2004-09-24

Morning Report: September 24, 2004

Informal Morning Report. Since I'm away from home and sneaking a little dial-up time from my hotel room before re-convening with my fellow Marine vets, I'm just going to drop a few lines on current events.

Bush, Allawi speak out. Caught GWB and Iyad Allawi on TV yesterday morning, with their impressive news conference, shortly after Allawi's address to the US Congress. Allawi thanked the American people and Congress for liberating his country, and stated, "more troops we don't need" - rather, he said, Iraqis need to be empowered to take charge of their own affairs through continued training and support. Allawi and Bush both stressed that while tough challenges lie ahead, Iraq is moving in the right direction.

Senator Kerry wasted no time in declaring that the Prime Minister of Iraq didn't know what he was talking about, and today's issue of the Jayson Blair Journal began its editorial with the words "Iraq's appointed leader, Iyad Allawi, put on an impressive performance yesterday in Washington." Iraq's self-appointed leaders in New York explained that 'Until Iraq holds free elections, Mr. Allawi cannot claim to speak for more than the narrow coalition of exile parties that maneuvered his appointment as interim prime minister.' The JBJ editorial went on to link Allawi with a small cabal of CIA-backed exile groups, and concluded by accusing Iraq's Prime Minister of 'expressing doubts about the value of a free press and refusing to accept the importance of an honest and realistic discussion of what's happening in his country.'

Funny, just last night I was up talking with two young guys who just got back from a second tour in Iraq; they happened to be staying in the room next door. Nobody forced these Marines to re-up, they did so voluntarily. They recalled that in fifteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces, security and reconstruction are proceeding at an astonishing pace. Wonder what's wrong with them. Maybe they don't read the Jayson Blair Journal enough?

2004-09-23

Update

Greetings from Southern California. I'm staying at a hotel in Vista, getting set to hook up with some buddies from my old unit. May be posting occasionally over the next few days.

2004-09-18

Update

I will be leaving tomorrow morning (Sunday 9/19) for California. I'll be visiting The Next Generation in San Francisco for a few days, then taking off for a military reunion in San Diego. I'll be back home in Portland, G-d willing, on Tuesday 9/28.

Don't know whether I'll post during the trip or not. See you when I get back.

2004-09-17

New Site: Urban Renewal

I've mentioned my father (Ken McLintock, 1920-2000) a number of times in this space; now I'm giving him his own blog.

Dad was a thoughtful, quiet man, but not without his opinions. He wrote innumerable letters to the Hartford Courant and the Jounal Inquirer (the hometown daily), speaking out against race prejudice, anti-gay prejudice, and environmental pollution. He didn't care for religious fundamentalism, having been raised by a zealously devout mother (who dabbled in several sects before settling on Christian Science), and disliked the pretensions of the social elites.

He had witnessed a good deal of prejudice in the Army ranks during World War II, and while he was no stranger to the savagery of the Emperor's army, he was profoundly grieved by the internment camps and the atomic bomb. But then, I don't know any feeling person who would not be.

Like my mother, he opposed the Vietnam war. He composed a lengthy poem in response to tales of American atrocities he had read about - and, being the kind of man he was, was only too willing to believe. I am not going to debate the rightness or wrongness of the war itself; but clearly my father's beliefs, and the beliefs of many people of good conscience in that generation, were shaped in part by these stories.

Thirty years later, it seems plain enough that many of those horror stories were at best exaggerations, and at worst outright lies. My father was an idealist, but he was also a patriot. If his faith in his country was crippled by these lies, then he was deceived in the cruelest way possible - deceived by men like John F. Kerry. And he took his belief in this monstrous slander with him to his death.

I do not live in my father's world; none of us do. Many of the battles that liberals like my father fought for have been won; and the war we are fighting now, and the enemy we face today, are unlike any he could have imagined. Nor is the spread of knowledge and ideas the same: yesterday's typewritten memos travel the globe today at lightning speed. And publishing is no longer the exclusive province of editors and academicians in brick-walled buildings; it is in the realm of ordinary people like you and me, who can write letters to the world, pajama-clad, from their own living rooms.

With the touch of a button, you can create your very own editorial page. My Dad would have loved it.

Soldier, Where's Your Hatred Now?

By an anonymous soldier of the 136th Field Artillery Battalion, 37th Infantry Division - Fiji Islands, March 1943.

SOLDIER, WHERE'S YOUR HATRED NOW? (F.I., March 1943)

Soldier,
Where's your hatred now?
You haven't any? But you ought to have.
Remember the advice we gave.
Where will you be anyhow
If you forget that you must fight,
That they are wrong, and we are right?
You must make their heads to bow.

"I will fight because I must.
My hatred falters. In the heat of war
The hatred that was once a sore
Festered with a bitter lust,
Becomes a heartache, throbbing deep,
So that I cannot help but weep
Seeing comrades fall to dust."

Soldier,
Why that tear-wet eye?
Your fallen comrades you won't see again?
Remember, this affair is plain:
You may be about to die
Like them; but while you live, be strong,
For right will conquer all that's wrong.
Fight till they for mercy cry.

"You are right, my hatred's gone,
But I remember they are human too -
Those boys who in a sick world grew,
Groping - while afar, the dawn
Awaits to shine on them again
As it has on Freedom's men.
Can I , hating, speed the dawn?"

Soldier,
Spare no love for those
Who try to tear down what we want to save.
They're bestial, and they're not so brave.
Bring conflict to a quicker close:
Destroy their tanks, destroy their planes;
It is this Justice ordains.
Give them death if death they chose!

"I will wreck their tanks and planes
And let their cities fall, for all I care,
And in the name of right, I'll tear
Their bowels out, and smash their brains,
(For you, my country, killed my soul)
And as we approach the goal,
Clamp them in Revenge's chains!"

Soldier,
Bear it for a while,
And if you find no hatred for the foe,
Hate, then, the evil that brought woe.
Hate the greed and hate the guile.
Hate, then, the motive, not the man.
Love the Truth, for if you can,
Soldier, you have won God's smile.

2004-09-16

From my Father's World War II Memoirs

From a series of poems by fellow soldiers that my father collected. The works' authorship is unknown.
A FLOWER GROWS ON WAR-SCARRED GROUND
(Munda Point)

On this island Mars still plays his hand.
The beach is quiet now; he has moved inland.
Beneath the sun, men toil;
Digging, clearing, piling soil on soil.
Between them and the sea - a fringe of sand.

On this fringe of sand Mars left his seal.
Here, craters deep abound: imprints of his heel
In some the sea has crept;
Others remain empty - all except
For flowers, growing there with quiet zeal.

A flower grows on a war-scarred ground
Amid man's shattered tools of war strewn around.
Amid war's after-gloom
It flourishes, hanging bloom on bloom.
How strange a home this zinnia has found!
It is not alone here on the beach;
Yonder springs - oh, if it could only reach! -
Another common flower,
Dainty, fragile, holding yet some power
To draw its strength from the reluctant beach.

Zinnia and petunia, hand in hand
In Mother's garden casually appearing
Now in this almost flowerless land
Become at once exotic, rare, endearing.

2004-09-15

Final thoughts for 5764.

May you be blessed with prosperity, health, safety, freedom, wisdom, and good friends.

May the people of Iraq enjoy democracy and well-being in their land.

May the coming year see the liberation of the people of Iran.

May we find the strength and courage to stop the slaughter in Sudan.

May Israel know peace and security. May Israel see dialog between Jew and Arab, religious and secular. May the Jewish homeland live out its dream in safety. May Jewish children know that they have a home in the world.

May America live up to its true greatness and its dream of freedom, within its own borders and around the world.

May all have enough to eat and protection from heat, cold, and illness.

May the seeds of freedom spring up everywhere.

May we all learn to listen and understand one another better.

May we have the clarity to know good from evil, and the courage to choose good, even when it is difficult and dangerous. May we risk being unpopular when life has granted us a chance to speak out for freedom and justice.

May all creation know its own true higher nature, when G-d allows us to cast away the kingdom of evil from the land.

L' shanah tovah.

The Bad Thing (September 11 essay)

The following is what I wrote shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Bad Thing

in memory of my father
Ken McLintock, 1919-2000


September 17, 2001.

Rosh Hashanah is upon us. Rosh Hashanah is more than the Jewish New Year: it is nothing less than the celebration of the creation of the universe.
My father passed away one year ago, at the end of Rosh Hashanah. And so, from now on, this day brings with it his yahrzeit, the anniversary of his passing. It is a strange juxtaposition: the creation of the universe, and my father’s death.
And it gets stranger still: this Rosh Hashanah also brings the shadow of war.
I remember a Vietnam-era Doonesbury cartoon I read as a kid. A couple of the characters were discussing how a Student Congress meeting had attempted to address the war issue. A motion had been introduced to pass a resolution condemning the Vietnam war; but as the debate wore on, the wording of the motion kept getting vaguer and vaguer. At last the Student Congress reached a consensus: they resolved simply, “War Is Bad.”
I’m reminded of this cartoon every time I see progressives trying to tackle the issue of war and peace. Yes, war is bad, and one can always make that statement without fear of contradiction. But contradiction is a part of war, as it is a part of life.
“Violence begets violence”; “If we respond with force, we just stoop to their level”: do we really believe that a military response is no different from flying a jetliner into an office building? Then we are all in trouble.
I am not speaking here of pacifists. They are used to dealing with such difficult issues, and while I don’t share their philosophy, I respect it. If you are going to oppose violence -- if your belief is that, above all, all violence is wrong -- then you have a great tradition of teachers to draw on, from the Buddha to George Fox. (Green Party doctrine endorses the principle of Nonviolence, while sensibly stopping short of advocating outright pacifism.) But this is a serious situation, and it deserves to be treated seriously; simplistic, holier-than-thou slogans accomplish nothing.
It bothers me that some people’s sense of justice is offended by the prospect of a military retaliation for the attack, but not by the attack itself. People who say -- while trying to sound as if they’re not saying it -- that America deserved this horror. How many rationalizations can you make for a mass murder?
Sometimes we must go to war.
In simplest terms, the underlying wish of all warfare is to be able to push a button and “make the bad guys disappear”. Modern technological warfare fosters the illusion that this is actually possible. If you watched the war against Iraq on CNN, you saw America and its allies trying to make that wish come true.
My father fought the Japanese in World War II. To the end of his days, the contradictions of that war troubled him. He spoke bitterly of the rampant racism in the American ranks, not only toward the enemy but also toward African-American servicemen and toward our Pacific Islander allies. He recalled seeing his first enemy casualty -- “He was just a kid, our snipers had got him.” The 37th Infantry Division yearbook, which now sits atop my desk as I write this, chronicles his unit’s progress from Fiji to the Solomon Islands to the Philippines. It also records the attitudes of the Americans towards the Japanese people; my father never showed the book.
A lifelong Democrat (he voted for Nader in ’96), he admired the idealism of the New Deal but could not bring himself to admire the president who signed Executive Order 9066. Demonizing the enemy, my father used to say, is a sign that society is in decline.
Hiroshima was a thorn in his side. He recalled an article shown to him by a buddy, in a science magazine shipped from home, describing a terrible new bomb which, when perfected, would devastate the enemy. Dad said he had hoped it was science fiction; he was wrong.
Once he tried to describe the feelings close to the battle front. “The looks on the faces of those guys coming back from the front lines,” he said, shaking his head. He looked off into space, trying to find the words to express it. Finally words failed him, and he waved his hands helplessly. “It’s just a bad thing,” was all he said.
During a certain period of seven months in 1990 and 1991, I experienced some inkling of the things my father must have felt. We were facing a great and intractable army, and all sorts of new weapons were being brought in against them. Among these was a bomb called a “fuel-air explosive”; picture holding a lighted match over an open can of gasoline, then magnify that picture to the size of a football stadium, and you get the idea. And there were the massive bombs dropped on the Iraqi bunkers, burying thousands of men alive. And finally there was General Powell’s order to “cut it off and kill it”, ending the war with a massacre of retreating soldiers.
My own weapon of choice (the Marine Corps’ choice, not mine) was the TOW missile. You located the target (typically a tank) in the eyepiece, pushed the button, and tracked the target until the missile reached it. Push the button, and make the bad guys disappear.

*

I remember Sgt. James, our vehicle commander -- he would later lose his post -- coming back from the commander’s tent with tears streaming from his eyes. “Schroeder’s dead,” he said, “and Snyder...” and he gave the rest of the names. They were killed at Khafji, but not by the enemy. Their vehicle had wandered into the path of a friendly missile and had been destroyed.
We lost more men to an accident, when one of the drivers fell asleep on a long night drive. More stupid, meaningless deaths with no one to blame.
Then there was the guy who got promoted for falling asleep on watch. You always have to have someone awake at might, and the combat crew works out a shift schedule with each man waking the next in turn after a shift of an hour or two. The CO’s orders were that two men out of each four-man crew must be awake at all times. But Sgt. James had other ideas: he figured as long as one of our guys was awake at each shift, it would be OK and no one would be the wiser. So we followed his plan, and sure enough, the last guy on watch fell asleep -- Cpl. Carlos, Sgt. James’s second-in-command. When the CO found out what had happened, and learned that Sgt. James had given the one-man-awake order, he fired Sgt. James from his post. Cpl. Carlos took over as crew commander.
Carlos led the crew capably throughout the ground war, and was both liked and respected. Later he got kicked out of the service for being gay. Can it get any stupider?
Does it make a difference how you die? Or how your friend dies?
To a soldier, it does. Being killed or wounded by the enemy is one thing; being killed or wounded by friendly fire, or in an accident, is very different. It is a loss without meaning.

*

Every generation sheds its own blood to build the world that its children will inherit.
The two towers of the World Trade Center are destroyed, and more than three thousand people have died. Rich and poor died together. Now there is a question before us: What kind of lives will we give our children, and what kind of structures will we build?


*

“Don’t seek revenge” -- this is the most telling phrase from the well-meaning sloganeers. Very well; but what about justice?
Justice is a hard concept, and it involves making difficult choices and distinctions. But there can be no mercy without justice; and as Palestinian advocates are continually reminding us, without justice there can be no peace.
One of the distinctions we must make is the distinction between legitimate anger and indiscriminate violence. Nothing justifies the murder of thousands of innocent civilians. Anyone who fails to unequivocally and unambiguously condemn this act is only supporting such violence. And using the bombing as an object-lesson to advance any goal, no matter how worthy, comes dangerously close to supporting it.
Making distinctions: this is the tough process that is called for now. It goes against our training, even our nature. Tribalism is easy: us and them. Unlearning tribalism is one of the hardest things we do in life, and one of the most important.

*

The February 22, 2001 issue of the Daily Journal of Commerce reports: “Neighbors oppose proposed Bellevue mosque.” It seems the Muslim community of Bellevue, Washington, just can’t get it right: the mosque “simply doesn’t fit in”, according to local residents, and it’s “too big for a residential area” which includes two churches, one school and a golf course.
These complaints would have sounded familiar to my father, who, with other members of his congregation, spent many frustrating months trying to get permission to build a new synagogue in suburban Connecticut. Like the Washington congregation, my father’s meeting-place was overcrowded and lacked adequate parking facilities. And the neighbors, like the good folks in Washington, had their own list of perfectly reasonable objections: it would be too noisy; there would be too much traffic; it would interfere with the local wildlife; and, oh yes, it just wouldn’t quite fit in.
According the Bellevue city planning manager, “It’s the nature of the facility. If I were living there, and there was going to be a mosque in my backyard, I’d panic because I’m familiar with a Baptist church, a Catholic church. But a mosque?”
The official’s candor is refreshing. No one in Connecticut would have been so indelicate as to bring up religion. That would have been gauche. There are ways to do these things.

*

A young Jewish radical once said, “Love your enemy.”
I am not an authority on the Christian scriptures, so it is presumptuous of me to interpret this verse. But perhaps the teacher is calling upon us to embrace this contradiction: Love your enemy -- he is your neighbor, whom you are bidden by the Law of Moses to love; love him, even while he is still your enemy.
My own tradition is also skeptical of simple answers. It affirms that the Living God sometimes speaks in many voices; and that harmony rests in the elusive balance of logic and insight, justice and mercy, action and restraint. It understands, too, that the love of humankind is a concept simple enough to be understood while standing on one foot -- and that you must spend the rest of your life studying its implications.
For Osama bin Laden, war is a simple matter. The bad guys are everywhere, and getting rid of them is merely a question of resources and tactics. For the rest of us, it is different: the task of finding the enemy, identifying him, and destroying him, will be difficult and costly. Our laser-guided bombs will be of only limited value. It will be a back-to-basics war.
We will learn, one slow step at a time, who and what we are fighting. And perhaps, in the process, we will discover who we are.

*

War is a bad thing. But we must do this bad thing, and we must do it the hard way. American soldiers will travel to another country, where, along with soldiers from other lands, they will kill and die. Those who live will come back with memories.
An old proverb says, “The ones who know, don’t talk. The ones who talk, don’t know.” The ones who come back will know. They will know that the line between good and evil sometimes hides in the shadows. They will know that the bad people will never disappear. They will know that the pursuit of justice is harder than the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, and infinitely longer, and that it matters more than anything. And they will know things that they will never tell, because how do you say it?
You can never say it all, even if you talk for a hundred years.

Ha'azinu

The weekly Torah readings are known in Hebrew by their opening words. This week's reading, Ha'azinu, consists of the Song of Moses, beginning at Deuteronomy 32:1.

My portion shall descend like rain, my words shall distill as dew. (Deut. 32:2)

Zelig Pliskin, quoting Rabbi Bunim of Parshischo, explains the passage: "Words of admonition are analogous to rain. When rain falls on trees and plants, growth is not noticeable immediately. It takes time for the rain to have an effect. So too with admonition." (Love Your Neighbor, p. 432.)

It's true: if you try to change someone's mind about something, chances are they won't change their position right away. It's human nature that we don't like to be seen as easily swayed - and in general, that's a good thing. People like to feel they're making up their own minds. Moses was one of the greatest teachers in history; but as even a cursory reading of the Torah tells us, his "students" were not always the best learners!

All of us are "stiff-necked" at one time or another. Many of us have had our worldview radically altered over the last few years - and for most of us, this didn't happen overnight. The Torah is reminding us that even when our neighbors seem to be a bit "slow on the uptake", we should be patient with them and not give up.

L'Shanah Tovah!

New Year's greetings on the eve of Rosh haShanah 5765.

(Golly, is it 5765 already?!?)

Special thanks to my very good friend Gila from the shul, for her stimulating conversation and inspiration. Gila, I'm truly moved by your passion for justice and your beautiful spirit. And thanks for those photos and links you sent! I will post them as soon as I get a chance.

May the coming year be "a finish and end to all our troubles, and a start and beginning for our redemption." Keyn yehi ratzon.

BULLETIN: Alaa's Relative Kidnapped

Alaa of The Mesopotamian has just reported that a relative of his has been kidnapped for ransom. This is terrible news. We all pray for Alaa's family and the safe and speedy return of the victim. May all violence in Iraq end soon.

Pajama Warriors

So now we know what the big media think of us.

No, I don't mean we know what they think of bloggers - that part was clear long ago. I mean we know what they think of ALL of us - their potential audience - with their casual dismissal of citizen-journalists.

Jonathan Klein's contempt for the "guy sitting in his living room in pajamas" is at the very root of the problems CBS is facing right now. Have you ever watched CBS News or 60 Minutes in your PJs? Then he's talking about you. You - the citizen, the TV watcher, the consumer, the one who pays their bills - you are the poor shmoe sitting at home in your pajamas. You, my friend, have no checks and balances. Your voice does not count. You are nothing.

Thank you, Jonathan Klein, for this moment of illumination. Thank you for showing us that you don't respect us in the morning, or at any other time.

Now it's time for us to wake up.

Rathergate

I don't have much to add to the forged memo scandal that hasn't been said already. I'm willing to believe the Defense Department may have access to some advanced technology ... so did they have a time machine in 1972 for importing advanced technology from the future? Somehow I doubt it.

The amazing thing about the fake memos is just how bad the forgeries are. Really, it's hardly accurate to even call them "forgeries" ... they're more like Monopoly money. We can only figure that they were done by someone too young to have ever seen a typewriter, and who had no concept of how the thing works. Folks who've grown up with computers may not realize just how profoundly the experience of typing differs from composing on a computer. A typewriter is basically a mechanical device for printing letters on a piece of paper; many of the functions we take for granted on a computer are PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE on a typewriter.

(For example: word wrap and proportional spacing. A typewriter gives you a fixed number of character spaces per line - say, 80 spaces - and when you run out of spaces, the machine simply STOPS. To prevent ending a line in the middle of a word, you listen for the little bell that goes "ding!" when you're about five spaces from the end. At that point you decide whether you have enough spaces left to finish the word, or whether you need to hyphenate - that's why dic*tion*ar*ies have words broken up by syllables. Then you hit "carriage return" - or pull the lever on a manual model - to start a new line. If you have to go past the end of the line, you can hit "margin release" but then the product looks sloppy.)

The MSM could salvage some of their credibility by distancing themselves from this sorry joke, but they're not. They simply don't know what to do. The events of this past week have changed the media forever - and no time machine will be able to take us back.

Let's blogroll!

Kerry on Vietnam. Go check out "Kerry vs. O'Neill" at Armies of Liberation to find out what John F. Kerry actually said in 1971.

What if? LaShawn Barber in on a roll with the implications of a Kerry presidency - chas v'chalila!

"Possibly the finest paragraph ever written on the internet." That was one commenter's appraisal of this post at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler:
Their fear of religion had them supporting a brutal fundamentalist theocracy; their demand for sexual equality had them supporting a country where women were horsewhipped for showing ankle; their horror at genocide had them supporting a man who ran death camps to meet the mass grave quotas; their disgust for soldiers had them support a country that was little more than an army ruling over the captive breeding stock that refilled the ranks ...
Go read the whole thing at the link.

A tribute to the pajama-clad armies may be found at Kesher Talk. So go already!

2004-09-14

Morning Report: September 15, 2004

Forged memos dog CBS. For those of you who haven't been following the internet for the past week (and really, it IS worth following, even when Dreams Into Lightning isn't posting!), the blogosphere has scored a major coup against the MSM with the revelation that several derogatory memos about George W. Bush - ostensibly written by his Texas Air National Guard commanders in 1972 - were crude forgeries. The documents, produced by Dan Rather on 60 Minutes, appeared to have been produced on Microsoft Word, not an IBM Selectric, calling the 1972 dating into serious question. For the full story, see Rathergate at LGF.

Kerry coached horror stories, 'Nam vet says. ' A veteran who testified to John Kerry about atrocities he committed in the Vietnam War is now claiming that the Democratic presidential candidate coerced him to tell tales. Steven Pitkin, an Army combat veteran, told FOX News that Kerry coached him and others to say they had witnessed war crimes, even after Pitkin told Kerry that he had not. ...' Fox News story on Vietnam atrocity allegations

Syria testing chemical weapons on Sudanese? Sources are reporting that the German daily "Die Welt" claims Syria is testing its chemical weapons on Sudanese civilians. According to the AFP story, 'Syria tested chemical weapons on civilians in Sudan's troubled western Darfur region in June and killed dozens of people, the German daily Die Welt claimed in an advance release of its Wednesday edition. The newspaper, citing unnamed western security sources, said that injuries apparently caused by chemical arms were found on the bodies of the victims. It said that witnesses quoted by an Arabic news website called ILAF [www.elaph.com] in an article on August 2 had said that several frozen bodies arrived suddenly at the "Al-Fashr Hospital" in the Sudanese capital Khartoum in June. ...' Don't miss Andy McCarthy's comments.

The Emperor has no pajamas. "Eat your heart out, Cox & Forkum."

Soon to Return ...

... to regular blogging. Just needed to take a few days off. Plus, I had to change my typewriter ribbon ...

2004-09-07

I Am A Jew and My Father Was A Jew

My father described his father as mildly anti-Semitic, "not an Archie Bunker type" but not without his prejudices either. Dad was born in 1920 and grew up in the New York area, spending some years in New York City. He would later write of his early curiosity about "the people my father spoke of with such contempt."

My father? Picture a cross between Albert Einstein and Captain Kangaroo, and you begin to get the idea. I remember him as a kindly man, soft-spoken and very precise in his speech. He recalled the Depression years vividly, and spoke bitterly of the humiliation of watching his father search desperately for work. During World War II he served in the Army, in Battery A, 136th Field Artillery, 37th Infantry Division. He spoke of the war occasionally, but only occasionally.

Like my mother, Dad grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home; like her, he started looking for answers on his own as a young adult. They met in a Unitarian Universalist church in Connecticut, and found they shared a fondness for the poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson. They were married in 1959.

My father held a master's degree in literature from Wesleyan, and taught high school English for many years before moving on to a new career on the editorial staff of Choice Magazine - a position he held from my early childhood until very late in his life. He had an unappreciated gift for oratory, I think, and enjoyed reading aloud. When he spoke, he always chose his words carefully; losing this gift with the onset of Alzheimer's must have been a very cruel fate for him.

Both of my parents were liberals, but I think Dad was more of an idealist than my Mom, in the sense of being a perfectionist about the future. He didn't share my mother's driving rage (which could be directed against anyone, at any time), but he did have a deep-seated mistrust of anything that smacked of snobbery or elitism. He respected Senator Lieberman, but found him too conservative: "He votes like a Republican," Dad once grumbled.

Curious about traditional religion, I began studying Hebrew in my mid-teens. After a year or two, I started attending services at the synagogue, and so did my father. When I left home to join the Air Force in 1981, neither of us had officially converted but we were both leaning in that direction. I converted with a Reform congregation in Tucson in 1984, and eventually had an Orthodox conversion in San Francisco in 1988.

What we both saw in Judaism was a balance of opposites: nationalism and universalism, feeling and intellect, mysticism and rationalism, tradition and growth. For both of us, too, it was a gateway into a community, an older and richer one than we could have known otherwise. We liked the way social activism and Jewish values went hand-in-hand. My father was also interested in the theological debates: the encounter with modernity, the problem of evil. He devoured books on liberal Jewish thought by people like Jacob Neusner, with whom he corresponded. (Myself, I always found the scholarly stuff a bit dry. I loved Soloveitchik, but in general I skipped the philosophizers.) Dad's real passion, though, was Jewish music. He collected recordings of the great cantors (another taste I'm afraid I didn't inherit) and in the last few years of his life he became active in the choir at the Conservative synagogue. I'll always remember the joy it gave him to be involved in the community that way - and his sorrow at not having started earlier.

I'm hard pressed to say how much I'm like my father. I do not know whether I resemble him a lot or a little. Sometimes I think I take after my mother more. She was obsessed with the quest for truth. She wanted to peel back the layers of illusion and find the secret that lay at the core of reality. Not formally educated (but with an IQ most college professors would envy), she read books on science, history, Gnosticism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Born in 1929 on the eve of the stock market crash, she had little memory of the Depression, but I believe she was deeply changed by the newsreels that she must have seen as a young woman. I don't think she ever forgave G-d for the Holocaust.

Illness came upon my father quickly. He'd been healthy all his life, but things started going wrong all at once: heart trouble, cancer, Alzheimer's. He had to leave a holiday performance in the synagogue because he was too ill to continue. He died quietly in his sleep four years ago, on the second night of Rosh Hashanah.

Mom lived on a little longer. She rarely left the house, being in poor health herself, but she enjoyed the company of her caretaker and her next-door neighbor, who also had an interest in Judaism. I don't know whether she ever made her peace with G-d. She died last year, on the second night of Passover.

After her death, I learned that she'd had her hospital records changed to list her religion as "Jewish".

- Asher Abrams

This post is my contribution to Jonathan Edelstein's "Arrival Day Blogburst" in celebration of American Jewry's 350th year. I will be posting more Jewish-themed material over the next few days (including the 11th of September).

Administrative note: Today's post was delayed due to technical problems with Blogger. My apologies to Jonathan for missing the September 7 date; perhaps we can think of today as "yomtov sheini", especially in view of the day's diaspora theme.

Please visit Jonathan Edelstein, The Head Heeb.

2004-09-06

Morning Report: September 6, 2004

Russia mourns Beslan terror victims. The first of the more than 350 known dead - over 150 of them children - were set to be laid to rest Sunday, on the first day of mourning for Russia's terror victims. Last week's agonizing four-day ordeal began when 40 to 50 terrorists seized a school in Beslan, South Ossetia, and held some 1,200 people hostage. The hostages included about 700 children aged 7 to 17. Several hostages were killed on the first day. Although some hostages were released, the death toll continued to climb daily until an exchange of heavy gunfire ended the standoff on Friday. One boy, unable to stand the thirst any longer, begged for water from one of the terrorists and was bayoneted. Ostensibly the work of Chechen separatists, the attack was almost certainly the work of al-Qaeda. Of the 27 terrorists killed, ten were identified as Arabs, not Chechens. The Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov, has denied involvement.
Details:
Debka homepage is currently carrying a timeline of the crisis.
Fox News on the aftermath of the tragedy.
The Belmont Club looks at Putin's limited options.
The Mesopotamian recalls the words of al-Jawahiri.
Little Green Footballs notes al-Qaeda's fingerprints on the operation.
LGF also quotes The Telegraph with a plea for decent Muslims to put an end to the evil being done in their name.
This blog examines a piece by Time.com.
Roger L. Simon has a number of recent posts, and all of them are worth reading.

2004-09-05

Arrival Day: 350 Years of Neocons?

Jonathan Edelstein, a.k.a. The Head Heeb, deserves a big "L'Chaim!" In addition to his very fine blog focusing on African and Israeli/Mideast affairs, he's promoting the commemoration of Arrival Day, September 7. The date marks the anniversary of the landing of the first Jewish immigrants in New Amsterdam on September 7, 1654, so this year's Arrival Day will signal some 350 years of American Jewish history. I am joining Jonathan in taking the occasion to reflect on what it means to be an American Jew.

Given that both the Jews and America are traditionally the parties on which the world's ills are blamed, it's pretty much inevitable that American Jews will end up being the scapegoats for almost everything - most recently the advent of that political faction known as the "neoconservatives", which, whatever the name may mean, is certainly proof that a cabal of Zionists in Washington are plotting to take over the world.

Sorry, I can't post the plans here. Anyway, as Nietzsche observed, "If the Jews wanted to take over the world, they'd have already done it by now." But I will be happy to join this conspiracy and post a few thoughts on being Jewish in America.

2004-09-03

Time's Tony Karon Draws Predictable Lessons from Russian Atrocity

"Hostage Bloodbath Highlights Putin's Chechen Failure" - This is the exact wording of the headline for an editorial that Time.com has drolly included in its "news" section.

The carnage that ended the hostage crisis at a school in southern Russia is a grim reminder of the abject failure of President Vladimir Putin's own "war on terror."


This, all by itself, tells you exactly where the article is going. The editorialist Tony Karon, aided by Yuri Zarakhovich, seeks to draw a close parallel between Putin's "war on terror" - which, in the writers' estimation, he is obviously losing - and President Bush's, while rigorously avoiding any actual connection between the two.

At least 150 people are reported to have been killed Friday after Russian troops stormed a school where some 300 had been held captive by a group of masked Chechen gunmen demanding that the authorities free their jailed comrades.


This gives the impression that Russian troops rashly stormed the school, precipitating enormous loss of innocent life. But as Debka reports, Russian security chief stated no military storming of besieged school was planned, only continued negotiations. Troops opened fire to save hostages’ lives when terrorists ignited explosives in the gym and fired on fleeing hostages. Trigger that prompted military acction still unclear. So while it's too early to say for sure that Time's account is wrong, we are justified in treating it skeptically.

At least 150 people are reported to have been killed Friday after Russian troops stormed a school where some 300 had been held captive by a group of masked Chechen gunmen demanding that the authorities free their jailed comrades.


But at least half of those "Chechen gunmen" weren't Chechen: Twenty hostage-takers killed, 10 of them Arabs – al Qaeda terrorists, some Saudis, according to Debka, and in keeping with MSM reports as well.

And the latest bloodshed has come scarcely a week after twin suicide-bombings [also by al-Qaeda] brought down two Russian airliners and a third wrought havoc outside a Moscow subway station, leaving more than 100 dead.


Now just in case you're still wondering where all of this is leading, skip down to near the end:
The more important lesson from President Putin's war, of course, is that military means alone cannot snuff out a politically motivated insurgency. Instead, in Chechnya — as, perhaps, in the Palestinian territories — a military response that has left open no political track to more moderate nationalist elements has tended to work in the favor of the Islamists ...


Now as you'll recall, the root cause of the problems in Israel/Palestine is the Israelis' unwillingness to negotiate or to pusue a peaceful solution; and it is the Israelis' heavy-handed tactics that have been solely responsible for the radicalization of islamist elements among the Palestinians. Well, it's the same principle here. What Putin needs to do, of course, is give the Chechen freedom fighters (even if they are Arab al-Qaeda operatives) whatever they ask for. Then, just as surely as night follows day, the Chechens will lay down their weapons and live in peace with their neighbors.

Yeah, right.

Is the tide turning?

As a matter of choice, I don't have TV in my home, and this week was one of the few times I've really regretted it. By nearly all accounts, the 2004 GOP convention was one for the history books. I've downloaded the transcripts of the major speeches, and I plan to spend the weekend reading them. Republicans all over America - both born-and-bred, and newcomers to the party like myself - have reason to be proud of their party's performance.

And Zell Miller! Wow. Can't tell you how pleased I was to learn that Chris "hardball" Matthews had finally gotten a taste of his own medicine. Heh. So, what's it like to pick on someone your own size, Chris? How's it feel?

(Bleg: Does anyone know where I can get a videotape of the Republican convention? Extra credit for Zell Miller's performance on Chris Matthews.)

Let's also reflect on how the average, undecided American must have viewed the contrast between the words spoken at the convention - some of them frivolous, many impassioned, but all sharing a bright and worthy vision for America and the world - and the antics of the buffoons cavorting on the streets outside.

So it's not surprising that the poll numbers are starting to show the effect of the Republican Convention. Now, for the first time, President Bush has a significant lead over John Kerry. And I don't think things can go anywhere but up from here for Bush. As many commentators have remarked, Kerry does not represent any ideologically cohesive voting bloc; he can attract as many supporters as he does only by virtue of the fact that he can truthfully tell supporters of position A that he's supported A, while also telling the anti-A faction that he has opposed A and supported B.

But as the date of the election draws inexorably closer, the Kerryites will begin to have the uneasy realization that they cannot say for sure whether he's for A, B, both, or neither. Many left-leaning liberals will turn to Nader or Cobb. Moderates, as they better understand the choices America faces in the Mideast and throughout the world, will support Bush.

It may be that the islamofascists are already realizing the likelihood of a second Bush term. They may be making plans now to either cut their losses, or go out in a blaze of bloodshed.

We must make sure that their losses are total, and all the blood shed is their own.

What Bush must do - NOW, not next year - is confront the IRI regime in Tehran, which is working feverishly to build enough atomic bombs to incinerate Israel and intimidate a newly free Iraq. We cannot let this happen. If you haven't done so yet, please put your name on the Iran Regime Change Petition.

The tide may be turning, but the hardest part is surely still to come.

Russian School Siege Marks New Low

Purportedly the work of Chechen separatists, the obscenity in the Russian school building in North Ossetia involved a number of Arabs:

Twenty others died in exchanges of fire with troops, at least nine of them Arabs, officials said.


It is likely that the al-Q/IRI alliance will turn its attention more to central and western Asia in the coming weeks; they may also focus more on targeting Americans. Meanwhile, we can expect Putin to deal robustly with the threat to Russia.

2004-09-02

Space.com: Mystery Aircraft/UFO Sightings on Rise

Sightings of a mysterious "black triangle" are on the rise, according to this latest article on Space.com. For my previous, related comments, see "And Iran". The current Space.com article presents theories advanced by the Las Vegas -based National Institute for Discovery Science:

A key NIDS conclusion is that the actions of these triangular craft do not conform to previous patterns of covert deployment of unacknowledged aircraft. Furthermore, “neither the agenda nor the origin of the Flying Triangles are currently known.”

The years 1990-2004 have seen an intense wave of Flying Triangle aircraft, the study observes. Sifting through reports by hundreds of eyewitnesses, the NIDS assessment states that the behavior of the vehicles “does not appear consistent with the covert deployment of an advanced DoD [U.S. Department of the Defense] aircraft.”

Rather, it is consistent with (a) the routine and open deployment of an unacknowledged advanced DoD aircraft or (b) the routine and open deployment of an aircraft owned and operated by non-DoD personnel, suggests the NIDS study.

“The implications of the latter possibility are disturbing, especially during the post 9/11 era when the United States airspace is extremely heavily guarded and monitored,” the NIDS study explains. “In support of option (a), there is much greater need for surveillance in the United States in the post 9/11 era and it is certainly conceivable that deployment of low altitude surveillance platforms is routine and open.”



Note the fine distinction: not "covert", but rather "unacknowledged"; that is (so the theory goes), the Defense spooks aren't trying too hard to keep this thing a secret - they want our adversaries to know just enough to worry them.

Good.