Sunday, July 31, 2011
How long can you tread water?
If you ask most people what they know about the USS Indianapolis (CA-35), a WWII era US Navy Cruiser, they will perhaps venture a guess that it was among the ships sunk at Pearl Harbor (incorrect).
Others, of a certain age, may recall a monologue from the movie 'Jaws', during which Sam Quint (played by actor Robert Shaw) alludes to the reason he has made a career out of hunting sharks.
But since few people have detailed knowledge of WWII history... and the above-mentioned movie monologue contained only a passing verbal reference to the Indianapolis in an otherwise action-packed film, very few people actually bothered to look into the back-story (hey, Jaws was released long before Wikipedia).
The USS Indianapolis was a Portland-Class Cruiser which saw active duty before and throughout WWII, and which holds a couple of distinctions in the annals of the US Navy:
1. She was the last major US Naval vessel to be sunk during WWII.
2. Her sinking represents the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the US Navy.
In July of 1945, the US was making hurried preparations for the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan; an act which they hoped (correctly, as it turned out) would bring the war in the Pacific to an end.
The USS Indianapolis was ordered to transport several of the critical components of the first atomic bomb ('Little Boy'; slated to be dropped on Hiroshima), including the bomb's enriched Uranium core, to the US Pacific base at Trinian. Once the bomb components had been successfully delivered, the Indianapolis was ordered to sail to Guam... and from there, to Leyte in the Philippines.
Just after midnight on July 30th, about halfway between Guam and Leyte, a Japanese submarine (I-58) fired six torpedoes at the Indianapolis; two of which found their mark on the cruiser's port bow:
"The explosions caused massive damage. The Indianapolis took on a heavy list, and settled by the head. Twelve minutes later, she rolled completely over, then her stern rose into the air, and down she plunged. About 300 of the 1,196 men on board died in the sinking. The rest of the crew, 880 men, with few lifeboats and many without lifejackets, floated in the water awaiting rescue." [source]
Here's where things got far uglier than a simple sinking.
When the Indianapolis failed to arrive in Leyte the day after the sinking, nobody seemed to notice. More than 800 men had been treading water for more than 24 hours with no drinking water or rations, few life vests or lifeboats… and nobody had reported them overdue (a prerequisite for launching search & rescue efforts).
There are differing accounts of why the failure of the Indianapolis to arrive in Leyte didn't raise any alarms.
One theory holds that, due to having been on a super-secret assignment carrying A-bomb components, the Cruiser's transit from the US mainland to Trinian had not been documented. And subsequently, her appearance on the tracking boards for ship movement in the western Pacific was seen by some as an error; borne out by her non-arrival in Leyte.
But that story seems to have been either apocryphal, or a deliberate fabrication by the US Navy to deflect blame.
The currently accepted explanation is that the ship was being tracked by not one, but two different US stations. And despite having sent out a distress signal, which was received by three different US naval officers, some thought it was a Japanese prank, and others simply didn't respond; assuming someone else would. At least one of the tracking stations simply removed the Indianapolis from the transit board on the date she was supposed to have arrived at Leyte, without bothering to check if she actually showed up!
The result was that 67 years ago today, the approximately 880 survivors of sinking of the Indianapolis had been treading water for almost two days. Many were already succumbing to exhaustion, dehydration, starvation and exposure to the sun. But those who were not lucky enough to have found a place in one of the few lifeboats were also being attacked and eaten by White-Tip and Mako sharks.
By the time a routine US patrol aircraft spotted survivors in the water on the morning of August 2nd, three and a half days after the sinking!!!, only 321 men remained alive… and of those only 316 ultimately survived the ordeal!
The navy initially tried to deflect blame by court martialing the ship's Captain, Captain Charles Butler McVay III, for hazarding his vessel by failing to 'zig-zag' during the transit. He was convicted by the Court Martial despite a revelation that the standing order was to "zig-zag at the Captain's discretion, weather permitting". Later testimony offered by the Captain of the Japanese submarine that sank the Indianapolis clearly stated that zig-zagging would not have prevented the sinking.
Despite Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz setting aside the conviction and restoring Captain McVay to active duty, McVay never fully recovered from the burden of the accusations that had been heaped upon him or the responsibility he felt for his men… ultimately committing suicide on his front lawn in 1968 with his Navy Revolver… while holding a toy sailor in his other hand.
"In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a resolution that Captain McVay's record should state that "he is exonerated for the loss of Indianapolis." President Bill Clinton signed the resolution. The resolution noted that although several hundred ships of the U.S. Navy were lost in combat in World War II, McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the sinking of his ship."
Looking at the calendar I couldn't help thinking about those forgotten sailors treading water for almost four days and waiting for a rescue that had never been organized… and being eaten alive by schools of hungry sharks… I thought you should know.
[Afterthought: One of the physical tests we had to pass during basic training in the US Navy was en extended period of floating/treading water while using our pants as an improvised flotation device.]
Thursday, July 28, 2011
'Arab Spring' hasn't quite caught the feminist bug yet...
A couple of words about the video embedded in this post:
This is a video of a recent interview (i.e. conducted after the fall of Mubarak's regime in Egypt).
2. I watched the video with a friend who speaks Arabic fluently (he was born and raised in Egypt and speaks/understands several of the local dialects as a native speaker). The translation is faithful with the exception of glossing over a few idioms... the lack of which doesn't change the overall message.
3. Despite the title of the video, the female Egyptian lawyer being interviewed never actually calls for the rape of Israeli women. In fact, when it seems she is going in that direction, the interviewer specifically asks her... and she says that is not what she means. However, from the point of a native speaker, it is clear that she is leaving the door wide open for whatever consequences might come from 'harassment'.
And now... on with the show:
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Playing to the crowd
The first thing I saw when I started checking the news this morning was an article on the New York Times website... dead center, right at the top.
Apparently a group of left wing Israeli women had successfully smuggled a bunch of Palestinian women from the 'West Bank' over the Green Line, and had taken them for an outing to the beach.
The article was accompanied by a photo of the women cavorting together in the surf.
Now there are a few ways this kind of story could go;
1. It could be a warm fuzzy human interest story about how people on opposite sides of a bloody conflict have more in common than separates them. The most famous example of the genre is the Christmas cease fire during WWI when British and German troops came up out of their trenches and declared an unofficial truce, during which they exchanged gifts, sang seasonal songs and even played a game of soccer there in the mud between their lines.
2. It could be a one-sided propaganda piece designed to show how terrible the lives of these poor Palestinian women really are as as a result of the Israeli occupation/oppression, and how, through the help of a few 'good Jews' these women; "most [of whom] had never seen the sea before" were able to escape their virtual prison and refresh themselves in the cooling waters of the Mediterranean.
Which way do you think The Times went?
The timing of the beach party story/photo was also telling, coming as it does in the midst of an unusually oppressive heat wave in the Times' readership's core distribution area.
A few things the Times takes great pains to tell the readers:
The defiance was extremely risky due to the evil Israeli government:
"The women were Palestinians from the southern part of the West Bank, which is landlocked, and Israel does not allow them in. They risked criminal prosecution, along with the dozen Israeli women who took them to the beach. And that, in fact, was part of the point: to protest what they and their hosts consider unjust laws."
The Israeli government is analogous to Nazi-era Germany:
“What we are doing here will not change the situation,” said Hanna Rubinstein, who traveled to Tel Aviv from Haifa to take part. “But it is one more activity to oppose the occupation. One day in the future, people will ask, like they did of the Germans: ‘Did you know?’ And I will be able to say, ‘I knew. And I acted.’”
Israel, apparently unique among the Nations, is not allowed to determine who may legally travel to, from and across its territory.
"In a newspaper advertisement, the group of women declared: “We cannot assent to the legality of the Law of Entry into Israel, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right."
Not only are Palestinians apparently full citizens being denied their rights, but even the Israeli women are not free.
“They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to experience one of the most beautiful and exciting days of our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if only for one day.”
In order to reach the beach, the women were required to strip down and bare themselves in order to fool the wicked soldiers of the occupation forces.
"The beach trip last week followed a pattern: the Palestinian women went in disguise, which meant removing clothes rather than covering up. They sat in the back seats of Israeli cars driven by middle-aged Jewish women and took off headscarves and long gowns. As the cars drove through an Israeli Army checkpoint, everyone just waved."
Not only are these poor women stuck in a dry, landlocked prison, but many of their men folk are actually incarcerated (for no apparent reason) in real Israeli prisons.
"The Palestinian visitors came with complicated histories. In most of their families the men have been locked up at some point. For example, Manal, who had never been to the sea before, is 36, the mother of three and pregnant; five of her brothers are in Israeli prisons, and another was killed when he entered a settler religious academy armed with a knife."
What the article doesn't tell you:
While the 'West Bank' is indeed landlocked, Palestinians should be able to travel to the beautiful Red Sea port of Aqaba via Jordan if bathing in salt water (or just seeing the sea) is an inherent human right alongside life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Why is it Israel's responsibility to provide field trips to the wives and mothers of terrorists (see paragraph above regarding how many of their men folk are in Israeli prisons)?
Israel used to allow relatively free movement to Arabs living in the 'West Bank'. But when they launched not one, but two Intifadas and began murdering thousands of Israeli civilians in shopping malls, cafes and buses, we realized that it might be a good idea to set up checkpoints and limit who can go where.
As an aside, Israeli Arabs can go anywhere in the 'West Bank', while Israeli Jews are legally prohibited from visiting any of the autonomous Palestinian areas; even those places with deep, religious and historical significance for us.
The article also does not mention the plight of Palestinians living in Syria and Lebanon (both of which have hundreds of miles of beautiful beaches) who are quite literally kept locked in refugee camps and not allowed to travel freely, much less go on outings to frolic in the ocean.
Yet, I can't really blame The Time for pandering to their audience. The combination of Jew/Israeli hatred and a good heat wave in the Metro-New York area must have been too hard for the editorial staff of The Times to resist.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
A passing thought
The other night a close friend and I found ourselves sitting on my back mirpesset (porch) in sinfully comfortable hanging chairs, sipping an excellent wine from a local boutique winery, and snacking on freshly grilled spring chicken and perfectly ripe fruit that was probably picked the day before.
As we rocked lazily in our hanging chairs, we reviewed our week the way a well fed person might review a well laid banquet table; with appreciation but no real pressing interest.
The glasses were filled and refilled, and the conversation turned to wondering why more of our friends from 'the old country' hadn't come to the same conclusions we had about aliyah (moving to Israel).
We briefly toyed with the idea of calling up a few of them in Teaneck and Long Island, and actually asking them what was keeping them there. Certainly it wasn't the high tuitions, health insurance costs or the need to make a fancier Bar Mitzvah than the Schwartz's.
But then we decided such phone calls weren't likely to produce fruitful discussions.
Everyone has their reasons for staying in Galut (the diaspora)... or if not, at least for not wanting to live in Israel. In fact, I'm sure that, with the very best of intentions, many of you will offer them here. And every single one of you will be 100% correct (at least subjectively) in what you say.
We refilled our wine glasses and allowed the soft breeze to rock us gently back and forth... watching in the dim light as a couple of Geckos chirped back and forth on the stone of the back wall, lazily catching passing moths which flew within easy reach.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Customer Service... you're doing it right!
Last week my scooter died on me on the road... not once, but twice, in as many days. The first time around I had to have it transported to my mechanic.
I had no idea why it had died, so the shop was forced to play 'House' and try to diagnose the problem based on very little evidence. For the shop, this has to be a bit nerve racking because it is their reputation (and a customer) on the line.
The first time around they found the coil had burned out, but they didn't catch the short that had caused it. I found that when it died on me the second time half way home after picking it up.
The owner of the shop rode a loaner scooter to where I was stranded, apologized profusely, and sent me home on it; and waited with my scooter for the flatbed truck.
The shop finally found the wires with the split shielding that had caused the short, made the fix... inspected the rest of the wire harness carefuly for other potential problems, and then gave the rest of the bike a very careful inspection.
But the real surprise was that while the mechanic was working on my scoot, the owner noticed that my exhaust was really discolored (actually a ghastly pinkish color) from heat and oxidation. So he removed it and had one of the stock clerks remove the chrome bit, sand down the exterior of the muffler, and spray a couple of coats of flat black heat resistant BBQ paint.
When I came to pick up the scooter I immediately noticed the new-looking muffler and was delighted. Had he asked, I would have gladly given him the go ahead, but when I asked him how much I owed him, he waved me off saying, "People take better care of their scooters when they look nice. It's on the house."
That, my friends, is Customer Service done right.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Stuff you should know how to do
A friend forwarded a list to me over the weekend with the unlikely title: "25 things every man should know how to do by the time he is 18".
I immediately deleted about half the stuff (unlikely Rambo/Jason Bourne field-craft that has no relevance to the typical man's life), and started adding stuff that the list-maker(s) had forgotten. Then I did the most important thing of all; I eliminated the gender bias.
So simply put, I don't care if you are a man or a woman... by the time you reach adulthood (however you define that) you should know how to do every single one of the following (for the sake of others, if not for yourself):
Change a tire
Perform the Heimlich maneuver and CPR
Perform basic first aid
Sew on a button and fix a split seam
Iron a shirt
Replace a faucet washer
Spackle, masking tape and paint a room
Carve a turkey and a roast
Parallel park (in one try)
Drive a stick shift
Build a fire
Use basic power tools
Mow a lawn
Use a search engine effectively
Know basic world history covering at least the last 300 years
Know basic geography and politics of the world as it is today
Prepare 3 different styles of coffee
Brew and serve loose tea
Open a bottle of regular and sparkling wine
Mix a minimum of 10 basic cocktails
Prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner without consulting a cook book
Know how to cook at least 4 different kinds of eggs
Bake pastry and bread from scratch
Have at least one signature dish/meal for which you are known
Order, eat, pay and tip in a fancy restaurant
Use a full place setting correctly (and in the right order)
Be a good houseguest (the kind people will invite back)
Be a gracious host
Hang a picture
Unclog a toilet or sink
Pay a compliment
Accept a compliment
Introduce people correctly
Host a dinner party
Chair a meeting
Use a compass
Read a map
Make a short, informative public speech
Change a diaper
Use a washing machine and dryer
Jump start a car
Check oil and other automotive fluid levels
Shine a pair of shoes
Tie a Windsor knot (full and half)
Tie a bow-tie
Tie a square, bowline and slip knot
Shake hands correctly
Wrap a gift
Write a memorable thank you note
Know a joke or entertaining story appropriate for any crowd (and tell it well)
Tie and bait a fish hook
Scale and clean a fish
Cut a whole chicken properly into 1/8ths
Say no without giving offense
Say yes without looking like a pushover
Use a computer (Windows and Mac)
Pack a (light) suitcase
Give excellent driving directions
Balance a checkbook
Select good produce
Offer condolences at a funeral
Deliver an impromptu toast at a wedding or dinner party
Know how much you can drink before you are effectively impaired
Take a friend's car keys away in such a way that they hug you instead of hitting you
Give a friend your car keys without being asked
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Post 50 Funk
I know, I know... turning 50 isn't so bad... especially when one considers the alternative.
But for whatever reason, I've been in a bit of a funk for the past couple of weeks that has pretty much left me speechless (several of you have emailed to check to see if I'm ok... thanks).
I'm sure I'll snap out of it. But for now I'm just listening intently to the faint whisper of the inner voice.
For context, here is one of my favorite quotes from Steinbeck's 'Tortilla Flat':
"When Danny came back to his house and to his friends after his amok, he was not conscience-stricken, but he was very tired. The rough fingers of violent experience had harped upon his soul. He began to live listlessly, arising from bed only to sit on the porch, under the rose of Castile; arising from the porch only to eat; arising from the table only to go to bed. The talk flowed about him and he listened, but he did not care...".
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The Truth About the 'West Bank'
Monday, July 18, 2011
This pretty much says it all
Hat tip Elder of Ziyon
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-g-generation!
In every generation, parents insist that the music their children are listen to is total crap… and that only the music of their (the parent's) generation is worth listening to. Yet as each successive generation of kids grows up and brings kids of their own into the world, they are equally critical of the music to which their own kids are listening.
To my way of thinking, there are only two possibilities:
1. The parental ear is not able to appreciate the music of their children's generation because of subjective criteria that the parents are using to form their opinion.
2. The above may be true subjectively for each generation, BUT, there is also an objective criteria for appreciating / judging music… and in the case of today's popular music, most of it is actually, indeed, total crap.
I've always felt that #2 was the more correct answer.
Just look at which music has had the most 'staying power' (meaning it is still played widely around the world on mainstream radio stations, used for movie soundtracks, and continues to do a brisk business in retail outlets and music download websites. Yes, that's right; the 'classic rock' from the mid 60s, 70s and early 80s (i.e. talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-g-generation!).
Before anyone starts throwing examples of hits from the late 80s, early 90s and up to the present, at me, let me ask you the following question: Are the songs you are about to mention really, truly, representative of contemporary musical trends, or are they so derivative of the previous generation's music that the songs could easily have been hits 'back in the day'? In short, are the examples you want to use for today's music really what today's music is all about?
I played a gig Saturday night at a posh hotel in Caesarea with a friend's band, and during the long ride home in the wee hours of the morning, while my iPod cranked out a constant stream of 'my' music, I kept trying to figure out the right answer to the conundrum I've stated above. Does today's music really just suck… or am I just deaf to its charms?
As I rode alone through the dark Israeli landscape, a memorable tune from the 70s began playing, and I was instantly transported back to exactly where I'd been when I first heard it… and strangely, could actually picture exactly what I was wearing at the time.
So that sent me wandering down an interesting thought-path…
If you think about the various eras, one period of the 20th century is considered the absolute low point of fashion: The 70s.
If you were alive at the time - or have photographs of relatives that were - you know what I'm talking about. That was a bad, bad time for fashion; Qiana shirts, polyester bell-bottom pants, leisure suits (worn with the open shirt collar OVER the suit collar and lots of chains showing on the fluffy chest hair), platform shoes… and don't get me started on hair styles, facial hair or hideous cars!
Even our homes got caught up in the badness of it all. Think back and be honest with yourselves. Didn't you have avocado colored appliances in the kitchen, while the dominant colors elsewhere in the room (and around the house) were brown, mustard yellow and burnt orange? Nothing further your honor.
Yes, we thought we looked great back then. But unlike previous (and subsequent) periods which have donated accessories, articles of clothing and entire 'looks' to denizens of later decades… nobody is mining the 70's for their new look. That was, by objective standards, just a huge fashion 'faux pas'. No matter how much time passes, those yearbook pictures and old fashion ads are NEVER going to look hip or cool.
So if an era in fashion can be said to have been, objectively, total crap… why not a musical era?
I posit that just as the 70s and early 80s were the nadir for fashion… the 90s through the present is the low point of popular music (with sadly, no end in sight).
Our children will look back in 30 or 40 years at what passes for music these days and will feel the exact same self-loathing and embarrassment that I do when I look at pictures of myself in that powder blue tux I wore to one of my high school formals (with the ruffle front shirt w/ matching blue edging). In other words, it is NEVER going to be anything but cringe-worthy!
Whew… I feel so much better having finally worked that out.
Monday, July 11, 2011
Singing in the shower is one thing, but...First a little back-story and technical groundwork:
1. I have a helmet which has a built in Bluetooth phone system that allows me to take calls automatically without having to use my hands or look away from the road. The calls answer automatically after one ring and end automatically when the caller hangs up. There is also a jack for plugging in an MP3 player, but the speakers in the helmet are not very good... so instead on long rides I often substitute in-ear headphones in place of the ear plugs I usually wear to block the wind noise. I can still hear the road and traffic sounds, as well as the other person on phone conversations... but both the earphones or ear plugs are essential to protect my hearing from the damaging affects of the wind.
2. This past Friday I attended a huge biker/scooter rally where many of Israel's motorcycle and scooter clubs converged on a beer and meat festival (great combination, huh?). I participated with the Israel Vespa Club, and we were scheduled to meet up at a gas station about 20 minutes ride from the festival. I had called the organizer of the Vespa Club the night before to tell him I might have trouble finding the meet up point and asked if I could call him in case I got lost. He said 'no problem' and also programmed my number into his phone in case he needed to reach me.
Okay, so much for the back story and technical details.
So there I was, riding my Vespa along Route 443... reveling in the clear sunny weather... enjoying the light traffic... and jammin' away to a great 70's mix I'd programmed into my iPod Nano.
As I piloted my scooter through the curves of the manicured highway I did what many of you probably also do when you are alone on the road; I started singing along to the music of my youth. Not just singing... but really belting it out!
Heck, why not? Not only was there nobody near me on the road... but I was wearing a full face helmet. You sing when you're alone in your car. I sing when I'm alone in my helmet!
Only one problem. On Thursday afternoon I'd been in a series of meetings where I'd had to put my phone on 'silent', and apparently I'd forgotten to turn the ringer back on... so instead of the phone ringing once in my helmet before automatically answering... the calls were set to pick up right away.
After I'd been on the road for about 45 minutes, a song ended, but instead of silence, I heard muffled laughter inside my helmet.
My panicked mind instantly understood that someone had been treated to me screaming along with a bunch of 70s music... and I had no idea who or how long.
Hoping against hope that it was at least someone I knew well (so I could swear them to silence), I said, "Hello... who is that?".
My heart sank as the answer came from not one person, but several people jabbering away in a combination of Hebrew and accented English. Some were speaking and others were doing a reprise of several of the last few songs I'd been singing.
It was the head of the Vespa Club calling to make sure I hadn't gotten lost... someone I'd met only once before. And he hadn't just heard me... he'd put his phone on loudspeaker so that G-d knows how many other members of the Vespa club waiting with him at the gas station were also treated to a private concert.
My mind feverishly played back tape of the last few songs I'd finished singing; Earth wind & Fire's 'September', Aretha Franklin's 'You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman', Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Boston's 'More Than a Feeling', Elton John's 'Crocodile Rock'... my heart sank realizing nearly every one had lots of big, throaty sections to scream along with. And falsetto? Oh my yes!
When I pulled into the gas station 15 minutes later, I got a standing 'O' from the gathered scooterists. I hoped against hope that most of them hadn't arrived yet when I was being broadcast from a cell phone's tinny speaker... but it didn't really matter. Even those who hadn't heard it in person had gotten the story second hand.
I took the good natured ribbing like a man and smiled and nodded at everyone while I gassed up my scooter. And when I went down the line to put my scooter at the back of the waiting procession, several people reached out and gave me good natured pats on the shoulder and helmet.
A few minutes later, after the last stragglers of the club had arrived, we got our safety briefing and set out onto the highway.
Before long we were joined by a long line of Harley's and other big, loud cruising motorcycles, and we rode the rest of the way to the festival together... with me thanking G-d all the way that I hadn't bought a Harley and joined a Motorcycle club.
Somehow, I think the ribbing from that crowd would have been just a tad rougher.
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Like a really needed a reason to stop eating sprouts!
Like many poorly informed, germaphobic hypochondriacs, I have been following the deadly E. coli outbreak as it has gone from a localized German problem to a European issue... to possibly a global problem.
It took awhile, but the guys and gals in the white lab coats finally traced the E. coli outbreak to a kind of sprout that is widely used to bulk up and add variety/texture to salads.
It turns out, the pocket-protector crowd should have identified the source of the outbreak much sooner given the recent news that this kind of sprout is particularly prone to harboring nasty stuff... so much so that a routine part of the pre-germination routine is soaking the seeds in a chlorine solution just a tad weaker than what you're likely to encounter in a typical public swimming pool!
Well, the Times has now announced that an Egyptian company sold more than 11 tons of the funky fenugreek seeds to a German distributor, who in turn sold them to companies all over Europe (and possibly beyond). And only a tiny fraction of that shipment has been accounted for!
So, not that I needed a compelling reason to give up eating sprouts... but aside from my typical Neanderthal diet of animal protein, I am definitely limiting my salad fixins to a strict romaine lettuce, tomato and cucumber regimen... and then only in small amounts.
I like my odds with 'Mad Cow' Disease a lot better than with E. coli!
Double (triple?, quadruple?) Standard
To quote 'The Dude' (from 'The Big Lebowsky'), "Oh man... my thinking about this case has become very uptight!".
I'm not sure why I'm thinking about this now... but my guess would be all the online chatter about the Casey Anthony verdict.
So here's my thinking:
I'm guilty of fostering a terrible double standard when it comes to the criminal justice system... specifically regarding the trial portion of the system.
When it comes to terrorists and other similarly accused security offenders, I am in favor of a system whereby the perps are tried, judged and sentenced by a judge. A judge (presumably) knows and understands the law better than a group of laymen ever could, and is (hopefully) less likely to be swayed by factors that are known to trouble juries (race, gender, religion, age, etc.)
On the other hand, if I were ever wrongfully accused of killing someone, I'm not sure I'd want my fate in the hands of just one person. What if the judge does have a political, religious, gender or ageist axe to grind? What if he/she is having a bad day... has a problem (or past history) with my defense attorney... is under review for being too lenient with defense objections and motions in a previous trial similar to mine?
The outcome of the Casey trial, like that of the OJ Simpson trial, severely shook my faith in the Jury system.
But then again, returning to the supposition that everyone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, if I were on trial for my life, I'd want my defense team to enjoy the improved odds of planting that shred of doubt in one of twelve minds... not just in the mind of a single judge.
Of course, there is always the old axiom, "Do you really want to place your fate in the hands of twelve people who were too stupid to get themselves excused from Jury duty?"
How many times did I flip-flop in this post? I've lost count.
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Read it Here
The Little boy who cried... FIRE!
Yesterday evening, shortly after I got home from work, our seven-year-old Yonah was sitting on the couch resisting all my efforts to coax a description of his day. You see, he had a bit of a headache from not having drunk enough water on a hot sunny day of playing outside.
Suddenly, mid-grunt, Yonah perked up and blurted out, "I smell something burning!".
We didn't pay much attention to the non sequitur, since for one, Yonah is the master of the non sequitur... and for another, the farmers who tend the vineyards in the valley behind our house often burn old vines and leaves (both to dispose of them, and also to raise the pH of the soil with the ashes).
But after he'd repeated that he smelled smoke a couple of times it occurred to me that this wasn't the season for burning old vines and leaves. That would come only in the late fall after the harvest was finished.
So with Yonah at our heels, Zahava and I went out onto our back balcony to see where the smell was coming from.
To our shock, there was a thick column of smoke rising from some unseen spot further down the slope of the valley directly behind our next door neighbor's home, and small tongues of flame were occasionally jumping into view.
I quickly called the emergency numbers and reported the fire... and while I was on the phone with the dispatcher, I saw several teenagers running from the site of the fire screaming something to one another... so I added to my report the fact that there might be more kids in or near the area of the fire.
While we waited for the fire department to arrive, Zahava called our neighbors to alert them, and I went out back with Gilad to see if we could get a better view of the situation from the back of our property.
By the time we got to the back edge of our yard, the column of smoke had broadened in all directions, and the roar of flames was clearly audible from the valley. The fire was spreading quickly; feeding on the tinder-dry brush in the valley.
Zahava reached one of the neighbors (two doors down) but our next door neighbor answered his cell phone in a town two hours away. I got on the phone with him and asked if he had a hose in his back yard.
Our back yard is a tangle of weeds with which we have somehow never gotten around to doing anything productive. But our neighbor's yard is a beautiful green paradise with fruit trees, grape vines bordered with thick bushes of honeysuckle.
He said that he had a small garden hose, but that the pressure wasn't very good. I quickly found it and started wetting down the bushes at the edge of his yard as best I could.
While I was doing so, I watched in horror as the fire grew exponentially by the minute... and by the time the fire fighters arrived, the entire valley was ablaze, and the flames were licking at the yard of the people two doors down from us.
I re-routed the garden hose to try to wet down the garden and grape vines two doors down, but before long, half of their yard was ablaze and the wind and heat were pushing me back towards the next door neighbor's yard.
The fire fighters yelled at me to get out of the way, and within moments a thick stream of water was beating back the fire from two direction. So I went back to wetting down our neighbor's bushes; checking every few seconds to make sure the flames weren't getting close enough to warrant my having to leave.
The fire fighter's weren't happy that I, and a couple of other neighbors had remained in the back yards hosing down bushes, but since the flames didn't seem to be in imminent danger of entering the yards, they left us alone and did their heroic job of battling the blaze below.
By this time, the municipality security force had evacuated all the people from our street, so Zahava, the kids and Lulu (our dog) were on the next street up with the rest of our neighbors.
It took the better part of an hour, but the fire department finally brought the fire under control. They continued to wet down the borders of the burnt area for another few hours and occasionally had to re-extinguish a small blaze that came back to life.
By then, the people on the street had been given permission to go back to the houses, and I met Zahava out front. One of the fire fighters who had been behind our house passed by as I was talking to Yonah and we told him that Yonah was the one who had first noticed the fire. He smiled wearily and said "Kol Hakovod" (literally 'all the honor'... but roughly translates as 'great job').
As he continued walking, the firefighter motioned for me to go with him to the street above where an ambulance was waiting. He said that as a precaution, all the people who had been in the area close to the fire were being required to sit and breath pure oxygen for a few minutes, just in case we had inhaled too much smoke.
I felt fine, but humored him and did my five minutes sitting on the bumper of the ambulance with the oxygen mask on. Afterwards, I went back home and Zahava and I made a big fuss over our little hero Yonah; the boy who cried FIRE!... all the while doing that nervous act parents do when they don't want their kids to know just how shaken up they are.
I'm writing this at 5:30AM... and the entire neighborhood still reeks of smoke.
Monday, July 04, 2011
For the sake of this exercise, let's assume that everyone reading this knows how to play baseball, and finds the experience enjoyable.
Picture yourself playing baseball on a perfectly manicured field.
The weather is perfect and the sun shines pleasantly on your shoulders as you enjoy the wide open landscape and revel in both your ample skills and intimate knowledge of the rules of play.
You are in good shape and confident in your abilities as a player... and the well maintained field seems beautiful, if not particularly challenging. There are no rough spots to cause bad hops, and the base paths are perfectly groomed to allow for full out running, as well as sliding when necessary.
All in all, the experience is a perfect marriage of fitness, skills and environment. Even the presence of a well-matched opposing team is of no concern since you, and your team-mates, understand the rules of the game and seem well matched to the challengers.
Now imagine that midway through your baseball game you forget some or all of the rules and lose one or more of your senses. Imagine also that the field suddenly grows a bunch of oddly placed trees and the basepaths develop ditches.
If it is only your sense of smell that suddenly goes missing, it is of little concern. Many allergy sufferers routinely engage in sports without their sense of smell intact.
But what if your sense of touch suddenly abandons you mid-game... or worse, your sense of sight or hearing?
It would be terrifying to be flying down the base path and suddenly not know if you were about to run into a tree or step into a hole. And if the ball is hit to your position, what do you do if you suddenly can't remember if you're supposed to throw home or look a base runner back to first base?
And worst of all, you are the only person on the field who is impaired or in the least bit bothered by the changes. Everyone else is acting as though everything has remained unchanged.
This is the world in which our younger son lives. Every new experience, no matter how similar to something he already knows, is fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt. And until he manages to learn and master all of the skill-sets, rules and sensory knowledge necessary to excel in a new situation, it is as terrifying for him as if he had suddenly gone blind or deaf... or had forgotten something that everyone else knows and takes for granted.
Our youngest child is a fantastically gifted athlete, a giving and compassionate friend, and a very adept academic pupil.
But take him from an old class to a knew one... from a game whose rules he knows to a similar one with new parameters... from the safe confines of the first grade into the wild blue yonder of summer camp... and he suddenly finds himself grappling with the terrifying prospect of running blind into a metaphorical ditch or tree waiting in his path.
But once he learns the new rules and memorizes the fresh environment, he is once again the master of his domain.
Yesterday was Yonah's first day of summer camp. He was not happy (to say the least) to be taken there in the morning, and it was only by sheer force of will that Zahava was able to extricate herself and leave him there.
But this morning at 5:30 AM he was standing next to my bed telling me excitedly about the day his camp staff had planned for him (and would I please get up so he wouldn't be late!!!).
Two years ago the transition from comfort zone to terrified unknown back to comfort zone might have taken two weeks, or even a month. Now it is down to a matter of less than a day before he feels secure enough to enjoy himself.
It is a balancing act that he will have to tackle throughout his life. By the time he is a teenager the lag may be down to a matter of hours... and as an adult the 'ok-to-terror-back to ok' phase may pass un-noticed (by others) in a matter of moments.
But no matter how good he gets at managing life's transitions, every new experience will be akin to being asked to play a new game... blindfolded. And as his father, I wish I could somehow take on some of his crippling self-doubt, so that just once, he could walk confidently from one life task to another, secure in his ability to adapt.
Sunday, July 03, 2011
Who, what, where, why and when?
As part of a marketing course I once took, everyone in the class was asked to give a lecture on how a completely accurate, un-retouched photograph could be used to sell a point of view contrary to what was actually being shown.
To this day, I'm not entirely sure what the professor was looking for, but when it came time to give our lecture, most of the class used cigarette and liquor ads to demonstrate how it was possible to make something demonstratively harmful appear pleasurable and even attractive.
I took my lecture in a completely different direction. And to this day, when I'm confronted with someone waving a picture or film in my face to 'prove' Israeli wrong-doing, I trot out that lecture. For the sake of time-saving, it occurred to me that I might as well enshrine the lecture here so that it can be easily accessed for future reference:
Most of you are likely familiar with the following Pulitzer Price winning photograph, which is one of the most famous images in the history of photo-journalism:
This photograph, taken by Eddie Adams on February 1, 1968 in Saigon, was not staged, retouched or in any way manipulated. In fact, the photo is doubly remarkable for the fact that the scene - the summary execution of a handcuffed prisoner - took place in full view of, and close proximity to, a still photographer from the Associated Press, and a TV cameraman from NBC, both of whom documented the event.
What the photograph shows is General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the Republic of Vietnam's (also known as South Vietnam) Chief of National Police, the instant after he pulled the trigger of his personal sidearm, sending a single bullet through the head of Nguyễn Văn Lém, a captured Viet Cong fighter (I use the word advisedly instead of 'soldier' since this man, like many in that, and subsequent conflicts, is not wearing a uniform or any insignia)..
Careful study of the photo actually reveals the fired bullet exiting the other side of the prisoner's head, and the dying man's features are contorted in an involuntary grimace of pain.
The photo, along with the footage filmed by the NBC TV cameraman, was transmitted and viewed around the world, and is widely considered the turning point in American public opinion against the war in Vietnam. By most objective standards, the photograph perfectly demonstrates the brutality of our South Vietnamese allies, as well as the gratuitous violence inherent throughout that particular conflict. It made Suburban America begin to wonder what place we had in such a war.
But let's talk a little bit about the back-story - the five W's of the picture. Every photograph has a back-story, but some are less obvious than others... making it hard to trust one's first impressions. For instance, unless a photograph happens to capture a calendar, a bank clock or say, a famous newspaper headline, it is hard to know 'when' a picture was taken.
And while we think we know 'what' is happening in the photo (an execution), and if we managed to read a paragraph or two of the news article, we might even know the 'who' in this case (South Vietnamese Police Chief kills a North Vietnamese fighter). However the less known 'when' and 'where' are not only significant... but almost universally forgotten/ignored:
You'll recall that I mentioned earlier that the picture was taken on February 1st, 1968 in Saigon. This information is significant because the Tet Offensive, a well coordinated countrywide North Vietnamese attack, was launched the day before, on January 31, 1968.
The offensive was named for Tết Nguyên Đán, the first day of the year on a traditional lunar calendar and the most important Vietnamese holiday.
In previous years, both sides in the Vietnam conflict had observed a period of relative calm in honor of the Tet holiday. But in 1968, the north made a strategic decision to try to use the holiday to catch the US and south Vietnamese off guard and spark a countrywide violent uprising that would quickly win the war.
Although coordinated attacks were taking place throughout the country, the focus of the Tet offensive was Saigon, where in less than 24 hours, General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan saw his capital city go from holiday quiet to unrestricted attacks by armed Viet Cong insurgents against both military and civilian centers.
So now we are pretty sure we know the 'who', 'what', 'when' and 'where' related to this famous photo. But what most people don't know is the 'why'. And once you learn the 'why', it might make you stop to wonder if you really had all of the information about the other 'W's.
As impossible a request as it may seem, try to put yourself in the position of the South Vietnamese National Police Chief 18 hours after the start of the Tet Offensive. You are tasked with trying to protect the lives and property of Saigon's citizens in the midst of unprecedented country-wide attacks. You are getting reports from all quarters that fighting is raging out of control, and that atrocities are being conducted against military, municipal and civilian targets throughout the capital.
Not only are city and government officials being targeted by roving death squads, but their families are also being slaughtered (think Baghdad on a bad day or Mogadishu on a good one).
A contemporary report, which was corroborated by the photographer at the time, states:
"Nguyễn Văn Lém [the executed man] commanded a Viet Cong death squad, which on that day had murdered South Vietnamese National Police officers, or in their stead, the police officers' families; these sources said that Lém was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of General Nguyễn's deputy and close friend, and six of whom were Nguyễn's godchildren."
Now, to review... the city for which you are the paramilitary commander is under armed attack from within. Police stations are ablaze, the normal chain of command is disintegrating around you and there is little or no possibility of apprehending and detaining the enemy, even if you can catch them.
You've just come upon the slaughtered bodies of your friends, colleagues (including your second in command) and their families, and the leader of the group that perpetrated the massacre has been captured in the act and brought before you. There is nowhere secure to take the prisoner, and the chances of reaching a secure destination with the prisoner is in doubt, even if one existed. You are armed.
What do you do?
I'm not saying that executing the prisoner is the right call. As much as I've asked you to put yourself in the Police chief's position, it is an impossible request. Without having been that person at that time and place, we can't know what we'd do.
However, having more information at our disposal and using it in an attempt to understand the motivation behind an action captured on a single frame of film, suddenly muddies the whole 'good guy' 'bad guy' aspect of the photograph, no? In fact, it makes us go back and want to pick at some of the other 'W" questions, especially the 'who?' aspect of what we thought we knew.
General General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan was a widely respected both as a soldier and as a police chief. He was an outspoken advocate of building more hospitals for Vietnam's rural provinces, and was considered by his countrymen to be a Vietnamese patriot... so much so that the (then US president) Johnson administration viewed him as a thorn in their side for not allowing US officials under his jurisdiction autonomy of action in criminal and civil matters.
A few months after the famous photo was taken, General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan was photographed again, this time being carried by an Australian foreign correspondent after having been hit by machine gun fire (the general lost a leg due to his wounds).
For his part, the photographer who snapped the award-winning shot of the execution has been quoted as saying, “Two people died in that photograph: the recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan” Having personally witnessed the motivation for the General's actions, Adams was devastated by the nearly universal condemnation of the man afterwards.
Adams went on to say later:
“The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?"
"General Loan was what you would call a real warrior, admired by his troops. I’m not saying what he did was right, but you have to put yourself in his position…This picture really messed up his life. He never blamed me. He told me if I hadn’t taken the picture, someone else would have, but I’ve felt bad for him and his family for a long time. I had kept in contact with him; the last time we spoke was about six months ago, when he was very ill. I sent flowers when I heard that he had died and wrote, “I’m sorry. There are tears."
When Saigon fell, General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan managed (without official US assistance) to escape and ended up being the proprietor of a pizza shop in Virginia. He died of cancer on July 14, 1998. Adams, died in 2004 of Lou Gehrig's Disease
The New York Times, which was one of countless publications to have printed the iconic picture of the execution without even an attempt at context, offered the following in the way of an obituary:
Nguyen Ngoc Loan, 67, Dies; Executed Viet Cong Prisoner
Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the quick-tempered South Vietnamese national police commander whose impromptu execution of a Viet Cong prisoner on a Saigon street in the Tet offensive of 1968 helped galvanize American public opinion against the war, died on Tuesday at his home in Burke, Va. He was 67 and had operated a pizza parlor in nearby Dale City. [source]
What we take from this story are the words of the photographer himself: "Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. ... [they] do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths."