Tuesday, June 29, 2010

4th of July Illumination

Knowing that the 4th of July casts a heavy shadow on reading anything but beverage labels, I seek to write something that can be read by the light of the silvery sparklers and beneath the rockets’ red glare.

We should probably be asking each other what we’re doing on the 2nd of July. The “4th” commemorates a momentous vote taken on July 2, 1776, approving the American colonies’ independence from Great Britain. John Adams wrote to Abigail that Americans would be swilling beer to celebrate July 2nd for generations to come. Something to that effect.

On the 4th of July of 1776, the Declaration of Independence may have been signed by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, its chief author, and others. But according to carpers and grousers, and notably also, one reliable source, History News Network, “most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress. Several did not sign until later.” Not until January of the following year did Congress send signed copies to the thirteen states.

So, when did we start to celebrate? Philadelphia threw a big party on the 8th of July. (Have a happy 8th?) George Washington and the Continental army, encamped near New York City, heard the news, and perhaps the celebratory fireworks of muskets—colonialists will be colonialists—on the 9th of July. Georgia didn’t have the news until the 10th of August. And it didn’t cross the ocean to the British until August 30th, give or take a day or two.

In its first days, The Declaration of Independence was read aloud publicly as widely as its text was published. The likely reason for the oral rendering was to bolster the courage, and blood-sugar levels, of the militiamen about to confront the punishing British forces.

The same day we tend to look upon as the birth of the United States of America was initially observed in random American towns by enacting the ritual death of the English throne via mock funerals.

One year later, apparently no one thought of paying tribute or otherwise distinguishing the 4th of July until the 3rd of July, which totally ruled out forever by rejoicing Americans any reconsideration of the 2nd of July as a special day of any kind.

Precisely fifty years after the signing that probably wasn’t, on the 4th of July of 1826, Adams and Jefferson both died. While it’s an extraordinary coincidence, its mention rarely finds a place at the picnic table.

My favorite 4th of July? 1986. “The 4th of July of the Century.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Long-Term Unemployment of the American Mind

Reporter: Name a country that begins with U.
American: Yugoslavia?

This man may be allowed to raise children, enter public spaces, and vote.

Reporting from America, Julian Morrow of Australia’s award-winning TV show CNNNN, queried Americans:

A country that begins with U?
Second American: Utah.

It got me to posing a question to myself.

Ray: What is it that the American people have over the people of other countries?
Ray: Flagrant stupidity laced with unmindful arrogance. And not a hint of shame.

For most Americans, ignorance has become a lifestyle. They take pride in not knowing. It’s their birthright not to know! Failing to acquire little or any knowledge en route to not knowing is a bona fide rite of passage. But it is the not knowing, in and of itself, that marks the achievement of the ultimate status—never looking smarter than the guy next-door, the gang at work, or the gals in the car pool. What so proudly we hail ignorance.

Reporter: Who won the Vietnam War?
Young woman: We did. [She laughs. Calls to others,] Wait, were we even in the Vietnam War? [Off-camera response.] OK, good.

When they don’t know if they know, they giggle. It’s anything but cute. O’er the land of the free, obliviousness is a plague. These are not illiterates we’re witnessing; if they were, we could feel for them. No, these are people who comprehend and speak English well enough to leave not a shadow of a doubt: they’re too dumb to know they’re dumb, too numb to know they’re numb.

Reporter: A country that begins with U?
Third American: U-topia?

They barely know anything about anything. But they have opinions, dogmatic and diehard, about everything. They just don’t have the easy answers.

How many sides does a triangle have? Damn, four? There’s no sides… one?

Who is Fidel Castro? A singer. Kofi Annan? A drink. Tony Blair? A skater. An actor!

What religion are Buddhist monks? Islamic... I don’t know. What’s the religion of Israel? Israeli, Muslim, Islamic, and Catholic, probably, according to four different people.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are famous for… Judo-wrestling? Al Qaeda is a wing of… the Masonic Order?

Had enough? If you’re a glutton for more cultural punishment, go to “Americans Are NOT Stupid.” 24 million people already have. Can’t tell how many Americans, but note how defensive the comments.

So, what about a country that begins with U?

Reporter: What about this one? The United States of America.
Fourth American: Mmm...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Liberal Theory of Relativity

The Yankees are winning games, so I don’t care if the Celtics are. While oil keeps spilling into the Gulf, I can be patient with our super’s inability to staunch the water trickling through my toilet bowl. As long as people of all faiths respect what the Jewish people continue to contribute to the arts and sciences (and belt an occasional show tune), they can judge us all they want. Everything’s relative.

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” goes the proverb. Maybe my new eyeglasses have something to do with it. Maybe it’s that my grandson has started losing his teeth and I’m not losing mine! I have perspective.

I know to eschew the Yankees v. Phillies and Celtics v. Lakers long enough to hear my president address the country about the oil spill. Setting myself apart from 51% of the country, I know I can listen, respectfully and objectively, to what he has to say.

I’m prepared for him to begin by stating “our nation faces a multitude of challenges,” and to enumerate, “At home… to recover and rebuild from a recession…” and “Abroad… taking the fight to al Qaeda wherever it exists.” I do a perspective check for “wherever it exists.” I have it in my rear-view mirror.

We get to the big challenge: “Because there has never been a leak of this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology.” And the limitations of human beings!, I want to add, but there’s no time—the president is “multituding” the challenges: “…just after the rig sank, I assembled a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers to tackle this challenge.” I’m ready and waiting with perspective on this one. Much as I wouldn’t wish any ill spill on President Obama, far better it happened on his watch than his predecessor’s, so that W’s VP couldn’t assemble “a team of our nation's best scientists and engineers” from
BP “to tackle this challenge.”

It didn’t take long for President Obama to provide the undeniable perspective, vividly. With one word: epidemic. “The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years.”

I listen and learn that “30,000 personnel… are working across four states.” Jobs, I think. “Thousands of ships and other vessels are responding.” Heartening, I think, but am relieved that a flotilla from Turkey is not among them.

It’s nigh onto the fourth inning at Yankee Stadium, I’m guessing, when the president says, “…if something isn't working, we want to hear about it,” and I know he isn’t thinking of my toilet.

Friday, June 11, 2010

SOS: From an Israeli Naval Commando

I am posting the following letter without comment; readers can form their own conclusions. It was written by a member of Shayetet 13, the elite Israel Defense Forces naval commando unit that intercepted the flotilla ship bound for Gaza, the Mavi Marmara, on May 31st.

Dear Friends and Family-

This is Amir writing you after reading what you sent to my father.

As you know, it was my unit and my friends who were on the ship.

My commander was injured badly as a result of the "pacifists" violence.

I want to tell you how he was injured so you could tell the story.

It shows just how horrible and inhuman were the activists.

My commander was the first soldier that rappelled down from the helicopter to the ship.

When he touched ground, he got hit in the head with a pole and stabbed in the stomach with a knife. when he drew out his secondary weapon-a handgun (his primary weapon was a regular paintball gun- "tippman 98 custom") he was shot in the leg.

He managed to fire a single shot before he was tossed from the balcony by 4 arab activists, to the lower deck (a 12 feet fall). he was then dragged by other activists to a room in the lower deck were he was stripped down by 2 activists.

They took off his vest, helmet and shirt. leaving him with only his pants and shoes on. when they finished they took a knife and expanded the wound he already had in his stomach.

They cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out.

When they finished they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. he was conscious the whole time.

If you are asking your self why they did all that here comes the reason.

They wanted to show the soldiers their commanders body so they will be demoralized and scared.

Luckily, when they walked him on the deck a soldier saw him and managed to shoot the activist that was walking him down the outside corridor.

He shot him with a special non lethal bullet that didn't kill him.

My commander managed to jump from the deck to the water and swim to an army rescue boat (his guts still out of his body and now in salty sea water). that was how he was saved..

The activists that did this to him are alive and now in turkey treated as heroes.

I am sorry if I described this with too many details, but I thought it was necessary for the credibility.

Please tell this story to anyone who will listen.

I think that these days you are one of Israel's best spokesman.

Thanks and Shabat Shalom!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Club, A Knife, A Metal Bar, And Thou...

We’re a millennium beyond the great Persian poet Omar Khayyam extolling “A Jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou beside me singing in the wilderness.”

The last time I sailed the Mediterranean I didn’t say to my wife at 4 a.m., “Let’s go up on deck to look at the moon, or wait for sunrise… and bring a club and a knife with you—and a metal bar, if you have one handy."

The last time I joined a protest, I was armed with a candle. That, and what feels like a millennium of separating the wheat from the chaff since then, brings me to grapple with the grand flotilla “peace” movement.

The Israelis were mugged. Their commandos may well have turned the wrong cloud at the wrong time, but as misguided, unwarranted, over-the-top or downright foolish as their method may have been, they dropped into a trap. The do-gooders were lying-in-wait for them with open armament. As a shipboard bard might have versified wistfully after the drubbing and retaliatory fire, “A club, a knife, a metal bar, and thou beside me swinging in the wilderness.”

Let’s deal with this summarily. The Israelis blundered, hugely. But the flotilla of 546 “peaceful” activists knew what they were sailing into and what they were inviting by doing so. There’s history!—a three-year blockade; accordance with maritime law; previous flotillas intercepted; and Egypt’s co-existing blockade and independent use of force, lethal and conveniently overlooked.

Anyone desiring to stage a world-wide attention-getting event couldn’t do better. And that’s what the “humanitarians” of the six-ship flotilla wanted. According to a prior statement from their Gaza Freedom March, “A violent response from Israel will breathe new life into the Palestine solidarity movement….”

So, let’s think about this. Why does Israel have to justify inspecting the goods of six ships, or even one, from a foreign country entering its waters and bound for its shores? What country does less? What country today doesn’t have customs officers or the equivalent? What country allows anyone entry without a valid passport? What country in this day and age doesn’t have a responsibility to its citizens to protect them from harm, external or internal? The United States has a Coast Guard. And a Border Patrol. China built a Great Wall to thwart intruders from the north. Imperial Russia chose a wider gauge for its railroad tracks to prevent invasion via rail from Europe.

In 2008, a United Nations provision called for ships belonging to Iran’s state–owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, known as Irisl, "to be boarded and inspected at sea or in port if," according to this morning’s New York Times, “there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ they are carrying contraband forbidden by Security Council resolutions on Iran.” The Times’ report continues, “In three boardings, two by the United States Navy and one by Israeli commandos, authorities said they had discovered a virtual arms bazaar, including thousands of Katyusha rockets, grenades and mortar shells, believed to be intended for Hezbollah.” A virtual arms bazaar! How much evidence do Israelis, or their even-handed critics, need?

In New York City, a new Jewish Community Center deems it necessary to block its entrance with concrete posts to protect the lives and limbs of all those on its premises. I’ve yet to see a Manhattan church or mosque that has had to resort to such measures—upright reminders, sadly in particular to children attending to learn “Thou shalt love…” by Commandment and social ethics, that they are hated and randomly in danger for being what they are. Try to tell me Jews have no right to protect themselves and their children—and then, that the Israelis have no right to intercept a flotilla that may carry ill to them or to blockade an area that dispatches, by air and land, missiles, mines or suicide bombs of death, disfigurement, dismemberment and destruction.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Muggy Day

While other New Yorkers were spending their sunny Memorial Day Saturday on beaches, admiring others’ tans and working patiently on theirs, I spent mine in Manhattan’s 20th Precinct with my daughter Lauren, looking at mug shots.

Nineteen hours earlier… how do I express this gently?... my DAUGHTER was MUGGED! In broad Daylight-Saving-Time daylight! For an iPod and an iPhone! Hence, iBrood and iBristle.

You tell yourself it could happen anywhere. But it didn’t happen anywhere, it happened in our “backyard.” In our beloved city. Within the confines of our Upper West Side 70s oasis. Out of the blue!, an unsettling interloper on our Isle of Contentment. A menacing anomaly to old-city blocks teeming with good and multi-cultural plenty.

Lauren had just emerged from a subway station on Central Park West, a half block from her apartment, had just put her phone in the same hand as her iPod when a man walking toward her seized both. As she instinctively clung to them, he spun her around and to the ground, and ran off, iLoot in hand. She rose, looked at a finger that was pointing in a direction perpendicular to where it belonged and, presumably in shock, pulled it into place and, shocking as it sounds if you know her, started running after the hood, screaming “Stop him!” Three young men in front of her gamely gave chase, but lost sight of him. The moment Lauren stopped, she felt the pain, excruciating, not only in her finger, but in her shoulder. An NYPD squad car came to her aid in moments, and its officers called an ambulance.

It all happened not only in sprinting distance from Lauren’s apartment, but also came within a block of her sister Haley’s and family, and two blocks from ours—The Fox Compound, as I’ve described the wheel of our family’s proximity. Our hospital of choice is all of a mile away.

Being transported by ambulance on the streets of Manhattan is by no means a pain-free experience; automobile shocks weren’t built to absorb NYC potholes. (These are the kinds of things you start to take perverse pride in after you’ve been here for awhile.) Lauren winced and groaned and more than once pronounced her shoulder broken—but, to be honest, when you’ve raised a drama queen, you tend to process everything to scale.

Yes, Lauren is an actress, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows her world that the boyishly-wise doctor administering to her at the hospital and the dashing NYPD detective who entered the room to begin investigating the case were straight out of central casting. Even their names, Walker and Brennan, seemed chosen by the studios.

X-rays revealed two fractures, her clavicle and her ring finger. The initial good news was that both fractures could heal by themselves. Further scrutiny revealed otherwise; Lauren would need two operations. At that point, the good news was that the operations could be done at the same time. The bad news was that the next day ushered in the holiday weekend, so she couldn’t be operated on until the next week. Worse news followed—her writing hand—her
Facebook and texting hand!—would have to be in a cast.

You tell yourself bones heal. She didn’t hit her head, didn’t mar that beautiful face, and, watching her take everything in stride, it didn’t alter her beautiful outlook on life. Lips not moving, you tell yourself you should be livid, outraged! You know your lines, father, play your role! But all you feel and all you are is relieved.

In the late 50s and early 60s, a popular TV show set and shot on the streets of New York always ended with a narrator saying, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” This has been one of them, that’s all. It
could happen anywhere.