Cycle of language

From the Economist (October 20th 2012):

Nike terminated its contract with Lance Armstrong because of the “seemingly insurmountable evidence” that the former cycling champion participated in doping and had “misled” the sportswear company. Nike’s decision comes after a recent damning report from the US Anti-Doping Agency that marked out Mr Armstrong as a “serial cheat” for taking performance-enhancing drugs and for peddling influence with his teammates to do the same.



An imaginary place

Matti Friedman, writing in the Times of Israel, about Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country – and Why They Can’t Make Peace, by Patrick Tyler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012), says as follows:

‘Fortress Israel’ exists in the broader context of today’s discussion of “Israel” — an imaginary place quite unlike the actual state of Israel — in which Western observers use the country and its conflicts as a blank screen onto which they project discomfort about certain aspects of their own societies. At the moment, these seem to mainly involve problems of race and the use of force. I do not see anti-Semitism lurking behind all or most criticism of Israel, and I don’t see anti-Semitism here, but I do believe it would be remiss not to point out that this discussion itself exists in a historical context that often goes unmentioned: For centuries, the Jew has played the role of blank screen in Christian societies – a lightning rod for negative sentiment, usually expressed as harsh moral judgment. If cowardice was a negative attribute, Jews were cowardly. If greed was to be condemned, Jews were greedy. If the poor were to be mocked, Jews were paupers, and if the rich were to be hated Jews were bankers. For capitalists Jews were communists, and for communists they were capitalists. These days, the issues that animate liberals in the West tend to be linked to colonialism, racism, and militarism, and thus it is in these contexts that the Jewish state now appears.

As Friedman also points out, this has to be viewed in the prism of the mainstream media’s view of Israel:

In the version accepted on Israel’s left and abroad, on the other hand, the Arabs are passive bystanders and victims, and the story is the Jews’ abuse of force, their repetition of the crimes once perpetrated against them. In my years covering Israel as part of the international press corps, I came to understand that this latter view has become the default framework in which the story is covered for foreign audiences, shaping the way it is seen by millions of people.

Unsurprisingly, Fortress Israel secured a positive review in the Economist. What would be surprising would be if any of the mainstream media didn’t give it a positive review. I won’t be buying a copy.


The beard must go

[Sometimes, when I discuss life in Israel I say something like the following:

“From the moment you get off* the flight in Tel Aviv, you are in a completely different culture; everything is different from what went before.”

The following post is a short and bittersweet example.]

Over Sukkot, I got lazy and stopped shaving. Slowly, a beard formed. As it was taking shape, I was getting used to it, and thinking whether to keep it. Beyond that, I paid it no attention.

This week, several work colleagues asked me if everything was ok. Slowly, I realised why they were asking. I didn’t normally have a beard. In the orthodox Jewish tradition, you do not shave when you are in mourning. Many who are not orthodox follow that practice. So, these people were asking if I had lost someone and was in mourning. (This was not something I would have experienced in the UK.) The repeated requests made me uncomfortable, and in a strange way I was worried about tempting ‘fate’. So, I decided, the beard must go. And now it’s gone as part of my Shabbat preparations and I feel better.

Shabbat Shalom!

[*Some would say, from the moment you get on the flight…]



I was put off seeing this film when I found out it was a time-travel picture (not my favorite subject) but the local reviews were good. And there was nothing else on that Susan and I fancied. On the whole, we were glad we went.

The background to the story is as follows: at some time in the future, time travel is invented. For certain reasons the film skips over, at that time it is difficult to kill someone and hide the body. So the mob’s victims are sent back 30 years in time. On arrival they are shot and incinerated. The people doing the shooting and disposal are called Loopers, and they receive good money for doing the job. However, every so often the person they shoot is themselves. (‘Closing the loop.’) This means they know that they will die 30 years in the future. They get extra payment, and retire from the job to enjoy their ill gotten gains. For exactly 30 years. Sometimes the Looper screws up when it comes to closing the loop and lots of time related trouble ensues. To keep an eye on things, the mob send one of their number back in time to run the operation. Continue reading


Oh, no!

I saw this on the Guardian website earlier today, and was in shock.

Mad is dead? Surely not?

Thankfully, the proofreader returned from lunch and one our cultural icons was restored to life. Unlike the poor individual who exited, stage left, in Greece.



Obama and Israel

The Elder of Ziyon reports:

Michael J. Totten has a must read interview with Jonathan Spyer, an Israeli who has sneaked into Syria twice and who gives a fantastic, must-read analysis of what is happening on the ground there.

It has more wisdom and real reporting in one article than you will find in the New York Times in weeks.

But at the end of the interview, Totten asks Spyer about US policies in the region, and his answers go to the crux of the problem of President Obama’s Middle East policy – and, I would claim, his foreign policy altogether.

In general, I agree with the Elder, which is why I am posting about it here. (You can see the full Totten piece here, and the Elder’s extract plus comments here.)

Totten’s interview with Israeli Jonathan Spyer has this important quote from the Israeli:

So I think very few Israelis have confidence that he will act effectively to prevent a nuclear Iran. No coherent red lines, including an outlining of the consequences of crossing them, means the Iranians will keep on moving ahead.

Obama wants out of the Middle East, as he himself has made clear. He’ll do counter-terrorism from the air against small, extreme jihadi groups. In Libya, I think it was the Europeans and specifically the French who got that rolling, with the US following on, though of course inevitably doing most of the heavy lifting in the end.

And frankly I think many Israelis also have the feeling, which we haven’t had for quite a few years, that the man in the White House right now isn’t a deep friend of our country, that he doesn’t understand or isn’t really interested in the story of Israel and the Jewish People, and consequently lacks a grasp of the deeper moorings which I think should underlie, and have in recent years underlain, the alliance between the US and Israel.

The Elder’s conclusion is:

Spyer has perfectly encapsulated the flaws behind the president’s foreign policy, and he briefly describes how it will affect the Middle East. But the same short-sightedness is leaving our allies in Europe also without a reliable ally, as Obama is not interested in asserting American power – something that must be done, no matter how distasteful it is.

Because the alternative is a world without a leader, and nothing good will enter that vacuum. It will take literally decades to undo the damage already done to the American reputation in less than four years, and this is more important than the economy or any other domestic issue.

My query is: why? Why is Obama’s foreign policy so bad? And when I say bad, with the best will in the world I am trying to exclude Israeli interests. In other words, I believe Obama’s policy is bad for America, never mind Israel. So why is he following that policy? Is it his take on the world? Is it his advisers’ policy? Or is it a combination? What is the source? Who is to blame responsible?

The related point is this:  I know the policy is a bad one, you know the policy is a bad one, and the generally accepted view among the overwhelming majority of commentators is that it is a bad policy. So, are the majority wrong? Are we guilty of herd behavior? Is there a defense for the policy? Because if the policy is wrong, surely an intelligent man like Obama must know? Or is he so wrapped up in White House praise, that he cannot see reality?  The worry, were I an American voter, would be that such apparent blindness is unlikely to be restricted to one policy. To put it another way, just how out of touch is this man with his electorate? Or will these chunky matters prove to be of little value as he rides back into town for a second term?

Unfortunately, Israel is on the front line so far as Obama’s foreign policy is concerned. And that is one reason why, if Obama loses the presidential election, few Israelis will be sorry. If he wins, few Israelis will be happy. Interesting times ahead.


So long sucker

Sometimes, when I tell people that I play games – and I like to play games – I can see the disapproval bursting out from behind their polite facade. Sometimes, there will be a follow up question and answer session. The questions are things like ‘Really?‘ and ‘You mean other people play games?‘ and ‘Adults?‘ The answers vary depending on my mood and patience  batteries. Continue reading


Peace prize

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the European Union. See here. When news first leaked about this, I thought it was a spoof or some misdirection. So, now I know it is a reality, I’m unsure whether to laugh or cry or ponder. I think I’ll ponder; for example, what peace would there have been without NATO? Does responsibility for an economic crisis equate with responsibility for peace and stability? Please, someone out there, enlighten me.

Shabbat Shalom!