Thursday, January 24, 2008

What's So Different About Israel?

Yesterday in New York City, the United Nations Security Council met to discuss Israel's imposition of a blockade on the Gaza Strip, a meeting most vociferously called for by the Arab League but supported by much of the so-called civilized world. And as tens of thousands of Gazans poured over the Egyptian border into the Sinai Peninsula, following the destruction of security barriers by Palestinian terrorists at the Rafah checkpoint, in Geneva the troubled United Nations Human Rights Council decided to stick with tradition - the vilification of a single country, and a democratic one at that.

The Human Rights Council condemned Israel for the most recent measures it had taken to protect itself from rockets being fired from Hamas-ruled Gaza. Predictably, the UNHRC failed to condemn the rocket attacks which sparked the blockade. When it comes to Israel, the UN and its organizations rush to lynch the Jewish State without a second thought; when it comes to Sudan - you know, where genocide is taking place in Darfur - the UNHRC can only express "deep concern".

Why must Israel countenance what no other country is expected to tolerate?

Moscow last week reiterated its right to use nuclear weapons to defend itself against threats to the Russian Federation and its allies...serving us a possible reminder in the process that Russia doesn't believe it can count on its conventional forces to do the job. Even with all the noise these days about Iran's suspected nuclear weaponization programs and U.N. sanctions against Tehran, I don't hear above the din a questioning of the Islamic Republic's inherent right to self-defense. China has reserved for itself the right to take military action against Taipei should an already independent and democratic Taiwan publicly declare its independence from the Communist regime in Beijing.

When Argentina's military junta occupied the Falkland Islands in early 1982, Britain responded to that surprise invasion of a U.K. Overseas Territory by sending the Royal Navy to retake the islands. Just a little over a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States were in Afghanistan fighting alongside the Northern Alliance to overthrow a Taliban that had given aid and sanctuary to Usama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives.

If rockets were being fired daily from Saskatchewan into northeastern Montana, you can bet the United States would consider sending warplanes against suspected launch sites if the Canadian government refused to act to stop the missile firing. If suicide bombers were flowing into Arizona from Mexico and blowing themselves up at the Tucson Mall or Arizona Mills, you bet your ass Washington would make demands of Mexico City that, if not heeded, would lead to an occupation of Mexican territory and checkpoints manned by U.S. soldiers charged with the task of preventing the entry of terrorists into America (but not the entry of illegal immigrants).

Continual Palestinian rocket fire against Israeli border towns, the Kassams emanating from the Gaza Strip which are aimed primarily at Israeli civilians, consistently fails to produce Security Council action. No one outside of Israel but America seems to care when the missiles are aimed at the Jews. But
the world community almost immediately calls for UNSC action when an Israeli blockade against the Hamas-ruled territory is declared and enforced by the politicians in Jerusalem and the generals in Tel Aviv. The EU deplores Israel's "collective punishment" of Gazans, wilfully ignoring the 60+ years of "collective punishment" of Israelis and Jews by the Arab world.

"Hypocrisy" is too kind a word to apply to such phenomena; in this case I prefer the actual scientific-technical terminology, viz. "bullshit" or "complete bullshit."


Think I'm exaggerating about the United Nations Human Rights Council's tendency to single out the Jewish State at the expense of, well, its mandate? The United States' ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, spoke last year of the "council's relentless focus during the year on a single country - Israel," noting the Council had failed "to address serious human rights violations taking place in other countries such as Zimbabwe, the DPRK (a.k.a. North Korea), Iran, Belarus and Cuba."

Even the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, lamented the UNHRC's bias in June 2007, with his office releasing the following statement: "The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world."

Now, I do give the world some credit - it pays lip service to an Israeli right to self-defense. But, but, it then condemns every measure Israel can come up with in service of that aim.

Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations states that "Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

Since the current system of international politics results in the Security Council only very rarely taking measures "necessary to maintain international peace and security" as far as the "Arab War against Israel" is concerned (and UNSC decisions are more apt to exacerbate rather than alleviate the problem), I'd say that nothing in the U.N. Charter prevents the government at Jerusalem from defending the State of Israel - a Member of the United Nations - and its people, Jews and non-Jews alike, however that government prefers to do so, from all threats faced by the Jewish State.

Looking over the course of the past seven years or so, we see that the world thinks Israel shouldn't use missiles to defend itself, nor should it send troops into the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or southern Lebanon when its security is threatened. When Israeli soldiers are kidnapped, Israel is supposed to trade 100 or 200 living terrorists for the corpses of 2 or 3 Israeli soldiers - yeah, 'cause those kidnapped soldiers are usually killed before they're handed back over to the Jews. Israel isn't supposed to maintain checkpoints between Ramallah and Bethlehem, or build a security barrier - to keep out suicide bombers, see - on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

So many governments have a conniption fit when Israel actually does something to defend itself that its easy to suspect those countries secretly wish the world's only sovereign Jewish State - or, at least, its military - didn't exist.
Without Jewish sovereignty, and Jewish nukes, it would be easier to kill us en masse, wouldn't it? Just ask the Nazis.

You know, it's worth remembering that the Romans weren't too keen on the idea of Jewish sovereignty or self-defense either, when they controlled Judaea, Galilee and the surrounding areas. Any time the Jews got uppity, the Legions went to work.

History is rife with examples: The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans (mocking him - or justifying his execution - as the "King of the Jews"), the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE (toward the end of the first Jewish War against Roman occupation), and the renaming of the Land of Israel as "Syria-Palaestina" by the Roman Empire (following the Bar-Kochba Revolt, the second major Jewish rebellion against the rule of Rome) in the 2nd-century CE.

That last one, boy...we're still dealing with its consequences, aren't we?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's the End of the World (but it isn't)!

I'm going to ask you all a question, and I want you to answer it honestly: Who has ever heard of "self-fulfilling prophecies". Wait, nearly all of you have? Good. It's as I expected, then. Hold on there - is it as I expected because I expected it to be that way? To be candid with you, I do believe that that is most likely the case. What the hell am I talking about? It's the economy, stupid. Duh!

Many of the Big Suits on Wall Street have let it be known they're expecting a recession in the early part of this year. The Federal Reserve has been feeling the jitters, too. Numerous jeremiads about the housing market and the fall of the U.S. dollar have already been shared with us. Bourses throughout the rest of the world (particularly in Asia, Europe and Australia) this past Monday - MLK, Jr. Day in America - recorded significant losses. Big news, or big surprise? Definitely the former, not so much the latter.

This morning, the main headline in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper reads as follows:

Wall Street, Main Street feeling financial crunch.

Beneath that, as if we needed the negativity reinforced, we see this all nicely laid out for us:

State crisis yields local spending cuts; layoffs possible
ARIZONA: Without action, state won't be able to pay expenses
NATION: U.S. government scrambling in frantic effort to avert recession.

Obviously, this is all meant to arouse a certain emotional reaction in a reader. Which reaction would that be? Why, "fear", of course. Fear keeps the people in line. Fear keeps the
system in line. Fear sells newspapers. Fear let Rupert Murdoch start the Fox Business Channel.

We watch with trepidation as U.S.-Iranian tensions boil in the Straight of Hormuz, and as our mortgage payments empty out of our wallets so we can keep our cars running on $3+ a gallon petrol, disappointing updates about the unemployment rate in the United States are announced. But do we change the channel, or throw out the newspaper? No. Why?

Because we're addicted to bad news. We consume it like druggies shoot up crack.

We're on a steady diet of shitty news, and then have the gall to complain about the resulting "stomach troubles" later. Am I surprised that people are surprised when negative financial news is announced in this day and age? I suppose a little, but not too much: As lovable as humanity is, we're pathetically predictable. If there is a recession this summer, I don't think any of us will have any justification for saying we didn't see it coming. We're inviting the damn recession into our homes in the first place, aren't we?

The correct answer, my friends, is "yes".

Ah, you say, but is there anything we can do about it?

Of course there is!

One of my favorite books is "Testimony: France in the 21st Century," written by current French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Throughout its pages, "Sarko the American" (not exactly an affectionate nickname in Paris) reminds his target audience numerous times that "Nothing is inevitable". It's a nice thought, and on that principle it is okay to ask if the prophesied recession we're hearing about is inevitable. it? Are we dealing with powers we cannot possibly comprehend?

I'm no financial expert, but I say not necessarily - and not just because I think President Sarkozy was on to something when he wrote those words. Because the ball is already rolling, it may be too late to prevent the start of the recession. I don't really believe the government is doing all it can, and even if it were, as Ronald Reagan reminded us in his first inaugural address,
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

But if we could stop the recession, I would say the best way to start is by refusing to give in to the fear.

Those who buy newspapers, the single-copy purchasers and home subscribers, aren't the ones writing the news. The news, as I noted earlier in this entry, whether naturally or artificially (or arbitrarily) bad is crafted to instill fear in us. So what to do? Do we stop reading news? Some people, like Jeffrey Gitomer (author of books such as the Little Gold Book of YES! Attitude), would say absolutely, stop consuming news altogether.

In my mind, though, that's akin to trying to sweep unsightly dust under the rug. It's still there, and we know it's there, and we're going to be tempted to look at it. Especially the next time we pick up the rug to sweep more bad dust under it. So yes, consume the news if you wish. We are creatures naturally desirous of information, after all. Yes, read a newspaper. Watch Fox News, CNN, the BBC World News, MSNBC, Bloomberg, etc. Listen to the NPR news updates on the hour.

But don't take Big Journalism's spin on events at face value. Think for yourself. A recession - and all the attendant bad news accompanying the recession - is in Big Journalism's interest. Since the people fear a recession, yet love bad news, a recession is a potential gold mine for Big Journalism. How can I say that? I know that the
New York Times didn't go out of business during the Great Depression. That's how.

Don't give in to fear. That's how you can stop, or at least shorten, any recession we're being told is due for us. That's how you can fail to help negative financial prophecies self-fulfill. The choice is yours. And you always have a choice - even when you think you don't.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Don't Hold My Imagination Against Me

There are some songs, that when I hear them - whether for the first time or the fortieth - take me to the window seat of an airplane, with me looking out at the wings moving over the landscape below. Those wings press forward with the appearance of slow speed, but I know in the back of my mind how fast the plane actually is traveling. I'm not sure why this happens. I know I have an overactive imagination, and I'm proud of it. But there's no denying that certain songs which sound a certain way take me to that window seat without any conscious coercion on my part. And it's not even the case that these songs which sound a certain way have universally a similar beat or rhythm. Or maybe it is, and I'm just not able to sense the similarities in songs of completely different genres having the same effect on me.

I don't know if it is accurate to say that these songs have some inherent "grandness" or "grand sweeping sound" about them, a quality that makes them seem bigger than life in my imagination - even magical, I posit. A proficiency at "accuracy in guessing" is something I've yet to attain, so don't hold my imagination against me here. I do know, however, how I feel about plane travel. I love it. Though I am aware of the laws of science which keep an aircraft aloft, I still feel there is something...well, something magical, otherworldly, about flying. It doesn't hurt that, as Superman has pointed out more than once, "Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel." But additionally, I find plane trips to be a source of inspiration. And to me, to be inspired - to feel inspired...that's a magical thing.

One thing these songs I speak of do, in their own way, is inspire me. Not always in a specific way, but in some way. In certain songs, it's the lyrics; in others, the music. In still others, both together work their unbidden magic on me and, wherever I am - even if my feet are planted firmly on the ground, or I am a passenger in a car - I'm taken to that plane seat. And not always immediately, of course - sometimes, it's the second listening that does the trick, though I know I connected with the song in some way or other during the first listening. Combine plane travel, which is one source of inspiration for me, with another, say one of those songs that I connect with in that special way, and the result is...or connection is...

If you haven't already caught on, I'm doing something habitual for me - I'm working out my thoughts on the matter as I write about that matter.

"Why planes?" you may wonder. "Why not picture yourself on a mountain top, or viewing a beautiful sunset on a beach?" If you recall, however, I noted earlier that when I "go" to this imaginary airplane, it is not due to any conscious coercion by me. It just happens. Many times I have myself wondered "Why planes?", but since I usually don't get an answer, I just accept that my "happy place" is in the seat of a jet airliner flying...flying somewhere. I can tell you, in any case, that this phenomenon has not always affected me. The first time I experienced it was sometime in the first half of 2006, as an Israel Railways passenger on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line, while listening to - you guessed it - a song. No, not the song/video accompanying this blog entry.

And it's happened countless times since then.

What about those times when, either thanks to an airline's entertainment system or due to my having brought aboard my iPod, I get a chance to listen to one of my "imaginary plane flight songs" on an actual plane flight? Is it magical? Is it inspirational? Is it both? Does it happen often? Is the effect the same? Enhanced? Or does the experience, the reality, change things - and negate the imaginary? Tell you what: I'll leave it to your imagination to divine the answer(s). In the meantime, like I said, don't hold my imagination against me. It's done great things for me, and...who knows?...maybe it'll do something great for you one day, too.