Friday, April 22, 2016

 

Sometimes it Snows in April

Our Mozart is gone.

I recall what Dick Schaap--who also died too young--wrote about Lenny Bruce's death: "Dead. At forty. That's obscene."

That is exactly how I feel about the news that Prince is dead at the age of 57.

Prince was a daring, fearless performer who also had a shy, reclusive side. When he was on stage, he could hold a crowd of thousands in the palm of his hand--but in one on one interviews, he spoke in muted tones and often refused to have his voice recorded.

When I think of Prince, I think of his all-encompassing talent, how he wrote, produced, arranged, performed and seemingly filled every role when he put out an album. He reached his commercial pinnacle in 1984 as he became the first artist to simultaneously have the top film, top album and top single in the U.S. That was the year that "Purple Rain" reigned over pop culture and left an enduring impact.

Prince's next movie project, "Under the Cherry Moon," is not viewed with nearly as much esteem but the soundtrack is tremendous, while the movie contains some underrated humor (I still love the "Wrecka Stow" scene) and pathos. The lead character Christopher Tracy was looking for love in all the wrong places but when he found true love he risked--and lost--his life to keep it. Tracy declared, "If two people really loved each other, they couldn't be separated no matter what happened." Don't we all yearn to find and keep that kind of love/loyalty?

Prince was a studio perfectionist who slept very little and once said that he played all of the instruments on his songs because he was the only person up at 5 a.m. when inspiration struck. He was also a legendary live performer. I only saw him in concert once, on March 29, 2004, when he started his Musicology Tour in L.A. and simultaneously broadcast the show to dozens of theater screens around the country. I drove from Dayton, Ohio to Columbus, Ohio to see Prince in action. The admission price of $15 included a free copy of the new Musicology CD. The concert was great.

A month later, in connection with the Musicology Tour, Prince appeared on an MTV special called "The Art of Musicology." I loved when he performed an acoustic version of "Cream," encouraging the audience to sing along and then gently chiding the fans for not singing with enough enthusiasm. Music was a communal experience for Prince; he was a singular genius whose talent lifted him to levels few others could reach, yet what he seemed to love most was to perform anywhere at any time to share the joy of music with his fans. Prince segued from "Cream" to "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and when he finished that song he asked, "Remember that from high school?" Then he said, "Check it out. This is what I remember from high school" and he launched straight into Chaka Khan's "Sweet Thing." Prince invited audience participation from the "ladies" and eventually tilted his microphone to the audience, letting the fans sing while he played his guitar.

I won't even try to pick a favorite Prince song. I am not sure he ever made a song I didn't like. Of course, some songs were better than others but every Prince song had something to it if you listened with an open mind. "If you set your mind free, baby, maybe you'd understand," as Prince put it in "Starfish and Coffee," a song that is deceptively simple, yet beautiful and profound.

One of the classic stories about Prince--it may not be true but the point is that it is plausibly true--is that he once said that he could write a song around any word or phrase. Then someone said "La, La, La, He, He, He" and Prince made a song out of that gibberish.

Prince could do anything with music and words. "Around the World in a Day" was his tour de force tribute to the Beatles. Then he shifted gears and released the 1989 "Batman" soundtrack album. The producers sent him some soundbites from the movie and Prince incorporated them into his songs in a way that captured the dual natures of both Batman and the Joker.

Prince could capture love, passion and yearning like no other, as demonstrated by "Adore" and "Insatiable" and the "Scandalous" maxi-single.

If I had to choose just one Prince track maybe I would go with the Purple Medley maxi-single because it contains a little bit of everything. I about wore that maxi-single out in the 1990s and early 2000s.

During his self-imposed exile from Warner Brothers, Prince returned to the top of the charts in the 1990s with "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." Prince fought hard for creators' rights; that was what the whole "Artist Formerly Known as Prince" symbolism was all about. Prince did not care if you thought he was a fool when he scrawled "Slave" on his face. Prince believed that artists should have some control over the marketing of their work and he fought tirelessly against piracy. In "Flow," Basketball and Prince I wrote about Prince's struggle for artistic freedom:
He went from being a wunderkind at Warner Brothers who wrote, produced, delivered vocals and performed on an astounding variety of musical instruments to being a completely independent artist who dictates his own terms to record labels and distributors. Along the way, he received scorn for scrawling the word "slave" on his face and changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol but there was a method to his seeming madness: Warner Brothers wanted to control when and how he would distribute his music, while the incredibly prolific Prince simply wanted to release everything to the public as soon as he created it, whether or not this supposedly oversaturated the market. Since Warner Brothers owned his name (in a performing sense), Prince felt like a "slave" because he could not put his music out as Prince--so he circumvented the system with his "name change" until his Warner Brothers contract expired, whereupon he reclaimed his name and took total control over his music. Now he releases his music whenever and however he wants to, including his Planet Earth CD that he arranged to be given away with a newspaper in Great Britain in order to promote a series of concerts; in one fell swoop, Prince made a small fortune (he was paid in advance by the newspaper), sold out most of his appearances instantly and irritated Sony BMG, the corporate giant that was supposed to distribute the CD to retailers: for a nonconformist genius, it is hard to imagine a better day than that!
Prince loved the NBA and one of the things I appreciated most about Prince is that he felt, as I do, that Mano a Mano Competition is Pure. True greatness is not determined by popularity but by your ability to hold your own head to head against your competition; objectively rank Prince's talents and accomplishments and he will stand the test of time against anyone: Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to U" is great but then listen to Prince perform the song (which he wrote) with Rosie Gaines and you understand that it is truly his song.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

 

Frank Miller's Versions of Batman and Daredevil Tap Into the Essence of What it Means to be Human in a World Filled with Evil

Frank Miller is one of my favorite comic book writers of all-time because his well-crafted stories are powerful on both an intellectual and emotional level. He explores complex issues without delivering pat, oversimplified answers, because in life there often are no answers but merely a choice: keep fighting or surrender.

The March 18, 2016 issue of The Hollywood Reporter includes an interview with Miller, whose 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns revolutionized the comic book business and inspired the upcoming movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Miller explains that The Dark Knight Returns was inspired by a series of muggings and the feeling of utter powerlessness that overwhelms a victim who knows "you're completely at somebody's mercy. And they can take your life. There's something so humiliating about that. And to me that made me realize that Batman is the most potent symbol DC (Comics Company) had in its hands." Miller says that Batman is "a perfect myth" because "Batman turns me back into that guy who is scared and at the same time the guy who can come and save him."

Miller adds that Batman is interesting not because of his car or his gadgets but "because he straightens the world out. And he brings order to a very chaotic world. Especially when you're a child. You need somebody, even if it's a fictional character, to tell you that the world makes sense and that the good guys can win. That's what these heroes are for."

In the mythic conflict between man (Batman) and god (Superman) described in Miller's work, my sympathies lie with man all day every day. What does Superman understand of human existence? He cannot die or feel pain unless he is exposed to Kryptonite. Because Superman is for all practical purposes invincible he cannot understand fear, either.

In contrast, Batman knows what fear is. Batman knows what it means to stand powerlessly in an alley as a child and watch a criminal murder his parents--and Batman knows what it means when he emerges from the shadows of an alley to rescue an innocent victim from a merciless predator. Batman's heroism emanates from his humanity and every heroic act he undertakes carries with it the risk of injury or death; Superman's heroism emanates--literally--from the sky and is rooted in theoretical concepts of justice but carries with it no real risk unless Superman is confronted with fictional, supernatural forces. Batman faces down the kinds of muggers you and I could see just around the corner and he risks his life by doing so; Superman versus a mugger is like me versus a mosquito, while Superman versus a supervillain can be entertaining fiction but is not something you can feel viscerally.

Superman means well and he does good but he cannot really understand human concerns and human pain. Miller spoke of Batman being a hero who can comfort children and I understand what he means but I would add that Superman is a child's fantasy of what a hero looks like. He is an idealized myth. I loved Superman comic books as a kid and I still appreciate the genius of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (who could have used help from a Batman-like figure to bring to justice the people who ripped them off and prevented them from fully profiting from creating an American icon) but I can identify with Batman.

I can also identify with another character who will always be associated with Frank Miller: Daredevil, the Man Without Fear.

Perhaps the most memorable Frank Miller Daredevil story is a standalone issue that can be read and appreciated by someone who knows absolutely nothing about costumed hero Daredevil and his alter ago, blind lawyer Matt Murdock. One author provides this summary of Daredevil issue #219:

"You may have noticed that, not only does Matt Murdock not appear in his Daredevil suit at any point in this issue (other than on the cover), but that he also doesn’t speak a word. It's an interesting choice by Miller, but one that really works. It strips Matt Murdock down to basics. He's a good man who doesn't like to see criminals get away with it. He's more like a force of nature in this issue, moving through the town, either giving bad people serious beat downs, or inspiring others to stand up to them."

Here is another take on Daredevil issue #219 (John Buscema did the artwork, while Miller wrote the story):

"Good guys have a tough time in Miller's (and Buscema’s) world. To save their home from itself, superheroes and other morally upright men and women tend to lose almost everything dear when Miller gets his hand on their lives. Until Miller grabbed control of the title, Daredevil couldn't attain the level of success--almost to the verge of cancellation, being seen as just another costumed vigilante not as cool as Spider-Man or the X-Men.  Daredevil retains his A-list Marvel status today because of Miller back in the 1980s, but oh my goodness did Miller wreck Murdock's life.  In a weird way, Miller saved Daredevil's life by destroying it."

Daredevil is not who he is because of a costume or because of the billy club he carries. Daredevil is a symbol that only has meaning and power because of Matt Murdock's courage and strength of character.

Miller did some of his best work when he wrote the "Born Again" series of Daredevil issues (#s 227-233). The "Born Again" series intimately incorporates Christian themes and images but its message is universal. Don't be fooled because the story is told in comic book format; the "Born Again" series is as  powerful and meaningful as anything that can be found in "conventional" literature.

"Born Again" addresses many timeless themes but one has stuck with me the most. What does a good, upright man do when the woman he loves betrays him and sets in motion a series of events that could have destroyed a lesser man? If you're Matt Murdock, you hug Karen Page, tell her that you lost "Nothing" (even though you lost everything) and you nurse her back to spiritual, psychological and physical health. The image of Miller's words and Mazzuchelli's art is forever burned into my mind and with each passing year it resonates more profoundly with me as my life experience deepens:



Miller's fictional worlds are often dark but this particular storyline concluded on a cautiously upbeat note:


Murdock and Page are together again. Murdock notes that he lives in Hell's Kitchen and does his best to "keep it clean," adding, "That's all you need to know." If you've read enough of Miller's work--or lived a long enough life--you know that Hell's Kitchen will never be completely clean and Murdock and Page will not always be together, but you also know that Murdock is a good man who can be beaten but never broken. He is not Superman but he is the ultimate hero, a lawyer/warrior who protects the innocent and brings the guilty to justice.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

 

Rest in Peace, Maurice White

Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, passed away today. I have loved Earth, Wind & Fire's distinctive, jazz-infused music since I was a kid growing up in the 1970s. I remember when my schoolmate/neighbor Brandy Singleton's older brother used to play Earth, Wind & Fire records in his parents' garage. The power of music paired with poetic words to inspire and uplift is mystical; there is some connection between sound and word and synapse and emotion for which there may be some scientific explanation--but that explanation does not capture the essence of how that connection can be transformative.

Music has always been my comfort, my adrenalin, my fuel. It can fire me up, it can soothe my soul, it can help me shed tears that need to be shed--and when it seems like there will be no joy or hope again, music reminds me how beautiful life can be.

"September" is such a perfect song! I loved it as a kid, when I was naive and hopeful; I love it now as a man when I am no longer naive but--in my better moments--still hopeful. When I hear "September," images flow through my head the way that the old newsreel clips scrolled across Spock's tricorder in the classic Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever." I think of Brandy's brother and elementary school and times that I drove around with an Earth, Wind & Fire tape delivering sounds of joy and I think of meeting my friend Erika for the first time at (fittingly) the Friendship Cafe. The soundtrack of our lives evolves as we evolve. The music remains the same and yet it is different each time we hear it, because we are different. As the saying goes, you can never enter the same river twice (watching the X-Files and seeing Mulder and Scully wonder about the fate of their son William is a lot different as the parent of a 17 month old than it is as a childless man who had no thoughts of becoming a parent).

I just heard "September" less than an hour ago on Sirius XM during an airing of "Artist Confidential," followed by the band members explaining the song's origins. The song's auditory river is different every time and yet it is comfortingly the same because of the pure joy it radiates.

Hearing "September" for the first time since Maurice White passed reminds me how much I have changed over the years and yet how much who I am at the core will never change: when I was a kid, I was curious, talkative, filled with naive enthusiasm and sensitive but strong. Now I am curious but I know that some questions have no answers; I am talkative but I have learned the value of silence; I am filled with enthusiasm but no longer naive; I still feel things deeply (which may seem like weakness to some) but I know that true strength flows from passion and compassion, not just the ability to generate force (mental or physical).

The passage of time is so mysterious. Sometimes a day seems to last forever and sometimes three decades pass in a blink of an eye. Earlier tonight I caught part of the ESPN 30 for 30 show about the 1985 Chicago Bears. Can it really be 30 years since they wiped out the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl? It seems like only yesterday.

It is breathtaking to see the footage of Walter Payton running nimbly and then using his forearm as a club to gain an extra yard. Never die easy, indeed! And yet it is sobering to realize that Payton did die, many years ago. Jim McMahon noticeably shows the ravages of all those hits he took and all those painkillers he consumed to get back on the field as quickly as he could. The specter of CTE looms over every one of those crushing blows delivered by the Bears' legendary 46 defense.

These words might not seem to have much to do directly with Maurice White but I think that he would understand and appreciate my larger message--and I hope that he would be warmed by my heartfelt thank you to him for the joy he has brought and continues to bring to so many people. Is there a greater or more meaningful power than to use one's talents to bring joy to other people?

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

 

Lawyers Who Advocate for Victims of Iranian-Sponsored Terrorism are "Doing Well by Doing Good"

Iran and the terrorist organizations it enthusiastically sponsors have injured and killed thousands of victims around the world in the past several decades. Other nations have also sponsored deadly terrorist attacks. A dedicated and resourceful group of lawyers including Thomas Fortune Fay, Stuart Newberger and Steve Perles have exacted some measure of justice via the U.S. court system and also via the creation of legislation designed to ensure that these rogue states and their terrorist proxies are forced to pay for their evil actions.

A Newsweek story detailing the efforts of these lawyers concludes that the lawyers are "doing well by doing good." Contingency fees in such cases typically range from 33 to 40 percent but these lawyers have agreed to receive no more than 25%. A total of $12 billion in compensatory damages has been awarded to victims of terrorism thanks to the brilliance and persistence of these lawyers. There are approximately 2500 clients in these cases, consisting of the survivors of terrorist attacks and people whose family members were killed in these attacks, including "the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The lawyers also have been looking out for the victims of the Tehran, Iran, hostage crisis that began in 1979."

The ideas of pursuing justice through the courts and creating a victims' fund derive from the experiences of Hugo Princz, "the son of a naturalized American businessman living in what is today Slovakia, making him a U.S. citizen at birth. In 1942, townspeople turned over the Princz family to the Nazis, who ignored their U.S. passports and sent them to concentration camps in Poland. Princz's parents and sisters died in Treblinka, while Hugo, then a teenager, worked as a slave laborer for three years, first at Auschwitz, then at a factory in Dachau, outside Munich. U.S. forces freed Princz in May 1945 and treated him at an American military hospital."

Princz moved to the U.S. after the Holocaust and he applied for Holocaust reparations from the German government but the heirs to the Nazi empire refused his requests, citing a loophole in the reparations program (Princz was neither a German citizen nor a refugee, so he was technically ineligible even though the Nazis had murdered his family and imprisoned him for years as a slave laborer). Princz hired Perles to sue Germany in federal court, with the legal argument that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act--a U.S. law that prevented Princz from suing Germany--was not meant to help the Nazis' heirs avoid paying for their crimes against humanity. Princz won at the trial court level but lost on appeal and in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, his pursuit of this matter attracted the attention of President Bill Clinton, who persuaded German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to pay $25 million in reparations to Princz and more than 40 other U.S. Holocaust survivors.

Then came a 1995 Iranian-sponsored bus bombing in Gaza that killed, among others, 19 year old U.S. exchange student Alisa Flatow. Perles lobbied Congress to pass a law enabling U.S. victims of state-sponsored terrorism to file civil suits in U.S courts against state sponsors of terrorism. Perles explains, "At some point, a foreign sovereign's conduct becomes so noxious toward a U.S. citizen that the foreign sovereign no longer can expect to receive sovereign immunity. And if you want to tell bad guys that they ought not to be doing this, you've got to take their money away from them."

After Congress passed legislation in 1996 addressing this issue, Perles sued Iran on behalf of Flatow's father and other victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.  After a six year legal battle, Perles won a judgment for $77 million and he located confiscated Iranian funds that could be used to pay that judgment.

Perles then teamed up with Fortune Fay to sue Iran for that nation's role in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Perles and Fay won a series of judgments totaling $4.2 billion, an outcome that Iran is challenging in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, most of the monetary judgments have not been fulfilled because the U.S. Justice Department has been unwilling to compensate the victims with funds paid by businesses and banks that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. After earning victory in the court system only to be stymied by the executive branch of the government, the lawyers turned to the legislative branch of the government for relief, negotiating deals with key members of Congress to create a victims' fund consisting of $1 billion "drawn from penalties paid by the Paris-based bank BNP Paribas for violating sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba." It took three years for the lawyers to draft a proposal for the victims' fund and persuade Congress to create the fund but now that work has been completed and President Obama signed the law on December 18.

No amount of money can compensate for human suffering/loss of life--but it is very important that those who do wrong are punished for their evil actions and made to understand that they cannot act with impunity. It is difficult to imagine a higher, more noble calling for a lawyer than to exact justice against rogue states that use their power, money and influence to spread terror and death around the world

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

 

Albert Einstein the Man

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning."--Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein the physicist is world-renowned for developing ideas that forever changed how we view space, time and the nature of reality. Albert Einstein the man is much less well known but he was a father, a job-seeker and a person whose understanding/awareness of his cultural identity evolved. It is interesting to explore these lesser known aspects of Einstein that informed and shaped a mind that had such a transformative effect on society.

Einstein the Father

Einstein's first child, a daughter named Lieserl, was born out of wedlock in January 1902 to Mileva Maric, a volatile and emotionally unstable woman who began a relationship with Einstein in 1897. Maric put Lieserl up for adoption shortly after Lieserl's birth--perhaps to avoid the shame of having an out of wedlock child--and Einstein never met his daughter. Lieserl's ultimate fate is unknown, though some reports suggest that she died in infancy of scarlet fever. Einstein and Maric married in January 1903, shortly after the death of Einstein's father (who disapproved of Maric and preferred that Einstein rekindle his previous relationship with Maria Winteler, who was much more emotionally stable than Maric). In 1904, Maric gave birth to a son named Hans Albert. "My husband often spends his free time at home just playing with the boy," Maric wrote in a letter to a friend.

The couple later had a second son, Eduard, but the marriage was ultimately doomed because of Maric's deep-seated psychological issues (one visitor to the Einstein home later remarked that he thought Maric was schizophrenic). In July 1914, Maric moved to Switzerland with their two children; Einstein reportedly cried "all afternoon and evening" after Maric's departure. Einstein wrote, "I have carried these children around innumerable times day and night, taken them out in their pram, played with them, romped around and joked with them. They used to shout with joy when I came..." He later accused Maric of "poisoning" the boys against him.

Albert Einstein put the money from his Nobel Prize into a trust fund that supported Maric and their two children. Hans Albert became a prominent hydraulic engineer who had a good relationship with his father but Eduard was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 20 and spent much of his adult life in various asylums. Albert stayed in regular contact with Eduard and later noted, "The more refined of my sons, the one I considered really of my own nature, was seized by an incurable mental illness."

Einstein the Job-Seeker

The man who transformed physics had trouble obtaining the most basic employment when he was in his 20s. Long after Einstein wrote four seminal papers during his "miracle year" of 1905, he was still supporting himself as a patent clerk. A physicist who had read Einstein's work was aghast when he visited Einstein at the patent office, declaring, "History is full of bad jokes." Einstein applied for an entry level teaching position at the University of Bern but was not hired because he failed to submit a new thesis with his application--despite the fact that he included 17 papers with his application, including the theory of relativity for which he ultimately became world famous! Einstein also applied for a job as a high-school math teacher and out of the 21 applicants he did not even make the list of three finalists. Even when Einstein finally landed a job in academia his troubles were not over; the position paid so poorly that Einstein could not afford to quit his job at the patent office.

Imagine how Einstein must have felt about his life at that time: his emotionally unbalanced wife complained constantly, he could barely support his family and he was being shunned by the academic world even though he knew that he had unparalleled insights about the structure of the universe.

Einstein the Jew

Einstein abhorred conformity and, despite a brief flirtation with observant Judaism during his childhood, he was skeptical of organized religion. Einstein tended to consider himself a citizen of the world more than a member of a particular religious or national group but his perspective changed with the rise of Nazism. Einstein wryly noted that if his theories were proven correct then he would be considered a German but otherwise he would be considered a Jew. As the situation of European Jewry grew more and more perilous, Einstein's sense of identity with the Jewish people strengthened (though he never abandoned his skepticism regarding any form of organized religious practice): "The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice, and the desire for personal independence--these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank the stars I belong to it."

Einstein's solidarity with the Jewish people became even more intense after the Holocaust: "My relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became aware of our precarious position among the nations of the world." Adolf Hitler showed the futility of a person with any Jewish blood trying to deny that connection; his Nazi party developed an elaborate and detailed set of laws about people of "mischling" (mixed) background, decreeing that in some scenarios the presence of two Jewish grandparents in a person's background is enough to label that person as a Jew worthy of extermination (a person with "only" one Jewish grandparent could marry a so-called pure Aryan and thus avoid Nazi persecution).

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What can we learn from these vignettes about Einstein the man? "This too shall pass." Dinesh Chandrasekar notes that whether you are going through a good time in your life or a bad one the situation is temporary but he declares, "This isn't a pessimistic view of life. In fact, it is the other way around. Because we know there is death, let us make the most of life. Because we know the day will end, let us make the day count. Because we know the year will end, even before the New Year arrives, let us do something significant to make 2015 memorable. Because we know our tough times too will end, let us endure it with strength and courage. Because we know the best of times too will end, let us be humble even in our success. Because we know every relationship will eventually end, let us give ourselves completely and unconditionally to our loved ones."

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

 

Bernard Henri-Levy's Stirring Speech at the UN Against Antisemitism

On January 22, 2015, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy spoke at the UN about antisemitism: what causes it, why it flourishes and why it is important to combat it. His speech deserves to be heard/read in its entirety but these key excerpts provide a glimpse at his message:

Today's anti-Semitism says three things, at bottom.

It can operate on a large scale, convince, put fire in the brains, only by offering three shameful but new propositions.
 
The Jews are detestable because they are supposed to support an evil, illegitimate, murderous state. This is the anti-Zionist delirium of the merciless adversaries of the re-establishment of the Jews in their historical fatherland.

The Jews are all the more detestable because they are supposed to base their beloved Israel on imaginary suffering, or suffering that at the very least has been outrageously exaggerated. This is the shabby and infamous denial of the Holocaust.

In so doing, the Jews would commit a third and final crime that could make them still more guilty, which is to confuse us with the memory of their dead, to completely stifle other peoples' memories and to overshadow other martyrs whose deaths have plunged parts of today's world, most emblematically that of the Palestinians, into mourning. And here we come face to face with the modern-day scourge, stupidity, that is competitive victimhood.

Anti-Semitism needs these three formulations, which are like the three vital components of a moral atomic bomb.

Each taken separately would be enough to discredit a people, to make it abominable once more. But when the three are combined, brought into contact and allowed to form a knot, a node, a crux, a helix--well, at that point we can be pretty sure of facing an explosion of which all Jews, everywhere, will be the designated targets...

Anti-Semitism will not return on a large scale unless it succeeds in popularizing this insane and vile portrait of the modern Jew.

It has to be anti-Zionist, it must deny the Holocaust, it must feed the competition of pain--or it will not thrive: the logic is implacable, despicable but compelling. To recognize that, ladies and gentlemen, is to begin to see, symmetrically, what you can do to combat this calamity.

Henri-Levy concludes his speech by urging the UN to live up to the ideals that inspired its creation and to not provide a home in any of its forums for antisemitism. The UN has been equal parts corrupt and inept for so long that it seems likely his plea will go unanswered but maybe Henri-Levy's call to action will rouse the UN from its stupor.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

 

There is Nothing New About the "New Intifada"

The recent wave of Arab/Muslim terrorist attacks against Jews in the heart of Israel is not a "New Intifada"; it is just another example of how virulent Arab antisemitism is and how deeply ingrained that antisemitism is in Arab/Muslim society. Check out this video of a Jordanian preschool girl gleefully speaking about stabbing a Jew with a knife (footage courtesy of MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute).

The war between Israel and her neighbors is not about "occupation" or "colonialism" or any of the other buzzwords carelessly thrown around in lieu of a meaningful analysis of the situation. This war is about a group of people being systematically indoctrinated from the cradle to feel and act upon homicidal hatred for Jews, who are depicted as something less than human that must be wiped off the face of the earth.

Make no mistake about it: the child in that video is being trained to kill any and every Jew that she can find. It does not matter if you are a religious Jew or a secular Jew, a right-wing Jew or a left-wing Jew: all that matters is that you are a Jew. This is no different than the Nazi ideology of Adolf Hitler. The only difference is that Hitler had the means at his disposal to massacre millions of Jews. If the Arab/Muslim nations had that capability they would do so. Oil-rich Iran is not developing a nuclear program in order to have enough sources of energy.

If Israel took down her protective barriers and dismantled her military forces, millions of Jews would be killed in short order. If the Arabs and Muslims could restrain themselves from killing Jewish babies for about one year, Israelis would be so overjoyed they would would gladly carve out territory to create a Palestinian Arab state. Israel has been giving up "land for peace" since the 1970s and all Israel has to show for this naive magnanimity is cemeteries filled with dead Jews; since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords (when Israel ceded control of almost all of Gaza and portions of Judea/Samaria in exchange for nothing more than paper promises of peace that were promptly disavowed and ignored), Arab/Muslim terrorists have killed more than 1500 Israelis in a variety of ways, including suicide bombings, rocket attacks launched from territory given up by Israel and snipers who deliberately targeted babies. In the decade preceding the Oslo Accords, Arab/Muslim terrorists killed 226 Israelis, so it is evident that Israeli concessions do not satiate Arab/Muslim bloodlust; each concession weakens Israel strategically and emboldens her enemies.

Arab/Muslim terrorists are regularly lauded by mainstream Arab/Muslim society as heroes; recently, the Palestinian Bar Association (which, like most Palestinian institutions, exists thanks to the direct or indirect financial support of Israel, the United States and the European Union) awarded an honorary law degree to a terrorist who stabbed two Israelis to death and also wounded a mother and her baby. Could you imagine the outcry if the American Bar Association honored someone who committed cold-blooded murder? I know that I would shred my ABA membership card if that unfortunate day ever arises.

When looking at the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is important to remember that the Arab/Muslim motto is "We love death more than you love life." This is not a land dispute. This is not something that can be resolved through rational negotiations; a democracy cannot negotiate with a death cult unless that democracy has a death wish. The Mideast is awash with blood as a result of the backward thinking, death-glorifying religious and political leaders who hold sway over most of the countries in the region. The idea that Israel's policies are the primary obstacle to peace is absurd and unfounded; the idea that the Middle East would become a peaceful utopia if only Israel would give up more land is dangerously naive. Do the advocates of these ideas really believe such nonsense? Do they really think that if they pressure Israel to give in to the bloodthirsty demands of genocidal terrorist nations and groups that this will promote peace?

Israel is often portrayed as a "colonialist" oppressor or even a supposedly genocidal state. Think about that for a minute. Israel is so small that she fits under your pinkie nail on a globe. In 1948, there were about three quarters of a million Arab refugees--and a similar number of Jewish refugees--in the wake of Israel's War of Independence. Israel's borders have been steadily shrinking for the past two decades and the number of Arab refugees has been exploding. If Israel is truly a "colonialist" oppressor with genocidal intent then she is the least effective such empire in the history of the world. Great Britain used to have an empire on which the sun never set; it would take you less than an hour to do a Sunday drive from one end of Israel's "empire" to the other.

No one doubts Israel's military capabilities; why has she not just wiped out/conquered all of her neighbors and kicked out all of the  Palestinian Arabs? Arab countries are at war with each other all the time and they constantly expel and/or massacre the Palestinian Arabs in their midst, with nary a peep from the rest of the world. If Israel is so evil and so bent on genocide then why doesn't Israel do the same thing? If Israel is building an empire then why does Israel give up lands that are holy to the Jewish people? When Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria from 1948-67, no Jew could set foot there and the headstones from the ancient Jewish cemetery were used as latrines. Since Israel liberated those areas, Jewish prayer at Jewish holy sites has been restricted by Israel in deference to Muslim sensibilities. Maybe you don't think that the accommodations Israel makes are good enough--but would any other country, let alone a "colonialist" oppressor, make such accommodations at all? Would any other country continue to make such accommodations while terrorists target defenseless men, women and children? Every time I hear some British politician spouting off his half-baked thoughts about what Israel should do and what Israel's strategic interests are I recall how Great Britain considered it vitally important to go to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. So, Great Britain has a vital strategic interest in South America but the Jewish State should not unite Jerusalem or build a wall to keep out suicide bombers? This brings to mind how the early 20th century Zionist leaders often reminded their British colonialist oppressors that Jerusalem was the Jewish national capital back when London was a small, insignificant settlement.

Take a good, long look at that video again. The evil being committed by that child's parents--the evil that the child's parents want her to commit in the near future--will not be quenched or satiated with the destruction of Israel. The nightmare that is being unleashed in Israel by genocidal terrorists will spread worldwide if it is not stopped now. I am consistently saddened and outraged when self-proclaimed "progressives" align themselves with Hamas and Iran against the so-called "colonialist oppressors" United States and Israel, as if Hamas and Iran give a damn about black people, women or gay people and as if Hamas and Iran stand for free speech, free thought, religious freedom and economic freedom.

Imagine a world without Israel. Do you really think that Syria will magically become tranquil? That democracy will spring forth in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the countries in the region? There are many elected Arab political leaders in Israel, several of whom are openly working to destroy Israel. How many elected Jewish political leaders are there in any Arab or Muslim country? How many elected political leaders in any Arab or Muslim country are black, female or gay? How many political leaders in any Arab or Muslim country are elected, period?

Life in America and Israel is really too good for "progressives" who sit in academic ivory towers or plush homes and act as if the enactment of their twisted ideologies would help anyone who is actually being oppressed. The madness that is spreading throughout the Middle East will only be inflamed and encouraged by the destruction of Israel.

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Here are some educational links from MEMRI:

1) The knife attacks on Israeli civilians are not random or amateurish. Instead of trying to build a functioning civilized society, Israel's so-called peace partners are making instructional videos about how to kill Jews. Here is one such video, titled "West Bank Intifada--Preparing a Knife for Stabbing." The instructor is wearing the garb of the Palestinian Authority, the terrorist organization to which Israel has been surrendering land since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

2) Hamas cleric and TV host Sheikh Iyad Abu Funun recently said that he would swear on the Quran "that not a single Jew will remain on this land." He also declared, "We will not leave a single one of you, alive or dead, on this land. By Allah, we will dig up your bones from your graves and get them out of this country." He was speaking on Al-Aqsa TV on October 13, 2015. He added, "Let me say something clearly to the Zionists, something that should reach all those enemies--whether left-wing, right-wing, secular, religious, or extremist. Regardless of their appearance or the color of their skin, they are on the land of Islam, and the Muslims, on the land of the Prophet's nocturnal journey. Any of our enemies living on this land must understand that they have no place on this land."

Here is the video.

3) The way that mainstream Arab and Muslim organizations systematically train their children not just to hate Jews but to kill Jews is depraved and sickening. This is a quote from a children's show on a Palestinian TV channel: "We revere the young heroes who have sacrificed their lives for Jerusalem and who carried out all those great heroic acts."

Here is the video.

Pay attention to the thematic quote near the end: "They are more afraid than us. They love life."

4) The Jewish State has made the desert bloom and contributed immensely to the world scientifically, culturally and economically. The Jewish State's enemies are much better at tearing things down and blowing things up than building anything and they are proud of a culture that glorifies killing and death and encourages their children to kill and be killed.

Do you think that such bloodthirstiness will be contained to the Middle East? Do you think that if these people succeed in destroying Israel and killing every Jew there they will suddenly become civilized and peaceful? Do not fool yourself into believing that this is only about Israel or that the root cause of the problem is alleged Israeli oppression. There is a deep moral sickness infecting much of the Arab/Islamic world and the Arab/Islamic world needs to do a lot of soul-searching about this.

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