Wednesday, January 28, 2015
A Teachable Moment For Japan (And The World)
Before I begin, I want to stress that what follows are my thoughts on a national level, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the sympathy that any individual victim of terror (and their family/ loved ones) deserves.
Picture what would happen if a typical school district were to dispense with individual division of classes for kindergarten through 12th grade. All subjects - maths, history, sciences, physical education, etc., as well as all meals, breaks and social activities - would include all students, regardless of age/grade.
Obviously the elementary students' behavior and inability to adapt to the norms and standards of the high school age students would create chaos, and would ultimately negatively impact the ability of the older students to move forward, learn and behave at an age-appropriate level.
Without the usual segregation by age/grade, the school would be doomed to endless squabbling and stagnation. Simply put, instead of each grade learning, moving forward and being held to / related to on an age-appropriate pace / level, the older kids would be held back by the limitations of the younger kids.
The world is no different, and we are suffering the results of our refusal to implement a hierarchy of expectations and privileges based on demonstrated level of development.
What we have today is a collection of mature nations being forced to conduct their day-to-day business in the company of 'younguns' consisting of dysfunctional, immature new arrivals, proto-states and non-state actors.
We all pretend that anyone who can wrangle a seat at the negotiating table can be held to the same standards and equipped with the same ability to act rationally... simply by virtue of their ability to show up in a suit and tie.
But in truth, the less-evolved players on the modern international stage are setting the glacial pace for the rest of us, and are creating a situation where nothing can move forward.
I have asked you to slog through this labored analogy because we are seeing the result that this low/no expectation approach can have on international relations.
Japan, by all meaningful measurements, is a full-fledged, mature nation. Although culturally ancient, its modern history consisted of a dark childish (some would go so far as to say 'primitive') stage of development, filled with greed, savagery and all kinds of 'not playing well with others'.
At the end of WWII, Japan was occupied and 'schooled' on how to behave if they aspired to join the family of nations... and they ultimately 'graduated' to take their place with the 'grown-ups.
Sadly, in the rush to push them through a fast-track curriculum, Japan was allowed to bypass an important part of their education. In essence, they were allowed to skip a few grades without having to have had to acknowledge much of their past behavior/misdeeds (Turkey being another such country that fits into this category).
Which brings me to the current conundrum:
Recent images of Japanese hostages held by ISIS being threatened with beheading, and the subsequent follow through on the threat in the case of at least one of the hostages, was/is indeed ghastly. But given Japan's unacknowledged past, it is difficult to muster the full measure of outrage that they are demanding of the world.
What irks me more than a bit is that the Japanese government' unabashedly calls these threats (and their ultimate realization) "outrageous" without the slightest sense of irony regarding their own past deeds.
This is actually a teachable moment for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not to mention many other world leaders.
Given Japan's wartime record of unspeakable atrocities (Google the phrases 'Rape of Nanking', 'Laha massacre', 'Banka Island massacre', 'Palawan Massacre', 'Tinta Massacre', 'Bataan Death March', 'Sulug Island massacre', and ''Comfort Women', if you want to scratch the surface of modern Japan's formative years), it would be an unparalleled opportunity for Japan to take ownership of its past and to explain to the world that nations (and would-be nations) that it is possible - necessary, even -to learn from the past and evolve to conform with modern norms of civilized behavior before being taken seriously.
By remaining silent about its past in face of such reminiscent present threats, Japan is signaling that each group, proto-nation and modern state should be allowed to mature and evolve at its own rate alongside the more developed geopolitical players; dooming the world to an eternity of unlearned lessons and repeated mistakes.
And Japan is far from alone in its silence.
The former colonial powers of Europe created much of the modern chaos in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, yet act as though the solution is to now give the unruly offspring of their foreign dalliances a seat at the grown-ups table without requiring them to demonstrate any mastery of the prerequisite coursework.
It isn't enough to dress 'the kids' up in a suit and tie and pretend that everyone is equal. The 'upper-class-men' among the modern nations must impose a rigorous syllabus of coursework and exams for the unruly 'younguns' specifically based on their own checkered past.
It isn't enough to call the beheading of an innocent civilian 'outrageous'. That pronouncement must be accompanied by a detailed admission of what Japan did when it was 'younger' and less evolved.
Only then can the established nations set believable criteria for matriculation to a seat in the upper-class where expectations, privileges and responsibility are inextricably intertwined.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
A Sobering Mathematical Reality
[A guest post by Zahava]
Like most people I know, in the wake of the recent terrorism in Paris I have been following the news and the op-eds with great sadness and concern.
As is always the case following a terror attack, the internet is brimming with articles covering every angle of the incident. And while I certainly can't read everything, I do try to read from a wide selection of opposing perspectives in order to gain a broad, semi-balanced understanding of how current events are being perceived and acted upon.
This morning, I read Mayim Bialik’s reaction to the Paris super-market shooting over at Kveller.com, and was struck numb by one of her commenters. The following is excerpted from the comment that so grabbed my attention:
“But as Bridgette Gabriel points out, there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and 10%-25% are considered radical. That's 120 million to 300 million people who want to see me dead because I had a bar mitzvah. No matter how you look at it, that's a bloody big group of people. And for some reason Liberal minded people seem to think that those taking action are just a splinter group - a very vocal and active minority.”
(note: emphasis mine)
Now this is hardly a novel sentiment. However, it wasn’t the sentiment itself per se, but rather the timing and the context to the situation. As a result of not one, but two terrorist attacks which specifically targeted civilians in a western country, there have been numerous articles focusing on the current and projected demographic statistics for not only western Europe, but the entire world.
My ‘aha’ moment – the one which sent me on my own-little fact-finding mission, was the result of seeing the above comment juxtapositioned alongside the following excerpt from Mayim’s piece:
“I always felt like there were a lot of Jews in the US and the world based on my childhood experience. I was wrong. We are less than 2% of the US population, and 0.2% of the world population.“
(again, emphasis mine)
What struck me, you see, was that in the greater context of global demographics, it isn’t just the radicalized segment of the Muslim population that is commonly (and I would submit, falsely) referred to as ‘minority’, but rather the Muslim population in general.
[click to embiggen]
According to these charts from Wikipedia’s List of Religious Populations, while from a technical standpoint, Islam can be perceived as a minority when compared to Christianity, it is really intellectually dishonest to claim that Muslims are a minority component of the global community.
It is true that historically, Muslims have been minority populations within western countries — the Americas, Australia, Europe, large segments of Asia, and isolated segments of Africa, and it is equally true that the majority demographic in each of these places is Christian.
It is also true that some of these Muslim minorities suffer from discrimination within these societies – which are often referred to 'Judeo-Christian' societies. It should be noted that the ‘Judeo-Christian’ nomenclature, however, refers to commonalities in theological approaches, and is most definitely not intended to suggest that Jews have equal demographic standing. In the Modern Age, Jews have never been anything more than a microscopic portion of the global demographic composite. In 1899, Mark Twain suggested that Jews comprised only 1% of the global population — the 2012 Pew Report shows that percentage has shrunk to 0.2%.
If we, for a moment, put aside our political and emotional affiliations and look dispassionately at the numbers, the statistics are staggering.
These tables indicate a census of approximately 7.64 billion people:
- 2.2 = Christianity
- 1.8 = Islam
- ~1.1 = Secular/Non-affiliated
- 1 = Hinduism
- 1.54 = Composite of 17 ‘other’ religious groupings
If we accept the contention that only 10-25% of the Muslim population is radicalized, this means that there are 180-450 million Muslims who support jihad. But even if we assume these estimates are grossly inflated... for the sake of argument let's say that only 5% of Muslims worldwide are supporters of Jihad; that still leaves us to contend with a staggering 90 million people who consider it a holy obligation to conquer the world and subjugate its population in the name of Islam!
Now, 90, 180 or 450 million may be a quantifiable minority when compared to the entire global Christian community – but it significantly exceeds not only the global Jewish population in its entirety – as well as the combined totals of Jews and a number of other religious minorities.
As violent incidents rise sharply in areas not historically associated with terror, if we dare to impose the intellectual honesty demanded by this rise, we should be asking and seeking answers to the following questions:
- The four global dominant religions are Christianity, Islam, Secular/Atheist/Agnostic and Hinduism. Of the 3 non-Muslim theologies, what percentage of each religion is engaged in terror-related activity or at least actively supporting it?
- How do the three percentages compare to 90, 180 or 450 million?
- Do the non-radicalized majorities of these non-Muslim religions condemn terror-related activity or are they a silent majority (and thus defato supporting it, albeit passively)?
- In countries where Islam is either not a clear minority or is the state religion, what civil status/conditions exist for the non-Muslim minorities?
The fact that these questions are largely absent from public debate is shocking.
Terrorism is on the rise – this is indisputable. Left unchecked,is there any reason to expect that it will abate?
Also, blaming the political situation between Israel and the Palestinians for terror enacted outside Middle Eastern borders may be an expedient tool for political means, but it will not protect non-Muslim citizens, even if they are non-Jews, within Western countries for long.
Insufficient numbers of moderate and non-radicalized Muslims are stepping forward to stop the spread of fundamentalism from within Islam. This is also indisputable. Terror enacted by radical Muslims has spread from areas such as the Middle East, Asia, the Balkans, and large swaths of Africa, and into Europe, the Americas, and former Soviet-bloc countries. Since 9/11, isolated instances have morphed into a trickle of frightening events.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I am very alarmed that the questions aren't even being asked!
I would posit that blaming Israel and Zionism for creating the conditions that “drive these radicalized Muslims to attack cartoonists and other non-party-to-the-conflict individuals for daring to insult the Prophet” hasn't really inhibited such behavior. If anything, each denouncement of Israel and each commiseration over the ‘evils of Zionism’ seem to have emboldened fundamentalists – demonstrated by the increasing frequency of such attacks.
The underlying problem is not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is hatred and intolerance – and the symptoms are violence and mayhem. While certainly radicalized Islam isn't the sole proprietor of hatred and intolerance, it is currently their most populous employer.
There is no denying that extremists exist within every religion – I am not suggesting that Christianity, Hinduism, and Judaism are not without their own intolerant zealots – but they are demonstrably more effective at self-regulation. Non-Muslim radicalized segments are not growing at such highly disproportionate rates, nor are they inflicting the kind of disproportionate damage on global society as their radicalized Muslim counterparts.
It isn't discrimination against Islam to insist that the peaceful majority reign in their radicalized minority. Neither is it discrimination to accomplish the task ourselves if the peaceful Muslim majority can’t, or won’t, accomplish that task.
Appeasement will not halt intolerant conquest – it will actually speed its development. In WWII, global warfare was fueled by the schism created between Communism and Fascism. Both doctrines employed extreme intolerances for anything deemed outside their defined agendas and value systems.
In the aftermath of WWII, Europe shrugged off the mantle of Colonialism and has – for the most part – reinvented itself as a democratic and humanistic society. Perhaps in spite of it’s imperial past – or maybe because of it – Europe has been slow to recognize that its retreat from colonization left power vacuums in places ill equipped to replace its governance with its own newly adopted democratic values.
Thus, while Europe rebuilt herself with an eye toward equality and tolerance, her castoffs rebuilt themselves with the ideologies of whichever indigenous clans wielded the greatest power. In some instances, India for example, the former colonies rebuilt themselves upon similar ideals and objectives as the ‘new’ Europe. Others, Syria for example, rebuilt themselves upon nepotistic theocracies whose objectives were more closely aligned to the radical authoritarian nationalism Europe strove so hard to shed (and which is, in fact, the definition of fascism).
Europe, with the assistance of the Allied forces, triumphed over Fascism once – and it can again successfully defeat this newer, but no less mendacious strain. This strain simply replaces ‘nationalism’ with ‘theocracy’. And this presents a challenge to western sensitivities: Telling someone their politics suck is perfectly okay, but telling them there is something wrong with their religion is taboo. But to move forward we need to be prepared to slaughter this sacred cow.
To do so, however, all democratic nations must recognize the advance of radical Islam for what it is and what it is not. First and foremost, it is not tolerant. It is not a religion of peace. It is aggressive, and it is growing exponentially. Democratic nations must also recognize Israel, Zionism, Jews for what they are and are not.
Israel, Zionism, and Jews, by contrast, are largely tolerant of others. And even if that were not the case, none of these three inter-related entities are engaged in global territorial advancement or exponential population growth. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a specific, hopefully temprorary condition. Though it remains unresolved, it is both relatively short-lived from an historical perspective, and physically limited to a microscopic geographic area. And the combined casualties in the Israeli Palestinian conflict don't add up to a fraction of the death toll in the past decade in Nigeria or Sudan. Most important, none of the Israeli, Zionist or Jewish entities are engaged in trying to colonize Europe, the Americas or any place else, for that matter. Okay, maybe Hollywood, Long Island and parts of South Florida. [I kid]
To triumph over this current insidious spread of fascism, the free world needs to recognize that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been hijacked by radical Islam as a convenient fig leaf with which to divert attention from the more far-sighted goals of eradicating everything which is seen as a threat to fundamentalist Islam.
While the world focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with laser-like intensity, radical Islam perpetrates genocide in Syria, NIgeria and the Sudan, and mounts assaults against democratic embassies in Iraq and throughout the Arabia Peninsula. Radical Islam attacks the very foundation of democratic society not with advancing uniformed armies, but rather through the incremental migration of communities of emissaries, whose inflicted physical destruction and carnage further splinter and divide those under attack.
WWII came with an exceptionally high cost of human life. Freedom, unfortunately, has a price. Idealistically, we want desperately to believe that freedom is an inalienable right, but historically, we know that freedom must be assiduously defended. Intellectually, we know that hundreds of millions do not enjoy the freedoms which most of you reading this commentary take for granted.
I am neither ‘liberal’ nor ‘conservative’ – my political positions/perspectives are issue-based, as opposed to reflecting the platforms of a particular party or ideology.
While I do identify as a member of the national religious sector of Israeli society, and am personally observant, I don’t believe that Israel has yet arrived at an ideal solution regarding the regulation and management of religious matters. But I am proud that our society is actively pursuing a just resolution to problems stemming from the intersection of “church and state” and believe that a just solution can and will be found.
I mention this here, because it provides essential context to my world-view and will better frame my conclusions. I am not one the marginal, extremists people think of when they hear the word 'settler'. I don' condone ‘price tag’ or ‘hilltop youth’ philosophies/actions, and in fact actively condemn them. I am also not some paranoid Jew who blames anti-Semitism for all of Israel’s problems and issues, or even for all anti-Israel policies.
I don’t, for example, believe that all anti-Israel policies fall under the category of active anti-Semitism. I think that most, anti-Israel policies fall under the category of appeasement and/or weary and ill-informed attempts to finally and definitively solve that ‘pesky Middle East nonsense.’
With a claim to only .2% of global demographics, I think the world would do well to ignore us entirely. Jews are not committing acts of terror in France, or in Spain, or in England, or in the US. And while in Israel we have sadly experienced instances of vigilantism and zealotry, they are isolated, actively condemned by vocal, and vast majority, and prosecuted by an active democratically elected government that holds a monopoly on the use of force. Most, certainly Jews don’t behead journalists over insults and injuries to our faith or our leaders.
A mere 70 years following the conclusion of WWII, we find ourselves again on the brink of utter chaos. WWII achieved its objectives – at least temporarily -- freedom from tyranny and intolerance. The fact that today’s fascism is not ‘nationalistic’ but has been replaced by a theocratic radical authoritative body, doesn't make it any less dangerous or imperative. Hiding beneath the cloak of ‘political correctness’ won’t slow the advance of those who not only don’t believe in, or place value on, individual choice, but are methodically attempting to homogenize cultural diversity into a single culture -- theirs.
I’d tell you to go ask all the minority cultures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan or Syria how their civil rights have been protected under the governance of radical Islam, but I can’t. Over the past 66.5 years, those minorities have been largely systematically attacked and eradicated – they are dead or have emigrated -- and the ones who remain are unlikely to risk their lives over such luxurious folly.
And while 66.5 years coincides with Israel’s age, it wasn't the creation of the State of Israel that launched this destruction of minority societies in these regions, but rather it was the decolonization from these Muslim-majority lands. That’s right, the same withdrawal that enabled the restoration of Judea to the Jews is what enabled the nepotistic and theocratic clans in the Arab/Muslim lands to begin systematic purges of minority citizens and residents. How many Christians remain in Egypt? In Iraq? In Libya? In Turkey (the birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy)? No matter each country’s specific current demographic, they are significantly diminished from 66.5 years ago.
It is the right of every democratic society to self-determine. As such, dissenting and minority positions in such societies must occasionally live with choices superimposed upon them. However, when the society is democratic, those choices remain open to challenge and adjustment. The free world may determine that maintaining current freedoms and democratic policies are not worth the price being exacted by radical Islam. And if that is an actively selected majority choice, in the spirit of true democratic values, those of us in the minority position are obligated to collectively say “so be it.”
I don’t think the free world is ready to trade-in bikinis for burkas, nor do I think we have arrived at the place where bikini clad or [gasp!] nude beach go’ers are in imminent danger of being thrust into said burkas.
We have however, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us to admit it, arrived at the point where we can no longer afford to ignore the rising number of zealots who are willing to slaughter people whose only crimes are satire and disagreement, and whose only weapons are pens and keyboards. If the global community fails to recognize and curb this intolerant aggression, it will continue until the choice is no longer ours to make – it will have been made for us.
At the moment, the greatest dangers are psychological in nature and largely based in fear. Fear, when it shapes policy, is appeasement. As Churchill astutely posited in March 1938 – "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last". The problem with appeasing a crocodile is that eventually their hunger returns. Unless killed, the crocodile will continue to hunt and consume in order to sustain itself.
If radical Islam were capable of being sated, the territorial areas of conflict would not be expanding. It is a predatory ideological mechanism which if left unchecked will radically alter the composition of global society.
Back to the comment that instigated this lengthy commentary – yes, at the moment, radical strains of Islam remain, thankfully, a minority in terms of the current global demographic schematic in which 21 religious affiliations are represented. Non-radicalized Islam, however, is not a minority segment of the world’s population and any such reference is at best delusional and at worst deceptive.
In golf terms, non-radicalized Islam may be perceived as having a slight handicap to Christianity, but it is numerically dominant to every other individual religion – and in most cases simply dwarfs them by comparison. And radicalized Islam, while is a minority to all but Christianity, non-radicalized Islam, Securalism and Hindusim, flat out dwarfs 13 the remaining 17 religions/affiliations by comparison. In fact, radicalized Islam dwarfs the combined totals of the remaining 13.
So when we discuss issues that truly threaten world peace, lets be honest and refrain from referring to non-radicalized Islam as some globally persecuted entity. While I lack empirical data to support my theory, based on statistics alone, I think it is safe to assume that non-radicalized Muslims suffer no more or less discrimination than any one else. And if we are going to examine discrimination vis-à-vis radicalized Muslims, based on vast amounts of empirical data, it is most definitely safe to conclude that it is they who perpetrate discriminatory practices.
Monday, January 12, 2015
1.5 Million Marched in Paris... That Should Fix Things
While the show of solidarity in Paris yesterday was indeed heartening, perhaps some perspective and soul-searching are called for.
Over the course of a few days, 17 precious human lives were snuffed out in France (and a larger number were wounded); a series of events which captivated the news for a week and caused a groundswell of emotional outpouring that culminated in a rally of more than 1.5 million people on the streets of Paris.
But during the same week, Boko Haram (a Jihadist organization that is indistinguishable from ISIS or Al Qaeda in its methods and goals), killed more than 2000 people in Nigeria!!! And in one of the week's attacks in Nigeria, Boko Haram used a little girl to carry out a suicide attack!!!
Where is the outpouring of rage and anguish? Where are the rallies? Why is the deliberate taking of those lives placed in a separate category and relegated to the middle pages of newspapers that people barely read?
A rally in Paris, no matter how big or well-meaning, will not stem the tide of what is quite obviously a global problem.
Treating only the symptoms in a few posh locales will not eradicate an illness that respects no borders, boundaries or treaties. We are way past the point where kleenex and bandaids will help.
And with all due respect to the good intentions of the world leaders who cared enough to show up and march in Paris... unless they can somehow translate that momentum into an international policy of absolute intolerance for ALL acts of terror - without regard for the victim's skin color or the creed they hold dear - I fear we are headed for a new dark age from which we may never emerge.
Thursday, January 08, 2015
We Are All Charlie
There are already apologists across the web and in the media saying that the satirical cartoons and articles in the French publication, Charlie Hebdo, that was targeted this week in a Jihadist Massacre were needless provocations. One politician went so far as to call the magazine's edgy content "throwing oil on the fire".
I agree that many of the magazine's content was provocative. Heck, by any objective standard, a lot of it was even offensive. But the response to being offended is not violence. And an appropriate riposte shouldn't involve an actual sword!
I refuse to live in a world where people are allowed, and even expected, to murder those they feel have provoked them and/or offended their sensibilities.
And, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not, those who try to 'explain' or 'understand' such primitive, barbaric behavior are actually excusing and enabling it.
It's a simple choice people: Live standing up... or die on your knees. We are all Charlie!
[Click picture to see source]
Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Game of Thrones Treppenwitz Moment
My lovely wife often makes fun of me regarding my tendency to binge-buy certain things when we are in the states (or request when someone is going there and causally asks if we need them to bring something back for us):
U.S. Brand over the counter cold meds.
I'm sure the Israeli stuff is fine, but I didn't grow up with it, don't recognize its packaging, taste or texture... and therefore don't have confidence that it will work.
Unpacking my suitcase after a trip to the U.S. looks like the aftermath of a CVS heist; Sudafed (in all its variants), Tylenol (cold, allergy and other types), and that the wonder drug of wonder drugs: Vick's NyQuil (also known as Mormon schnapps).
There's just something about knowing that our medicine cabinet is well stocked with these trusted items that makes getting sick almost tolerable. The taste, consistency and effect (which for all I know could be completely placebo), give me confidence that at some point soon after taking a dose, the aches, coughs, congestion and/or fever will subside enough to allow me to fully enjoy daytime TV and snacks (required components of any successful sick day).
But even though my wife and kids all benefit from our larder full of trusted American brand cold treatments when they fall ill, Zahava still teases me mercilessly about this tendency of mine to distrust anything but these tried and trusted remedies. And I always wish I had a suitable come-back to counter her scorn and teasing.
I recently realized that my wife is a bit of a Game of Thrones fan. I find the show a bit cartoonish (and more than a little, shall we say, bordering on soft-core pornish). She, on the other hand, has read most of the books and really seems to enjoy the way they are playing out on the small screen.
Well, in true treppenwitz form, The perfect retort just occurred to me to fend off my wife' jeers and teasing over my US pharmaceutical fanboyism: "Winter is coming".
[I'm writing this from our living room couch with a snack table of drinks and snacks in front of me. And the only reason I am able to be out of bed and coherent enough to be able to 'enjoy' this time off from work; NyQuil.]
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?