Lynyrd Skynyrd Killed in Plane Crash 40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago this evening the plane carrying the band, their backup singers, their tour entourage and two pilots ran out of gas and crashed into a heavily wooded area in southern Mississippi killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backup singer Carrie Gaines, both pilots and their tour manager. Tom Farrier, former director of safety with the Air Transport Association has a terrific write-up on the crash that silenced a band that defined the genre of Southern Rock.

Although famous for Sweet Home Alabama and Freebird, the song that stands the test of time best is Simple Man. As an aging parent myself there’s gold in those lyrics if you are patient enough to find it.

So How Are the Philadelphia Eagles Doing This Year?

For the first time in over 20 years I don’t have any idea, nor do I care. I grew up watching football and playing street games of it. I lost interest in high school and college years, but eventually came back to the sport after returning to the USA after living abroad. Living outside of Philadelphia the Eagles were my team, and I followed the team zealously through the Andy Reid years including the disaster that was the Super Bowl appearance in 2005. In 2013 I wrote, “But every season the game seems to lose some of its appeal. Maybe there are too many penalties in an attempt to make the game safe. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and have seen some pretty bad things happen to people. Maybe it’s because I’m just turning into a big pussy. But there’s only so many times I can see a player get hit and lay motionless on the ground while holding my breath before I begin to think something is wrong both with the sport and my enjoyment of it.”

For several years I ponied up several hundred dollars a season to the NFL and DirecTV for the NFL Sunday Pass, but as the CTE scandal grew I eventually dropped the package before quitting satellite completely and becoming a cord cutter. As I wrote in 2014, “The NFL has denied the existence of CTE the exact same way the tobacco companies denied cancer caused by smoking. Recently the league has pushed the problem into the future by calling for “more study” just as the cigarette companies called for further research on lung cancer when the Science behind the causative link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocal. What they’ve done is criminal but not surprising given the amount of money league owners have invested in the game.”

I quit watching the sport because of conscience, but I still read about it and followed the Philadelphia (and Dallas) newspapers to read about the Eagles and their dreaded rivals the Cowboys.

Then Colin Kaepernick and his protest against black oppression happened and spread through the league. Now millionaires were protesting against the very nation that gave them the opportunity to become wealthier than nearly everyone else in the country. And their billionaire bosses supported them.

What originally had been a matter of conscience became like so much these days political.

So poof! A lifelong interest in the sport is snuffed out completely. Perhaps the Eagles can pick up fans from Antifa, Code Pink, or the Democratic Underground.

I think my Euro-centric friends are right: soccer is much more interesting.

Why Is Gun Control Such a Sensitive Topic to You?

Because it’s difficult to imagine living life as another person, his needs or her situation. Our instinct is to assume our situation is the norm, so we think that if we don’t need an a gun (or an abortion, gender reassignment surgery, or whatever other hot-button topic you can imagine) then nobody does.


Society is incredibly diverse and there is a naive assumption that everyone is the same. We’re not, but different doesn’t mean bad contrary to another base assumption that humans hold.


We are talking about rights, and these were viewed as so important by the founders of the USA that they recognized their origin as coming from the Divine, not a government. So when you are talking about limiting those rights you’re going to anger someone, whether that’s the right to marry whomever you want, say whatever you want, or protect yourself and your family.


Americans have become so polarized that we’ve forgotten how to empathize with those who think differently. It’s a problem that goes far beyond the 2nd Amendment and touches the very fabric of our national identity.


 

The US could definitely fund a single payer healthcare and free college for all. Should it?

Your question combines 4 questions:

  1. Can the US fund a single payer healthcare system?

  2. If it can, should it?

  3. Can the US fund college for all?

  4. If it can, should it?

Let’s start with question #1 first: Can the US fund a single payer healthcare system? California, the largest state in the USA has a single payer healthcare system plan. Unfortunately this plan has gone nowhere. Why? Because the state cannot figure how to afford it. Single-payer healthcare could cost $400 billion to implement in California


The population of California is roughly 40 million and the US is 325 million. So extrapolating from California’s numbers, the cost for single payer to cover the entire USA would be about $3.2 trillion.


Here’s President Obama’s proposed budget for 2017.



Single payer healthcare would cost the country 3/4ths of the existing budget.


So to answer question #1. Can the US fund single payer nationwide? Not really.


Question 2: Should it? Having experienced single payer and socialized medicine first-hand I have to say that if the US could afford it, it should.


Many in the USA have idealized these systems to the point of absurdity. The poor still suffer worse care than the rich under these systems, and Americans have gotten spoiled with access to high-tech tests for minor problems and short waits that would disappear under these systems. But given the car-crash-in-slow-motion collapse of the current system I believe single payer is still worth considering.


Question 3: Can the US fund college for all? Bernie Sanders’s plan for free tuition to students of households making under $125k/year would cost $47 billion a year Here’s how much Bernie Sanders’ Free College for All plan would cost


That amount is a literally a drop in the bucket of a $4.2 trillion a year budget. Sanders proposed levying a “speculation tax” on Wall Street to help pay for it.


Can the US afford it? Yes.


Question 4: Should it? An underlying assumption of those supporting free universal college is that everyone benefits from the experience. Even in countries that have free or low cost college people recognize that not everyone must have a bachelor’s degree to become a contributing member to society.


In Germany 60% of students do not attend college after high school and instead go into vocational schools where they learn specific skills that are demanded by German employers. Called “dual training” these students become apprenticed in fields such as advanced manufacturing, IT, banking, and hospitality. Why Germany Is So Much Better at Training Its Workers


Should it? Not as envisioned by Sanders and current supporters.


Most of the benefits would go to students who already can afford it, so this government program would be yet another federal subsidy to the wealthy. It would likely contribute to growing inequality, the exact opposite of the intent of many supporters.


Americans and American employers are increasingly concerned that American higher education is failing to provide the skills students need to succeed in the workplace. Kevin James, a research fellow with the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute who researches American colleges, writes in US News, “(I)t’s becoming increasingly clear that the system often fails to deliver the high-quality educational pathways that many students need to be successful in the modern workforce. For example… a recent Gallup-Lumina Foundation survey found that only four in 10 Americans agree that colleges are changing to “better meet the needs of today’s students.” Only 13 percent of respondents felt that college graduates are “well-prepared for success in the workforce.” https://www.usnews.com/opinion/k…


Americans need to wake up to the reality that not everyone is college material and that’s okay. Reviving interest in the trades and developing a “dual training” system like Germany would be a prerequisite before universal funding should be considered.


Both the health care and higher educational systems are in desperate need for reform in the US. But making them “free” is not the solution for either.


 

Trump Haters Encourage Violence

Lost in all the hyperventilation over Trump’s response to Charlottesville is the ignorance, willful in many cases, that the anti-Nazi protesters were not all nonviolent. While I do not know whether victim Heather Heyer was acting violently or not, and even if she were she didn’t deserve to die, the media and even a good part of the GOP is rushing to whitewash the actions of the protesters in their zeal to attack Trump. The danger is that by failing to criticize the violent left, they embolden it, and in doing so make it more likely that someone else is going to die but this time at the hands of the alt-Left.

Trump wasn’t alone in equating the leftist violence with the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “Whether by #AltRight or #Antifa, no excuses for violence and, keep in mind, this is exactly the response that the bigots seek to provoke.” In the same article, a Jewish Antifa member Daniel Seiradski justifies confronting neo-Nazis with violence. “When Nazis are screaming epithets in our faces, should we just smile? They come into our towns and yell at us and threaten us and say they want to kill us. Should we take that sitting down because fascists deserve free speech, too? When someone is threatening you with an existential threat, you fight back. You don’t stand there and take it.”

The problem is that his justification of violence can be used by anybody including those he justifies attacking. Charlottesville rally organizer Jason Kessler, a former Occupy Wall Street and far left extremist who switched sides, has suggested the purpose of the rally was to unite the right to push back against the existential threat posed by the Left. Palestinians in the Middle East view Israel as an existential threat. Muslims view Jews as an existential threat. Israelis view the Arab nations surrounding them to be an existential threat.

While the Media has constructed a narrative around the counter-protesters in Charlottesville that places them on the moral high ground, the actual morality of the protesters is much more ambiguous.

If violence is okay, how much? Should it be proportional – fist to fist, gun to gun – or should it be overwhelming? Since civilians in democratic countries pay taxes and vote, are they not responsible for their governments policies which threaten Islam? If so it is morally correct to use violence, say driving a truck through a crowded street or a plane into a skyscraper?

Then there is the issue of who it is okay to attack. In Charlottesville the focus of Antifa was on the neo-Nazis but in the past the group has attacked anyone they disagreed with including gay provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos is – and has said – many things, but he’s not a Nazi, nor does he present an existential threat to the Left. Yet the group rioted when he attempted to appear in Berkley CA in February. They released personal information and harassed a Republican councilman. They’ve also called for the poisoning of pets.

Even leftists themselves are questioning the violent tactics of the alt-left. The LA Times reports, “Political scientist Jo Freeman, part of the radical student movement that forced UC Berkeley to permit political speech five decades ago, said she was dismayed at the effort that went into silencing opposition. She drew similarities between those who threatened her and other freedom marchers in the South in the 1960s, and those who bully the far right now. “It is not uncommon for societies to produce a hate squad,” Freeman said. “People who want to suppress the right to speak — they are everywhere.””

 

The US Healthcare System Woes: It’s Complicated

I participate at Quora where I answer questions about ancient Roman history and Japanese culture, two of the great loves of my life. Quora is a multi-national forum where people can ask questions and post answers about almost anything. Most of the users are Americans but there is also a strong Chinese presence, and quite a few people ask questions about American life, culture and politics. While I tend to ignore political questions, occasionally I’ll find a question about other topics that interests me, and today one came up about the American healthcare system.

Regarding Universal Healthcare, why is it not in America’s national interest to have a healthy population, even if it means they will pay less to have it?

I don’t think anyone is arguing that Americans don’t want better healthcare at a lower cost for everyone. What we are arguing about is what system we want and more importantly, how to get there from here.

 

(Detailed chart: healthcare_system_chart_1356×1049 ” Icosystem)


What non-Americans and many Americans don’t realize is just how screwed up our system is. Most don’t realize it’s not a single system. We have Medicaid for the poor, Medicare for the elderly*, VA health system for veterans, the Indian Health System on native American reservations and private group insurance for everyone else. Then each state has a say in how Medicaid and Medicare are administered with significant differences between each of them.


Then we have the stakeholders.

  • Employers which have an interest because private group insurance is tied to employment unlike most countries in the world.

  • State governments whose priorities are different than the federal government because unlike the feds the states must balance their budgets.

  • Federal government with its own priorities and oversight of the entire structure with specific control of the VA and IHS.

  • For profit and non-profit insurance companies which have to keep the lights on by taking in more in premiums than paying out in reimbursements.

  • Medical providers like doctors and nurses who have to balance care for their patients with paying their bills.

  • Medical device manufacturers whose profits depend on purchase of their output.

  • Pharmaceutical companies whose bottom line depends on the consumption of drugs in the US and the subsidy of US drugs abroad.

  • Malpractice attorneys who reap billions in fees in lawsuits against medical providers, device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.

  • For profit health systems whose bottom lines depend on maximizing payments from the insurance companies and minimizing expenses from the medical providers, device manufacturers and drug companies.

  • Healthy individuals who don’t see why they need to pay for services they don’t need.

  • Sick and elderly individuals who are consuming health care services.

That’s about all I can come up with. I’m sure there are more. Each one of these groups has a lobbying group that argues on their behalf to the other stakeholders, especially state and federal governments.


So pick any system you want and ask yourself, “How do I get to this system from the current one?” Any system you pick will require impacting one of the above stakeholders, and they are going to fight it, change it and make a hash of it to the point where your original ideas are all gone.



And that’s where we are today.


*Just to add to the complexity, note that the elderly will switch from Medicare to Medicaid once their benefits are exhausted. This commonly happens after seniors have been placed into nursing homes. The cost of these facilities is staggering – more than the cost of most 5 star hotels – and quickly exhaust an average senior’s Medicare benefits. At that point they have to switch to Medicaid. The problem is that many skilled nursing facilities have limited slots for Medicaid seniors, and there are usually waiting lists – meaning that most seniors have to return to the care of their loved ones who often lack the skills and resources necessary to care for them.


No one is happy about this system. But we feel as if we are trapped without hope for true change.


 

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.
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*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