, I don't mean to imply that foreign people are somehow dirty or disease-ridden. It's just that when traveling to new places, one generally lacks resistance to the local colds and garden-variety maladies, and a hectic travel schedule further degrades one's immune system. I just hate coming down with something after every business trip, so I tend to err on the side of caution.
Back to the story...
By the time I checked out of my hotel and headed to the airport, the gathering storm had descended on the capital with hundreds of new Ebola cases reported.
As I stood waiting to check in for my flight, I replayed in my head all of the meetings I'd had and tried to remember if anyone had seemed feverish or in any way out of sorts. Keep in mind that in tropical areas of sub-Sahara Africa, nearly everyone walks around with a sheen of perspiration... so my imagination had plenty to feed on.
When I got to the airport I was relieved to find my British Airways flight was still operating (I read that they suspended flights to Freetown a few days after I left), so I breathed a sigh of relief when I was finally in the air on my way back to Israel (via London).
But during the flight, I couldn't help looking around at my fellow passengers and wondering who they had come into contact with over the past few weeks.
My suspicions about my fellow passengers seemed to be vindicated when we landed in London, because instead of taxiing to the arrivals gate as expected, the pilot announced that he had been instructed by 'the authorities' to taxi the plane to an isolated area at the edge of Heathrow Airport.
As soon as the plane arrived at the designated area, I looked out the window and saw several police vehicles accompanying a stairway truck pull up beside our airplane. The pilot came on the intercom and told us to remain in our seats and that representatives of the British Police would be coming onto the plane.
We watched as several armed police wearing protective vests came down the two aisles and continued towards the back of the plane. Within a few minutes they reappeared with an African man and three children and escorted them off the plane. It was only then that the fight attendants informed us that apparently there was some sort of domestic custody issue being sorted out (nothing to do with Ebola) and that buses would be coming to take us to the main terminal.
While I was on the ground at Heathrow, I availed myself of the WiFi to do a little research on the Ebola situation in the country I had just left, as well as to educate myself more thoroughly on the disease itself.
It turns out that so long as one doesn't come into direct physical contact with someone who is symptomatic, there is virtually no risk of infection. The modifying effect of that word 'virtually' did little to assuage my fears. After all, if the most knowledgeable physician in the country and his staff had taken all necessary precautions and had been infected anyway, there was something that wasn't completely understood about how transmission was taking place.
I also had no way of knowing with any certainty if any of the dozens of people I had met and shaken hands with during my visit had been symptomatic.
The bottom line was that Ebola has an incubation period of between 6 and 21 days (according to most sources), so from the time I left Sierra Leone, a dire countdown clock had started ticking in my head.
I didn't want to alarm my family or colleagues, but I also didn't want to take any unnecessary risks. So wherever possible, I kept my distance... and began surreptitiously checking my temperature dozens of times per day with a digital thermometer I carried in my pocket.
I should mention that we don't have A/C in our home, so there were several nights that I woke up feeling a little sweaty and made a mad dash to the bathroom to check to see if I had suddenly developed a fever (I hadn''t).
There is a Jewish custom to say a special prayer in the synagogue after surviving illness, childbirth, or danger (including a hazardous journey or captivity). Some Jews even have a tradition of reciting this blessing after taking an airplane flight over water.
Personally, I find the recitation of this blessing of thanksgiving after something as routine as a commercial airplane flight to be a bit ridiculous. But I suppose that if one contemplates all the things that can possibly go wrong with a pressurized aluminum tube hurtling through the air 35,000 feet above the earth at almost 600 Mph, perhaps offering a few words of thanks isn't such a bad idea.
But after I'd passed 21 days without spiking a fever, you'd better believe I recited that blessing after being called up to the Torah, and then nearly wept with relief; breathing deeply for what seemed like the first time since landing back in Israel.
In the time since I returned from that trip, I have become quite the Internet scholar about Ebola. On the one hand, it remains a terrifying disease that an unprepared and ill-equipped world seems to have terribly underestimated. But on the other hand, the dire predictions of a 90%+ fatality rate seems to have been replaced with a slightly less apocalyptic figure of 50-55% (still a sobering number to contemplate).
In any event, as I have been following the nearly daily news reports of the growing crisis in West Africa, and now the report of the first confirmed case in the US, I think about the nice people I met during that business trip... hoping that they and their loved ones are okay. And I wonder if the World Health Organization and other international bodies are up to the task at hand.
For all our sakes, I hope so.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Just A Pound Of Flesh Away From The Presidency
Vice President Biden has had to apologize for an embarrassing gaff he made this week.
Aw heck, why paraphase it when the original article describes it best:
"At a Tuesday conference marking the 40th anniversary of the Legal Services Corporation, Biden recalled anecdotes from his son's experience serving in Iraq and meeting members of the military who were in need of legal help because of problems back at home.
"That's one of the things that he finds was most in need when he was over there in Iraq for a year," Biden said. "That people would come to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures, in terms of bad loans that were being ... I mean these Shylocks who took advantage of, um, these women and men while overseas."
Upon being informed that the term 'Shylock' might contain some slight anti-Semitic overtone, Biden said, "I want to apologize to any sheenies and kikes who might have been offended by my use of the word Shylock to describe those Jewish Bankers and moneylenders. In my defense, I have never read 'The Merchant of Venice' or seen it performed. In fact since getting caught plagiarizing, I've taken great pains not to expose myself to anthing of intellectual value that I might inadvertently try to pass off as my own work."
Okay, I made that last part up...
But to offer a historical context, Shakespeare wrote 'The Merchant of Venice' (and all his other works), during a period when all Jews had been expelled from England. Meaning, 'The Bard' can probably be forgiven for relying on inaccurate negative stereotypes of the period since he had probably never seen or met a Jew in real life.
Which begs the question, what's Biden's excuse?
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The Best Cell Phone I've Ever Owned
Okay, everyone calm down.
Yes, Apple has just released a new iphone. But instead of leading the herd in a unique and innovative direction, the folks in Cupertino seem to be following blindly along behind Samsung in a race to make ever-larger mobile phones; a race that can only end with all of us walking around with a tablet the size of a 1970s-era Boom Box resting between our shoulder and ear.
Those who know me know that I am sort of an Apple fanboy. In fact, with the exception of our middle child who Prefers a Samsung Galaxy (he's always marched to the beat of a different drummer), all of the computers, tablets and phones in our household are made by Apple.
But I have a confession to make:
No cell phone I have ever owned has been nearly as reliable, durable, audible or pocket-able as the Motorola StarTAC I had in the late 90s.
Seriously, tell me you don't miss the look and feel of the StarTAC... the way it rested perfectly between your shoulder and chin... and how at the end of a call you could snap it shut with a satisfying 'slap'.
So yeah, you were saying something about a new iPhone being released... ?
Monday, September 08, 2014
Palestinians Refuse Offer of State Larger than Gaza & West Bank!
Yet it is getting almost no press coverage!!! How is that possible??!!!
Arutz Sheva is a right wing media outlet in Israel that has a small but loyal following of mostly right wing readers. As a result, it is largely marginalized by the rest of the Israeli media community and considered by many to be a mouthpiece for a lunatic fringe.
But occasionally, Arutz Sheva reports on stories that are not only of no interest to the rest of the media community, but which those media outlets want to actively bury or ignore. That's one of the main reasons I stop by there to peruse the headlines during my daily slog through the interwebs.
This morning a story on Arutz Sheva caught my eye. It caught my eye for the simple reason that it is a story that should be plastered across the headlines of every major news outlet in the world, yet inexplicably isn't. This story is IMHO, quite simply, the most ground breaking story to hit the Middle East in the last 40 years!
For years I've been saying that 'the occupation' that the world has been laying at Israel's feet, is a result of a war that was forced on Israel by several of her neighbors. How is it that none of these same neighbors - especially the neighbors with whom we have peace treaties - are being asked to help create a solution?
Well, Egypt just stepped up and offered to solve the Palestinian problem in one grand move... and nobody but little right wing lunatic fringe Arutz Sheva is reporting it!
According to the story, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi offered up a huge chunk of the Sinai peninsula adjacent to Gaza in which the Palestinians could establish a state that would be five times larger than Gaza and provide them with more land than if they created a state in the entire West Bank!
Palestinian communities in the West Bank would remain (no transfer of population!!!) and would retain their current autonomy and would be administered by the Palestinian Government of their their new state.
In return for receiving this Gaza-Sinai Palestinian state, the Palestinians would have to give up the so-called 'Right of Return' of refugees to Israel, as well as the demand that Israel return to the 1947 ceasefire lines, and agree to be demilitarized.
If such a plan were to be brought to fruition, the Palestinians would end up with the ample land, ports and location to be able to create a Levant Riviera boasting world class beach resorts, prime cruise destinations and some of the best fishing and scuba diving in the world, not to mention enough space to become a key agricultural supplier to southern Europe!
Not only that, but given the existence of natural gas and other fossil / mineral reserves in Sinai, there is a good chance that some of this could be exploited by the new Palestinian state.
Both the US and Israeli governments were made aware of the Egyptian offer, and both gave the plan their go-ahead. Yet Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer out of hand.
But aside from a little blurb in Arutz Sheva, nobody is talking about it!
How is it that such a historic offer and such a historic refusal have not gotten any meaningful media coverage?
Could it be that the perpetuation of the problem and the resulting vilification of Israel is preferable to creating a regional solution to a problem that has been festering for 70 years?!
Sunday, September 07, 2014
Fear of Flooding
The Israeli news outlets reported today that US warplanes carried out four bombing sorties against ISIS (Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) forces in Iraq's Anbar Province.
Naturally, since the US is an ally and the forces being targeted belong to a terror organization, the news is being reported here in a logical, matter-of-fact manner; with the assumption being that most people understand who the players are and why the attack was carried out.
But after the way the western media - The New York Times in particular - savaged Israel for carrying out military operations against a universally recognized terror organization that was engaged in targeting Israeli civilians, I was curious to see how the current US bombing campaign was being reported there.
Here's what I found:
The New York Time's home page, above the fold (meaning what is visible without having to scroll) looked like this (click the image to enlarge):
For your convenience I've circled the date so it is clear we're talking about the same time-frame.
I draw your attention to what is visible without scrolling (which, one would assume, are the most pressing, news-worthy stories of the day):
Center: A photo of Palestinian children playing in squalor with the caption: "Children played in a plaza in Al Fawwar, West Bank. Public spaces like the plaza are almost unheard-of in West Bank camps".
Below center: The article related to the photo, entitled: "Reshaping a West Bank Refugee Camp"
Top left: An article about influence peddling at some Washington think tanks, entitled: "Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Washington Think Tanks".
Top right: A fluff piece entitled: "News Analysis: Why Don’t More Men Go Into Teaching?"
In fact, you'd have to scroll well down the home page in order to find the article about the US having carried out a military air-strike on foreign soil!
That article, entitled "U.S. Launches Fresh Air-strikes on ISIS to Protect Dam in Iraq", was refreshing for its complete lack of journalistic curiosity about the types of munitions used, the amount of damage done to infrastructure and the number of civilians who might have been displaced, wounded or (G-d forbid), killed in the strike.
In fact, if one reads the entire article (feel free) not only are these details absent, but entire paragraphs are taken up with earnest explanation of who the people being bombed were, why the strike was necessary and what hung in the balance if the strikes would not have been carried out.
In short, what was provided in today's piece about a US air-strike in Iraq was pretty much all of the context that was denied to anyone reading about Israeli air-strikes on terror targets in Gaza.
For those who can't be bothered to read the 11 paragraphs that make up the article, I'll do the heavy lifting for you:
Who: US Warplanes (no type mentioned, but it is probably safe to assume that those being bombed don't possess any), and ISIS terrorists
What: An air-strike on an ISIS stronghold.
When: Saturday night
Where: Near the strategically important Haditha Dam
Why: "to stop militants from seizing an important dam on the Euphrates River and prevent the possibility of flood-waters being unleashed toward the capital, Baghdad".
Nice and neat, no? See how everything makes sense when context is offered?
And to ensure that the reader understands both the legitimacy and legality of the extremely measured use of US military force, here are helpful explanatory phrases full of language that positively exude 'truth, justice and the American way':
"...the limited goals that President Obama set...he had authorized air-strikes in Iraq..."
"Administration officials nonetheless stressed that the strikes around Haditha Dam... were within the constraints of what Mr. Obama initially characterized as a limited campaign to break the ISIS siege of the minority Yazidi population stranded on Mount Sinjar..."
"... as well as to protect American citizens, official personnel and facilities in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and Baghdad".
“The strikes were conducted under authority to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, support humanitarian efforts...".
"...the mission of protecting American citizens and facilities gives the White House wide latitude to support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish militias ..."
The messeage being delivered is that clearly, someone is in charge, and there are excellent reasons for the actions he is taking.
The Times slavishly adheres to its policy of even-handedness by referring to the ISIS forces as 'militants'. But at the first opportunity, they availed themselves of the following quote from Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, which uses the terminology the times really wants to ensure their readers see: “We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam". [emphasis mine]
Oh, you were bombing terrorists?! Why didn't you just say so??!!!!
Now, what's so special about this dam that US warplanes had to be dispatched to a foreign country half a world away to protect it from falling into ISIS' hands?
Glad you asked, because the article provides a helpful explanations:
"A significant rupture of the Haditha Dam, officials have said, could send flood-waters through a large number of Iraqi communities and toward the capital, perhaps putting at risk the Baghdad airport, which could threaten Americans in the country."
Notice how far down that list the direct threat to American interests is? I'll number it for you:
- The dam
- Iraqi communities
- The Baghdad airport (perhaps!)
- Americans located in the country
Seems to me that at a distant fourth on the list, it would be far easier to airlift any remaining American citizens out of Iraq than risk getting the US mired in yet another open-ended foreign military adventure. But who am I to question the leader of the free world?
If nothing else, the reader (at least any reader who read past the midpoint of the article) was provided with an amazing amount of local and regional context to explain why the US had taken this extraordinary step: The US was bombing a bunch of terrorists to keep them from blowing up a dam and flooding a bunch of strategically important Iraqi communities and installations.
Which begs the question, why weren't similar efforts spared by the New York Times to provide regional context to those reading about Israeli attacks on Gaza?
The Times mentions Israeli fears of being flooded with terrorists (who would flow effortlessly into Israeli through tunnels prepared for just such a flood), and deluged with missiles (which rained down from launchers and storage facilities deliberately placed within civilian schools, hospitals and religious institutions), only in passing, if at all throughout weeks of relentless attempts by Hamas terrorists to target Israeli civilians.
Yet in Iraq, The Times reports breathlessly of US warplanes that are somehow able to make perfectly surgical strikes with no civilian losses and without a scratch to civilian infrastructure (or so one must deduce from the lack of reporting to the contrary). And these attacks, The Times patiently explains to us, are carried out because of a fear of flooding!
Monday, September 01, 2014
When someone else says it better, I just shut up and listen
Quite honestly, this is absolutely the best written, most clearly reasoned and supported explanation for the media's (and as a result, the worlds') obsessive focus on Israel to the exclusion of nearly everything else going on in the world.
Best of all, it comes from a media insider who knows where the bodies are buried and isn't afraid to name names.
If you read nothing else today, this week or this month... read this! It is in three sections (the navigation isn't immediately obvious). Read the whole thing!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver.
Hat tip to reader 'Rich' who left the link for me in a comment.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
When journalists come to the Middle East to cover anything going on the region, they might visit Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Gaza, etc., but they generally set up their base camp here in Israel because, you know, it's dangerous in all those other places. So while filing reports wearing flack jackets and helmets is good for ratings... you gotta be able to take off the protective gear and relax once in awhile.
And when a journalist or a couple of dozen UN peacekeepers are taken hostage by terrorists in Syria and are subsequently released, they aren't considered to be safe until they cross over into Israeli territory... again, because we actually control the territory over which we claim control, and our government takes seriously its primary responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of its residents.
In short, once you're in Israel, you're home free.
So I'm confused as to why all these media and UN types still insist on telling the world that we're the root of all the problems in the region, and that all those other places where they're getting kidnapped, shot at and beheaded, are okey dokey!
Can someone explain that to me using small words so I'll be sure to understand?