The Halloween Wasteland

October 31, 2010

Whenever I write about Halloween I get into very hot water.   My kids, my friends, my readers , my editors – all voice astonishment that I should feel disgust for such a quintessentially American event.     They regularly pass  off my distaste as evidence of my foreign roots, insisting that no one who grew up in this country could possibly feel the same way.

But I can’t help myself.   As I witness the lawns of my neighbors’ houses being ploughed up and planted with fake headstones;  skeletal remains  poking out of flower beds and clover  rings and cobwebs festooning trees and hedges,  I get a sense that all is not well in the American psyche.  Since some begin populating their front lawns with these necromantic accessories as early as September, this is an unease that resides with me for many weeks and sometimes even months.

One of the reasons for my despair is is that I fail to see the same slavish penchant for detail being lavished on Christmas, Easter, Channukah or almost any other religious event.  The same houses that sport the cobwebs of October can barely bring themselves to hang up the mistletoe of December.  While I am well aware of the demise of traditional religious practices, I  do have to wonder how the fascination with death and the dead has taken  the place of the celebration of life.

Our television and movie culture isn’t helping matters much.   This week sees the first episode of the new AMC series  The Walking Dead which premieres appropriately on Halloween night.  It follows the travails of Rick Grimes who wakes up in a hospital bed only to find the world over run by zombies. His survival in this nightmarish landscape is dependent on the maintenance of his own moral framework – apparently not such  an easy task.   This week will also see the release of the Mexican film maker Guillermo Del Toro’s  phantasmagorical new novel.  In an interview with the Los Angeles Times’ Pat Morrison, Del Toro explains how in his native Mexico the Day of the Dead,  a time in the Catholic calendar reserved for paying respect to dead relatives and dead saints, has transformed into a day in which the dead are mocked and treated with contempt:

“Sadly, in Mexico, the All Saints’ Day aspect of it has faded into straight Halloween. I miss being able to show my daughters what it is to pay your respects to a grave and bring food and drink and spend the day in the cemetery.”

Del Toro points out something important here.  Halloween began as All Saints Day – a day of reverence – and then over the course of a century transformed into something far more macabre and outlandish.   Becoming first a children’s spectacle, it has transformed again over the past 20 years into an adults’ affair which supports an entire bacchanalian industry in costuming and accessories.

I was reminded of this by a friend in his mid 50s who explained to me that when he was a young boy ghosts, ghouls , witches, skeletons, obscene behavior and death worship were not part of Halloween playfulness.   The Halloween of his youth was the Halloween of the Peanuts strips – grinning jack o’ lanterns, corn candy, neighbors eager to stave off the threat of  a trick  and only a few houses begirdled with anything like Halloween cobwebs.

In the transition between that youth and today, something vital has been lost and something terrible gained.  A creeping nihilism has seeped into the American suburban consciousness where, unseen, it has torn to shreds any idea of reverence and moderation.  If you asked any adult today what Halloween is about and why we do it, they would,  in all likelihood, answer that its not about anything.  It is done because it is fun.

But that in itself is the problem.  In this day, when there are myriad other ways in which to have fun,  why involve yourself and your children in something that is so clearly centered  on death?  It is not a question most parents , if they are thoughtful, would be comfortable answering.  Because it would require an admission that they see nothing wrong with the death-centered messages being subliminally given to children and the contempt this suggests.

But it is a fine line between the jaundiced kind of death mockery we see today and celebration of the occult.  And from there, the field is wide open to the  practice of witchcraft and the pursuit of a host of other pagan rites that challenge the very foundations of our civilization.

No one who celebrates Halloween today considers him or herself  as contributing to anything but happiness and community joy.  They have little understanding of the absolute moral wasteland that yawns open to accept the performance of the Halloween ritual.  I can only hope that others, even if not foreign born, will begin to realize where this “innocent prankish” little festival is taking us and why it is vital to apply the brakes to its continued spread.

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The Progressives’ Bunker Mentality

October 28, 2010

Progressives seem rather hard pressed these days to understand what has become of their agenda.   Take journalist and author Neal Gabler, writing in the Los Angeles Times on Monday:

“Americans don’t have the political will to encourage their government to act boldly when necessary, and because we shrink from addressing the things that assail us, we aren’t likely to get the car out of the ditch we’re in anytime soon. And while Americans cling to their self-image of intrepidness here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are on target to demonstrate at the polls that we are anything but.”

Or former presidential candidate, John Kerry:

” We have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening,”

Or Hollywood director Rob Reiner

“My fear is that the Tea Party gets a charismatic leader, because all they’re selling is fear and anger and that’s all Hitler sold. “I’m angry and I’m frightened and you should hate that guy over there.”

One can imagine such chastened progressives sitting glumly around tables at Hollywood dinner parties, bemoaning the fate of their agenda and wondering what could have possibly gone wrong.

After all , it was only 24 months ago that the most radical leader in American history, a man with little experience in government nor even as a politician, had whipped his Democratic base into a frenzied belief that his Administration was going to save America.

The tears of joy rolling down the cheeks of Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Jackson; the chill that traveled down the leg of  Chris Matthews; the sense of relief claimed by Nancy Pelosi and Edward Kennedy  – all of it, for an electorate that is frightened, has real no backbone, can’t bear change and  doesn’t deserve its Savior.

Such entropy spits at such an electorate which has consistently refused to embrace untested and expensive government programs or to expand failing existing ones.

Perhaps, then,  it is time for the intrepid, bold progressives to be reminded of something by passive, frightened conservatives.   The United States became the most prosperous country in the world, with a population which enjoys more personal freedoms than any other people in history because of its prudence in not following the failed social experiments of Europe and in resisting, for the most part, ensnarement in other nations’ territorial squabbles.

There have been, to be sure, mistakes and missteps along the way.

But Gabler, Kerry, Reiner et al.  should at least be aware that despite the failure to live up to the  progressive vision, the ‘timorous’ American electorate remains anchored to values that have prevented drift into murky ideological waters and provided  journalists, politicians and entertainers such as themselves with a platform and a freedom to write and speak  contemptuously of their own country.

The President of the United States doesn’t seem to understand any of it either.

At a fundraiser in Boston on October 16 he remarked:

“And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.  And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

Hard wired not to think clearly?  When will this president finally appreciate that it is not economic turmoil nor crisis which has scarred the American electorate.  It is, rather, his own  failure to inspire confidence and an inability to take the  measure of  the political climate which has sent millions of disenchanted voters fleeing into the arms of the Tea Party Movement.

It would be a tragic mistake for progressives to fail to learn the lessons of this election cycle.  If they persist in casting blame on ordinary Americans, those who feel Obama has gone too far in mortgaging their future to foreign nations or shackling the country to an unworkable health care system, they will almost certainly guarantee that the failed experiment in progressivism will not be revisited in their lifetimes.

It is well then that Rob Reiner invokes the image of Adolf Hitler.  It provides me with an unmatched opportunity to make my own reference to the German dictator.   Near the end of his life, Hitler took  to blaming the German people for his country’s military and diplomatic catastrophes, endlessly declaiming that the Germans had missed their opportunity for greatness and that they did not deserve him.

Hitler’s final days, as reported by his surviving aides , left us with the nomenclature for a mind under siege – bunker mentality.

As it stares in the face of a crushing defeat, that seems to be a surprisingly apt description for the entire progressive movement itself.

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Goodbye Gabi Avital

October 26, 2010

It seems that the State of Israel also has its thought police.

In early October, Dr. Gabi Avital, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Education, was fired from his job after giving an interview in which he said, among other things, that computers were sometimes a crutch for children, preventing them from learning math skills, and that Darwinism was an unsatisfactory explanation for how the world came to be.

Avital’s views were apparently well known in the scientific community but Maa’ariv, the country’s second largest Hebrew newspaper, decided to give them a sensational spin. He got the front page treatment and was subject , over the next several days, to a unending stream of abuse through letters and follow up editorials.

Compounding Mr. Avital’s sins was his insistence that there is no established scientific nexus between global warming and carbon emissions.  In the same interview he stated:

“There is no evidence to correlate between the concentration of carbon dioxide and the rise in temperature. On the contrary, Al Gore’s movie (“An Inconvenient Truth”) showed how the rise in temperature preceded the rise of carbon dioxide.”

One cannot imagine running afoul of three more sacrosanct scientific certitudes.   Under unrelenting pressure Avital’s  boss, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, felt compelled to relieve him of his responsibilities but not before explaining that Mr. Avital’s dismissal had nothing to do with the expression of his views. This , of course, retains the quaint facade that freedom of expression on these central issues regarding our past and future existence is still widely tolerated.

Avital’s experience parallels that of hundreds of other scientists throughout the West who have dared  challenge ‘the consensus’ and state contrarian positions against mainstream views.

But the crackdown on Avital, one of the most senior scientists in a government position anywhere in the world to be summarily dismissed in this manner, is a warning sign of creeping intolerance that will end up not only stifling scientific debate but almost any debate at all.

For the fact is that Darwinist theory  and anthropogenic global warming theory are both full of holes and  science has not fully supported nor vindicated them.   To challenge either does not make you either a supporter of intelligent design nor  of creationism. Nor does it make you a brain dead skeptic, as so many supporters of the two theories may wish to paint you. In fact  it makes you part of an ongoing tradition of inquiry and free thought.

It is not going beyond the bounds of scientific decency to state that challenge to generally accepted scientific theories is healthy and necessary for any vigorous, progressive democracy.

Answering the questions of the origins of life in particular is one of the most important scientific inquiries that could be conducted in a democracy – for to know where we are going as a species, it is vital to know where we came from.  How something arises from nothing; how inorganic matter transforms into organic matter or where the ‘information’ which builds our DNA arises, cannot be questions that scientists or laymen turn away from for fear or crossing a illusory boundary between science and religion.  Is God – or some higher intelligence-  to be found on the other side of the fence.  Who knows?  But the journey there cannot be derailed because of the fear of what might be discovered.

Obtaining the truth must  be the ultimate goal  of any civilized society.  In that quest,  we defeat ourselves by silencing the voices of those who question, prod and challenge.  Many of our scientists, grown fat on grants, public acclaim and government handouts have become too comfortable with supposed accepted science.  Shaking them out of their lethargy is certainly a job for a chief scientist of  a Ministry of Education.  It is too bad that political leaders in Israel do not recognize it.

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Goodbye Juan Williams

October 25, 2010

Juan Williams’ ouster from his position as commentator at National Public Radio should come as little surprise to any regular listener to NPR. For years I have heard conservatives refer to NPR as National Communist Radio for its compulsive addiction to stories about the evils of capitalism and its apotheosis of the working class.

I have always felt that description went too far.  While NPR has certainly won its stripes as a left of center platform, its ideological core could hardly be described as communist.  Focusing on the poor and dispossessed does not mean a surrender to socialist dogma.  And even if the commentators and reporters could be described as latent socialists, I couldn’t wish for a more calming introduction to their new world order.   The mellifluous tones of Morning Edition‘s Bob Edwards’ voice, and those of his successors Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep, gave me the capacity to swallow even the most devastating  news with a certain equanimity,a remarkable skill that in my view has not been replicated anywhere else in the United States – in either  print, television or radio.

Nevertheless, several years ago, after nearly 20 years as an NPR addict, I just stopped listening.  I failed to tune in at 6:00 am as was my wont and ceased to pay my annual membership dues to the local NPR affiliate, KCRW.  This was related directly to the unfathomably biased reporting I heard coming from the NPR reporters and commentators regarding the Arab- Israeli conflict.  In the process of making a documentary on the Battle for Jenin in 2002, I had the occasion to interview a few of the NPR reporters in both Israel and the United States and discovered, to my dismay, that there was an alarming absence of knowledge on the part of these individuals on basic historical facts – such as that Israel was created by a U.N. resolution in 1947  or that it had been three Arab armies which had initiated hostilities during the Six Day War ( resulting in the Israeli army’s conquest of the West Bank)  and not the reverse.

The virtual acceptance of  the Arab narrative of the conflict was certainly not the only example of bias. During the Iraq War, there were constant jabs at the Bush Administration’s policies, with a nary a response solicited from the other side.  I was appalled when I heard a NPR reporter in Denmark during the the Danish Cartoon Riots of 2006 call for the Muslim courts , rather than Danish courts, to try the violators of the peace.

And so I ended my membership.   I am not aware whether things changed at NPR but in all likelihood they have not.   There has never been a serious inquiry, to my knowledge,  of the distinctly  Islamic motivations of the 9/11 attacks, an oversight which conveniently side steps the most pressing issue which confronts Western civilization.

Which brings us to Juan Williams.  Williams, it should be noted, did not make his comments  about his nervousness around religiously garbed Muslims on NPR itself.  He made them on FOX News, where he knew such views would be more openly tolerated.  But he also knew he was expressing a sentiment that millions 0f other Americans would  voice without even a second thought –  that religious Muslims, in this country at least, have done an abysmal job over the past ten years in convincing us that their intentions are peaceable and that, as a group, they are categorically opposed to violence.

The failure of Muslim leaders to unequivocally and defiantly  repudiate the violent actions of their co-religionists arouses unease.   Is that really so controversial?  Where, we should demand from this publicly funded institution, are its in depth reports and interviews with the U.S. imams and Muslim community leaders who should be asked pointedly where they stand on the issue of violent jihad and terrorism?   Why is it, as Marty Peretz of the New Republic asked to a howl of liberal condemnation last month, that so few Muslims in this country voice protest about the Muslim slaughter of fellow Muslims in foreign countries?    Where is their outrage about what fellow Muslims do in the name of Islam?

Those are questions which do not find a home in National Public Radio.  And it is that abdication of responsibility which makes regular listeners such as me –  and  perhaps even in-house commentators such as Juan Williams, wonder which “public”  National Public Radio is actually addressing.

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Can Iran Be Defeated Without Firing a Shot?

October 12, 2010

In the past several weeks a computer virus known as the Stuxnet worm has invaded computer systems around the world, creating havoc and shutting down important industrial facilities in many locations.

According to a geotagging system developed by the U.S. based Symantec, 58.8 per cent of infections were in Iran, 18.2 per cent in Indonesia, 8.3 per cent in India, 2.6 per cent in Azerbaijan and 1.6 per cent in the US..

Computer viruses, worms and trojans have until now mainly infected PCs or the servers that keep e-businesses running. They may delete key system files or documents, or perhaps prevent website access, but they do not threaten life and limb.

The Stuxnet worm is different. It is the first piece of malware so far able to break into the types of computer that control machinery at the heart of industry, allowing an attacker to assume control of critical systems like pumps, motors, alarms and valves in an industrial plant.

Where does such a virus originate? Computer security experts seem to agree that the virus could only have been developed in a country with a extremely sophisticated high tech infrastructure and almost certainly with government assistance.

That certainly would implicate high tech giants such as Israel or the United States.

If Israel or the U.S. has indeed been involved in these attacks, then it is really the first salvo in the War of Iran. The attempt to destroy the infrastructure of a country, may in act represent a new front in the history of armed conflict.

But if you think that it can’t work the other way, then you might want to consider this: In June, 2010, the United States recognized that in fact it is as much at risk from a cyber-attack that could incapacitate its own electrical infrastructure in a report from the Department of Defense identified a scenario in which the entire defense infrastructure of the country  could be shut down. In response, a bill has been drafted which would give the President of the United States absolute power to shut down the Internet in the event of a massive cyber-attack which threatened the nation.

Libertarians are naturally up in arms about this and have declared it such an extension of executive power that it would lead to a level of authoritarianism that could change the nature of the presidency itself.

This reaction might be somewhat chastened by the advent of the Stuxnet worm. Because if countries can develop viruses to incapacitate the defense infrastructure of any given country, the threat may indeed look something comparable to a nuclear attack, a contingency over which the President does and certainly should have full authority, as commander-in -chief, to thwart.

Whatever the answer to this important question, the success of the Stuxnet worm raises potentially devastating consequences for high tech nations. We might indeed be able to defeat Iran without firing a shot, but without the proper cyber-shields, the duel might end in our own incapacitation – leading to the very self destruction we are seeking to avoid.

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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

October 11, 2010

The resumed Israeli- Palestinian peace process is not four weeks old and it seems to have already been reduced to the realm of a Gilbert and Sullivan farce. Utilizing the issue of the West Bank settlement construction freeze as a point of contention, the two sides now appear to be negotiating over whether to negotiate, with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, acting as a harried go-between, frantically seeking a breakthrough, just on the issue of whether the two sides can be coerced to meet face to face again.

The reasons for the impasse are ostensibly clear: neither the Israeli leadership nor the Palestinian wishes to be seen as weak by bowing to the others’ demands on settlements. But a more incisive observation would be that progress in talks will not occur because the results might actually shatter the peace.

This might sound like an absurdity to some, but the facts are on the ground: Besides the murderous assault on an Israeli family near Hebron on September 5, violence on the West Bank has been so minimal over the past two years that Israel has willingly reduced the strength of its security apparatus there. Palestinians can now travel more freely between the territories and Israel proper. In fact, not since the mid-1980s has there been such freedom of movement on both sides.

This is set in the context of the unprecedented economic boom occurring on the West Bank and Gaza. Housing prices in Ramallah have risen nearly 30% in the past twelve months and housing starts are the envy of any Western country. The Nablus stock market, after Shanghai, was the second best-performing in the world in 2009. Both Nablus and Ramallah boast gleaming new cinemas, where the latest Hollywood hits are played and the Nablus venue even hosted a film festival in June of last year.
On September 6, Dr. Oussama Kanaan, the International Monetary Fund’s chief of mission and resident representative for the West Bank and Gaza, reported that West Bank growth in the first quarter of 2010 was a staggering 11%.

Even more astounding are the figures for Gaza. According to Kanaan, the Gaza Strip is undergoing a similar boom with a 14% growth for the first quarter. Contrary to media reports of destitution and mass starvation, the urban areas of Gaza are bustling with life, with new restaurants and hotels opening and over the summer, the coast filled with beach goers. No one has produced credible evidence of mass shortages of anything.

In June 2009, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl related how Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a moment of rare candor, had told him why he had turned down Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2007 to create a Palestinian state on 97% of the West Bank. “In the West Bank we have a good reality,” Abbas explained. “The people are living a normal life.”

He might have also added that the maintenance of the conflict is good for business. The new housing boom benefits mostly not ordinary Palestinians (the Palestinian jobless rate still hovers around 25% and is supported by foreign aid) but rather elite leaders who own the major Palestinian trucking, cement and construction companies in the region. The reinvigorated construction industry in the Jewish settlements, dormant now for ten months, is also a harbinger of business for the Palestinians who provide sizable construction supplies and labor for these projects.

It is clear then that the Palestinians have entered into a comfortable, if less than open modus vivendi with their Israeli adversaries. It is only the guileless Obama Administration that fails to appreciate this reality. Insisting that the two sides work out their political differences, only serves to irritate open wounds and harden entrenched positions from which neither side, for domestic political reasons, is ever likely to retreat.

With the threat of a nuclear Iran giving rise to tacit military cooperation between Israel and other moderate Arab states, Hamas hemmed in and the West Bank Palestinian leadership in thrall to their new found prosperity, the Arab-Israeli conflict is beginning to look more manageable – and even more harmonious – than at any time in recent memory.

Is that peace? Perhaps not. But it is a long way from open conflict. And in a region of the world where the dogs of war are ever ready to tear each other to shreds, these sleeping dogs might be best left to lie.

This article originally appeared in The American Thinker.

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What John Lennon Failed to Imagine

October 10, 2010

Its a landmark event for Beatledom.  John Lennon, dead these 30 years, would have turned 70-years-old today.

For many 60’s survivors who grew up in thrall to the Fab Four, the idea that such an important symbol of the youth culture had arrived at the threshold of old age (if such a category still exists in our teen obsessed culture) must be profoundly unsettling.

It is as if that entire generation had finally found itself washed up at the very doorstep of senility.

There can be no doubt Lennon, in his partnership with the brilliant tunesmith Paul McCartney, did craft some of the most memorable pop tunes of the 20th Century. That might be reason enough to celebrate his life. Yet the failure to complete his life’s journey has frozen his memory in perpetual mid-life. There he presides as the guru of peace and love, an unfazed and unrepentant hippie whose vision for world peace remains unfettered by reality or subsequent historical events.

Forgotten, or perhaps conveniently overlooked, is that Lennon’s solo work in his ten post-Beatles years was far inferior to anything he did as a member of the group and was weak even by comparison to the output of his fellow Beatles ( and yes, I include Ringo Starr in that assessment). His coda, the cloying and maudlin Double Fantasy (1980) was an embarrassment for such a great talent, and evidence that perhaps his muse had permanently fled.

Part of this can be attributed to Lennon’s early 70s determination to make political statements rather than music.  Moving permanently to New York City in 1970, he and his wife Yoko Ono became lightening rods for radicals and far left causes. Feminists, Black Panthers, Yippies and peace movement activists, all pitched their tents under the Lennon/ Ono carapace to propagate their liberation politics. The recorded product of this eclectic jamboree, Sometime In New York City (1972), is a rather tuneless and bleak attempt to capture the radical zeitgeist. It bombed and is regarded universally as one of the worst post break up efforts by any of the Beatles.

While Lennon’s post-Beatles recordings, save for the very early ones, can be largely dismissed, what can’t be dismissed is his cultural influence. Lennon stands today as the most revered icon in the pantheon of the peace movement – a figure of such sainted majesty that he has been practically beatified by secular humanists. This reputation balances precariously on the foundation of just one song – the anthemic Imagine.

Imagine dredged up some half baked Romantic notions and presented a vision of a world free of conflict. Attached to an ethereal melody it seem to float in a sea of mysticism, painting a picture of a utopia that most Communist leaders in the 1970s would have recognized.

“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…”

Would Lennon have matured intellectually as he aged – ultimately recognizing that this formula for world peace, written in a swishy mansion in the English countryside, far from the Communist despots and authoritarians who at that time imprisoned nearly half of humanity, could not work? Would he have understood that there was something a little skewed about attempting to denude the world of religion, governments, sovereignty and wealth?

Would he have finally understood that his adopted home, the United States, actually stood as the last best chance for humanity to preserve the liberty that had allowed him to pen such masterpieces such as Across the Universe and A Day In the Life….?

Probably not. Naivete is one of the great privileges of the rich and famous. Insulated from the hard realities of life, our pop icons are safe and free to make ignorant guesses about the world and pose solutions that suggest more, not less, misery for its human population. Once having made such a statement of principle, it is highly unlikely that Lennon would ever have retired his Imagine philosophy. Unlike McCartney, who has revealed himself to be comparatively sensible on a number of important security issues, Lennon, socially alienated as a child and conditioned to reject convention, would have continued to find some gratification in oppositional politics and ideologies. It is doubtful he could ever have written a song such as Freedom, which McCartney penned in outrage following the attacks of 9/11.

But his legacy remains and his Imagine vision continues to inspire the contemporary anti-war movement, a fact of which he would doubtless have been proud. Yet as the threat of a nuclear Iran grows and Islamic terrorism sets Western society in a state of constant alert, the notion that we can embrace those sworn to our destruction in a ‘brotherhood of man’ is a chimera reflecting nothing more than an irresponsible failure of imagination.

This article first appeared in The American Thinker.

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