Saturday, July 26, 2014

About Gaza

The good news is that most Americans seem to understand that Hamas is the bad guy and aggressor in the war currently being waged in and from Gaza.

The bad news is that: a) the American media continues to report about Gaza in ways that imply Israel is the bad guy, and b) the way the media reports things can have tremendous influence on the uneducated. So with that in mind, I first want to point out what has happened in recent weeks.

1) Hamas started launching missiles directly at Israel's largest city without targeting any specific building or installation. Clearly, their intention was to kill civilians.

2) The attacks proved ineffective because Israel's Iron Dome defense system intercepted most of the missiles and shot them out of the sky.

3) However, knowing that Iron Dome is not infallible and that there is a risk some of Hamas's missiles will slip through and kill civilians, Israel eventually retaliated by launching missiles into Gaza when Hamas refused to stop firing.

4) And rather than launching their own missiles at Gaza in general, Israel targeted specific houses that were known to be hiding Hamas missiles.

5) Before firing, Israel placed phone calls to the targeted houses and warned those inside that the attacks were coming. When no one answered, they left the warning on answering machines and did so in Arabic.

6) Then, when no one was observed leaving the houses after those calls, Israel fired warning shots before launching the real ones.

7) Yet, the Hamas terrorists inside those homes responded not by evacuating their family members but by sending them onto the rooftops in the hope that their presence would cause the Israelis to roll over, call off the dogs, and let the terrorists have their way. In other words, Hamas deliberately used human beings as shields -- their own kin to boot.

That chain of events makes it obvious who the good guys and bad guys are. Still, I know that some well-meaning individuals are swayed by the claim that Hamas represents a people (aka the Palestinians) whose ancestors were kicked out of their homeland...and I know that many of the people who are swayed by that claim believe we should consider the Palestinians to be the good guys...therefore, I feel compelled to point out that there is currently a Palestinian state, even though there never was one at any time in history until after World War II.

*     *     *     *     *

The ancestors of the people currently referred to as Palestinians were mostly nomadic; and despite the fact they are Arabs, the people referred to as Palestinians have rarely been welcome in Arab nations.

The very idea of a Palestinian national identity did not originate until the early 1900's, and It was not until the 1960's that it picked up significant steam, due largely to the founding of the PLO in 1964 and the voluntary exodus that followed the Six-Day War of 1967.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, Britain had owned a big chunk of the Middle East that was referred to as Transjordan. As the first half of the century unfolded, there was a great deal of back-and-forth concerning how Britain would step away and how Transjordan would be divided between the Jewish and Arab populations that resided there. But "back and forth" might not be the correct term, because the Arabs rejected every proposal that involved Jews being allowed to have any part of the 26,700 square miles. The Arabs wanted everything or nothing, even though Jews had lived in the region since time immemorial and even though Judaism predates Islam, the religion which does more to glue Arabs together than any other aspect of Arab culture or history.

In 1937, the Peel Commission proposed that Transjordan be split in two with an Arab state covering more than 81 percent of the territory and a Jewish state covering less than 19 percent. The "Zionist" segment of the Jewish population believed the Jews deserved a larger share, but rather than reject the proposal, they offered to negotiate. On the other hand, the Arabs rejected it outright -- not because 81+ percent was small, but because they wanted nothing less than 100.

Two years later the Arabs rejected another proposal. Known as the British White Paper, it would have placed major restrictions on Jewish immigration to the region for a period of five years, followed by five years' worth of even stricter limitations, after which "no further Jewish immigration will be permitted unless the Arabs of Palestine are prepared to acquiesce in it." (emphasis mine)

Again, the Arabs' problem couldn't have been that the British White Paper was not tilted heavily in their favor, for it was tilted so heavily it would have been fair to call it anti-Semitic. What the Arabs objected to was the fact that it did not call for having Jews excluded from their own homeland in toto.

In 1947 the UN recommended the establishment of a small Jewish state and a large Arab one, with Jerusalem remaining apart from both and instead being administered as a purely international zone (I'm unsure of the specific square miles proposed for each nation). The Jews accepted this despite being unhappy about having been offered a percentage of the land that was significantly less than their percentage of the population, but once again, the Arabs rejected it. Arab League Secretary Azzam Pasha wrote a letter to Jewish Agency reps David Horowitz and Abba Ewan in which he said "the Arab World is not in a compromising mood" and "it's too late to talk of peaceful solutions."

On May 14, 1948, modern Israel finally came into existence with a total land area of 5,600 square miles, which was less than 21 percent of Transjordan and roughly the size of ConnecticutThe remaining 79+ percent of Transjordan became the country now known as Jordan, which, as we all know, is an Arab country.

Remember that the terms "Arab" and "Palestinian" were used interchangeably at that time, because Palestinians are Arabs after all and the dispute was about how Transjordan would be divided. In other words, Jordan came into being as a Palestinian state and nothing has changed in that regard. The world's intelligentsia and Israel-haters like to say that no such state exists, but they are either ignorant or lying.

Jordan remains home to Palestinians and it welcomes Palestinians from elsewhere,  which is something no other Arab nation does. Combine that with the fact that Israel allows Palestinians to be citizens and affords them every single right that all the other Israelis enjoy -- and combine it with the fact that Israel turned Gaza over to complete Palestinian control 20 years ago -- and you should realize it is bogus for anyone to claim that today's Palestinians are without a homeland and are subject to Israeli oppression.

*     *     *     *     *

One day after modern Israel came into existence, it was attacked by the armies of six surrounding Arab nations. Fortunately it prevailed in the ensuing war, and as part of the treaties which ended that war, it acquired land that was to be used as a buffer against future attacks. Israel used the land as intended, and in later years it returned some of the land to the nations that had attacked it.

As the decades went by, Israel continued to be "officially" attacked by standing armies and "unofficially" attacked by terrorists.

In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said: "We hate war. We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown, and when strawberries bloom in Israel." In 1970 she said: "When peace comes, we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

In the same year that Meir reflected on the moral anguish of killing Arabs in self-defense, PLO leader Yasser Arafat remarked: "We don't want peace, we want victory. Peace for us means Israel's destruction and nothing else." Four years later he said: "All our moves are based on four general principles: continued use of the rifle, no waiving of historical rights, no peace, and no negotiations."

During the 1972 Summer Olympics, Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes. Can you imagine that happening to athletes from any other country?

In subsequent decades, Palestinian terrorists engaged in suicide bombings that indiscriminately murdered Israeli civilians -- civilians who were doing nothing but minding their own business, eating in restaurants, walking on sidewalks, etc.

Palestinians, led by Hamas, continue to encourage their children to kill themselves as long as they kill Jews in the process. Can you imagine telling your daughter to strap grenades to herself, walk to a random intersection in the Muslim-laden city of Dearborn, Michigan, and explode herself to death because doing so will also kill pedestrians who are likely to practice a different religion than yours? 

*     *     *     *     *

Today Israel is smaller than New Jersey, which means it is slightly smaller than it was after that first war 66 years ago. It is one-sixteenth of one percent the size of the 21 Arab nations that surround it. It allows Arabs to vote and has an Arab on its Supreme Court. At this very moment, 12 Arabs are members of its national legislature, which is called the Knesset.

Conversely, 20 of the 21 Arab nations deny their citizens the right to vote, and none of them have Jews holding positions of power in their governments.

The Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas to lead them, much like the Germans of the 1930's elected Hitler to lead them. So that you may chew on what it means to be led by Hamas, I refer you straight to Hamas's very own charter, which was drafted in 1988 and serves as its reason for being.

Much of the charter is fogged by rhetorical flourishes about "forgiveness we beseech" and "cross(ing) all hurdles." However, much of it is crystal clear and not fogged at all, and it would be foolish to ignore or minimize those sections. One of them is Article Eight, which speaks of the Islamic Resistance Movement and declares that "Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes."

Article Seven states that "the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, 'O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"

Article Thirteen states: "Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movemement...There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

*     *     *     *     *

How is it that any fair-minded person could consider Israel to be the bad guy? For anyone who supports the ideals of tolerance, peace, justice, and freedom -- in fact, for anyone who supports only one of those ideals -- this conflict provides what might be the most obvious choice history has ever offered.

Note: I read the Hamas Charter before publishing this post, and you can do the same by going here. Also, much of the information referenced in this post came from my own brain, where it wound up as a result of previous research, though I did re-verify some of it at Jewish Virtual Library. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Parental Blues

The night before Independence Day, Parker got promoted to a toddler bed and dove into it with glee, smiling big and wide and calling it "my big boy bed."

The next morning he claimed not to have liked it, but his insincerity was proved when he went down for his afternoon nap without complaint. It was proved again when he crawled under the covers after that night's fireworks.

Two days later, on Sunday the 6th, I found myself leaning the disassembled pieces of his crib against the wall of our garage. My heart grew heavy and the corners of my mouth sagged, for I knew that was it. I knew I would never again see one of my children in a crib, and with that realization, I pondered how many other kinds of days are numbered. I thought about years falling away, like autumn leaves dropping from a tree and getting carried off by the wind.

I wondered when the day will come that Parker no longer wants to sit on my lap.

I wondered when the day will come that Sarah is faced with peer pressure and the first thing that enters her mind is something other than "what would Mommy and Daddy think?"

I wondered when Parker's voice will lose that bright timbre and unashamed excitability that screams "Childhood!" to the world.

*     *     *     *     *

I wondered what Sarah's reaction will be when we have The Talk -- because in my mind, I have recently felt that the time for The Talk is imminent. In my mind, I feel it must happen not in years, and not in months, but in weeks.

Erika and I spoke about The Talk last week and we agree that its time is nigh. And while I am not the least bit nervous about The Talk itself, my heart recoils from the fact of what its happening will mean. For as Erika pointed out, everything will change.

For all of Sarah's life up to now, if I am taking a shower and she wants to ask me something, she walks into the bathroom and asks -- no big deal...If I walk into her room and she is changing -- no big deal...But once The Talk takes place, she will actually think about "boy parts" and "girl parts," and she will look at Erika and me differently than she did before.

Perhaps I am making too much of it. I was her age when I received The Talk and I mainly remember thinking that the whole thing sounded ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I laughed, and I know it had little impact on my thoughts about my parents.

But I was a boy and Sarah is a girl, and on top of that, she is my daughter. In my mind, her hearing about sex is like Eve gaining worldly knowledge after eating from the forbidden fruit. The thought causes my lips to sag.

*     *     *     *     *

This past Sunday, one week after I leaned the pieces of Parker's crib against the wall, I picked Sarah up from a slumber party. I brought Parker with me because Erika and I experienced one of those moments of unspoken communication in which it was clear that she really wanted to have a kid-free morning to get shit done.

I took them to a zip line at New Tampa Nature Park and we took turns, Sarah zooming down the line solo while Parker and I went tandem with me holding him tight. After a short while our skin began to melt in the oppressive Florida heat, so we hightailed it to an air conditioned mall where Parker could partake of the indoor playgrounds.

It was Sunday and when we arrived it was not yet noon, so the mall was open with the stores closed. Sarah asked, "Daddy can I go into Claire's?"  It was clearly visible from the playground and I told her, "Yes, but it's not noon so it's probably not open yet."

She tried its doors and found that I was correct. Several minutes later they opened and she eagerly asked, "Daddy, can I go?"

I assented and off she went. Over the course of 15 to 20 minutes she bobbed in and out of several stores that were all nearby. I kept one eye on her comings and goings and another on Parker's antics.

When she was done, she declared that PS From Aeropostale was her favorite because they had the coolest stuff and the employees asked her what she was looking for.

Knowing her short but solo excursions were a big deal to her, I grinned and told her that was good.

And I meant it.

But I also hated it.

*     *     *     *     *

I remember when Sarah was so small I could cradle her in my arms and lift her over my head without exerting any effort. I remember her being wide-eyed with amazement when Cinderella blew her a kiss during a parade at Disney World. I remember tossing her into the air above her bed after doing "Round and Round the Mulberry Bush" (aka "Pop Goes the Weasel") and I remember playing with her the first time she saw snow.

And now I fear that she will not remember those things. Or worse, that she will remember them but not consider them a big deal.

She is sweet as an angel on the one hand, but on the other hand she is short-tempered and impetuous.

I pray that I am serving her well.

Have I done enough to show her both the pros and cons of her personality?

Have I done enough to help her avoid the pratfalls that have held me back and contributed to my biggest mistakes?

Have I disciplined her enough, or too much?

Am I not understanding enough, or am I too understanding, to the point of being a sucker?

*     *     *     *     *

The same questions apply to Parker, with these added to the mix: At my age, how am I ever going to keep up with him on the playing field when he gets old enough to play sports? He is three and I am 43 and it's tough to keep up with him when he asks me to play toy cars, so what am I going to do on the basketball court seven or eight years hence?

But then I remember that being a parent is the greatest reward in all of Creation, and watching young lives blossom and mature is the most beautiful thing in all of Creation.

There is no such thing as being too old to bring life into the world. And I still climb freaking mountains every now and then, so of course I can keep up with a little tyke.

Parenting brings a kind of Nirvana and also a kind of blues, often at the same time. Today I am feeling the latter while striving to focus on the former.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sports et ceteras

I spent an awful lot of time opining about the NHL playoffs while they were taking place, then didn't type a word about them when they ended. Today I make up for it and begin by quoting something I wrote soon after the conference finals started: "If Chicago wins it all (an admittedly big if when there is so much hockey left to be played) then dynasty talk will be justified..."

I'm glad that statement included a qualifier, because the way the postseason played out, it is the Los Angeles Kings who have proven themselves worthy of dynasty talk.

Jonathan Quick is 28 and one of the best goaltenders on the planet; Anze Kopitar is 26 and arguably the best two-way forward on the planet; Drew Doughty is only 24 and arguably the best defenseman on the planet. In other words, not only is the Kings' nucleus uber talented, it is young, and yet the Kings have already won two of the last three Cups and made it to the conference finals three seasons in a row.

Add to that the fact that they do not rely on their stars but consistently get production from all four lines. And that they are coached by Daryyl Sutter. And that they conduct business with the kind of self-assuredness that can generate victories all on its own, the kind that makes them the ultimate "tough out" -- as evidenced by the fact that in this one postseason alone, they survived seven elimination games, four of which were played on the road; won three Game Sevens, all of which were played on the road; and became only the fifth team in the history of sports to win a series after falling behind three games to none.

This LA bunch amounts to something special. They are a bona fide mini-dynasty and they have the right stuff to become a full dynasty. Despite playing in a salary cap era.

Why is is that Gregg Popovich is not considered one of the greatest coaches in NBA history? I'm just asking.

He does not have Red Auerbach's eight consecutive championships, but then again, Auerbach coached in an era when the league had fewer teams and it was easy to stockpile talent and lock it up long-term.

He does not have Pat Riley's four rings in seven seasons (followed by a fifth almost twenty years later), but then again, he didn't enjoy the luxury of having arguably the best center and best point guard in basketball history on his roster for the first nine years of his head coaching career.

He does not have Phil Jackson's eleven rings, but then again, he has always stayed in one place instead of relocating to the franchise with the most talent after resigning when the roster of his original (and at the time most-talented) franchise started to age.

What Gregg Popovich does have are five world championships over the past sixteen seasons. All of them have been won with a team-first philosophy, while competing directly against actual and perceived dynasties whose rosters packed more star power than his own. What Popovich has cultivated is a rebirth of what I call "real" basketball: The kind featuring players who are driven much more by winning than by making it onto Sports Center highlights, the kind that atrophied throughout the 1990's and that I feared might never return. The man deserves his due.

World Cup
At the risk of being called an ethnocentric Neanderthal (which I'm not) who loved Ann Coulter's column about soccer (which, well, I did), I am here to say that I find all of the World Cup coverage in America to be very, very, very -- and did I say very? -- effin annoying.

Bedwetting media outlets have showed us images of bars filled with people cheering for Team USA, and they have sprayed us with World Cup coverage that is every bit as saturating as Super Bowl coverage. They have done this while breathlessly reporting that soccer is "catching on," just like they breathlessly reported that it was "catching on" when I started third grade in 1979.

An alien landing in Nebraska would never know from watching the news that the number of viewers for Team USA's biggest World Cup games (which by definition should have national appeal) was smaller than the number of viewers for some regular season NFL games (which by definition should have only regional appeal).

Although I don't like soccer, I do not begrudge genuine soccer fans their love of the game. There are some Americans who fit the bill, and I personally know and respect some of them.

What I mind are the people who have recently been rattling on and on about soccer so much that you would think they know what they're talking about -- except for the fact that they talk about sports frequently and never said a word about soccer until a couple weeks ago. I know some of those folks too.

...I also find it irritating that people think Team USA did well in this tournament. I understand they "got out of the 'group of death'" when they weren't expected to, and I appreciate that they exceeded expectations, but since when are we as Americans proud of an appearance in which our team wins only one of the four games they play?

On the eve of D-Day, General Patton exhorted our troops by saying "America loves a winner and will never tolerate a loser." 70 years later, in the summer of 2014, our soccer team wins one of four games and people get misty-eyed talking about how good they did.

Our Olympic hockey team played much better in Sochi than our World Cup soccer team did in Brazil -- and the former has legions of fans who feel a bitter taste in their mouths over finishing fourth, while the latter has fans who act jubilant about finishing sixteenth.

Those futbol fans certainly aren't proving Ann Coulter wrong. If anything, they are making her second column about the game seem just as good as her first.

The word "nil"
Stop saying it, U.S. soccer fans. It makes you sound ridiculous because "nil" is not a soccer term, but rather a British one.

When the citizens of Mexico City are watching a soccer match and the score is 2-0, they don't say it is "dos-nil." They say it is "dos-cero."

When the residents of Moscow are watching a 2-0 match, they say the score is "dvah-nulevoy" -- not "dvah-nil."

Yes, technically "nil" is a word in the English language that means "zero," but the only places it gets used are in Great Britain (where it is common) and by American soccer fans who believe it somehow makes the rest of the world think of them as sophisticated.

If you were born in the United States, please stop saying things like "Ghana is ahead of Denmark two-nil" until you also start saying things like "the Washington Redskins are ahead of the Dallas Cowboys fourteen-nil."

...I am not above picking a national team to root for the rest of the way, even though I am unlikely to watch at all and certain not to watch more than 10 to 15 minutes combined.

"My" team is Argentina. Yes, I know that country has had dictators due to its history of embracing political kooks. And yes, I know it is where many Nazis relocated to avoid being tried as war criminals when World War II drew to an end.

But on the other hand, Argentina gave us the tango and Gabriela Sabatini. Its Mendoza Province produces some of the most delicious and affordable red wines in the world. Its snow-flecked Andean peaks rising above arid benchlands reminds me of Colorado. It is home to the southernmost city on Earth and the largest ski resort in Latin America. It was good enough for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to move to after being harassed by The Man.

And one of our best friends, whose daughter happens to be one of Sarah's best friends, hails from there. What's not to like?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Mankind's Greatest Hour

Today, as we fire up our grills and crack open our beers, let us remember why we even have a July 4th holiday: to commemorate the greatest act of shared, selfless courage the world has ever seen.

Everybody should know that Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Most people know the names of a handful of the 56 men who signed it, such as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and of course Jefferson himself. But few people seem to realize that when those men signed their names, they were committing what was considered an act of treason against the British crown, punishable by death. Those men were property owners who were successful in their lives and businesses. Their lives were comfortable and they stood to lose everything by signing the Declaration -- yet they chose to sign it anyway, because they knew that casting off the crown and forming a new government based on individual liberty was the right thing to do, not only for their own descendants but for all of humanity. And here is what happened to some of those men after they signed the Declaration:

Five of them became prisoners of war.

Nearly one-sixth of them died before the war ended.

British forces burned, and/or looted, the homes and properties of nearly one-third of them.

When the British did that to the property of William Floyd, he and his family fled and spent the next seven years living as refugees without income. His wife died two years before the war ended.

After being forced into the wilderness by British forces, John Hart struggled to make his way home. When he finally got there, he found that his wife was dead and his 13 children were missing. He died without ever seeing them again.

Richard Stockton was dragged from his bed and sent to prison while his property was ravaged. From the day of his release from prison until the day he died, he had to rely on charity from others to feed his family.

Francis Lewis’s wife was imprisoned and beaten. Meanwhile, his wealth was plundered. His last years were spent as a widower living in poverty.

Thomas Nelson Jr.’s home was captured and occupied by British General Cornwallis, who used it as what we would now call an operations center. Therefore, Nelson ordered his troops to destroy his own home with cannon fire during the Battle of Yorktown. To assist in funding the war, he used his own credit to borrow 2 million dollars, which today would equal more than 25 billion dollars. Repaying that debt bankrupted him, and when he died he was buried in an unmarked grave.

It is a safe bet that fewer than one percent of our citizens have ever heard of these people, much less know anything about the devastating sacrifices they made so that future generations could have the freedom necessary to build the kind of upwardly-mobile, always-progressing society we would come to take for granted.

The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a wonderful gift called America, and we owe it to our children to make sure we don’t allow that gift to be destroyed. We should never hear the words “Fourth of July” without feeling a skip in our heart and a tear in our eye.

Much thanks to Jeff Jacoby, Paul Harvey, and all the others who have written and spoken about the fates of the signers, to keep their story alive.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

About Hobby Lobby

Here’s the dirty little secret that the headlines don’t tell you: Hobby Lobby DOES cover female contraception. In fact, it covers sixteen different kinds of contraceptives and excludes only four - kind of like almost every health plan in American history has covered certain drugs that treat something while excluding other drugs that treat the same thing.

Newspaper editors like to get people inflamed, and they know that people never read past the headlines, and therefore they have a tendency to bury relevant facts at the ends of articles. I noticed this tendency years ago and am not surprised to see it happening in the “coverage” surrounding Hobby Lobby.

Where contraception is concerned, the only things that Hobby Lobby does not cover are things that are known to be abortifacients (morning after pills) or are suspected to be abortifacients (IUD’s).

Plus, Hobby Lobby does not deny its employees the right to use those methods. It merely declines to be the one who pays for them.

If people have gotten to the point where they believe they have a right to require someone else to foot the bill for every possible lifestyle choice that can be described as “health care,” then maybe I should ask Congress to force my employer to pay for my broccoli. Since, you know, broccoli is an anti-carcinogen and might prevent me from getting cancer.

There is not a lick of evidence that Hobby Lobby discriminates against women. It is sad to see so many well-intentioned people getting told otherwise, and to see them getting swept into the social media equivalent of a feeding frenzy - a frenzy that aims to destroy a private company without spending one second thinking about what that would mean for the 23,000 people who work there.