Thursday, August 31, 2006

What Need Have We to Ponder?

We live in “me me me, my my my, now now now” times. We’re not content to wait for mail; we get instant messages (in either email or chat form) from friends and family almost instantly. The benefits to such communication are obvious – we feel closer than ever to those we love. We no longer need to wait weeks to see how someone is, or what they are up to. However, we are afflicted with the side-effects of this expedient communication, and are ignoring them in such a way as to make us incapable of dealing with the situations which lead to or make up everyday social encounters.

Rather than pick up a phone to hear another’s voice, we’ll settle for a chat where we can see the person through their webcam, but won’t spend the money or time to actually go see them – whether they live in the next town, a different country, or even right around the corner.

We sign onto MySpace, and call as “friends” hundreds of people who we will, likely, never even speak to personally – even once. But as we must have the “friend” count appear high, we send out random requests to people we don’t know and who may very well not be inclined to ever get to know us. These are friends? Can we rely on them in our hour of need? Will these hundreds share a beer with us, or a hug? While MySpace enables people who went to high school or college together to reconnect, will it one day be the case that a high school reunion takes place not in person, but online? God help us if this is so.

And really: Is it correct to call a band that sends me a “Friend Request” a friend when it is likely, were I to see them in concert, that a simple sending of the business card backstage will result in nothing more than time wasted waiting for a one-on-one visit that will not come to pass?

We choose to try and find the ones we love courtesy of eHarmony or JDate, instead of going to a bar, to a party, or making friends who might have someone interesting to introduce to us.

We deride our politicians, but don’t actually vote in any elections. We act as experts on foreign policy, but can’t even point out Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. Instead of trying to unite the country, we work to divide it along the lines of “red states” and “blue states”. All we know about our country we learn about from biased news networks, biased newspapers, or biased personal websites; when was the last time the ordinary citizen picked up a book-sized copy of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers or Common Sense?

We work fifty hours a week, say we do so for our family, but rarely actually see our wives or children. Rather than sit three-year-olds in a corner for five minutes when they misbehave, or set boundaries for them, we have them pop a pill and expect it to chemically keep our kids in line for us. Conversation all but stops during “American Idol”; we’ve relegated family discussion time to the commercial breaks of “24”, “CSI” and “Survivor”. We buy pets, neglect them, and then punish them harshly when they chew up our DVDs – because they’re desperate for our attention.

We go on diets to get healthy, but still smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. Rather than look people in the eyes, we avoid them by looking down at our MP3 player’s info screen. We rely on caffeine as a substitute for a good night’s sleep. Rather than go to an actual movie theater, with its tantalizing smell of popcorn, its over-priced soda, its big screens and, oh yeah, other people, we download movies to our home computers to watch them – generally – alone.

Will we one day wake up, and instead of going out to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of a rainy day, bask in the light of a pixelated sun in a virtual sky of blue? Will the actual pleasure of making love on a beach give way to the technologically-stimulated, albeit virtual, pleasure of cyber-sex? Is seeing a girl’s naked picture on the net really more preferable to seeing it in the flesh?

Will we one day care so little about our government that we allow it to devolve into something it was never meant to be? Will we one day, by surrendering parenting skills for pharmacology, find that not only are we disconnected from our children, but that we haven’t prepared them to be effective parents either? Will we become so alienated and lonely that one day, when we need an actual hug, there will be no one for us to get such a thing from?

Where, exactly, are we going? Who are we going there with (or not going there without)?

What are we doing with our lives? What are we choosing to not do with them?


Sunday, August 27, 2006

On Odds: The Wisdom of Han Solo


C-3PO: “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!”

Han Solo: “Never tell me the odds!”

- from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back


Israel is a country where you are not merely reminded of your mortality – it’s where the potentiality for you to meet your mortality head-on every day is so much stronger than many other civilized places on the face of the planet. Sure, bad things can happen to anyone anywhere, but in Israel it seems the odds are really against you.

It’s like roulette: You can choose the European (the “classic” version), where there is only one “zero” pocket, or the American version, with it’s “double-zero” pocket. Those who prefer to play the game with the odds increased against them choose the American version, the riskier version – that extra, “double-zero” wreaks havoc with the odds for you. Those who know the odds are against them but don’t want to make them any worse stick with the European roulette wheel…better safe than über-sorry.

Those who are suicidal, well...they tend to choose a wholly different kind of roulette: Russian.

Me? After college, young and naïve, I sought out adventure. When I moved to Israel, I basically went for American roulette. Nowadays, I’m reminded of this all the time, whether it’s by just reading the news, or hearing the blast of a suicide bomber as I did in April, or...


Han Solo: “You said you wanted to be around when I made a mistake, well, this could be it, sweetheart.”

Princess Leia: “I take it back.”

- The Empire Strikes Back


Imagine this scenario:

A man is running to catch a bus in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, having picked up two Yoplait strawberry yogurt cups for breakfast. He had originally planned to walk to the train station to catch the 8:09 to Tel Aviv, but then he saw the number four bus that could get him to the train station much faster, and so he decided to try for it.

This man crosses one crosswalk and, as the bus pulls on ahead of him and he is about to cross another crosswalk to sprint for the bus stop, he hesitates (even though he’s slightly reassured that he’ll catch the bus thanks to the “green man = walk” signal). Suddenly, there’s a roar and a gray vehicular blur (later revealed to be a Mercedes running a red light), the screeching crunch of bus-metal-slamming-into-luxury-car-metal, and the sight of newly shattered glass flying all over the place.

That man who was about to cross the street was me, and thank God I hesitated. Had I been two seconds faster...had I really wanted that bus…

Picture me shivering.

What happened next? Well, I did – slowly – traverse the still supposedly “safe” crosswalk after being momentarily stunned into a shocked stillness, as the Egged bus driver with signature dark-blue shirt and a kippa opened the door and ran around the front of the bus, returning seconds later with an unmistakably grim look on his face as passengers came to the front of the bus to see what had happened.

Pedestrians from all around came running to the scene of the crash, while I slowly stood to the side, trying not to stare at the still form of the driver of the Mercedes, who was slumped over on his side...

Then came the car horns. Honk-honk-honnnnnnnk was the sound I heard from dozens of cars, from the vehicles of who knows how many people who could not have missed the reason for their morning commute being suddenly, unfortunately, delayed.

As I crossed yet another street, the street the bus I was on my way to catch normally passes down, drivers were already jockeying for position around the scene of the wreck, horns a-sounding even as they, like me, couldn’t take their eyes away from the accident.


C-3PO: “Excuse me sir, but might I inquire as to what's going on?”

Han Solo: “Why not?”

C-3PO: “Impossible man.”

- The Empire Strikes Back


The Mercedes had been violently pushed against a taxi cab waiting at the stoplight, but only the bumper of the taxi (from what I could see) was damaged. The Mercedes, on the other hand, was flattened on one looked like a half-cooked pancake.

The taxi driver was resting his elbow on the doorframe of his vehicle, clutching his forehead with a hand. He didn’t seemed injured, but more struck with disbelief, shock, and probably not a little relief too – it could have been worse. There were a few people on both sides of the Mercedes by now, calling the emergency services and trying to coax a reaction from the unmoving driver.

As I approached the driver’s side door of the Mercedes and looked in at the driver up close for the first time, I saw droplets of blood on his hand.

I then moved back and to the side, the ongoing sound of car horns mixing with approaching ambulance sirens, and peering in at another angle spent a moment just looking at the guy’s chest to, perhaps quite naively, see if it was moving up and down.

It wasn’t, at least not by my reckoning.

I took heart, though, when a second later his chin seemed to move.

I walked around to the other side of the smashed-up car and, looking again, saw that the driver’s head had now been moved from one side to the other. Whether he had done it himself, or someone had stupidly moved it for him, I’m not sure of. In any case, he still wasn't moving and I was more than a little convinced that walking to the train station was what I should do.

And so, I moved on down the road that the Mercedes would have reached eventually had its driver not blazed through the intersection like a bat out of hell...and been kissed by a bus.

The car horns, and the sirens, continued.

Of course, I was hardly numb to what I’d just seen, but I was unable to really process it then.

Later, the sound of a screaming toddler sitting two seats in front of me as my train wound its way through the Judean Hills (forcing me to turn up the volume on my iRiver player) didn’t help with the “thinking about it” at all either.


C-3PO: “Sir, it's quite possible this asteroid is not entirely stable.”

Han Solo: “Not entirely stable…I'm glad you're here to tell us these things. Chewie! Take the ‘Professor’ in back and plug him into the hyper-drive!”

- The Empire Strikes Back


With a few hours behind me, I can tell you that my opinion of pushy, impatient, reckless Israeli drivers (who have almost – but not quite – run me down in the past as they spontaneously created a parking spot for themselves on a sidewalk) has not improved as a result of this. It might not be a factoid you’re familiar with, but car accidents happen more often in Israel than terror attacks.

If the worldwide media broadcast news of Israeli traffic accidents in addition to the many terror attacks which have occurred here, the perception of Israel as a “much-too-much” dangerous place to live would likely deter more tourists than any Hizballah-Lebanon-Israel war or Sbarro pizzeria bombing put together.

And while car accidents happen more often than terror attacks here, that doesn’t make them normal. Car crashes occur all over the world, but that doesn’t make them normal, and just because they do happen doesn’t mean we should just accept them. So, then, what is the normal reaction after one witnesses a really bad crash, one that he could have been so much more negatively affected by? I dunno. I wonder what happened to the driver...

Maybe I was wrong before. Life here isn’t like American roulette or European roulette. Crazy drivers, plus Islamist terror bombings, along with rockets raining down on cities, terror-run government entities next door, and Iran around the block...hell, that’s Russian roulette, sure as shit it is – only it’s a game of Russian roulette masquerading as American roulette.

Yes, the odds are still against us, the players, anywhere. So what of it? While we all know how the game of life ends, Russian roulette is bound to end it a whole lot sooner...unless you pull out of this game and choose a different one, with slightly better odds that might (no guarantees) allow you to play a little longer.

At this moment, I don’t regret one single bit buying that Tel Aviv-to-Newark ticket on Continental Airlines ten days ago...because all I know is that while flying – while life – is always a gamble, the odds right now at this casino suck.


Han Solo: “Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?”

Princess Leia: “I'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee.”

Han Solo: I can arrange that. You could use a good kiss!”

- The Empire Strikes Back


Thursday, August 24, 2006


Heaven, the Universe (RSS News Service) – The never-ending rumors of the past few months finally became public reality on Thursday as the Supreme Chancellor of the Heavenly Council, God, announced his decision to revoke Islam’s “God-Fearing Religion Status” (GFRS) – effective immediately.

An angelic spokesman, speaking on the Lord’s behalf, stated “Our glorious Heavenly Father was deeply disturbed that Muslims could riot, burn flags, and burn down Western embassies last year when a Danish newspaper printed satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but when Morgan Freeman was chosen instead of Bernie Mac to play God in Bruce Almighty, there ‘weren’t ain’t no freakin’ peeps o’ protest from nobody’. For that reason among many others, especially jihad, Islam’s ‘God-Fearing Religion Status’ is hereby revoked until further notice.”

When asked by journalists why God didn’t make this announcement Himself, the angel only said “The Lord is taking a working vacation at His abode in the Seventh Heaven.” When questioned further as to why God takes so many vacations during a time of widespread global conflict and turmoil, the angel said, “Hey, being ‘Ruler from Eternity to Eternity’ is a pretty tough gig, people. Have some faith in Him.”

Phone calls to mosques in Mecca, Jerusalem, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, Tehran, Copenhagen, London, Cairo, Amman, Rabat, Tashkent, Grozny, Khartoum, Kuala Lumpur, Detroit and Toronto went unanswered for hours following the Garden of Eden’s revocation of Islam’s GFRS, but imams around the world were expected to be already busy drafting sermons for Friday’s noon prayers, to be broadcast around the world and filled with denunciations of the Creator as well as praise of the Prophet Muhammad and his many modern, militant disciples.

Lay Muslims, angry with God, couldn’t wait until Friday to speak their minds.

“We reject this decision unequivocally. God doesn’t tell us what to do. We tell Him what to do. That’s the way it’s been for centuries. God says treat those of other religions with respect, we say ‘no’. God says ‘let the Jews return peacefully to their promised land, which I have given to them’. We say ‘Allah be praised, no, absolutely not,’” said a Muslim man in Rome, who spoke wishing to remain anonymous as he headed into a mosque Thursday afternoon. “Our Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), our Holy Qu’ran, and our respected imams have made it quite clear – God, Paradise and Earth answer to Islam, not the other way around.”

Leaders of the world’s other monotheistic religions sounded in on the decision, with Pope Benedict at the Vatican saying “We respect the will of the Father, who displayed such wisdom with His Only Begotten Son that we cannot but think that the Holy Spirit knows what He’s doing.” Meanwhile, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem said “God has spoken, but I honestly can’t say whether or not the Muslims will listen. They’ve been humming their own tune in opposition to the Lord’s for a while. That being said, until this matter is resolved and even afterward, we won’t turn away Muslims who wish to convert.”

Following a meditation session in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama said “We’ve spent so long focusing on the existence of Islam that we’ve forgotten that Islam, in fact, doesn’t exist at all. Nor do us humans, really, or religion when you get right down to it. Even so, in light of Muslim suicide bombings and the past destruction by Muslims of Buddha statues in Afghanistan, I think that if true then God’s decision was quite just. Maybe they (the Muslims) will finally come around with this Divine pressure.”

His Holiness went on, “I think I speak for all my people when I err on the safe side, despite my beliefs, and say that we recognize and applaud this Act of God, but now implore Him to revoke China’s Most Populous Nation Status in retaliation for decades of illegal occupation and cultural cleansing in Tibet.”

Unconfirmed reports from Heavenly sources indicate that God is now considering imposing sanctions on Islam before too long, such as causing the oil reserves of Muslim countries to dry up until the religion’s adherents are filled with fear, awe and adoration of Him instead of Muhammad, al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah (among others).

Also said to be on the table is the triggering of massive earthquakes in Iran, coupled with spontaneous eruptions of massive, yet-to-be-discovered volcanoes in the country – with these possibly even forming at the locations of hidden bunkers where the Islamic Republic’s “peaceful” nuclear research is taking place.

Compiled from the Divine Wire Reports of my Ever-Active Imagination

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Why'd It Have to Be Snakes?

Jones (Harrison Ford):
“There's a big snake in the plane, Jock!”
“Aw, that's just my pet snake Reggie.”
“I hate snakes, Jock! I hate 'em!”
“Come on, show a little backbone, will ya?”

from Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981

Alright, so, before my last flight out to the States, I kind of developed a slight fear of flying. It wasn’t because it had been so long since I’d flown – a little over six months before, I’d flown from Tel Aviv to Cairo and back to Tel Aviv with family…no problems. A little over a year before that, I’d flown from Tel Aviv to Paris and back to Tel Aviv…no problems.

Naturally, once actually on the plane and up in the air I was fine – I will admit, a little nervous – but fine. By the time I’d made my connection in Vienna and was on my way to JFK, it was all good. Obviously, compared to the dread I’d felt before, this was an improvement. Maybe it was actually the fearing of the unknown after the flight that got me – I don’t know. I do know that on the flight from New York to Vienna on my return leg to Israel, I was more worried about having free time in Vienna than anything else. Really.

An hour or so ago, I walked out of a movie theater in Jerusalem having seen a movie that just a few days before, I’d initially had no intention of seeing…at least not in a movie theater. And not because I was afraid of a plane flight.

The movie was Snakes on a Plane.

Now, I have to admit, not only was I impressed with the movie, but with the audience too. The atmosphere made it better – there wasn’t a huge crowd, but it was lively. The theater had people cheering, screeching, and laughing at all the right times….and at all the times that were so wrong, they were right. And Samuel L. Jackson was, well…he was the badass you’d expect him to be in a movie like this. Well, a movie with the title Snakes on a Plane, anyway.

What had turned me off at first to the movie? I think it was the hype surrounding it...and the name. It just seemed so overblown, so…I dunno, dumb. But Samuel L. Jackson was to be the saving grace. When I heard a quote from Samuel L., stating there was no way in hell he’d make a movie like this if it was going to turn out to be crappy or stupid, well…I trusted him. Despite playing a lackluster Mace Windu in the lackluster – though still somewhat entertaining – Star Wars prequel series, I trusted Mr. Jackson.

“Well that's good news: Snakes on crack.”

Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson), Snakes on a Plane

It was a snap decision that led me to go see Snakes on a Plane. I shelled out 35 shekels to see a movie on a Sunday night that, on the Thursday before, I’d been totally against seeing. Well, okay – not totally against. Maybe it was just a façade. Maybe I always wanted to see Snakes on a Plane. In any case, I’d looked up movie times before I left work today and decided on the train ride back to Jerusalem that…I was going to go see it.

What I got was not simply Snakes on a Plane, but “Die Hard: Snakes on a Plane”…with one of the co-stars of Die Hard with a Vengeance taking the cynical, snappy, “typical” hard-nosed hero Bruce Willis role. Or, to pay respects to another Samuel L. Jackson movie, it was a scaled-down Jurassic Park, with the creatures attacking innocents not on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, but on an airplane flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles. It’s Alien brought down to Earth.

What I got was – a snake in a lavatory attacking a female breast…fully bared (Yessssssssssss!). A snake attacking a…place that should make any guy cringe and grab it out of an instinct of protection when he thinks of it. The movie’s got snakes in the cockpit. Snakes in the cargo hold. Snakes slithering around the cabin, slithering up dresses, and down and around those yellow emergency oxygen masks that pop out from the compartment above you if necessary.

And, sitting in that dark theater, I got the laugh I expected when Samuel L. Jackson, expressing his righteous frustration, delivers a line to remember (which got a strong round of applause in the audience right afterward – we’d all heard about, and waited, for it):

“That's it! I have HAD it with these MOTHERFUCKING snakes on this MOTHERFUCKING plane! God Damn It! Everyone strap in! I'm going to open some fuckin' windows!”

Now, there is another reason to see this movie if you can handle the blood, the gore, and lest I forget, the sheer fun – you’ll get a look at one special kind of “post-9/11 disaster-horror situation involving a plane” movie.

A few months ago, back in Tucson, I saw United 93 with my best friends Jon and Chris. We knew how that movie was going to end before we went to go see it – the people on board learn about what’s going on elsewhere in the world, and decide to take on the hijackers. The end result was tragic, but heroic. Of course, you can probably guess how Snakes on a Plane ends. Even so, getting there is fun. And while Snakes on a Plane is a less noble, or less inspiring, example of heroism than taking on Islamic terrorists, it still has a message.

Think about it: Hostile forces – poisonous snakes hopped up on pheromones – take over an aircraft, and it is up to those innocent passengers who survive the first attacks to continue to survive throughout the rest of the flight, to overcome a sense of helplessness in order to take back control of the plane from those murderous hostile forces, and then, after all that, to land the plane safely (the pilots, of course, having unfortunately met the fate that movies of this kind demand for them). Doing all this successfully involves teamwork and trust between people of many different backgrounds, and not a small amount of good, old-fashioned bravery too.

Even after seeing this, I’m still looking forward to my next plane flight. Sans snakes, of course.

To be honest, I liked Snakes on a Plane more than any other movie I’ve seen this year.

It’s no United 93. It’s no World Trade Center. But neither is it Airplane.

It works, especially the part with the snake on a boob.

“It's my job to handle life and death situations on a daily basis. It's what I do, and I'm very good at it. Now you can stand there and be the panicked, angry mob and blame him, me, and the government for getting you into this, but if you want to survive tonight, you need to save your energy and start working together.”

Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson), Snakes on a Plane


Cobra Starship - "Snakes on A Plane (Bring It)" music video

(click once or twice to play, depending on your browser)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Discoveries While Reading English

“I want to thank you for the importance that you've shown for education and literacy.”President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C.; April 13, 2005

“Part of the facts is understanding we have a problem, and part of the facts is what you're going to do about it.” President Bush in Kirtland, Ohio; April 15, 2005

“We expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives – like literacy, literacy in math, the ability to read and write.”President Bush on federal education requirements, Washington, D.C.; April 28, 2005

It is well-documented that the media is quick to latch onto any orally-transmitted mistakes made by the American President, and that anti-Bushites in their ivory towers all over the world use these mistakes as ammo against the 43rd President of the United States when making their arguments.

However, the president is hardly the only one guilty of making grammatical mistakes, big or small, when it comes to English. Usually, when he misspeaks like he did in the above quotes, anti-Bush commentators laugh all the way to the bank. We know such sayings as “Bushisms”.

FYI, you can find “The Complete Bushisms” at

Sadly, or perhaps comfortingly, POTUS might be a rich and privileged “everyman”, but he is like so many of his fellow citizens…at least when it comes to language skills.

Looking over the website of the ABC 7 News in Chicago this morning, I came across this sentence in an article by Sylvia Perez:

He says, in most situations, patients are compromising their care and settling for less when they see someone other then a doctor.

Did you catch the mistake? Did you see it? Can you point it out to me?

If your first language is English, and you cannot find it on repeat viewing, then…well, I don’t know what to say, other than maybe it’s time to pick up a copy of William Strunk’s book “The Elements of Style”. Actually, you know what? I’ll be so kind as to provide a link to a version of the book online:

I see the “other then” mistake all the time. Other than the mistakes I mentioned in the previous blog post “Discoveries While Reading English”, I see “other then” the most often. I see it (“other then”) and it makes me cringe. Do people not know the difference between “then” and “than”? Or “other”?

Let me give you an example of proper usage, modifying the above offending sentence:

He says, in most situations, patients are compromising their care and settling for less when they see someone other than a doctor.

If “then” is to appear after an “other”, then it should appear as such in a sentence structured like this:

If we are nice to each other, then we’ll get along fine.

It isn’t just web articles I see “other then” in. Look in your local newspaper, because you’re bound to see it more often than you should.

Too, everyday opinions written on the World Wide Web demonstrate that this mistaken usage is far more prevalent in everyday communications than is healthy for English-speaking society. Looking at the website for the San Diego Padres baseball team, in the article Barfield chats about first year in the bigs, one can see another everyday example of this mistake. Josh Barfield, the team’s second baseman, was asked during an interviewDo you speak any other languages other then English?”

“…other then English.”

Oy. Not encouraging. At all.

There is hope, though.

When I did a random search for “other then” on Google, there was no usual suggestion of a correction (as in, “Did you mean ‘other than’?”). I often get such hints using Google when I misspell a word or am not sure about a search term’s spelling in the first place.

But, when I did a random search for “other then” on Yahoo!, this is what I was greeted with in response above all of the search results:

“Did you mean: other than

Yes, Yahoo!, yes! I did mean “other than”! Thank you!

Now look, I make innocent typos too. Making the typos isn’t the problem. The problem is not being able to catch the typo after you’ve made it. Look, I know it happens. I’m not innocent of this mistake. But when I see typos, or misspellings, or have them pointed out to me…I want to kick myself. When such mistakes are caught, I think Damn it, I should have caught that!

I’d hope that many other writers think the same way as I do, or at least copy editors, but having read a ridiculously written novelization of Superman Returns when I was back in the States this past spring, I’m disinclined to do so. The novel of the latest Superman movie was so bad I wrote a lengthy email to the author and the publisher, relaying to both the traumatic experience I’d had.

To Marv Wolfman, the author, I wrote:

I came away from reading your novelization of "Superman Returns" feeling somewhat damaged (praying the bad writing wouldn't infect me like a disease), and also a bit robbed. I spent more time finding mistakes of grammar and punctuation (without even purposely looking for them) than enjoying the story.

You wouldn’t know it, but I only discovered today that I’d misspelled a certain word when I typed the original message the above excerpt is from. I’ve changed it for this entry, but Damn it, I should have caught that! If I look over the whole message some more, there might be further embarrasing typos.

To Warner Books, the publisher, I wrote:

I could point out several disturbing examples in the book itself, or I could just urge whoever gets this to read the book and see for himself or herself why I am concerned (in the hopes that, God willing, they would be able to see what I'm talking about).

Now, back to “other then” for a moment…

Shall we blame the education system? Yes, we can. We can ascribe to the education system a significant portion of the blame.

However, as blame-worthy as the education system is for this situation, Bill Gates hasn’t helped either. After all, when typing in Microsoft Word, it is often the case that “other then” slips under the radar of the grammar checking capabilities of the program. I wonder…just how many people use Microsoft Word for typing?

How funny – and sad – would it be if the same commentators in the main stream media who mock President Bush whenever he flubs up his English are making similar mistakes while venting their spleens at him in their writing? I didn’t perform a search for “Maureen Dowd mistakes”, or any other mistakes within the commentaries of Bush-hater authors. But I’m sure they are there.

If such commentators are so worried about America’s future, they might start worrying more about the future of America’s dominant language. It is easy to quote one of then-Governor Bush’s most famous Bushisms, made on January 11, 2000 in Florence, South Carolina and lament Dubya’s grammar. We can read "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and say the president is a dunce.

Or, only laughing a little bit, we can consider the question seriously in our own time…

Is our children learning?

No, apparently, they aren’t, Mr. President. At least not proper English.

“I tell people, let's don't fear the future, let's shape it.”President Bush, Omaha, Nebraska; June 7, 2006

Respect, Mr. President. Respect.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Successful Failures as Victories

How is it that Hizballah can claim victory after the cease-fire came into effect yesterday? How many times did Hassan Nasrallah warn that his group would attack Tel Aviv if Israel struck Beirut? It was more than once. How many times did Hizballah hit Tel Aviv with any rockets or missiles? Less than once. If the goal of groups like Hizballah and Hamas, and countries like Syria and Iran, is the destruction of Israel…how is it that at the end of the day when Israel is still around, they can claim any sort of victory? Well, they still can, in their own way.

As I’ve pointed out in earlier blog posts, the Olmert government did not fight this war as it should have been fought. It brought about – needlessly – the perception of weakness on the part of Israel, and that is dangerous.

While Israel is still around, though, it cannot claim a victory of the sort that Hizballah can. The Israel Defense Forces were unable to do the job that the world knows the IDF can do, because a left-wing Defense Minister, a Prime Minister who has traveled left during his political career and who has a far left-wing wife, as well as a dovish octogenarian Vice Premier, failed to see that you can’t half-fight a war and continually change your mind about what its goals are, and then realistically expect the public to gain a perception of victory. Israel’s deterrence has been severely compromised as a result of this, and Israel’s enemies – and I bet, former enemies – are likely thinking hard about the lessons learned from this development.

Even now, the Lebanese government is working out a way with Hizballah to allow the group to retain its weapons even as it will be required to remain north of the Litani River. This directly contravenes United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, a resolution that had Lebanon followed in the first place, might have – would likely have – prevented this war from ever starting.

If Hizballah remains armed at the end of all this, the seeds of another war will be sown and some months down the line the UN will be debating another Security Council resolution for yet another cease-fire instead of ensuring that previous Security Council resolutions are followed through on. And if Israel does not insist on the implementation of 1559, very few other nations will probably pay it much attention either. If such is the case, then when the next war breaks out – and keep in mind, this one might not really be over, yet – Israel will not be able to do what the Arabs do best…that is to say, Israel will not be able to blame other nations for its own predicament.

Israel, being overly cautious, refrained from giving Syria a black eye during the war. This means that Syria is now likely more confident than ever that its position has been strengthened - even as its beloved neighbor, Lebanon, is in ruins. Syria - and Iran - learned nothing from this war except that Damascus and Tehran can stir up trouble and not pay the price for it. All the talk in the world from Washington, Jerusalem and London will be of little use.

Saying that “Syria knows what it needs to do,” rings hollow, as no one is forcing Syria to do what needs to be done. Pointing the finger at Damascus and Tehran, but not doing much else, will likely only lead to one or the other trying to bite the appendage off...or at the very least, trying to sprain it.

So who really benefited from all this death and destruction? Only the Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters of the world, who have seen that mediocrity is what Israel has to show in its government these days. Yes, Hassan Nasrallah’s failure to follow through on his word to strike Tel Aviv – for those who pay attention – reveals him to be the big bullshit artist that he is. But he gets results on the battlefield, that you can’t deny.

Whether Hizballah struck Haifa, Tiberias, Nazareth, Safed, Hadera, Kiryat Shmona or Metulla or anywhere else, the death count is…what counts. Within Lebanon itself, Nasrallah and his terror troops showed that Hizballah is the best Arab army in the world – that is an accomplishment that, even though he and his group are an enemy of all that I stand for, I must acknowledge.

And what about Israel?

The rockets didn’t stop coming in. The kidnapped Israeli soldiers weren’t rescued. Soldiers were killed by rockets before they had a chance to fight. Hundreds of thousands fled or needed to sleep in the shelters in northern Israel that nearly six decades of unasked-for warfare have made necessary. Israel is now considering a prisoner swap – and if Israel is considering a prisoner swap after a cease-fire, after rejecting the idea of a prisoner swap in mid-July and choosing to go to war instead...what does this mean?

Israel called up many tens of thousands of soldiers, and left them to twiddle their thumbs. Israel only sent ground troops into Lebanon when it was too late for them to make any real difference. Sure, the Lebanese Army is going to deploy on the border – this is a positive step, and a key demand of Israel. But the ineffective United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon – UNIFIL – is boosting its numbers, and it isn’t clear why – UNIFIL failed to prevent this war because it didn’t do its job.

Then again, when all its mandate consisted of was watching, this isn’t exactly surprising. Anyway, a weak Lebanese Army on the border along with an ineffectual, weak, obstructive UNIFIL is not exactly a huge comfort.

In other circumstances, it would be a toss-up, really, as to who can be considered the true winner from this war when so many people on both sides lost. Israel still exists, yes. It will likely endure, with God’s help. However, whenever an enemy of Israel gains in confidence, the Free World loses…one way or the other. If Hizballah’s confidence boost coincides with the disarmament of the group, then the result may be similar one day to that of the post-Yom Kippur war era – Arab honor regained in battle, and so now no longer humiliated, another Arab country can seek peace. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, that country was Egypt. Could Lebanon or Syria be next?

Probably not. But maybe.

As stated before, if UNSCR 1559 is not carried out, and Hizballah retains its arms and its position in the Lebanese government, then Israel would be in trouble. In such a case, the Jewish state might one day face a situation similar to that which it faced in late May-early June 1967: surrounded by confident enemies on multiple sides, with restraint urged upon Jerusalem by the world’s powers and Israel wondering if it should act, or wait.

Israel’s reaction in June 1967 was to shoot first and deal with issues later, and the result was the capture of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, Golan Heights and the liberation and reunification of eastern Jerusalem with western Jerusalem. In Six Days the armies and air forces that were the pride of the Arab World were decimated. Few thought Israel could do it, but it did. Israel had the spirit, the tenacity, the sheer will to do such a thing.

If, though, in the future you combine a 1967-type situation with a 1973-style Arab/Muslim surprise attack, what will happen? If Israel has any sort of government in power like it does now…as the past 34 days have shown, Israel isn’t a “Six Day War Winner” any more. It seems that it doesn’t have the will to be such a winner, and Israel certainly doesn’t have the leadership to be such a winner. At least, not at the moment. Sure, Israelis are fighting for their homes while Arabs and Muslims fight for ideologies and regimes, but…God only knows.

If such a war breaks out…will Israel be able to come back from behind like it did in 1973?

We may yet still have an opportunity to see that question answered.

In the meantime, if this is to be considered an Israeli victory, then let it be considered a Pyrrhic one. Let us too consider this kind of victory to be a “successful failure”, just like the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 – the astronauts got to the Moon, but were not able to land upon it.

At least they got home alive.

Should hostilities escalate again, may Israel’s leaders have the wisdom to learn from the mistakes of the last round…for the sake of all.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Discoveries While Reading English

I’m worried about the future of the English language.

Or rather, I’m worried about those who use it and the societies in which they live.

Now, anyone who would accuse me of being a total perfectionist has not seen me clean my room. Even though on the outside it looks alright, the dust bunnies under the bed would gladly come forward to debunk such accusations against me in a court of law.

Those dust bunnies are my alibi. However, when it comes to writing...

I was reading an Associated Press article on the Fox News website about the cease-fire that was due to go into effect Monday morning in the Middle East, when toward the end of the story I read this:

The deal was seen at best as a draw with Hezbollah, and some felt Israel — unable to subdue a guerrillas force — had lost.

A “guerillas” force? A minor mistake, maybe. But 1) think about how many people don’t notice it and 2) think about how many times it happens on any given day.

Over the past weekend, reading the New York Post, I came across an article talking about the bombing plot of the hour, which was smashed by UK police last week. Again, at the end of the story, entitled “INSIDE FIENDS' MASTER PLAN”, I found by accident another error. Following the story itself was a link to a graphic that detailed how the Muslim bombers planned on carrying out their attacks on a number of airliners flying from London to America.

The link?

Click hear to view The invisible bomb graphic

I have to admit, for a second there I thought that the above link was some sort of audio file.

Alas, no...when I clicked on it, it was indeed a graphic.

All one needed to do to see that was not to click “here”, but “hear”.

Finally, I was reading another AP article just a few moments ago talking about how President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has started his own blog. In “Iranian President Gets Personal in New Blog”, a blogger based out of Tehran said of the president’s effort that "It's nothing but for publicity. Why Ahmadinejad used to have nothing to do with Internet and even talked against journalists and bloggers before he became president,". For those who might not have caught it, it should have been “Why, Ahmadinejad used to have nothing to do…” Or at least, for God’s sake, a “(sic)” after “Why” entered by an AP editor.

Enough with the nitpicking for now.

I’ll be honest with you – those aren’t the only three such errors of spelling or editing omission I’ve seen in recent months. At those odd times when I buy an International Herald Tribune (usually when I’ve a letter printed in an issue), I will peruse the articles compiled mostly from the New York Times, but also from the Boston Globe and other world newspapers, and cringe when I come upon errors that should have been caught by even the laziest of copy editors. I’m not even looking for them – we’re talking about my finding them over the course of my casual reading.

Look, I admit to my own errors. I'm not perfect. I’ll also admit, once I’ve written something – say, a blog entry, for instance – I’ll read it over and over and over again, and usually find spelling mistakes or a grammatical faux pas, or just something that doesn’t seem to flow smoothly. And then I’ll fix it until the spelling is correct, the grammar is in shape, and the phrase, sentence, or paragraph flows as I would like it to.

But I see the errors I talked about, and others like them, all over the place in the American English-language media. Maybe I’m off-base pointing them out, but I’d like to think I’m not. It just seems to me that the acceptance of mediocre English spelling, or grammar, should be limited to such countries as Israel – where, if one goes to the movie theater at the Jerusalem Mall, he or she can see movie posters underneath pieces of paper with the Hebrew for “coming soon” printed along with, in English, “comming soon”.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Flying the Scary Skies

Superman: “I hope this hasn't put you off of flying. Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel.” (after preventing a plane-related disaster in Superman Returns)

When I flew back home to Arizona in May, I did my best to avoid sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, looking up news that is usually depressing and doesn’t change. My hunger to be able to wander among bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders again was slightly satiated, but when I’d come to a Middle East/Israel section my stress levels rose just at the sight of it and I learned to steer clear. Having returned to Israel, for the first couple of weeks I was able to avoid wasting too much time in front of my computer – by wasting too much time, I mean not typing, not writing, not doing anything productive...just reading more bad news out of the Middle East.

Then, the Hamas-led attack out of Gaza and the kidnapping of a soldier. Israel goes into the Gaza Strip after leaving it for the Palestinian Arabs to deal with last fall, and I’m a little more into local news again. I even buy English-language newspapers, just to read analysis…I’d avoided doing that, too, because the news is usually pessimistic and depressing. Little did I know that only a short time later, there would be an attack by Hizballah from Lebanon, which Israel had left in 2000, that killed several Israeli soldiers and resulted in the kidnapping of two others.

Well, not only does it lead to my becoming addicted to Middle East news again, but it leads to another relapse, to my being once again hunched in front of a computer for hours on end, whether I’m writing or not, whether I'm reading news or not, and ruining that good posture I’ve been trying to hold myself to since returning to the Holy Land. But something was different, this time. After two weeks, with the news really not changing all that much, I started to remember how crazy it was to be addicted to something like this when all it is, is just depressing. And so gradually, I’ve been able to cut down on Middle East-related news intake. I still look, just not as often.

After waking up at eleven this morning, and finishing a DVD, in keeping with this returned outlook, I checked local news websites. As it had been almost a day since I’d looked it up, I wanted to see what was happening with the war up north. Well surprise, surprise – the headline on an Israeli news site was “Rockets Fall on North”. Nothing world-shattering about that. That is the way the news has been since the start of this war.

I bet you can imagine my relief – yes, relief – when the story broke yesterday morning about the plot that was uncovered this week by UK police to blow up airliners on their way to America. “Finally,” I thought. “Some depressing terrorism-related news from elsewhere.” I read about it, did a little research, and then moved on. Not because it isn’t important, but because I’ve got better things to do than worry myself about a plot to blow up airliners when it will be some months before I take a trans-Atlantic plane flight again anyway.

When I saw a news article last night – not long after getting home from Tel Aviv – that said “Airlines Brace for Cancellations”, I naturally opened it up. While I may be avoiding Mideast news as much as possible, I’m still a junkie for news in general. The article had more of the same tone as earlier articles in the day – people are rescheduling flights and liquids are being banned from flights; hair gel is a no-no, as is hand-lotion.

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we, from nail clippers being banned after 9/11?

The first time I flew on a plane after September 11, 2001 was when I took a United Airlines flight in May 2002. I was on my way to New York, with a fraternity brother, to go on an organized trip to Israel. That two of the flights hijacked on 9/11 were United flights was burned into my mind, and I wondered – as the flight attendants did their pre-flight lectures on safety, along with a video – if the people on one of the United flights on 9/11 saw the same thing then as I was seeing in May 2002.

It freaked me out a bit, but I got over it. Truth be told, I was more freaked out when, as I walked around Lower Manhattan the next day, I only needed a second to recognize the vast emptiness I was seeing as being the place where, in June 2001, two months before that dark Tuesday of Terror, I’d strained my neck looking up at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

We all fear terrorism. That’s the idea, though. That’s the point. That’s why it’s called “terror”-ism.

The terrorists want us to fear them. Though their great goal is to rack up the infidel body counts on their way to creating an Islamic caliphate or two, they aren’t disappointed by headlines such as “Airlines Brace for Cancellations”. When the Department of Homeland Security raises the alert level, you can bet that Islamic terrorists or their sympathizers are overjoyed that on CNN and Fox News viewers will be constantly reminded – constantly imprinted with fear – when “Terror Alert Level – High” or whatever passes along their screens thanks to the news ticker. Whether we die, or simply hide, our enemies take comfort when we do.

We say we don’t want the terrorists to change our ways of life, but when baby formula can barely make it past the Transportation Security Administration officials at airline security checkpoints, what is represented by such policies other than paranoia? And the international media, which rushes to give hard-hitting analysis and “breaking news” updates with pounding drums and music, only feeds into our fear. And then to read about flight cancellations and re-bookings, 15-minute delays and so on…all one who really pays attention to it can think is “we’re giving into fear.”

Of course, no one should be stupid. But when we get a terror threat like this, do we ever first stop and think about how many people die in car accidents each year, or how many people are murdered down the street from their home? When we get a terror threat, do we think of how many children drown within sight of their parents in a backyard pool? Do we note how many people die from smoking-related cancers each year? Do we worry over how many people die from alcoholism-related ailments in any given year? Do we remember, as Superman said in 1978 and again in 2006, that when it comes to flying...statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel?

We should think about all that, and then in comparison think about how many people die each year in terrorist attacks. It's a morbid sort of comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.

It is correct for the President to remind us, after a major plot like this was uncovered and stopped, that “this nation is at war with Islamic fascists.” We forget this at our own peril.

Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent or whatever, if you can’t see the truth in the president’s words after 9/11, after the Taliban, after Passover bombings, after the 7/7 bombings in London, after a terror group won elections in the Palestinian Authority, after another terror group with seats in Lebanon’s parliament sparked a war with Israel, and after yet another Islamist plot to kill innocents was foiled this week…well, then you’re likely naïve enough to believe that shaking the hands of those who would just as soon cut your hands off will solve all the world’s problems.

Vigilance is of paramount importance.

But know this – if we cancel our plane flights out of something that goes beyond rational care and caution, if we stock up on food and water and cower in our homes, and don’t go to movies or shopping at malls, or if we change what is in our movies so we don’t offend those who would use any excuse to kill us anyway; if we out of paranoia prevent little boys from bringing their bottles of Dr. Pepper on a flight to Houston, or keep little girls from bringing their mini Barbie backpacks on the plane with them when flying to Orlando, or stop old grandmas from bringing moisturizing lotion in their pocket as they fly to Seattle…we’re letting the terrorists win.

We’re changing our habits, our way of life, so that we may live in fear of those who want us to live in fear. We’re doing what we can to remind ourselves that we’re supposed to be living in fear of these people, instead of doing what we should to remind ourselves that our enemies – who target women, children, and people of any religion that isn’t theirs – are the ones who need to be living in fear of us. Our fear gives our enemies strength, and weakens our resolve. We tell ourselves that we can’t beat them militarily, and that the “Bush Doctrine” of bringing democracy to the Arab world has failed and is a mistaken course. And our enemies grow in confidence.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, we tell ourselves that ending “the occupation” will end the Arab-Israeli conflict; we say “land for peace” and then shrug in a “what can you do?” way when the land we demanded should be given up becomes a base of operations for those who care not for their people, only their Islamist ideology and the deaths of Jews. We begin to tell ourselves that our culture is at fault when cartoons are published in European newspapers and this leads to embassies being burnt down by the enraged Muslim populations that, far from teaching a lesson to, we’re supposed to “understand”.

What will it all lead to? That’s up to us to decide.

In 1933, as the United States and the world struggled to overcome the effects of the Great Depression, a newly inaugurated president - Franklin Delano Roosevelt - stood before America and declared, in a time of great fear about the future,

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The terrorists who make us now change our lives, our habits, our dreams and our plans will continue to have the upper edge on us until we conquer our fear of those who not only live in caves but amongst us in our cities. If we do not realize that FDR’s words are as applicable and inspiring today as they were 73 years ago, our enemies will continue to take comfort in our fear – and they will feed off of it. They will make us hide in our homes, refrain from seeing the world around us, and do whatever they can to suck away our ability to enjoy life…and we will allow them to do this.

The sad truth is, our resolve will falter until we decide to boldly, loudly call out against those who spout not love, but hatred from their pulpits in mosques - not once, not twice, but always. Our enemies will continue to believe that they will be able to win until we take to the airwaves, the cable ways, and the internet and tell them that we do not fear them as much as we fear the Chupacabra. Because as FDR surely knew, when he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the Chupacabra is the essence of fear.

Not some guys in turbans.

Not lipstick, or little bottles of lotion or hand sanitizer.

Not a carry-on. Not a terror plot.

The Chupacabra.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why America Needs John Bolton

Reporter at the United Nations: ...would you invite here (Hizballah chief) Hassan Nasrallah to go to come and discuss directly with him the issues of prisoners?

Ambassador Bolton: I have zero desire to discuss any issues with leaders of a terrorist group...

- From a Press Conference in New York on August 7, 2006

If the ongoing war in the Middle East has shown us anything about the United Nations, it is that the organization is really something of a joke. Anyone who thinks that the UN is in 2006 a force for good in the world should take a second look when the Secretary-General can condemn in the harshest terms an accidental Israeli shelling of a UN position in Lebanon and call it “apparently deliberate”, then later make no condemnation of Hizballah when the Islamic terrorist group attacks a UN position where Chinese UNIFIL observers were stationed.

More than a few countries of the world – including our own United States of America – stand to benefit from stability and prosperity in certain regions. Yet the UN currently tends to allow those who would stand to benefit from undermining regional stability to get away with doing so. Today’s United Nations cannot be counted on to be a consistent or trustworthy moral arbiter…just as France and the US agreed on a draft resolution to try and end the fighting here, France up and decides to join the Arabs in abandoning the very draft resolution it worked with Washington to create.

The New York Times recently argued, as it had in the past, that John R. Bolton is the wrong man for the United States at the United Nations. But the Times didn’t back up its argument against him with any real substance. In fact, the editorial piece about Ambassador Bolton noted that he’s followed his orders from Washington faithfully, informed us that his confirmation is more likely with current support from his former foes in the Senate such as Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and even said Ambassador Bolton was correct in rejecting a reformed, yet still grossly flawed (i.e. corruptible), human rights committee for the organization.

Yet, despite John Bolton’s record since his “recess appointment” by President Bush in August of last year (which ends in January of ’07 after the Senate goes into recess this year) thanks to a Democratic filibuster, the New York Times insisted – after noting his accomplishments – that American interests have suffered at the United Nations because of Ambassador Bolton, and only briefly – and weakly – asserted that Ambassador Bolton’s temperament is wrong for “traditional diplomacy”, UN-style.

Apparently, John Bolton’s ability to do what so many said he could not do – work with others – has not impressed those who would see the UN continue to be not simply an irrelevant, but an often malevolent, force in the world.

Is “traditional diplomacy” at the United Nations really good for America? The UN is plagued by anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. Should the United States play the game by the UN’s rules (which are largely unspoken or unwritten), or hold the United Nations accountable for its many dangerous failings? As America finances 25% of the UN budget, America deserves fair treatment by and accountability from the UN. The United Nations should be reformed, but with its financial contributions Washington shouldn’t have to needle or cajole smaller, or less powerful, or undemocratic countries to get things rolling.

As far as inside scoops by American officials go, Pedro A. Sanjuan’s book “The UN Gang” was an enlightening glimpse into the inner workings of an organization that – let us be frank – long ago moved away from even thinking about trying to uphold the lofty ideals and democratic principles which are enshrined in its Charter. The United Nations, where in addition to all of its other problems it is alleged that criminal activities are sometimes carried out under diplomatic cover in parking garages, is hardly a forum where democratic countries are given the benefit of the doubt.

As Israeli diplomat Abba Eban noted about the General Assembly, “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the Earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

Abba Eban is to the left of jolly old Albert Einstein in this picture, taken in 1952
(click to enlarge)

The United Nations was at one time a good idea. The organization, and its Charter, remains a good idea...and the UN does some good in the world. But overall, the organization hardly deserves the pedestal many would set it upon in reality.

At the UN, genocide in Africa doesn’t get the sort of immediate, unyielding attention from the Security Council that Arab-Israeli wars do. There are two separate United Nations standards for refugees: one established just for the Palestinians (UNRWA) and one for everybody else (UNHCR). The current UN system, which time and again has been shown to be corrupt or ineffectual (look at the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program, and UNIFIL’s impotence and failure in Lebanon), is not one that we should be rushing to support.

The “United Nations” was the name the Allies fighting the Axis powers in World War Two went by.
(click on pic to enlarge WWII poster)

I believe that American interests would suffer at the UN if even the most polite, genial, Geneva Conventions-hugging person was the American ambassador. During the Cold War, the UN was basically a base of operations for Soviet espionage against the United States (the Russians controlled a lot more of the UN’s various offices and operations than I previously ever imagined). These days, as Pedro Sanjuan related in The UN Gang, to walk into the UN cafeteria is to walk into a room where jihad is discussed freely – not fighting it, but praising it. If there can be a more anti-American bastion in the United States other than Berkeley, California, it is at Turtle Bay, Manhattan, New York.

As long as the UN is a place where a weak-willed American presence is seen as preferable to a tough, assertive American presence, the organization – which has undeniable potential and value – will never truly change. Such a situation harms US interests more than anything else at the UN. At this moment in time, America needs an ambassador in New York like John R. Bolton, who sees through the smokescreens and games that dictatorships and developing nations put up and play when they use the United Nations’ open, “democratic” system for their own designs even as they deny their people democratic freedoms at home.

This time around, John Bolton deserves an up-or-down vote in Washington. The United States Senate would be wise to keep Ambassador Bolton in place - whatever an individual Senator's opinion of President Bush. Why?

An American ambassador to the United Nations in New York City who rightfully dispenses with utopian delusions, who can work with allies and negotiate with foes, and who does not view the UN in its current, very flawed form with rose-colored glasses, is a great asset to America, not a liability.

From that previously quoted Press Conference in New York on August 7, 2006 -

Reporter: Mr. Ambassador, how do you evaluate the Lebanese request? Do you consider them really serious and essential or they will not affect any final draft resolutions you are discussing now?

Ambassador Bolton: Well, let me just say it's not as though we drafted this resolution in a closet somewhere and suddenly sprang the text on any member government.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Will of Allah

"Sounds great Lex. But you're not a god." - Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey)

"Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind." - Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey)

- from Superman Returns (2006)


"And when Moses said to his people: 'O my people, call in remembrance the favor of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.'"

- Holy Qur'an 5:20-21

To some, this current war in the Middle East between Israel and Hizballah is simply over religion. To others, it is simply a war over land. In truth, it's over both, but it's also a war over who will live in peace and who will not - and who gets to choose, governments or terrorist groups. Or, God for that matter. Speaking of God, one side believes in a God who blesses all peoples, but chose the Jews for a specific purpose. The other side believes Allah damns all peoples who are not Muslims, or at least not a certain kind of Muslim.

The world we inhabit is not an American world, a European world, a Christian, Jewish or Muslim world, but our shared world. We didn't create it, we just live on it. What's more, this planet that we call our home is but a speck in the cosmos, really; a dot. Whether you're a believer or an agnostic, the irrefutable fact that the universe is much, much bigger than our most petty problems - it is even bigger than our most intractable problems over borders, beliefs or oil - should humble us.

Now, I'm not the most religiously observant of people. But I do have spirituality. I do have faith. I believe in God. For me, and millions of others, acknowledging that there is a higher power than ourselves helps to keep us humble, just as thinking about the size of the Earth vs. the Universe can. Doing so helps put us in our place. Whether you submit to the power of God or the power of the Universe (for many, the one is indistinguishable from the other), the wisdom of recognizing our size in the overall scheme of things should make us think twice about how we act. If we truly submit to a Higher Power of any kind, then there is no room for arrogance. On our world, we may attain power, importance or influence. On Earth, we might matter.

On Mars, we're nobodies.

Islam, the word, means "submission"...or more correctly, "submission to God". Islam teaches - drills into the heads of students, in fact - that everything that happens is the will of God. Nothing is separate from God. If God wants something to be, it is. If God doesn't want something to be, it isn't. It's that simple. Though Iran's president and countless Arab and Asian imams say otherwise, isn't it right and logical - if using Islamic core beliefs about God as a guide - that Israel's creation, and Israel's having won major map-changing victories in the wars of 1948-49, 1967, and 1973 (against great odds), and Israel's continued existence, would either have been or would be impossible without God allowing it?

Many Muslims often say that they submit to God, but what extremists really seem to think is that they aren't accountable to God, but only to the teachings of Muhammad. If it were otherwise, they would not have raised such a stink about cartoons of their prophet. Muhammad was just a human being, after all. And if such Muslims really submitted to God's will, they wouldn't insist on trying to destroy one the manifestations of his Creation, both ancient and modern: the State of Israel. For those Muslims who would kill innocent people, God is not the inspiration, but a tool. They base their murderous reasoning not on God's reasoning, but on their prophet Muhammad's, or their imam's.

An imam who, with hatred on his tongue, denounces in his mosque the Jewish people or calls the State of Israel an abomination that exists contrary to God's will, needs to stop and think about his words: If nothing can exist outside of God, if God is all powerful, if everything is the will of Allah - see where I'm going? Is it not so that Allah, in His infinite wisdom, knows more than the Arab & Muslim peoples about what an abomination against Him is and what is not?

You can be a devout Muslim and say the Israelis (or generally, just the Jews) stole Arab or Muslim land, and then use Islam and "occupation" as your excuse for terrorism against innocent people rather than peaceful protest, but...well, look at this entry from the Qur'an:

"Say: 'O God, King of the kingdom, Thou givest the kingdom to whom Thou pleasest, and Thou strippest off the kingdom from whom Thou pleasest; Thou endowest with honor whom Thou pleasest, and Thou bringest low whom Thou pleasest: all the best is in Thy hand. Verily, Thou hast power over all things.'

- Holy Qur'an 3:26

God took the Land of Israel away from the Canaanites and gave it to the Jews. God took the Land of Israel away from the Jews and gave it to the Romans. God took the Land of Israel away from the Romans, and gave it to the Muslims. God took away the Land of Israel from the Muslims, and gave it back to the Jews. Simplistic it might sound, but for a religious or faithful Jew there should be no question that this is so (there are ultra-religious Jews that don't accept this, funnily enough). Too, for the humble Muslim who submits to God, there shouldn't be any question that God has the right to do whatever He wants. As we all know, though, questions abound.

Muslims hold up the Qur'an to be the word of God; it is said that Muhammad heard prophecies from the angel Gabriel, and only later were the oral teachings transcribed into written material. Given this sort of development, we can probably assume that what is the finalized Qur'an of today evolved more along the lines of the game "telephone" rather than the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Think about it: God instructed the angel Gabriel; Gabriel instructed Muhammad; Muhammad instructed the Arabs. But Muhammad wasn't a god to be worshipped among the many other gods that Arabs believed in and worshipped at the time; he was a human. Fallible. Prone to make mistakes.

You're telling me that 1,400 years ago, messages from the Almighty couldn't get lost in translation, or distorted by a fallible human? As Hollywood has reminded us on occasion, long before Muhammad, Jews had their own problems with getting the full story from God when it was passed down to mankind via a human intermediary. Take this incident at Mount Sinai for instance:

"The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen...(drops one of the tablets)...Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!" - Moses (Mel Brooks)

- from History of the World: Part I (1981)


Imagine if God said to the angel Gabriel, "Tell the Arab Muhammad that women are superior to men." Say the angel Gabriel committed it to memory, flew down to Muhammad...but forgot the entire message on arrival, and only said "Women are equal to men." In Muhammad's mind, in the tribal society of the Arabia of the time (and today), such an idea was preposterous. He might have listened faithfully, remembered it for later, but heard it as "Women are inferior to men." Thus - fast forward - even today devout Muslim women in some countries need permission from the eldest male in their family to travel abroad (men have no such restrictions), and in Saudi Arabia women can't drive.

Walk around on a Saturday in Jerusalem, though, and you'll see Muslim Arab women giving driving lessons to other Muslim Arab women. I guess they have more rights here than elsewhere.

If you were a Muslim who truly submits to God, you would be humble before Him. You would not commit such acts of blatant arrogance as blowing yourself, a bus, or a restaurant up to kill others of His children, because you would know that it is not you or your imam who decides whether Israel exists or not, but God. Iran's president this very day said the solution to the Middle East's problems is the destruction of Israel. What sort of god does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believe in? I use lower-case, because he obviously isn't talking about our God. In his deluded arrogance, Islam is the supreme power on Earth - Islam the religion, not the God of Islam. Any god will do for Ahmadinejad.

Going further, if this Islam was truly a God-centered religion instead of a human-centered religion, when "fundamentalist" Muslims go on a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, they would honor God's power, rather than pay lip-service to it while memorializing Muhammad's memory more. What good is symbolically stoning the Devil, when Muslims seem intent on symbolically working with the Devil to destroy Israel? Peacefully questioning God's will is one thing...but openly challenging God's inherent right to have His way is another. Hizballah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran, and millions of others around the globe, question on a daily basis God's right to have His way.

Every rocket or missile launched at Israel from southern Lebanon or the Gaza Strip is a vocal protest (that in His wisdom God allows) against God's will and the Qur'an, not a celebration of either. It's a temper tantrum; it's Muslims saying to Allah, "You're not the boss of us!" By the same token, any suicide terrorist who would scream "God is Great!" before taking innocent lives in an Israeli restaurant or before flying a passenger jet into a New York skyscraper would, rather than glorify God, commit acts of holy war against Him. They should thank God that He is merciful and forgiving.

Rather than submit to God's will, too many Muslims would rather that God submit to theirs.

As a result, people are still dying in Israel and Lebanon...

"And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.'"

- Holy Qur'an 17:104

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Perception of Incompetence

Following the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the establishment of a beachhead, and the push into northern France, Allied troops believed that before too long Paris would be liberated, Berlin would be occupied, and that by Christmas 1944 the War in Europe would be over.

History had other plans, and on December 24 and 25, 1944, the Allies were still slugging it out with the SS and Wehrmacht in and around the Ardennes region during what is popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge; the Allies were doing their best to finally turn back what had been a surpising, resurgent Nazi offensive. Allied troops were no longer so loftily proclaiming that the war would be over soon.

Reality had set in.

If I had tried to predict, in December 1999, when I would graduate from the University of Arizona, the prospects didn't look good. I would've been proven a fool, especially after my disastrous first semester which had just ended. I would've been an optimistic fool, but a fool nonetheless. Then, in May 2000, things looked better. They went sour again later in the year, and then slightly rose...before falling in spring 2001.

When I ran away to New York on a Greyhound bus that summer, any bold pronouncements that I'd graduate by a certain date would've been laughed off. That fall, before and after 9/11, I'd been considering switching schools and going up to Northern Arizona University. Then, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity came calling. Spring 2002 came along, and then Fall 2002. Then, I took a semester off. I had an idea, though, that the goal I had in mind was within reach.

In fact, it was only as I grappled with the decision whether to move to New York or Israel in late 2003 after returning to classes that I could remind my Dad of the promise he made to send me to Europe after college graduation, and say that in May 2004 I would graduate.

If in October 2003 I had said "I want to move to Israel by July 2004," and then in November 2003 said "I want to move to Israel by August 2004," and then in December said "I want to move to Israel by September 2004," all likelihood I never would have left Tucson!

The point of all that?

One of the most aggravating things for me about this latest Middle East war is what we're hearing from the Israeli government. Jerusalem consistently says that Israel needs 10-14 days to finish the campaign. What's the problem with this? The problem is, 10-14 days ago I seem to remember hearing that Israel needed 10-14 days to finish the campaign. Now, 10-14 days later, we hear again from the Defense Minister that the IDF needs 10-14 days to finish the operations.

Such was told to Washington at the start of the war 21 days ago, then again 14 days ago; again, such was told to the world 10 days ago, and we were treated again to this prediction today. This evening, one general even said that the IDF needs two to six weeks for ground forces to "clean" southern Lebanon of the Hizballah threat...or what the Canadian government today rightly called the Hizballah "cancer". Of course, opinions differ on how to do it. That's democracy, and military planning, for you.

I'm pretty sure, though, that if the war hasn't ended by 10-14 days from now, 10-14 days from now we'll hear once again that Israel needs 10-14 days to finish the job. The Jewish state has come a long way from being able to destroy the armies and air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in six days as it did in 1967, though Hizballah is a better funded, better trained, and more dedicated fighting force than any Arab country's regular army has ever been, except for maybe Saddam Hussein's army in the Iran-Iraq war. Then again, the Gulf War in 1991 showed what a paper tiger that was...insurgent terrorists have fought better...anyway...

Despite my overall misgivings about the international political scene that will emerge at the end of the war - whenever it ends - I admit that see the progress being made by Israel. There are fewer rockets hitting northern Israel. Up until now, the bold pronouncements by chief Hizballah terrorist Hassan Nasrallah that missiles would hit central Israel have been shown to be so much bluffedy-bluster (and may it remain so, though it may not). Trucks carrying armaments for Hizballah from Syria into Lebanon are being destroyed by the Israeli Air Force en route. Israeli troops are pushing further into southern Lebanon...and taking casualties.

Yes, the war continues, despite the bombing in Qana and with the revelation that Hizballah might very well have orchestrated the PR campaign that followed (such as a "rescue" worker taking multiple pictures throughout the day with the same body, and information that several corpses displayed showed rigor mortis too early to have died when the Israeli bombs hit or the building collapsed).

The war continues, with Lebanese, US and UK bloggers accusing Hizballah of having placed those who died in the building themselves - I speak of handicapped Lebanese and children - and as we hear the various announcements of the body count at Qana. That more people have died , more often, in single-day terror attacks in Iraq recently, apparently is of little concern to the world community. We certainly don't hear Human Rights Watch, or the UN, condemning the insurgents for deliberately targeting innocent civilians in Iraq as loudly as Human Rights Watch and the UN condemn Israel for accidentally killing civilians in war against the terrorists who started this in the first place and who deliberately place civilians in harm's way.

Even so, while all that happens and while we can see some progress, some hope, I the IDF full of psychics? The government certainly isn't. These predictions just sound so silly. You can start a fighting a war when you want to, or rather when you need to or you should, but you can't really put time limits on it. Not in a war like this. You'll be disappointed. Every time the government sets goals in this war, it goes back on them. Or changes them. Or extends the deadline to meet them. That's because predicting how a war will play out on paper is often much different than how it plays out on the battlefield. I thought the Israeli government knew that from experience.

Is it any wonder, then, that when trying to measure the progress that we can see, we are often frustrated? We know it's there, but come just seems like an excuse for not meeting the original goal. How do we know goals are truly met, if we don't know what they are (I'm talking strategic, not just political)? We've heard two or three times that 40-50% of Hizballah's capabilities had been destroyed.

Let the results speak for themselves. There are fewer rockets, now. Then, it was different.

I say give us the straight goods. Admit that military goals might not be met right away, but that they are being worked toward. Hype up the accomplishments-that-are, not the accomplishments-to-be. And be clear on what, exactly, the goals are.

Prime Minister Olmert said tonight "we never promised that at the end of this war there would be no rocket threats against Israel. Neither the defense minister, nor the leadership, nor I promised there would be no rockets within range." He went on to say, "We will agree to a ceasefire when we know for certain that the conditions on the ground will be different from those which led to this war."

And when exactly will that be? Can we be enlightened on what this means, in real terms? We know that implementing UN Security Council resolution 1559 is an ultimate, international goal...this constitutes the disarmament of Hizballah, and the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese Government extending Beirut's sovereignty into the south, and so on. But if, as one general (different from the one I mentioned earlier) stated this evening, Hizballah will not be disarmed with these battles and "that we will achieve this objective in the next series of battles," when does it end?

How does one make the ultimate decision, "Israel is safe, for the moment"? When can it be made? When the rocket fire stops? When the kidnapped soldiers, from the unprovoked Hizballah attack that started this war, are returned to Israel? When Hizballah goes from saying "Death to Israel! Death to America!" to "Am Yisrael Chai!" and "Allah Bless America!"? When Syria can no longer support Hizballah? When Iran can no longer finance Hizbullah, or send Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon?

When? What? How?

Let us hope that Vice Premier Shimon Peres was right today, when he said in Washington, "Syria won't go to war. They know their strengths and weaknesses. Their equipment is not modern and they won't go to war alone. The current conflict won't escalate to an all-out regional war." Let us hope that those are not included in the next edition of that informative book, "Famous Last Words", and that we don't get to find out if and when Iran - which has a defense treaty with Damascus - will come to the aid of a Syria with outdated Soviet weapons that we were told "won't go to war".

The lesson Jerusalem needs to learn is that you shouldn't set - or at least announce - deadlines you can't keep due to the fluidity of the battlefied situation, and then change them and believe that no one will notice. That just gives off the appearance of incompetence at the top levels.

When the stakes are this high, with irrational yet calculating enemies who perceive incompetence to be weakness, and when these enemies seeking to pounce on that weakness could set in motion a whole lot of regional - even worldwide - trouble...triggering what might unmistakeably, unarguably be a world war (given the various alliances and treaties)...well...

At the moment, incompetence - or the perception of incompetence - could be deadly. For millions.