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 To tell you the truth, a Red Sox victory seemed too easily won this time around - the magic of uncertainty had been replaced by a veritable Bostonian Blitzkrieg.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) 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 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 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 - 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 "" - 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?