Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Four Years In the Blog-o-sphere...and still chugging along

Saturday just happened to be July 19th. Now, I’m sure most of you have no idea why July 19th is important because in truth, it is not one of those giants amongst days….like, say, May 29th…with that great trifecta- the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the birth of JFK in 1917, and the arrival of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the summit of Mount Everest. But like that date, this one has personal significance for me.

My very first blog entry appeared on July 19th, 2010. That means I’ve been doing this every week for four years. That means I’ve since then, I’ve written 208 episodes making this one 209. For someone who thought she had nothing to say, 208 episodes at approximately 850 words per is a whole lotta words.

On my first anniversary in the blog-o-sphere, I wrote about what I’d learned in that first year. Not much has changed. I find the same issues going round and round, but what has changed is the expanse of my fact-checking ritual. I figure if one was going to talk about the biggest/best thing I've learned in doing this it would have to be that there is no excuse for not doing my homework. If I quote, I cite the source and provide a link wherever possible. I find I cannot abide bloggers/posters/op ed writers who do not vet their sources to back up their facts. You can opine into next week for all I care, but make sure what you present as facts are just that.

It's also an excruciating exercise in temper control. One blog in particular stands out as the most incendiary yet clearly not-read episode. Which only lends credence to the idea that a whole lotta people only read one sentence per graph and then draw their own conclusions, right or wrong. It takes a long, cold glass of seltzer to get my blood pressure down enough to prevent me from responding with nasty-grams. You know...the whole discretion is the better part of valor thing. I think I'm getting better at that part. Or not. 

And as dreadful as it might sound, having this blog has been a tremendously freeing experience. I get to write whatever the hell I want to write. I get to say what I want to say and I have been taken to task for some statements. That's okay. I figure if people take the time to write, then I should at least read what they have. 

And course, there was lesson number 10:

   Always include something to embarrass your children. A blog isn’t nearly as much fun to write if your kids aren’t rolling their eyes after you write it. You don’t even need to mention names or even personal details; all you have to do is express an opinion. That’s usually more than enough to send at least one of them over the edge.

After four years, I’m pretty sure a mother with an opinion is embarrassing enough without having to mention said mother has a blog AND a pretty stalwart world-wide readership these days. Since neither guy is terribly interested in what said mother has to say on any topic, they are pretty much in agreement that the world is a pretty crazy place….especially if people are voluntarily reading whatever it is said mother has to say on any given subject on any given week. Good thing I'm not required reading around here.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I am loath to remind you all that we are entering the dreaded election cycle. I, for one, am wondering what I'm gonna do with Mmes Bachmann and Palin for comic relief. I have to find some new candidates on which to pick. Do let me know if you have any suggestions. 

So as we kick off Season 5, onward and upward. Let the wild rumpus begin!  (Apologies to Maurice "Vilde Chaya " Sendak for borrowing his line!)

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
The best root beer float is made with A&W and coffee ice cream.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Between The Keyboard And The Chair

War is not tidy. It is not sanitary, sanitized, clean, nor anti-bacterial. War creates chaos, rubble, dirt, and dead bodies. These days, however, war mostly creates photo ops and sound bites.

Doesn’t much matter which war, but the most gruesome picture wins. No one reads the caption; no one vets the picture. If you have a really good picture, you can haul it out periodically and say it was from yesterday even if it was from a decade ago…or even a different war. As long as there’s enough shock value in the shot to get it on the front page of the world’s morning editions, you’ve succeeded.

My dad once told me World War II was the first real “photog’s war.” He explained that even though there were gruesome photographs taken during WWI, everyone had a camera in World War II and journalists were everywhere. The amount of photographic documentation is overpowering. Even the Nazis were copious about taking pictures of how the Final Solution was going. So it should come as no surprise that in subsequent wars, we were treated to up-to-the-minute pictures of the horrors taking place somewhere else in the world. And everyone who wants to get a message out understands the power of video gone viral. It’s really neither the medium nor the message that counts; it’s the image. The old TV adage, if it bleeds, it leads, is seriously ramped up.

Rabbi Yosi Gordon, a well known educator in these parts, is in Israel for the summer and had been posting his thoughts on his Facebook page. Yesterday, he made a comment that whacked me right between the eyes. He wrote:

Some terrorist organizations have all the luck. I really hate the idea of killing — what was it? — 17 members of a family in order to eliminate a Gazan police chief. It’s not a question of proportionality. It’s a question of 17 members of a family. Even if we “knocked” on their door with phone calls and fake bombs and a birthday present from Amazon. 
Jeffrey Goldberg is right again. If Hamas dies better than we do, they win. And they will die much better than we will, because babies crying in shelters is kids’ stuff compared to babies being all blown up. Emotional trauma is serious stuff, but dying is forever.

This is the voice of frustration with the media, and I think he’s spot on.

You have to wonder why the press is not marveling at Iron Dome and the fact that hundreds of rockets launched at Israel are being destroyed mid-air. You have to wonder why the media hasn’t exploited the human shield Hamas has set up as a barrier to air attacks. You have to wonder why there is not worldwide outcry at a government deliberately telling its population to stand up and die. And you have to wonder about a government who, knowing lobbing missiles at another, better-armed country will provoke a response, digs tunnels to smuggle but does nothing to provide underground safety for its citizens.

But maybe that’s just me. I always thought part of a government’s responsibility was to protect its people, not preach on television about how to embrace death. Clearly, I was mistaken.

So what are the choices?

Yosi suggests:
So here is how Israel can stop the war: don’t bomb. Tell the world, We’re staying home. We love peace. We’ll defend ourselves. Iron Dome and shelters and other defensive measures will keep us safe. We’ll invite the press to show pictures of Israelis trembling in protected areas, dashing for safety, embracing screaming babies, soothing terrified children. Tsahal can continue to do stuff that doesn’t photograph well, like undermining tunnels. But we’ll be the peace team. This has never happened before, in all of history. It will make headlines all over the world. What if they threw a war and one side didn’t show up?
Would that that were an option. 

But there are things we can do, too. All of us. On whatever "side" you're on. It doesn't matter, and the most obvious one is to stop clamoring for the 60-second new cycle. That constant spinning does more to spew mis’n’dis-information than Faux News. All of us aid and abet that process every time we share something on social media that we have not personally vetted in some way for accuracy. All we are doing is giving hatred a chance; we are adding to that mass of chum floating around cyberspace and it stinks, it’s wrong, and it’s unnecessary.

Yehuda Kurtzer, in his blog entry in The Times Of Israel, writes:

There is a long-standing critique of social media that many of us self-style our personal “brands” and images in ways that are far different (and look better) than the more complex realities of our lives; in crisis, and in moments of profound anxiety, this narcissism quickly transforms from being harmless to being destructive. Coupled with the built-in nature of the media – which reward speed and wit more than long-developed substance – the pitfalls of instant commentary and vitriolic response emerge easily, and the usefulness of the media for public discourse are undercut by their own limitations. 

Talking about it does not quite drive the point home. He suggests that for an observance of the Fast of Tammuz, we abstain from spreading hysteria on social media. The fast, albeit a minor one, is observed on Tuesday, July 15th, and, like the Ramadan fast which is taking place now, extends from dawn until dusk. Why not use that period to abstain from spreading hysteria on social media?

We can be silent for a day. We can take a moment to read all the way through instead of skim. We can make it a point to verify before we share. 

If everyone thought through that process, if everyone took a moment to think, "What message am I sending?" we are half way to honesty. 

The other half can be found between the keyboard and the chair, and again between the mouse and the monitor. 

The choice is ours. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Know any widows or widowers?
When they are having grieving moments, it's all about them, not you. 
Unless you have direct experience in that condition, you don't know. 
Try to remember that. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When We All Love Our Children More Than We Hate

I rarely write about Israel. This is not because I am ambivalent or uninterested. Quite the opposite. I think about making aliyah a lot, and wonder if I could really do it at my rapidly advancing age. I used to think I would, but these days reality sets in and I think it might just be out of reach...at least for the moment. But I have a close friend there, and even some family, including one little cousin who is currently serving in the IDF. And if you think I don't worry about that kid along with all the other kids, you have another think coming.

But uninterested? Hardly. I follow news out the Middle East with great alarm these days.  I am passionate…somewhat unreasonably so…on the subject. But like so many others, I am also conflicted. I do not particularly like Bibi Netanyahu.... but I don't get a vote on that one. I do not pretend to understand the building policies in and around Jerusalem....and I wonder if anyone there does, either. I don't understand the haredi and their obscene hatred for the rest of us...as if the concept of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, wasn't said to be the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. And while we're on the subject of The Temple in Jerusalem, how is it that the everyone is in agreement that the Mosque of Omar and Al-Aqsa Mosque sit side by side on The Temple Mount...as in the original Temple....as in the Temple that predates both Christianity and Islam....yet they say Jews don't belong in Jerusalem. These are great conundrums and I don't see anyone coming forward with any answers....especially the BDS people who have embraced revisionist history like some people embrace Creationism. I think they're about the same on the reality scale....somewhere between zero and one.

But this past week has put me over the edge. The kidnapping and murder of the three teenagers is unbelievably horrifying from so many perspectives, yet not unexpected. This is not the first time Israeli kids have been murdered and I fear it will not be the last. But the revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager is beyond comprehension. The kid was, according to the latest reports, burned alive. How did this happen? Who would sanction such an act?  This is a whole new level of barbarism. It is so NOT who we are that Bibi has called the family of this child.

Which makes me think....did Abbas call the parents of the murdered Israeli kids? Not that it matters.

Across Israel, there is such an outcry over the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Rabbis across the spectrum have condemned that action. Yet somewhere in there is a small group extreme right wingnuts chanting "Death to Arabs." After years of homicide bombings, missiles, kidnappings, murders is it such a shock that there is a group ready to retaliate in kind?

In any other country, maybe. But in Israel, this is anathema. BIG TIME anathema.

Israel is a nation where restraint has been the rule, not the exception. Yes, there are acts of incursion and retaliation, but Israelis do not set off bombs in cafes and buses. They do not preach the wholesale destruction of Palestinians from every pulpit, or teach it in the schools or in their children's television shows. No, they are not perfect and there is much to say about the destruction of housing and olive groves. But there is much more to say about a government that hides its missile launchers atop hospitals, schools, and in residential neighborhoods then fires at school yards and factories.But terrorists are terrorists no matter which side, and those found to be responsible for the death of Muhammed Abu Khdeir should be treated the same way Palestinian terrorists are treated. There can be no difference.

Still, I wonder what those vocal critics of Israel’s policies would do living under the conditions Israelis endure in their own land. Would they stand by and allow missiles to be fired at their children? Would they just pack up and leave the land in which they lived for three millennia in favor of a group that did not exist  as a national entity until the 19th century?  Where would they go?

Let's be clear about one thing: Jews are not newcomers to Israel. We have been an identifiable social/cultural/national group since the word ISRAEL first appeared on the Merneptah Stele, circa 1200 B.C.E…which means, amongst other things, Jews have been on the land for more than 3000 years, almost 2000 of those years living under the oppressive rule of foreigners but never abandoning Jerusalem, the land, or the fervent belief that we would one day be our own nation once again.  I have to imagine the native American population must harbor the same dream. After all, their land was taken, they were removed, relocated, restricted, but never left, either. I think sometimes we have more in common with those nations than we do with anyone else.

What would happen if all the women stood up and said, "NO MORE!" ? Would the insanity stop? Would there be quiet long enough to untangle the hatred and begin the healing? 

The cycle of hatred must stop. The Israelis must stop antagonizing the peace process. The Palestinians must stop teaching hate in their schools. The G-d of Abraham, that G-d both Judaism and Islam share, abhors human sacrifice. No more children should be sacrificed on the altar of hatred that has nothing whatsoever to do with G-d.

In my very limited world view, it keeps coming down to the one idea…the same idea that Golda Meir so eloquently said,
“We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week 

אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
תִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹנִי  לְחִכִּי אִם לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי 
אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי:

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth 
if I do not remember you, 
if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.

                                                                       Psalm 137:5-6
                                                                        circa 607 B.C.E.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

When It Rains.....

Well, it's been a busy few days over at Chez WP. Father-in-law has been in hospital since Saturday night with a touch o'congestive heart failure. A bit of pumping fluids out and he should be right as rain in a day or two.

In between trips down to St. Joe's, I've been working really hard on not having my head explode from the news. SCOTUS has dragged us onto another excessively slippery slope with the long dreaded Hobby Lobby ruling. And then the 3 yeshiva boys. 

There is no way to assign a value of importance to either of these events. One is a matter of legalese and as quickly as it came, it was be revisited again and again under different auspices. The yeshiva boys, on the other hand, will be dead forever. There is no revisit, no undo, no way to turn back the clock to make it unhappen. 

But let's start with Hobby Lobby. I fully understand the intent of the Court when it says that religious freedom must be protected, and mandating insurance regulations may trample on those rights. I can understand that if you're working for a religious institution there might be limited questions about what they will or will not support. Every company has exclusions, even the one I work for. You deal with it. 

But we're not talking about religious institutions or not-for-profit agencies. We're talking about a multi-billion dollar corporation with over 500 doors, and more than 21,000 employees. It is not a mom-n-pop operation even though it is privately held by the family. Their mission statement is lifted from their website:
  • Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.
  • Offering our customers exceptional selection and value in the crafts and home decor market.
  • Serving our employees and their families by establishing a work environment and company policies that build character, strengthen individuals and nurture families.
  • Providing a return on the owner's investment, sharing the Lord's blessings with our employees, and investing in our community.
Sure you do.

I really like the first one. Of course, that principle does not extend to its suppliers in China who enforce control over reproduction in draconian ways. They are okay with shipping American $$$ to a nation that openly persecutes Christians. And coverage for Viagra and Cialis scrips is just fine. 

Can you say HYPOCRITE, boys and girls?

Before ACA, Hobby Lobby actually covered the Plan B pills, Ella, and certain I.U.D.s in their insurance plans. It was only when it became a political issue in 2012 that they noticed they covered these things.

The award for Most-Blatant-Subversion-Of-Women's-Rights-Since-Getting-The-Vote award goes to SCROTUM Justice Samuel Alito who, in writing on behalf of the majority stated:
In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer's religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.
So, Scrotum Alito, how does this limitation work? But you do mean to tell me that if I'm working for a Jehovah's Witness and there's an accident at work, and I've lost a whole lotta blood, my employee insurance policy may not cover the transfusions needed to save my life? 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg cut right to the heart of the issue in a well crafted dissenting opinion when she wrote:
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.
Contraception is just the test case. More is coming. Transfusions, vaccinations, chemotherapy ...they are all out there waiting in the wings with their fringe group sponsors. It will be about what can be cloaked as religious freedoms as it becomes class-based medical care for the rich. The working poor will be cherry picked into endless cycles of pregnancy, coat hangers will be back in vogue, and once again, hope of upward mobility will be mired in the grocery bills. The implication is huge and the cost in human life will be unimaginable.

SCROTUS is no longer concerned with We, the People. The five conservative justices are consistently finding in favor of Them, The Corporation With Deep Pockets instead of looking out for We, The Flesh And Blood People. It's hard to understand how they are protecting our civil liberties when they decide the corporations have the right to purchase an election. I always believed the Justices were the buffers between us and those who would diminish our individual us-ness. No longer the case, folks. We, the People, don't matter in that cowardly new world.  Just as the Taliban are cowards, afraid to face people and modernity, Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas are no better in the way they impose their version of religiosity on America. Kennedy, the swing vote, goes more and more where he thinks his bread is buttered. Their worldview, as constricted by the view past their tonsils, is exclusionary, narrow, and ultimately dangerous to the fabric of this nation. 

Who pays those five anyway? It sure as hell isn't us. 

And speaking of jihad....the murder of the three yeshiva kids will be off the pages of the newspapers in a day or two. That's because they're Jewish kids living in Israel, in the contested territory at that. But mostly because they're just Jews and not glamorous enough for most news outlets. 

Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad
Where were the reports of missiles fired at Sedrot and a factory being blown up? Where was all the human outcry for three teenagers hitch hiking home? Where was the Presbyterian church, so eager a week ago to divest their holdings in Israel, in protesting to Hamas and the BDS movement that killing kids isn't okay?  

I don't agree with everything Israel does, and I am not blind to the issues. But we're talking about the only free-speech democracy in the Middle East. The only one with a history of free elections and a diverse parliament. 

Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach were executed by Islamist terrorists. Their crime? Being Jewish kids. 

If you're looking for the through line in this blog, let me leave you with this: any group that wants to impose its beliefs on others is no better than the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Haredi in Jerusalem, the militant Buddhist Monks of Myanmar....or the evangelical extreme right in the United States. These groups are determined to turn your world into their world order. Whether it's by car bombs, shoe bombs, homicide bombs, or Molotov bombs, these people are ready to force you to bend to their will.

Right now, they have a a great partner in  our Supreme Court.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Never take your freedom for granted; 
there is always someone out there who wants to take it from you.