Wednesday, June 23, 2010


McChrystal and his staff have insulted the President, the Vice President, other leaders of the Administration, and most importantly, the millions upon millions of Americans who support the Administration but do not share its faith in a never-ending war in Afghanistan. When this egomaniac referred to the "real enemy" as the "wimps in the White House," that was his way of sticking it to a large segment of the American population, and perhaps the clear majority of the Democratic Party, who have grown tired of trusting our leaders that surges and/or wars of choice are always in the national interest. It can be argued that we were wrong in opposing this latest surge, but there's no argument that we deserve to be kicked in the teeth simply because of our position.

McChrystal has since apologized for his comments, but at the time he made them, he knew exactly what he was doing. After all, the statements were made to representatives of a magazine who clearly intended to print what they heard. McCrystal hasn't denied that he understood these comments would be printed or that he made the comments that are attributed to him. Frankly, I don't even know why he is bothering to apologize -- it would appear that his comments served their intended purpose, to rip apart anyone and everyone who isn't clamoring for war.

I say send him back home and let him spew his macho rhetoric to a more sympathetic audience, like perhaps on Fox News. We don't need people like that representing a Democratic Administration.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


On this Father’s Day weekend, it seems suitable to talk about the walk of life that brings the most joy to the most men – other than sex, of course. I’m referring to spectator sports. And if you can’t tell, there’s plenty of it going on these days.

First and foremost, we have the World Cup. Every four years, even non-soccer fans like me turn out and watch what is a truly beautiful spectacle. The World Cup is the world’s most widely watched sporting event. Four years ago, the estimated viewing audience for the event’s final exceeded 700 million people – nearly seven times the viewership of the Super Bowl. Soccer (or football, as it is called elsewhere) is the international spectator sport, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Nor do I see a change in the United States’ relative lack of interest in soccer once the World Cup is over. Then, we will return to our own sports, most of which are afterthoughts in such soccer hotbeds as Brazil, Argentina, England, Germany and Spain. I’m referring to sports like baseball, where once again no team has a better record than the Yankees (yawn) and where the Red Sox (the team with the second largest payroll in the sport) is poised to give the Yanks a serious challenge down the stretch. So yes, in sports, some things never change. But recently, other things have.

Let’s start with basketball. In 1979, when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird first faced each other to end their brilliant college careers, there was no doubt which pro basketball team had dominated the record books. The Celtics had won 13 world championships and Lakers a “mere” 6. Those numbers would both go up rather swiftly in the 1980s, once Bird joined the Celtics and Magic the Lakers, but still, they retired with the tally at 16 and 11 – not nearly as lopsided as before, and yet hardly debatable as to who was on top and who was looking up. At that point, the Celtics had a single player, Bill Russell, who won as many rings as the Laker franchise had won in its history (11), and the Celtics had a coach, Red Auerbach, who had won almost as many titles (9). Plus, in head-to-head matchups, the Celtics were 8-2 against the Lakers and 4-0 in game 7 battles. While it’s true that Magic’s Lakers had won their last two matchups against Bird’s Celtics, the first time Magic faced Bird in an NBA final, the Celtics came out on top. And the series could best be remembered for a single play: the Lakers Kirt Rambis going up for a layup, only to have the Celtics Keven McHale “clothesline” him – i.e., stick out his arm while Rambis was in the air and smack him in the neck, knocking him to the ground. The TV announcer, Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn, spoke as if the play was entirely acceptable and the referees gave McHale but a slap on the wrist, but Laker fans were incensed. That play completely turned the series in the Celtics favor, as the Lakers didn’t retaliate with an equally “physical” response. So even though Magic and his Lakers went on to win three more championships in later years, the Celtics continued to be known as the tougher, and ultimately the more accomplished, franchise.

However, in the last two decades, culminating in Thursday night’s battle, the worm has turned. Finally, the Lakers have beaten the Celtics in a seven game series. What’s more, the Lakers won despite a terrible shooting night by their best player, Kobe Bryant. The victory has been explained by many as a difference in will ¬– the Lakers simply wanted it more, and they got fresher in the fourth quarter, whereas the Celtics wilted. The motivation is clear: the Lakers are now but a single win behind the Celtics in overall NBA titles (17-16), and in terms of overall appearances in the NBA finals, the Lakers trounce the Celtics, 31-21. When it comes to consistent excellence, there is no longer a contest.

Sports is all about “what have you done for me lately,” and lately, the Lakers are by far the better franchise. Since 1980, the Lakers have won ten titles. The Bulls six. Two teams have won four – the Spurs and the Celtics, and three of those four Celtics titles were well over 20 years ago.

What’s more, the two franchises that battled it out this past week seem to be headed in different directions. The Lakers’ best players seem to have plenty of great basketball left, whereas the Celtics “Big Three” are old. Right now, the Lakers are no longer looking up at the Celtics in the pride department, and yet they will continue to be the hungrier franchise, motivated by the desire to finally surpass their rivals in overall titles. In short, if these were companies, it’s pretty clear which stock would be rising and which would be falling. “I Love LA” would be the slogan of every stockbroker in America.

It’s something you couldn’t say about one of LA’s favorite sons, the golfer formerly known as Tiger Woods. Talk about a changing of the guard – nothing in basketball even remotely resembles what is happening now in golf. In case you can’t tell, Tiger has figuratively passed the baton, and by the end of this weekend, he seems poised to make the passage official. If Phil Michelson continues to play even half as well as he did yesterday at the U.S. open, he will be listed as number one in the Official World Golf Rankings by the end of the weekend. As for Tiger Woods, he seems to have thoroughly lost his way as a golfer. Not only is his driving accuracy among the worst on the PGA tour, but he hasn’t even been willing to hire a coach to fix the problem. Tiger’s plan is allegedly to be his own coach – which is kind of like being your own lawyer. I guess that means that Tiger, the coach, has a “fool for a client.” Then again, that hardly needed to be said. Calling Tiger “foolish” would probably be the nicest thing anyone has said about him since Thanksgiving.

Lest it sound like I’m piling on “poor” Tiger, the fact remains that I continue to root for the guy and not for his rival, Michelson. But as a would-be Empathic Rationalist, I have to call it as a I see it: Michelson’s revival has been nearly as remarkable as Tiger’s downfall. It’s as if the “Golfing Gods” wanted a superstar to continue to reign over the other members of the PGA tour, and have simply replaced Tiger with Phil.

Middle America couldn’t be happier – in place of a steely competitor who never signs autographs and loves to cuss after a bad shot, we have a happy-go-lucky, fan-friendly gentleman who has the capacity for magic whenever he’s wielding an iron. Personally, though, I never change loyalties when it comes to sports. I pick a team or an athlete and stay with them, through all the scandals (Tiger), all the torturous defeats (Vikings), and even the threats of going out of business (Twins). I have neither the time nor the energy to alter my allegiance.
The irony of talking about sports on Father’s Day is that even for those of us men who have lived for decades and fathered multiple children, when it comes to sports, we’ll always remain small boys – not fathers, but sons. That’s the joy of it – spectator sports are a way for people of any age to forget all the stresses of the world and cheer mindlessly for whatever side they’ve arbitrarily decided to live or die with.

I often tell people that I named my dog after Kirby Puckett, the baseball player. When the dog was born in 1996, Kirby the Minnesota Twin was one of the most beloved athletes in his sport. Five years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first try. But around that time, Puckett the Man also became a controversial character, who among other things, was alleged to have tried to strangle his wife with an electrical cord, and to have yanked another woman into a public bathroom before fondling her. The allegations were awful, and based on what I’ve surmised, there must have been plenty of truth to at least some of them. Yet whenever I see old films of a younger Puckett rounding the bases, jumping over the center field wall to snag a fly ball, or yanking a hanging curve out of the park, I forget all about the other side of his personality.

Young boys don’t need to think about that stuff – certainly not on Father’s Day.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It’s now been a couple of weeks since the flotilla incident shined a nice red light on Israel’s Gazan policy, and as I pointed out last week, it also brought into the open what zealots on both sides have been thinking but have not been willing to say publicly. Helen Thomas was the first celebrity to speak her mind in the wake of the incident. Sadly, she will now be known in the future as an anti-Semitic journalist, rather than simply as a journalist. There’s no other way to construe the idea that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to such places as Poland and Germany.

But Thomas was not alone in revealing her deepest thoughts. This week, observers of the Middle East were privileged to hear from New York Senator Charles Schumer. Here are some of his words, as delivered to the Orthodox Union: “"The Palestinian people still don't believe in a Jewish state, in a two-state solution. More do than before, but a majority still do not. Their fundamental view is, the Europeans treated the Jews badly and gave them 'OUR' land - this is Palestinian thinking.”

So far, I have to say that Schumer was accurate. Looking at the Palestinians I know who claim to believe in a two-state solution, not one believes that either state should be a “Jewish state” with any special privileges for Jews. Nor would any dispute that the land belonged to the Palestinians, and the Europeans inappropriately seized it away from them and gave it to the Jews.

Unfortunately, Schumer didn’t stop at that. In speaking about the Palestinians, Schumer said that “they don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” Schumer added that “you have to force them to say Israel is here to stay.” And speaking specifically about the Gazans, he stressed the need "to strangle them economically until they see that's not the way to go, makes sense."

It’s not exactly the kind of diplomatic words you’d expect from a politician. Yet in the polarized climate that now characterizes Israeli-Palestinian relations, you can pretty much get as extreme as you want and find audience after audience to say “amen.” In the so-called “peace movement,” otherwise known as the Palestinians-are-the-victims crowd, Israel is assigned 90+ percent of the blame. By contrast, in mainstream Zionist organizations, otherwise known as the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd, everyone may claim to believe in peace, but they don’t really believe it’s possible and they’re not doing much to make it possible. And so it goes, the war that never ends.

I saved my final barbs last week for Thomas because the kind of anti-Semitism she spewed strikes a particular chord with me as a Jew. I don’t care if she’s 89, or for that matter 109; only a Jew hater would speak such trash.

Still, if I am going to hold Thomas to task, can I sit back and say nothing about Schumer’s words? To begin, I am mystified by the part about the Palestinians not believing in the Torah or David. Does he realize the irony of that statement? The Muslims deeply respect the Torah and consider the main figures in that book to be Prophets of God – including David. By contrast, most of my fellow Jews have little appreciation for what’s in the Qur’an and frequently refer to it mockingly, as if it encourages suicide bombings (which is absolutely false). If anyone should be apologizing for “not believing” in the other group’s holy texts, it’s us Jews.

Moreover, what really rankled me about Schumer’s statement is the idea that Israel needs to strangle the Gazan economy. Surely he’s echoing the views of the Israeli Government. Why else do you deprive your neighboring people of food, hygiene products and medicine? The idea would have to be to destroy the Gazans and bring them to their knees, when they will finally have no choice but to send Hamas packing and embrace peace with the ones who have tortured them.

Those words don’t even pass the laugh test. You can strangle the Gazan economy, but you can’t strangle the will of the Gazan people to fight the ones who oppress them. And don’t fool yourself: Israel is oppressing them. I cannot envision a more counterproductive strategy than the one Senator Schumer is advocating.

That said, Schumer and I agree that the Gazans haven’t exactly made things easy on Israel. In fact, even if Israel were to take their advice from Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, they still might not have peace – many Palestinians would continue to threaten Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and I can’t see those men advising Israel to destroy itself. The truth is that BOTH sides must together take the steps to embrace peace. And at present, neither side trusts the other enough to see any point in taking such steps.

It’s called a stalemate. It has lasted for six decades. And it will take the Israelis, the Palestinians, other Arab states, and those of us in America and Europe to fight together to make sure it doesn’t last for another six decades.

For now, all we can do is listen to the Chuck Schumers and the Helen Thomases and keep taking notes. At least the truth is coming out. At least we’re learning exactly how much disdain is out there, and how difficult it will be for the peacemakers to take control. Stated simply, the two sides have dug two pretty deep holes. There’s no better time than now to cover them up with love and respect. We must have no more insensitivity about the Holocaust. We must have no more calls for strangulation. Love and respect sound like obvious principles, but apparently, people have forgotten about them. It’s time to cut the macho crap and embrace the “other” before our grandchildren inherit the same war that we did. And wherever you live, be it Hebron, Haifa, Hamburg or Houston, if you care about the “peoples of the book,” this is YOUR war. Let’s end it together.

Sunday, June 06, 2010


It has been about a week since the battle on the high seas between the Israeli armed forces and a ship of activists attempting to deliver goods to the Gazans. Much ink has been spilled on the topic, most of it dripping with hypocrisy. Not since Captain Renault professed to be “shocked, shocked” that gambling was going on at Rick’s has the world witnessed such phony indignation. The same nations that have been sleeping all these years, rather than joining in the fight for Middle East Peace, have now awakened from their slumber. And their target, shockingly enough, is the Jewish State. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the international community had only last weekend learned that, as they say about the Celtics and the Lakers, “Israel and Hamas flat out don’t like each other.”

Several people died in last weekend’s battle, and that is tragic. But something tells me that when all is said and done, the world will be better off as a result of that encounter. I say that because, finally, the underlying problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians are returning to our collective consciousness. And while it is painful to see the sores of the world exposed, without such exposure real progress is impossible.

Before we address what has been revealed in the past week, let’s be clear about what has NOT: who did what to whom on that boat. As someone who conducts investigations for a living, I find it laughable that so many Einsteins abound who are cocked sure that they know the most relevant facts of the incident. Unless they were on the boat itself, those who’ve opined about those facts have simply revealed their bias and undermined their credibility. Hopefully, an investigation will be conducted that has some degree of objectivity. But only then can we know who struck the first blow and who acted with excessive force.

Still, do not despair, for there is much that can be said with confidence about the incident and its general context. And in the name of peace, let me start by being critical of my own people.

Can we now please deal with Israel’s Shermanesque War against the Gazans? Those of us who have paid attention to this region have known for some time that Israel has attempted to keep out of Gaza many medicines and hygiene products, as well as such foods as cilantro, sage, jam, chocolate, French fries and dried fruit. Can anyone possibly argue with a straight face that this is necessary to protect Israel from attack? Or is it more likely that Israel is trying to coerce the Gazan people into getting so fed up with the status quo that they will feel compelled to remove Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy?

While some might find Israel’s Gaza policy to be not only understandable but perhaps even inspired, I find it counterproductive, offensive, and hardly consistent with the higher principles of Judaism. If there are certain substances that Hamas desires in order to attack Israel (and/or defend themselves in a counterattack), then fine, keep them out of the country. But to deny the people of Gaza basic foods, medications and hygiene products is unworthy of the Star of David.

In short, the situation seems to be fairly cut and dried; Netanyahu and his right-wing cronies would like to torture the Gazan people until they boot out Hamas … or until hell freezes over. My bet is on the latter happening first.

So shame on those in the Israeli Government who have overreacted in their war with Gaza. But unfortunately, as crazy as Israel’s conduct has been, I can hardly say that it’s been unprovoked.

Picture the way the United States deals with Al Qaeda. And now imagine that we have an enemy that has attacked us dozens of times more than Al Qaeda has, and that consistently denies our right to exist. That, my friends, is what Israel faces in Hamas. It is safe to say that if we were in Israel’s position, we’d be hitting Hamas a whole lot harder than Israel has.

So yes, Netanyahu and his Government find themselves in the unenviable position of dealing with rocket fire from a neighboring regime. And what has been very clearly revealed this past week is just how much hatred is directed toward Israel throughout the region. I’m not just talking about hatred from Hamas, but the general sense from Palestinians and the greater Arab community that the idea of a Jewish State in the Middle East is an anathema. Indeed, this attitude seems to be increasingly common throughout the world.
Have you all caught the video of Helen Thomas, the so-called dean of the White House Press Corps, being asked about this situation? I watched with horror as she suggested that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to such places as Poland and Germany. Go on to the Huffington Post or other sites where the public is allowed to comment about this topic, and you will find all sorts of vitriol heaped against Israel. Of course, none of these people will admit that they are “anti-Semitic.” As they correctly point out, it is one thing to hate Jews and another to hate Zionism. Still, what is remarkable is the depth and extent of people’s hatred of Zionism, which does sometimes spill over into garden variety anti-Semitism. Even in the self-proclaimed Middle East Peace community, it is rare to find a non-Jew who will admit to being a Zionist. Activists talk about wanting a two-state solution, but it soon becomes clear that the “Israeli” state they envision will not provide any special dispensations for Jews, not even immigration benefits. In other words, the “Israel” that peace activists love to say they support is merely an international state that happened to be founded by Jews but will soon enough be populated primarily by non-Jews, since the number of Jews in the Middle East region is small relative to the number of Palestinians and other Arabs.
I hate to break the news to all these anti-Zionists, but the Jewish State won’t allow itself to be destroyed any more than the people of Gaza will allow Israel to tell them who they can elect. And if this region is to have peace, it will have to result from both sides respecting some basic rights of the other – including the Palestinians’ right of self-determination and the Jews’ right to their own piece of earth. I’m not harboring any illusions that these rights will be respected any time soon, but at least we can feel good that progress can occasionally be made in that direction. In the past week, we’ve seen some such progress. Certain abuses of the Netanyahu Administration are being revealed in the media. And some of the Israel-hating enemies of peace are also getting outed in the media. All of this has to happen.
So to Israel, I say: let’s start treating the Gazans like people, shall we? And to the Helen Thomases of the world: go ahead and reveal yourselves for what you are. Your problem isn’t with Zionism, or even Israel. Your problem is with Jews. And the more you talk about those who aren’t Zionistic as “good Jews” or “Jews of conscience,” the more you inspire the rest of us to fight for a Jewish State.