Saturday, January 19, 2013

Four for a Fortnight


            Next weekend, I am happy to say that I will be in my “adopted home state” of Minnesota, visiting my daughter Rebecca at Carleton College.  Consequently, this post will have to suffice for an entire fortnight.   

For your reading pleasure, I offer you thoughts on four separate topics.  You can expect to hear from me again in early February.  

First, what does everyone think about the Israeli elections coming up next week?  Yes, that’s right, the elections that nobody is talking about.  Normally, the American media pays attention when the Middle East’s oldest democracy opens its voting booths.   The problem however, is that this time around you can’t find any prognosticator who gives the centrist or leftist parties a chance – at least not a chance to control the government (as opposed to serving in a back-benching capacity).  Clearly, the rightward shift in Israeli politics has become tectonic.   What it hasn’t been is sudden.  

Some might trace the current hawkish trend among the Israelis to the Palestinian’s refusal to accept the deal that Clinton was trying to broker in 2000.   Others might point to the Palestinian response to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, or even to the first Israeli Gaza War in 2008.  All of these developments have caused Israelis in increasing numbers to question whether the Palestinians can ever be trusted as partners for peace.   That’s another way of saying that Israelis, in droves, are giving up hope in the two-state solution, because they don’t believe that enough Palestinians will willingly allow one of those states to be “Jewish.” 

As a result, progressive Jews are beginning to sound these days like Chicken Little.  Not only have many lost their respect for the Israeli Government, but they are also becoming alienated from the Jewish State itself.  Talk about an oi vay!

Well, my friends, I can’t lie to you and predict that Bibi Netanyahu will taste defeat this week.  He’ll be re-elected for sure, and the government he’ll form will make the hawks of yesteryear look like George McGovern by comparison.  But this Purim, February 23rd, I intend to deliver an essay with the goal of lifting up our spirits when it comes to the prospects for Middle East peace.  I might even post that essay on this blog, so look for it.  It will reveal my continued faith that, despite all the Jeremiads about the extremism in Israel and Palestine, I do foresee light at the end of this tunnel.  After all, we are talking about the most beloved real estate in the world – the land adored by the entire family of Abraham -- and just like all other family feuds, this one ultimately must come to end.  Insanity can only go on so long before the critical mass of our species comes to its senses.  

Don’t believe me?  Consider that we have now survived seven full decades since the Manhattan Project began, and we’re still here.   That wouldn’t have happened if our instincts for peace were stronger than our instincts for domination and violence.  So keep the faith.  And join me in working hard to support that faith.  Without hard work, faith and prayers can only go so far. 

Second, Ecclesiastes said that there is a time for war and a time for peace.  Well, I say that there’s also a place for war and a place for peace.  The Holy Land is an example of the latter.  Our attitude toward steroid-abusing athletes should, in my view, be an example of the former.

I know that a certain cyclist has been in the news lately, but I’m not a cycling aficionado.  I’d rather talk about a sport that I actually follow: baseball.   This year, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons, two of the most dominant players in the sport’s history became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Also eligible were the sluggers who, in 1998, electrified the baseball world with their Homeric hoists – Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.  Yet, when all the votes were tallied, none of these suspected drug abusers were listed on even 40 percent of the ballots cast (75% is needed for election to the Hall).  In fact, the pall that these and other stars of their generation cast was so great that nobody else was elected to the Hall this year, not even worthy candidates whose names have never been linked to steroids.  It’s as if the baseball writers wanted to send the same message to this past generation of players that the Biblical God sent to the Israelis who left Egypt:  if enough of you disobey, you ALL will be wandering in the wilderness!

I would hope that the Hall of Fame voters don’t keep this up for a full 40 years.  But I REALLY like the statement they made this year, and it wouldn’t break my heart to see it repeated next year either, when such obviously deserving candidates as Greg Maddox and Tom Clavine come up for a vote.  We need to keep ringing this bell over and over and over again: no more PEDs!  Performance enhancing drugs are ruining sports.  They are destroying the physical and mental health of athletes in the professional ranks, in college, and even in high school.  Those who abuse them don’t only cheat the sport or abuse their own long-term health, but they are implicitly harming the health of other players by, in essence, requiring them to take drugs in order to compete.  As a result, they are better analogized to drug dealers, not drug users.

I often hear talking heads on TV or radio make excuses for the PED abusers: they just wanted to be able to ply their trade when they got injured; they just wanted to be able to compete on a level playing field with those who started resorting to PEDs; they were just doing what their coaches condoned, or even encouraged.  Blah, blah, blah. 

Folks, I’m not saying that the steroid takers are evil people.  What I am saying is that they’re not Hall of Famers.  And we as fans need to throw our support behind those who wish to deter PED use through various means, including not only the symbolism of Hall of Fame votes but, more importantly, punitive and comprehensive drug testing policies (the ones so commonly balked at by the players’ unions).  The sooner we clean up professional sports, the safer it will be to compete at every level.

Third, speaking of comprehensive policies, let’s give a big round of applause to President Obama for his recent effort to attack another scourge on our society – guns and ammo.  Oh, I know: we can’t say we’re “anti-gun.”  That wouldn’t be politically correct in this gun-adoring country.   But it’s clear that in the liberal parts of coastal America, most of us really dislike guns, and for folks like us, it is clear that the President’s plan is about as sweeping as we could possibly hope for.  He’s fighting for criminal background checks, an assault weapons ban, a ten-round limit on magazines, the elimination of cop-killing, armor-piercing bullets, terminating the freeze on research involving gun violence, increasing resources designed to improve the mental health of students, and various other measures.  This is bold leadership – just the kind that many of us having been calling for since he was first elected President in 2008.

I hate to quibble, but there is one thing I wished the President could have added to his massive proposal.  I wish he could have taken a more affirmative stand on the need to curb violence in movies and video games.   I realize that there is no research support for the linkage between mass murders and violent programming.  But common sense indicates that Hollywood’s love affair with gun violence doesn’t exactly make us safer, if you get my drift.  Moreover, by refusing to assign a larger role to Hollywood, President Obama creates the impression that he is simply throwing red meat to his liberal base, and ignoring the legitimate comments of conservatives.   Massacre control shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and those of us who are concerned about the violence epidemic in America had better seek a broad tent when it comes to garnering allies.   The President is missing a big opportunity to do just that by taking on Hollywood violence.  I love Quentin Tarantino as much as the next guy, but taking him on could be Obama’s Sister Souljah moment.  

Maybe President Obama is indeed planning to take on Hollywood as part of his anti-violence program.  Maybe we’ll hear more about violent filmmakers during his State of the Union address, or perhaps he intends to deliver a passionate speech on the topic at around the time of the Academy Awards.  I certainly hope so.  Because the longer he ignores that side of the equation, the easier it will be for the NRA to capitalize on his omission and make him sound like he’s just playing politics.  At the moment, though, that organization seems hell bent on shooting itself in the foot, and from all appearances, its magazine has an endless number of rounds to draw from.  How fitting.

Fourth and finally, I would ask that on Monday morning, while our nation celebrates a day off of work, we take a few moments to reflect on exactly why it is we won’t be going to go to the office.  Martin Luther King, Jr. doesn’t have his face on American currency.  He didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence, didn’t free the slaves, and isn’t represented on Mount Rushmore.  He didn’t get us out of a Great Depression or lead us to victory in war.  So does it make sense that we selected him, and only him, as the one 20th century figure whose birth merits a holiday? 

In a word, yes!  More than any other recent figure, Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that racism, classism, and war mongering have been a profound part of American history, but do not need to be part of America’s future.   He is the face of the movement without which we would have no President Obama or Justice Thomas.  Those of us who cannot imagine a time when American blacks and whites drank from separate fountains or used separate bathrooms have MLK above all others to thank.  

Today, we tend to take for granted the great figures of our past.   Monday is a day to remember one of the greatest.  Let’s use it wisely.

P.S. -- Earl Weaver (1930-2013) -- RIP, and from every old-time baseball fan who grew up in Maryland, thanks for the memories.

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