Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Long and Winding Walks in Jerusalem

Two years and four months ago, on July 15, 2004, I decided late at night to walk to the Old City of Jerusalem by myself from my new place of residence - Ulpan Etzion. Very unsure of allowing my very vague sense of direction to guide me in what was then a strange new city, I made my way across my new home and made it to the Old City. Looking for a gate of entry, I ended up walking a bit of a way into eastern Jerusalem (it was the people around me speaking Arabic, and the signs with the Arabic on top and Hebrew on bottom, that clued me in). Well, as you can probably guess, I quickly turned around and found where I had originally wanted to enter.

Today, much more certain about my sense of direction both in Jerusalem and life, I decided to make the long and winding walk to the Old City and back one final time. I didn't think about that first post-aliyah trip to the Old City as I walked first across town, and then up a long series of winding steps on the side of Mt. Zion, and then past King David's Tomb as a "tour guide" who appeared out of nowhere convinced a woman walking behind me to go up the stairs to a room above King David's Tomb..."Go to the Last Supper room...yes, up the stairs...yes, there...Last Supper room, no charge..."

I didn't think about the significance of that long ago night, July 15, 2004, until I was walking across a parking lot in the Old City toward the Jewish Quarter, via the Zion Gate, on the afternoon of November 15, 2006. Then, I was walking to the Old City and back, from a temporary housing location, a day after having made an overseas move. Yesterday (for it is well past midnight now), I did the same walk, only from an apartment I've lived in for nearly two years (just two weeks shy)...and I did it a day before I was to make (yet another) overseas move.

And so, I realized the distant and yet ever-present connection between these two dates...and was filled with a flood of emotion. But the tears weren't to come yet. Not yet.

My stomach needed food.

Once in the Jewish Quarter, I had myself a slice of pizza and a bottle of Coke at Rami's Pizza, and then made my way to a viewpoint overlooking the Dome of the Rock, the al-Aqsa mosque, the Western Wall Plaza and, in the distance, the Mount of Olives. I stood there for a little while, contemplating, watching people, thinking about...stuff....until a very large group of American tourists congregated in the area, and inspired me to go do what I'd come to the Old City to do.

I started walking down the steps toward a security checkpoint to enter the Western Wall Plaza right as the Muslim call to prayer began. To hear this is no longer strange for me (though always beautifully haunting in its own way). Many are the times when, right as my fingers literally touched the Western Wall on a visit, the Muslim call to prayer would begin. Today, the call was still going out and echoing around as I touched the Wall, ending just as I put a note to God into it. What an amazing place.

Anyway, I stood there for a moment, saying first some traditional and following that, some private prayers...then, I cried. I cried, for a million reasons and no reason at all. On my way out of the Old City, I picked up some postcards for my sister Stephanie, and then visited King David's Tomb. I looked out at Jerusalem for a bit in an isolated field, and then began the long and winding walk back to my apartment in Jerusalem, Israel.

One last time.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"We the People" Keep Growing

On Tuesday, October 17, 2006, the United States of America will reach a population of 300 million. I could write something really, really long and well-written about this momentous event. I could wax poetic about the changes America has gone through since 1915, when the U.S. population reached 100 million people. To see the differences between today and 1967, when the U.S. population reached 200 million, I will simply direct you to certain websites, such as CNN, which has a great graphic on the subject.

Or, you can click on one of the two links provided to see what the U.S. Census Bureau has to say on the subject:

Nation’s Population to Reach 300 Million on Oct. 17

Facts and Figures

For now, I’ll keep it short myself (I can hear the collective sigh of relief) and let the late, great Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra say a thing or two as well (click on the embedded YouTube video).

There are a lot people in the world who dislike, or outright hate America. We know this. We’re reminded of this on a daily basis. At the same time though, there are still apparently enough people both inside of America, and who yearn to immigrate to the United States from outside of it, who see enough good in it, enough opportunity provided by it, to keep it going – and to keep it younger than an ageing Europe and Japan. Sure, China might have over a billion people – but it’s also got 800 million living in abject poverty.

Those cynics who think there isn’t all that much to celebrate in the embattled, embittered America of today need only look at the numbers. As one newspaper commentary I read last week put it, "America has 300 million reasons to celebrate." Yep.

300 million reasons to still hope for, and work toward, a better future. 300,000,000 reasons to be optimistic.

Why? Well this week - and all of the time, really - it’s "especially the people" who we owe thanks to.

"The House I Live In", version 1974 - Frank Sinatra

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Endurance of "Freedom"

“SPQR” – “Senatus Populusque Romanus”, or “ the Senate and People of Rome” – was a government slogan used both when ancient Rome was a semi-democratic aristocratic Republic, and also when it came under the autocratic rule of the Caesars…when the Senate, and especially the People, of Rome no longer held any real power. “SPQR” under the Caesars was like a constitutional monarch permitted to remain on the throne as a symbol after the military overthrew his country’s democratically-elected government.

At the dedication this weekend for the new United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, President Bush said, quite correctly, that “A long blue line of heroes has defended freedom in the skies above.”

The Secretary of the Air Force, Michael Wynne, said “This memorial is a brilliant symbol of freedom and the spirit of flight.”

Ross Perot, Jr., a former Air Force member who can afford to be a chairman of the memorial’s board of trustees thanks to his dad, said “This memorial says to everybody who visits, today and tomorrow, ‘This is the spirit that helped build the Air Force. This is the sacrifice that helped defend our freedom. This is the courage that helped build our nation.’”




Let’s talk about freedom.

What does “freedom” really mean? How many Americans give a crap, what with their mp3 players, their cell phones, their SUVs, their high gas prices, their MySpace, TiVo and their American Idol, what freedom really is? How many Americans appreciate why they can watch what they want to watch, say what they want to say without fear, go after the job they want to go after, and vote for who they want to vote for?

How often does the average American think about what courage it took to create our country, and what courage it takes to defend it now? How often does the average American read over the works of Benjamin Franklin, peruse the Federalist Papers, or examine the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? How often do those engaged in the debate over gun control actually take a look at what the other amendments comprising the Bill of Rights say, about things other than “the right to bear arms”?

We Americans love our “freedom”, though I think we only really appreciate it on days when terrorists fly passenger jets into skyscrapers.

Self-righteous Hollywood stars like George Clooney think they are entitled to be taken seriously whenever they speak out about certain issues because, well, they are stars. Self-righteous commentators like Ann Coulter think they can insult whoever they want because, well, everyone else is wrong.

But they can only do that because the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, court decisions, government policies, and certain events helped foster a system, society and culture where ill-informed or arrogant “influential” people can thrive on playing on the general public’s general ignorance about a great many things. Thus emerges a situation in which whatever is said by the famous seems to be an expert opinion instead of just a prominent opinion.

“Freedom” is a word bandied about so much that the risk of it becoming as misunderstood or devalued as “conservative”, “liberal” and “love” is dangerously high. We take “conservative” to mean one thing, and “liberal” to mean another, and then use these terms either as a blanket endorsement or condemnation of someone or something.

For example, we associate “conservative” with “right wing”. Were the Nazis, on the far right-wing of the political spectrum, conservatives? In that they sought to uphold certain ingrained Germanic values, and thrived on that long-cherished European tradition of anti-Semitism, the Nazis were indeed politically “conservative”. In that they wanted to control everything, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party was definitely “big government” – not, technically, conservative.

And we associate “liberal” with “left wing”. We think of Communists or socialists as “left wingers”. Was the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics made up of a bunch of liberals? How would that label – we’re told liberals are anti-war, after all – square with the Soviet Union invading Poland from the east in 1939 after the Nazis invaded from the west? Didn’t those “left-wing liberals” in the USSR place nukes in Cuba in the 1960s, and invade Afghanistan in 1979? Maybe they were really right-wing liberals – or left-wing conservatives.

Did you know that the Liberal Party in the Commonwealth of Australia is actually, ideologically, conservative? Those blokes and sheilas Down Under in Oz sure are wacky!

A man might say “I love you” to a woman in order to try to get her into bed. Will one day our leaders speak of “freedom” just to seduce us, to rubberize our knees and emotionally compel us to comply with their desires and plans?

Or will this word, “freedom”, lose its meaning and patriotic value, becoming for us an emotional burden we no longer wish to be enslaved to or even hear about?

Paying lip-service to “freedom” like a broken record will not, in and of itself, help true freedom to endure. For many around the world, “freedom” as applied to the U.S.A. refers to luxury, wealth, decadence and materialism. So what? America has been blessed – and Americans work hard to capitalize on those blessings and make the country and themselves more successful, and more powerful. The rest of the world needs to deal with that, and take more than a lesson or two from the American playbook, instead of envying us and holding our success against us.

BUT if Americans think of “freedom” only abstractly, in a primarily materialistic way, forgetting everything else that the word “freedom” implies – politically, socially, culturally, technologically, scientifically, educationally, philosophically, etc. – then “freedom” might in the future become for America what “SPQR” became for Rome: empty; an idea formerly full of meaning; underappreciated and taken for granted by the populace; and an overused word later all but disposed of, kept alive and employed only when someone powerful wants to get us into bed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Lack of Evidence

“Listening to some Democrats, you'd think the enemy was George Bush, not Kim Jong Il…”

– Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

What evidence is there – at all – that the Democrats would have handled North Korea any differently than the Bush Administration? None! The most important agenda, the most important aspect about the Democratic platform the past few years has been nothing more than “oppose Bush”!

Let’s go back in time: What exactly did President Clinton do about North Korea? He signed an agreement with Pyongyang in the mid-1990s that the North Koreans immediately, and secretly, set about violating.

If Al Gore had secured the Oval Office instead of George W. Bush, would we have even gone to war in Afghanistan to go after the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the events of September 11, 2001? When our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed in 1998, what did President Bill Clinton do? He lobbed a few cruise missiles at some training camps in Afghanistan and not much else. While I don’t blame him for 9/11, we shouldn’t forget that it was under Clinton’s watch in 1996 that Osama bin Laden issued his fatwa, his declaration of war, against the United States.

How would John Kerry have handled North Korea if he’d won the election of 2004? Any differently? He probably would have signed more agreements with the North Koreans that they would have violated – because who can really trust a dictatorial regime that spends millions on R&D for nuclear weapons while the vast majority of its people starve? Since the North Koreans had already violated all their past agreements with Washington, what would have been the point of wasting the paper on another one?

I don’t disagree: the way the war in Iraq is being run is laughable, dangerously so. I don’t see what benefits Donald Rumsfeld brings to the Pentagon, and now that I’ve heard the Army is lowering some of its standards because it wouldn’t otherwise meet its recruitment goals, my opinion on the matter is only strengthened – and this is the case even when taking into account that a person’s worth to the Army, and America, might be more than their test scores or criminal records would lead one to believe.

It would be better if President Bush stopped talking about the need to “stay the course in Iraq”, and instead spoke of a need to “do the job right in Iraq”. But given that President Bush, far from going it alone, got the Chinese, the Russians, the South Koreans and the Japanese involved with the effort to disarm North Korea through negotiations, he can hardly be blamed for dropping the ball on this one. I mean, how often have the Democrats (along with the French) deplored this administration’s “unilateralism”? Would they have done any different?

No. They probably would have, once North Korea threatened a ballistic missile test like it did in July, agreed to the talks demanded by Pyongyang in return for scrubbing such a test. Then, seeing that they’d gotten away with that sort of blackmail, the North Koreans likely would have threatened to detonate a nuclear weapon to drag any sort of Democrat-run White House back to the negotiating table in order to butt-rape America once again and get something else they wanted.

And the Iranians, seeing this, would be even more assertive than they have been about their own nuclear program. The Iranians would’ve demanded direct negotiations, and any Democrat who was in the Oval Office would have agreed, and like their allies the North Koreans, the Iranian state-sponsors of terrorism would have publicly agreed to suspend their nuclear research program in English while in secret they would have – in Persian – ordered their scientists to continue development of nuclear weapons.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the argument of New Jersey’s Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, that Bush “went to sleep at the switch” over North Korea “while he pursued his narrow agenda in Iraq.” I cannot picture, at all, Howard Dean or John Kerry being able to take a tough, meaningful stance against North Korea. John Edwards, maybe. Joe Lieberman, maybe. Not all Democrats are as weak on national security as Republicans make them out to be, and some likely do have the guts to defend the United States in the necessary manner.

Yes, Bush might have ignored warnings about an impending Islamist attack in the summer of 2001. Yes, Bush focused on Iraq more than on North Korea.

That’s the past.

We’ve got to deal with the present.

Whether the bomb the North Koreans detonated on Monday was a full-fledged nuclear weapon or a wanna-be nuke, their actions and declarations related to it have shown that the course of negotiations as prescribed by Democrats, the Russians and the Chinese – as well as the South Koreans – were too weak, too spineless, and not at all appropriate. China and Russia, North Korea’s two best friends, have a record of obstructing the imposition of meaningful sanctions by the U.N. Security Council – will this remain the case with the sanctions now under consideration in New York?

I can’t blame Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe for voicing his opinion that his country’s constitution needs to be revised to allow Japan to more vigorously defend itself. I prefer a strong Japan to a weak diplomatic process in northeast Asia that got, well, pretty much nothing in return for its existence except missile tests and test explosions. Thanks, in no small part, are to be directed toward Moscow and Beijing.

I think it’s time the Democrats stop telling us what they wouldn’t have done in Iraq or wouldn’t have done with regards to North Korea. Now’s the time to demonstrate what they will do with these situations. If all they will do is pull the troops out and champion an ass-covering National Intelligence Estimate that says not that others are choosing terrorism, but that we are causing it – wasn’t it an NIE in 2002 or 2003 that said Iraq had WMDs? – what good will that do us?

Should we negotiate in good faith with those who only negotiate in bad faith?

Didn’t Bill Clinton try that sort of thing with Pyongyang?

Didn’t it kind of, like…um, y’know…not work?

When it comes to the present situation involving the world and the undemocratic Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, let’s judge President Bush in the coming days and months by not only what he says, but what he does – just like the Democrats should be judged. They can blame Bush all they want right now for letting things get to this point, but they can’t prove that they would have acted any differently.

Friday, September 29, 2006

When the President Kicks a Precedent in the Balls

What with the passage by the House and Senate this week of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, I think it is totally fair for me to make the observation that if too many Democrats in Congress can be called “defeatists”, then nowadays it is also the case that too many Republicans in the Congress, and the White House, deserve also to be given a derogatory label – “demagogues”.

If the War on Terrorism is a war of a kind that has never been fought before, then how does the Bush Administration know – how does anyone, of any political party know – what the proper method is for fighting and winning it?

It doesn’t seem at all logical to me to say that eroding Constitutional protections and sacrificing moral principles will make our nation stronger, when it is that Constitution and those principles which over the years have created, protected, and contributed to the political and social environment which enabled America to become as strong, successful, powerful, and exceptional a country as it is.

Do not try to convince me that the only correct way to fight a war of a kind "we’ve never fought before" is to expand the power of the Executive Branch at the expense of the checks and balances which would normally be provided by the Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Constitution itself. Such an argument is asinine, and strikes me as more of an emotional plea meant to scare me a month or two before an election rather than as a rational or well-thought out and forward-thinking plan.

How any of the Republicans who voted for this bill can call themselves conservative from now on is beyond me. Too, I think it would be wrong to call every Democrat who voted against the antiterrorism bill weak when it comes to America’s security.

Ensuring American security is as much about protecting the people, and the Constitution and laws which protect them (whether those people – as a matter of opinion or our accepted sense of justice and morality – deserve to be protected under our laws or not), as it is about having the ability to go after or prosecute terror suspects abroad or at home.

Traditionally, a conservative is one who is cautious and who doesn’t ride roughshod over previously accepted, venerated traditions out of the perceived – but by no means necessary – expediency of the moment. In a purely political sense, a conservative, according to the term’s simplest definition within the American system, is one who is wary of expanding the power or influence of the government over peoples’ lives.

From my reading of the actual bill itself, it is easy to see how a broad interpretation of its provisions would enable a power-hungry individual or presidential administration to label virtually any alleged crime as a terrorist act, opening the door for even the most petty of criminal suspects – even grave robbers, as abhorrent and despicable as they are – to be locked up in a military jail, with the keys thrown away, the suspect’s right to a fair trial by a jury of his or her peers being indefinitely suspended…all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Will the United States of America that our generation and those to come inherits from the 109th Congress and a Bush Administration dedicated to “unitary executive theory” be an America where people not only are inclined to distrust the government, but to fear it as well, more than they ever might have before?

Sure, it might not be the case that Congress ever passes a law which repeals the First Amendment.

But if – if – in the future late night comedians make fewer jokes about politicians, or newspapers refrain from criticizing too strongly a government policy for fear of being prosecuted under, say, Section 950fff of Subchapter VII on Punitive Matters of Chapter 47A of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, will it be too late to meaningfully complain about such self-censorship without submitting to fear of the government or military tribunals ourselves?

By the way, we’re told that the New York Times blowing the lid on some NSA wiretapping program is some sort of unprecedented security-compromising travesty, and yet, during the Civil War, all Confederate General Robert E. Lee needed to do to learn about Union troop movements was pick up a copy of a Northern newspaper smuggled into Virginia!

In order to win a war that no one has ever previously fought or won, must we give in to the governmental demagogic line which says that if a certain bill is not passed, our government won’t have the tools to win it for us? With a lack of anecdotes or reflections by any victors making it that much harder to determine what will win it for us and what won’t, I don’t think this is the right course of action.

In one, five, ten, or twenty years’ time, will we discover that in the pursuit of justice against our enemies, we have forsaken justice for ourselves? Hopefully the Supreme Court will do what it was designed to do, so that the answer to such a question will always be “no”.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
– attributed to Benjamin Franklin


Full text of the just-passed Senate bill

Who voted how?




Monday, September 25, 2006

Show Some Initiative on New Orleans

Former President Bill Clinton has been getting a lot of press recently. I saw his appearance on The Daily Show, where he talked with Jon Stewart about his Clinton Global Initiative. I, unfortunately, missed his apparently somewhat contentious interview on Fox News. He was supposed to be talking, for at least half of the interview, about his Clinton Global Initiative. Wow, that Clinton Global Initiative really is doing great things, isn’t it?

CGI has raised $2 billion recently just for health and poverty-related issues in Africa. The founder of the Virgin Group, billionaire Richard Branson, pledged a gigantic sum – more than any other amount raised thus far by the CGI – to promote research into global warming causes over the next several years. Rupert Murdoch has contributed vast sums of his fortune. So has Laura Bush.

Now, I’m not saying that poverty shouldn’t be addressed in Africa. It should. I’m all for AIDS research. I’ve put my two cents in recently on global warming. I think it’s great, just great, that the billionaires of the world, American and foreign, can come together no matter their political leanings and donate copious amounts of money to help make the world a better place.

But…what about New Orleans? Thank God that Hurricane Katrina did not kill as many people in New Orleans as the south Asia tsunami did. However, just because fewer people died or were displaced along the Gulf Coast, does this mean that not only the government, but the private sector, should worry more about rebuilding areas ravaged by mother nature abroad more than similar areas at home? Uh, no. Shouldn’t a superpower be able to do both?

I seem to recall that not long after Hurricane Katrina hit and the federal and local governments bungled the dealing with the aftermath, President George W. Bush had his dad, former President George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton visit the storm-ravaged Big Easy just as he’d had them visit the tsunami-ravaged regions around the Indian Ocean in the wake of the massive destruction and death there in December 2004. They established the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which to date has disbursed nearly $80 million to, among other things, help build energy-efficient schools in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

They’ve done this because energy-efficient schools are really more important than, well, schools in general…I guess. Or potable water, for that matter. Bill Clinton has urged patience on rebuilding New Orleans. Things are in the planning stages, whether it is getting medical aid to Katrina-hit regions or getting people back home. "I know how maddening this is; it takes time," President Clinton says.

Sure, it takes time…but I wonder, will New Orleans become America’s Pompeii, just so that Bill Clinton can look like a good, world-minded environmental-friendly philanthropist? There doesn’t seem to be much happening courtesy of Washington in New Orleans, as far as rebuilding residential areas go. Bill Clinton is trying to show that he can do a lot more good as an influential private citizen, freed of the restraints placed on his role and obligations when he was the president.

While it isn’t exactly the case that a former Oval Office occupant-turned-philanthropist is going up to a former resident of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a nine-year-old black American who became a refugee within his own country, and telling him “I’m sorry, son, but because 20,000 people in Sri Lanka need bicycles, you’re just going to have to wait your turn.” It isn’t exactly like that, but it isn’t really all that far off either.

The Clinton Global Initiative is certainly a more constructive contribution to the world than most of what Jimmy Carter has been doing since his presidency, but Bill Clinton could be doing a lot more than just occasionally stumping for fellow Democrats in this mid-term year or raising millions for New Orleans instead of billions for the world.

I’m happy for the New Orleans Saints that they get to return home to the Superdome, and that the stadium has flashy new scoreboards all over the place, that concessions stands are more convenient, and that U2 and Green Day are to be performing for the Superdome crowd attending a game being broadcast on Monday Night Football.

I’m so happy, in fact, that I’m staying up WAY past the bedtime I normally assign myself so that I can watch MNF on ESPN in Jerusalem. Call it Tuesday Morning Football. Don’t worry – I can sleep Tuesday night, or on the train ride home after work. I mean, I think getting back to as normal a routine as possible is good for New Orleans, or at least certain districts of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, other areas of the city are gutted. National Guard troops are helping to patrol some of the hardest hit districts of the city, through the end of the year at least. Lawlessness has been rampant, and there haven’t been enough courtrooms or jail cells to keep troublemakers in line. The city’s population is a fraction of what it used to be…so don’t let the sold-out Superdome schedule fool you into thinking that everything’s hunky-dory.

At this rate, Lebanon will probably get rebuilt before New Orleans does.

And that’s really sad. Though they refuse to take responsibility at all, the Lebanese basically brought the destruction wrought by Israeli warplanes upon their infrastructure when they allowed the Shiite group to launch attacks on the Jewish state. The only crime, the only real crime, that New Orleans residents committed regarding Hurricane Katrina’s destruction is that they built buildings and lived in a flood-prone city. They knew that what happened could happen, but still…

The Army Corps of Engineers, I think, deserves more of the blame for not building quality levees. The federal government deserves the blame for bungling rescue and relief efforts. Local leaders deserve the blame for not urging residents to leave sooner, and for being wishy-washy on how to rebuild. Sure, those who were stubborn enough to stay should not be exempt from their own stupidity in needing to be rescued later on, but does Lebanon really deserve to be rebuilt more than New Orleans?

If you ask the pro-“Death to America” crowd, the answer will likely be a resounding yes. If you ask any American who is ashamed of how the government and private philanthropy are neglecting Greater New Orleans in favor of south Beirut, Aceh province, literacy in South Africa or global warming, the answer should be no…whether they recognize the idiocy in helping those who shoot themselves in the feet (the Lebanese) to reload the gun, or not.

While I think it’s great that Bill Clinton can raise billions for addressing worldwide issues, if he could only raise the same amount for – among other places along the Gulf CoastNew Orleans, that would be pretty damn awesome too. Heck, it would be better if he’d take the time to even try to raise not just millions, but billions for the Gulf Coast.

If Bill Clinton can do more good for the world as a private citizen…let’s see him do it, really do it, for America, too.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Suggestion for an Easier 5767

Recently, the New York Times urged Pope Benedict XVI to apologize for making a speech in a Western, non-Muslim majority country in which he indirectly criticized Islam. At the same time, the Times wants it to be known that the White House of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney is whittling away at the Bill of Rights and the ability of the New York Times to freely criticize how the president is running the war on terror. There have been times when I’ve sensed that to a point, the New York Times might actually have a point. At others, such as now, I’m moved to be more than a little critical of the hypocrisy I’m seeing.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t pick and choose, and then expect commonsensical people to sympathize with you. It’s “All, or nothing at all,” as Sinatra sang. In my view, you should not speak out against a presidential administration for allegedly assaulting free speech by telling American media outlets not to say certain things, and then tell America that the pope shouldn’t say certain things – lest the rancor of the Muslim world be raised. Either freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press are to be preserved, respected and protected entirely, within reason but without exception, or not at all.

You can’t effectively win the hearts and minds of people to your cause, people who know what it is to think for themselves and who understand the value of free speech, free expression, and freedom of the press, by holding the president accountable for supposedly assaulting the free press in the name of national security and then, later, contradict yourself by implying that free speech must be curbed in the name of national security if we are to avoid bringing upon ourselves Muslim reprisals for one offense or another to Islam, either imagined or genuine.

Giving into their fear of Islamism, U.S. media outlets rush to genuflect before those who, by firebombing churches, protest against linking Islam with violence. European newspapers aren’t supposed to print Muhammad cartoons, but it’s perfectly acceptable for Saudi and Qatari newspapers to print cartoons of horned, slobbering, hook-nosed Jews. The pope must apologize for indirectly criticizing Islam, but Muslims need not apologize for racist comments, such as Palestinian newspapers calling Condoleeza Rice “the black spinster”.

Why are we so confused? If we’re not fighting for our right to speak our minds, to worship God as we wish (or not at all), and to govern ourselves as we please, then for what are we fighting? For the hell of it? For the fun of it? I didn’t realize we all enjoyed war so much, and the sadness, death and destruction it brings with it.

I know it’s easier to give in than face the uncertainty that often comes with adversity. When the going gets tough, the weak-willed retreat. I know. I know, I know, I know. We might be a world of six billion people, and Muslims might only number a billion or so, but there’s obviously little point in trying.

So, since too many people are too scared to stand up straight, look Islamist Bullies and their sympathizers squarely in the eyes, and say “enough is enough”, I’ve got the solution: Why bother? Let’s just surrender now, convert to Islam, and save ourselves the trouble of standing up for what we believe in. That would certainly make things easier, right? Am I wrong? We wouldn’t have to worry about little things like democratic values, tolerance, or women’s rights. Bring on the female circumcision and honor killings!

And now, Shana Tova!

Happy New Year to my fellow Jews celebrating Rosh HaShana this weekend. May the year 5767 be a year of sweetness, success, health, happiness and safety for me, and for all of my other infidel friends and family members as well!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Fables of General Sonthi

“How are you? I just heard the news about what's going on. It's been a while, in relative terms, since something like this has happened in Thailand.” – Me, this morning, in an email to a “pen-pal” friend

I am fine thank you.
Yeh, its the coup the military has taken over but there is no threat to the public ... the soldiers are there at the government area, infront of the PM's house and the big people..
The schools, uni and banks are on a holiday :) ”
Amrit, in Thailand

--- - ---

The ancient Greek writer Aesop, of “Fables” fame, said “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”

With this unfortunately true principle in mind, I have found it very hard to take the Thai military seriously when, after Thailand’s most recent military coup, it announced “We would like to insist that we have no intention of governing the country. We will return the power of constitutional monarchy back to Thai people as soon as possible to maintain peace and stability.”

Just last week, the chief of Thailand’s military (who is the first Muslim to head the Thai army), General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, ruled out a military solution to the country’s political squabbles. “Has the situation gone to that point? No. There is still a way to go by democratic means,” he had said. “We should stop talking about it. It is impossible.” Riiiight. Liar.

This is the same guy who, not so long ago, remarked that “Military coups are a thing of the past.”

Now, politicians lie all of the time. In fact, more often than not, it seems possessing an ability to lie is a prerequisite for becoming a successful politician in the first place, whatever or wherever the country might be (even though it may only be revealed later what kind of a liar that particular person is). But Gen. Sonthi isn’t a politician by trade, he’s a soldier. He has said, and I quote, that “Political troubles should be resolved by politicians.”

If Sonthi’s making a move into politics, he’s making a bad start by proving he doesn’t mean what he says beforehand, instead of doing so later. I guess all green politicians make mistakes from time to time.

Speaking on behalf of those behind the coup, General Prapas Sakultanak justified the coup by speaking of the government’s ineffectiveness and division, saying “Most people don't trust the government because there are many signs of corruption.”

Really? The Thai people don’t trust the government? Why, exactly, should they trust the military either, when it says it wishes democracy for the Thai people? Eighteen attempted or successful military-led coups d’etat in 74 years of modern Thai constitutional monarchy seems to point to an almost undeniable conclusion - that the only thing those who head the Thai military really care about is their own power and influence.

When things don’t go your way in a true democracy, the way forward is not to seize power, suspend the national constitution, terminate the parliament and courts, and declare martial law. If yours is a nation governed by the concrete rules of law and not the arbitrary rules of men, then the law is to be respected no matter how much division between the people there is. There’s really no reason for argument, here, unless your country is wracked by violence and declaring martial law is the only way to bring about law and order once again.

Anything less than this sort of respect for the rule of law in a democracy by those who are bound to uphold or protect it means that your democracy is constantly walking a tightrope, always in danger of falling off without any net to catch it. And others are usually left to deal with the mess.

In a true democracy, there is no question that “political troubles should be resolved by politicians.” Civilian oversight of the military is as necessary for a healthy, stable democracy as regularly-held, free and fair elections, a free press, freedom of assembly, and dissent. And if you’re a politician - or a soldier - who expects to gain the trust of voters, you should at least know that you have to keep a good number of the promises or pledges that you make, even if you’re forced by either necessity or expediency to break a good number of others, or to fib from time to time.

But if you’re an unelected military chief, and you’re quoted as saying to the public “Military coups are a thing of the past,” and then that supposedly antiquated practice suddenly rears its ugly head again while you’re at the helm of the armed forces, surely you realize the damage you’re doing to your reputation as a potentially reputable, trustworthy figure. It doesn’t matter if a coup is expected or not – when you give your word like this, and then break it, it should be that much harder in the future to gain the trust of your people...even if you're friends with the nation's beloved king.

There are likely those who, with sunshiny utopian delusions in their hearts, will take generals like Sonthi and Prapas and others of their ilk at their word, even though these men have by their actions of late shown that they deserve not one iota of the benefit of anyone’s doubt.

Will the moral of this developing story be, like that ancient Fables’ moral, “After all is said and done, more is said than done”? This really depends on whatever fable the modern General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin presents Thailand, and the world, with. He’s already off to a bad start. It isn’t as if military coups are usually carried out with the best interests of the people in mind.

Since it will likely be coup leaders, and not the people they’re supposed to protect, who will be deciding who the next prime minister of Thailand is, I’m not encouraged by comments from General Sonthi like “We have two weeks. After two weeks, we will step out.” The Thai military, though it has a history of doing so, should not have even stepped in to begin with this time around.

One step forward, two steps back. Three steps forward, four steps back.

Either way, democracy suffers.

Every moment now is one during which the foundations of democratic governance in Thailand whither under the influence, or direct control, of the government by the military. How convenient for the coup leadership that no timetable is being given for when the power to determine which direction the government will take will actually be handed back to the Thai people, instead of unelected soldiers.

Until I see otherwise, I’ll remain a skeptic. There is always hope, though, that I could be wrong about this.

If anything, these events should help us to appreciate how lucky we really, truly, genuinely are…and that education, staying informed, and continual vigilance is required if things are to remain that way.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Teaching Tabletop Tolerance

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to speak to you today about a dangerous, hateful, destabilizing phenomenon which is affecting our minds and our world today. It has led to a variety of international problems, including wars, and it is a form of outright racism which should no longer be tolerated if we are to truly build a world of peace, prosperity and cooperation between those of different nations and faiths. There is a level of disrespect being given toward an important demographic segment of our societies, and if allowed to continue, then all that we are fighting for might very well be for naught.

This phenomenon, my friends, is anti-Spoonism.

I’m not talking about resistance to spooning, the practice of two people lying down together in a certain sexual manner; anti-Spoonism is not to be confused with anti-Spooningism.

Rather, I’m speaking about the blatant violence being visited upon all sorts of actual spoons: soup spoons, teaspoons, black spoons, white spoons, tablespoons, dessert spoons, plastic spoons – every kind of spoon, really. These everyday, unsung heroes of our world are so often just thrown about like rag dolls, dirty undies or used condoms. Having employed a spoon, we think nothing of then throwing it into a sink, dishwasher or the trash with callousness and ignorance. We should be ashamed of ourselves, truly we should.

The clinks and clangs as a spoon bounces around in a kitchen sink rarely bring about sympathy in the average citizen, but upon viewing the spoon later we cannot help but notice the abuse being done thanks to our lackadaisical approach to the civil rights of regular spoons or their cheaper, more disposable cousins. These spoons will also sometimes sit for the better part of an hour or more in a dishwasher, subjected against their will to an environment of boiling water and bubbly soap; once cleaned we will throw them into their place in a drawer like so much other rubbish.

Where’s the love?

For thousands of years (yes, thousands of years), these spoons have stirred our spaghetti noodles, cookie dough and coffee; they’ve brought Cheerios, Jell-O and Cream of Mushroom soup to our mouths; they have dished out applesauce, ice cream and mashed potatoes into waiting and eager bowls…and yet we’ve paid them little of the respect that we’ve always expected them to give to us, which we’ve seen as our entitlement. Is this right? Is this fair? No, it is not.

We don’t appreciate these spoons for their having enabled our civilizations to press forward with the business of life and history as conveniently, and slurp-ily, as possible. With such heartless disregard, anti-Spoonism takes root and infects our minds.

Sure, forks and knives deserve gratitude and respect too. I fully acknowledge that. But forks and knives are better able to defend themselves than spoons. A fork has points on it which, if disrespected, can really hurt. Knives big and small are notorious for their tendency to become dual-use items; they are always capable of turning from a dinner utensil into a deadly weapon in a matter of seconds.

What about that special creature, the “spork”? Necessity, the mother of invention, has along with evolution provided the “spork” with the ability to revenge itself, by itself, when visited with the evil of anti-Spoonism. However, when no longer seen as useful or needed, the spork is still thrown into the trash just as carelessly as its cousin, the ordinary plastic spoon. Adaptation, mutation and assimilation can only do so much, as millions of sporks have undoubtedly discovered to their immense dismay.

Henceforth, we should commit ourselves to showing our curved, miniature-bowl-with-a-handle friends a bit more respect. We get by with quite a lot of help from them. We should not underestimate the positive power of giving spoons an encouraging word or two, and then ever so gently placing them in a sink, dishwasher, or trash can, when we are done with them. We should be as sweet to spoons as the sugar they help transport to our bowl of Quaker oatmeal or our cup of Earl Grey tea.

Whether your credo is “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”, or “Don’t do to others that which you do not want done to yourself”, remember that we wouldn’t want spoons to treat us the way we normally treat them. Justifying anti-Spoonism by saying “there is no spoon” might work for The Matrix, but in the real world this form of willful indifference should be fought with all the willpower that we can muster.

If you see instances of anti-Spoonism, or know an anti-Spoonite, speak out. Do not hold your tongue for fear that you may be ridiculed. If you yourself are an anti-Spoonite, examine your ways. Commit to change.

You never know – you could, with your kindness, respect and understanding, forever instill an ordinary spoon (of any genus or species) with the hope and belief in a better tomorrow…no matter what abuse that spoon may take in the future. You might feel insane, or be looked upon as insane by others, for talking to a spoon. But take heart. Remember that the real crazies are those who, all but blind to their arrogance, perpetuate intolerance and injustice in the world with their disrespectful anti-Spoonism.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Jeremy Slavin

Monday, September 18, 2006

For Shame!

“We cannot allow the American flag to be shot at anywhere on earth if we are to retain our respect and prestige.” – Barry Goldwater

Have the United States of America given up sovereignty so much to the point that leaders past and present of countries that sponsor terrorism against us, and our allies, can all but enter the country at will? Must a commitment to the free exchange of ideas between nations and peoples mean that when someone calls for our destruction at rallies – or listens to the crowds chant “Death to America” – we should let them in to hear what they have to say?

Do we not already know what they have to say? Have they not been quoted again, and again, and again, saying hateful, spiteful and intolerant things?

Right as former, so-called “moderate” Iranian president Mohammed Khatami was returning to the Islamic Republic from a visit to the U.S., guess what current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said? He said that America and Britain may have won the Second World War, but that we’ll “lose World War III” because “Iran will win the coming war and America will be beaten.”

People openly declaring that they will defeat us in “the coming war” are the kind of people that the State Department gives visas to. Some lessons from 9/11 are still yet to be learned.

Ahmadinejad requested, and received, an entry visa for the upcoming opening of the U.N. General Assembly this week. Last week, he went to Cuba for a Non-Aligned Movement conference; all that is “Non-Aligned” about this grouping is that not all of the blatantly dictatorial or quasi-authoritarian, anti-democratic, anti-American members of the Non-Aligned Movement are Muslim nations. Saying the Non-Aligned Movement is actually “non-aligned” is like saying I am satisfied with the state of my life – it’s just not true.

“To insist on strength is not war-mongering. It is peace-mongering.”
– Barry Goldwater

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents everything that is wrong with the United Nations – it’s a more-than-most-others hypocritical, anti-Semitic, anti-American, anti-democracy, anti-upholding human rights organization, with a few bright spots that would ordinarily tip the balance in the U.N.’s favor were it not for the fact that the U.N. has so often been a repeat offender in so many dangerous and destabilizing ways that the balance sheet will likely never be in the U.N.’s favor during our lifetimes.

Allowing President Ahmadinejad of the Islamic Republic to speak before the U.N. General Assembly, who with his repeated exhortations to destroy Israel, his Holocaust denial, and his mocking Holocaust cartoons has basically given his blessing to attempted genocide, is the last thing that damned organization needs right now, and also is the last thing America needs. It’s happened before already, and it’ll be happening once again: the president of Iran denouncing America before the world in America’s greatest city. While people clap.

When the hell are we going to stand up for ourselves before “leaders” the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Venezuela’s dangerously antagonistic President Hugo Chavez? Shouldn’t we be an example of the principles we supposedly stand for, or should we be as hypocritical as Europe and talk sanctions with our enemies one day, and do tea with them the next? Do we have to be so accommodating to those who wouldn’t be as accommodating to us (by this, of course, I mean to those who openly state they will defeat us in a war)?

Have we become like Europe, that Continent which our nation set out from the very beginning to be as different from as possible?

Where the hell is our backbone?

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” – Barry Goldwater

Saturday, September 16, 2006

When the Bully Asks for an Apology

This is absolutely ridiculous.

If we draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, we must apologize, lest our embassies get burned to the ground. Never mind that freedom of expression, Western-style, is one of our cherished values.

If we’re the pope, and quote a Byzantine emperor’s comments from over 600 years ago, comments that offend the sensibilities of people who dance in the streets when planes are flown into skyscrapers, comments that insult people who scream out “Death to America!” and “Death to the Jews”, comments that do no actual harm to people who wish to do us harm, we must apologize for it.

Don’t offend the Muslims, we’re told, or else they’ll do something to us. And we’re increasingly being told this not only by Muslims themselves.

Thank you, New York Times.

Never mind that these comments were meant to show “the incompatibility of violence with the nature of God”, because they angered people who scream out “Allah-u-Akbar” (God is Great) before blowing themselves up on a bus full of innocent people…Pope Benedict XVI is at fault. Not militant Islam.

Wait, you didn’t happen to hear that after the Pope made his speech with Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus’s opinion of Muhammad in 1391 (Benedict even said “and I quote” to emphasize these were not his words), five churches in the Gaza Strip were attacked – with the attackers emphasizing that their firebombs were thrown in protest of what the Pope said?

Chew on that: Even as Muslims demand the Pope apologize for indirectly – indirectly – equating the actions of many Muslims with violence, Muslims throw bombs at churches in Gaza and damage the doors of churches in Iraq.

And we’re told the Pope must apologize!

“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

That’s what Pope Benedict XVI quoted, from a discussion between a 14th century Byzantine emperor and a Persian Muslim of his time. The quote wasn’t Benedict’s – it was someone else’s.

And now, I quote, the New York Times:

“The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.”

Hmm, yeah, words can hurt.

“With the establishment of the State of Israel, the entire Muslim nation was lost because Israel is a cancer that spread in the body of the Islamic nation; because the Jews are a virus similar to AIDS, from which the entire world is suffering.” – Sheikh Ibrahim Mudayris, Palestinian Authority (official) TV sermon, on May 13, 2005

“The Talmud says that if a Jew does not drink every year the blood of a non-Jewish man, he will be damned for eternity.” – Marouf al-Dawalibi, Saudi Arabia’s delegate to a United Nations Human Rights Commission, on December 5, 1984

“Here are the Jews today taking revenge for their grandfathers and ancestors, the sons of apes and pigs. Here are the extremist Jews demanding their rights. Some extremists even demand their rights in Medina....This is the extremist tendency of Jews. They are extremists and terrorists who deserve death, while we deserve life, since we have a just cause.”Sheikh Ibrahim Mudayris Gaza Palestine Satellite TV (another official Palestinian Authority station), on March 12, 2004

“Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury.” - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, on October 27, 2005 at the “World Without Zionism” conference

Look at these quotes, now:

Libya’s Religious Affairs office said that the “…insult pushes us back to the era of crusades against Muslims led by Western political and religious leaders.”

Pope Benedict XVI “will go down in history in the same category as leaders like Hitler and Mussolini.”

That wasn’t a quote from a Saudi newspaper or Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. That was from a newspaper in predominantly Muslim, predominantly secular Turkey. I’d like to talk to the editors of that newspaper about what the Turks did to the Armenians after the First World War, but then…Turkey’s still officially in denial that it had leaders who should have gone down in the same category as Hitler. After all, Hitler argued that no one will care about what happens to the Jews because “who today speaks of the Armenians?”

All we hear is that we must apologize to Muslims.

We must apologize for supporting Israel. We must apologize for defending ourselves. We must apologize for exercising our right to freedom of expression. We must apologize when we say something Muslims don’t like. We must apologize for being Jews, or Christians, and not Muslims.

Wait, are we dhimmis already?

Where is the official Muslim apology for the tens of thousands of anti-Semitic cartoons which have appeared in the Arab-Muslim press since the mid-20th century? Where is the Muslim apology for labeling Jews like myself “the sons of apes and pigs,” and where is the apology for comments such as “the Jews are a virus similar to AIDS” ? Where is the official Muslim apology for the World Trade Center bombing in 1993?

Where is the official Muslim apology for the burning down of European embassies in Syria during the whole Cartoon Muhammad debacle? Where is the Muslim apology for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hateful rhetoric, denying the Holocaust and declaring that another country should be destroyed just because it deigns to exist?

Where is the official Arab apology for the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, who was killed by Sirhan Sirhan – a Palestinian (who was at times Christian, at other times a Muslim)?

Where is the Muslim apology for the kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq of foreign aid workers?

Where is the official Muslim apology for 9/11? where is the official Muslim - official Palestinian - apology for Palestinians dancing in the streets of the West Bank after the Twin Towers fell?

Where is the official Muslim apology for, by the sword and under duress, making two Fox News journalists convert to Islam after they’d been kidnapped?

You won’t hear any such apologies, because according to a great number of Muslims, we’re the only ones at fault. I’ve actually gotten an apology from a Muslim before on exactly this sort of issue, in response to one of my previous blog entries, but usually instead of apologies you have apologists for Islamic violence. Not all Muslims are violent – but it is the case that even the more moderate Muslims are sometimes loathe to admit that it is not only the Qu’ran which exhorts Muslims to violence, but their clergy as well.

I don’t care what the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt says. I don’t care what some imam in Saudi Arabia says, or what some newspaper in Turkey says, or what the Religious Affairs office in Libya (that paragon of human rights) says. Pope Benedict XVI has nothing to apologize for. If we must apologize for speaking freely, and for doing so to urge people to not justify the use of violence with religion, well…what has the world come to?

We're facing a situation equivalent to one where we're the nerdy-looking kid getting beat up on the playground (I know what this is like) and the bully hitting us wants us to apologize for his having freely chosen to use violence against us. And the sad thing is, people are saying...well, maybe we should be sorry. We're suffering from Stockholm Syndrome on a global scale, and if you can't tell by now who is holding us hostage, well...I don't know what to say, aside from that it’s enough to make one wonder why we should fight at all officially, when, unofficially, we’ve already given in.

“We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint, and don't get me wrong here, I have the highest respect for Islam, and learned a lot of very good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do, because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on.” – Steve Centanni, Fox News journalist, August 27, 2006

Environmental Defense's Offensive on Reality

Watching a bit of TV, as I have the habit of sometimes doing, I’ve observed several disturbing commercials produced by the Environmental Defense group, in their campaign to “Fight Global Warming”. After seeing a couple of these commercials, I gave in and visited the website. What I found there, combined with the commercials I’d seen, compelled me to write the following email to Environmental Defense within a form on their website.

Since global warming is – pun-intended – a hot-button issue for many people, I thought I’d throw my two cents in.

“Fight Global Warming” is not like the “Truth” campaign, which takes a practical approach to educating the public about just who is being targeted by tobacco companies and the negative health effects of smoking. In their commercials, for example, “Truth” will decorate a sign with bright colors featuring various flavor names, and have kids come up to demonstrate that some cigarette varieties might not be aimed at adult smokers after all. How effective “Truth” really is, though, I’m not sure about.

I don’t disagree that global warming is happening. I don’t disagree that, to one degree or another, humans are influencing the modern processes of natural global warming. I don’t disagree in principle with what Environmental Defense is trying to do, or what I think they’re trying to do, which is get people to care more about the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the “product” they’re “selling” is packaged all wrong, and likely to turn off as many people as it turns on.

You can scare a person with images of blackened lungs on a package of cigarettes, and they might have second thoughts. But you can also instill in smokers, or potential smokers, a sense of value about their lives while educating them about the health benefits of not smoking, so that they freely choose to not smoke…over the long term, it’ll probably work better.

And if you really want people to do something, hope is a far more positive motivator than fear. You can have a candidate for political office who scares you into voting for them by painting a bleak picture of the future “should my opponent win”. But you can also have a candidate who urges you to vote for them by painting a prettier picture of that same future. “Vote for me, and together we’ll work for a better tomorrow!” sounds a lot better than “Vote for me, or else something bad will happen!”

Environmental Defense isn’t giving us hope to work with. What we’re given, rather, is a lot of fear combined with only a little false hope that we can defeat global warming. Such a tactic is something I disagree with, and big time. Intimidating people into doing what Environmental Defense wants them to do won’t likely make people genuinely realize the importance of caring for the environment.

The “Fight Global Warming” campaign might be an equivalent of putting scary images on a pack of cigs, but then, as effective as those medical images might be, a lot of people will just ignore them and smoke anyway. It would be more beneficial if we got people to care about the environment, and reduce greenhouse gases, out of their own sense of a shared responsibility for our only home, Mother Earth.

We can’t hope to stop global warming, but we can hope to lessen our negative contributions to that aspect of natural global warming which is unnatural. In any case, attempting to get people to fight the reality of global warming instead of also learning how to live within it is, I think, a bum strategy.

And now, while it's more than a little redundant, on to the email…hey, it's my blog, people.


To Whom it May Concern,

I'm no environmental scientist, but given the fact that many portions of the planet Earth have experienced periods of extreme cold in addition to periods of temperate and tropical warmth (such as in the time of the Dinosaurs, the ice ages, etc) over thousands of years, why is it that Environmental Defense feels the need to be demagogues on this issue? If the Earth's history, backed up by ice cores, shows periods of great heating and great cooling, doesn't that conflict with the assertion that "The global warming we are experiencing is not natural"? Global warming would still be happening, albeit at a much slower pace, even if human industrial capabilities weren't at the level they are now.

I admit, the ads are scary. The one with the guy talking, a train coming up behind him, and then him stepping out of the way to reveal a small child standing there...that's freaky. Did it make me think about environmental actions? No, not really. It made me want to write this message instead.

I've read enough to know that contrary to much of what is presented on your website, you can't really FIGHT global warming itself; only the HUMAN contribution to global warming can be fought. We can't stop global warming any more than we can prevent what God wills to happen from happening. Can we fight history from occurring? We can fight death, or more accurately we can prolong life as long as possible, but we all still die in the end. Believing that global warming can be prevented is a fool's endeavor - in order to truly stop global warming, you'd have to stop the Earth from rotating, volcanoes from erupting, and then get humans to stop breathing.

After all, what kind of carbon dioxide emissions come from six billion people breathing? Should we have a "Fight Breathing" campaign as well? I'm not trying to mock Environmental Defense. I'm simply urging common sense.

Global warming, not just over hundreds of thousands of years but millions of years, is a natural process that humans have, yes, made worse - but then, if it is a natural process, and we're only speeding it up, shouldn't we be more concerned with preparing for the effects of global warming - both natural and human-influenced - rather than delusionally pretending we can FIGHT it?

You can slow global warming, but you can't stop it.

Isn't the "damage" that WE have caused already done? Combine that with the Earth's NATURAL cycle of warming and cooling, and, well...we can't exactly turn back the clock. Once you start skiing down a hill, it's a bit hard to stop. I mean, the snow's already there...and if you do something wrong when trying to stop...the consequences could be disastrous for you.

Whether global warming affects our lives or those of our children, or those of our grandchildren, it's going to happen anyway. While we spew CO2 into the air in huge amounts, we didn't invent it. Sure, what we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can have an impact, but we didn't create global warming and we shouldn't be made to feel as if we did. As Billy Joel sings, "We didn't start the was always burning since the world's been turning." Quite literally, actually.

Attempting to limit any negative human impact on the environment is noble and necessary, but learning how to live within, how to adapt, to a changing world - a world that is going to change with us or without us - would be nobler still and much more relevant and necessary not just for our children and their children-to-be, but for ourselves. If we only focus on fighting reality, instead of living within it...well, what will that really accomplish?

We didn't start the fire, after all.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

For What Do We Thank Syria?

It seems that this week, even just temporarily, Syria got what it wanted out of yesterday’s attempted terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. The world – and the United States, specifically – was able to sidestep the reality that Syria is a state-sponsor of terrorism, and we were treated to the paradoxical praise being given to the authoritarian government of Syria for stopping a terrorist attack that – can we really discount the possibility? – Syrian agents may have helped to perpetrate.

There’s no U.S. ambassador in Syria, and there hasn’t been since early 2005. When the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri occurred in Beirut, the fingerprints so obviously led to the Allawite Dictatorship (the Allawites are a religious minority in Syria, yet they run the government with an iron-fist like the minority Sunnis in Iraq did under Saddam Hussein). Our ambassador was recalled. And the U.N., in one of its rare laudable moments, agreed that elements within the Syrian regime were probably responsible for the assassination of Hariri.

Damascus, along with the Islamic Republic of Iran, funds and helps supply Hizballah, which launched the attacks on Israeli troops in July which led to a war that lasted over a month and devastated Lebanon and segments of northern Israel (the aftereffects of which may just topple the current government in Jerusalem, leading to fresh elections before too long). Syria is also suspected of aiding Sunni Iraqi insurgents in Iraq to carry out terrorist attacks against Shiites and coalition troops serving there.

Are we really supposed to believe that a day after the world commemorated the fifth anniversary of the worst-ever terrorist attacks in history, on September 11, 2001, another terrorist attack – which took place in the capital of an authoritarian country that has a history of sponsoring terrorist attacks elsewhere – was in no way, shape or form connected with the regime in Damascus? We’re talking about a regime that regularly sponsors groups which have killed or wish to kill American citizens. Coincidence? Hardly.

We’re talking about a country that every so often says it wants peace with Israel, but at the same time won’t allow you into the country if there is any evidence at all – even an article of clothing with a concealed tag having Hebrew on it packed at the bottom of your luggage – that you’ve ever visited the Jewish state (of course, diplomats are another matter).

We’re talking about a country that has no intention of stopping its support for terrorism suddenly getting credit for stopping a single terrorist attack. How many appeasement-minded, utopian-dreaming Europeans will see what happened on September 12 and say “Hey, maybe al-Assad isn’t so bad after all.”

How many appeasement-minded Americans will do the same?

This morning I saw an article on the Time magazine website, with the title “Why Syria May Be the Real Victim of the Attack”. The article itself does not apologize for the Syrian regime’s faults and terror sponsorship, and points out that the government in Damascus may be finally reaping what it has sown. Oh, lament for poor Syria! Forgive them, for they know not what they do!

I’m sorry, but…I feel they know exactly what they do.

These terrorists had two car bombs. Only one went off. How is it, exactly, in a tightly-controlled society, where supplying-information-on-your-neighbor is official policy, that such an elaborate plot could be planned and then even have the slightest chance of being executed without someone in the Syrian government knowing about it? It seems not too long ago – and it wasn’t – that Syria was on its highest level of war-readiness in Damascus, with anti-aircraft batteries in place just in case Israeli warplanes decided to punish Syria for its support of Hizballah terrorism.

Even if the car-bombs were assembled in one of Syria’s outlying regions, it stands to reason that Syrian security forces should have come upon the terrorists at one time or another – if the Syrian regime is innocent of this crime – as they moved to carry out their attack. If, somehow, the attacks were planned and the bombs readied in Damascus itself, and the Ba’athists in charge were totally unconnected with the plot, it still seems logical that Syrian agents should have been able to uncover it before too long.

It may very well be that a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, or some other terrorist group, managed to outwit Syria’s secret police, bypass most security preparations in the capital, and begin to carry out a terrorist attack on a U.S. Embassy not only with American troops within the compound but surrounded by thirty Syrian security troops on the perimeter. One of four terrorists was captured; the other three were killed in a firefight. It may be that Syrian interrogators grill the captured terrorist and gain insight into some new threat not only to America’s embassy in Syria, but the dictatorial regime itself there.

If the attack was subcontracted, those who carried it out might not necessarily be able to finger those ultimately responsible. It could be that the Syrian government – or elements within that government, as in the Rafik Hariri assassination – had something to do with this yesterday’s terror strike. After all, the Syrian government allowed its people to burn down two foreign embassies last fall in the wake of the Muhammad cartoons printed in Europe. Maybe the Syrians helped plan it. Or maybe they knew about pending action against our embassy, and just decided to let things play out.

Though its government hosts the offices of many a terror group, by “preventing” a terrorist operation it might have actually been responsible for, Syria managed to turn itself from a villain into a hero a day after we marked five years since 9/11. It just seems awfully, awfully convenient for Damascene PR purposes that this happened at the time, and in the way, that it did.

In a somewhat chaotic environment like the West Bank or Gaza Strip, terrorists have many places to hide and freely plan attacks against Israelis – and it’s even easier when the most prominent Palestinian terror group runs the government. But in Damascus, the tightly-controlled capital of an ordered, well-established dictatorship, it’s not as if freedom of anything, let alone movement, exists and allows for the sort of secret planning of random terrorist attacks that a democratic environment such as exists now in Spain, London, or the United States might provide.

When the Syrian ambassador in Washington blames Israel and the U.S. for Muslim extremism, and so blithely ignores Arab authoritarianism and omits home-grown Islamic fundamentalism as a cause for events like 9/11/01, 3/11/04, 7/7/05 or attempted attacks like 9/12/06 in Damascus…something’s wrong, and it isn’t with us. Even the New York Times blames our presence in Iraq for the terrorism within Iraq.

But, the thing is, we’re not forcing Islamic terrorists to carry out attacks against their fellow Iraqis, or against our own troops. The terrorists – and there are too many people who willingly forget this – are making the deliberate choice to slaughter their own people and target our soldiers in the name of Allah, Muhammad and the Qu’ran. Those Iraqis who are opposed to our presence could just as easily march peacefully in demonstrations, but they would likely be killed outright by insurgents for daring to bravely assemble freely despite their fear.

Anyway, Syria’s hands are too covered with the blood of innocents, killed over the years in numerous terror attacks which were carried out by groups Damascus sponsors, for me to even begin to try to trust what representatives of that regime may say. In the wake of yesterday’s foiled attack on the U.S. Embassy, the thanks given to the ordinary members of the Syrian security forces may very well be deserved. They did put their lives on the line, whatever their government may have chosen to do with or without their knowledge in this instance.

As for the Allawite regime itself…well, I think that Bashar Assad and all his minions, as well as those in the “Old Guard”, can go to hell. They’ll not receive my thanks, even if they remotely deserve it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Two Very Different September Days

September 11, 2001

, Arizona, U.S.A.

I'd spent most of the night before at the University of Arizona library after a fight with my Mom at her apartment (where I was staying at the time), and it was only by chance that I finally decided, as dawn broke, to drive back home to shower before the classes I was to have later that morning. I feel now, in retrospect, stupid for having put in that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV show soundtrack CD as I drove to my Mom's place, instead of turning on the radio. Then again, what happened that day would, I think, have been shocking to learn when described by any medium, at any hour.

I'll always remember walking up to the apartment that early morning, and my Mom pulling the door open right as I wearily grabbed for the doorknob. She was motioning to the television screen, and as I looked, the already oft-replayed image that day of United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center seared itself into my brain…the sight coalescing, in short order, into a bewildered, frightening comprehension.

Just writing about it brings up a swirl of emotion, as if 9/11 happened yesterday…instead of five years ago today.

Now, what follows is not what I originally spent a good amount of time typing. In fact, what follows virtually has nothing to do with the terrorist atrocities of September 11, 2001, other than my wanting to talk about something other than terrorism on this solemn day.

But really, I reconsidered for two main reasons: First, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, made comments so similar to my own today (or yesterday, by his own time zone) that I'd feel I be rehashing what he already succinctly stated (even if you all don't have any idea what he said) if I published what I'd done.

That's the first reason. The second reason is that something happened to me last week, the unfolding of a story that only the Greatest Author in the Universe could have written with such quality that it deserved to be included within the pages of my life. I feel compelled to share it.

I actually wrote this last week, or at least some version of it. I've edited it down for public consumption, but I have not changed the basic tone...which, I think...I playful.

This is a true story.

September 6, 2006
Jerusalem, Israel

A man is just about two months and ten days from leaving Israel, the country he moved to following his college graduation. He has been as unlucky in love as a single guy can be since his first relationship in the Jewish state ended. One night, our subject talked with a former job supervisor of his and noted that he wasn’t looking for a relationship of any kind with the girls he ogles, as “Hey, I’m about to leave.”

The next night, though - September 6, 2006 - he decides to take a walk with a new book in hand to the Café Hillel on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. Following the placement of his drink order (a glass of Iced Coconut Milk, his favorite at Café Hillel), he chooses a seat near a glass partition, behind which sit two girls and two guys.

Our hero of the moment assumes that the girls are the guys’ boyfriends, but can soon sense one of the girls watching him, and struggles to not smile as he pretends to ignore the tapping on the glass partition while he very honestly reads the book he’d brought with. He is somewhat in disbelief.

Could she…“No, it’s not possible,” he tells himself. Another series of taps. “That girl is trying to get my attention,” he realizes. Finally, the tapping gets to be loud enough that ignoring it would be too obviously rude. He turns around, and sees one of the most beautiful faces he’s ever seen.

She beckons to him with her mobile phone, and at first only gets the briefest glimpse of a phone number – sending him scrambling for his phone –before she pulls it away types him a message in Hebrew instead:

“What is that?”

Being something of the playful half-wit that he is, our male subject of discussion makes a show of pulling out his own mobile phone, and types back – in English – “A book” and then, smiling, presses the lit screen of his cell phone to the glass partition.

He sees the pretty girl read his English message, and then watches as she types something once again. As she moves the phone back to the glass, our fellow reads upon the screen, in Hebrew, “Do you speak Hebrew?”

What does the man do? He types back “Only a little,” (in English) and waits for the reaction.

The girl types again. “Come sit with us,” her next Hebrew message reads. Our intrepid narrator – if by now you haven’t figured it out, that’s me – looks quizzically for a moment at the sudden object of his desire, and the earnest look on her face (as well as the movement of one of the other guys sitting at her table to make a space) convinces him to get his ass off of his chair and do as she wishes.

Now, dispensing with the third-person narration , I immediately began shaking as I moved into the other room, and sat down across from a girl that was unmistakably seeing me as the attraction of the moment…amongst total strangers. As the conversation awkwardly, barely, got started with a mix of English and Hebrew with her asking me where I was from and me telling her, a Café Hillel server brought out my Iced Coconut Milk – which happens to be my favorite drink at the place. There were some short laughs amongst those at the table, which kind of perplexed me…but the confusion passed, and became something more like dread.

The rest of the group had already finished their drinks, and suddenly I and my drink were the focus of everyone’s attention. Uncomfortable, much? Being around an incredibly good looking girl can unsettle I think even men of the most resolutely stoic character. But you see...

I never get hit on by girls, because generally I'm too shy, or scared, to go out in public to environments where lots of single girls would be present and on the hunt. But this was so obviously what was happening, I didn’t know how to react. I was in foreign territory (in Israel), in foreign territory (being the hunted), with a girl whose first language is a language that, after two years in the country, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to learn all that much aside from reading and listening enough to read it a little bit and understand it a little bit.

This seemed good, though, so I was going with it. We finally got around to introductions; the girl – who with every second I was growing more and more attracted to – asked “What’s your name?” in Hebrew, and I told her. “Jeremy”. She then told me her name...which I will not share here, at the moment. We shook hands (yes, shook hands). Of course, you don't know her name, but it floated around in my head and I wondered whether or not she spelled her name the way that I was thinking about it. Anyway, you'll know her only as Pretty Girl.

The most important exchange of names completed, I was then introduced by Pretty Girl to the friends around her. Following that, we proceeded with asking and answering the questions being sent back and forth…mostly directed toward and not from me, because I was still kind of in a state of shock at being in a situation I’ve thought about being in for…quite some time. Some questions were asked by the Pretty Girl, others by her friends…all of whom are in the Israeli Army right now.

“Where do you live?”

“How old are you?”

“What are you doing in Israel?”

“Are you Jewish?” This was Pretty Girl.

You might get this question from someone here if you don't speak all that much Hebrew.

I nodded. “Yes, I’m Jewish.”

At this, Pretty Girl threw up her hands in a mock celebration. “Well, that’s it then. Chatuna (‘wedding’ – and this would be relevant later, as you’ll soon see).”

Ah ha.

Well…I decided I'd let that little “suggestion” slide. What had I learned from the past?

Take things slow.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before I’d finished my drink - with an observation on my good looks from Pretty Girl adding a punctuation to that final slurp of the straw. While Pretty Girl and I exchanged several furtive glances in each other’s direction, her friends were getting ready to go. Finally, having discovered that it was indeed now actually time to go, Pretty Girl gave me her phone so that I could get her number. I dialed my number from her phone, and then immediately called her back so that I could save her number on mine.

The five of us all left Café Hillel at the same time, and began walking in the same direction once outside. Pretty Girl and I said some words to each other, to the effect of “keep in touch”, and then I somewhat awkwardly (is there any other such way in such a situation?) began walking a little faster. At one point I looked back, and they’d all seemed to disappear. Then, having walked a little further, I heard my name being called out by Pretty Girl. Though I don’t recall being able to hear what she said (or understand it) I saw that she was walking with the other girl who had been at the table, and called out something back...what, exactly, I don't remember.

A brief twinge of regret began then, as I told myself “You shouldn’t have walked ahead so fast, Slavin. You could have been walking with her right now.” I briefly stopped to see her and her friend walk toward a shortcut area that I and some of my other Jerusalem-based friends in the country use to get to someone or other’s house, and immediately set about typing a text message to Pretty Girl. I wasn’t going to let this slip away on account of my own inaction. I had to do something, and fast, to make up for my idiotic decision to follow that idiotic urge..."Must go faster. Must go faster".


Now, this is not how the story ends. It's now September 11, and things are progessing at a...reasonable pace. We've talked on the phone a bit, but mostly exchanged a plethora of text messages. That first night, I pulled out Hebrew dictionaries from a shelf that I'd not touched in well over a year. Most of them have followed me from home to work and back this week, and were in easy reach over the weekend.

will this story end? Right now, God only knows. Pretty Girl is in the Israeli Army, and I'll be going to New York in mid-November (contrary to the advice of many friends here who'd rather I stay, I haven't considered canceling or changing my ticket). She says she wants to go to the U.S. after her army service, but who knows? In the meantime, I'm having fun with it. It's nice to think about something else other than the hardships of life in a difficult and fairly dangerous place to live.

And it's nice to have something to write about - or at least publish online - on the fifth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks other than a commentary about international terrorism. This anniversary weighed heavily on my mind, even with my living in terror-prone Israel. I brought in a good-sized U.S. flag to place by my computer at work today. I wore this year's Old Navy "Celebrate Independence" shirt with a fluttering Stars and Stripes image on the chest.

But...but...thankfully I had something else to think about this 9/11.

And, thankfully, I had
someone to think about too.