Monday, June 29, 2009
Proft is running for the Republication nomination in 2010. He said:
When something is broken, it does not do what it is intended to do. But these government systems – our schools, our health care, our transportation -- are in fact doing exactly what they are intended to do. They create dependent and dependable voting blocs that sustain and advance the political careers of those in charge. They provide secure jobs and guaranteed pensions for the patronage armies of the political establishment....To un-fix Illinois, we must take the fight to The Chicago Nine* who control this state. We must make them defend systems whose performance is indefensible.
*Presumably a reference to
Gov. Patrick Quinn
Atty. Gen Lisa Madigan
Secretary of State Jesse White
Comptroller Dan Hynes
Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan
[Me again] These government systems end up causing millions of people to be dependent on them, demanding more and more revenue from a strained government budget. Rather than slimming down, the legislature takes the easy way out, raising taxes. That will probably recur at some point this year.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
--Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, z"l. His 15th yartzheit on 3 Tammuz is today, June 25, 2009.
Large orthodox Jewish weddings in Chicago are often held at the Midwest Conference Center, a Jewish-owned facility that has the capacity to handle large weddings AND free parking! My understanding is the wedding costs there are quite reasonable. The main drawback is its distance from the main concentration of orthodox Jews in Chicago. My driving distance was 22 miles, so the Conference Center (or Concord, as it's also known) is probably about 17 miles from Rogers Park, near Lake Street and Mannheim Road. Also, the southbound Tri-State Tollway exit for Lake Street only goes westbound, necessitating an awkward turnaround in a residential neighborhood for most wedding guests. ALSO (there's more), construction on the Tri-State makes traffic worse. Should one take the temporary-for-construction express lane (and emphasis on "lane," because there's only one, so one slow guy can ruin the experience) or the two locals? I bit for the express, and I think that worked out better. One can't go wrong with free parking, and it's a very nice facility. It would be much easier to attend a wedding at an O'Hare Airport hotel, but parking there can be $18 or more if it's not validated. The hosts were kind enough to spring for the parking for guests at the last airport hotel wedding I attended. Airport hotels are easier to drive to but probably about the same distance from Rogers Park as the Midwest Conference Center.
I saw two other people besides me (and besides band members) wearing earplugs. Why does the music at orthodox Jewish weddings need to be so loud? Loud enough to be dangerous? Is that a recent development? I sat next to friends of mine, which was nice. I handed my camera to strangers several times to pose with friends, whom I typically see only on the Sabbath, when photography is strictly prohibited. Each time I gave someone my camera, he had the same reaction: "This takes film?" YES, my camera takes film. It's a 35-millimeter camera. I don't own a digital camera. Yeesh!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Here is what I wrote in the comments section of a couple of Friends' FB pages that caused them to Remove me as a Friend:
The last thing this state needs is another massive tax increase. As I told my friend, who works in a state-funded facility, simply beating the drum for a tax increase ignores the reality that a tax increase reduces consumer spending, depresses income and scares business away from the state. Furthermore, additional revenue doesn't solve this state's funding problems. It just allows our spend-happy legislators to spend more of our hard-earned money on their pet projects. Over the past 20 years, our legislators have spent OUR money at twice the rate of inflation. If they had kept their spending just to inflation, we would probably either have a balanced budget or a surplus. The legislature never says "no" to a tax increase, so you'll probably win this one. I feel like the madness needs to stop. Numerous non-profit groups have made legitimate suggestions about relatively painless budget cuts the state could make without jeopardizing programmes like yours. Gov. Quinn won't acknowledge such options. For him, it's all about hurting kids and seniors. (And he won't make seniors pay for cta rides, either.) If you think they're suffering financially now, wait until that 50% income tax increase flies through the legislature. Do you really think working-class people can afford another one-and-a-half points sucked from their income by the greedy bastards who represent us in the legislature? (And that means, you, Ira Silverstein, you self-righteous taxaholic bastard.) The long-run consequence of tax increases is jobs and people moving out of Illinois. I can't imagine starting a business in Illinois, let alone Chicago. The tax burden is already too high.
A screed full of personal attacks, profanity, vituperation and nastiness, as you can see.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.
The Power Broker (Robert Moses) and Master of the Senate (LBJ) by Robert A. Caro.
White House Years, Years of Upheaval, Years of Renewal and Diplomacy by Henry A. Kissinger.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (for the first time since high school), by Mark Twain. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray (who is apparently not a Ph.D.). The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
The Books of: Jewish Values, Wisdom and Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.
Anything by Michael Medved, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach or Alan Dershowitz. The Babylonian Talmud by Chazal (our Sages).
The Bicycle Thief.
Godfather; Godfather II.
The Last Picture Show.
Last Tango In Paris.
Out of Africa. Dangerous Liaisons. Million Dollar Baby. The Aviator. Sideways. Good Night, and Good Luck. Juno. Definitely Maybe. The Departed. The Ten Commandments. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Dog Day Afternoon. All that Jazz. Raging Bull. The Verdict. Prizzi's Honor. Sweeney Todd. Walk the Line. The Last King of Scotland. Dr. Zhivago. Wall-E. Bolt.
Those two categories are "Books I'll Probably Never Read" and "Movies I'll Probably Never See." When you get to be my age....and I don't even have a family. There just isn't so much time. I do feel bad because some of the books are gifts from my siblings, and if I don't read the gifts, I feel like I've let them down. So those are my priority books. I've heard wonderful things about most of the films listed and would honestly like to see them all. But I'll be lucky if I see one-tenth of the list.
I haven't done so badly. As noted, I've read three of the Shakespeare plays listed, plus Romeo and Juliet. I have read Tale of Two Cities, often considered one of the finest works of English literature, and Moby Dick, the Great American Novel (panned upon release, by the way). I have read works of political and cultural non-fiction from differing points of view. My dad obm was a political bookworm and made his way through the Kissinger quartet (although maybe not the lightly regarded Renewal), which is impressive because the former diplomat is in dire need of an editor. His books extend beyond 1000 pages apiece. As a youth, I made it through much of Beverly Cleary's and Judy Blume's books, the entire Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), and about halfway through the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series. I also read a number of books about horror films that were popular at my school, which of course kept me up nights. Mad Scientists: a classic! Back to adulthood: I think I can say with a high level of confidence I have read every word of the Torah, given my annoying habit of showing up for shacharis every Sabbath of the year. So that's a worthwhile accomplishment. Daf Yomi (Page-a-Day Talmud; takes 7½ years) is not so easily achieved.
Until the last several years, I had been a voracious moviegoer, often seeing 50+ movies per year. I have slowed down a bit, cutting that in half or so. Using Netflix requires dedication and a time commitment. With job search and a current period of upheaval, to borrow a phrase, it's not easy to watch a DVD all the way through.
"There just aren't enough hours in the day." --my cousin Betsy
As I noted in a recent Chicago Tribune article, one must prioritize one's time: career, learning, family, and leisure actitivies: social networking, real socializing, exercise, playing outside, meditation, books, music, tv and movies. There's a limit to what we can squeeze in. Will it be worth two hours of my time to see Transformers 2? I certainly hope so. Because that time could be spent doing something else--like reading a book, seeing a far superior film, or catching up on my learning.
Friday, June 19, 2009
* * *
Let me see if I've got this straight.
A group acting in the name of Islam, sent by someone revered by many Muslims, flies two planes into the Twin Towers, killing almost 3,000 innocent people, the vast majority of them Americans, and the American president travels to one of the most repressive Islamic countries to make nice to the Islamic world?
The plight of the Palestinians, largely of their own making, them having rejected offer after offer from the partition plan in 1947 on, having murdered thousands of Israeli men, women and children, having walked away from a deal by the Israeli prime minister in 2000 that would have given them 99 percent of what they want, including part of Jerusalem as their capital, it is their plight that the American president compared to that of American slaves and to the systematic extermination of six million Jewish men, women and children?
The American president saw as a big concession to Israel and the Jewish people the fact that, in stirring and eloquent words, he made a big point of saying that yes, the Holocaust did actually take place?
I truly don't get it.
Now before I tell you how disappointed I am in President Barack Obama's big speech, let me just remind you that I am politically left of center, generally support the positions of the Democratic party, have been a strong supporter of the peace process from day one, believe Israel should give back almost all of the West Bank, believe there should be a Palestinian state and believe all religions are deserving of respect.
So I don't come at this like one of those knee-jerk right wingers like Rush Limbaugh or Fox News who believe Obama can do nothing right; or like those knee-jerk right wing Jewish groups like the Zionist Organization of America or the National Council of Young Israel who think Obama is out to get Israel; or like those knee-jerk crazy Jews, of whom there are way too many, who think Obama is an Arab lover intent on ending America's support of Israel.
When it comes to the Middle East, as with so much else, I think Obama's heart is in the right place. But what his speech in Cairo showed loudly and clearly is how much he sees everything as if it were an election campaign, how much faith he has in his own words, how much he thinks he is the first one to figure things out and, most of all, how unbelievably naive he is.
He really truly thought that by making this speech, by saying a few things out loud about what this side needs and feels and what that side needs and feels, that he would transform the dynamic of the Middle East and lead us to the peace that has eluded so many lesser leaders than him.
Proving only how little he understands the Middle East.
For starters, let me say loudly and clearly, that this speech will have virtually no positive affect of any kind on anyone in the region, that it will change nothing for the better. And that what little impact it might have will be a negative one.
Obama said his speech was all about telling the truth, which he seems to believe no one else has ever thought of before or done before. Problem is that he didn't tell the truth. Not even close.
And the clearest example of that was that he did not once, not once in an hour long, 6,000 word speech, use the word terrorism. Which is a very real reality in the Islamic world and emblematic of the basic malfunctions of the Arab Islamic world.
For a guy who said his speech was about telling the truth, he didn't once tell the Arab world the truth that it relies on terrorism as a way to make its political points. It did that on Sept. 11, it has done that in the 61 years since Israel was established, it even did that when a Dutch newspaper printed a cartoon many Muslims felt was insulting to Mohammed.
I find it stunning that while Obama in his speech said all the right things about democracy and human rights and the rights of women, the only two countries he visited on his trip were Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two places where democracy and human rights totally do not exist and have no hope of coming to be as long as dictators are in charge. Both brutally repress their own people, and it is clear that will continue, for once Mubarak goes in Egypt, his son will be anointed to take over, just as it is clear the royal family in Saudi Arabia will continue to rule with an iron fist and give free rein to clerics to continue to promote wahabism, the most hateful form of Islam.
Not one word of condemnation for either government in this speech devoted to telling the truth. Rather in his actions by visiting these two countries and publicly embracing their leaders, Obama gave them added legitimacy and reassured them he isn't going to ask them to change. Which is just one of the ways his speech will have a negative impact.
There are so many more. But before I get to how the speech will make things worse, let me first note the fact that Obama came to the Middle East and made two stops - Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Not Israel. Though it is right next door. Though that would have sent a signal to the Arab world, which in his speech he said must do more to accept that Israel is a part of their neighborhood.
Ask yourself one question. Can you imagine Obama coming to the Middle East and only visiting Israel? Is that conceivable? If he would come to visit Israel, would he not have felt it vital to visit at least Egypt and Saudi Arabia just to be fair? If he had only visited Israel, would we not have seen violent protests in the streets of Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
Okay, back to the speech. Obama began the part that focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with very moving words about the horror of the Holocaust, strongly condemning those who would deny its reality. I appreciate the words, I really do. But there is something very sick about the fact that in this major address to the Muslim world that he needs to firmly tell them not to deny the Holocaust.
The Holocaust happened. It is a fact, not something up for debate. To deny it is not to have a political difference, it is to be nuts, wacko, like saying there is no sun in the sky. That in 2009, such a basic historical fact is being denied by Middle East leaders and that so many in the Middle East buy that denial to the point the president of the United States has to tell them to stop that, tells you so much about the reality of the depravity of the Middle East and that its got a lot bigger problems than some settlements in the West Bank.
Speaking of which - and again I am no supporter of the settlements, believe too many settlers have said and acted in disgusting ways, and am more than prepared to give the Palestinians about 97 percent of the West Bank - but when exactly did the root of all the problems in the Middle East become the settlements?
Obama has evidently decided that he is being this brave, insightful leader by making the settlements the big issue at the start, by forcefully insisting that Israel stop building or expanding them. That to him is talking truth and that to him will lead to the Arabs then making significant gestures to Israel which will then lead to a lasting peace, two sides living by side by side, all because Obama out loud took on the settlements.
In fact, that shows how much he doesn't understand the way the Middle East works. He thinks if he shows the Arabs how he is pressuring Israel on the settlements, they in turn will be so grateful that they will come out and make gestures to welcome Israel to the neighborhood. If they see an effort to stop settlements, which they want, well, by golly, then they'll do something Israel wants.
Except that is not how things in the Mideast, or how the Arab mind, works, where the bargaining in the shuk mentality rules. By pushing Israel so hard on the settlements, what Obama has done, as the Arabs will see it, is hand them a stop to settlements without them having to give anything. A freebie. They put that concession in their pocket and wait for the next one. To them it shows how easy Obama is to roll and just whets their appetite to see what else they can get him to get from Israel.
We saw that with Gaza. Israel evacuated every single settlement in Gaza. All of them. Did that then lead the Palestinians to make a gesture back to Israel, to reciprocate and move peace forward? Just the opposite. They turned Gaza into a launching pad for missile attacks on Israel. They saw Gaza not as a magnanimous gesture, but as a sign of weakness, saw it not as a step toward peace but as confirming the wisdom of their terrorist policy. Terrorism, they believe, got them Gaza and will get them more.
By so publicly calling for Israel to stop settlements, especially in his big speech, what Obama has accomplished is the following: he has made it politically impossible for Bibi Netanyahu to agree, for to do so would make him appear weak and caving in; and the one thing Israelis won't abide is a weak leader. And the one thing Arabs are keenly attuned to and ready to take advantage of is any weakness on Israel's part.
Obama's well meaning naivete about how the Middle East works has also done more damage...
As I said, he began the part of his speech about the Israelis and Palestinians by talking about the Holocaust. He noted that the Jewish people's "aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied."
No. Wrong. Dangerously, obscenely wrong.
The aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted not in a tragic history but because Israel is the land that G-d promised to, gave to the Jewish people. G-d told Abraham that he would give that land to his descendants. Abraham, the father not just of the Jews but also the Christians and yes the Muslims.
The Jewish tie to Israel is rooted not in the Holocaust, not in pogroms, but in the Torah.
And if bringing in religion as part of a political issue makes you uncomfortable or angry, tough. Read Obama's speech and see how many references he made to the Islamic religion, how many times he quoted the Holy Koran, referred to the Holy Koran, talked about the teachings and messages of Islam. Well, if it's okay to note how important religion is to Muslims, if he said he visited Saudi Arabia because it is the "place where Islam began" then it should be okay to refer to Judaism, the Torah, how our tie to Israel is rooted in G-d saying that is our place, the home of His chosen people.
And if talk of religion is not enough to show the bond between the Jews and Israel, refer to history, to how there has been an unbroken Jewish presence there for more than 3,000 years, how Israel is the only place on earth where Jews have ever been sovereign, how it is the only place we have prayed for, worked for, dreamed about, no matter where we lived, for every day of our existence going back thousands of years, at the very start of our story, long before our tragic history.
No, the aspiration for Jews to live in Israel is not rooted in our tragic history, but in the fact that it is our ancestral, traditional, historic and yes, G-d given home.
The danger in saying what Obama said is if, in fact, we are in Israel because of the Holocaust, then the Arabs can justifiably ask why "the Arab nation" has to provide the safe haven for the Jews. If it was Europe that caused us so much suffering, let Europe make up for it. How about carving out part of Germany and making it the Jewish homeland? That would be more fair and just if the only reason we came to Israel was to escape the killing fields of Europe.
Another troubling aspect of his speech is that Obama concluded his remarks about the Holocaust by noting that "six million Jews were killed, more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today." Then he went on, "On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people ... have suffered in pursuit of a homeland."
What? On the other hand? He is equating the systematic extermination of six million Jewish men, women and children, with Palestinian suffering in pursuit of a state?
It is a comparison nothing short of obscene, amazingly ignorant of history and fact.
Palestinian suffering has been of their own making. Suffering that could have been avoided had they simply accepted the United Nations' partition plan of 1947. Suffering that could have been avoided had the Arab countries not launched the war of 1967 in an attempt to destroy Israel. There were no settlements before 1967. Suffering that could have been avoided had the Arab countries provided the funds to close the Palestinian refugee camps and built decent housing for their brethren, instead of keeping the camps open to score political points. Suffering that could have been avoided if the Palestinians had agreed to the unbelievably generous offer given them at Camp David in 2000 which would have given them a state, 97 percent of the West Bank, half of Jerusalem.
On the other hand? Jews had no choice, no chance to avoid the suffering of the Holocaust, were nothing but productive, model, loyal residents in all the countries where they have been persecuted.
That the Palestinians have suffered is undeniable. That the Palestinians could have avoided their suffering had they just been willing to live in peace with Israel is also undeniable.
What Obama has done by his odious comparison is let the Palestinians off the hook. Yes, they can say, sure the Jews suffered in the Holocaust, which was not our fault by the way, but we have suffered just as much, and that's completely the Jews' doing. They suffered at the hands of the Nazis and we have suffered at the hands of the Nazi-like Israelis.
There was one other aspect of the speech that I found troubling. As the New York Times put it, Obama "twice referring to 'Palestine' in a way that put Palestinians on parallel footing with Israelis"... and that Obama's "empathetic tone toward the Palestinians ... left many Palestinians and their Arab supporters jubilant ... because they saw the speech as elevating the Palestinians to equal status."
Look, I strongly believe there should be a Palestinian state and that the Palestinians deserve to be treated with dignity, but the simple, very important fact is that they have not earned 'parallel footing with Israelis" or "equal status" and to just hand it to them was both wrong morally and foolish politically.
Israel and the Palestinians started in the same place 61 years ago. Some of the Jews able to survive the Holocaust and able to make their way to Israel joined the ragtag collection of Jews there, in a land with no natural resources. They chose to accept the half a loaf of the partition plan and went about the business of building a state. And so they have done. Establishing a vibrant democracy in a part of the world where that is an unknown concept. Creating from scratch an innovative high tech economy. They have made the desert bloom, assembled a strong army, brought forth a highly creative culture. They have absorbed Jews from every corner of the earth, revived an ancient language, built world class hospitals and universities and businesses-all while fighting war after war, enduring the enmity of its neighbors.
The Palestinians, by contrast, said no in 1947 and have squandered the time since, stagnated, no democracy, no economy. They have preached and practiced hate and intolerance, wrapped themselves in a blanket of victimhood, blamed the Jews for all their woes, purposely kept their people living in misery, become world experts at only one thing - terrorism.
There is a difference. The Palestinians have not earned what Obama gave them -parallel footing with Israelis. Yes, they deserve their own state, yes they deserve to live in dignity, but he should have told them that to get that, you have to earn it, show you deserve it, demonstrate you would do good with it. Let us see democracy and the rule of law and the dismantling of the terror networks, let us see as much effort in building an economy as in perfecting weapons, let us hear words of peace in your mosques and on your TV, not calls for Israel's destruction, as Hamas, the most powerful Palestinian faction and the only Palestinian party mentioned by name by Obama, continues to do.
You can't be given respect, you must earn it. The Palestinians have not done so. And yet Obama handed it to them, giving them no reason to work for it, showing them their way has worked. They have done nothing to show they are ready for peace, ready for their own state, and yet they have been given parallel footing with Israel by the president of the United States.
This speech was Barack Obama doing what Barack Obama does, using his gift of eloquence and his powerful words to show compassion to both sides, have each side try to understand where the other is coming from, demonstrate understanding for how each side sees things, urge that we forget the past and look only to the future, convince those listening that, with the audacity of hope and the belief that yes we can, any disagreement, even the most difficult and longstanding, is resolvable. He's done that with hot button issues from abortion to race, and doing that got him elected president of the United States.
Yes, I am thankful he said nice things about the "unbreakable" bond between the United States and Israel, yes, I am glad he told the Palestinians that violence has gotten them nowhere, yes, I am pleased he told the Arab world it must accept the fact that Israel "will not go away."
But the big problem with this big speech is that the conflict in the Middle East is not a political campaign and the people who live there are not just like the voters in Iowa.
The Arab Middle East is a place where time is measured not in election cycles, but in millennia, where up is down and right is wrong, where to be reasonable is to be seen as weak, where there is no win-win only win-lose, where hatred trumps the truth, where reaching out is seen as being a sucker, where Osama bin Laden remains a hero to many, where too many would rather kill Israeli children than make the future brighter for Palestinian ones.
The Arab Middle East is a place where the president of the United States has to come to implore, plead, make the case that it's time to finally admit that the Holocaust did actually take place.
Floor of the United States Senate
"Acknowledging Israel's History"
16 June 2009
Last Wednesday, just a few blocks down the street, a neo-Nazi opened fire at the Holocaust Museum. He murdered a security guard and terrorized the museum's visitors, including school children, who had come to learn, to express sympathy, to pray. That evil act was the work of a killer who had made his hatred of other religions and ethnic groups well known. And it was a reminder that intolerance, ignorance and anti-Semitism have not yet been defeated in our world.
This tragedy reminds us of the need for sound understanding of one of the darkest episodes in the history of the world. Far too many misrepresent the significance of the Holocaust, especially in regards to the State of Israel and her people. And far too many deny it happened altogether, out of bigotry, hatred and spite.
In the face of so much misunderstanding, I'm compelled today to speak up about the role of the Holocaust in Israel's history, and Israel's challenges in preventing anti-Semitic murder from continuing to happen.
The Holocaust was the most sinister possible reminder that the Jewish population in exile was in constant jeopardy. It was a definitive argument that anti-Semitism could appear anywhere, and its horrors galvanized international support for the State of Israel.
But let's be very clear: while the Shoah has a central role in Israel's identity, it is not the reason behind its founding and it is not the main justification for its existence.
The extreme characterization of this mistaken view is the following: the Western powers established Israel in 1948 based on their own guilt, at the expense of the Arab peoples who lived there. Therefore, the current state is illegitimate and should all be wiped off the face of the map.
This flawed argument is not only in defiance of basic human dignity but in plain defiance of history. It is in defiance of ancient history, as told in Biblical texts and through archeological evidence. And it ignores the history of the last several centuries.
Because of what's at stake, it's well worth reviewing this history in detail, and let me make a modest attempt at a very broad overview.
There has been a continuity of Jewish presence in the Holy Land for thousands of years. Jewish kings and governments were established in the area that is now Israel several millennia ago. After untold years of Jewish sovereignty, based in Jerusalem, the land of the Jewish people fell repeatedly to invaders: Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, many others.
Jews were repeatedly massacred and expelled, and the departure of so many from the land they had always called home developed into an unparalleled Diaspora.
From the 16th century until the early 20th century, the land that is now Israel was under the control of a distant Ottoman caliphate based in Istanbul—and during this time, as earlier, many Jews returned to their ancestral homeland.
The Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, and the treaty they signed with the Allied Powers granted Great Britain a mandate over the area then known as Palestine.
The League of Nations endorsed and clarified this mandate in 1922, requiring Britain to reconstitute a Jewish national home within the territory they controlled, in accordance with a declaration made by British Foreign Secretary Balfour in 1917, making the restoration of Jewish communities in that area a matter of international law.
By the time World War II had ended, there were more than 600,000 Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1947 the United Nations approved a plan to partition the territory into Arab and Jewish states. The Jewish Agency accepted the plan. The Arabs did not.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel declared its independence. On May 15, five Arab nations declared war. Despite being surrounded on all sides, Israel prevailed and expanded its borders, providing a small additional measure of security against attacks which were certain to come—and did.
So, to be clear, the more than 700,000 Palestinians who left Israel were refugees of a war instigated by Arab governments, bent on seizing more land for themselves.
But the Arabs who left Israel after its modern founding weren't the only displaced population in the Middle East. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who left Europe during and after the Holocaust, in the 20th century, more than three quarters of a million Jews fled or were expelled from their homes in Arab and Middle Eastern nations—in cities that many of their families had lived in for nearly a millennium.
Their possessions were taken, their livelihoods were destroyed, victims of nationalism and hatred of Israel.
Mr. President, several thousand years of history lead to an undeniable conclusion: the reestablishment of the state of Israel in modern times is a political reality with roots going back to the time of Abraham.
And so, the way to consider the immeasurable impact of the Holocaust on Israel is not to ask whether the state would exist otherwise.
It is, at least in one sense, to imagine how even more vibrant Israel would be if millions upon millions had not been denied a chance to know it.
The attacks on Israel have barely stopped since 1948. Not just attacks by armies but attacks by individuals, attacks by tanks and terrorists—attacks have come in the form of stones and they have come in the form of speeches. Its enemies have attempted to assassinate its people with rockets and assassinate its national character with hateful rhetoric.
Today, it is still surrounded by hostility; its back is still to the sea. It is surrounded by hostility from Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In looking at the threat Israel faces on its southwestern border, one thing must be absolutely, indisputably, unequivocally clear: there is no moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas. Israel is a sovereign, democratic state of seven and a half million people—Jews, Muslims, Christians.
Hamas is a terrorist organization. It won control of Gaza after men in ski masks waged gun battles with another branch of Palestinian leadership. It used that control to launch rockets at sleeping children in the nearby Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Sderot. This is the thanks Israel got for withdrawing from Gaza
Hamas does not recognize agreements that Palestinian leaders have reached with Israel in the past, it does not recognize Israel's right to exist at all—and in fact it is ideologically committed to Israel's annihilation.
Gaza's people thirst for freedom and opportunity but are held hostage to Hamas's thirst for destruction, and even today, after the consequences of menacing Israel became clear in a disastrous war, weapons are flowing freely through tunnels into Gaza, Hamas has rearmed, and it is readying itself for the day when it's going to take on Israel again.
Hamas and Hezbollah may be the head of the snake when it comes to terrorism, but the tail extends much farther back. The weapons terrorists use were sent from Iran. Money they received was sent from Iran.
Propaganda supporting Hamas's campaign of terror and calling for Israel's destruction was conceived in, produced by and broadcast from Iran.
The fundamentalist regime in Teheran isn't just an emerging threat, it doesn't just have the potential to be a threat to Israel's existence, it is a threat to Israel's existence. And under no circumstances whatsoever can we allow that conventional threat to become a nuclear one.
Especially in light of the threat of Iran, and in light of the threats extremists pose to so many innocent civilians around the globe, the importance of Israel as a strategic ally and friend to the United States could not be clearer. It is hard to overstate the value of having such a stalwart democratic ally in such a critical part of the world, an ally in terms of intelligence gathering, economics, politics and culture.
Israel is a rose in a desert rampant with repression, a force of moderation against fundamentalism and extremism. It is an ally we can constantly depend on, and count on, to be with us in international fora and on the key decisions that affect the safety and security of Americans around the world.
For more than six decades it has been a key U.S. trading partner and a scientific innovator. We have Israeli engineers to thank for everything from advances in solar power to cell phone technology to AOL Instant Messenger.
Equipment we're using in Iraq to fight terrorism and keep American troops safe was developed in Israel—and medical treatments we're using in U.S. hospitals to fight cancer, heart disease and chronic pain were developed in Israel. Israeli-born actors are stars of Hollywood, and an Israeli astronaut has accompanied Americans into space.
So it's not just in the interests of Israel to have its full history recognized, it is in the national interests and national security interests of the United States. It is in our interests to fully remember the unbreakable bond that has made us both stronger over the last 61 years, and to make it unmistakable that our commitment is as strong as ever.
The argument for Israel's legitimacy does not depend on what we say in speeches. It has been made by history. It has been made by the men and women who have made the desert green, by Nobel Prizes earned, by groundbreaking innovations and enviable institutions, by lives saved, democracy defended, peace made, battles won.
There can be no denying the Jewish people's legitimate right to live in peace and security on a homeland to which they have had a connection for thousands of years.
We can and must move forward in the peace process, and look for ways to reach agreement between all sides. But we cannot erase the moral distinctions between tyranny and freedom and we must not edit history.
If we stay true to history and follow our moral compass, I'm optimistic that talks can lead to understanding and resolution of the very sensitive, detailed and tough issues we face.
The next pages of Middle Eastern history are not doomed to be stained by an endless, senseless fight to the death. It doesn't have to be that way. Different peoples of vastly different backgrounds have peacefully thrived in the Middle East for generations upon generations, and this coexistence can happen once more.
Let us remember the words of Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat in 1978 when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace, words that not long before would have seemed incredibly unlikely.
He said, quote, "Let us put an end to wars, let us reshape life on the solid basis of equity and truth. And it is this call…of the great majority of the Arab and Israeli peoples, and indeed of millions of men, women, and children around the world that you are today honoring. And these hundreds of millions will judge to what extent every responsible leader in the Middle East has responded to the hopes of mankind." End quote.
I have been to Israel. I have shaken the hands of its citizens and visited its holy places. I know that in the heart of Israelis there is a strong desire for peace.
We can never lose sight of why peace is so important.
After the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, the Jewish people would forever be mindful that no one knows what turns history will take.
And every day we're mindful that anti-Semitism has not gone away, whether in the form of a firebombing of a French synagogue, defamatory comments by a government official in South Africa or a senseless murder here in Washington, D.C.
Israel is the one place in the world, the one place, where anti-Semitism can be structurally impossible. It is the field of hope on which fear can be vanquished, the island of refuge that can stand firm no matter how stormy the sea of history turns. And that's why we must always keep it safe, and always keep it free.
The United States is not simply allied with a government—it's an ally of Israel's people. It's an ally of Israel's democratic ideals. It's an ally of its history, of its aspirations for peace and prosperity, its can-do spirit and amazing resilience in the face of threats from all sides. In that sense, we're not just Israel's allies, we're admirers. We're partners. And we are friends.
I plan to do everything I can to see that we support that friendship, this year, next year, every year.
Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." We know that in Israel's quest for security there will be trials along the way, there will be setbacks and there will be dangers too tremendous for words. But if we continue the work that we do, and continue to stay true to the values that drive our journey, then that long arc will eventually reach its resting place in the land of Israel, and a just and lasting peace will be at hand. Thank you Mr. President, and with that, I yield the floor.
Monday, June 15, 2009
It is unworthy of the United States to aspire to be even-handed between those who would destroy and those who would preserve the only democracy in that region
Rick Richman - June 10, 2009
George Will speaks on Israel
George F. Will was the featured speaker at the dinner Monday evening at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, in celebration of the Claremont Review of Books. Will received the Salvatori Prize in the American Founding, and gave a masterful speech that included a mixture of political insight, conservative philosophy, humor and baseball stories.
After the speech, he took a few questions, including one that led him to reflect on President Obama’s apparent belief that disharmony among nations results from misunderstandings that can be cured by dialogue and communication (and the force of his own personality) -- a view that Will characterized as reflecting a 1930s approach to foreign policy:
We’ve seen this in his treatment of Israel in that remarkable speech, the atmospherics of which were fine, the specifics appalling.
I mean, in the 61 years since Israel was founded on one-sixth of one percent of land in that area described as land of the Arab world, there has not been a moment of peace for Israel, not as peace is properly understood.
How many Americans understand that when Israel was founded in 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded, no Palestinian state was destroyed? There had not been a Palestinian geographic entity since between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of British rule.
How many know that the West Bank, referred to by the President as “occupied territory,” inferentially as occupied Palestinian territory, is under international law unallocated portion of the Palestine Mandate rightfully occupied by Israel, because it occupied it in repelling aggression that came from that territory in 1967. .
How the President believes that if we return to the 1967 borders, the antipathy to Israel, which predated the 1967 borders, will disappear, I do not know.
It would help if he . . . spent some time . George W. Bush, for all his defects, went to Israel shortly before he was elected and was squired around by another rancher named Arik Sharon. He took him up in a helicopter, to where Israel was at one point nine miles wide, and George W. Bush came home and said “My God, in Texas we have driveways longer than that.” . He sort of got the picture.
I remember -- if I could go back to an autobiographical moment -- in 1979 I was invited to talk to the B’nai Brith of Beverly Hills – not a nest of conservatives – and they said “Who should be the Republican nominee?” And I said, pick Howard Baker, George Bush, Ronald Reagan. And they said “Well, who would be best for Israel?” And I responded “Of course it would be Ronald Reagan.” They said “Why?”
I said -- “Two reasons: he believes in aircraft carriers. He believes in the projection of American power. Second, he is a romantic. He’s got the story of Israel, plucky little Israel.”
You need both. You need aircraft carriers and you need to appreciate the fact that Israel is an embattled salient of our values in a bad neighborhood. .
It is unworthy of the United States to aspire to be even-handed between those who would destroy and those who would preserve the only democracy in that region. .
Will was speaking extemporaneously, without notes, to an unanticipated question. His comments are worth listening to.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Leibel Groner Jan. 14 (?) at B'Nei Reuven - Mr. Groner was one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's inner circle of aides and secretaries. He worked with the Rebbe z"l for several decades; I'm not sure if it was the extent of the Rebbe's position as Rebbe, from 1951 (I think) until his passing in 1994. Anyway, he explained how the Rebbe never took a vacation and was on call to visitors 24-7. (He would not answer mail or take phone calls on shabbos/yontif but would see visitors who stopped by.) Mr. Groner said he and his colleagues arranged for the Rebbe to take a vacation--just him and his wife--to a Long Island cottage. The Rebbe flatly refused, explaining that he would fall hopelessly behind in mail and phone messages. The Rebbe asked Mr. Groner how many pieces of mail and phone messages would accumulate in two weeks. When Mr. Groner replied with some high number, the Rebbe responded, "And you call that a vacation?" His work ethic, even at an advanced age, amazes me. When I visited the yeshiva at Lakewood, N.J., in 2008, a rabbi told our group that Rav Kotler z"l taught 35 classes a week right up to the week before he died. That is amazing too.
In discussing the challenge of welcoming Moschiach and the Messianic Era, Leibel Groner told us this should be easy. (Well, that's a relief.) He explained how Abraham stood in the face of a pagan world and persuaded his family to become G-d-fearing Jews. He started a tradition of ethical monotheism that changed the world and continues to this day. Moses told the most powerful man in the world he was taking his people out of enslavement and into the desert, which he did with G-d's help. And all we need to do is perform acts of loving kindness for Moschiach to reveal himself to the world? For Liebel Groner, no problem is insurmountable with G-d's help.
Rabbi Manis Friedman returns to Chabad of Skokie Feb. 20 - this was after a beautiful shabbos dinner--Chabad of Skokie's biggest dinner ever. Rabbi Friedman didn't speak for very long. He had some tough talk on Israel, though. He said Israel should deal with the rocket launchers and hostage-takers with a strong hand. He said human rights complaints would last for about a week. But Israel would gain respect, and the incentive to capture soldiers and to send rockets into Israel would disappear. I agree with him. But the Israeli government is too cowed by world opinion to take serious steps to keep its people safe.
Shabbos at Chabad of Blue Ash May 22-23: I spent Memorial Day Weekend with my Cincinnati cousins, and one of them lives with her family just 3/4-mi. from the Chabad Jewish Center in Blue Ash, northeast of Cincinnati. It's not such an easy walk--up and down a series of hills in both directions--but it's nice to be able to walk to shul on shabbos. I went to the Chabad House--one of the most beautiful Chabad Houses I've ever seen, a masterwork of 21st-Century architecture--Friday night, Saturday morning, and Saturday afternoon. I had dinner with Rabbi Mangel and his family Friday night. This was a truly spiritual, uplifting experience. Only four of the Mangels' nine children were home for dinner, so they were delighted to host a guest for the meal. Mrs. Mangel is a wonderful cook. I had a great time, and I hope I can return soon.
Shabbos at Chabad of Bucktown and Wicker Park, June 5-6: The Moscowitzes found a place for me to stay near their beautiful home, so I was able to attend their first Shabbos on the Roof of the season. Fifty young people (who, thankfully, did not address me as "Sir" or "Gramps") showed up for dinner, and Mrs. Moscowitz ably accommodated everyone. Their roof has a breathtaking view of the downtown skyline, 3.5 mi. to the southeast. Rabbi Moscowitz spoke briefly after dinner. He pointed out how Moses is famous in the Torah for his humility: he was the most humble person who ever lived. This is a little surprising, since he brought us out of Egypt, with G-d's help, ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. At the end of his life, as the Jewish people were about to enter the land of Israel that G-d gave to them, G-d revealed to Moses the entire future of the Jewish people. Moses saw the tragedy the Jewish people endured, especially its near extinction in the 20th Century. And still, G-d showed Moses that Jews were still keeping Torah mitzvahs, such as the shabbos dinner we were attending that evening. Moses recalled how the men he brought out of Egypt turned to the Golden Calf as an idol even after they saw with their own eyes G-d parting the Sea. And he was deeply ashamed that after all the miracles they witnessed, they still turned to idolatry. On the other hand, after all the tragedy and murder the Jews of our modern era witnessed and endured, we are still keeping Torah.
Let's emulate Moses and try to avoid hubris. But there's nothing wrong with a pat on the back. In another story Rabbi Moscowitz told, a rabbi thought he was going to get a pat on the back from the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself. This rabbi told Rabbi Schneerson that he was bringing Jews "with no Jewish background" back to Torah. The Rebbe was a tad annoyed. "No background? What do you mean? All Jews have Jewish backgrounds!" Of course we do. The Rebbe loved every Jew regardless of observance level. He knew we all have that Jewish neshama (soul) burning inside us. It's up to us to make that spark shine.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Target Field's budget is $522 million. The Minnesota Twins will contribute $130 million, or just under one-fourth of the projected cost. A Hennepin County sales tax is producing most of the taxpayer revenue.
The Twins managed to extract a new stadium out of the taxpayers, but they couldn't shaft the taxpayers for an additional $100 million for a retractable dome. (The Metrodome was also built on the cheap.) How does a $522 ballpark not have a roof? Does the budget include fur coats for the construction workers? So Target Field is going to be an outdoor stadium. Big mistake. Outdoor baseball in Minneapolis in April, May and September? With most of those games at night? Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! It could be in the 30's. Almost every night. Games will be snowed out every season. Are Twins fans ready for this?
Here's what I would have done if I were the Twins' owners, the Pohlad family, and $100 million short. Well, since I'm worth several billion dollars, I would just kick in the extra $100 mil myself. Otherwise, I would build the ballpark with a retractable roof in mind so that it could be added once the financing became available. I would enclose and heat the concourses so fans have a place to take breaks from shivering in their seats. And I would hold games before May 15 in the Metrodome until the City of Minneapolis decides to blow it up to build a new retractable-dome football stadium for the Vikings. The Vikings are begging for fans to pay for it on their stadium website.
I don't like fans being insulted. Here are situations in which I believe teams insult fans:
$8 beer, every NFL stadium
$23 parking, White Sox
forcing fans to pay top dollar to watch the Cubs in that outdated dump Wrigley Field
forcing fans to sit outdoors to watch baseball in very cold-climate Minneapolis
forcing fans to put up one thin dime for stadiums to be enjoyed by wealthy owners and players, with ticket prices that are typically too expensive for most fans
I wish the people of Minneapolis had told their county legislators, "Don't give the Twins a new ballpark. But if you do, make sure it's warm inside." The Twins are going to end up with a lot of empty seats--fans watching on tv--until first-pitch temperatures rise above 60.
This is the Houston Astros' tenth season in Minute Maid Park. They played their last season in the Astrodome in 1999. I remember a radio station announcer (now-defunct FM100--the current occupant, 100.3, formerly Love FM, isn't much better) calling the Astrodome a "Chamber of Horrors" for the Cubs. Very true. I think the Cubs' overall record in the Astrodome (1966 or so - 1999) was about .333. Until 1994, the Astros were in the other division, so the Cubs only had to visit twice a year. The latter half of the '90's must have been tough, though. At least the Cubs were competitive in 1998.
Why do the Cubs perform so well in Minute Maid Park? It was designed to be an updated version of that dump Wrigley Field--with a roof. It has natural grass instead of the Astrodome's artificial turf (invented for the building and named for the team). Its field dimensions aren't astronomical. And the roof isn't the same color as the baseball, DUH. Furthermore, the Astros only close the roof for rain and first-pitch temperatures over 80 degrees. So when it's nice out, the ballpark even more closely resembles Wrigley Field.
It's easy to see why the Cubs were so hopelessly out of their element dealing with artificial turf/carpeting on the road from the 1960's (when it was invented for the Astrodome) through the early 90's, when teams began ripping it up and replacing it with grass. The Cubs actually played more than half their road games at night, on Astroturf. (They still play more than half their road games at night, which is why their matinée-heavy schedule continues to be a competitive disadvantage.) Here are the Cubs' National League rivals during this period, with a "T" next to the team name for Astroturf.
NL East (the Cubs' division) NL West
New York Cincinnati - T
Pittsburgh - T Houston - T
Philadelphia - T Atlanta
St. Louis - T San Diego
Montreal - T (indoors at some point) San Francisco
Why were Atlanta and Cincinnati in the "West" while the Gateway to the West was in the East? Yeah, really. Montreal played in Olympic Stadium, and the city eventually closed the exposed roof.
This year, the Cubs' only games on artificial turf are indoors at Minneapolis, an interleague series. If that series were to recur next year, when the Twins move outdoors to Freeze Your Ass Off Ballpark, it would be on grass. So one positive outcome of all those taxpayer-financed new ballparks is that artificial turf is no longer a factor in Major League Baseball. And for that, Cubs fans say, "Thank you."
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Here is a case in point, which has little to do with Arabs but everything to do with Islam: Adbulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shot and killed William Long, 23, June 1 in West Little Rock, Ark. Muhammad, born Carlos Bledsoe, is an African-American convert to Islam. He called the Associated Press today (collect, from jail) and said his attack on Long, who was taking a cigarette break outside a U.S. Army recruiting office where he was volunteering his time, was justified due to U.S. military treatment of Muslims in the Middle East. This story is being handled very quietly by the media even though the circumstances are similar to what transpired in Washington today. The alleged killer is black and Muslim, so he is off-limits. Von Brunn is a white racist--a bit inconvenient that he hates Jews, too, like many Muslims. The media will go after von Brunn, and rightfully so. Muhammad should receive similar coverage, but he hasn't and won't.
The nasty, hate-filled attacks Israel receives on a daily basis at campuses across the U.S. are organized and coordinated by two groups: Muslims and white, middle-class left-wing extremists. The Muslim Student Association apparently spends much of its time and resources on Israel Apartheid Awareness Week (not to be confused with Islamo-Nazi Awareness Week) and spreading a propaganda campaign consisting of denouncements of such a horrible country that it deserves destruction. They harass and intimidate Jewish students, and Hillel houses have come under attack. If groups similarly attacked homosexuals or African-Americans, they would be banned from campus.
Two voting blocs voted for Barack Obama for president expecting him either to change his mind or renege on campaign promises: voters who favor legalizing gay marriage; and Arab-Muslim activists who favor the destruction of Israel. Apparently the latter were very disappointed that Obama addressed AIPAC in June, 2008. (He sent Vice President Biden this year.) They expected him to run for president and not appear pro-Israel? That might happen in 2012; we'll see. Too soon to tell. At this point, Americans who seek Israel's destruction must be pleased that the White House seems to be singling out Israel for criticism and are surely quite hopeful the U.S.-Israel relationship takes a sharp turn for the worse. The hatred of Jews is never far behind hatred of Israel. Without Israel, the International Socialist Organization doesn't have much of a political platform. Of course, everything it favors--women's rights, workers' rights, gay rights, abortion rights, laborers' rights--are permitted in Israel and banned across the Arab world. But Israel is a Jewish state, so it must be destroyed. I spoke to one socialist at the Howard cta station (mistake, I know) who told me he objected to Israel's status as a Jewish state. Of course the 23 Arab-Muslim states didn't bother him in the slightest. Socialists seem to have this idea of replacing Israel with a secular utopia. In the Middle East.
I was furious. I blew up in an explosion of fury and profanity. "He just stole two years of her life," I told my friend. She doesn't have that kind of time. It's selfish for him to enjoy sexual favors with no obligation for a long-term commitment on his part. My friend added he knew another couple who has been dating for five years.
What the hell is going on? Why do women put up with this? There are some rules for dating that I think most people live with: the first date is coffee, not dinner/movie; no sex on the first date; no serious dates (a wedding, meet parents) for the first month or so. Here's a new rule: no dating over three months for women over 30. To quote myself (sorry), she just doesn't have that kind of time. It's working out? Great. Start discussing the future. It's not working out? Sorry to hear that. It's time for her to move on to find her beshert (true love), because it sure as hell isn't you.
"It's guys like him who are contributing to the shidduch (dating) crisis," I told my friend when he told me about the breakup. I tried to jump-start two of my friends last year who told me about dating their early-30's girlfriends. Both relationships were lasting longer than a year. I know one of the girlfriends, and for a couple of reasons I think she's going to have a tough time finding someone to marry if this current relationship doesn't work out. I told my friends they weren't being fair to their girlfriends by stringing them along. They needed to make a decision one way or the other. I doubt my advice went over well. As far as I know, both relationships continue without engagements.
These men enjoying the free sex (no long-term obligation/commitment) are not only cheating their girlfriends out of marital opportunities from men who take dating and marriage more seriously. They are also cheating these same men by taking high-quality women off the market and holding them hostage to their own selfish desires.
Allow me to explain. Maybe Grace is perfect for James, who has dated several different women over the past year but can't seem to find the right match. Too bad for James that Lionel has been stringing Grace along for the past 18 months. Grace is turning 31 and tired of taking a daily birth control pill. She has a uterus and wants to use it. She wants to get married but is afraid of hitting the front lines of dating again. Lionel likes Grace but isn't sure if he's in love. He's terrified of the thought of marriage and a long-term commitment despite being 33. Why should he propose marriage? Grace gives him everything he needs now: a best friend, a reliable date, and a sexual partner. James is willing to propose if he meets the right woman. Unfortunately for James and Grace, Grace is a kept woman. By the time Lionel breaks up with her, James is already engaged to Caitlin. She's not exactly what he was looking for, but James takes her seriously anyway. And Grace lost out.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
I think the three variables that determine whether one has a great time at the ballpark are: (1) weather; (2) fast game; and (3) home team win, in that order (in my opinion). I like hanging out and having a nice time without a jacket and without endless pitching changes that break up the game's rhythm. José Contreras was on fire last night, pitching a one-hitter through eight. The White Sox' only pitching change came between innings, and the game lasted a crisp 2:18. Compare that to the game earlier that afternoon (the first of a day-night doubleheader), which ran a tedious 3:01. Ugh!
Other factors that impact how much fun one has at the old ballpark are fans in one's own section. We smelled the faint whiff of cigar all night but could not locate the perpetrator, so we couldn't ask the usher to ask him to put it out. Since we couldn't find him, it wasn't so bad that it ruined the night for us. Behind us were a quintet of philo-Semites who just loved my White Sox kipah. One wanted to convert to Judaism, and another was very fond of Jewish comedians, especially Larry David. It's fun meeting and talking to friendly strangers at games. We have something in common: rooting for the home team.
In its 19th season, Sox Park still seems new and is a great place to watch a ballgame, especially when compared to that North Side dump Wrigley Field. Yes, it's too bad the Chicago skyline that lies four miles north of the ballpark is not visible from the seats. However, breathtaking views of that skyline are available from the Gate 5 ramp, and plenty of fans take advantage of that photo opportunity.
The White Sox continue to upgrade their taxpayer-funded ballpark. They replaced the black-and-white out-of-town scoreboard with a new full-color video board. Out-of-town scores bounce in the middle of the screen, four at a time, with the White Sox' and opponent's lineups on either side. There's also time and temperature, plus pitch speed and count. Very informative. It's a nice addition to the main video board and the black-and-white stat board. Serious fans must be completely baffled by Wrigley Field's scoreboard that dates from 1938. It has a one-line digital board below it, but that's hardly enough to make up for its deficiencies.
The White Sox enclosed the escalators in Gate 5, although I'm not sure why. What was the point? It would really be great to enclose the 500-level concourse, making it climate-controlled so fans relax indoors during very cold or very hot weather. Of course, the White Sox would enclose the 100-level concourse first. The 300 (club level) concourse is already enclosed.
The ballpark was three-fourths full last night, and still there was plenty of room on the upper-deck (500 level) concourse to walk around and take in the scene. I easily bought a Tollhouse Cookie Sandwich and Diet Pepsi and returned to my seat without worrying about squeezing through crowds of people. It's quite a contrast to the terribly crowded Wrigley Field concourses. How quickly could Wrigley Field be evacuated in an emergency? That dump Wrigley Field has been a serious safety hazard for longer than the Cubs care to admit.
I don't quite understand how the White Sox get away with charging $23 for parking, and from some of those spots it's still a considerable hike to the gates. A family of four could park a mile away and take the #35 bus roundtrip for less than $8. I parked on Aberdeen Street, just outside the White Sox ticket/tow zone. I had some time to kill, so I walked a half-mile to the library and then another half-mile to the ballpark.
To be fair, the Cubs night-game ticket/tow zone extends a mile to the west and north of the ballpark. The eastern and southern borders are closer, but the street parking in those directions is full anyway, so the point is moot. I know I can always find a spot on Aberdeen in Bridgeport. With Lakeview's congestion, parking for a night game is a much dicier proposition.
Monday, June 8, 2009
This deadline has sent the one-fifth of Americans who depend on over-the-air signals, and who have not bought new digital tv's, scrambling for means to watch tv. They are buying converters, with help from the federal government. (Another wasteful government program.) They are buying new televisions. (Yes, I did.) And they are calling their cable or satellite providers to reconnect or connect for the first time.
Where is the no-tv contingent?
This is the best opportunity in decades to convince people to give up their televisions. "You can watch your shows online." "For entertainment programming, you can wait for the DVD releases." "Do you really need tv?" All credible arguments. The more traditional orthodox movement of Judaism--black-hat, haredi--attempts to persuade or mandates its newest members to give up television. Why at this time is there no noticeable push within the frum community for tv owners to give them up?
There could be incentives. mp3 or iPod giveaways. Contests for iTouch units. Perhaps the frum community is too preoccupied with the economy and job loss, which is completely understandable.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I've been wondering the same thing.
All cheerleaders are not equal.
An article on the same subject in Sports Illustrated quoted Kristie Phillips, a star gymnast and one-time Olympic hopeful who flamed out after a battle with pill addiction. She became a cheerleader at LSU and wisely pointed out that cheerleading is one of just a few activities in which female athletes can perform in front of large crowds. So it does provide amateur female athletes, in high school and college, to perform in front of crowds during football and basketball timeouts.
Okay. So they do the pyramid and flip across the floor. But what about cheerleaders for professional sports teams? Why are they wearing often-hilarious leotards or bare-midriff outfits? Which demographic fan group are they appealing to?
I'm trying to figure that out. Most NBA and NFL season-ticket holders are men--specifically, married men. So are they the ones who are checking out the cheerleaders? I don't think female fans care one way or the other. Do these teams sell any additional tickets because they feature cheerleaders during timeouts? The Chicago Bears didn't think so. I don't know why they dropped the Honey Bears cheerleading squad years ago, but the Bears haven't had an unsold seat since 1982. Maybe the teams think cheerleaders add to the overall stadium experience (compared to tv), along with the spotlight introductions, the crowd participation rock songs, and the overpriced beer. But is their presence really appropriate?
Charity events. Professional teams will frequently mention how much community service work they do; apparently that justifies blackmailing the taxpayers into building them new stadia. Cheerleaders do perform a significant amount of goodwill visits on behalf of their teams. Yes, I'm sure hospital patients love being visited by beautiful women. But this type of outreach could also be done (and is done, to their credit) by the athletes themselves. I know (from a Bob Greene column in the Chicago Tribune, years ago) that Jerry Reinsdorf required his White Sox players to sign autographs. Are athletes required by contract to make community visits on behalf of the team, too? They should be. So much easier to schedule cheerleaders to do this work, of course. But maybe the teams would be better off without the cheerleaders.
A friend of mine who is a Johannesburg native thinks soccer is a very exciting game and urged me to try attending a match. Having concerns about driving to Bridgeview's Toyota Park to see the Chicago Fire, I drove instead to beautiful Hoffman Estates' Sears Centre to see the Chicago Storm. It's indoor soccer--a little different, more scoring, plus a scoring format similar to basketball with two points for a close shot and three points for a shot beyond an arc painted on the artificial turf. By a strong majority, I noticed most of the fans for Storm home games are either families with young children or kids' groups: Brownie Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and boys' and girls' soccer teams. It's a family atmosphere. So naturally, the Storm features cheerleaders in spandex midriff-baring tops. They spend much of the game either in a bullpen near a goal or in the seating sections behind that goal. Like most cheerleaders/dancers, they perform two choreographed dance routines per game. Unlike most cheerleaders/dancers, they stand on the concourse post-game, handing out flyers for their dance clinic to pre-teen girls.
So a couple of points: If families and kids comprise a majority of a team's fan base, if the team has cheerleaders at all, they should be dressed for a kids' birthday party, not a nightclub. And those same women encouraging girls to attend a dance clinic seems a bit inappropriate as well.
A few years ago, the NHL started requiring teams to remove chipped ice from the frozen playing surface during tv timeouts--three times per period. The NHL didn't specify who should pick up a shovel, just that it be done. The Chicago Blackhawks jumped at the opportunity to hire beautiful women to clean the chipped ice, which they do while wearing midriff-baring tops. Of course they do. An article about the women in RedEye May 22 said they're available for events, and they attended a bar mitzvah. Unbelievable. I'll address that in another post. As part of their outreach, the Ice Crew, as the Blackhawks call them, attend Blackhawks-sponsored Bud Light Road Game viewing parties. During the season, these were held at Buffalo Wild Wings locations throughout the suburbs, and during the playoffs at sports bars on the North Side and in the suburbs. I don't have such a problem with that because most fans attending these events are over 21, and the Ice Crew ladies, notably, are modestly dressed. At the game, the focus should be on the game, without team-provided eye candy.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I saw Officer Gordon again yesterday morning. He had already claimed a victim at 7:18. I drove south to the post office, and on the return trip, I had to pass right by. I made sure I stayed under 40. He parked behind a grassy knoll so drivers approaching him from the south only see his police car top before it's too late. He's like a feline predator stalking his prey. As I passed by (38mph), I waved.
I almost feel sorry for Officer Gordon. He spends months in police training. Then he spends an hour a day pulling over drivers in a hurry to get to work? (What's worse is that McCormick has no pedestrians and no intersections less than a half-mile apart, except for where Officer Gordon lies in wait. The speed limit really should be 50.) Every time he talks to a driver, he is about to ruin the driver's day, unless he issues a warning. I don't know if he ever does that; I suspect drivers with Chicago addresses never receive warnings from suburban police officers. As I mentioned in a previous post, the ticket is $75, but fighting it in court and losing costs an additional $135.
Don't risk having a conversation with Officer Gordon! It's far better to watch your speed on McCormick and wave at 38mph. Let the other drivers see him in their rear-view mirrors.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Why I Can't Stand Wrigley Field
1. Not enough night games
2. No Friday or Saturday night games
3. Uncomfortable hard metal seats
4. Unconventional and confusing seat-numbering format
5. Inconvenient and insufficient concession stands
6. Crowded concourses ill-equipped to handle 40,000 fans
7. Disgusting men's rooms--the troughs are infamous
8. No gift shoppe
9. Inadequate out-of-town scoreboard that cannot show all games of a full MLB schedule
10. The scoreboard does not show the game's current score; addition of the linescore is required
11. The scoreboard does not have a video board with which to show replays
12. The scoreboard does not show the team's lineups
13. The scoreboard does not show official scoring for a play in which the scoring is in question other than "H" or "E" (it actually could be both)
14. Most main-level seats between the bases are obstructed-view seats due to the retrofitted suites hanging overhead
15. The public address systems plays "YMCA," possibly the worst song ever, during the first pitching change
16. Unfriendly ushers - I've had several unpleasant experiences
17. The ballpark is decrepit and structurally unsound
The night-game restrictions hit the Cubs very hard financially and competitively. This is most evident for Friday home games. The Cubs play 13 Friday afternoon home games. All other teams play at least 10 of their 13 Friday home games at night. This means all through the hot summer, the Cubs are stuck playing under the hot sun on Fridays. (Saturdays, too, but that's true of many teams due to the Fox television contract with MLB.) The limited number of night games makes attending games for day-shift workers (two-thirds of the workforce) that much more difficult. On weekends, they compete with tourists and families for seats. The television revenue also suffers with fewer daytime viewers. And I didn't even mention the ridiculous parking situation. Speaking of No. 17, the Cubs are very lucky a concrete block hasn't fallen and seriously injured an innocent fan sitting in his seat or walking on the concourse. If the Cubs want to stay in Lakeview, that's fine--they can raze the main structure (leaving the northeast corner--the bleacher section--largely intact) and rebuild it to modern specifications. That would mean two levels of skyboxes, a club level, a gift shoppe, dozens of concession stands, and a VIP seating area near home plate. It would also include wide, climate-controlled concourses, comfortable lounges away from the seating area, and a seat-numbering system that makes sense.
Many Cub fans don't realize how much they are missing by attending games in a ballpark nearly 100 years old. They find out when they cross town to U.S. Cellular Field or take road trips to see the Cubs in Milwaukee, Cincinnati or St. Louis. Teams in those cities play in ballparks built in this decade, and it shows.
It's not cost-effective for the Cubs to spend $100 million or more (without taxpayer help, I hope) to renovate and rebuild "that dump Wrigley Field," as I like to call it, if the night game restrictions continue. The Cubs' new ownership, the Ricketts family, must issue an ultimatum to Mayor Daley, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), and the anti-Cubs minority in Lakeview: we schedule our games whenever the hell we want, or we're leaving town. I'm sure there are still available parcels of land in the northwest suburbs along the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) corridor where the Cubs could build a new ballpark with a retractable roof. Inside, it would look a lot like Wrigley Field with a modern twist and 21st Century amenities. It would lack "charm," of course, "charm" being a euphemism for "aging dump." With a new ballpark near their season-ticket base in the northwest suburbs, the Cubs would be able to maximize revenue with parking, stadium advertising (including the video board), and a night-game schedule that resembles that of other teams--about 55 night games per season.* The ballpark would be the crown jewel of the northwest suburbs, joining Allstate Arena, Sears Centre and the Grand Victoria Casino as major entertainment options along I-90.
While the sale of the ballclub seems to be mired in financing difficulties, this is an opportune time for the Ricketts family to make its plans known, in no uncertain terms, for the future of Wrigley Field. The longer renovation waits, the greater the risk of a ticketholder, employee or player being seriously injured by falling concrete or debris. The current situation--not enough night games, and a ballpark in desperate need of repair--hurts the ballclub's value. Mayor Daley and Ald. Tunney need to assure the Ricketts family that their investment will be a sound one. Ballpark renovation should be permitted to begin at the conclusion of the 2009 season. The Friday/Saturday night-game ban should be lifted in time for the 2010 season, and the number of night games should be increased to the point that the Cubs are playing 55 regular-season home games at night by 2012.
*The Cubs currently play just 30 night games at home, a considerable difference of 45 percent compared to other teams and a serious competitive/financial disadvantage.
Monday, June 1, 2009
East Parking is closer to the building than West Parking. It's a small lot, and I squeezed into a space reserved for "Fuel-Efficient Vehicles." Since it didn't say "Hybrids only," I figured I was safe. The Museum is still unfinished. There are many "Pardon our Dust" signs throughout the building, indicating exhibits that are yet to open. The completed exhibits are likely one would expect from a history museum. Not so many artifacts--plenty of panels explaining Holocaust background, and many video screens. The video screens show interviews with survivors, archival footage of Holocaust activity and some World War II history. There's a great video of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain receiving a hero's welcome upon his return to London after selling out Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938. I didn't actually hear him say "peace in our time," but that was the idea. There's another video with a map of Europe that shows the Third Reich extending its reach across the Continent as the war drags on. The air raid siren that is part of war footage in the video can be heard all over the exhibit floor--very annoying.
Others have noted the Museum's drawbacks. The Museum takes pains to note other "undesirables" murdered in death camps and concentration camps, such as mentally ill, mentally retarded, and Roma (Gypsies). But the Germans did not expend considerable resources, which drained the war effort itself, to kill these people. The Third Reich initiated the Holocaust, made possible through the technological breakthroughs of the 19th Century's Industrial Revolution, specifically to murder Jews. The Reich may well have won the war, or at least been permitted to continue to run its own country, if it had not committed so many men, trains and fuel to murdering Jews. To its credit, the Museum does mention several times the collaboration of citizens of European countries that contributed to the Holocaust effort.
The $45 million Museum was made possible through grants of taxpayer funds and extensive help from Jewish donors. I'm not sure if the Museum's focus away from the inherently Jewish character of the Holocaust is a trade-off to public funding. It's certainly disappointing and not completely honest. The murder of non-Jews was strictly a "while we're at it" exercise. Non-Jews were not the targets of Nazi terror.
In a blatant display of avoiding Jewish character, the museum does not have mezuzahs affixed to its doorways. But it sells beautiful mezuzahs in the gift shoppe--for $80 apiece! Ironic? There are also kippot with the museum logo (its two buildings' angled and curved roofs) on the sides for $12. That's a $4 kippah. Please. Bowing to public outcry, there are apparently kosher options in the café (which I did not visit), but the café still sells non-kosher food.
One thought that kept jumping out at me was the tyranny of a militarized society preying on an innocent, unarmed minority. In the face of our very antisemitic recent history, I don't understand why so many liberal Jews (1) support handgun bans like Chicago's; and (2) don't keep weapons in their homes where they are legal. Some Jews think holding valid passports at all times is very important Just In Case. I think packing heat is important--not because I think the government is coming after me. But what if a crazed mob tore through the streets, heading straight for a Jewish neighborhood? Call 911? In that case, cops show up in time to draw the chalk lines. The best defense against an out-of-control mob is armed self-defense. Vandals damaged synagogues in Rogers Park and Lincolnwood just a few weeks ago. Could the thugs next go after people? We don't know. We shouldn't wait to prepare to defend ourselves. We should demand that right from Hizzoner Da Mare Richard M. Daley now.
My friend Gerald wrote a terrific opinion piece opposing the Holocaust Museum. As you can see if you click on that link, readers had plenty to say! I haven't gone through all the comments. Just thinking out loud: why did we build it? Washington has a deeply moving and beautifully built Holocaust Museum. Auschwitz has one for those who do the March of the Living. And of course Yad Vashem is in Jerusalem--a stunning, emotional experience. But Skokie? Let me quickly assess four reasons given:
1. To explain the dangers of antisemitism. I'm not sure Holocaust education helps or if a $45 million museum is worth the cost. Illinois law requires the Holocaust be taught in schools. Do kids need another field trip--another excuse to escape classrooms for a day? I don't envision a situation in which the museum stops someone's antisemitic leanings.
2. To explain the dangers of genocide. The lessons of the Holocaust didn't stop Stalin or Mao, and the world pretty much shrugged as millions of Soviets and Chinese died at the hands of these murderous Communists. Pol Pot wiped out one or two million of his own people. Did anyone notice or care? To stop genocides, we need governments focused on humanity and morality (not destroying Israel). I don't think museums help.
3. To fight bigotry and Holocaust denial. People who believe in conspiracy theories continue to believe in conspiracy theories. In fact, they consider overwhelming evidence to the contrary proof that the conspiracy is a strong one. And antisemitic bigots are not phased by museums.
4. Because the Nazis threatened to march in Skokie in 1979. Yes, they wanted to. And they didn't. They tried to march in Chicago, but as I recall, the cops wouldn't let them because they feared for the Nazis' safety. So let them march! Big deal! Let them march and get it over with. On the day of the ceremonial opening of the Skokie museum, there were Nazi demonstrators about a mile away. They held signs and called us liars. Big deal. Why make their publicity goal easier by making a media circus (and bad made-for-tv movie) out of it? I wish the community had caved in to the ACLU's Jewish lawyer (seriously), issued the permit and found something else to do that day. Yes, Skokie has Holocaust survivors, and many more were alive 30 years ago. So we give them a museum? I don't understand that logic.
The Jewish community of the 21st Century doesn't need a museum. It needs more kids. It needs more visits to Israel. It needs more kids in Jewish schools. It needs kids who think it's cool to be Jewish rather than nerdy or something to hide. It needs girls and women who think being Jewish is beautiful rather than something to have surgically repaired, or a family trait to obscure. It needs men who want to marry Jewish women instead of running in the other direction. I don't want young Jewish boys and girls, men and women to think of themselves as victims. I want them to think of themselves as the next generation of a wonderful tradition of ethical monotheism and an ancient people with a proud history. Of course I mourn and say kaddish for the six or seven million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. I consider them my close relatives. But we have no future if we stand on just the Holocaust and antisemitism. God, Torah and Israel--now we're on to something.