Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Whites-only basketball?

Honest folks, I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to.


This is coming out of Augusta, Georgia. If I'm not mistaken, that town is (or, I hope, was) home to a whites-only golf club. Some imbecile came up with an idea for a whites-only basketball league. It would be open only to natural-born American citizens, no talented Irishmen or Brits need apply. And they would have to have two Caucasian parents. It will feature "fundamental basketball, which [white people] like." Not "street-ball," as played by "people of color." And the imbecile says the proposal is not racist. Well, I wonder if I would qualify. My skin is rather light, but my father wasn't white enough for the brownshirted thugs that prowled the streets of Vienna between the wars, nor were I and my friends white enough for the Irish and Italian ruffians that cruised our neighborhood in the '60s. That's why we took up martial arts. I kind of doubt if a racially exclusive basketball league would even be legal. Remember the Civil Rights Act of 1964? People of good will of every conceivable skin tone fought long and hard for that one. But let's assume it is legal, and let's take this buffoonery at face value. Fundamental basketball? I suppose by that they mean that below-the-rim, boring game (even if it was dominated by Jewish players) that passed for hoops before African-Americans took over the game. No seven-footers slamming it through the hole. The kind of hoops that you might see today in a good WNBA game. No, thanks. I like my high-flying slam-dunking hard-hitting roundball. I even like to see the elbows flying, especially when they belong to Shaquille O'Neal.

Houston, you're having a problem. Your superstar's face just bumped into my elbow.

Guns in the locker room? It's against the law, so let the law deal with it. Obscene gestures and crotch-grabbing? That's what fines and suspensions are for. The game has deteriorated enough with all those wimpy East Europeans David Stern brought in. Don't you dare take away my high-spirited above-the-rim roundball! By the way, we have some good streetball on West 4th Street here in New York every summer. No charge for admission. Try it; you might like it.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shining a light in Haiti

Amid the devastation in Haiti following the massive earthquake there, an improbable story of light and hope emerges. Within a day of the quake, while rich countries much closer to the scene were first gearing up to respond, Israeli teams were on their way to Haiti. They quickly set up a state-of-the-art field hospital in tents in an abandoned soccer field, with x-ray machines, ventilators, the whole nine yards, and went to work delivering care that no others on the scene were prepared to do. The media that usually delight in bashing Israel, are fairly gushing with praise. CNN did a report that went viral all over the internet:

A woman gave birth to a boy in the hospital, and out of gratitude she named him Israel. There were few if any Israelis among the victims. They are doing this because, well, that's just what Israelis do. One of the doctors quoted hazal that a person who saves one life is as if he saved a whole world. I don't think he was particularly "religious." The Kiddush Hashem unfolding is marvelous; the whole world marvels at it. Sooner or later the world will forget and go back to Israel bashing as usual, but the survivors in Haiti are likely to remember who responded to their need with talk and who with action. And even if they don't, there is a seeing eye and a hearing ear, and all is being recorded in an archive more enduring and more consequential than CNN or the New York Times. Finally, this scene gives both our enemies and defeatists among us something to ponder: Where Israel is concerned if you don't believe in miracles you're not a realist.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tragedy in Haiti

In a chilling reminder of the awesomeness and randomness of the forces of nature, an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale flattened Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Simulating the effects of a nuclear explosion (but without the concommitant radiation), buildings collapsed, trapping their occupants in the rubble. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, are estimated to have been killed. More will be pulled out with lifelong serious injuries. It will take the Haitian economy, already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, years to recover. Relief is reaching victims slowly since the airport is relatively serviceable but roads are impassable.

The last time the world was visited with a natural catastrophe of such magnitude was 2004, when a tsunami struck Southeast Asia and the eastern coast of Africa, killing an estimated quarter million people. At the time, we heard idiotic statements from a few Orthodox rabbis to the effect that the tragedy was a warning to Jews to correct their behavior, in ways congruent with the particular rabbi's pet peeve. What mind-boggling hutzpa, what low value placed on the lives of Gentiles - a quarter million snuffed out to send a veiled message to us! Thankfully, we have not heard such stupidity from our naked emperors (yet), though such murmurings are surfacing in fundamentalist Christian circles. When faced with unimaginable horror, a common reaction is to ask mystical questions: Why would God do such a thing? What is the meaning of it all? As a scientist I say that these are not wise questions to ask (see Eccles. 7:10). There is no deep spiritual significance here, at least none discernible to us mortals. Tectonic plates bump into one another, blind to us humans. If they collide on land, buildings collapse. If at sea, gigantic waves are set in motion that sweep all before them when they strike land. All of this has been happening since the formation of our planet - long, long before our species made its belated entrance on the world stage. We are brought face to face with our utter insignificance: Who are we that God should even care about us (Ps. 8:5)? And yet He does. He made us in His image and entrusted the planet into our care. Why did He make a world where earthquakes and tsunamis happen without regard to us, where children get leukemia, where all sorts of bad things happen to good people? We don't know. הנסתרת לה' אלקינו והנגלת לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת. The hidden things belong to our Eternal God; the revealed are ours and our children's forever, to do all that this Torah commands us (Deut. 29:28). Why God does what He does is hidden; God is infinite and our grasp of creation is finite. Our obligations are revealed and clear to us. We are bidden to master the world (Gen. 1:28). The "why" may be hidden but the "how" is not. Discover how nature works, and how we can bend it to our will. How can we predict tsunamis and warn people in their path? How can we build buildings to withstand an earthquake? How can we prevent and cure disease? Torah frees us from pagan superstition; instead of the arbitrary whims of competing gods and goddesses we have a world of natural law that we can hope to comprehend.

We are also bidden להדבק במידותיו, to imitate God as it were and reflect His love and care onto all of humanity (Isaiah 58: 6-7). And I must say that Jews of all ideologies and shades of observance have risen beautifully to the occasion. The Israelis of necessity have become the world's experts at digging people out of the rubble of collapsed buildings; their disasters are, for the most part, not natural but man-made. Israeli military units are on the scene, as is a contingent of Zaka volunteers. We are hearing a few heartwarming accounts of people being pulled alive from the rubble, but for thousands more it is too late. It seems that every Jewish organization provides us a chance to donate money online, so much so that the government is warning us to be wary of the scam artists that come out of the woodwork in times like these. In general, do not respond to email requests for money, even if they look genuine and appear to be from organizations you belong to. Scam artists are expert website counterfeiters. Open a new browser, navigate to the address of an outfit that you know to be trustworthy, and proceed from there. The Orthodox Union is collecting money and funneling it to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which has a presence on the ground in Haiti. This will, unfortunately, be an ongoing project owing to the magnitude of the disaster and Haiti's inability to care for itself even in relatively good times.

Don't be tempted to say that all this is far away from us and not our concern; it is in our backyard and stability there is very much in our interest. And karma is a hard taskmaster. We are not immune to the blind forces of nature. Israel is subject to earthquake and drought. Closer to home, Westchester and Rockland counties in New York sit astride an earthquake fault as, of course, does all of California. Long Island is long overdue for a major hurricane. Fear of God, if nothing else, should prompt us to do whatever we can to alleviate this horrific human suffering. And if we think we can live with a nuclear Iran and/or terrorists with suitcase nukes, imagine a good many Port-au-Princes at the same time.

The way we would have God care for us is the way we must care for the least of His children.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Let's Fight to Win!

According to today's screaming headline in the New York Post, even Obama connected the dots. Fanatics are out to kill us. And they draw their inspiration from Islam, at least that crazy brand of Islam that the Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the ruling clique in Saudi Arabia adhere to. Better a year late than never, I guess. A fanatic Muslim two weeks ago tried to detonate a bomb smuggled in his underwear aboard a plane about to land in Detroit. Only a lucky combination of a malfunction in the bomb and some quick action by heroic passengers saved the plane. The President's clueless Homeland Security chief crowed that the system worked. Sure. The man was on a watch list for potential terrorists. His own father had informed the American embassy in his native Nigeria that he was radicalized and bore watching. He was traveling alone on a transatlantic flight, with no luggage, with a one-way ticket paid for in cash, and nobody was suspicious. He was allowed onto the plane without so much as a search. And the solutions bandied about? Full body scanners and such. This when a lady with a titanium rod in her hip didn't even trip the metal detectors, and neither did a reporter with a titanium chain openly displayed on her person.

Our enemies are nothing if not patient, persistent and clever. We will not win this war by playing defense. We have to get on the attack, and do a few things that are politically incorrect but might get the job done. As usual, the Post's columnist Ralph Peters is right on the money. Our self-imposed rules of engagement in Afghanistan are playing into the hands of our enemies. We have to give our commanders the authority to call in air strikes even if the Taliban's human shields will come to harm. We should do whatever we must to extract information from captured terrorists, never mind Geneva Conventions (they're for uniformed soldiers in a regular army), never mind Constitutional rights (they're for American citizens). We won World War 2 because we were willing to kill numerous German and Japanes civilians in the process. If that war had been fought by Obama's lawyers, the bad guys would have won and we would not be here. Our boys' lives are worth more than those of the enemy. That is the brutal calculus of war, and if you don't have the stomach for it then you shouldn't be President, you shouldn't be in charge of internal security, and you shouldn't watch the television news.

And now for Pakistan. It's an open secret that elements of Pakistan's military and intelligence communities are in league with our enemies. So let's stop coddling them. If we have to go into Pakistan to pursue the Taliban, then do it and never mind tipping off their government so it can tip off the people being pursued. And Saudi Arabia. It's an open secret that they build madrassas all over the Muslim world to export their perverted religion and mold fresh terrorists to die for Allah. Stop coddling them. Either they stop bankrolling terrorists or we send in the Marines to take over the oil wells and bring about regime change we can believe in.

And back to airport security. It is clear that focusing only on what is taken on an aircraft will not keep us safe. At least as important is who gets aboard the plane. It's not about racial profiling. The "shoe bomber," Richard Reid, was a Briton with a Western physical appearance and a British name. The Christmas bomber did have a Muslim name (Muslims come in all shapes, sizes and colors), but was not Middle Eastern and did not have a Middle Eastern skin tone. Racial profiling would not have caught either. It's about people profiling. The Israelis got it right. If you exhibit a certain pattern of behavior (the Israelis rightly do not divulge the whole pattern), then you arouse suspicion, are taken out of line for a private search. Ben-Gurion airport is among the world's safest. Their system would not have allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to board the plane. As another Post columnist wrote, it's time to take a page out of their book.

It's time to go on offense. Throw our weight around, kill the bad guys and never mind the assorted leftists, liberals and terror apologists crying foul.