Friday, December 07, 2007

Jerusalem

You may have heard how the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) was this week considering a law that declares Jerusalem to be a "Palestinian, Arab and Islamic city." Despite Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip and being a bitter foe at the moment of Fatah, the political movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, any Fatah members who are opposed to the law aren't opposed to its message or spirit, but to Hamas (rather than Fatah) being the main sponsor of the bill. This would-be law is interesting in how much it differs from Israeli laws concerning Jerusalem, and the attitude and actions of the Arab states regarding the "City of Peace" (ha!). In sharp contrast to the Israeli view of its capital, the Arab world's narrative about Jerusalem is exclusive in the extreme.

Following the capture by Israel of the eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem - along with the Old City and its holy sites - in June 1967 during the Six-Day War, the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed the "Protection of Holy Places Law 5727". This law said, "
The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places." The law went on to warn that "Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years."

All too easily forgotten by the world is that while the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan ruled the West Bank and occupied the Old City, from the late 1940s to the summer of '67, Amman violated armistice agreements and prevented Israelis from reaching Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites in eastern Jerusalem.


In 1980, the Israeli parliament passed another law on Jerusalem, the "Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel," which set out once and for all the Jewish State's position on the Holy City: 1)
Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel. 2) Jerusalem is the seat of the President of the State, the Knesset, the Government and the Supreme Court. This "Basic Law" repeated the provisions of the 1967 "Protection of Holy Places Law", stating once again that 3) The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings towards those places.

Sadly, I've yet to see a single Palestinian or Arab law that recognizes not only the right of Jews to have access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, but that would protect the right of adherents of all faiths - other than Islam - to have free access to holy sites. While it is true that Israel has many times over declared Jerusalem to be the Eternal Capital of Israel and the Jewish People, being a country of true laws and not fatwas, Israel also recognizes the rights of all peoples to share in the holiness and history of the city. Such a policy, such a recognition, would be odd if Israel were anything like her neighbors - ruled by sheikhs and autocrats, narrow-minded, intolerant. As it is, Israel is and should always be a welcome exception.

Anyone who wonders what the situation would be like if a Palestinian government ruled over the Old City (or any other part of Jerusalem) can look not only to that aforementioned law about Jerusalem discussed this week in the PLC, not only to the Jordanian precedent set prior to the Six-Day War, but also to Saudi Arabia's example in its role as caretaker of the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina. If you're not a Muslim, I wish you good luck in trying to visit those cities. Despite the fact that Jews and Christians once lived in (and helped to found) such places, if you're not Muslim, you're officially prevented access to them.

No secret it is that I consider myself to be a fairly flexible person, open-minded, welcome to hearing the opinions of others even if - sometimes, especially if - they differ from my own. When the moment is appropriate, I see the inherent value of compromise and cooperation. But if we're talking about the status of Jerusalem, you will find me inflexible, narrow-minded, and decidedly uncooperative and uncompromising.

I wasn't always this way, but...things long ago changed for me.
Despite Jerusalem's deep, archaeologically provable Jewish history and nature (to say nothing of Biblically-based arguments), I believe the Holy City must always welcome and provide free access to holy sites for believers of all faiths who truly revere and honor the people, places and events which have occurred there. Above all, when it comes to my position on Jerusalem - a city I've lived in and love - I feel that being uncompromising, narrow-minded and inflexible is the best way to preserve religious (and political) liberty in Zion.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hey, Iran is still Iran

There are probably many people - of a certain political ideology - who are inclined to trust Iran a bit more now that we're hearing Tehran suspended nuclear weapons research in 2003. In fact, the people who are willing to trust Iran more now are probably less willing than ever to trust the Bush Administration, despite recent events being seemingly a softening of position as part of an effort to reduce tensions. But allow me to remind those people, if they didn't already get the message from the preceding paragraph, that Iran is no way vindicated - as IAEA head Mohammed El-Baradei stated - by our Federal Government's sudden turnaround.

It would have been much more to the advantage of the United States, and our stated goals, if the released intel on Iran had been kept quiet - not, that is to say, in order to justify war. But now America has lost practically all the leverage we had on Iran, and the rest of the world regarding Iran's activities. A change in position such as this represents leads me to believe that behind-the-scenes, something not entirely advantageous may be in the works. This isn't pessimism; it's pragmatism: it smells, to this landlubber, like a fishing vessel - returned from a trip out to sea - that has yet to be scrubbed.

Iran is not a dangerous country simply due to the alleged activities in pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Iran is still a supporter of Hizballah, which, let us not forget, provoked a war with Israel in the summer of 2006 that caused immense suffering for citizens of both Lebanon and the Jewish State. Iran is still, also, supplying insurgent Islamists in Iraq with weapons to use against U.S., Iraqi and other allied troops. It is still a theocratic dictatorship, and unless the Islamic Republic has suddenly changed its opinion about America being "the Great Satan", its messianic leadership is still committed to our ruination in one way or another.

Were there a U.N. Commission on Fighting State-Sponsored Terrorism, Iran - if that "august" organization didn't ironically vote the Islamic Republic to be such a group's chief - would be considered the planet's number one participant in supporting violence against civilians to achieve ideological gains. Iranian meddling in Iraq is directly responsible for the deaths of American troops - and whatever your opinion of the War, if you're more likely to blame Bush for GI's deaths than those who are actually doing the killing, you're a misguided fool.

Iran - and by Iran, I mean the Iranian theo-crazy government and those who prop it up - is still a bad guy.
Let's call a spade a spade. The Islamic Republic represents an affront to all civilization, and the further it spreads its tentacles, the more it gains the potential to be the sort of Evil Empire that could put the Soviet Union - and the death tolls, internal and external, caused by the U.S.S.R. - to shame. No "peace" in the Middle East will ever have a chance at long life so long as Iran remains ruled by this incarnation of government, this Islamic Republic.

Those who assail all of the connections between religious groups and politicians in the U.S.A. should recognize that however many such connections exist in America, we are nowhere near the extreme amalgamation of religion and politics represented by the Iranian theocracy. There is a huge difference between President Bush stating he believes his faith guided him in deciding to change Iraq's government and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stating God is continually telling him to incinerate millions of Israelis (if not with nukes, then with Shihab-3s...does it really matter what he'd use?).

Among our closest and loyal allies, we can count the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia and Israel - democracies all. Who are Iran's closest partners? Russia, China, Venezuela, and Hizballah. Not exactly the "Super Friends", are they?

Perhaps this news about Iran is very similar to those medical findings we see released every few years - one study says eggs are good for you, the next says eating too many can kill you. You don't know who to trust, because the people issuing a warning today will be the same people who retract it five years from now. I'll admit the accumulation of more information,
that may paint a clearer picture of reality, is a good thing. But sometimes, keeping it quiet is a better option than shooting yourself in the foot.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Hanukkah!

From Adam Sandler's HBO special...seems like ages ago...of all the versions of this song, the original is still the classic..


Friday, November 30, 2007

How I Am More Liberal than "Liberals"

Today, I’d like to dedicate a blog entry to a great open-minded liberal who recently made a big impression on me, a left-wing freedom fighter who goes by the name of Gilbert Gonzales. Now, why am I dedicating a blog entry to this tolerant, compassionate individual, whose commitment to the acceptance of others having opinions other than his own surely exceeds my own meager, Reaganite view of humanity?

‘Cause the fucker deserves it, that’s why.

You may be wondering why I seemingly praise an individual and then refer to him as a “fucker”. I’ll ask you to "pardon my French" on this matter, for once you read – from the horse’s mouth, as it were – why this particular individual (and others of his ilk) has earned any nasty, derogatory epithet that may come to mi
nd about him. If you know me and where I stand, what values I hold, what principles I stand by, and then can see his brazen hypocrisy, you too will think of Gilbert Gonzales as an asshole.

Allow me a disclaimer: I know plenty of people who hold clearly stated, if often irreverently so, views that greatly differ from my own. However, I do not judge them based on their ideology, but how they treat me. It is ever my hope that they, no matter how much they disagree with me, approach their relationship with me the same way. No matter their incidental hypocrisy or my own, it is generally the case that how you treat me is how I will treat you...regardless of your political or religious beliefs.


That being said, here we go.

To start off, take a look at Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore comic strip from November 24, 2007:




This 11/24 comic strip makes a very good point. I’ll let it stand on its own for the moment, and move along with the story.

If you aren’t already aware of it, now it’s your time to find out: I’m back in Arizona. I returned to Arizona on November 15, one day after taking a bus from Washington, DC to New York and deciding while on that Peter Pan lines vehicle that I’d had enough of homesickness: it was time for me to return to my home Grand Canyon State. But before I had that epiphany, I had convinced myself that I was returning to the Big Apple to stay…and so, I’d needed a place to live once again.

As I had when I returned to my native country, the United States of America - after living the experience of an immigrant to Israel - I was searching the website Craiglist for apartment rooms. I had had a mostly positive experience on Craigslist, having found my first room in New York City, and my first computer upon my return Stateside, on that site. I usually varied my inquiries to those posting ads for rooms, sometimes sharing more, sometimes sharing less, information.

One particular ad I responded to was for a place in Brooklyn. Knowing the political sensibilities of New Yorkers in many cases differed from my own, I knew that trying to search for a completely like-minded roommate or household would be a fruitless task – and considering I got along just fine with my first roommate in New York, who was a pot-addicted, NY-1 addicted, goofy and insecure left-winger from upstate New York, I was fine living with those whose views deeply clashed with my own.

This was my response to the ad, complete with the “signature” of my e-mail at the time:

***

Hi,

I'm interested in the small, converted room you have advertised on Craigslist for $400. Does that room have a bed, or no? And when is it available?


My name is Jeremy. I'm returning to New York tomorrow after being away for a few months, looking for a place ASAP. I've been back in the States for just about a year, after living abroad for a little over two years.


Thanks,


Jeremy


--

"It's amazing what ordinary people can do if they set out without preconceived notions." - Charles Kettering


http://www.homelessyouthamongus.org/


Weblog: http://therealslimslavin.blogspot.com


***

If you haven’t already guessed, the poster of that ad was one Gilbert Gonzales. I didn’t know this at the time I sent my message, but it wasn’t long before I found out. I’d dealt with plenty of people like him before, but never to my knowledge had I ever been subject to a personal attack such as his. It made my blood boil.

Here’s what Gilbert Gonzales had to say in his response to my harmless, friendly inquiry:

***

On Nov 13, 2007 10:45 PM, gilbert gonzales
<maudismnow@hotmail.com> wrote:

No, this room does not have a bed. Look, you might assume that supporters of immigrant rights and housing fairness would not want a racist, zionist supporter of oppression living with them. Fuck you and fuck off. You reply back and I will delete it immediately so don't bother.


***

Imagine the surprise this native-born American - who nevertheless had some personal experience as an immigrant abroad to another democratic country - felt upon the receipt of this message from a supporter of housing fairness and immigrant rights. I was speechless. My jaw literally dropped. I was shocked.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I had done to earn such opprobrium, and I’m still not.
I made an assumption, yes, in responding to that ad: I assumed that Gilbert Gonzales, liberal extraordinaire, was actually "liberal". Though the adage goes that when you "assume", you make an "ass" out of "(yo)u" and "me", I think her it is the case that I assumed and in so doing, mostly just let Gilbert Gonzales make an ass of himself while giving me fodder for the weapon I know best how to wield: that of the written word.

I guess it’s a crime, in the eyes of Gilbert Gonzales, to support a democracy that gives a home to the freest Arab press in the Middle East and isn’t an Arab country, a country that has rescued black Ethiopians and given them a home as immigrants and which has taken in refugees from Darfur, Sudan. If Zionism is racism – as I suspect Gilbert Gonzales thinks it is – then I it’s a racism that gives a home to African Jews and African Muslims when they need it. That’s my kind of racism.

Gilbert Gonzales, whoever he is, has the open-mindedness of a Nazi. Disadvantaged immigrants to America, be they legal or even illegal, deserve better than the likes of him and his roommates. And I’m not entirely sure what housing fairness has to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, unless you consider the fate of Palestinians who, despite living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, are forced to remain in the squalor of refugee camps, prevented from building permanent housing.

Sadly, there are too many other liberals like Gilbert Gonzales out there.

One day, about a month or so ago, I was typing on my computer while sitting right in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. There were a bunch of anti-war, anti-Bush protestors nearby in pink shirts, some of whom were holding signs which said “Love your enemies”. I wanted to approach those protestors – who were screaming out at the top of their lungs and on bullhorns “Impeach Bush!” – and ask them if they loved their enemies Bush and Cheney, whom “their kind” tends to portray as evil incarnate and worthy of a firing squad. But I didn’t.

Jay Nordlinger, managing editor of the National Review, had this to say in his contribution to the book Why I Am a Reagan Conservative, a 2005 collection of writings by several different authors, edited by Michael K. Deaver, on…well, why they are what they are:

"I should also say that I was an anticommunist, and I thought that people who loved humanity should at least oppose those governments that killed humanity en masse: in China, in Cambodia, in the Soviet Union, and so on. How could lovers of humanity adorn their walls with posters of Mao and Guevara?”


Now, I’m not sure if Gilbert Gonzales and his roommates have posters of Mao Tse-Tung and Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the walls of their home, but it stands to reason that “supporters of immigrant rights and housing fairness” are people who think of themselves as lovers of humanity.

Left-wing liberals like to portray themselves as the sole torchbearers of this love of their fellow man against the evil, Zionist, racist oppressors represented by conservatives/neo-conservatives such as myself. But if it is the case that Gilbert Gonzales is a liberal, then he is like the “liberals” of Jay Nordlinger’s youth in Ann Arbor, Michigan, “…a decidedly ‘illiberal’ bunch: close minded, dogmatic, intolerant of dissent.”

I know this because, if you read my initial inquiry in response to Gilbert Gonzales’ ad, you’ll see that the only evidence of my political leanings would have to have been in my blog. How many close-minded people choose to live abroad, in a strange country or culture, after all? Gilbert Gonzales went out of his way to look up where I stand, so that he could judge me not on my merits, but on my beliefs.

Never in my life had I ever been so directly, overtly disrespected as I was on November 13, 2007, by Gilbert Gonzales, a man who advertised an available room in his apartment with this title: “$400 Room Available with a Great Household”. “Great Household” my ass.

It could go without saying that I - a "Reaganite" conservative who supports the spread of democracy in the Middle East, who feels a need to confront Islamist terrorism and those who support/finance it, who holds the Palestinians responsible for the choices they make, who knows what it is like to be an immigrant who has put himself at a disadvantage - am decidedly
more open-minded, am less dogmatic, and am tolerant of dissent in a way that Gilbert Gonzales and other “liberals” like him could never be – or just flat-out refuse to be.

But…why let it go without saying, when I can publish the evidence on my blog and let hundreds, if not thousands, of people read it for themselves? Gilbert Gonzales, allow me to say this to you now: Thank You, Fuck You and Fuck Off. What else can I say? You're a poet, Mr. Gonzales, and your own words inspired me. I had to pitch 'em right back at ya. To everyone else, much love and thanks once again for reading...whether you agree with me or not.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Statement On Recent Violence in France

If the children of disadvantaged Arab and black immigrants in France want to see positive changes in their situation, if they want the French Government with President Sarkozy at its head to be attentive to their plight and needs, the inconvenient truth they need to reconcile themselves with is that shooting at members of the police - and media - is counterproductive to their aims. Unless their goal is another revolution, one that would put the relatively newly-arrived in power over the inarguably long-established, then the appearance of "genuine urban guerrillas with conventional weapons and hunting weapons" (to quote one French official) in the suburbs of Paris is a totally unacceptable escalation in the struggle for societal recognition and economic rectification in France.

In a democracy, it is usually only criminals who feel the need to fire upon agents of law enforcement. That being said, what with the history of violent, forceful agitation against one governmental structure or another in France going back hundreds of years, each outbreak of violence there is sadly much less surprising than it ought to be. Even so, whatever mistakes have been made by however many successive French administrations, the sort of violence which has recently broken out in the French Republic is particularly deplorable. A couple of youths riding an unsafe vehicle, without protection, accidentally crashing into a police car and dying is hardly a good enough excuse for destroying property and, as may happen, lives.


What do these people really hope to gain? If it becomes as easy for them to fire upon better-off civilians as it is for them to fire upon the police who are pledged to those - and all - civilians' protection, where does the violence end? And what will it lead to? Attempting to kill those you seek some sort of reparations from is a bully tactic, designed to induce fear, and almost inevitably results in the replacement of anger for compassion amongst the populace. Discrimination and racism should always be condemned in the harshest of terms, but what disadvantaged minorities in France need are not apologists for criminal acts, but activists who work with the authorities peacefully, not against them violently, to find solutions to pressing problems.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Islamic Car = Shortest Slavin Blog Ever

This is one for the record books. One of my shortest blogs ever, if not the shortest. It was prompted by the news that a carmaker in Malaysia, "Proton", announced this week it is teaming up with manufacturers in Turkey and Iran to produce an "Islamic car". According to BBC News, "The car could boast special features like a compass pointing to Mecca and a dedicated space to keep a copy of the Koran and a headscarf." Apparently, "officials in Iran" first suggested the idea to a group of visiting Malaysian dignitaries.

What I'm wondering is, in addition to a Mecca compass and a Koran space, is there going to be an easily accessible self-destruct button that a driver or passenger can push? Come on, it won't truly be an Islamic car unless it facilitates more suicide-bombings-to-the-gallon than other vehicles on the road. And it has to have enough trunk space to carry katyushas, AK-47s, and bomb belts from Tehran, Iran, through Syria, to Beirut, Lebanon. And when you honk the horn, instead of a normal "beep", it has to go "Allah-u-akbar!".


If all that's a little politically incorrect, who gives a darn? Not me. Given my experiences, I reserve the right to say such things. Even now, when I'm on the East Coast of the United States and no longer in the Middle East. By the way, for those who don't already know, I'm going back to New York City after nearly 3 months away. Just a heads-up. And, lest I forget, this coming Friday will mark a year that I've been back in the States.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Woe is We?

It seems every day brings with it more bad news about the U.S. dollar: Brazilian supermodel Gisele B√ľndchen recently refused payment in dollars while negotiating a deal, insisting instead that she be paid in euros. Last week, Jim Rogers, who is a former investor partner of business mogul George Soros, said he was selling his home and possessions so that he might buy beacoup amounts of the Chinese currency, the yuan (I guess he forgot that a huge majority of Chinese are still riven in poverty). Federal Reserve Notes are at unprecedentedly weak levels compared to the British pound and - dear God! - the Canadian dollar as well. Confidence is flagging, no two ways about it.

While there are very real, pertinent, unavoidably economic and political causes for the dollar's recent fall from grace, I can't help but wonder if all of the negative media publicity is only adding to the woes of Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and all those Benjamins. Despite all those videos circulating on the net demonstrating the perceived stupidity and/or ignorance of average Americans, the truth is most people around the world who watch or read the news unquestioningly and uncritically are just as stupid and ignorant as the common folk in good ole' Uncle Sam. Just because they won't admit to it doesn't make it not so.


You see, there are a lot of people out there who don't simply want to see the United States brought down a peg or two on the Power, Strength & Arrogance scale; they want to see America marginalized, and it isn't out of some altruistic buddy-buddyhood with the common man or woman in the Third World. They want their own countries on top. Go ahead, you can deny it, but listen closely to the words of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and witness his actions. Have a seat, as an American, with two proud French citizens criticizing our Republic, and if you're able to keep from feeling backed into a corner (it isn't easy, when they can talk so fast!) and think clearly, you'll see their bashing us in order to make their country sound better.


Of course, Americans do this all too often. I, myself, am guilty from time to time of criticizing certain countries with the motivation solely being to show how we're better than "they" are. Then again, there are those other times - and I like to think of them as being the majority of the time - when I harshly criticize or call out undemocratic, intolerant, gleefully violent nations and societies because I feel that what their governments do is wrong, because I'm disgusted by what I see happening, and because I know to my core that our claim on the moral high ground is greater than theirs could ever be in their current governmental and cultural manifestations.

What does this have to do with the dollar? Am I not, even now, simply defending the dollar because I'm feeling threatened on its behalf? Yes and no. A lack of confidence in the dollar isn't simply a lack of confidence in the monetary power of the United States of America; it represents a lack of confidence in pretty much everything about America aside from, maybe, our entertainment offerings. And to say that President Bush is solely to blame would be to forget the dismal approval ratings of the Democrat-controlled Congress. All too easily, however, ordinary "everyday" Americans will go out, will watch the news, and believe what their told about the dollar's slide without actually thinking hard about it.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm going to remain optimistic about the dollar's future prospects. I know, thanks to my independent, casual research and reading, that getting excited about the rise of the Chinese and Indian economies is grossly premature (people are "utopianly" excited about what they think will happen ten or twenty years down the line, forgetting the very real obstacles and challenges facing both countries). I don't mind, really, whether the Canadian dollar is either still at a parity with the American dollar or is actually at a higher rate of exchange now. That means, probably, that more Canadians will take shopping trips down to the U.S. to take advantage of the state of things in the States.


Besides, nothing is permanent. In the wake of the Second World War, both Britain and the European continent were largely in ruins: incredibly and, some thought, fatally (in the face of expected Soviet expansion efforts) financially vulnerable. Today, thanks in part to the help given in the past by the U.S. to Europe in the form of more than generous Marshall Plan, the European Union has a strong currency union, and both the euro and the pound are, as we are continually being reminded each day, consistently blowing the U.S. dollar out of the water.


French president Nicolas Sarkozy, writing in his book "Testimony" (I really enjoyed it) before he was elected to serve in the Elysee Palace, stated repeatedly that "nothing is inevitable." He meant, of course, that the destiny/fate of his country's economy, society, etc. was not solely up to uncontrollable influences. Throughout his campaign, and since his election, he's mentioned the need for France to adopt a serious change in attitude.


We would be wise, ourselves, to take this advice as our own when thinking about the State of our Union today, financially, politically and culturally. Our uncommon optimism about the future has long been a hallmark of the United States; there have been times, of course, when it seemed that tomorrow
wouldn't or even couldn't be a better day than today...e.g., the Great Depression. Overall, though, we've been blessed to be able to have hope in the promise of tomorrow, the possibilities that - with a little hard work, and steadfastness - are within our reach.

Paying full mind to realities of the moment, we can nonetheless fundamentally reject the fatalistic pessimism about the future prospects of the U.S. dollar, and do our own small part to help it out of it's rut. In the meantime, I have no problem with Canadians, Britons, and Continental Europeans (among others) flying to America to go on holiday shopping spending sprees (much like they did last year) with currencies momentarily stronger than ours. I say let them help U.S. businesses big and small all they want. You might be embarrassed, but hey - they're doing our economy a favor!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Are the Red Sox the new Yankees?

The last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, I'd stayed up with a select group of people - and no, not all of them were Americans - at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem, Israel, to watch that history being made. This time around, on the day when it seemed that the so-called "Curse of the Bambino" had not only been lifted in 2004, but transferred to, oh I don't know, the Yankees by 2007, the history-making game I had my eyes and ears on was the Giants-Dolphins NFL game played at the new Wembley Stadium in London, England. To tell you the truth, a Red Sox victory seemed too easily won this time around - the magic of uncertainty had been replaced by a veritable Bostonian Blitzkrieg. To the victors go the spoils - and my congratulations.

Witnessing the incredible ease with which the Red Sox won this Series after very nearly being prevented from attending it by the Cleveland Indians is enough to make one wonder - had they been holding something back in the ALCS on purpose? Let's leave that as a highly unlikely possibility, but a possibility nonetheless, and consider this other notion - with two World Series rings earned by Boston in four consecutive seasons in this decade, and no World Series rings won by the Pinstripes since 2000, before they lost to, ahem, the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, has America truly become the Red Sox Nation? Are they the new "America's Team"? Are - perish the thought, God forbid - the Yankees the new Red Sox, and the Red Sox the new Yankees?

Those witty "Do the Math"-type t-shirts sold in many a Times Square and Yankees souvenir shop, the ones that show the dozens of NYYankees championship rings won over the last 90 years or so contrasted with a single, solitary Red Sox ring, are going to have to be replaced with a more updated version. At one time or another, this was bound to happen, but that it should be so soon must be particularly painful for die-hard fans of the Bronx Bombers. Oh, not to worry - those of us more "casual" (i.e., not-living-and-breathing-only-for-a-Yankees win) Yankees fans know that the Red Sox aren't about to catch up with our 26 anytime soon.

But once "the House that Ruth Built" is replaced by the new Yankee Stadium, will the "magic" that kept the Big Apple ahead of Beantown in the MLB be that sort of Lady that Frank Sinatra admonished Luck not to be, i.e., the one that wanders all over the room blowing on some other guy's dice (take that any way you will)...in this case, the dice being no longer those of the Yankees, but those of the Red Sox? It is, of course, foolish to believe in such "curses", but we can't deny the psychological power they have, that makes them capable of being self-fulfilling whatever can be proven of their veracity. I mean, look what stories of an ousted goat have done to Chicago Cubs fans over the course of many decades.

If it is indeed the case that the Earth's magnetic field has shifted and that Lady Luck has pulled a Benedict Arnold against New York's venerable Continental Army in favor of the Redsox controlling Fenway Pahk (alright, how many got the Revolutionary War references on the first read?), I don't think it is the case that anything supernatural - aside from Divine Providence - is ultimately to blame. Arrogance and caution at the top of the Yankees organization are the culprits, and with all due respect to Messrs. Steinbrenner and Cashman, they more than Joe Torre are who should be held accountable not only for the Yankees failing again to achieve the Fall Classic, but also for God's having possibly decided to trade in His well-worn Yankees cap for a Red Sox one at the Lids branch in Heaven.

Am I saying anything new, here? I don't think so. Rationally-minded or "aristocratic" Yankees fans know for whom their anger should be primarily reserved; as for the plebs, they may be just enough satisfied with Joe Torre's absence from the dugout in 2008 to let the others off the hook for now.

Wondering about those NYY fans whose cold anger still simmers against the upper management? Bear in mind that it is usually from cold anger that grudges are born and that the memories of some species of fans are as long as the memories of the Jews - they'll tell their grandkids (and, God-willing, great-grandkids) just who it was that enfeebled the Yankees in the first years of the 21st century to such a degree that it enabled the Red Sox to win one World Series too many. And you have to remember, for some Pinstripes fans, even just one World Championship ring won and worn by a Boston Red Sox player in the post-Babe Ruth era was one too many.

But two such rings for the Red Sox, in four seasons, in the first decade of the 2000s?

Well, if that's not a nakba, what is?

Friday, October 26, 2007

U.N. sez Earthquakes, Tsunamis due to Global Warming

26 October 2007 (RealSlimSlavin News): A new study financed by the United Nations and released today to the public reveals that one of the modern world's greatest tragedies, the Southeast Asian Tsunami of December 2004 that left hundreds of thousands dead and a teeming multitude homeless, was caused in fact not by a great undersea earthquake, but rather sparked by global warming. The study notes that while a massive disruption of water - sparked by an earthquake - was indeed the cause of the tsunami itself, the rise in global temperatures over the past 30 years has been found to be directly influencing the movements of tectonic plates under the Earth, thus negating the natural or "Act of God" nature of the historic event and placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of humankind.

This announcement, following a recent decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council that Israeli military actions against Palestinians are directly to blame for climate change and one by the U.N. General Assembly that "Zionism equals Global Warming", has already been praised by both Al Gore and the Arab League. The study, titled "Earthquakes and Climate Change: A Doomed World", is already being touted worldwide as a landmark achievement in scientific research, common sense and objectivity.

"We now have definitive proof that global warming was responsible for the horrific tsunami of December 2004," the doctor who led the investigation says. "Having recently found a direct correlation between climate change and the prevalence of earthquakes, the explanation is really quite unremarkable in its simplicity. In fact, you could probably trace the occurrence of every known earthquake - and earthquake-inspired tsunami - back to some form of human-induced climate change. It explains a lot."

What exactly can be done about the connection between climate change and the sliding-plates-under-the-earth phenomenon remains to be seen; the study has already sparked fierce debate among academics and politicians. At the very least, this discovery vindicates the tireless efforts of activists to portray the infamous "Ring of Fire" as incontrovertible proof that humanity is responsible for every single rise in global temperatures, despite the effects of ash and soot from volcanoes whose origins are found deep beneath the planet's crust, as well as cattle methane emissions. Already we are hearing rumblings from the scientific community that an announcement is forthcoming on the relationship between climate change and those aforementioned volcanoes - perhaps asserting that global warming causes volcanoes, and not the other way around.

Another scientist who participated in the study's drafting had this to say: "Look, we already know that global warming killed off the dinosaurs - or, if you subscribe to Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley's theory of saurian evolution, it spurred the transformation of many dinosaurs into avian-like creatures, known today as birds. Though it's a stretch, we're pretty sure we can find a human connection between the meteor that slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago and the disappearance of the 'terrible lizards' of yore. Perhaps even Halliburton had a relationship with the asteroid company that sent the big rock. Really, if you think about it, you can blame everything that goes wrong - or that we don't yet fully understand - on humanity, and especially America. Oh, and the Jews. Which is really alarming to me, because I am one."

Several institutions are looking into the many other areas it is believed that global warming could be influencing or which it has already influenced. Even as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, one private group in Switzerland is looking into whether climate change can be retroactively blamed for the genocide of the Jews during World War II, perhaps seeking absolution for the former Nazi regime in Germany. Next Tuesday, the International Court of Justice at The Hague, in the Netherlands, is set to hear arguments on behalf of deceased Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic that global warming, and not attempted ethnic cleansing, was to blame for the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s. And a team led by a university professor in Ohio is investigating claims that climate change is directly responsible for America's ongoing sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Meanwhile, in places like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and along India's southeastern coastline, the finding that global warming caused the tsunami has created quite a stir. Questions abound about the effectiveness of new tsunami warning systems that have been installed in an age when global warming may spark sudden, massive earthquakes; people say it is all well and good that they now have the capability of receiving a heads-up when massive walls of seawater are heading their way, but that it is downright inhumane to be leaving these countries and their citizens without a qualitative means of predicting trends in climate change short of alarmist media stories, all-too-frequent NGO studies, and local weather reports and forecasts. And "Earthquakes and Climate Change: A Doomed World" is not without its critics even in the region it speaks of.

"Enough of these bad news studies. We want to know exactly how the world will end, and when," one villager in Indonesia's Aceh province told a visiting reporter. "Otherwise, all we'll be doing is endlessly worrying without any clue of what, exactly, we are worrying about."

Compiled from Wire Reports of my Ever-Active Imagination

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore's Alleged Gayness Doesn't Matter

Okay, I get that in this era where the push for "gay rights" has inexcusably been confused with being of the same importance as "civil rights" for blacks, any news of a "celebrity", even a fake celebrity, being gay is bound to garner major headlines. But I really don't see how author J.K. Rowling's revelation that Albus Dumbledore, the former headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series, is - or rather, was - gay is such a big deal. Since the news came out...ha ha...it is as if fans have been rushing back to their bookshelves to try and find all the little remarks and other clues in the book series which make you go "Hmmm..."

No doubt, there are certain people who, having no lives or common sense, are celebrating Dumbledore's "outing". Here's the thing: Unless there is a specific passage in any of the Harry Potter books where Dumbledore leaves no doubt as to his sexual orientation, J.K. Rowling's statement in New York last week - despite her authorship of the series - should be seen merely as just being her own opinion. It's not "canon", and since J.K. Rowling is not God, her word - her ex post facto word - has not and cannot earn the status of "gospel".

While I'm not the most cynical of people, J.K. Rowling's choice of "revealing" Dumbledore's "true nature" at Carnegie Hall appears to me to be - in no small way - a slimy attempt at appearing more tolerant than she actually is. Oh, she may very well have written the character of Dumbledore with the knowledge stored up in her head that he was gay. But since she declined to reveal this "fact" until several months after the seventh and final book in the series was released, there is more than just a reasonable amount of doubt in my mind about her motivations in doing so now.

You see, had J.K. Rowling "revealed" this news before the Deathly Hallows was released to the public (or before any of the other books were published), like it or not that may have affected whether parents would have allowed their children to read the series. Many parents who may have already been wary of the prevalence of "witchcraft and wizardry" in the books, but chose to buy the books for their kids anyway, would probably have been much more opposed than they would openly admit to their children reading books about children who attend a school whose headmaster is openly gay. But what harm, really, can be done by the author saying Dumbledore is gay after the fact?


Not much. The copies of books, the copies that have made J.K. Rowling one of the richest women in the world, have already been sold. Newcomers to the series may scrutinize the text more than those who patiently waited for and read the books over the course of several years, and their thinking about certain statements by the Albus Dumbledore character will undoubtedly be colored by J.K. Rowling's recent announcement about him, but nothing, really, has changed. And unless J.K. Rowling rewrites, revises, etc. one or several of the Harry Potter books, nothing will change about that being the situation, for the better or the worse.


Does J.K. Rowling's "outing" of Dumbledore change the way I view the Harry Potter series? Quite frankly, no. I don't think of myself as being thick-headed for "missing clues" about Dumbledore's sexual preference, because I don't recall ever being told (over the past six years or so) to look for such clues. That wasn't the point of the books, though certain idiots will likely now claim that it was.

Whatever J.K. Rowling says - non-canonically - about the late Albus Dumbledore doesn't erase the fact that millions upon millions of kids who might otherwise have had their faces planted in front of video game consoles or HDTVs instead sat down on couches, at kitchen tables, or in parks to read. And read. And read some more. And she didn't just get ADHDTV kids to read, either. One of my fondest hobbies this past summer was walking around Bryant Park in Manhattan at midday and counting how many adults had their noses buried in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (I estimated, one day, that at least 70% of the people in the park were - and there were a lot of people - reading the book at that particular moment).

Celebrating J.K. Rowling's "don't ask, don't tell" policy about the character, a policy which lasted for the better part of a decade, seems pretty stupid to me (especially in this day and age, when "pride" in - and openness about - who you are is supposedly all the rage if you're gay or lesbian). We're talking about a fake wizard and an author's ability to turn that wizard into whatever she wants once the checks have been cashed. If Dumbledore being gay really "mattered", J.K. Rowling would have been open about it in the books, rather than coy.
So no, it doesn't make a difference to me whether Albus Dumbledore was gay or not. Not really.

What does matter about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon in general is that however shrewd and selfish a businesswoman J.K. Rowling is, she got people not only to buy books, but to read them, and not only to read them, but to anxiously await the publication of another book year after year after year. That's pretty special, that's a big accomplishment, that's what's important, and if kids - and adults - should take away anything from the Harry Potter series, it's not questions about whether Dumbledore's queer. It should be that reading can be fun...and people should do a lot more of it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

How Al Gore is sowing the seeds of War

I'm not much impressed with former Vice President Al Gore being recognized this week with the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at using scare tactics - rather than a mature approach, based on reason (even though he's written a book called "The Assault on Reason") - as his primary tool in his campaign to fight global warming. To tell you the truth, I think the Nobel Peace Prize is often about as meaningful as United Nations General Assembly resolutions. The committee that chooses who gets the Nobel Peace Prize means well, but it's frequently a poor judge of character. And not just in a small way.

I mean, arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat also won a Nobel Peace Prize once. Problem with that is, Arafat never wanted peace - and the committee responsible for handing out the Prize later tried to take it away from one of the Israelis, current Israeli president Shimon Peres, who won it at the same time as Arafat and, in stark contrast to the Palestinian terror leader, was then and remains now committed to peace. I wouldn't be surprised if, one day, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez gets the Nobel Peace Prize - that's how compromised, I believe, the selection process is (Chavez is buying up arms like crazy from Russia).

Al Gore's dire warnings about a "global emergency" are hardly conducive to maintaining peaceful relations between governments and peoples. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said in the past, "Fear is not a good political adviser." It seems to me, though, that fear is the only adviser we're really willing to trust these days.
Just look at how readily we take Al Gore's assault on reason (his own, I mean, and not the book he wrote about it) connected with his global warming campaign (I don't doubt his passion for the subject, but his method of dissemination is disturbing) at face value.

***

A spokesman for Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic, expressed Klaus's surprise at Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize, saying
"...the relation between his activities and world peace is unclear and indistinct...It rather seems that Gore's questioning of the basic foundation stones of the current civilisation does not contribute to peace much." (BBC News) And coming as the Nobel Peace Prize did on the heels of a court decision in the U.K. which stated that there are at least nine different scientific errors in the film "An Inconvenient Truth", I can't bring myself to congratulate the former Vice President (in case you didn't know, the court called "An Inconvenient Truth" propaganda and set conditions for its being shown in British schools).

In addition to his hypocritical tactic of warning against demagoguery while being a demagogue, I remember that it was Gore who failed not simply to win the 2000 election, but to even carry his home State of Tennessee in that election. This is significant, if only because there are many like myself who don't yet discount the possibility of Al Gore running for president again in '08 - and who knows what impression a Nobel Peace Prize can have on naive or anxious American voters.

Climate change is a phenomenon that, in the seven score and seven years since the phrase "weather forecast" first came into being in 1860, has really yet to be fully understood; at the very least, we know that there have been previous Ice Ages which could only have ended via...global warming. We owe modern human civilization to climate change. And truthfully, we've only had the technology to track weather phenomena and temperature variations for a relatively short time. Rushing to judgment, and refusing debate, and even going so far as making children fearful about global warming is not the answer to the questions surrounding what can or should be done about human contributions to the natural process of climate change.

***

In closing, let us consider again the words about Al Gore spoken on behalf of the Czech president: "...
the relation between his activities and world peace is unclear and indistinct...It rather seems that Gore's questioning of the basic foundation stones of the current civilisation does not contribute to peace much." You may disagree out of hand, but I say President Klaus makes a valid point here. You needn't be a rocket scientist, or political scientist, to see what it is. All you need is the ability to think critically, and realistically, about the world we live in. It is a far less peaceful place than it could be.

It is no secret - or shouldn't be - that in many of the most volatile, war-prone regions of the world (like, say, the Middle East) governments (like, um, those of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, etc.) are as apt to fight wars over natural resources as they are over borders, religious disputes or "refugees".
Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, is worrying not only individual citizens around the world, but increasing the paranoia of their governments over their countries' natural resources, paranoia which could convince worried countries to gamble on "force diplomacy" getting them what they feel they need in terms of natural resource rights more effectively than "table diplomacy".

As stated in the third paragraph of this entry, "Fear is not a good political adviser." Fear can be both a product of, and a contributor to, insecurity. Expand this notion to international relations: Wouldn't you agree that an increase of international insecurity poses a danger to peace, increasing as it does the likelihood of war between nations and peoples? I would hope you would see that this is so. In short, I feel that Al Gore's activities on behalf of fighting climate change - based as they are on inducing fright, rather than on constructive debate - endanger the cause of peace, and that because of this, he doesn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Judgments on History and Diplomacy

Rare are the moments in these our modern times when I'm inclined to praise Congressional Democrats, but this is one of those moments. The House Foreign Relations Committee voted 27 to 21 on Wednesday to approve a symbolic resolution condemning the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks which began in 1915, during the First World War. You see, it is doubtful that were Republicans in charge of Congress, such a resolution would have made it past a committee vote, thus enabling its consideration by the full House of Representatives - so lock-step have Congressional Republicans been with the White House in recent years that they would have been hard-pressed to go against President George W. Bush's request to the House not to consider the issue.

Turkey, for its part, has been condemning the vote, calling the notion that the U.S. Congress would even consider the matter "unacceptable". If you connect the words "Armenian" and "genocide" in Turkey, you're liable to be thrown in jail under the charge of "insulting Turkishness". When France last year made it a crime to deny the Armenian Genocide, Turkey responded in kind with a parliamentary bill accusing France of genocidal actions in Algeria. You ask me, I'd say Turkey may still be suffering from Imperial Withdrawal; it is as if we - the rest of the world, or at least the Free World - are vassal states of some unspoken, reconstituted Ottoman Empire, and in our so being we are thus prevented from saying things which upset Ankara's weak democratic government (like calling genocide "genocide"). Don't even get me started on northern Cyprus.

As far as I know, the rest of the world is not governed by Turkish law, which makes it a crime to "insult Turkishness". However, a symbolic gesture in the United States Congress that recognizes the Armenian Genocide for what it was is not an insult to "Turkishness"; on the contrary, it provides an opportunity yet again for modern Turks to rise above the crimes of their forefathers, just as Germans have done in the decades since the Holocaust, and not only own up to a shameful past but also start building a responsible future by establishing relations with Armenia (I mean, look how well Germany and Israel - a legacy of the Nazi Holocaust - get along these days). The Republic of Turkey should not be afraid of confronting its past, and should abandon the institution of denying it, especially if Turkey thinks it fit to continue to try for membership in the European Union - something I'm against, by the way.

But maybe resolutions in the House and Senate aren't enough. Maybe what's needed, to send a strong message to Turkey that we are governed and guided by our own morals and principles, and not those of the Turks, are multiple resolutions on a nationwide scale. By this, of course, I mean similar measures put forward in the several State Legislatures of America, particularly in any States which can claim a significant population of those of Armenian heritage. This is not to say that such measures are guaranteed passage; in fact, a good number of them may fail to pass. But again, just because Turkey has made it a domestic crime to even hint at calling the Armenian Genocide a "genocide" doesn't mean that the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, can throw a tantrum and that we over here in the United States, in response, must "capitulate" to his demands.

President Bush, and those in Congress who, like him, oppose this resolution, do so out of fear. They are afraid that America living up to its traditions, and embodying its principles, will anger the Turks enough and in such a way that our military operations in Iraq may be compromised. But I seem to remember, way back in 2003, that Turkey - which is now considering an armed incursion into the north of Iraq to go after Kurdish terrorists, much to the chagrin of...us - wasn't much help in our Iraq venture to begin with (they forbid the launching of ground operations against the regime of Saddam Hussein from southern Turkey). In hoping to restrain America's voice, these opponents of Justice wish to maintain the status quo, to maintain the balance of fear which guides relations between too many of the world's genuine democracies and Turkey's weak, prone-to-military-overthrow democracy.

You see, the problem - the continual enabling of Turkey's history-minded irresponsibility - isn't only due to America's reluctance to recognize the Armenian Genocide for what it was. In the interest of preserving warm military ties with an officially secular Muslim state, the State of Israel, a product of the Nazis' genocidal program against the Jews (and officially-recognized nation-state inheritor of that genocide's victims' intense emotional baggage), also doesn't officially recognize the Armenian Genocide. Sure, you can walk through the Old City of Jerusalem and see posters decrying the Turks' genocidal actions against the Armenians, but ask government officials in Jerusalem to speak out about the event and you'll be disappointed. This from a country that comes to a halt every Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, for two minutes as a siren sounds to mark the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.

That's shameful...and most heinously hypocritical. After all, this is the same Israel whose supporters denounce Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ongoing denial of, and occasional questioning of the scope of, the Holocaust. How ironic is it that when Adolf Hitler is purported to have said, in justifying Nazi actions against the Jews and expressing his confidence the world wouldn't pay any attention to their disappearance, "Who today speaks of the Armenians?", it is the world's only Jewish state that, decades later, voluntarily doesn't speak of their (the Armenian's) tragedy at the hands of the Turks while at the same time urging the world to remember ours (the Jews') at the hands of the Nazis. What tzvi'ut (hypocrisy), eh?

To quote the great Will Ferrell in Elf (when he's speaking to a dept. store Santa Claus), the current system of international diplomacy sits "on a throne of lies". We in the "Free and Enlightened World" say we stand for one thing, but then rush to abandon our "firm" stance whenever we find it expedient to do so. Later on, we reclaim the moral high ground as our own while living with the undeniable knowledge that we're more than willing to divest ourselves of it - and cry out out that we're really not doing so - whenever the urge may again possess us to do so. By this method we hope to "keep the peace", and while we think it works well, all we're really doing is promoting an unstable "armistice" which allows future conflict(s) to brew.

We would be doing ourselves - and past, present and future (God forbid) victims of genocide, too - a huge favor if we were to abandon this dishonest, hypocritical philosophy of international (and domestic) politics and, after claiming the moral high ground, show that we're willing to keep that moral high ground even if doing so means earning the opprobrium of those who make no attempt to earn a place atop it and aren't likely to try to earn it in the future (though their hypocrisy is worse than ours when they do claim it). I know that the status quo isn't always easily changed. But to quote my own words, in my Facebook profile, "sometimes the status quo is nothing more than another outdated rule made - or needing - to be broken."


Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Time to Do What's Right

A long time ago - another lifetime, really, though only about a decade has passed - I was briefly involved in the "Free Burma" movement. What happened was, there was an article in a "USA Weekend" magazine (the one distributed with newspapers) which had a feature article about a prominent Burmese man directly affiliated with the pro-democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi against the military regime in power in "Myanmar". The end of the article featured the guy's email, and me with my enthusiastic youthful inclinations to change the world for the better sent him a message (I'm pretty sure my email at the time was still "slavinosaurusrex@yahoo.com" - yay, youth!).

My email resulted in the start of a lengthy, albeit brief, correspondence with this prominent individual that eventually led to my receiving a package of "Free Burma" postcards in the mail, which I subsequently placed a great number of in an info booth at the public library branch in Tucson in a shopping center near my Dad's house. I had several left over, but don't recall doing much with the extras. I think the correspondence eventually died out out of pure lethargy; even so, in the months preceding my July 2004 departure for Israel, I would still, every so often, in a bag or box find one of the old postcards featuring a red silhouette of Burma and information about how one could help the movement toward freedom for the country's people.

Now, here we are over a decade later and I'm not sure how much progress has been made. Just this past week, a U.N. envoy was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi at her home twice, but does that mean anything, other than that an envoy of an organization which long ago abandoned the principles of democracy and freedom enshrined in the U.N. Charter was granted an audience with an effectively imprisoned (it doesn't matter if it's at home or another facility) freedom fighter by a military dictatorship that is a member in good standing with the U.N.? I don't think so. The U.N. likes to make a big deal about such "progress", even if - especially if - it's only imaginary.

And so long as China is one of Burma's benefactors, real change short of a popular uprising that irrevocably overwhelm's the junta's power to put it down, or air strikes against the "Myanmar" regime's infrastructure to help weaken it in the face of a less-powerful uprising, is unlikely. After all, let us not forget that another paragon of human rights in Asia, North Korea, is also one of Beijing's patrons. That regime, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon either. If only Team America was real...

The recent protests led by monks in Burma was heartening at first; upon my brief return to the Big Apple this past Friday afternoon, while on the subway from 33rd St. to my great-uncle's house in Queens, I spent a good portion of the ride reading the New York Post's coverage of events in Myanmar. Then, of course, the junta wised-up and shut down the internet - killing off a needed pipeline of information not only out of, but into the country. I'd like to think that popular will and international sympathy could win the day in Burma, but given the course of things already happened, I think it doubtful at the moment that such an end is possible.

What, in my opinion, needs to be done? I'm a big proponent of the idea that warfare is, rather than an alternative to diplomacy, actually an instrument of it. Economic sanctions against the military regime's leaders are one form of diplomatic protest; razing to the ground the regime's new capital city by the use of U.S. Navy aircraft and weapons is quite another. Saturating strikes against the junta's assets in Myanmar would, I think, go a long way toward showing the Free World's displeasure with the thugs in charge there.

Why "war"? Spare me the "neo-con" accusations. I'm advocating decisive action, whereas those who fancy themselves human rights activists yet counsel inaction - or "neutrality" - merely empower rulers who violate human rights, enabling them to continue their oppressions and abuses of human rights and dignity under the cover of tacit permission from those who should be their loudest opponents. Though it is only a line from a movie ("Air Force One", 1997), the following is nevertheless true: "Peace isn't merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice."

In other words, I, Jeremy Slavin, am saying that where there is an absence of justice, we have a duty to be in conflict with the forces restricting its emergence. As Thomas Jefferson pointed out, "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God," but "Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."

I suggest "war" because, like with their help for Iran, Russia and China feel inclined to back up the military dictatorship in charge of Burma at the U.N. Security Council in New York. Anyone who thinks that Moscow and Beijing proffer this support out of some higher-minded sense of morality is, quite frankly, an idiot. Chinese and Russian obstructionism - hey, did you hear that Russia wants to help the military government of "Myanmar" develop nuclear power? - at the U.N. means that little can be achieved by that compromised body. One is always open to surprises, though, or rather, should be. But I'm not counting on it.

Unlike with other peoples living under dictatorial regimes - say, those in the Arab world - the folks over in Burma are willing to take to the streets, to risk their lives, to try and change their government and thus their country's destiny. Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, the thirst for democracy in Burma has been strong and remains strong, meaning there would be little need to "impose" democracy on the populace as existed in the Afghani and Iraqi examples. And while I'm no regional expert, the risk of a wider regional war breaking out following the "softening up" of "Myanmar's" military regime by Uncle Sam isn't as big as it would be were we to take the same course against the "Norks", the North Koreans in charge over in Pyongyang.

To let the Burmese people decide for themselves what to do with their land, their resources...whether with their principle trading partners like India and China, or the U.S., or whomever they wish...this is the goal. Forgive me for thinking that weakening a military government can be accomplished, or at least begun or aided, by military action. Forgive me for suggesting that if the U.N., Russia and China - tainted entities all - are unwilling to do what's right, we must then do it ourselves. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "The time is always right to do what's right."

Like I did a decade ago, the United States and the rest of the Free World have - the Iraq and Afghanistan examples notwithstanding - become lethargic in our defense of democracy and freedom. Why should we worry about Burma when there is American Idol to watch? Who cares about connecting U.S. economic aid to Egypt with meaningful democratic reforms there? It's more important to know whether Princess Diana was pregnant when she died, isn't it? Where can we find the time to be unequivocal in our opposition to rollbacks of democracy in Thailand and Venezuela? In between commercial breaks? When our iPod playlist has run its course?

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." - Thomas Jefferson

If I could go back in time and tell one thing to my 16 year old self, it would be to not abandon the work on Burma I'd just then begun. Then, maybe, today I'd have a little more credibility than a 26 year old who, rediscovering his interest in the matter, can only now be ashamed at his dropping of the ball back when he did. That I was young is little excuse, and that we - as a civilization, as a nation - are "busy" is hardly adequate either. Even if your voice goes unacknowledged, adding it to the din it is far better than remaining silent. If anything, my belated recognition of my shameful silence about this issue - following the briefest of shouts - has taught me that.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Why I Will Be So Wise

One of these days, I'm sure I'll be one of the wisest people I know. It's not because I have any inherent gift for dispensing wisdom, nor is it due to a request by me to the Lord (a la King Solomon) to, more than anything else, grant me wisdom. Nah, the reason I'm going to be so wise - in my own way - is best summed up by one of my favorite quotes, from George Washington: "If we cannot learn wisdom from experience, it is hard to say where it is to be found."

And what, pray tell, is experience? According to Oscar Wilde, "Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."
I agree with that, to a point: Mistakes contribute to experience, sometimes are experience, but there is far more to experience than just the mistakes we make. After all, it is not only our mistakes and failures, but our successes, our explorations, our experiments which play a part in creating the experience of life for us.

Do I need to tell this audience that I've made some mistakes? I s
eriously doubt it - sometimes, if there are mistakes I've forgotten, certain of my loyal readers will only too quickly jump up and remind me of them. If you detect a hint of bitterness, be mindful that it is tempered by sweetness. It is a bittersweet reflection, and while I would rather it were butterscotch, every now and then I deserve the ribbing more than a little bit. Unlike others who reap what they sow, I recognize that I'm generally the one planting the seeds.

Blessed with mind, body and soul, I'm often inclined to take actions which embrace the desires of the latter two but which leave the mind struggli
ng to catch up and deal with the consequences later. This is not always the case, but is frequently enough that it deserves an honorable mentioning. I say honorable mentioning, and mean it, because if I hadn't been this way I wouldn't have seen much - or any - of what I've seen, met the people I've met, or gained the experiences and the wisdom that came and still comes from experiencing them.

A couple of days ago, I realized that I have much in common with the character of Mr. Toad from one of my favorite books, The Wind in the Willo
ws. Like Toad, I can be stubborn and impulsive. I can be fickle. I'm adventurous, but not always willing to let the common sense I know I possess guide me. Then again, as you might've guessed from the last sentence in the preceding paragraph, I'm not exactly upset that the comparison with Mr. Toad works.

Toad was all about experiencing life, whatever the consequences - and even those, you can get over. If you don't like one course, there is always another open to you.

***

"Once, it was nothing but sailing," said the Rat. "Then he tired of that and took to punting. Nothing would please him but to punt all day and every day, and a nice mess he made of it. Last year it was house-boating, and we all had to go and stay with him in his house-boat, and pretend we liked it. He was going to spend the rest of his life in a house-boat. It's all the same, whatever he takes up; he gets tired of it, and starts on something fresh."

"Such a good fellow, too," remarked the Otter reflectively; "bu
t no stability - especially in a boat!"

- from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, 1908


***

I readily acknowledge that this personality trait of mine has helped to create for me more than a few regrets, but you know...they really are too few to mention. My regrets are, by and large, merely questions revolving arou
nd "what might have been", and if I spend too much time on frivolous speculation of what wasn't and thus will never be, I miss gaining insight into what was, which in turn can help me to decide what can be.

If I could sum up my personal philosophy, it would best b
e done by combining the sentiments of the following quote I once saw, "I'd rather be sorry for something I did than for something I didn't do," with those of the entirety of the text of Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken". For having this philosophy, I make no apology - and I don't regret living my life by it one bit. Again, like Washington said,"If we cannot learn wisdom from experience, it is hard to say where it is to be found."


Monday, October 01, 2007

In Defense of the Yawn

Okay, I've got something near and dear to my heart to talk about at the moment. It's with the idea that yawning, a natural process, is somehow disrespectful. I was out on Long Island this weekend, for a bar mitzvah. My Grandma and my Dad had flown in from Arizona, and in the off-moments, back at the hotel, when I would yawn my Grandma would snap at me "Cover your mouth!". There isn't anything really new there: my Grandma has been chastising me for that for...decades. And I'm sure many of those reading this have, in one way or other, experienced the same thing from parents or others.

But I'm wondering why it is that when a person sneezes, sending air out of their nose - and sometimes mucus out of their mouth - at hundreds of miles an hour, they get a "God bless you!", but when a person yawns - committing a silent, harmless act - they get yelled at. Don't throw science or biology at me - this is a cultural thing. A societal quirk. I know why we say "God bless you." But why isn't there some similar expression of concern, or encouragement, after a yawn?

I mean, think about it - how many people do you know who have gotten sick from someone else's yawn? I don't doubt that it can happen - germs can escape, and it's a bit more complicated than just "air going in and out in a weird way" I'm willing to bet you, though, that a sneeze spreads germs in a far more effective spray - erm, way - than an intake of air scientists are still hard-pressed to discover a definitive reason for (is it to cool the brain?, provide oxygen to a tired brain? God only knows - 'cause doctors...don't).

Yeah, I know - little droplets of saliva can go out of your mouth during a yawn. Those little droplets can get on other people. But did you mean to do it? I doubt it. It is a reason to cover your mouth if you're concerned about getting your mouthy fluids on others by accident, but the failure to do so - especially when you're in a hotel lobby with no one walking by - should not be construed as you being disrespectful, deliberately or otherwise.

Have you ever seen those National Geographic, Discovery Channel or Animal Planet documentaries filmed in Africa, featuring lions? When I see a lion yawn, either on TV or at a zoo, I don't see any of the lionesses in the pride chastising him, telling him to cover his mouth with his paw. I happen to think that, in general, when a normal house cat (wait, is there such a thing as a "normal" house cat?) yawns it seems incredibly relaxing to the feline. And, to my knowledge, no kitten has ever been denied a suckle from her mommy cat's nipples for yawning in the presence of other cats - or humans.

Personally, I know that yawning on an airplane helps to clear my ears if they're plugged - that's a good. I know that, after a yawn or two, I can be more alert not just toward another person, but in general - that's a good. Yawning, while someone else is talking, is not necessarily a bad thing - it identifies you as tired, but in no way does it or should it imply that the talker is putting you to sleep. And since yawning is a natural process - everyone does it, at one time or another - it is hardly a sign of disrespect. It isn't as if humans only yawn when we're around others. We do it when we're alone, too. Should I be yelling at myself, for not covering my mouth when yawning and alone?

Hell no! And why should I apologize for being tired, or make excuses for a process I don't understand yet know is, somehow, beneficial? Does an infant deserve a slap when she yawns in her bassinet as her parents look at her? To quote the great Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, "I don't think so." We tend to think of it, I think, as pretty cute, actually. And since I mentioned sneezing earlier, why should a person who sneezes - who has allergies, who doesn't go out of his way to sneeze - feel they need to say "Excuse me!" after a sneeze? It's not often someone walks up to another person just to purposely sneeze in front of them.

This self-flagellation thing about natural processes is unbecoming an enlightened, modern civilization, or even a Third World, developing civilization. Take farts, for example - I've mentioned before, in this blog, that it is estimated that some 25% of methane gas emissions contributing to global warming come from cows. But we're not killing cows because they're ruining the planet. We're killing them, usually, because we're members of PETA - "People Eating Tasty Animals" (gotta love those Facebook causes). I wonder, truly wonder, how human farts affect modern global warming. That, my friends, is a discussion for another day.

We make fun of each other when we fart - and farts do sound funny. The principle of "whoever smelt it dealt it" is still accepted in my mind as, in some sense, valid (especially when someone else "accuses" me of the "silent but deadly" act). Again, though, farting is a natural process. It's one that smells bad, for sure it is, but unless you're in Syria and you're farts are being captured, with the gases being weaponized and turned into chemical or biological weapons to be used against Israel, farting doesn't make you a bad personal. It makes you an animal, whether you're inclined to agree or disagree with Charles Darwin. Ever smell a dog fart? It's no more pleasant than a human's.

But back to my point - if I haven't lost too many people due to the last two paragraphs. This is about yawning. I'm not going to apologize for the yawn I just experienced while typing this - I doubt my computer was offended by the act. If I yawn in front of others, and fail to cover my mouth while doing so, and get "yelled" at for doing so, I'll refuse to feel ashamed. If I cover my mouth, it will be because I don't want to be reamed out for allowing my human body to do its own thing, naturally.

And, maybe, it will be because I can be selective about who gets to share in my saliva. Pretty girls - them I'm pretty open to sharing my saliva with. That about covers it.

And who knows? If I'm criticized for failing to cover my mouth during a yawn, I may just end up pointing out that my "forgetfulness" could, in fact, be a very natural omission. How, you ask? Easy. One would think that if humans were meant to cover their mouths for each and every yawn, God in His wisdom would have fashioned human beings' bodies in such a way that hands going to our mouths during a yawn would be as involuntary, as automatic an event, as natural an occurrence as yawning itself is.

In other words, if I yawn and forget to cover my mouth - I don't mean no disrespect, y'all, y'hear?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thinking Reasonably About Reason

The technology to actively, accurately and effectively study climate change hasn't been around all that long. We can estimate, but cannot be sure of, what the Earth's temperature was like 1,000 years ago. One can look at the archaeological evidence in Jerusalem, say the Temple was destroyed, and point to the Roman victory over the Jews nearly 2,000 years ago as causes for the latter's dispersal around the civilized world, but that's because we have evidence, a lot of historical material to work with that backs this up. It's not so simple with global warming. That the Earth is warming, I'm inclined to agree with - I've stated that many times.

However, as I've also stated many times, I also think global warming is natural - how, after all, did past Ice Ages end but for global warming? Anyone who observes the planet Mars will note that the Martian polar ice caps expand and retract seasonally - is the industrial advancement of Little Green Men to blame, or natural processes affecting the Red Planet? And, hello, anyone thought about the planet Venus lately? That world is the poster-child for extreme global warming, and humanity is not even one whit to blame.


I find it incredibly funny that it is often the same people who accuse Israel of collectively punishing the Palestinians, and decry the Jewish state for this perceived slight, are the ones so inclined to place collective blame for climate change on the human race, letting Mother Earth off scot-free. If only these people held the Palestinians as collectively responsible for voting in Hamas and reaping what they've sown as they hold Israel for its defensive actions, or humanity for global warming. The world would be a much better place by far than it already is were they to do that.


There is an absence of reason in the world today. Former Vice President Al Gore, who has emotionally urged us to fight global warming by calling climate change an emergency that must be dealt with immediately (or else), is the author of a book titled "The Assault on Reason". I thumbed through it once; it seems like ages ago now, in New York. I put it down, hopefully never to open it again unless absolutely necessary, when I saw that Mr. Gore, in accusing others of the very same crime - demagoguery, scare-mongering - he is guilty of, was not inclined to admit guilt of it himself.


As I will urge time and time again, we have to think logically and reasonably about global warming, not rush to judgment about climate change. We are not experts on our world; there is still so much we do not know about it. We can take frozen cores out of Antarctic ice shelves, compare what we find in 10,000 year old air bubbles to the air and temperatures of our own time, and come to whatever conclusions we like. But while inherently correct in hard data, those conclusions could very well be wrong - because we're not looking at the world as it was 10,000 years ago from the viewpoint of 10,000 years ago. We're looking at it with our preconceived notions, our biases, of today.


Look at it this way: Those who claim to be experts about planet Earth, who are seemingly all-knowledgeable about its processes - even the ones yet to be understood - have only been around a number of decades. Widespread use of the automobile has only been around about as long; jet airplane travel is, when compared with the history of the wheel, still remarkably new. Massive factories belching out toxic smoke are, as well, a relatively recent occurrence in the long span of recorded human history. Climate-change demagogues are, furthermore, accusing those who probably haven't been alive as long as they have of being the ones primarily responsible for the ruination of our planet.


We are not the Masters of the World. We are not the Masters of the Universe. We live on the planet Earth, we wish to defend it, yes, as if it were our own Creation, but we cannot in a correct state of mind actually posit that we are the owners of it. We are merely caretakers, inseparable participants - wherever we go - of an ecosystem created for us; we influence the conditions of that environment, but we are responsible only for how we ourselves, in our own time, interact with it.


This self-flagellation regarding global warming does nothing to heal the planet, but much to polarize the people living upon it. We should not hold ourselves guilty for the "crimes" of our parents, our grandparents, or our great-grandparents; the Federal Republic of Germany may pay reparations to the State of Israel and the Jewish people for the Holocaust, but not because it is guilty of the crimes of Nazi Germany.


Like the Germans, we too can be remorseful for what past generations of our kind
have done, and "pay reparations" if we so choose (if it soothes our consciences, and helps us be mindful of the egregious mistakes humans can make), but doing so in the case of global warming only makes sense if we are mindful that when it comes to climate change, Nature, and Nature's God, are fully-engaged participants in the affairs of Man and the Earth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One Lebanon is Plenty, Thank You

"As all those who write about civic matters show and as all history proves by a multitude of examples, whoever organizes a state and establishes its laws must assume that all men are wicked and will act wickedly whenever they have the chance to do so." - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Lebanon is a country that has a really screwed up political system, one that increases sectarianism rather than working to bridge the gaps between Christian, Sunni and Shi'a Arabs there. The President of Lebanon must be a Maronite Christian. The Prime Minister must be a Sunni, and the Speaker of the House in Parliament must be a Shi'ite. It's no secret that instability and Lebanese politics go together like spaghetti and meatballs; it doesn't help when Syria helps to assassinate lawmakers opposed to the Alawite' dictatorship's meddling in Lebanon's affairs. In my humble opinion, a opinion I think is shared by many others, Lebanon's political arrangement as it now stands makes future civil wars (along sectarian lines, as always) that much more likely than another arrangement would.


Now let's take a look at Iraq, to see if maybe we can't divine at least some understanding - aside from Iranian influence, former Ba'athists, and long-simmering resentments amongst the populace - for why that nascent democracy's political system is, in its current arrangement, I think doomed to create another Lebanon in Babylon. How is the current Iraqi government organized?


We need only look at the dangerously fragile system attempting to govern diverse peoples from Beirut to see where the geniuses behind the set-up of the relatively still-new government in Baghdad got their inspiration. In Iraq, as in Lebanon, the government is divvied up along sectarian lines: the President of Iraq is expected to be of one group (say, the Kurds), the Prime Minister is expected to be of another (say, a Shi'a), and the Assembly Speaker is expected to be still another (say, a Sunni). The way they see it, it's only fair. In order for the government to function, each religious-ethnic group wants its share of the pie, right up front. Each ethnicity has its political party, and in turn that affects the makeup of the government.


And people wonder why the benchmark goals set by the United States aren't necessarily being met when we feel they should? That isn't exactly a recipe for effective, efficient governance they've got over there. Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis are worrying more about their own people than the Iraqi nation at large; this isn't to say that there aren't justifiable grievances held by majority Shi'ites and oppressed Kurds against Sunnis, who maintained a privileged position under dictator Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, this focus on a "me, me, me" mentality rather than one of "us, us, us" is dooming the Iraqi government to future failure, and putting America in the uncomfortable position of having to continue to pay with blood for the mess that results.


The best solution for Iraq, short of ripping the country into several parts, is the strengthening of federalism in the country. As it stands right now, the State of Iraq is constitutionally a federalist entity, but in reality it...isn't. Federalism is not just about creating individual states - in Iraq's case, governorates/provinces - where those of a certain ethnicity or religious identification can claim to be a majority. It's not, or rather, it shouldn't be, just sectarianism by another name. It's about those provinces governing themselves, to the best of their ability, and working with the national government on problems affecting both the province individually and the nation as a whole.


We don't hear too much about governance in Iraq's many provinces; all the news focuses, generally, on the failures of the Iraqi national government to take the responsibility and show the courage needed to rise above sectarian interests and do what should be done for the country. We hear, yes, about the concerns of other ethnic groups in Iraq regarding Kurdish administration of Iraq's northern oilfields; the others want the wealth to be shared, rather than hoarded by the Kurds. That's a fair request, for sure, but at the same time, it is again motivated less by purely political or economic concerns, but by sectarianism.


When we do hear about the provinces, on the whole the news focuses on the security situation in each of them. If you ask me, the media is contributing to sectarian strife in Iraq by only focusing on how many Iraqis or Allied troops died today or last week in al-Anbar governorate; we are - that is, the American people, and the world at large - counting on Baghdad, and not a council in Ramadi, to help bring political stability to the region. We are counting on the national government of Iraq to rise above tribal allegiances, instead of trying to organize a stable provincial government that could potentially provide services in a more immediate manner than Baghdad is able.


"Indeed, a prince seeking for glory in the world should be glad to possess a corrupt city, not to ruin it completely, as Caesar did, but to reform it, as Romulus did."
- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Though I am but an observer, currently residing on the East Coast of the United States, no longer as "close" to the action as I once was in Jerusalem, Israel, I think what we are doing is, instead of showing the Iraqis how to govern, helping them to learn how to
pretend to govern. We may ask Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to sacrifice their self-interests for the greater good, for a greater good where their self-interest would have a better chance at being protected in a non-sectarian, truly federal system...but at the same time we are enabling the Iraqis to avoid rising above their sectarian and tribal concerns by supporting a governmental, constitutional system that protects sectarianism rather than abolishes it.

It might be the opinion of a great many people that the key to stability in Iraq is a strong central government, with a well-trained, large-numbered national army protecting its authority and expressing its will, but the fact is that Iraq's long history of central governance - taken to extremes in the form of the Hussein dictatorship - has made the country ill-suited to continue to support such a system, when all that system really does is change the method of choosing the central government without changing its nature. Iraq's proportionally partisan system isn't the answer.


Only by abandoning lip-service to federalism in Iraq by actively embracing it and utilizing its merits there, only by inculcating a culture of federalism amongst the Iraqi populace, educating them as to why it - and not their tribe - is best suited to looking out for their individual interests, only by devolving the Iraqi government in a meaningful way, by giving limited autonomy to the provinces to handle their own local affairs while allowing the national government to bring its attention to bear elsewhere, only by having one set of empowered representatives in Baghdad and still another in an Iraqi's own province...only then would we be setting the Iraqis up for success, rather than failure.


I think it would be in the best interests of the United States' Government, the Middle East as a whole, and of course Iraq in particular for us to say something like this to the Iraqis, maybe not in so many words, but in sentiment, style and substance:


"Listen, you're a proud people and you have a right to be - you have a long history in this region and we don't wish to emulate you by being here forever having to babysit you. At the same time, we know a bit more about democracy than you do, we know better than you how to bring peoples of diverse religions and ethnicities together for the common good, and we have centuries' more experience than you in organizing and maintaining a stable governmental system in such a way that it can endure from generation to generation without violence tearing it to shreds every decade or so. We're gonna show you how it's
really to be done, and if you don't want us to come back every few years so as to pull you folks away from each other's throats, you'll get wise and follow our lead. If you want us out of here, help us out here."

I could be wrong, but I feel that only in pursuing the above course in governmental development suggested, in conjunction with pursuing our security-military goals in Iraq, can we truly hope to avoid turning that country into little more than just another Lebanon, with Iran meddling in Iraq like Syria meddles in Lebanon, with Kurd, Shi'a and Sunni focusing on their sectarian interests in Iraq just as Christians, Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon do there, with a future Iraq being just as prone to civil war as modern Lebanon was in the 1970s and still is today. You needn't be a rocket scientist to see how such an eventuality would be very bad for all parties concerned - and in case you've suddenly forgotten, we are one of them.


"Therefore, the welfare of a republic or kingdom does not lie in its having a prince who governs it prudently while he lives, but rather in having one who organizes it in such a way that it may endure after his death."
- Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses