The Left’s Hypocrisy over Russia

Just a reminder that Hillary and the Democrats have a long history of colluding with Russia. Turning a blind eye to annexations in Crimea and Georgia, Putin’s support of Ukrainian rebels, the murder of 283 passengers on flight MH17, and the Russian support of Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Hillary The Real Deplorable T-Shirt

Yes the Hillary “nasty woman” shirt meme is already a day old and therefore old news, but I had to reinstall my copy of Photoshop Elements so it took me awhile to leap in.

The Expanse: Forget Star Trek and Watch This Show

I’ll admit I used to be a Trekkie. I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek and had a Starship Enterprise model hanging from my bedroom ceiling. When the movies came out I saw them in the theater. When Star Trek Next Generation came out, I loved the show so much that the Wife’s father taped it and sent us VHS episodes to us in Japan. I even followed the spin-off Deep Space Nine.

But then it became a bit repetitive. I never got into Voyager with Captain Janeway sounding too much like a dalek. And the remakes? I’ve skipped them. I even hear there’s yet another Star Trek themed show destined for TV. My first question: Why?

My first literary love was SF. In my teens I devoured writers like Ben Bova, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. I subscribed to the long defunct OMNI magazine which lit my imagination like no other magazine. I learned that there is a lot of good science fiction out there with universes as detailed and inviting as anything imagined in Star Trek. Think I’m wrong? Go read Larry Niven’s Ringworld series and get back to me in a few years.

So I had pretty much given up on science fiction TV even though there is a whole cable network devoted to it.

Then my wife made me sit through the pilot of The Expanse, and the only thing left to decide was where to put an OPA tattoo.

Detective Miller wonders where he lost his hat.

This series is good. Really good. So good I haven’t felt this excited about a show since the second season of Star Trek Next Generation when it began to get interesting. There are great writeups on this show. See here. Here. And here. Why do I like this show?

It’s realistic. When a single threat blows up in space it becomes a threat of a million little pieces. Physics is a harsh mistress, and that enemy ship speeding towards you that you’ve just hit with a rail gun? Well guess what? Now the remains of that ship are punching holes in yours.

It’s well written. The wife and I have seen a lot of good television over our combined 110 years. We’re also very well read. So it takes a lot to surprise us. Well, actually, let me dial that back and say it takes good writing to surprise us, and The Expanse is good writing. It’s unpredictable but not completely chaotic with threads that pass through the episodes and tie the series together in a very well-written ball.

The UN Sucks. Well I am an anti-UN conservative and the portrayal of the UN as world government of an earth where the haves live on the moon and the havenots live in the streets of the cities is poetic justice. Oh and they can’t blame the Republicans because they’ve all gone to Mars.

The Universe is incredibly detailed. The belters, the people living and extracting wealth for Earth and Mars, speak a language that is about what you would expect for a multi-ethnic group of people living together in the asteroid belt. The language has its roots in English but follows the development of creole languages and is carefully constructed. Even the gestures are a mix of Japanese, Indian and other ethnicities. Life in the belt is very Blade Runner-esque, which is a good thing given how great that movie is. Even detective Miller, one of the main characters, wears a fedora just like Gaff.

The future is limitless. The Expanse is based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey, and has only touched on the story in books 2 and 3. There is no limit to where it can go, whereas Star Trek will always be constrained by previous series and movies. A new Star Trek show brings not only the baggage of its audience’s expectations, but the limits of the stories told in its universe. Star Trek Voyager attempted to go beyond that by being teleported to the other side of the universe, but in the end it gave in to temptation and made it back to the Federation. This show has no such limits, and with a new series its audience’s baggage is a small carry-on that can be safely stowed under the seat in front of you. Which leads me to…

It’s fresh. The Earth vs Mars vs the Belt. All three groups are battling to stay alive and independent. Mars dreams of terraforming the planet and his held back by an agreement with Earth. The Belt sees Mars and Earth take and take and give little back in return. No wonder the OPA, the belter resistance movement, flourishes under these conditions.

And it even has a sense of humor. Mormons in Space. Enough said.

The Mormon Interstellar Ship Nauvoo

Oh and Mythbusters’ Adam Savage shows up in the season 2 finale in a bit role. How cool is that?

There is good science fiction around these days, and it’s about time that TV reflected it. We need more shows like The Expanse (and we also need more seasons of it too. So far we’ve only been promised season 3), not another retread of Star Trek. 50 years is enough for that show, let it live on in our collective nostalgia. Instead lets see strange new worlds and boldly go where no TV show has gone before.

Make it so, SyFy Channel. Make it so!

The Lesson of Julius Caesar For Trump Haters

The New York Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar” is making news, mainly for turning the play into the assassination of Donald Trump complete with the main character’s wearing of a yellow wig, having a wife who speaks with an eastern European accent, and assassins played by women and minorities. The controversy has caused some sponsors to pull backing, others to pledge their continued support. It’s worth remembering the facts of the actual assassination of Julius Caesar, facts that would likely cool the excitement the play has engendered among Trump-haters.

Like Trump Caesar was a populist who disparaged the ruling elite even though he was born into it, a member of the Julia family which claimed descent from the Trojan prince Aeneas, the son of the goddess Venus. Caesar went on to build an illustrious career as a general and was popular with his men. His political career also endeared him to the common people so that when the Senate tried to arrest him for treason, he descended upon Rome with his troops and took power and his Senate opponents led by Pompey fled. He hunted them down but pardoned his political enemies who stayed behind in Rome.

The Roman Senate was nothing like its US counterpart. Few people had the right to vote and those that had it faced a list of selected candidates by the elite. Voting in a Roman election wasn’t meaningful to the male Roman citizen who did it other than to repay the debt to his patron, usually the neighborhood politician who he owed a favor to. In fact the patronage system that operated in Democratic Machine-era cities of Chicago, New York and Philadelphia would be very familiar to ancient Romans.

Caesar cut deeply into the power of the ruling elite, so it was only a matter of time that the enemies he pardoned allied with his former friends worried about the power he was concentrating into his own hands. The conspirators evidently believed their own propaganda. They thought they were fighting to save the liberty of the republic and that the common people would view their murder of Caesar as an act against tyranny. They believed they would be celebrated as liberators of Rome and even made a coin commemorating the event.

Unfortunately their murder of Caesar backfired. The people were so distraught by his murder that at his funeral pyre they began to tear wood off buildings and grabbed furniture from nearby dwellings and threw it into the fire. Instead of being applauded for their heroic act his assassins were hunted down in the streets by angry mobs. Suetonius writes, “Immediately after the funeral the commons ran to the houses of Brutus and Cassius with firebrands, and after being repelled with difficulty, they slew Helvius Cinna when they met him, through a mistake in the name, supposing that he was Cornelius Cinna, who had the day before made a bitter indictment of Caesar and for whom they were looking; and they set his head upon a spear and paraded it about the streets.”

The elite had lost touch with the common people and simply assumed that they felt as they did, that Caesar had taken power away from them without understanding that the common people had no power, and Caesar’s edicts had benefited them more than those made by his elitist predecessors. Within three years all of Caesar’s assassins were dead and the elites that opposed him destroyed, their property confiscated.

The parallels are eerie. A man of the people born of the elite. An out-of-touch elite who doesn’t understand the popularity of their object of hatred. Their drive to destroy him at all costs. How far will these parallels go?

But let me end with this: Trump is not Julius Caesar and America is not Rome. Julius Caesar had complete power when he died, Trump can’t even get a travel ban enacted. America has a system of checks and balances that no president can destroy whereas the government of Rome laid completely at Caesar’s disposal. Portraying Trump as Caesar not only shows the ignorance of the play’s producers about Roman history, it proves their ignorance about American civics, and it makes Trump look much more powerful than he is.

The Run, Hide and Tell Policy: Proof the UK Has Surrendered

Has it come to this?

Has it come to the point where the mother of our country has to tell her citizens to run and cower from Islamic terrorists?

Is this the country whose leader once pledged “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”? And that was said when the UK was being faced with daily devastating attacks across the whole of England that killed hundreds by the world’s largest and most effective air force of the time, not just a ragtag bunch of religious zealots wearing tin cans armed with carving knives.

Has it really come to this? How?

What’s next for the UK? How many jihadist attacks must happen before the UK’s Metropolitan Police updates their graphic?

Here’s my version on what such a graphic would look like if it were released by my local North Carolina county Sheriff’s Office.

Memorial Day 2017 – Remembering Lance Corporal John F Kanaczet Jr

As far as I’m concerned secular America has a single holy day, and it’s today. While the day has devolved into a day off to swim, shop or barbecue I think it’s important to remember and give thanks to those who gave everything so that we would be free.

Today I’d like to thank John Francis Kanaczet Jr from Providence Rhode Island.

According to his memorial page, “John was the son of Evelyn Ferreira of Providence and stepson of Joseph P. Ferreira and the son of John F. Kanaczet Sr. also of Providence RI. He enlisted in the US Marine Corps on October 16 1967 in Providence RI. With orders for duty in Vietnam he arrived in DaNang on March 26, 1968 and was assigned to Company K, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st MARDIV (Rein) FMF.

While in their ambush position northwest of Duyen Son hamlet the men observed an enemy force moving along a trail west towards the foothills and opened fire. Gun fire was returned by the VC wounding one Marine and mortally wounding LCpl Kanaczet while quickly withdrawing into the night.”

He was 19 years old. Today he would be 67. He had no brothers or sisters and his father passed away the following year, living just long enough to experience the True Hell of burying a child. His mother passed away in 2001.

Today isn’t about shopping, swimming or barbecues. It’s not about the living but about the dead, those who gave everything in the name of Freedom for us. It’s about young men like John Francis Kanaczet Jr.

Thank you John F. Kanaczet Jr. Thank you.

Israeli Postcards 2017: Feeling Jewish

Coming of age in the 1970s when Israel was often in the news, usually battling for its survival, I developed a strong affinity to the Jewish state even though I knew little as a Catholic about the Jews. In high school the Jesuits exposed me to other religions including Judaism, and I remember coming away from my theology classes with the feeling that one had to be a lawyer to understand all the rules of that religion. A Jewish sounding name in my background led me to believe that I had Jewish ancestry*, but that wasn’t the reason why my support of the state of Israel survived my liberal phase (although I do remember writing some nasty things about Ariel Sharon on the Internet back in the late 1990s.) In a way I simply felt a strong attachment to the state of Israel even though I knew little about the Jewish religion. I even on rare occasion “felt Jewish.”

It turns out I wasn’t alone. There are 1.2 million non-Jewish Americans who feel Jewish. “On political matters, this cohort looks different from both secular and religious Jews. About 40 percent are politically conservative, compared with only 19 percent of Jews. Almost 42 percent of the “Jews by affinity” are Republican or Republican-leaning, compared with 41 percent Democratic or Democratic-leaning. In contrast, about 70 percent of Jews are affiliated with or lean toward the Democratic Party, with only 22 percent identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning. This group of Jews by affinity is also strongly tied to the concept of Israel as the Jewish homeland — as strongly as those who are actually Jewish. They are also about as likely as American Jews to believe the United States doesn’t support Israel enough.”

When I arrived in Israel on May 6, 2017 and visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem I was disappointed to feel no physical connection to the place. But I was fascinated with the Jews visiting there. The Wife and I stayed at the Wall for hours watching people come and go and the swallows pirouetting under the lights illuminating the Wall. Since it was shabbat orthodox men wearing the shtreimel, the overly-large fur hat, socialized with others or prayed at the wall. In the women’s section women did the same, many wearing the scarves showing they were married while others were bareheaded or towed along kids.

Temple Mount and Western Wall, May 7, 2017

And while a kippa would be perfect to cover up my male-pattern baldspot, and a shtreimel would just be a blast to wear on a Saturday afternoon in my neck of the woods in North Carolina, I wouldn’t consider converting to Judaism because I am not ethnically Jewish and doing so would feel fake to me and disrespectful to the Jewish people. During my visit I did not feel they were my people, but while I wasn’t a member of the Tribe, my respect for the Jews remained and even deepened during my visit to Israel.

A Bar Mitzvah celebrated at the Western Wall, May 11, 2017

Clarinet Player Carrying Shofar and Handgun at the Western Wall, May 11, 2017

I knew Israel was a small country but it wasn’t until I set foot there that I realized how small it was. That sliver of red in the map below? That’s Israel. Islamic states cover 19% of the world’s area, 25.9m square kilometers, yet they refuse to have 22,072 square kilometers or less than a tenth of a percent of the land they control. The idea this country was being pushed by foreign governments to give up land struck me as insane. It was the equivalent of a starving man being prodded by his well-fed neighbors to give away his food to them. Of course this assumes that the Islamic world views Israel as a territory issue when it’s really a religious issue, one that won’t be settled until Islam changes.

Map Comparing Israel and Islamic Nations – source: Sharia Unveiled

The guide we hired had served in Israeli intelligence in a previous career, he nevertheless believed in a 2-state solution. He believed the Israeli Arabs would provide the bridge to the Palestinians that the Israeli Jews were looking for. “It isn’t in our nature to rule the Palestinians in the territories, to subject them to indignities,” he said. “We need to make peace with them.” But how? The Israeli Arabs could help, he believed, though I didn’t understand his explanation as to how.

We talked in the car for hours during our travels and over drinks at the end of our tour, but I couldn’t escape a feeling of hopelessness that began to pervade my thoughts during the final days of our stay.

Israel was small, too small. The holiest site in Judaism the Western Wall, is technically on the Arab side of the Green Line and is considered “occupied territory” by the international community including the United States to the point where even today President Trump is being discouraged from visiting the place with Prime Minister Nethanyahu. Al-Aksa mosque sits literally on top of their temple. Al-Aksa is the third holiest site behind Mecca and Medina. Why are the Israelis being asked to give up so much when they have so little, while Muslims who have so much are asked to give up so little? It didn’t seem fair to me.

The Israelis could have done in Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 what the Serbs would do to the Croats and Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s: They could have forced the Arabs out of the entire “occupied territories” at gun point, ethnically cleansing the region of Arabs and making it impossible for UN Resolution 242 calling for two states in the area to ever come to pass. Israel would have paid a terrible diplomatic price in the short term, but in the long term it would have had the room it needed to build a secure and viable Jewish state. But the Israelis played by the rules, and now they find themselves in an impossible situation where they must occupy the Palestinians to protect themselves. They don’t want to do it and the Palestinians don’t want them to do it, but the Palestinians aren’t willing to leave them alone if they stop.

Roman Coin Commemorating Emperor Vespasian’s Conquering of Judea AD70 - “Judaea Capta” Silver Denarius Showing Mourning Jewess and Captured Armor

Jerusalem is the Mecca of the Jews. Their ties to the city go back 3,000 years and are well documented by the ancient historians including Tacitus and most prominently, Flavius Josephus. The archaeological record places the Hebrews in Jerusalem and Israel 1,600 years before Mohammad founded the religion of Islam. The ancient Romans called the area by its name “Judea – the land of the Jews” until emperor Hadrian renamed it Palestine and massacred and exiled the Jews from their land as punishment for the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD136.  The Jewish claim to Jerusalem is historically and culturally stronger than any American claim to the land of the United States barring those made by native Americans. Yet western Leftists are determined to steal this birthright for every living Jew and send them back to the ghettos and pale settlements, living at the whims of gentiles.

Jerusalem looking westward from the Mount of Olives, May 12, 2017

On a tour of the City of David, several of our group were young married orthodox Jews from New York who spoke a mix of Yiddish and English to each other. When our guide asked us where the Wife and I were from and we said North Carolina, one of the Hassidim brought up the topic of politics. “Oh you must have voted for Trump,” he said somewhat condescendingly. How could an orthodox Jew be a liberal, I wondered. I answered I had, but that when I was his age I had been a liberal. “So what happened to change your mind?” he asked. “9-11,” I said. “I decided I wanted to grind our enemies into dust instead of trying to make them like us.” I realized he was probably less than 12 years old when that event happened, and he seemed surprised that I was unabashedly a strong supporter of the State of Israel. I was somewhat taken aback by his lackadaisical attitude on the subject. How could a young Orthodox Jew not back Israel? “You Jews have to trust yourselves,” I told him. “You can’t trust gentiles. We’ll eventually sell you out,” I said remembering the various pogroms in Russia, the expulsion of Jews from England and Spain, and the West’s immigration bans on Jews from Europe during the Holocaust. “You have to protect this country at all cost regardless of what the UN tells you.”

We left the city at 3am in a taxi that sped through “occupied territory” and a military checkpoint at the border for the 40 minute ride to the airport outside of Tel Aviv where we were questioned in the taxi by well-trained Israeli soldiers as they examined our passports. We had been told to arrive 3 hours early at the airport to account for security checks, but after the initial questioning at the entrance to the airport we didn’t encounter any more intensive screening. “Israeli security is based on two principles: intelligence and profiling,” our guide had told us. I had mentioned to him the controversy in the US over profiling, and how TSA felt the need to pat down geriatric passengers and infants. Wasn’t it racist? I asked. “Perhaps but it works,” was his answer.

So what did I learn from this trip? I learned that while Israel bristles with nuclear weapons and is protected by its strong and healthy youth, it is too small and has little room for mistakes. I learned that I have a deep smoldering anger towards American Jews who continue supporting the Democratic Party as it sinks into anti-Semitism. I learned that I don’t have a clue how peace will descend on that country and its neighbors, and that UN resolutions and settlement bans have no relationship to what’s in or under the ground.

I also learned while sitting outside al-Aksa mosque during the call to prayer that I didn’t hate Muslims. There was a beauty in Islam, a profound and spiritually moving force that came through the voice of the muezzin that I found frustrating. Did Islam really have to be incompatible with modernity and the existence of other religions? Isn’t there a way we could have both the call to prayer and the sounding of the shofar in this world, and perhaps even in this very land**? The takeover of Islam by Wahhabi clerics is a relatively recent phenomenon. Is there hope for a less lethal, less intolerant strain of Islam to reassert itself, one that would allow the religion to coexist with others?

And then the realization hit me. In my heart I wanted diversity, true diversity. I wanted a world where people believed different beliefs, wore shtreimels and kufis, ate halal, kosher, vegan or barbecue, spoke different languages, even impossible-sounding ones like Hebrew and Arabic and lived differently. I saw the Left as demanding conformity, trying to place the world in an ideological straitjacket where people were supposed to have the same correct beliefs, eat the same vegan and gluten-free foods, and live the same low-carbon footprint way. The Left had hijacked the word “diversity” and like so much of what it touches it corrupted it, turning it into its opposite. The Left once worried about the cultural imperialism of the United States and the Americanization of the world, but now it offered its own ideological  imperialism and encouraged the cultural imperialism by Wahhabi Islam over the native cultures of Europe.

I realized that even after everything I’ve seen in this world I remain at heart an idealist. I really do want to see the Jews and Muslims live together in peace in the Middle East although I recognize I will never live to see such a day.

I left Israel with more questions than answers but that’s okay. Israel is there and I will go back to her when the time is right. And until then I will continue doing everything in my limited power to support her.
—-

*The name turned out to be 100% ethnically German. I was able to trace it back to the 16th century and found no traces of Jewish ancestry in the line. It is possible the line converted to Christianity prior to that, which brings up an interesting question: Would I convert if I learned I was ethnically Jewish? It’s an entertaining question because my honest answer surprises me. I could hear my wife asking “One word: Bacon.” Or the shtreimel? My choice surprises me but thankfully it’s just a hypothetical. For now I remain 100% gentile Irish and Slav.

**It’s worth noting that today in Israel you can hear both the Muslim call to prayer and the Jewish shofar horn sounding the beginning of shabbat. Israelis don’t ban Muslims from practicing their religion, say, by visiting al-Aksa mosque, something one might expect “occupiers” to do. Yet the Waqf that controls the Temple Mount bans Jews from visiting there in the same way that Muslim authorities ban Christians and Jews from practicing their religion in Muslim countries. Proof that the Jews stink at being “occupiers” and Muslims have a ways to go before they accept the existence of other religions no matter how many “COEXIST” bumperstickers liberals slap on their Priuses.

Israeli Postcards 2017: Jewish Stories

In the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem at the craft beer stall the bartender’s accent gives him away. “I’m from Baltimore,” he says, and he’s lived in Israel for 7 years. I ask him what brought him to Jerusalem. “I wanted to be part of the Jewish Story,” he says, then adds looking at the Wife and me. “Everyone can be part of the Jewish story. Even those who hate Jews, they are part of the Jewish Story too.”

The Machane Market May 8, 2017

We find a grocery store as Shabbat looms and closes the local restaurants. As the clerk struggles with my worn-out credit card, the woman waiting behind us cracks a joke about it. We get to talking and she says, “You don’t need to eat with Arabs,” and invites us to shabbos dinner at her apartment. Over dinner preparations she tells her story, about converting to Judaism after leading a dissolute life in the American Midwest and finding freedom and comfort in her adopted religion. Her daughter, American born, now volunteers with the IDF and studies to become a medic. Like so many Israeli youngsters I find the uniform she wears makes her look taller and stronger than American girls her age. “I wish you could meet my son,” I sigh, and I tell her about the looming responsibilities waiting him. She nods politely but clearly the two have their feet in completely different worlds.

Prayers in the Kotel wall, underground tunnels May 11, 2017

Our guide is ex-Israeli intelligence. As he drives us back to our hotel we are stranded for an hour in a traffic jam outside of Jerusalem. For two days I’ve avoided asking him much about his background, but with our employment of him drawing to a close the Wife and I ask him about it. He tells the story of being hired as a consultant for the Mexican government. The Mexican police official who hired him wanted him to examine the police force and come up with a package to create a completely corruption-free force. For a year our Israeli guide alternates between Israel and Mexico City. He comes up with a plan and the police official signs off on it, asking him to begin implementing it immediately. So he spends several weeks teaching his plan to three Mexican police officers with the intent that they would then teach others, and within a short time the police official would have a core of corruption-proof police officers he could build an entire force around.

One day while the Israeli guide is back in Israel, the three Mexican police officers he had trained are confronted by a large group of police officers from other divisions. Their guns are taken away and they are stood against a wall at gun point. But instead of shooting them, the officers take their pictures with cell phone cameras. The officers get the point and resign on the spot.

Our guide is told his services are no longer needed since the report had been accepted and would be implemented “in due time.” Our guide says, “I had created a completely corruption-proof plan, but it turns out it wasn’t implemented the way I demanded.” Evidently the official who had hired him had trusted one of his own people instead of maintaining secrecy our guide had required.

The traffic jam frees without reason and we are soon back on our way, the guide expertly driving the car through the freed up blocks of cars and trucks on the highway with lampposts festooned with Israeli flags, the horror of the scene he described hanging in the cool night air.

A 900 person Delegation of Canadian Jews Parade to the Western Wall near the Zion Gate, May 11, 2017

Israeli Postcards 2017: Preparations

My first awareness of the Jews and Israel probably was typical for Catholics, the stories of the Bible told to us as children at school and church. But my first awareness of the State of Israel and the Jews fighting to keep their state alive was in October 1973, in the TV news pictures and videos coming out of Israel during the Yom Kippur War. I wasn’t very old at that time, but I had been sensitive to political events starting with Nixon’s visit to China the year before as well as the snowballing Watergate hearings that gradually preempted weekday afternoon soaps and game shows. Although young the importance of far away events in and around Israel made an impression upon me, and my admiration for the country and its people quickly took root. Those feelings grew the older I became and the more I studied about the Jews and their religion as well as the politics of the region in high school, and especially while pursuing a degree in political science in college. Even in the years afterwards through my liberal phase and as I aged into conservatism and libertarianism I never wavered in my respect and admiration for the Jews and their fragile state in the Middle East.

But I had never been there and seen the place for myself. Until now, deep into middle age.

Jerusalem, The Western Wall, May 6, 2017

The seeds of our next trip are always planted in our last, and I remember the Wife mentioning Israel while we were roving the streets of Rome last October. A few days after our return she began tracking air fares and reading about the best times to visit, and when prices dropped soon after Trump’s election we had our tickets. A few weeks later we had our hotel, a highly-rated hotel in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. Over the next few months the Wife developed an itinerary centered around Jerusalem with day trips to Masada (a must given my interest in ancient Rome), the Dead Sea, En Gedi, Caesarea (more ancient Roman stuff), and Acre. Due to the necessities of our careers we couldn’t spend much time on the trip – only 7 days in country – so we made an important decision: we hired a private guide and car for 2 days. Traveling is always a balance between time and money, and being tight with money I balked at the expense. But like so often in Life in the end the Wife was right.

I’ll admit I was nervous about our safety on the trip. Every news event involving Israel or happening in Israel caught my attention. I queried my Jewish friends and others about their experiences in Israel. Was it safe to walk through the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem? How about Mount of Olives and the pilgrim’s walk to the various sites on its slope? I figured that our Israeli private guide would avoid taking us through the so-called “Occupied Territories”. In the end I would bathe in the Dead Sea outside of Israel proper, travel numerous times in and out of the “Occupied Territories,” and experienced the Arab Quarter like so many tourists who travel to Jerusalem without incident. And besides, I was with the Wife, my best friend in the world. If anything happened to us we were together – and what better way to exit the world than with your best friend in the holiest country on Earth? I’m sure G-d awards extra points for that. But being the cautious man I am, I did make sure the Kid knew our itinerary and knew where important papers were (those of us deep in middle age need to pay more attention to that even when we’re not traveling abroad). For the past several trips I carry my Verizon cell phone and for $10/day I can use it abroad without difficulty except for things like getting woken up by a US originated junk call at 2:30am in Jerusalem.

Israeli soldiers waiting to be taken on a tour outside the Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem May 7, 2017

Our itinerary had us arriving on Saturday afternoon and leaving the following Saturday morning. Traveling on Shabbat limits choices in terms of restaurants and activities, but in the end we managed just fine. The New Israeli Sheckel (NIS), the currency of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, was a new experience for the foreign currency desk of our regional bank (I’ve yet to meet a practicing Jew in North Carolina after living here almost 8 years), but a few quick Google searches got us a few hundred dollars in local currency to start our trip off. There are a handful of bank ATMs in Jerusalem that Americans can use their ATM cards in without getting killed by fees, none in the Old City, and our guide took us to one after I’d exhausted the sheckels I’d brought into the country.

The big preparations for the trip had been made during the Winter, and we made the final preparations as the months remaining turned to weeks then days. For once we were packed and prepared in advance, so our last hours at home passed leisurely instead of the stressful, panic-filled way they usually do.

So here I was, a self-proclaimed non-Jewish Zionist, heading to Israel for his first trip. All the articles I’d read over the years. All the classes I took in college. All the Bernard Lewis lectures and books, all the media I’d consumed discussing the Jews and the Muslims and Arab-Israeli conflict I’d devoured over the decades would now be put to the test.

And what would this trip to Israel teach me?

That I didn’t know jack about any of it.

Desert near Ma’ala Adumim (West Bank), May 9, 2017

Just back from Israel

Israel – the land of the Jews, Druze, and happy goats.

More to come

Cord Cutting 2017

Back in Dec 2015 I wrote an update to my experience cord cutting, ending my subscription to DirecTV having cancelled my service in June of that year. Here’s an update.

So approaching two years of living without DirecTV or cable television. So how do I feel about that? Do I miss commercial pay television? That laughing you hear over the Internet is me. Having spent roughly $7,000 on pay TV till that point I reckon that since June 2015 I have saved roughly $60 a month, or over $1,300, and I still watch a ton of TV. I currently subscribe to Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu (although I’m about ready to ditch it), HBO Now, Acorn TV and recently added Crunchyroll for Japanese anime and drama all via a Roku 3. I probably watch an average of 3 hours of TV a day, less than most Americans, but what I do watch is much better quality, shows like Grimm, the Walking Dead, The Expanse, plus a slew of Japanese stuff that you cannot get anywhere but Crunchyroll.

Cutting the cord changed my viewing habits. I used to leave the TV on for company but replaced it with streaming music from Pandora. When I was bored I’d watch Discovery Channel but now I do other things. So when I sit down to watch TV it is to watch something good, not to avoid boredom. That wasn’t my original intent when I cut the cable, but it is a perk.

There is danger on the horizon. I’m discovering new streaming channels, so it’s only a matter of time before much of the cost savings is eaten up by new streaming offerings. For example I’m looking for more Japanese TV subtitled in English, and worst of all there is a competitor to Acorn TV for British shows that just started up, Britbox. There’s always plenty to watch even for a niche viewer like me who is hooked on Japanese dramas and British comedies.

Oh and DirecTV? I still get junk mail from them every few weeks with the same stale offer, return to paying $100+ a month for stuff I don’t watch and they’ll give me a $200 Visa gift card. Woo-hoo! Not. Ain’t happening and I really regret the holes in my roof caused by the satellite dish that remains there, gazing at the southern sky, slowly rusting away.

5/3/17 Update: Cord Cutting spikes fivefold. Welcome to the future!

The Correct Attitude Towards Terrorism

“I don’t want us to get used to Islamist terrorism. We have to stop being naive. We can’t leave our children a country that is not able to defend them.” – Marine Le Pen, speaking after a terror attack on the Champs-Elysees that killed one policeman and injured two others.

Gun Violence in Paris

Just a reminder that the full-auto AK-47 rifle used by ISIS terrorists to kill a cop in France are completely illegal in that country, just as they were in a terror attack in Turkey last year. Yet for some reason the terrorists have no trouble getting these weapons into the EU and using them, and worse, our liberal neighbors in the US dream of instituting European-style gun confiscation here. How can that be? Don’t the terrorists know that full-auto AK-47s are illegal to possess, and if not, how did they get them?

Yes that’s sarcasm, caused by my disgust at watching one of the world’s great countries brought to a standstill by terrorism. Worse, it’s seeing Parisian police leveling their guns at civilians with their hands raised as in this photo. The only time I was ever held at gunpoint in my life was while I was being robbed at my job. I understand that the photo was likely taken minutes after a cop was shot and tension was high, but still, leveling a semi-automatic handgun at a grey haired guy carrying a cell phone? Is that really necessary?

Just remember the rules of reporting: Anything happening abroad is a terrorist attack. Anything occurring within the United States: Gun violence.

Fox News to Become MSNBC Clone

For more than 20 years Fox News has provided an outlet for conservative voices in the United States, but that may soon change under the leadership of James Murdoch, founder Rupert’s son. According to Michael Wolff writing in the Hollywood Reporter about the dismissal of Bill O’Reilly, “If the expulsion of Ailes, and, even more dramatically, O’Reilly, mean anything, it means most of all that James is in charge. And, most immediately, this means that Fox News, that constant irritant in James’ view of himself as a progressive and visionary television executive, will begin to change. Virtually overnight.” His goal? “Where Fox News is parochial and America First, the new global brand is worldly and unlimited. It will give his family’s company, once the pirate company, new meaning and new stature — a force for stability instead of upheaval. Murdoch media, in an age of populist disruption, will stand for the established world order.”

To a progressive respectability means conformity, and in an industry where only 7% of journalists identify as Republicans conformity means turning Fox News from the sole voice of conservativism in TV news into another MSNBC and CNN. With liberals ensconced at the peak of the established world order in journalism, there can be no denying that James Murdoch’s vision of Fox News standing for the “established world order” means the end of Fox News as an outlet for anti-establishment, conservative views.

I find it ironic that the downfall of Fox News came due to unproven allegations of sexual harassment, the same allegations made against the husband of the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate that the liberals have challenged, whitewashed or completely ignored. For Democrats sexual harassment charges or in the case of President Clinton, rape charges, can be ignored or dealt with by attacking the characters of the women making them. But for Republican journalists the only option is dismissal or career suicide.

Wolff states James Murdoch was horrified by seeing the O’Reilly allegations in the New York Times, (He) “kept repeating with horror to his friends and executives: “This is on the front page of The New York Times!””

The very fact that the owner of Fox News would be horrified by anything the New York Times put on the front page says all we need to know about the future of Fox News.

It’s hard to deny the impact the loss of the network will have on the Republican party and the conservative voice. Now would be a good time for libertarian and Trump backer Peter Thiel to enter the market and start his own pirate journalism enterprise.

RIP Fox News. I’ll miss you.

The Sun God and the Vestal Virgin

The religion of Ancient Rome was unlike anything we’d recognize today. It was a set of superstitions centered around a pantheon of gods who needed to be kept happy otherwise the people would suffer. To keep them happy they demanded the sacrifices of animals and on a handful of occasions, humans. The gods manifested their will through omens, and the ancient historians would find plenty of these just before a major event in Roman history.

For example the ancient historian Livy provides a veritable laundry-list of bad omens before the battle of Cannae in 216 BC that saw the decimation of Roman forces at the hands of Carthaginian general Hannibal, leaving Rome defenseless. From Livy’s History of Rome, book 22:

To add to the general feeling of apprehension, information was received of portents having occurred simultaneously in several places. In Sicily several of the soldiers’ darts were covered with flames; in Sardinia the same thing happened to the staff in the hand of an officer who was going his rounds to inspect the sentinels on the wall; the shores had been lit up by numerous fires; a couple of shields had sweated blood; some soldiers had been struck by lightning; an eclipse of the sun had been observed; at Praeneste there had been a shower of red-hot stones; at Arpi shields had been seen in the sky and the sun had appeared to be fighting with the moon; at Capena two moons were visible in the daytime; at Caere the waters ran mingled with blood, and even the spring of Hercules had bubbled up with drops of blood on the water; at Antium the ears of corn which fell into the reapers’ basket were blood-stained; at Falerii the sky seemed to be cleft asunder as with an enormous rift and all over the opening there was a blazing light; the oracular tablets shrank and shrivelled without being touched and one had fallen out with this inscription, “MARS IS SHAKING HIS SPEAR”; and at the same time the statue of Mars on the Appian Way and the images of the Wolves sweated blood. Finally, at Capua the sight was seen of the sky on fire and the moon falling in the midst of a shower of rain. Then credence was given to comparatively trifling portents, such as that certain people’s goats were suddenly clothed with wool, a hen turned into a cock, and a cock into a hen.

But more important than all of these omens was the misbehavior of vestal virgins. It’s difficult to describe the importance of vestal virgins to the Romans to a modern audience. The Vestals were servants of the goddess Vestal, the protector home and family and ultimately of Rome itself. The vestals were viewed as the living embodiment of the state, a kind of “royal family” that consisted of women selected between the ages of 6 and 10 who served for 30 years. There is no modern equivalent, but the Romans took their vestals very, very seriously, and when they strayed, Rome was doomed.

Livy writes, “For, over and above these serious disasters, considerable alarm was created by portents which occurred. Two Vestal virgins, Opimia and Floronia, were found guilty of unchastity. One was buried alive, as is the custom, at the Colline Gate, the other committed suicide.”

1,800 years ago the Roman empire was under the domination of Septimius Severus and his descendants who ruled from 193 AD to 235 AD. Severus was of Carthaginian ancestry and his wife Julia Domna was of Syrian. Although Severus was a powerful general, the real power of the dynasty was his wife’s family, in particular his sister-in-law Julia Maesa. In 218 Maesa engineered the elevation of her 14 year old grandson, Elagabalus, to the throne.

Elagabalus usually appears near the top of the worst Roman emperors. During Severan rule the worship of Heliogabalus spread through the empire, and Elagabalus became a high priest of the cult like his grandfather, Maesa’s husband. As the teen emperor of Rome he must have seen himself in a unique position to spread the religion upon the normally religiously tolerant Roman masses. One of his first actions was to bring a sacred black stone, likely a meteorite, that symbolized Heliogabalus from Emesa Syria to Rome. When it arrived he placed it in a chariot pulled by four horses and led it walking backwards through the streets of Rome to the pantheon where he installed it above the statues of all the other Roman gods including Jupiter.


Gold coin with Elagabalus on obverse, quadriga chariot carrying the sacred stone symbolizing the sun god Heliogabalus on reverse. (British Museum)

Not content with angering the Romans with that move, he divorced his first wife and married a vestal virgin, Julia Aquilia Severa, viewing the act as a symbolic marriage between the Roman goddess Vesta and Heliogabalus. The marriage was quickly annulled and Elagabalus was forced to marry Marcus Aurelius’s great-granddaughter. But the marriage didn’t last long. Elagabalus rebelled and again married Severa.

Silver coin featuring Aquilia Severa on obverse, Concordia goddess of marital and civil peace on reverse.

It is unclear whether Elagabalus had feelings for Severa or whether he viewed the marriage as religiously important. The ancient historians weren’t objective writers so it’s difficult to determine the true nature of the relationship. Nevertheless Severa remained with the emperor until he was murdered at the age of 18 by his own guards. After that she disappears from history.

Elagabalus marrying a vestal not once but twice would be like a new British Prime Minister marrying the Queen of England. I can’t imagine what the average superstitious Roman must have thought being handed a coin featuring a portrait of Aquilia Severa. Coinage was seen as an important part of the state’s propaganda efforts. Whenever a new emperor took power one of the first things he did was issue coins with his portrait on them. After a particularly bad emperor was dethroned circulating coins with his portrait were often defaced in a process known as damnatio memoriae, literally “damnation of memory.”

Brass damnatio memoriae coin with Nero’s portrait defaced. (Romae Aeternae Numismatics)

The coins of Aquilia Severa are scarce and there is no evidence that she suffered damnatio memoriae. But one wonders how a Roman receiving one of her coins would have felt. How would a pious Roman have felt holding a piece of silver with a defiled vestal virgin on its face? Would he have felt the coin would bring the wrath of the gods on him and his family, or was he happy possessing a coin that represented a day’s wages for a Roman legionnaire?