Sunday, October 28, 2012
I was three years old when it was delivered, so I can't claim to have any first hand recollection of the speech I've posted below. But nearly every year since I have been eligable to vote I have found a printed or recorded copy and reviewed it in its entirety.
Yes, anachronisms abound in the text and much of the rhetoric is dated. But the ideas... the concepts, still feel fresh.
This speech, delivered 48 years years ago (almost to the day), launched a politician's career, even though it didn't sway the voting public as it could / should have.
Read it. Take ten minutes and read it start to finish. It may be that it will reaffirm what you already believe (one way or the other), and that's fine. It may change your mind, and that's fine too.
But the reason I think it is so important to present this here is to remind everyone that the problems being discussed today are far from new, and the solutions being proposed (by both sides) are older than most of you reading this today.
It doesn't matter who delivered the speech or who he was stumping for (I'll reveal both at the end in case anyone cares). What matters is that the issues of that era are the same issues we're wrestling with today. Yes you can 'like' or 'dislike' a candidate. But you fixate on the men and ignore the messages at your (our) peril.
A TIME FOR CHOOSING ('The Speech' – October 27, 1964)
Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you and good evening. The sponsor has been identified, but unlike most television programs, the performer hasn't been provided with a script. As a matter of fact, I have been permitted to choose my own words and discuss my own ideas regarding the choice that we face in the next few weeks.
I have spent most of my life as a Democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course. I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines. Now, one side in this campaign has been telling us that the issues of this election are the maintenance of peace and prosperity. The line has been used, "We've never had it so good."
But I have an uncomfortable feeling that this prosperity isn't something on which we can base our hopes for the future. No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income. Today, 37 cents out of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector's share, and yet our government continues to spend 17 million dollars a day more than the government takes in. We haven't balanced our budget 28 out of the last 34 years. We've raised our debt limit three times in the last twelve months, and now our national debt is one and a half times bigger than all the combined debts of all the nations of the world. We have 15 billion dollars in gold in our treasury; we don't own an ounce. Foreign dollar claims are 27.3 billion dollars. And we've just had announced that the dollar of 1939 will now purchase 45 cents in its total value.
As for the peace that we would preserve, I wonder who among us would like to approach the wife or mother whose husband or son has died in South Vietnam and ask them if they think this is a peace that should be maintained indefinitely. Do they mean peace, or do they mean we just want to be left in peace? There can be no real peace while one American is dying some place in the world for the rest of us. We're at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it's been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening. Well I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.
Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to." And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.
And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man.
This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down—[up] man's old—old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.
In this vote-harvesting time, they use terms like the "Great Society," or as we were told a few days ago by the President, we must accept a greater government activity in the affairs of the people. But they've been a little more explicit in the past and among themselves; and all of the things I now will quote have appeared in print. These are not Republican accusations. For example, they have voices that say, "The cold war will end through our acceptance of a not undemocratic socialism." Another voice says, "The profit motive has become outmoded. It must be replaced by the incentives of the welfare state." Or, "Our traditional system of individual freedom is incapable of solving the complex problems of the 20th century." Senator Fullbright has said at Stanford University that the Constitution is outmoded. He referred to the President as "our moral teacher and our leader," and he says he is "hobbled in his task by the restrictions of power imposed on him by this antiquated document." He must "be freed," so that he "can do for us" what he knows "is best." And Senator Clark of Pennsylvania, another articulate spokesman, defines liberalism as "meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government."
Well, I, for one, resent it when a representative of the people refers to you and me, the free men and women of this country, as "the masses." This is a term we haven't applied to ourselves in America. But beyond that, "the full power of centralized government"—this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don't control things. A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. They also knew, those Founding Fathers, that outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.
Now, we have no better example of this than government's involvement in the farm economy over the last 30 years. Since 1955, the cost of this program has nearly doubled. One-fourth of farming in America is responsible for 85 percent of the farm surplus. Three-fourths of farming is out on the free market and has known a 21 percent increase in the per capita consumption of all its produce. You see, that one-fourth of farming—that's regulated and controlled by the federal government. In the last three years we've spent 43 dollars in the feed grain program for every dollar bushel of corn we don't grow.
Senator Humphrey last week charged that Barry Goldwater, as President, would seek to eliminate farmers. He should do his homework a little better, because he'll find out that we've had a decline of 5 million in the farm population under these government programs. He'll also find that the Democratic administration has sought to get from Congress [an] extension of the farm program to include that three-fourths that is now free. He'll find that they've also asked for the right to imprison farmers who wouldn't keep books as prescribed by the federal government. The Secretary of Agriculture asked for the right to seize farms through condemnation and resell them to other individuals. And contained in that same program was a provision that would have allowed the federal government to remove 2 million farmers from the soil.
At the same time, there's been an increase in the Department of Agriculture employees. There's now one for every 30 farms in the United States, and still they can't tell us how 66 shiploads of grain headed for Austria disappeared without a trace and Billie Sol Estes never left shore.
Every responsible farmer and farm organization has repeatedly asked the government to free the farm economy, but how—who are farmers to know what's best for them? The wheat farmers voted against a wheat program. The government passed it anyway. Now the price of bread goes up; the price of wheat to the farmer goes down.
Meanwhile, back in the city, under urban renewal the assault on freedom carries on. Private property rights [are] so diluted that public interest is almost anything a few government planners decide it should be. In a program that takes from the needy and gives to the greedy, we see such spectacles as in Cleveland, Ohio, a million-and-a-half-dollar building completed only three years ago must be destroyed to make way for what government officials call a "more compatible use of the land." The President tells us he's now going to start building public housing units in the thousands, where heretofore we've only built them in the hundreds. But FHA [Federal Housing Authority] and the Veterans Administration tell us they have 120,000 housing units they've taken back through mortgage foreclosure. For three decades, we've sought to solve the problems of unemployment through government planning, and the more the plans fail, the more the planners plan. The latest is the Area Redevelopment Agency.
They've just declared Rice County, Kansas, a depressed area. Rice County, Kansas, has two hundred oil wells, and the 14,000 people there have over 30 million dollars on deposit in personal savings in their banks. And when the government tells you you're depressed, lie down and be depressed.
We have so many people who can't see a fat man standing beside a thin one without coming to the conclusion the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one. So they're going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning. Well, now, if government planning and welfare had the answer—and they've had almost 30 years of it—shouldn't we expect government to read the score to us once in a while? Shouldn't they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? The reduction in the need for public housing?
But the reverse is true. Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater. We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well that was probably true. They were all on a diet. But now we're told that 9.3 million families in this country are poverty-stricken on the basis of earning less than 3,000 dollars a year. Welfare spending [is] 10 times greater than in the dark depths of the Depression. We're spending 45 billion dollars on welfare. Now do a little arithmetic, and you'll find that if we divided the 45 billion dollars up equally among those 9 million poor families, we'd be able to give each family 4,600 dollars a year. And this added to their present income should eliminate poverty. Direct aid to the poor, however, is only running only about 600 dollars per family. It would seem that someplace there must be some overhead.
Now—so now we declare "war on poverty," or "You, too, can be a Bobby Baker." Now do they honestly expect us to believe that if we add 1 billion dollars to the 45 billion we're spending, one more program to the 30-odd we have—and remember, this new program doesn't replace any, it just duplicates existing programs—do they believe that poverty is suddenly going to disappear by magic? Well, in all fairness I should explain there is one part of the new program that isn't duplicated. This is the youth feature. We're now going to solve the dropout problem, juvenile delinquency, by reinstituting something like the old CCC camps [Civilian Conservation Corps], and we're going to put our young people in these camps. But again we do some arithmetic, and we find that we're going to spend each year just on room and board for each young person we help 4,700 dollars a year. We can send them to Harvard for 2,700! Course, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting Harvard is the answer to juvenile delinquency.
But seriously, what are we doing to those we seek to help? Not too long ago, a judge called me here in Los Angeles. He told me of a young woman who'd come before him for a divorce. She had six children, was pregnant with her seventh. Under his questioning, she revealed her husband was a laborer earning 250 dollars a month. She wanted a divorce to get an 80 dollar raise. She's eligible for 330 dollars a month in the Aid to Dependent Children Program. She got the idea from two women in her neighborhood who'd already done that very thing.
Yet anytime you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we're denounced as being against their humanitarian goals. They say we're always "against" things—we're never "for" anything.
Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so.
Now—we're for a provision that destitution should not follow unemployment by reason of old age, and to that end we've accepted Social Security as a step toward meeting the problem.
But we're against those entrusted with this program when they practice deception regarding its fiscal shortcomings, when they charge that any criticism of the program means that we want to end payments to those people who depend on them for a livelihood. They've called it "insurance" to us in a hundred million pieces of literature. But then they appeared before the Supreme Court and they testified it was a welfare program. They only use the term "insurance" to sell it to the people. And they said Social Security dues are a tax for the general use of the government, and the government has used that tax. There is no fund, because Robert Byers, the actuarial head, appeared before a congressional committee and admitted that Social Security as of this moment is 298 billion dollars in the hole. But he said there should be no cause for worry because as long as they have the power to tax, they could always take away from the people whatever they needed to bail them out of trouble. And they're doing just that.
A young man, 21 years of age, working at an average salary—his Social Security contribution would, in the open market, buy him an insurance policy that would guarantee 220 dollars a month at age 65. The government promises 127. He could live it up until he's 31 and then take out a policy that would pay more than Social Security. Now are we so lacking in business sense that we can't put this program on a sound basis, so that people who do require those payments will find they can get them when they're due—that the cupboard isn't bare?
Barry Goldwater thinks we can.
At the same time, can't we introduce voluntary features that would permit a citizen who can do better on his own to be excused upon presentation of evidence that he had made provision for the non-earning years? Should we not allow a widow with children to work, and not lose the benefits supposedly paid for by her deceased husband? Shouldn't you and I be allowed to declare who our beneficiaries will be under this program, which we cannot do? I think we're for telling our senior citizens that no one in this country should be denied medical care because of a lack of funds. But I think we're against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program, especially when we have such examples, as was announced last week, when France admitted that their Medicare program is now bankrupt. They've come to the end of the road.
In addition, was Barry Goldwater so irresponsible when he suggested that our government give up its program of deliberate, planned inflation, so that when you do get your Social Security pension, a dollar will buy a dollar's worth, and not 45 cents worth?
I think we're for an international organization, where the nations of the world can seek peace. But I think we're against subordinating American interests to an organization that has become so structurally unsound that today you can muster a two-thirds vote on the floor of the General Assembly among nations that represent less than 10 percent of the world's population. I think we're against the hypocrisy of assailing our allies because here and there they cling to a colony, while we engage in a conspiracy of silence and never open our mouths about the millions of people enslaved in the Soviet colonies in the satellite nations.
I think we're for aiding our allies by sharing of our material blessings with those nations which share in our fundamental beliefs, but we're against doling out money government to government, creating bureaucracy, if not socialism, all over the world. We set out to help 19 countries. We're helping 107. We've spent 146 billion dollars. With that money, we bought a 2 million dollar yacht for Haile Selassie. We bought dress suits for Greek undertakers, extra wives for Kenya[n] government officials. We bought a thousand TV sets for a place where they have no electricity. In the last six years, 52 nations have bought 7 billion dollars worth of our gold, and all 52 are receiving foreign aid from this country.
No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So governments' programs, once launched, never disappear.
Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.
Federal employees—federal employees number two and a half million; and federal, state, and local, one out of six of the nation's work force employed by government. These proliferating bureaus with their thousands of regulations have cost us many of our constitutional safeguards. How many of us realize that today federal agents can invade a man's property without a warrant? They can impose a fine without a formal hearing, let alone a trial by jury? And they can seize and sell his property at auction to enforce the payment of that fine. In Chico County, Arkansas, James Wier over-planted his rice allotment. The government obtained a 17,000 dollar judgment. And a U.S. marshal sold his 960-acre farm at auction. The government said it was necessary as a warning to others to make the system work.
Last February 19th at the University of Minnesota, Norman Thomas, six-times candidate for President on the Socialist Party ticket, said, "If Barry Goldwater became President, he would stop the advance of socialism in the United States." I think that's exactly what he will do.
But as a former Democrat, I can tell you Norman Thomas isn't the only man who has drawn this parallel to socialism with the present administration, because back in 1936, Mr. Democrat himself, Al Smith, the great American, came before the American people and charged that the leadership of his Party was taking the Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. And he walked away from his Party, and he never returned til the day he died—because to this day, the leadership of that Party has been taking that Party, that honorable Party, down the road in the image of the labor Socialist Party of England.
Now it doesn't require expropriation or confiscation of private property or business to impose socialism on a people. What does it mean whether you hold the deed to the—or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property? And such machinery already exists. The government can find some charge to bring against any concern it chooses to prosecute. Every businessman has his own tale of harassment. Somewhere a perversion has taken place. Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment.
Our Democratic opponents seem unwilling to debate these issues. They want to make you and I believe that this is a contest between two men—that we're to choose just between two personalities.
Well what of this man that they would destroy—and in destroying, they would destroy that which he represents, the ideas that you and I hold dear? Is he the brash and shallow and trigger-happy man they say he is? Well I've been privileged to know him "when." I knew him long before he ever dreamed of trying for high office, and I can tell you personally I've never known a man in my life I believed so incapable of doing a dishonest or dishonorable thing.
This is a man who, in his own business before he entered politics, instituted a profit-sharing plan before unions had ever thought of it. He put in health and medical insurance for all his employees. He took 50 percent of the profits before taxes and set up a retirement program, a pension plan for all his employees. He sent monthly checks for life to an employee who was ill and couldn't work. He provides nursing care for the children of mothers who work in the stores. When Mexico was ravaged by the floods in the Rio Grande, he climbed in his airplane and flew medicine and supplies down there.
An ex-GI told me how he met him. It was the week before Christmas during the Korean War, and he was at the Los Angeles airport trying to get a ride home to Arizona for Christmas. And he said that [there were] a lot of servicemen there and no seats available on the planes. And then a voice came over the loudspeaker and said, "Any men in uniform wanting a ride to Arizona, go to runway such-and-such," and they went down there, and there was a fellow named Barry Goldwater sitting in his plane. Every day in those weeks before Christmas, all day long, he'd load up the plane, fly it to Arizona, fly them to their homes, fly back over to get another load.
During the hectic split-second timing of a campaign, this is a man who took time out to sit beside an old friend who was dying of cancer. His campaign managers were understandably impatient, but he said, "There aren't many left who care what happens to her. I'd like her to know I care." This is a man who said to his 19-year-old son, "There is no foundation like the rock of honesty and fairness, and when you begin to build your life on that rock, with the cement of the faith in God that you have, then you have a real start." This is not a man who could carelessly send other people's sons to war. And that is the issue of this campaign that makes all the other problems I've discussed academic, unless we realize we're in a war that must be won.
Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy "accommodation." And they say if we'll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he'll forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer—not an easy answer—but simple: If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right.
We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, "Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we're willing to make a deal with your slave masters." Alexander Hamilton said, "A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one." Now let's set the record straight. There's no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there's only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there's a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum. And what then—when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we're retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he's heard voices pleading for "peace at any price" or "better Red than dead," or as one commentator put it, he'd rather "live on his knees than die on his feet." And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don't speak for the rest of us.
You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard 'round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it's a simple answer after all.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, "There is a price we will not pay." "There is a point beyond which they must not advance." And this—this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater's "peace through strength." Winston Churchill said, "The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we're spirits—not animals." And he said, "There's something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty."
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
We'll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we'll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.
We will keep in mind and remember that Barry Goldwater has faith in us. He has faith that you and I have the ability and the dignity and the right to make our own decisions and determine our own destiny.
Thank you very much.
A Time for Choosing, also known as The Speech, was a speech presented late in the 1964 U.S. presidential election campaign by future president Ronald Reagan on behalf of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner deserves cherem
According to recent statments made by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, "A woman must not serve as a knesset member. It's immodest." He went on to also say that women's right to vote should be banned, but in this day that could be overlooked.
A zinger of a quote in which he tries to explain himself:
"It's not just about arriving at the voting station, placing the vote and going home. That's fine. The problem is that there are events in which women must know who to vote for, and these are public events which are immodest and bring men and women together."
Mind you, this Rabbi is masquerading as a leader of the religious Zionist community when in fact he has openly adopted some of the most backward and misogynistic positions of the most extreme Chareidi communities.
I would also remind readers (see posts here and here) that this is the same Rabbi who openly endorsed the blurring of the picture of a murdered female terror victim in a publication that is distributed to synagogues in Israel... because it is immodest.
The laughable part of his most recent statements is that he tries to justify them by referencing the teachings of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, one of the forefathers of Religious Zionism.
My friend and fellow blogger Jameel pointed out some time ago that Rabbi Aviner ruled against reading one of Rav Kook's recently translated books for the simple reason that it had not been edited by Rav Kook's sons. Rabbi Aviner said, "You will misunderstand Rav Kook if you read an unedited version of it. Rav Kooks unedited works are like unripe fruit. It is like a rooftop without a guardrail, and one could fall..."
If a self-described leader has so little faith in those he perports to lead, he should admit his failure as a leader and step aside.
Let me say for the record that this so-called Rabbi does not represent any form of religious Zionism of which I would want to be a part. I would not eat any food for which he vouched for the kashrut (including in his home), and I would consider any religious ruling he made non-binding unless subject to the review and 'haskama' (concurrence) of a more learned Rabbi whose judgement has been tested and found to be sound.
In fact, for expressing such hateful and derisive/divisive statements which would be more at home in Iran than Israel, I would say he deserves Cherem; to be cut off from the Jewish community which he strives so mightily to tear assunder. I would also not want to pray in any synagogue which knowingly gave him so much as an aliyah to the Torah.
This man's ideas represent the speck of decay that has the potential to rot the entire bushel of fruit.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Teach your children well...
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Secrets? What Secrets?
Maybe it's because I've read too many spy novels while on business trips, but when I read in the newspaper the other day that Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad had undergone a liver transplant in Belarus... well, it kinda made my Spidey sense tingle.
Obviously I wish Mr. Dagan a full and speedy recovery, and admit that anyone should be entitled to seek medical treatment anywhere he/she feels it will be provided quickest and with maximum efficacy (not always the same thing... but given how many people die waiting for organ transplants, I won't quibble).
But I have to wonder how it is possible that the former head of one of the foremost spy agencies in the world - a man who quite literally knows where the bodies are buried, as well as who buried them there - was allowed to be placed under general anesthesia in a foreign country?
I'm just saying...
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Riding For The Dawn
From a geographic standpoint, Gush Etzion is a rather large, sprawling area in the Judean hills south of Jerusalem containing 22 Jewish towns and villages. But from a social standpoint, it is an interconnected, close-knit community where everyone seems to know everyone else.
Unlike some of the more far-flung/remote areas of the country, it is not uncommon for boys and girls from various communities in Gush Etzion to marry one another. And likewise, bad news and tragedies often bring together members of multiple communities in our area.
The very word 'Gush' in Hebrew means block, and to tell the turth, I like that I live in a region that has such a sense of connectedness and cohesion.
But the result of all this inter-connectedness is that news, whether good or bad, moves at lightning speed through the gush. Email lists, telephone calls, facebook and chance meetings in shul or while shopping bring news about just about everything and everyone... to the extent that I have a sense of what's going on with many people who I have never actually met.
Such was the case with the Frankl family from the neighboring community of Neve Daniel. The parents, Yarden and Stella made Aliyah shortly after we did. I've had heard their names mentioned in casual conversations over the years because we have many mutual friends. Also, early on Yarden was the baseball coach for the team for which Ariella and Gilad played. But I'm not sure I would have recognized them if I ran into them.
I probably wouldn't have heard much more than the ocassional mention of Yarden, Stella and their family if not for the fact that last year Stella got sick. It began with stomach pains, but a trip to the emergency room and a few tests later it was revealed to be late stage stomach cancer. The prognosis was terrible.
Suddenly their names were on everyone's lips. Stella's name was added to countless shul and personal lists of sick people for whom Psalms and prayers were being recited. And as often happens in close-knit places like the gush, overnight this young family became the concern and responsibility of an informal army of friends, neighbors, 'Hesed' (kindness) committees and general well-wishers.
Anyone who has ever had the good (or bad, depending on one's point of view) fortune to see a community mobilize in support of a family in crisis will have an idea what I'm talking about. But as this was happening in the gush, the waves of concern, shared information, offers of assistance, prayers, etc. were crashing on shores far from the Frankl's doorstep.
In this way I became intimately familiar with Stella's illness. And even though we never met, I followed her battle with cancer closely by reading email updates and blog entries from mutual friends.
Against all odds, Stella responded extremely well to the chemotherapy treatments she was given, and after six months she underwent a radical surgical procedure. Miraculously, where once the doctors held out little hope, after the surgery Stella was pronounced cancer free.
The good news ricocheted and caromed around the gush. Those who knew Stella, Yarden and their young family embraced them even more closely (if that was possible). And those, (like me) who only knew of them gave silent thanks to G-d and delightedly placed them in the 'win' column to offset the many prayers which weren't answered (or perhaps they were answered... but the answer, for whatever reason, was 'no').
As a thank you to Shaare Zedek hospital's Oncology Department for their tireless work on Stell'as behalf, Yarden (who is a gifted amateur athlete) began planning a 12+ hour, 260 km bike ride from Israel's highest point (Mount Hermon), to the lowest point on earth (the Dead Sea) and then up to Israel's second highest point (the Frankl's community of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion).
But before the ride could take place, Stella got some bad news; The cancer was back. It was time to fight again.
Instead of abandoning the idea of the ride, Yarden became even more determined. And while Stella made plans to begin a new course of chemo, Yarden put his ride plans into high gear with a target date of Friday November 9th, from midnight until early afternoon.
In his own words:
The concept of the non-stop, 12+ hour ride is to reflect the journey that cancer patients and their loved ones endure. “Last year, we felt that we were locked in one long dark night,” says Yarden. “All the time we were waiting for the sun to rise, for the dawn of the day when our hopes of defeating the cancer would be realized. For us, that day came after numerous aggressive chemo treatments, radical surgery, and the prayers of thousands around the world.”
“But looking back, we now know that the experience was not just one of darkness. We were on an emotional roller coaster. Where one day we would be filled with hope and the next we would find ourselves at the lowest of low points, hoping to rise up again. I wanted to do a ride that would reflect both the aspect of longing for the dawn but also rising up from the depths. I can think of nothing that would be more symbolic that riding from the highest point in Israel to the lowest and then back up to the second highest.
One of the problems that Yarden had to consider when planning his ride was safety. This was going to be a long ride on some of Israel's most accident-prone roads. A bicylist riding alone at night, and even during the day, on some of Israel's most challenging hills, presented a very real safety challenge.
A couple of weeks ago I got an email from Yarden. I immediately recognized the name, but was suprised to see it sitting in my inbox.
It turns out Yarden had followed along with some of my crazier road trips via my blog, and was wondering if I'd be interested in joining him on his. Specifically, he wanted to know if I would pace/protect him throughout the ride on my Vespa.
Talk about an offer I couldn't refuse!
So, this past Friday Yarden and I did our first training ride together; from the Jordan Valley near the top of the Dead Sea up the grueling hill to Jerusalem. Well, it was a training ride for him. For me it was more practice on how to ride alongside and protect a bicyclist without getting in his way. I think it went well.
Monday, October 15, 2012
It may be the civil libertarian in me, but few things make my blood boil more than seeing physical abuse by police and other officials who are given extraordinary powers over civilians; power that when abused is truly terrifying.
Below is a video filmed at approximately 1:00AM of October 8th (the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah) on a closed circuit camera system within the lounge of a Jewish outreach center for troubled youth in Crown Heights Brooklyn called 'The ALIYA center'.
The silent film shows two New York City policemen (one male and one female), waking a man who is asleep on a couch, then talking to him and then trying to handcuff him.
It is clear from the film that the man is confused as to why he has awoken to be confronted by the police, and he PASSIVELY tries to avoid being handcuffed while explaining himself to the officers.
The man, Ehud H. Halevi, was apparently homeless and appears to have had permission to sleep at the ALIYA center. It is unclear who called the police, but according to sources from the center, the complaint seems to have been mistaken.
Within seconds of Mr. Halevi passively trying to avoid being cuffed, the male officer assumes a boxing stance and begins punching him repeatedly in the head and body. Once the man has been backed into a chair by the male officer's assault, the female officer's joins in with her fists and a metal truncheon. She also sprays pepper spray into Mr. Halevy's eyes.
If the victim in this video had been black we'd be hearing Al Sharpton screaming 'Rodney King' right now.
See for yourself:
Sadly, there is no fitting remedy under existing law for such a terrifying abuse of power. At a minimum the two officers should be fired and brought to trial for criminal assault.
But that is unlikely to happen. And even if it does, it isn't nearly enough.
In a perfect system, in order to be forced to understand the helplessness victims of police brutality feel in such a situation, both officers would be stripped of their protective clothing, strapped in a standing posture to a pole, and the victim (or the representative of his choice) would be allowed to spend the same time as the duration of the original assault using fists, truncheon and pepper spray to exact a brand of justice that is sorely lacking in such cases.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
It isn't what you do...
... it's who you do it to.
Syria has slaughtered tens of thousands of its own citizens in the street and all the world seems willing to do is issue 'strongly worded letters'. But let Israel try to keep the terrorists in Gaza from receiving advanced weapons (while allowing the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid), and suddenly the moonbats are lining up to take part in flotillas to help the poor Gazans break the evil Israeli blockade.
In a 24 hour period of the Simchat Torah holiday this week, the Palestinians fired 55 rockets and mortars into Israel! The only mention I saw was the New York Times negative article about Israel's retaliatory strike.
But let Syria fire four or five mortars into Turkey (A NATO member), and suddenly governments all over the west are lining up to offer condemnations and express their support of any and all retaliation by Turkey.
Ironically, the historically good Israeli-Turkish relations soured because Ankara was shocked (shocked, I say!!!) about Israel's operation Cast Lead which was launched in response to unprovoked cross-border missile and mortar attacks!
If ever we needed proof that we should just ignore everyone and do whatever we need to do to ensure our own security, this is it.
Friday, October 05, 2012
While I wasn't particularly surprised, I was disappointed yesterday to read US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton express her outrage (yes, that was the word she used) at Syria having fired a mortar (yes, that is correct, a single mortar) into Turkey.
Naturally Turkey responded militarily by firing artillery into Syria, and not surprisingly there were no calls by the EU, UN or US for them to show restraint or to consider the safety of civilians in their response.
It is worth mentioning that Hillary Clinton has never used the word outrage in reaction to the thousands of missiles and mortars that have been fired at Israel civilian population centers, and any mention of such belligerent acts is always accompanied by a standard formula that urges Israel to temper its response.
Now this is where some of you jump in and explain why Hillary's remarks were not only appropriate, but the perfectly timed, balanced response necessary to promote peace in our time*.
* Extra credit to anyone who knows where those last four words were last used in diplomacy.
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Putting the chol* in chol hamoed
Hard to imagine my former life of two day Yom Tov. While many of my friends abroad were having their second day of holiday and all the restrictions that accompany it, Zahava and I moved the family into a bungalow less than 20 steps from the beach on the sparkling blue Mediterranean.
On the way up the electronic highway signs alternated between traffic updates and the words 'Moadim L'Simcha!'.
Once we arrived we did a quick shopping run to the local supermarket where we bought all kosher food without having to take a microscope to a label, and the Yemenite butcher and Arab checkout girl both wished us 'Chag Samech'.
Several families we are friendly with took neighboring bungalows and we built a shared sukkah fulfilling the requirements of the week-long festival. Several of the secular residents of other bungalows and nearby tents asked to be able to come in and eat their food in the sukkah, and nobody asked what the meaning of our 'hut' is or why we're carrying around branches and fruit.
Last night we had a big BBQ by the beach followed by a kumzitz (singalong) thanks to Gilad and a friend of ours who both brought along guitars.
This morning while we said the morning prayers outside by the beach, a passing secular family smiled and waved on their way out to enjoy the water. And on the way back, the father stopped me to ask if he could borrow my Lulav and Etrog to make a quick blessing.
Even they guy selling ice cream from a cooler on the beach wishes everyone a happy holiday!
Remind me again why it took us so long to move here?
* a play on the word chol, which can mean sand or a weekday, depending on how it's used.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
A Rocky Encounter With Wiley Coyote
My daily commute takes me and my scooter roughly an hour (each way) through a mostly empty landscape where someone from New Mexico would feel right at home. Lots of scrub, rolling hills, earth tones… and rocks.It’s the rocks that will be the focus of this discussion… or at least the catalyst for it.
You see, there are rocks everywhere. There are big ones and small ones, poking through what remains of the dry soil on the hillsides, and heaped in piles where the seasonal rains have washed them against one another.
Over the millennia, enterprising farmers have used some of the stones to build terraces on the hillsides. The rationale being that since there is little or no vegetation to keep the soil from washing off the hillsides, a terrace can at least catch enough of it to make little pockets of agriculture – grapes and olives mostly – possible.
As arable areas of the hillsides were parceled off by tribal leaders and absentee landlords over the centuries for the purposes of collecting rent, more of the idle stones were put to use building and mending walls between these parcels.
Robert Frost would feel at home here.
I was passing through a series of sharp bends about halfway through my morning commute when ahead in the roadway I spotted a clutter of stones. These were the softball sized rocks that I’ve come to recognize as the hallmark of a rock attack on passing cars recently concluded… or still in progress
I quickly scanned the steep hillside and spotted the lone figure of a young man just above where the roadway was littered with stones. But instead of standing poised to throw more stones, he was busily engaged in trying to use a stick to lever a precariously balanced boulder into a bounding dash that would land it onto the roadway below.
The boulder in question was twice the size of the boy, and it didn’t take an advanced degree in physics to understand that the likelihood of him succeeding in dislodging the enormous rock where thousands of years of erosion and gravity had failed, were slim at best.
But I’m not a gambling man, nor very familiar with physics. Just because I wasn’t going to get squashed like a bug didn’t mean this kid wouldn’t eventually win his battle with inertia and push this, or some other, boulder down onto an innocent motorist.
I continued a couple of hundred yards around to the other side of the hill, pulled my scooter onto the shoulder, and contemplated what to do. I didn’t have any authority in this inhospitable place, but before calling the cops or the army, I wanted to get another look at what the teenager was really up to.
So I walked up the rocky incline and crested the hill just above where the young man was busily working with his improvised fulcrum. I watched him for a few seconds, and for all the world he reminded me of ‘Wiley Coyote’ setting a trap for the Road Runner.
The only difference was that once he lost interest in the boulder he was working on, he’d probably go find another one… or go back to tossing smaller rocks at passing cars. It didn’t matter that the Acme Company didn’t deliver out here. I could see by the determined effort he was applying to his stick that he’d get his Road Runner… one way or another.
I took out my phone and dialed the local Army operator to report what was going on. Once I started speaking into the phone, Wiley looked up the hill in surprise, but instead of running away (as I though he might), he started shouting at me in Arabic and waving his stick in the air.
I gave the relevant information of what was going on and where I was to the operator and hung up to consider my next move. I really hadn’t thought things through very well.
Just then, a passing tractor stopped on the road below and an older man who had been driving, and a young man who had been sitting behind him, jumped off and jogged up the steep hillside to a spot between Wiley and myself.
With a few softly spoken words in Arabic, the young man who had been the passenger on the tractor relieved Wiley of his stick and tossed it away.
I wasn’t sure if he did so to show me that it was no longer a threat, or to introduce plausible deniability if /when the police or army showed up. Oddly, the gesture didn’t make me feel better; Just less sure of the justice of my position.
The older man walked up to where I was standing and asked me in heavily accented Hebrew what had happened.
I pointed down at the roadway near his tractor and told him that the young man had been throwing rocks (which was obvious from the scattered stones), and that when I stopped he’d been trying to use his stick to dislodge the boulder and roll it down the hill.
The old man asked me if I had called the police. I told him I had called the army.He looked distraught.
With words and gestures the old man began pleading with me to call them back and tell them everything was okay. He explained that the young man I now thought of as Wiley Coyote was not right in the head and was not responsible for his actions.
I asked him if he was Wiley’s father, and he said that he was ‘a relative’ (which could mean anything). I asked him what it mattered if Wiley was ‘not right in the head’ if he killed a passing driver (a young father and his infant son were killed this past year in a rock attack not far from where we stood)?
He shrugged and said I was right, but that it was still just a mistake.Wiley wasn’t supposed to be out by himself and people usually looked after him to keep him from getting into trouble.
By now, the younger tractor passenger and Wiley had walked up the hillside to where I was talking to the older man. The tractor passenger who looked to be about 20 had a quick intelligence about his face.His expression was guarded, but his eyes took in everything at once and seemed to be waiting for further data.
Wiley, who upon closer examination looked about 14 or 15, seemed like a blank slate. Now that he had been taken in hand, he looked neither hostile nor angry. But he didn’t look contrite, either. He simply looked like a kid who’d been interrupted at one activity and was only mildly curious to see what the next activity might be.
I told the old man to look at the roadway again. I explained that any one of the rocks down there could have killed someone. Could have killed me!
The young tractor passenger asked me if he’d thrown anything at me. I told him no, but that the only reason he hadn’t is that he was busy trying to roll the boulder down into the roadway.
Then the old man asked a disarming question. He asked me what I thought would happen when the army showed up.
I told him that they would probably arrest the person responsible for trying to kill passing motorists.
He then asked me if I knew what would happen to the boy once he was arrested. I admitted I didn’t.
He explained that for a lot of the boys it was a point of pride to be arrested and thrown in jail. For many of them their first time in custody was for stone throwing. Later, once they were labeled in the system as security problems, they wouldn’t be able to get work permits and would turn to the gangs and get into bigger trouble.
I stopped the old man and said, “How is that my problem? It all starts with the fact that this kid was doing something that could have killed me or anyone else unlucky enough to pass while he was up on this hillside.”
The old man nodded sadly and said, “Yes, but this one is different. He isn’t angry like the others. He isn’t throwing stones to hurt anyone. He is doing it because he has nothing else to do”.
I asked, “Do you think that would matter to my wife and kids if he’d killed me?”
Before he could answer a jeep pulled up behind the tractor and four soldiers got out and started walking up the hillside towards us.
The old man became frantic. “Please don’t tell them to take him away. It is our fault for not watching him. If they take him his life is over. He’s sick in the head. He’ll go into jail a rock thrower and come out a terrorist. Is that what you want?”
It took the soldiers a minute or two to reach us, and in that time I stood with my hands in my pockets wondering what to do.
I hated that I was being manipulated to feel like I was in the wrong. I hated that I had gone from being a good Samaritan; concerned about the safety of passing traffic, to being accused of wanting to turn a (possibly) mentally ill teenager into a hardened terrorist.
The most senior of the soldiers walked up to me and eased me a couple of steps away from the others with a hand on my arm, while the other three soldiers remained by the three Arabs.
When we were a few steps away the officer asked me what had happened. I told him that I had been driving past and had seen the rocks in the road. When I looked up the hillside I’d seen an Arab trying to roll a big boulder down into the roadway.
The officer looked down at the roadway filled with rocks, and at the tractor parked in front of his jeep and asked, “Where’s your car?”
I told him that I had been riding a scooter and that it was parked on the shoulder around the bend on the other side of the hill.
He yelled for one of the soldiers to go take a look and make sure nobody was messing with my scooter, and one of the three broke off and jogged over the hill and out of sight.
The young officer turned back to me and asked me which one had been throwing rocks.
I looked at the little group of Arabs and soldiers and said nothing for a moment. I hated having this kind of power over another human being. I knew I was in the right and should report the kid. But my moral compass was spinning… unsure of where the high ground might be.
I hedged. I said, “I didn’t actually seeing anyone throwing the rocks. They were already in the roadway when I pulled up. I just came up to confront the kid who was up here because I saw him trying to roll a big rock towards the road.”
The officer asked again, “So which one was up here when you stopped?”.
I looked at the old man, his passenger… and at Wiley Coyote, and said, “He ran away before I could catch him. These three arrived on the tractor and stopped when they saw me running after the kid. I was asking them if they knew who he was.”
The officer said, “And did they?”
I shook my head.
The look in the old man’s eyes was one of relief. There might have been gratitude there too, but I may have been imagining that. His young passenger was still looking on with his intelligent eyes and still had a non-committal look on his face. The jury was still out with that one.
Wiley Coyote was still a blank slate. He looked neither scared nor relieved at his reprieve. His lack of reaction lent credence to the claim of him not being ‘all there’. But it could also mean that he didn’t understand Hebrew.
Of course it could also be that I’d been played in a cultural game where I don’t know all the rules, much less have the ability to spot any of the other player’s ‘tells’.
After a few more words of little consequence, the three soldiers headed back down towards their jeep and I went back over the hill the way I had come.
By the time I was back standing on the shoulder and had my helmet and gloves on, the army jeep had driven around the hill to where I was and picked up the fourth soldier who had been sent to babysit my scooter.
As they stopped to let the soldier in, the tractor rounded the bend and passed us. I was sure I’d see only the old man and his inscrutable passenger on the tractor, and that Wiley Coyote would still be on the loose. But there were two passengers now perched behind the old man.
And for the moment, I am leaning towards feeling like I did the right thing.
But I’m not sure.
Almost Yom Kippur
Introspection is hard.
It sometimes requires a life-changing event (think crash or other screw-up that endangers or injures others).
Sometimes it requires a life-changing decision (think the 'making amends' part of a 12 step program).
And sometimes it requires a somber 'holiday' whose raison d'être is to force one to accept that even the most careful stroll through this life means occasionally stepping on the toes of others.
So, my fellow travelers, as careful as I have tried to be, I am certain that over the past year I have trod upon more than a few of your toes... I've offended some of you with my views or inappropriate humor... I've stretched your patience with my long-winded posts... and I've remained silent when some of you needed comfort or understanding.
For all these things, and any I might have missed, I apologize and ask your forgiveness.
I have no excuse. Not one.
But I promise to try to do better in the coming year, or in however much time I have left, to make amends.
Friday, September 21, 2012
A very powerful video
Thursday, September 20, 2012
I Told You So!
Back in 2005 I wrote a post about how the issue of how intellectual property rights are routinely ignored/trampled in the Jewish community (in general), and most frustratingly; specifically within the observant community.
Here's what I wrote back then:
Anyone who knows me is aware that one of my (many) pet peeves is the rather, shall we say, casual attitude my 'observant' coreligionists have towards intellectual property rights and copyright infringement.
Walk into any Judaica store in the world and you will find bins full of kippot (yarmulkes) bearing the logos of every major sports franchise and sneaker company... Hannukiot (menoras) and dreidles (tops) painted with characters from the latest Disney or Pixar film... and other miscellaneous tchotchkes emblazoned with every conceivable proprietary image.
The problem is that most, if not all of this stuff was created without bothering to get (i.e. pay for) rights to use the images and logos.
Whenever I have pointed this out to the store owners I have invariably gotten the old,
"Oh c'mon now... everybody does it."
When I have tried to use terminology that should carry more weight with these guys such as 'G'nivat HaDa'at' (the term in Jewish law for stealing someone else's ideas or intellectual property), they wave me away with lame excuses such as,
"You think the Yankees really mind if some kid walks around with their logo on his kippah? Puleeeze, I'm sure that not only are they me'ayesh (a technical term meaning to relinquish all claim to something) any money they might have seen from this kind of thing... but they probably like the exposure!"
Yeah... that makes sense. If sales of Yankee tickets and Nike sneakers are up this year, it's because of all the free publicity they are getting on the heads of Yeshiva kids!
Well, it seems the chickens are coming home to roost.
According to this article, Marvel comics and DC Comics are both suing the owner of a store on Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda street for selling Batman and Spiderman kippot (Yarmulkehs) without having secured the rights to do so.
I am normally a champion of small businessmen and entrepreneurs. But in this case, I am pleased as punch that someone has taken notice and is giving people who should know better (e.g. observant Jews) a lesson in the laws of intellectual property.
And before you weigh in to try to convince me how wrong I am, please imagine that you owned the rights to the Siderman and/or Batman images / intellectual property. How would you feel about everyone making a buck off of what should be exclusively yours?
Okay... now you can talk.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Alone with the dishes (reprised)
[I wrote this post back in 2004 to describe the mental preparation that goes into this period between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. I reposted it four years later in 2008. It's 2012 and I still haven't been able to improve upon it.]
One gets to do a fair amount of thinking late at night… alone with the dishes. Zahava does her fair share of dishes, but for the big jobs… particularly after dinner parties, large Shabbat/holiday meals, etc… I’m the guy left surveying the wreckage and not knowing exactly where to begin.
So it is (for me) with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur.
For me, this time of year is like the aftermath of an enormous, wild dinner party… one where invitations were extended to far more people than the house could comfortably accommodate…. the kind of rollicking soirée that is talked about and savored for months.
But such a party comes with a price to pay.
Rosh Hashanah (for me) is roughly analogous to standing [aghast] in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room surveying the damage.
What was I thinking?
Every horizontal surface is stacked high with dirty glasses and dishes.
Half-empty bottles of merlot, syrah and chardonnay stand abandoned beside empty bottles of bourbon and scotch.
The sinks overflow with greasy dishes, and the dessert service (dishes, tea cups and saucers) seem evenly distributed between the dinning room table and the various kitchen counters.
Linen napkins sit balled on (and under) chairs, and glasses of every description seem to wink at me from wherever the wandering conversationalists abandoned them.
On Rosh Hashanah I stand slumped in that imaginary doorway trying to make the insurmountable seem… well, surmountable. Trying to place the soiled contents of my slovenly year into some kind of framework where things can be addressed in an orderly fashion.
Anyone who has been left to clean up after a big dinner party understands the daunting nature of that moment. At first glance it seems the house will never clean again.
But then I pick up that first wine glass (with the half-moon of lipstick on the rim) and place it in such a way as to demonstrate to the long departed guests and sleeping house that this spot on the sideboard is where the crystal will be gathered.
And so Rosh Hashanah begins (for me)… nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Several circuits of the house bring more wine, whiskey, and water glasses than I ever knew we owned, to join the first one there on the counter.
Then, emptying one of the sinks of its precariously balanced contents, I draw a basin of steaming hot soapy water.
As the sink fills I designate other places for dishes and cups and saucers… each to each… all according to size. Warming to the familiar task, I take comfort in the muffled sound of the water under its foamy cloak… almost like a prayer.
And so Rosh Hashanah continues (for me). Nothing getting washed just yet… just making the insurmountable seem surmountable.
Next the sterling flatware and serving pieces are gathered into a soup pot full of soapy water, and the linen napkins are bundled with the tablecloth into the hamper in the laundry room.
With the leftovers put safely into the refrigerator and the trash bundled to the bin, the place is starting to look more sane… not one iota cleaner, mind you... but a hint of order has begun to emerge.
Now pots and pans of every shape and size are filled with soapy water and placed on the stove to soak. Measuring cups and carving knives are placed beside legions of serving platters. Spices are returned to their places and canisters of flour and sugar are placed back on their shelves… each gesture creating a bit of space… and the comforting suggestion of emerging order.
And so Rosh Hashanah ends (for me)… nothing having been washed just yet… but the insurmountable seems finally… surmountable.
I stand again in the spiritual doorway between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur… balanced on the threshold between what I have created during the year…and what I have consumed. I haven’t yet washed a thing, although some of the bigger problems have been identified and have been placed in to soak. The glasses all sit with their fellows and the dishes are stacked according to size. Everything still bears the smudges and smears of too much fun… too much indulgence.
But now as I look around, the task seems manageable… surmountable.
As I stand listening to the soft ahhhhhhhhhh of the soap bubbles as they settle in the sink, I am ready for Yom Kippur. I know what has to be washed… and I know (hope) that after the necessary amount of work I will find myself at the end of Yom Kippur’s fast with the dish towel in my hands, surveying the sparkling china… the lovingly polished sterling… the immaculate crystal… each in its place, and the house looking (and feeling) ready for a fresh beginning.
May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
'Soft target' is a military term referring to an unarmored/undefended target. But in a more complex sense, it also means a target that is not likely to be dangerous to the attacker.
In schoolyard terms, a bully instinctively understands the difference between a hard target (the well muscled 6'3" captain of the baseball team who happens to be carrying his favorite bat), and a soft target (the 5'5" president of the math club whose only frame of reference for 'protection' is the plastic sleeve he has in his shirt pocket to keep his pens and pencils from marking up his clothing.
In short, it isn't just who is easier to beat up... it is who is less likely to fight back. This may seem like a fine distinction... but it is one which is certainly on the bully's mind.
Back in the late 1970s, Jimmy Carter was in the White House at a time when Iran was experiencing a revolution that in today's optimistic lexicon would probably have been called a 'Persian Spring'.
This juxtaposition of a White House that was widely perceived internationally as weak, and an uprising that was based on Religious (Muslim) principles as much as on the desire to overthrow a despot, created a perfect storm of sorts where American interests abroad, and Americans themselves, were suddenly perceived as extremely soft targets by the newly emboldened bullies.
The result was the 1979 violent storming of the American Embassy in Tehran by a crowd of Islamist 'students', and the subsequent taking of more than 60 hostages; 52 of whom would be held and tortured for 444 days.
It's that 444 days that is significant because the hostages were finally released on January 20th, 1981 at the exact moment that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President and was giving his inaugural speech. There is little doubt that the arrival of a tough new 'sheriff in town' had a profound affect on the perception of America's willingness to defend its interest and citizens.
We seem to be at a similar confluence of perceptions of American passivity and Islamic unrest today. In the White House sits a president who may well be a genius in terms of social engineering, economic recovery and other things related to domestic policy. Sadly, the effectiveness of presidential policy directives are rarely perceptible in real time.
But looking out to the world, President Obama seems to have made a Carter-esque (one might even call it Chamberlain-esque) willingness to appease and apologize, the cornerstone of his foreign policy. To groups and governments whose use of chaos and violence seems carefully calculated specifically to test the resolve and reaction of the American leadership, the result is that America is increasingly viewed abroad as a soft target.
As if to prove the point, in the space of a few hours this week, the American Embassy in Cairo (Egypt) and the American Consulate in Benghazi (Libya) were both overrun by an Islamist-led mob ostensibly enraged over a video ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed currently circulating on the internet that had allegedly been made by an American.
In Egypt (which is the 2nd largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid) only physical damage was done to the Embassy compound. But in Libya, the American Ambassador and three of his staff were murdered and dragged through the streets by the mob.
One would have hoped that such overt attacks on the sovereign soil of the United States and on U.S. citizens would cause the Obama administration to recalibrate its policies. But instead, the first statements issued by his Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) first apologized for the perceived insult to Islamic sensibilities:
"The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation."
Only then did she go on to say:
"But… there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
This mention of the cause and effect in the same breath creates a moral equivalency in the minds of the attackers (and their sponsors), even as the U.S. is trying to stress that one doesn't justify the other.
A judge in a court of law would never allow the mention of a defendant's anger over some random person having called him a 'towel head' or a 'sand n*gger' in a case where the defendant had deliberately attacked or murdered some other, unrelated person who just happened to share the same skin color or nationality as the person who had hurled the original insult. To do so would create in the minds of the Jury a legitimate connection between the insult and the attack, and would offer not only a plausible excuse for the violent behavior… but would also heap some small portion of the blame for the attack on the shoulders of the victim who, in pure legal terms, was blameless.
By the same token, those calling for the U.S. to bomb Libya or Cairo are as misguided as the mob that attacked random Americans and American interests because of their ire at an unrelated American. Clearly these mobs didn't gather spontaneously and start trying to burn down two U.S. Diplomatic missions. They were organized and sent into action by people and/or organizations that had their own agenda and may or may not have had a connection to the ruling government. Those are the people and organizations that must be tracked down and punished.
Yes, at the very core of international diplomacy is the requirement that Governments protect all diplomatic missions and personnel in their countries from assault. The U.S. certainly has enough sticks in its bag to threaten and/or punish the Egyptian and Libyan governments for failing to keep a violent mob from attacking the American diplomatic missions.
But what is most troubling about the current situation is that the Obama administration has once again allowed a connection to be made between perceived American insults to Islam and violent attacks by Islamists against Americans. And the people/organizations that are behind this brand of organized mob violence and terror have once again gotten the feedback they were looking for; that America is once again a soft target.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Cartoons that make you go Hmmmmmm
You don't have to agree, but it might just help you get inside someone else's mindset.
I think they call this 'food for thought'.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Funny, they don't _______ Jewish!
Back when we had unfettered access to the print edition of the weekend New York Times, one of my wife's somewhat masochistic practices was to turn to the wedding announcements and try to suss out how many of the nuptials, where one of the parties had a Jewish-sounding name, actually involved the union of two Jews.
I never liked this little game because in most cases, even when both halves of the happy couple had names like 'Greenberg' or ''Sussman', a few lines into the announcement would come the jarring mention that the ceremony was performed jointly by both a Rabbi and an Episcopal Rector, or the couple were joined in matrimony by a Wiccan Shaman or Buddhist monk.
But something that has only recently occurred to me is the inherent arrogance of our reliance on an exclusively European/Ashkenazi-centric mental codex of 'Jewish-sounding' names to play the wedding pages game.
For example, I'd bet money that many Sephardic surnames would ring vaguely hispanic in my ears (as well they should!). And with a gun to my head, I'd be hard pressed to to pick most Yemenite, Afghani, Libyan or Ethiopian Jewish surnames out of a weekend wedding blotter.
I mention this because my lovely wife attended a moving Israeli Army ceremony last night (I was off with foreign guests and couldn''t attend), where the 'Lone Soldier' who has been living with us for the past three years was named outstanding soldier of his unit... and Zahava came home with an interesting story.
It seems that this ceremony was a very big deal, with top brass in attendance, many officers being given promotions and a soldier from each of the units currently serving in the Gaza theater being singled out as 'outstanding'.
Zahava was seated next to a lovely Ethiopian family at the ceremony whose son was being given the outstanding soldier award for the elite 'Oketz' (K-9) unit. As his award was being read aloud, a larger than life picture of the young man and his faithful dog was put on display, and everyone cheered heartily.
But what came next was interesting:
An officer whose first name is 'Moustafa' was called to the stage for a promotion. Then a soldier named 'Jameel' was called up for an excellence award.
At this point, the Ethiopian mother leaned towards Zahava and whispered, "Moustafa? Jameel? Strange, those don't sound like Jewish names!"
Zahava explained that if she had to guess, Moustafa was probably a Druse, and Jameel was likely a Bedouin. Sudden understanding flashed across the Ethiopian woman's face as she nodded and said, "Oh, that makes sense"... and nothing more was said on the matter.
But for Zahava, it was an interesting lesson in the relativity of cultural assumptions.
With the exception of the Ashkenazi members (and their descendants) of the first - fifth aliyahs, pretty much every other immigrant community has served time at the bottom of the social-economic Israeli pecking order... with the Ethiopian Jewish community currently riding low man on Israel's cultural totem pole.
So it was actually a little reassuring that the Ethiopians have acclimated to such an extent that this woman's cultural ear was already finely attuned to the fact that something didn't 'sound Jewish' about the names she was hearing at the IDF ceremony.
In short, even though in this case she happened to have been right (the soldiers in question weren't, in fact, Jewish), it was still worthy of a private smile hearing a black, Israeli, Ethiopian Jew delivering a variation on the time-honored "Funny, he doesn't look Jewish!" line.
At least until the next wave of Jewish immigrants lands here to assume their 'rightful' place at the bottom of the Israeli cultural heap, this tiny indication of progress gives me hope that our Ethiopian brothers and sisters may have finally turned a corner of sorts, secure in their place among the sometimes-arrogant Jewish community which, for better or worse, can't help but play at trying to pick one another out of a crowd.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Sharing A Neat Music App
A couple of years ago I wrote about enjoying the ability to listen to U.S. Radio stations over the net via a nifty app called 'Wunder Radio'. I have to say, it's great being able to do my Friday pre-Shabbat chores while listening to a Classic Rock station broadcasting from Connecticut (complete with traffic reports and local ads) over the stereo.
That's great while I'm at home, but on the few occasions I've tried to listen to my favorite U.S. stations while out in the car or on my scooter, it becomes frustrating as the music stops, buffers and freezes while I go through areas of spotty cell-coverage. Also, while I happen to have an unlimited 'all you can eat' data plan on my iPhone, many people don't, and trying to stream music over the web on a long trip can get costly.
Enter a very near app called JANGO. It is available for IOS and Android phones, and rather than constantly streaming, it downloads whole songs in quick bursts. I imagine it still would be costly for people with very sparse data plans, but for most people it shouldn't be too bad.
Here's how it works:
They have quite a few pre-set 'Genres' such as:
- Decades: 70s
- Decades: 80s
- Decades: 90s
- Easy Listening
- Hip Hop
- R&B / Soul
And within each genre there are preset 'Stations' such as '70s Hits', '80s Hits', Love Songs, etc.
Or, if you want to customize your own play list, you can enter the name of an artist / band, and it will play songs by that artist and other similar artists.
Now, even if I'm driving through really remote areas, so long as I have even an intermittent cell signal, I can enjoy uninterrupted* music.
Best of all, JANGO is free!
Don't thank me... I'm a giver! :-)
* The app pushes occasional ads at you every few songs, but I haven't noticed them to the extent that I consider them an interruption.
Monday, September 03, 2012
A question of dosage
I don't have many vices in life. An occasional cocktail, beer or glass of wine is about as crazy as I get. But if you want to get right down to the technical definition of drugs, I tend to use one rather regularly: Caffeine.
Like most westerners, I tend to take one mega-dose of my drug of choice first thing in the morning. A self administered 500+ml caffeine Bolus; STAT!
However, after Zahava and I spent some time in Italy recently, I have to say I was enchanted by the quaint local custom concerning caffeine intake: Rather than take one mega-dose of caffeine in the morning, Italians tend to enjoy 10 - 15 small doses (see note below), throughout the day and late into the evening.
Aside from the outdoor cafes which dotted the center of pretty much every Italian town and village, every store, gas station and fast-food outlet had a coffee counter where a team of baristi work tirelessly preparing and serving a seemingly never-ending stream of espressos, capuccinos, caffè corretto (a shot of espresso with a tot of liquor added, usually grappa, although sometimes sambuca or brandy), and resentin("little rinser": after finishing a cup of espresso with sugar, a few drops of one of the previously mentioned spirits are poured into the nearly empty cup, swirled and drunk down in one sip).
Oh... none of this paper cup $tarbuck$ crap over there! Glass and ceramic demitasse, all the way! you order, drink and move on. No take away!
I may just have to consider adjusting my dosage. Of course, installing an espresso machine in my office might take some convincing to the powers that be. :-)
Note: Espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than most beverages, but the usual serving size is smaller—a 30 mL (1 US fluid ounce) shot of espresso has 40 to 75 mg of caffeine, which is less than half the caffeine of a standard 240 mL (8 US fluid ounces) cup of drip-brewed coffee. [source]
Sunday, September 02, 2012
This is a test... this is only a test!
People who came of age during the Cold War certainly remember the weekly broadcast interruptions on radio and TV stations which would follow one of the following formats:
- "This is a test. For the next sixty (or thirty) seconds, this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test."
- "(name of host station in a particular market) is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test." (Mainly radio stations used this particular format)
- "This is a test. (Name of Host Station) is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test."
- "This is a test. This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test."
What these regular announcements shared was that they began and ended by assuring the public that there was no actual emergency. In other words; 'stay calm... no need to panic'.
In the Cold War years of 'duck & cover' drills, fallout shelters and the like, it was understood that the requirement to test the Emergency Broadcast System couldn't be done at the expense of stressing-out the already jittery public.
I mention this bit of trivia today because our youngest child seems to have intuitively internalized this lesson, and successfully applied it to his night-time forays into the parental bedroom.
It must be stressed that with all of our children, the primary reason for a night-time visit to our bedroom has traditionally been to announce an imminent, or just completed, bout of vomiting.
And as Zahava doesn't 'do' vomit, the protocol requires that the announcement be delivered on my side of the parental bed.
Now, the problem for me as the primary POC for night-time visits, is that I'm a very sound sleeper, and often have no idea what is going on... and little or no recollection of said visit afterwards.
This means I tend to rely almost entirely on my subconscious mind and instinct to manage these little night-time 'emergencies'.
All of our kids can report that within nano-seconds of my becoming aware of their presence next to my side of the bed, they are generally given the bum's rush (i.e. gripped firmly by the collar and seat of their pajamas) to the toilet with the business end of the child pointed away from their still mostly sleeping father.
In most cases, their feet never actually touch the floor during this nocturnal dash!
Any parent who has ever had their side of the bed (or themselves!) splashed with the partially digested contents of a child's stomach will understand this instinct for self-preservation.
So back to the present.
Presumably because he's the baby, Yonah has come down to our bedroom in the middle of the night more frequently than his older sibs ever did; usually for one or more of the following reasons (unrelated to vomiting):
- Wants a drink
- Wants a snack
- Wants itchy pajamas changed for more comfy ones
- Wants dislodged bedding (sheets, blankets, etc.) re-made
- Wants strange noise(s) investigated
- Wants dog to keep him company in bed
- Wants dog removed from his bed
- Wants to talk
... and the all-time, hands down, most common reason for a midnight visit from Yonah:
- Wants to snuggle
The problem here (as Yonah has discovered the hard way), is that it's hard to buck the conditioning gained during the formative years of our two older children. When a child appears at my bedside, I tend to 'scoop and run' first... and ask questions later.
This has resulted on more than one occasion in my coming awake to find a thrashing Yonah suspended over the toilet at arms reach, when all he wanted was a drink of water or a hug!
[Yup, that kid is gonna get his money's worth out of any future therapy sessions!]
As a result, the following is the approximately what transpired last night:
The Scene: Our darkened master bedroom
The Time: 00:42 (12:42 AM for you civilians)
IntruderVisitor: Our eight-year-old son, Yonah
The Announcement: "Abba, I'm okay... I just want to snuggle you. Can I snuggle you for a little while? I'm okay."
This morning at breakfast he thanked me for letting him come into my bed and snuggle for a little while... and for not dragging him into the bathroom.