Thursday, December 28, 2017
When I was in high school, I worked in a pizzeria owned by an Italian family.
Customers ordering would typically ask for a ‘plain’, ‘mushroom’, 'olive', etc., slice.
But older Italians who wanted a ‘plain’ slice always asked for ‘scamorza’.
My question: Did pizza used to be made with scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella?
Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Failing to Understand 'Ozymandias'
Back in the heated days of August 2017, I caught a lot of flak from people I consider both smart and well informed (not, by any means, a matched set in most people these days), for a post I wrote which I expressed my opposition to the headlong rush to tear down statues and monuments to the Confederacy that had stood for far longer than those who viewed them had been alive.
My opposition came not from any sympathy for the Confederate cause, or for those who tried in decades subsequent to the war to paint that 'lost cause' as something heroic or just. Rather, my opposition - outrage, really - came from the same sentiment that stops an archaeologist's from excavating an entire mound, and prompts historians to use reserved language containing ample room for current doubt and future scholarship when building theories.
The simple overriding reason for archaeologists and historians to tread with caution in their work is that future generations may possess better tools, more subtle excavation techniques or more accurate understanding of the significance of the bits and shards that might be brought to light. They may also possess sources as yet unread, more nuanced ways of examining motives and a broader perspective of events that only time can provide.
Future scholars will surely weep at some, but certainly not all, of the genuine historical artifacts that were banished to the scrapheap along with lawn jockeys, blackamoor and other dubious other more recent 'relics' of the Civil War and its aftermath.
I can't possibly place myself in the shoes of African Americans and understand what they experience when looking at a statue of Robert E. Lee (or any other Confederate leader), as they go about their daily lives. Perhaps the civil war and the institution of slavery still echo too loudly in their ears, and the scars of Jim Crow are still too fresh to be considered objectively.
But if there is one thing we should learn from history, it is that it is rarely wise to judge the past entirely by today's standards.
For instance, I like to think that if I had been a southern landowner in the early 19th century, I would have been enlightened in my dealings with my servants and possessions (categories that had considerable overlap). But that's like hoping that I would have been equally enlightened about my diet, personal hygiene and relations with the opposite sex.
Such mental exercises are as pointless as they are doomed. Nobody is a visionary in the prophetic sense of the word. The best we can hope for is that we conduct ourselves according to the highest standards of our own age and that future generations won't judge us too harshly.
Percy Bysshe Shelley understood all too well the folly and arrogance of those who erect monuments, and tried to describe the way those monuments should appear diminished, or even foolish to the modern eye. In his famous poem 'Ozymandias' he describes a toppled statue of a long-forgotten ruler lying in pieces in the desert with no evidence of the great people or civilization he had once ruled.
In the poem it is the sand that has defeated Ozymandias. But the sand is simply a metaphor for the relentless passage of time, and the tremendous advantage of perspective that time provides.
The existence of modern Southern towns and cities are (or should be), as mocking a rebuke to bronze monuments to antebellum values as the encroaching desert is to the mythical ruler in Shelley's sonnet.
As a Jew, I have trouble understanding why the descendants of American slaves don't view anachronistic Confederate iconography the way I view the Arch of Titus in Rome; as a reassuring milestone against which to objectively measure how much the world has changed and how far we've all come. My wife can testify that the highlight of our last trip to Italy was my being able to gleefully say, 'f-ck you' in person to a relic of Titus (and his father, Vespasian), who had celebrated the enslavement of my ancestors in what they hoped was an ever-lasting manner.
I won't insult anyone's intelligence by voicing empty platitudes like 'Can't we all just get along'. But being able to understand the irony in the line, "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!", when all that is left to see are some tarnished statues of long dead leaders/ideas, should be possible.
Thursday, December 07, 2017
Here are a few quotes from this morning's news. See if you sense a theme:
"Trump’s Jerusalem decision putting region in ‘ring of fire’"
~Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan~
"Trump's 'flagrant aggression' has opened 'the gates of hell'"
~Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh~
"Trump [is] a 'pyromaniac' and ... going through with the move risked inflaming the region."
~MK Ayman Odeh (The head of the Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List)~
"Jerusalem has a tendency to explode when you fool around with the status quo"
~Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Middle East adviser to the Clinton and Bush administrations~
"Trump's announcement might be intended as an opening move in the administration's yet-to-be-revealed Middle East peace plan, but risks igniting a "powder keg"
~[unnamed] US Analysts~
This repeated warning of 'spontaneous combustion' on the Arab 'street' is crap. Violent demonstrations and riots require direction and a lot of advance planning. They require leadership, communication, transportation, materials, signage, flags, manpower, food, water, etc..
If the Palestinians were going to 'spontaneously take to the street' because of the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, they would have done so last night. They didn't.
What we saw repeated in a loop on the news last night were a few carefully orchestrated groups of people burning US and Israeli flags (gee whiz, who just happened to have US and Israeli flags lying around?!), captured in very tight camera angles so as to hide the modest size of the crowd.
However, the Palestinian Authority (PLO) and Hamas have both called for (meaning ordered) tomorrow (Friday) to be a 'Day of Rage'. The Imams and 'community organizers' will get everyone good and whipped up, give them their marching orders and send them off to burn, maim and kill.
It remains to be seen just how wide open the leadership will turn the spigot, and for how long. But make no mistake,it is a spigot, and there is a firm hand on it... so this should in no way, shape or form be confused with 'spontaneity'.
But to be clear, spontaneous combustion can, under ideal conditions, occur. But in the case of the combustion metaphors being tossed around in the news today, there should be no question about who is lighting the fires and fanning the flames. And when it happens, it will be arson, plain and simple.
I've said this before but it bears repeating: What the world leaders and media outlets are doing to the Palestinians is called 'infantilization'. It is degrading, insulting and actually calls into question the ability of the Palestinians to join the grown-ups at the diplomatic table of nations.
Simply put, those who scream and lash out violently when they don't get their way are called 'children' (or at very least, are acting childishly). Such people are not ready to manage their own affairs, enter into international agreements and raise an army.
Yet the 'grown-ups' of the family of nations seem to experience no sense of irony (or cognitive dissonance), when repeatedly warning that if the Palestinians don't get their way, they will be unable to keep themselves from screaming and lashing out violently... while in the same breath insisting that the Palestinians are indeed grown up enough to run their own country (and all that goes with that).
Tuesday, December 05, 2017
When Inaction is an Action
In trains and other heavy equipment there is something called a 'dead man's switch'. It is a mechanism for triggering emergency safety systems (brakes, engine, etc.), that is automatically operated if the human operator becomes incapacitated, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.
In spy novels it is known as a 'button-down' scenario, which is a reference to someone with their thumb on a bomb's trigger... whereby releasing pressure on the button will result in the bomb's detonation. But just as often the term is used to refer to the automatic release of 'explosive' (i.e. damaging/incriminating) information if the person who placed it with a third party doesn't take one or more prearranged actions; again, due to incapacitation, such as through death, loss of consciousness, or being bodily removed from control.
It now appears for all intents and purposes that a dead man's switch / button-down scenario has been sitting in plain sight for more than two decades in the form of a US law entitled 'The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995'.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is a public law of the United States passed by the 104th Congress on October 23, 1995. It was passed for the purposes of initiating and funding the relocation of the Embassy of the United States in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no later than May 31, 1999, and attempted to withhold 50 percent of the funds appropriated to the State Department specifically for "Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad" as allocated in fiscal year 1999 until the United States Embassy in Jerusalem had officially opened. The act also called for Jerusalem to remain an undivided city and for it to be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel. [source]
Built into that law is a classic dead-man's switch / button-down scenario in the form of a security waiver allowing the delay of the implementation of the law (e.g. the relocating of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the formal recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel), for six months due to security concerns. But the waiver can only be implemented and extended so long as the President actually signs a new security waiver before the six moth term of the previous waiver expires.
Every president from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump has signed the security waiver on or before the six month interval. That is, until now.
President Trump signed the security waiver the first time it came due. But December 1st, 2017 was the deadline for Trump to sign the new waiver... and he let it pass without signing. And to my knowledge, there is no legal mechanism that permits the extension of the waiver once the old one was allowed to expire. And creating a new waiver would seem to require an amendment to the law (something congress is not likely to do).
I'm certainly no legal scholar, but from what I can see, it seems like by doing nothing, Trump has actually taken his thumb off of the button and tripped the dead-man's switch, initiating the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.
I can make a compelling case for either side of the debate regarding the proposed Embassy move. But IMHO, one of the most compelling reasons to actually go ahead with it are the overt threats of violence being made by the Palestinians, and the Muslim regimes supporting them, if the US goes ahead with the move.
Seriously, since when are threats of violence allowed to be made with impunity on the international diplomatic stage? Since when does the US make decisions with a gun held to its own or its allies' head? Overt threats of violence are considered 'casus belli' under international law, and open up those who make them to a diplomatic and/or military response.
Just thinking out loud here.