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In the Belly of the Swan

As we go about our daily lives we live an illusion called “normality.” Normality is the assumption that tomorrow will be little different than today. Perhaps the weather will be better or a little worse, or an event we attach importance to will have happened but won’t change our lives much – the way Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers fans feel today after their teams lost in the playoffs. Normality allows us to make predictions about the future but more importantly, it gives us control.

Unfortunately that control is also an illusion, and in the blink of an eye control evaporates. In my time I have undergone many extreme or unusual events, such as a drive during a tornado-spawning thunderstorm discussed in detail here. In that case I overruled my instincts and needlessly risked my life and that of my son. But often an extreme event comes out of the blue without any warning and is completely unpredictable. In the parlance of financial risk, these are true “black swan” events, a topic reviewed here. One could predict trouble driving under stormy skies. Black swan events are complete “bolts from the blue” and cannot be prepared for because they cannot be imagined.

These events usually begin in complete disbelief, as we grasp at straws in a vain attempt to maintain the illusion of normality. For example long ago when I was in college I was working at a video store. As closing time came a man approached the counter with two videos he wanted to rent. I turned my back to him and got the tapes from the long rack behind the counter and asked for his rental card. When I turned around he threw a small folded brown paper bag on the counter. I picked it up and opened it expecting to find the rental card.

At that moment an objective observer would have recognized that people who rent videos do not store their rental cards in folded brown paper bags, but the human mind will go to any lengths to construct a scenario no matter how elaborate in order to maintain a sense of normality. The illusion was completely shattered by the man flashing a chrome plated semi-automatic handgun in his belt and telling me to put the money from the register in the bag and to not try anything funny or he’d “blow (my) f***ing brains out.”

Although this event was technically not a black swan event because being robbed at gunpoint, even in the wealthy town of La Jolla California, could be imagined. Still it was an unlikely event (a “grey swan”), but one at the age of 22 I had not prepared for.

It seemed to me that time slowed down. I looked at my options. The only possible weapon at my disposal was one of those indestructible Ma Bell phones made in the 1970s. In this day of razor-thin cell phones and lightweight portable handsets, young people may not understand how well built and solid those old phones were; in the right hands the phone would have made a formidable weapon. But my hands were not the right ones; I was a 22 year old, 120 lb kid against a man who outweighed me by at least 40 lbs and had a gun. I knew there was nothing I could do except open the register and put the day’s takings – $500 or so if memory serves – into the bag. I handed the robber the bag.

He held it, and this was the moment I felt I was in the greatest danger. I felt him weighing his next moves: would he order me into the back of the store behind the X-rated video partition? In my teens I had worked in a pizza restaurant where it turns out three people had been ordered into the backroom of the restaurant and shot execution style by the robbers. I remembered that incident and drew a line in the sand. If he ordered me into the back, I wasn’t going. He’d have to shoot me in plain sight of the parking lot.

“Walk me to the door,” he said, “And lock the door behind me.” As I came around the counter, he started walking slightly behind me then stopped, reached behind the counter, and grabbed the videos he had me get for him: John Hughes’s Career Opportunities and Playboy Sexy Lingerie III. As we reached the door he said, “Now I want you to lock it then go back to the counter and stand where I can see you. If you so much as breathe I’m going to kill you.” Breathing wasn’t a problem at this point. If I was breathing at all it would surprise me.

I locked the door and he disappeared into the parking lot. I walked backwards to the counter, I couldn’t turn my back on him, and reached the phone. Putting it on speaker so that he couldn’t see me, I dialed the police. When they arrived, I breathed, and sobbed, and didn’t fall asleep for three days. I quit the job soon afterward because every time someone walked in I expected them to rob me.

That brings up a problem with normality: once it is broken, it takes a long time for it to reassert itself. The odds of me being robbed again at that store were astronomical at that point. I probably was safer there with the increased police presence in the mall than I had ever been. But the illusion had been broken and it would take a very long time for it to rebuild. In fact since I quit the job, it never had a chance to.

Fast forward two decades and a black swan crashes through the window of reality, but the process is the same. An objective observer would see that my initial response to preserve reality as almost pitiful. What is different this time is that I am not 22 years old anymore, and I have seen my share of swans during that time. After the call to 911 I have firepower. Even though I am scared, I have responsibilities now and no ugly bird is going to make me break them. I assess the situation quickly and realize that my memory is fallible, so I chuck it. I decide that I don’t need it; I’m not going to waste my time trying to remember anything. Looking back I now realize that remembering is an act for the future. Allowing myself to forget gave me the freedom to focus on the “now.” In the little I have read about traumatic events, focusing on the present is high up on the “to do” list.

Assess the situation. Keep calm. I tend to speak quickly and loudly when I’m nervous so I intentionally slow down the cadence of my words. Keep everyone calm. Crack a bad joke even though no one feels like laughing. Talk about the weather. Whatever it takes to keep everyone – including myself – from panicking. As a writer by instinct I feel myself observing myself, but that is also a task for the future; better to stay in the moment, the now. Time stretches, knees knock, keep scanning the darkness. “Safeties off?” “Yes,” I command. We are locked and loaded. The past is written, the future no longer exists. In the dense fog, in the belly of the swan, waiting for what must happen to happen.

Tolerating Intolerance

It has been awhile since I knew exactly where my passport was at all times and how many frequent flier miles I had. Neither is needed at this stage in my life, but I know the passport is around somewhere and is coming up for renewal.

As far as top life experiences go, living abroad is in my top three (behind becoming a parent and tied with being in a monogamous relationship with my best friend for almost twenty years). For a good chunk of the 1990’s I immersed myself in Japanese culture, and in Tanzania lived a life worthy of National Geographic pages. The years I spent in Japan and the year in Tanzania provided me with a lifetime of lessons that I’m still working through.

One of those lessons is that people aren’t the same everywhere. It may seem obvious, but it was a constant source of friction whenever I talked about my experiences there. My elderly mother for instance always thought that the Japanese were like the people of St. Louis – just with a different complexion and palate. Whenever I talked to her about the real Japanese that I lived among, she had nothing in her experience to relate it to and would inevitably change the subject.

It wasn’t just her. It happened all the time with friends, co-workers, and other family members. The only people that I could talk to about my experiences were other travelers; people who had experienced the same thing. We could then swap stories about Kyoto and Kathmandu, or Kobe and Kosice without noticing each other’s eyes glazing over.

Part of the boredom I subjected friends and relatives to was due simply to my poor story telling skills; but some of it was do to the lack of a common frame of reference. The Japanese are a unique people, and I love them for it. They are nothing like the movies make them out to be, nor are they just like us. They are Japanese, with two thousand years of history shaping everything they do – from what they eat to how they move. Even now years later I can tell the difference between a Japanese and other Asians at a distance because they hold themselves and move differently.

The Japanese don’t think like Americans. In fact, few people do. The closest non-Westerners I met that reminded me of Americans are members of the Chagga tribe in northeaster Tanzania. The Chagga are a direct and friendly people with an eye for business and profit. They make up most of the government in Tanzania and a large portion of the economy that isn’t run by ethnic Indians. Their handshakes are firm, and their self-confidence borders on the arrogance one often hears Europeans complaining about in Americans. I remember arguing with the Japanese about buying foreign products. The Japanese simply wouldn’t because the foreign products lacked a certain “Japanese-ness.” No matter what the price, how cutesy the ads were, the Japanese wouldn’t buy foreign goods because they weren’t Japanese made and as a result lacked that undefinable quality.

The converse was also true. The Japanese didn’t get religion at all. They looked at the wars in the Middle East and the fighting in Ireland with bewilderment. To them the idea of abiding by a single faith didn’t make sense. The Japanese claimed that they were born Shinto, married Christian and died Buddhist because they participated in rituals that had roots in all three religions. But there is more to belonging to a religion than going through the motions of a particular ritual, but the Japanese didn’t get that.

What the Japanese didn’t understand was that being Japanese was their religion; they just didn’t call it that. A religion dictates how you act, how you dress, who you marry, and Japanese society did just that. Once I learned this myself and explained it to my Japanese friends, their understanding of religion’s role in the world became clearer.

In America Islam is a relatively new religion. People don’t understand it – a fact made harder by the demand that one must learn Arabic to practice it. While Muslims have been emigrating to the United States since its founding, it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that oil money flowing to the Saudis allowed them to build mosques and proselytize. So until very recently most Americans hadn’t seen a mosque in their neighborhood or lived with Muslim immigrants. The Syrians, Lebanese and other Arabs from the Middle East that arrived in their communities during the 20th century were mostly Christians, so their exposure to Muslims was pretty much limited to the news media.

Our instinct as Americans is to see Islam as just another religion, protecting Muslims with the same Constitutional rights as Methodists, Buddhists, or Catholics. The problem is that Islam isn’t the same as these religions; it is a unique religion that unites politics with religion in a way that hasn’t been seen in the West for over 500 years.

Islam has a terrible history of coexisting with other religions, and its tenets reflect that. Conversion to another faith is punishable by death. The only law is God’s law – so a secular society cannot coexist in an Islamic one – as Turkey is learning. (Yes I know that some branches of Shi’a Islam preach separation between Islam and state, but it’s not First Amendment separation that Americans think). In lands where other faiths exist, Islam must be supreme, and believers of these faiths can live as long as they are taxed and recognize the supremacy of Islam in the societal affairs (Dhimmi status).

This is not to say that Islam is all bad. There are sects that are more liberal and respectful of non-believers than others (the Ismaili sect leaps to mind), and like Obama I too found the calls to prayer sublime in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. But the Ismailis and related sects are a tiny portion of the Ummah, and the sect that has gained the most ground in Europe and the United States is the Wahhabi sect – the most radical and intolerant within Islam.

But Americans are beginning to recognize that Islam is different – that it’s not Buddhists with burkas, or Pentecostals with prayer rugs. They remember 9-11, and each suicide bombing or slaughter of aid workers by men acting in the name of Islam adds to the suspicion. The silence of Muslims and worse, the justification of these acts in some Muslim quarters, is making Americans take note. The fact that condemnations of terror are rarely unequivocal and are nearly always followed with “but…” and a statement that undoes the condemnation that preceded it doesn’t help. Americans want Islam to be as benign as other religions, but they are beginning to wonder if that’s even possible.

Yet American elites which should know more about Islam than the common people side with a religion that is intolerant of the very rights it champions among Christians: women, gays and artistic freedom. The ignorance shown by the mainstream media towards Islam makes one wonder if any of these “journalists” ever left New York City or San Francisco. Every attempt to equate a Muslim cleric with an American religious figure like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell merely emphasizes their ignorance of both faiths. The reviled Robertson and Falwell would actually be considered raging liberals compared to “moderate” Islamic clerics.

The mainstream media and the American Left have allied themselves with one of the most intolerant faiths around, yet they demand that Americans tolerate this intolerance and call those who don’t “Islamophobes”.

Those who question a religion that treats women as second-class citizens are not ignorant. Those who question the motives of a cleric who wants to build a Muslim temple on the site where Muslims murdered 3,000 Americans of all faiths in the name of Islam, and are aware that it fits the pattern of building mosques on conquered territory, aren’t stupid. Those who are repelled by a faith with an active legal code that kills homosexuals, should not be termed “bigots”.

UPDATE: Of course the great Charles Krauthammer realized we’re all NOT the same, writing in this piece 27 years ago:

If people everywhere, from Savannah to Sevastopol, share the same hopes and dreams and fears and love of children (and good food), they should get along. And if they don’t, then there must be some misunderstanding, some misperception, some problem of communication…It is the broken-telephone theory of international conflict, and it suggests a solution: repair service by the expert “facilitator,” the Harvard negotiations professor. Hence the vogue for peace academies, the mania for mediators, the belief that the world’s conundrums would yield to the right intermediary, the right presidential envoy, the right socialist international delegation.


“The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature,” writes Emerson. “The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man.” Ultimately to say that people all share the same hopes and fears, are all born and love and suffer and die alike, is to say very little. For it is after commonalities are accounted for that politics becomes necessary.

Thanks to Soccer Dad for this timeless gem.


Today the Wife acts as the executor at the closing of her mother’s home. It’s a process that began for us a few days after her mother’s death in September, when I walked into a home whose owner would never return. Calendars with days X’d off in August that suddenly stopped after she entered the hospital. Half open cartons of milk past their due date. A moldy package of strawberries. Unopened 8oz cans of soda meant for visitors like my son.

On my first visit I pulled several bags of groceries out of the fridge, and the process of removing items from the 3 bedroom 2.5 bath didn’t stop until last night. A woman who had been burdened by stuff all her adult life was finally freed of it. Nothing remained in the house that identified it as hers anymore. She could rest at last.

The 59 boxes of Armstrong flooring that the Wife’s father purchased 18 years ago to lay a dance floor in the basement – and which his wife nagged him regularly about it until his death 4 years ago – was thrown in a dumpster at the dump by his grandson. His prized scratchbuilt 80286 ended this incarnation of its existence at an electronics recycling center. I had to open it to marvel at the boards filled with IC chips and ominous looking PSU before leaving it in a pile of discarded printers, computers, and televisions.

The pantry full of canned goods that the mother-in-law regularly sorted through and rearranged was donated to a local foodbank. We hired a novice group of estate sellers to sell the contents in the house, but they overpriced everything and sold relatively little – so we were left with furniture, household goods, knicknacks of every sort, tools – things collected by two people over 57 years together. Most of what was left was modern, and there were no antiques.

We had separated out the junk and taken a little more than a ton of it to the dump, so what was left was usable items that weren’t new. Evidently poverty no longers exists in the US because we had a heck of a time giving the stuff away.

At the Goodwill that I have been donating to for years, a supervisor stopped a worker from helping me unload my SUV full of household goods. “What you got,” he asked gruffly. I pointed to the car. “Stuff I don’t need,” I said. He began pointing to things. “That’s Christmas stuff, and it ain’t Christmas,” he said. “We can’t take that.” Glassware? He wouldn’t take that either. A heavy electric drill? “That’s too old.” The more he picked over the stuff, the madder I got.

“You know in Africa I knew men who would turn tin cans into toys because their kids didn’t have anything,” I said coldly.  I received a blank stare from the supervisor. “What can’t go onto the floor right away goes into the dumpster and we get charged to haul it away.” “But this isn’t junk. The vacuum cleaner works. The christmas lights work.  The glassware isn’t chipped or broken.” He shrugged ignoring me. “Call Salvation Army; they’ll take anything,” he said.

So I did call Salvation Army. SalArmy required an itemized list given before they arrived. They would only take what was on the list. If an item wasn’t on the list, they wouldn’t take it. Nothing could be damaged or broken, and all furniture had to be on the first floor. So last week I inventoried 37 pieces that we set aside for them, and moved an entire bedroom set, TV and stand down from the second floor.

The Wife dealt with SalArmy yesterday. At first they refused to take the bureau from the bedroom set because its finish had been marred over the years by my in-laws opening and closing the drawers. And the TV? It was too old.  “People want HD flat screens,” the nicer of the two pickup men said. Wife had to turn on the charm and eventually talked them into taking everything.

While talking to the pickup men she learned that nothing is done to the donations; no repairs or cleanup. If they can’t sell it immediately, it gets thrown into a dumpster. She related her experiences in Africa where nothing went to waste. Broken things were mended; everything was reused and very little was wasted. Entire families combed the trash dumps looking for bits of metal or plastic that could be scavenged and resold. The people that she lives and works with in Africa are truly poor - unlike those who are ministered by charities here.

The charities want cash. Why exactly? We donated everything a family of 4 would need except for parishables and the house itself. The In-laws weren’t poor. The were solidly middle class, registered Republicans who donated money to dozens of charities. Yet here we were, begging these same charities to take their stuff.

This experience has made me realize that no matter how often we hear how bad the economy is and how things are the worst they’ve been since the Depression, things can’t be that bad when you have to beg charities to take away solid wood furniture, clothes that were hardly ever worn, and 32” televisions…

But the deed has now been done. 9 months of daily effort over. The house is sold and a new family takes over to bring life into a home that hasn’t seen much over the past year. It’s a solid house – a good house that will provide a home for a couple and their twenty-three month old child; the wife has even referred to it as her “dream house”.

Now it’s time for us to move on.

UPDATE: Thanks to the members of the Watcher’s Council for voting this post the number 1 council post for this week. Given the quality of writing shown by the members I am deeply humbled to receive this honor. Seriously, there is some of the finest writing on the Watcher’s Council that you’ll find anywhere – and I am proud to be a member of such an elite team. – SK

Why An Alcoholic Supports the Legalization of Illicit Drugs

Anybody who knows me understands that I have traveled a long and tortured road when it comes to substance abuse. The drugs I abused were completely legal – tobacco and alcohol – but at the height of my abuse I was up to two packs a day and well… consumed embarrassing amounts of liquor. On January 28, 1996 I stubbed out my last cigarette in a neighborhood noodle shop in north Kyoto Japan. In the early hours of December 1, 2000 I set down my last drink in Wilmington Delaware. I have been Straight Edge ever since, but the years of sobriety haven’t made me complacent. I realize that the hell I left behind is only a drink away and one is as close as the refrigerator in the kitchen (the Wife keeps beer and wine in the house).

I know what it feels like to crave something so badly that one’s world becomes focused on a single glass or tobacco-filled paper tube. I have trudged a mile through foot deep snow to buy cigarettes and lost my mind from nicotine withdrawal the dozens of times I tried – and failed – to quit. But in the end something more powerful than me pulled me out of my own private addiction hell and left me dumbfounded and humble towards addiction in the real world.

That humility has shown me that I have gotten off much more lightly than most. Search this journal for essays about my old drinking buddy, my sister-in-law, for an example of someone with both feet firmly planted in the pit of hell. Over the years I have seen others ruined by alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug abuse of seemingly a thousand different varieties and come to one conclusion: we as a people have yet to understand and treat addiction effectively.

Even as a recovering addict myself I can’t tell you what the solution is for addiction. What helped me was a swift and hard kick in the pants by the Wife combined with an iron will forged in my childhood by my mother. But I don’t claim to know what works for others.

What I can say beyond a reasonable doubt however is that jailing addicts does not help addiction. If anything it makes the addict’s situation worse while doing nothing to protect Society.

An addict’s first priority feeding the addiction by securing his or her drug. Everything else pales in comparison to this fundamental need. While I was in the African bush I never fell below a carton of Tanzanian Sportsmans and a bottle of scotch. Every six weeks I would take a long trip up Lake Tanganyika to get supplies for the research camp, and rebuild my stash. I ran out of coffee but I never once ran out of cigarettes over the course of an entire year in the isolated outpost.

Since my drugs were legal, they were easily obtained and therefore relatively cheap. I doubt that my annual bar tab and smokes budget ever consumed more than 5% of my income. Some – I’d hazard a guess and suggest that most addicts spend more on their dope than they take in. To make up the difference they lie, cheat and steal – often from their loved ones. Some also deal to make enough money to feed their addiction. These particular sad-sacks usually end up in shallow graves as their addiction forces them to steal from their suppliers.

Outsiders ask how they could do this – yet forget that the addicts first priority is securing her drug. Nothing else matters. It’s hard for non-addicts to understand this, but as Al-Anon teaches you have to accept it nevertheless.

As an addict to legalized drugs I live in a world awash with them. A clove cigarette smells so sweet on the Spring air, and nothing seems to get a man laid faster than a can of beer - if the commercials are to be believed that I see on television. But my personal history has taught me that sweet smelling cloves eventually lead to fetid Marlboros, and nothing  gets a man arrested faster than drinking a 12 pack of beer and smarting-off to a cop.

Addicts can’t live in a protected bubble forever. Eventually they have to leave rehab or the safety of their family to get on with their own lives and become responsible for themselves. Some will fail and die. Others will succeed in living a relatively decent life in spite of their addiction.  Still more will bounce between addiction and sobriety, leading uneasy and restless lives.

Of all the things I can blame for my addiction – my upbringing, my genetics – Society isn’t one of them. Sure I live in a permissive society where alcohol and tobacco are legal, yet the fact that heroin and meth aren’t permissible in our Society hasn’t stopped people from getting addicted to them.  Similarly there are drunks in Riyadh and Tehran – nations where alcohol is banned. The legality of a substance has little impact on its addiction, and to believe otherwise is to fail to understand the nature of addiction and underestimate its power.

Besides, it’s my disease – not Society’s. I own it, and I will not let anyone take away that tiny bit of power from me.

Legalizing illicit drugs is no panacea. It isn’t going to stop addiction, but at the same time it isn’t going to turn normal people into coke whores and junkies. The drugs don’t have that kind of power to the non-addict. It’s only those of us who are open to addiction that can become addicts.  One can even take opiates and not become an addict, as soldiers proved in Vietnam where over half of enlisted men in 1971 had tried opiates and half of those did not become addicted. Similarly there are even some who manage to smoke cigarettes without becoming addicted – something that I personally don’t get after my 17 year smoking “career”.  And most people who have a beer or glass of wine do not become alcoholics. In fact according to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, approximately 7.4% of the US population meet the criteria for alcohol abuse. That means that at least the Government believes that 92.6% of Americans – around 280,000,000 – aren’t alcoholics.

For forty years America has waged a war on drugs, and all it has to show for it are casualties. But I’m arguing that these casualties exist whether we declare war on drugs or not. People are going to continue to die. Lives will continue to be ruined – whether we declare a war or not, whether we throw addicts into prison or not. The only way forward out of this mess is to take the first step and recognize that the problem of addiction is not a law and order problem, nor solely a medical or mental problem. It is all of these yet more – a spiritual problem that we have yet begun to understand let alone solve.

I’ve been sober for over 8 years now, but I still am terrified of losing the sobriety I have worked so long and hard for. All I can do is continue onward in the hope that someday Society will mature enough to begin to provide solutions for what has to be one of the most insidious problems anyone can face in his or her life.

A Haunted Place

Along the bluffs of the Mississippi River south of the city of St. Louis lays acres of land overgrown with weeds, the former site of a city-owned quarantine hospital and sanitarium, and the final resting place for tens of thousands of the area’s nineteenth century immigrant poor struck down by epidemics that swept through the area. Currently for sale by the City of St. Louis, the site has entered local legend as being haunted; given its history if any place could be, this site most certainly is.

The city government of St. Louis bought the land in 1854, and used it for a quarantine station and hospital. Its remote location at the time, fifteen miles from the city’s center, was thought to be an ideal one for the isolation and treatment of people with communicable diseases such as leprosy, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria and other diseases that struck seemingly from nowhere and raged unchecked through the community. The City also used a corner of the property as a paupers’ cemetery. It is estimated that 18,000 men, women and children were buried there between 1849 and 1877 according to a 1983 newspaper article.

For the next 30 years patients with yellow fever, smallpox, diptheria, typhoid fever were sent to the Quarantine Hospital. the bodies of victims of these epidemics were buried on the grounds until by the end of the nineteenth century an estimated 18,000 people were buried at what was then called the Quarantine-Smallpox Hospital. Since during epidemics, bodies were buried en masse in some of the sinkholes on the property, while at other times only wooden headboards marked the graves, little remains to mark burial sites; burial records were destroyed by a fire in the late 1880’s. (source)

After vaccinations and improved sanitation brought many of those diseases under control, focus shifted to using the site as a hospital for tuberculosis patients. In the early 20th Century tuberculosis was the leading public health crisis facing American cities, accounting for ten percent of all deaths in St. Louis.In 1910 the city’s hospital commissioner Dr. John C. Morfit transferred 70 patients from other city institutions to the quarantine station and hospital against the wishes of the rest of City Hall, and was fired. Before he left Dr. Morfit named the facility the “Robert M. Koch Hospital” in honor of the German scientist who isolated the organisms that caused TB and cholera.

For the first half of the 20th century Koch Hospital thrived. Hospital administrators established a farm on the grounds in 1922 and by 1937 it supplied fresh produce including apples, tomatoes and grapes to other City institutions. The hospital published its own newsletter from 1925-1947 providing health care news and tips to the patients and their families. Patients received job training while recuperating, and could take classes in business, sewing and other trades. Bond issues in 1920, 1933 and 1934 allowed the hospital to expand to almost five hundred beds. It wasn’t enough; the facility had a waiting list of 200 in 1939. At that time TB claimed 600 St. Louisans a year, and it was thought that at a ratio of two beds for each death, the city needed 1,200 beds to keep up with the disease’s toll. Plans were drawn up for expansion in 1939, but went unfunded when Congress killed the appropriations bill that paid for them.

During World War II a health care professional shortage lead to the closure of some wings of the hospital. After the war, improved public health prevention measures and better medication reduced tuberculosis infection rates and the need of a specialized facility. Funding for the hospital was cut during the 1950s as the City tried to sell the property. In 1961 the City dedicated Koch Hospital to the care of the indigent elderly, but after trouble with federal and state payments and high running costs, the facility was shut down in November 1983, and its buildings razed in 1989 after a successful nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

On a personal note, my father worked at Koch Hospital in the maintenance department during the 1970s. Every weekday morning my mother would wake me up and I would crawl into the backseat of our station wagon where I would snooze on the drive taking my father to work. I remember seeing him framed in the window as we dropped him off, a face that’s now a smudge after 30 years of fading memory. One day he collapsed and died on the hospital grounds, ending the morning drives and beginning a long, winding personal journey that didn’t end until I became a father myself decades later.

Is my father one of the souls rumored to haunt the hospital grounds? My intuition, thanks to my Irish blood, emphatically tells me “no”. But what about the souls of those swept off prematurely by cholera, smallpox and TB? Even though I count myself as an unbeliever, I wouldn’t want to test my lack of belief with a nightly trip there.

Maybe the last request of the Dying is to be remembered. Those interred on the Koch Hospital grounds deserve at least that much. In 1866 175 members of a regiment of African-American soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War, the 56th United States Colored Infantry, died of cholera and were laid to rest on the grounds. During the mid 20th century their remains and a monument commemorating their service was moved to nearby Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, a well tended memorial for the city’s veterans. While the nameless that remain buried there may not have lived as heroically as those men, they came to our nation from all over the world seeking better lives only to be stricken by diseases that were transmitted easily due to their abysmal living conditions. Their contribution to our nation lives on and deserves not to be forgotten.

While the buildings, designed at the turn of the 20th Century in the Italian Romanesque and Italian Renaissance styles, weren’t deemed worthy of being saved, the site itself must be preserved. One way would be to clean the site up and make it a state or national park, complete with a visitor’s center and hiking trails dotted with displays showing the grounds over the years, and the way disease and those who fought and suffered them shaped our nation’s history.

Koch Hospital’s main administration building as of April 1984
Koch Hospital main admin building - 1984

The grounds of Koch Hospital as seen by satellite in 2007 ( (click here for full image)
Koch Hospital by satellite

Combined satellite image with map:

For more recent photos taken of the site, please visit The Robert Koch Hospital website.

Thanks to The Robert Koch Hospital website for background information. Most of the information presented here is sourced from the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form available online by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

UPDATE: August 2008
I visited the site with my elderly mother but it’s completely fenced off and it’s difficult to tell the layout of the property from the ground when it’s overgrown. Better to explore the site in the dead of winter. I did note that there are some marked graves on the Elks Club property.

Carbon Footprint of UN Conference

Much of the blame for carbon dioxide emissions gets put on cars. However if you really want to warm the planet fast and you believe the current scientific consensus that CO2 emissions are to blame, then hop on board an international flight. This is the reason why I can’t get past the irony of holding a UN sponsored conference on climate change in one of the most remote places on the planet, about as far from UN headquarters as you can go and still get a tan without drowning.

The distance between New York City and Bali, Indonesia is 10163 miles (16356 km) (8832 nautical miles). The US is sending 60 delegates - so we’ll assume that they are all based at UN headquarters in NYC. We’ll also assume that they aren’t packed in coach and that they are flying Business Class on a non-stop flight that is 80% full.

Here’s a nifty calculator that does all the calculations based on latitude and longitude.

For this single trip, each participant from New York City will use 1,731 kg of fuel, producing 5,282 kg of CO2 with the warming effect of 16,146 kg.

That’s each participant leaving New York City. Multiplying that result by 60, the American delegation alone is responsible for 103,860 kg of fuel, producing 316,920 kg of CO2 with the warming effect of 968,720 kg.

But 10,000 people are expected to attend the conference and so far I’ve been unable to find any type of geographic breakdown. So I’m going to make some assumptions:

4,000 participants from New York – that’s where UN headquarters is.
1,000 from Los Angeles – for press, Hollywood UN groupies, and UN personnel stationed at west coast consulates.
3,000 from Rome – for European NGO, UN and official contingents
1,000 from Hong Kong – that will cover participants and press from Japan, China and SE Asia
1,000 from Delhi – which will cover South Asia, the Middle East and Africa

Origination # of travelers
kg of fuel per traveler total fuel
kg of CO2 per traveler total CO2
kg of CO2 warming effect per traveler total warming effect
New York 4,000 people
1,731 6,924,000 kg
5,282 21,128,000 kg
16,146 64,584,000 kg
Los Angeles 1,000 people
1,450 1,450,000 kg
4,508 4,508,000 kg
13,525 13,525,000 kg
Rome 3,000 people
1,240.00 3,720,000 kg
3,850.00 11,550,000 kg
11,560.00 34,680,000 kg
Hong Kong 1,000 people
404 404,000 kg
1,256 1,256,000 kg
3,769 3,769,000 kg
Delhi 1,000 people
608 608,000 kg
1,889 1,889,000 kg
5,666 5,666,000 kg
Fuel used: 13,106,000 kg
CO2 produced: 40,331,000 kg
Warming effect: 122,224,000 kg

I will update this post with better numbers as I find them. However my estimate is that the UN conference in Bali will spew over 40,000 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in air travel alone. This CO2 has the warming effect of just over 122,000 metric tons of CO2.

According to this Wikipedia article, trees planted in the tropics remove 22kg of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. That’s roughly 45 trees needed to remove one metric ton of CO2.

So in order to cover the 40,000 metric tons we would have to plant roughly 2,000,000 trees in the tropics. I am currently working on learning more about these plantings, including species (e.g. Leucaena leucocephala, a Mexican native), size of tree, and the number of trees per hectare – so that I can estimate the area of afforestation it would take to offset this conference. However, I’m very leery of planting non-native species based on my experience with Senna spectabilis, a tree that is so invasive that you can cut one down, take the log and stick it into the ground and before you know it it will sprout and grow. Senna might offset carbon, but Senna forest is a desert in terms of its ability to support wildlife.

Finding stem density for tropical forests has been tough. The best I’ve found so far is this study on Ugandan forest. They used a 10cm DBH threshold, and found an average density of 479 trees per hectare. Using this figure I calculate that 4,175 hectares (10,317 acres) of trees would need to be planted to offset the carbon produced by the conference. Or just over 1 acre of trees per participant.

Glenn Reynolds has stated, “I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who say it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis.” It’s difficult to argue with that sentiment. Imagine a conference to fight illegal drugs being attended by participants who were stoned, or holding a meeting to combat obesity at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Are global warming skeptics the only ones who appreciate the irony here?

Hat tip: The Rosett Report

UPDATE: 12/5/2007
The Seattle Post Intelligencer gives the carbon footprint at 47,000 tons, which is a bit higher than my estimate. However the article quotes Chris Goodall, author of the book “How to Live a Low-Carbon Life,” as saying that the figure is probably closer to 100,000 tons.

The Kiwi and the Eagle: Anti-Americanism in New Zealand

Originally posted at Dean’s World here.

I recently wrote about my Wife’s experience while serving at a hospital in Tanzania with a 24 year old New Zealander. The girl was well versed in anti-American propaganda and felt compelled to heap abuse on my Wife. The Wife is quite capable of defending herself, but she lacks my background knowledge of American foreign policy and world history. During our brief phone call, I provided her with some basic facts to combat the Kiwi’s propaganda regurgitations. Afterward I decided to dig deeper into the youngster’s bigotry and did some research into New Zealand’s attitudes towards Americans. What I found changed my mind about wanting to visit the place anytime soon.

Part of New Zealand’s anti-American bigotry is no doubt due to size. New Zealand has four million people – roughly the same number of Americans who eat in their sleep or believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. Living in a tiny nation may make one cheer any victory over comparative giant – even in such a yawner sport as yachting. However New Zealand shares similar history and culture to the United States. It is a former British colony with an established democracy and similar religious background, with more Protestants than Catholics, and more Buddhists than Jews and Muslims. New Zealand has spent most of its time since independence under European-style socialist governments. However over the past decade it has become a strong advocate for free trade, especially in closed agricultural markets.

Yet Only 29% of New Zealanders had a positive view of the United States in 2004. That puts it on par with Pakistan at 30% and below Russia (43%) and China (42%). So much for the idea that shared cultural ties can bind people together.

In 2005, an American working as a high school teacher in rural New Zealand filed a lawsuit in the country’s Human Rights Commission after being verbally abused by his students because of his nationality. Another American, Douglas Sparks, brought his family to the country to oversee the Anglican Church’s Wellington Cathedral. Two years later he left vowing never to return after being the target of anti-US graffiti and his children were taunted in school by classmates telling them they hoped American soldiers would be killed in Iraq.

That same year outgoing US ambassador Charles Swindells in his final speech slammed New Zealanders for indulging in “empty, inaccurate criticism of US ideals or actions that offers no constructive alternatives and gives no credit where credit is due.”

Many are quick to leap to conclusions that the anti-Americanism is a recent phenomenon due primarily to the Iraq War. However anti-Americanism in New Zealand predates the Iraq War by about 40 years, starting with the Vietnam War protests and more importantly for New Zealanders to the country’s refusal to allow port calls by the US Navy starting in 1986, which resulted in a US freeze on high-level political visits there. In 1998, the Clinton Administration tried to warm relations up in one way by approving a deal that gave New Zealand a squadron of F-16 for a pittance to upgrade its obsolete air force. However the following year New Zealand elected an anti-American Labor Prime Minister Helen Clark who refused the offer.

In 2002, New York Times senior staff writer and former Clinton speechwriter James Gibney visited New Zealand to give a speech and was stunned by the level of anti-Americanism he found.

There was a very black and white view of US actions towards Iraq, and what our motivations were in the world. There was a sense that the US was much more of a rogue state than many of the countries that it labelled rogue states and that was kind of surprising to me. The other thing that was surprising was that people talked of US opinion as being monolithic. It was like we were all one and there was no distinction made between Democrats and Republicans or people who might disagree with Bush administration policies. That was unfortunate, because there seemed to be an animus directed towards America as a whole rather than just the administration’s policies [emph add] . That took me aback.”

New Zealand Ambassador to Washington Denis McLean attributes anti-Americanism to the country’s “residual pro-Britishness.” “For a long time we were quite happy with the British and I think a lot of people in New Zealand would still rather prefer the British to be running the world. We do think like them.” McLean also notes New Zealand’s isolation as being partly to blame. It’s nearest neighbor, Australia, is a thousand miles away – greater than the distance between New York City and Bermuda. It’s nearest neighbor to the south is Antarctica at 3,000 miles and to the east is Peru, 6,500 miles away. ”

The World War 2 generation that waited for the arrival of US marines in New Zealand to save them from an expected Japanese invasion is slowly dying off, replaced by generations who have grown up without any direct threat. Like the kiwi which lost its ability to fly in the absence of predators, young New Zealanders have lost the important roles defense and patriotism play in their own nation’s health and security. Writer Joanne Black notes, “the flag-worship of Americans could not be further from the position of many New Zealand schoolchildren who would be unable to differentiate New Zealand’s ensign from Australia’s.” Australia, having been attacked by the Japanese during World War 2, tends to take defence issues more seriously than its isolated neighbor. Former Ambassador McLean states “They’re slightly closer to Asia, but the real bottom line is that they know they are vulnerable. We tend not to think in those terms…”

Word is getting around. Travel forums are filled with posts by Americans traveling there who are worried that they will be discriminated against for jobs and housing. Even Left-wing ideology doesn’t protect expatriates like University of Auckland senior lecturer in political studies Dr Paul Buchanan, who visits the US twice a year and is “struck when I get there by how it is Rome before the fall.” “I have in the past couple of years, particularly related to some
public commentary I’ve made, had some nasty emails saying, ‘bloody Yank, go back home’.”

For millions of years the kiwi thrived in its isolation. However today it is endangered by introduced predators including stoats, dogs, cats, weasels - and just about anything else that is fast enough to catch it. Only human intervention has saved the flightless bird from extinction. Likewise New Zealand has thrived under the global security umbrella provided by the United States and its neighbor Australia. While radical Islam hasn’t caught hold in the nation yet, the support of jihadis in Iraq by some in New Zealand along with the nation’s anti-American bigotry should give New Zealanders pause for one important reason:

The weasel is a greater threat to the kiwi than to the eagle.

Years ago a Japanese once told me, “Japan is a small nation, and we Japanese have small hearts. America is a big nation. You Americans have big hearts.”

I answered that it didn’t have to be that way, that Japan may be a small nation, but it played an increasingly large role in the world. It was only a matter of time before the Japanese found that they had “big hearts” too.

Since that time Japan has sent peacekeepers to Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has provided crucial logistical support in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as for the Tsunami relief effort. It has also backed US policies vis-a-vis North Korea at critical times, thereby helping East Asia – and the world – become a safer place IF Kim Jong-il gives up his nukes (and doesn’t sell them on Ebay to Syria). Have the hearts of Japanese gotten bigger? I’d like to think so.

New Zealand, on the other hand, is a small nation, but its growing anti-Americanism only diminishes it further.

The Marine

Last week the Family traveled to southern California to see the Marine – the Wife’s son. The Marine was in the field for the first few days of our trip, but was able to spend a day or two with us. It was the first time I had seen him since 2000, and back then he had left with his trailer-trash wife after putting us through an emotional wringer. Then 9-11 hit and things changed. I took the opportunity to reach out to him through his email account two weeks later…

Given the situation in the world right now I am taking
the opportunity to contact you. Whether you respond or
not is up to you.

Contrary to what you think, there are still people
here who care about you. The world has become a much
more dangerous place in the last two weeks, and you
are in an organization devoted to the protection of
our nation. Your safety is on every one’s minds, and
if you wish to pretend that it’s not then go right
ahead. Ignore this email.

However if there is a part of you that wants to change
the situation, I want to offer you the opportunity to
do so. That’s why I’ve decided to contact you without
your mother’s knowledge…

The world has changed. Everything that happened before
09/11/01 has little relation to today. It is a time
for new beginnings for those who choose to do so. The
choice is yours.

His trailer-trash wife intercepted the email when he was on his way to Afghanistan and twisted it around. Several weeks later, after I saw his picture in the newspaper and received several letters returned to me unopened by his father, I received a long letter dated 10/06/01…

As you sit in your comfortable house with your high paying job and your college degrees, you look down on me as your dumb marine infantryman. Let me explain something to you. If it wasn’t for “this” dumb grunt with a GED you wouldn’t have the freedom to look down upon me. You are what is wrong with my country. You are weak minded.

The Marine didn’t know me. He knew a caricature of me painted by his father – who assumed I was a typical college educated liberal and who also knew nothing about me. He didn’t know about my blue-collar upbringing and the stories of my dad’s experiences fighting in the Philippines during World War 2 that were some of the few memories I had of my father before he died. He had only spent a few weeks with me and his mother when he was 11 – so he assumed the worst.

At the time he was writing that letter, I was writing this.

Currently there is a strain of logic that is appearing on college campuses and salons of the Left as America goes to war. This logic is what is called the “rape victim asked for it” defense of the indefensible. This logic which has been repeated in the letters to the editor of this and other papers states that the terrorists are not at fault for the attack on the Pentagon and WTC – we Americans are. The terrorists were merely reacting to American policies abroad such as the support of Israel and continued sanctions on Iraq and are therefore ultimately not responsible for the 7,000 dead. The American government is – and since the government represents the will of our people, we Americans are to blame for the death and destruction of September 11, 2001. All that remains is for a call for reparations to the families of the dead hijackers.

Although I consider 9-11 as a metanoia, or spiritual conversion on my part, one of several things that hadn’t changed was a deep respect and reverence for the military, the men who were in “the Service” as it was then known. My father was one of these men, as was my brother-in-law who brought me home a tiny jacket embroidered with a map of southeast Asia and the slogan, “Fighters by day, lovers by night, drunkards by choice, ready to fight. Cu-Chi Vietnam.” Unlike my father my brother-in-law didn’t speak about his experiences in the War – not because his war was Vietnam but because he was a quiet man. Kind of like me – when I’m not pounding away at the keyboard.

Dad w/ Colonel Badger
Dad on the bottom left 1945 Philippines

So Friday rolls around and the Marine is supposed to be at a “meeting” with his men to discuss the week’s training. We popped into his girlfriend’s apartment to see his kid when lo and behold there he is.

28 years old. Thin but well-built, with tattoos spiralling around his neck and arms. He was in a hurry to get back to the meeting and I only had a few moments with him.

“There’s so much I want to ask you,” I said.

“Go ahead. Ask anything,” he replied as he prepped to leave.

The first question that came to mind after knowing about where he’s been and where he’s going: “Was it worth it?”

He answered the question in a unique way, and as he did so it dawned on me that how he viewed Iraq and the GWOT and how I viewed those things were different. He answered the question by talking about how the aspects of his work were just part of the job to him.

And over the few remaining hours together, there wasn’t much talk about the big picture (except to knock a few of the Useful Idiots like Nancy Pelosi). To him going to Iraq and fighting wars was just a job.

I design computer systems. He designs ways of keeping his men alive as they clear out apartment blocks filled with bad guys hiding behind women and children. I go to work in a suit; he goes to work wearing 50 lbs of ceramic plates in his flack jacket. I wield a keyboard – he has medals for pistol and rifle marksmanship.

But beyond that we are common men with jobs to do, there is one key difference between us:

He’s a hero. I am not.

He’s better at being a hero than I am. It’s his job, and personally I don’t want fighting terrorists to become my job – which is why I worry when Democrats thrust their heads into the sand and minimize what terrorists have done in our country, and have said they would do given the chance.

Being a hero is an important distinction between the two of us, and one that I respect. I hope he understands that what he does is more than a job. I don’t go to work with the fate of my nation on my back. I am not trained to exercise a license to kill when called to do so in defense of others or our country. I don’t know if it’s his natural humility or his youthful vision that keeps him from seeing the differences between us.

He’s a United States Marine. I wish I was a United States Marine. Hoo-rah.

Tanzania Trip Video

This is a rough draft of various videos shot on a 2 megapixel camera. I’ve added a soundtrack by one of my favorite soukous stars, Koffi Olomide to make it palatable. I haven’t edited it, so it’s not pro. However if you’ve never been to Tanzania, it should give you a feel for the nation that I can’t help but love.

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The Razor is 5 Years Old

The Razor is officially 5 years old this week.

Here are some developmental milestones for 5 year olds and my take on them:

1. Runs in an adult manner - I believe that The Razor meets this criteria thanks to the ease of posting through WordPress. The Razor was originally done in straight HTML composed in Dreamweaver. It then briefly resided in PHP Nuke for a few months before its content was imported in WordPress. WordPress has made writing a breeze, and allows me to focus more on content than format.

2. Hand preference is established – Although The Razor tends to the Left on certain issues (Gay Rights, Environmentalism) it does favor the Right on most issues.

3. Cuts and pastes simple shapes – The Razor exceeds this milestone as shown by the Photoshop cut/paste work found in Hell’s Newstand and the Ministry of Propaganda.

4. Speaks fluently; correctly uses plurals, pronouns, tenses - Unfortunately The Razor suffers here thanks to my poor language skills. Although I love to write, it does not come easy to me and is often quite painful at times. I have occasionally wondered if I suffer brain damage in the part of my brain controlling sentence structure and word order. This problem is much worse when I speak – my speech being much more stilted than my writing.

5. Still confuses fantasy and reality at times – Absolutely. I regularly fantasize that the media is fair and balanced – until I pick up a newspaper or magazine and see articles glorifying terrorists and denigrating the military.

6. Distinguishes right from wrong, honest from dishonest… - The Razor has a strong moral compass and always has. For this I credit my mother who shaped my raw conscience into an accurate indicator of moral behavior.

6. Thinking is still naïve.I am incredibly naive – especially in social circumstances. If you want to play a practical joke on someone, I’m your fall guy. Perhaps that’s another reason why I tend to avoid social circumstances.

7. Doesn’t use adult logic – The Razor exceeds this milestone. Logic is the heart of The Razor – inspired by and named after Occam’s Razor, the single most useful intellectual tool one can own. It can cut to the heart of the matter, and expose the truth better than any circular saw. It is simply required for anyone who wants to live in possession of one’s own destiny.

8. Wants to conform; may criticize those who do not - The Razor fails this milestone. I have always been a loner and marched to a different drum machine – usually with a techno or industrial beat. I have no urge to conform – absolutely none – and distrust those who do.

9. Understands and names opposites - Let’s see… Nancy Pelosi vs. Dennis Hastert. The New York Times vs. Al Jazeera. Democrats vs. Whigs.

Oops! Those are all analogs. I guess The Razor fails this milestone.

10. Very interested in words and language; seeks knowledge - Here we find the core of The Razor. This journal is simply my attempt at understanding this world we share and communicating some ideas that I find interesting along the way. It’s a search for knowledge, and thereby a quest for Absolute Truth. It is a journey without end, one that began in the smoke of crashed airplanes and smoldering buildings 5 years ago.

As Harlan Ellison penned “I have no mouth – I must scream.”

This is my mouth, and I haven’t even begun to yell.

5 Years Ago

There are certain defining moments in my life.
The first was the death of my father when I was an adolescent.
The second was my acceptance to school in San Diego.
The third was the kiss that began the relationship that led to my sixteen year marriage with my wife and best friend.
The fourth was acceptance of my new role as a father.

The fifth came on a crystalline blue day 5 years ago.

For weeks afterward I was too stunned to speak. But over time I was felt like the main character in Harlan Ellison’s classic work “I have no Mouth and I Must Scream.”

5 years ago, I had no mouth and I wanted so badly to scream. Three weeks later, this journal was born.

It has functioned as my mouth since I published this piece – still one of my favorites – that takes me back to the weeks following that strike when the world abruptly and irrevocably changed for all of us. It remains poignant and relevant to me today:

In a sense this is an attempt by minds to make sense of the nonsensical. By providing motive to the attack, people feel better. They can take comfort in people having been killed for a reason, that the attack was some kind of message which we now must heed.

The attack was meant to change us, and it did – just not in the ways that the attackers wanted.

It has steeled me to the fight. It has energized me with a fire that I have passed along in these writings and newspaper columns since then.

I have found my mouth but strangely as I remember that day so long ago when everything changed, I feel that the best way for me to remember those who have died in this fight for our survival is to do so with silence.

It’s the best commemoration I’ve come up with so far.


But the anger will flow again, rest assured. I have a mouth, and I will scream.

We Are All Israelis

Published as Guest Commentary in the Delaware State News on August 1, 2006.—————————You don’t have to be a Jew to support Israel. It’s a democracy like the United States. It has been a staunch American ally in an unfriendly neighborhood. It has strong political, social and religious ties to the United States.

However it’s more personal for me. One of my earliest memories is the destruction of airplanes sitting on the tarmac in Jordan by terrorists on September 12, 1970. I was 3 years old.

At the time my sister was a flight attendant for TWA. One of the planes hijacked happened to be a TWA flight, and my father – a physically imposing man – was driven to hand-wringing and pacing until he learned that my sister was safe.

Two years later I sat mesmerized in front of the TV watching the hostage drama in Munich unfold. There 11 Israeli athletes were held for 18 hours by Palestinian terrorists before being massacred.

The Arab-Israeli conflict became a part of my daily life when the Arab oil producing states decide to punish the Western nations for supporting Israel. Gasoline doubled overnight from 59 cents a gallon, straining my parent’s budget and ushering in a period of high inflation. Terms like ‘Misery Index’ entered my vocabulary as I watched the nightly news during dinner at home.

As I grew into adolescence I became fascinated by world history. I saw unforgettable photos of the Holocaust and read the stories of unimaginable horror in the concentration camps. I learned how Israel was founded from the ashes of the crematoria.

Since its founding, Israel has been cast into the historical role of the Jewish people: the world’s scapegoat. For decades, the Israelis have been portrayed as greedy – taking away land from the Arabs. People forgot that Israel accepted a two-state solution proposed by the United Nations at its creation. It was the neighboring Arab states, and a large proportion of the Arab population of the prospective Arab state of Palestine who refused to accept the existence of Israel. This continues to be the stand of the Palestinian Authority under the elected leadership of Hamas – a terror group explicitly founded to wipe out Israel and enslave the Jews living there.

The terror attacks continued. As the Israelis suffered, the world convinced itself that the only solution was for Israel to trade the land it had won in battle for peace.

In 2000, Israel itself believed this. It pulled out of south Lebanon. With American guarantees and assurances to both sides it offered the Palestinians all the land it had gained in the prior 33 years. But the Palestinians refused the offer.

Soon, families sitting to dinner were murdered by Hamas terrorists. Toddlers eating pizza at a Jerusalem fast food restaurant were slaughtered by Islamic Jihad attackers, their families paid by Saddam Hussein, their faces painted on walls and names bestowed on streets in Gaza and the West Bank.

Soon after this attack, America experienced 9-11 and shared in the misery of being under attack. On 9-11 the World prided itself by saying everyone had become Americans. In retrospect the truth is that on 9-11 we became Israelis.

Still, Israeli clung to the myth that by pulling out of the lands it had captured in battle, it could buy peace. It pulled out of Gaza, dragging Jewish nationalists screaming at the soldiers who carted them away. Gaza was emptied of Jews, and the first thing the Palestinians did upon taking control was to set fire to the evacuated Jewish synagogues, celebrating and dancing as the temples burned to the ground.

Now Israel finds itself at open war with its enemies. Rockets packed with ball bearings fall upon its northern cities. Hamas attacks continue in the south. Once again the Europeans and the United Nations return to their anti-Semitic roots and try to hold Israel down so that its enemies can attack her without fear of being struck back.

But as an American, I see the truth. It may be possible to talk your way out of a mugging, but you can’t negotiate with a killer. Israel has tried negotiating, has tried playing by the rules imposed on it by the United Nations and the Europeans – and what has it gotten? Dead Israelis.

I stand for Israel because I see it as a desert that has bloomed through the hard work and brilliance of its people. I see a people that has suffered unjustly for thousands of years continue to suffer today. I see a people who refuse to accept the status of victims. I see a people who value peace but aren’t willing to trade it for annihilation.

I stand for Israel because Israel is a nation where Arabs, Jews and Christians live together in peace – next to states where religions and their books are banned outright. I stand for Israel because it values everyone. It holds gay pride rallies next to nations where gays are hung from forklifts. It treats women as equals in all ways, while the women in nearby nations can’t even leave their homes alone.

I stand for Israel because it is at the frontier of civilization, an outpost of honesty in a region mired in corruption. I stand for Israel because in the fight to preserve the light from the darkness, we are all Israelis.

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A Quiet Death For a Humble Man – One Year On

A year ago my father-in-law passed away ten days before his 81st birthday. I wrote about it in this post - one of a string of my most personal and I think, best, writings.

I’ve often said that to me, Death doesn’t make any sense. Living is hard. Creation and building takes so much time and energy, but destruction? Death? Everything is gone in an instant, and what do you have left?

Pictures. Various momentos. And something else: An emptiness that I can only describe as an echo of a life, a vibration that continues but softens with each passing day of a life that once way that isn’t no more.

Are there more such echoes around us that we can’t recognize or hear because we never met the people that caused them? Or do they eventually fade into complete and utter silence? If so, when?

A year on, the Wife is stronger. I am stronger and (I hope) more perceptive. The Kid misses his grandfather but the tears are much rarer now, and they will fade just like the memories that elicit them – until he will one day struggle to remember things about his grandfather and his life as a child with him.

Unfortunately, he leaves behind a wife whom he protected and in a sense, held together. She struggles to move forward, and only now begins to realize how much he shielded her from and grounded her in the world.

The Wife’s sister continues suffering from the insanity of Alcoholism. She has regressed 30 years into the mind of a rebellious 14 year old whose handle on reality isn’t, well, just plain isn’t there.

Beyond that? His garden has gone wild, but his tools remain where he last touched them over a year ago. Most of his clothes were donated and now clothe strangers throughout the area or wait to be sold abroad.

The echo of his life continues.