Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Last Week Means to Conservatives

Last week is generally considered to have been a tough one for Conservatives.  In two separate decisions, the Supreme Court appeared to clear the way for unrestricted gay marriage in America.  In the Senate, an immigration reform bill that many Republicans believe will do nothing to secure our borders but will provide a boost in Democrat voter rolls was passed with Republican help.  I talked with Mudge earlier in the week, and we were both glum.  Me for not quite clear reasons, Mudge for very clearly articulated reasons.

We shouldn't look to quickly past a great victory for the Constitution, and that was the Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act.  What several southern states had to go through in order to get even the most basic changes to voting procedures was akin to Reconstruction. 

As for the gay marriage cases, I think we (Conservatives) are simply on the losing end of this one.  Simply put, the younger you are, the more you support gay marriage.  Even if that support subsides over time (which I doubt it will), the support will be far greater than a majority in the years to come.  There really is a "freedom" issue here that many Conservatives overlook while they are busy "Conserving". 

With respect to immigration, the story is mixed.  I don't think we are doing ourselves a service in broadening our voting base by so stridently opposing comprehensive immigration reform that includes some way of gaining legal status for those already here illegally.  My view?  Give the Dems exactly what they want--a clear path to CITIZENSHIP, not some other hazy status.  The price?  A fence.  A closed border.  Real border security. 

What does this all mean?  To be honest, I don't know.  I find myself thinking that the public is moving in our direction on economics, budgeting, and fiscal matters, and if we spent time talking about those things, we'd be in good shape.  The President -- while proving to be an utter failure as a President -- is doing a masterful job as the standard bearer of the Democratic Party and Liberal cause.  His phone call to Marco Rubio (to congratulate him on the Senate immigration reform plan) was a stroke of genius, even if Rubio was unable to take the call.

We've got to figure out how to get out from under the "you hate" weight.  "You hate women", "you hate gays", "you hate Mexicans"....etc.  We can howl about media unfairness all we want, but the fact is, many Americans see Conservative ideas and the Republican Party (different things, I know) as agents of a status quo that doesn't include them.  Gotta figure this one out, friends.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Conservative Wahoo Turns Another Year Older

 Not the blog, but the man himself.   Happy birthday buddy!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Five Years Later....

Here we are folks, five years after the start of The Conservative Wahoo.  I thank those of you who read this blog, those of you who write for it, and those who do both.

Perhaps someday, I'll look back and read posts over the last five years and determine that what I and others have been doing was to chronicle the decline of our Republic. 

But I am more hopeful than that.  I continue to believe in American Exceptionalism and I am convinced that the eight years of Barack Obama will be replaced with something better for our country.

Let's keep trying to make it happen here in our little corner of the interwebs.


Friday, June 21, 2013

"The Government Plantation"

Louisiana State Senator, Elbert Guillory, recently switched from the Democrat Party to Republican Party. While I daily lose faith that the Republican leadership in Washington will subordinate their personal ambitions to our party's principles, if more of them can start  countering the media's and DNC's disingenous descriptions of the Republican Party  the way Senator Guillory has here, we might get away from having to commit political and national suicide with ill-thought legislation that only the leftest leftists would ever propose.  But I doubt it. And can we just trade Lindsay Graham to the Dems for a future draft pick?

Big Fat Friday Free For All

Well, friends---how's it going?  Got anything you'd like to share with the wonderful, supportive readers of this blog?

Too few show up at your Brandenburg Gate speech?  Sun get in your eyes when you gave it?

Bitch friends.  Better out than in.

6/10:  197.8 (new fat record)
6/14:  196.2
6/21:  193.6

Friday, June 14, 2013

Marco Rubio is Getting Hammered

I'm a fan of Marco Rubio's, but my support for him is a lot like that of those who elected Barack Obama President in 2008.  I think he's upbeat, he and I agree on a lot of issues, he looks good on TV and he can give a good speech.

But I've got to wonder--is there one more thing about him that is like Barack Obama--and that is, he may not be ready for prime time yet.

I haven't followed the immigration story as closely as I should, but I do stay up on the media of the vast right wing conspiracy.  Needless to say, it has not been kind to the Senator from Florida.  But it isn't as though they've been making things up--they're killing him with his own words, and they're killing him with the company he keeps.  (i.e. Chuck Schumer).

This is a big, complicated issue, and for a guy who is trying to lead the Republican Party in positive directions, Rubio has chosen a decent place to start.  I wonder though, has he been snookered by an atmosphere and processes that he wasn't wise enough to consider?  Did he simply not understand "the rules of the game" in Washington deeply enough, as a Senator of some two years standing (sound familiar?)

I need to watch this more closely; I still believe Rubio's the real deal.  But it might not be for 2016.

Big Fat Friday Free For All

Well friends, it's that time of the week again.  Time to get your worries off your chest, time to share your problems with your homies.

How can WE help YOU?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Stay Out of Syria, Mr. President

It appears that the President is going to use his Commander-in-Chief authority to supply  Al Qaeda the rebels in Syria with an as yet undetermined stock of weapons in their fight to throw over the Assad regime.  Presumably this is in part due to the reports last week of Assad's forces once again gaining the upper hand in the conflict.  The precipitating action however, is Syria's reported use of chemical weapons, resulting in the deaths of at least 100 people.

The administration should not have announced this move, for it is unwise.  Here are a few reasons why.

1.  If the deaths of 90,000 Syrians from means other than chemical weapons were insufficient rationale for American involvement, however slight, then the use of chemical weapons (reported) seems a ridiculous distinction to make for the trigger of US involvement.
2.  We will surrender the right to lecture the Russians not to re-supply the Assad regime with advanced weaponry.
3.  We really do not know who the rebels are, or what they want, or what kind of country they wish to or are capable of creating.  We are choosing chaos and mayhem, over a devil we know.  I don't see it as a good choice.
4.  If we were to supply the rebels, it should have been done clandestinely.  There is an argument that says it is in our interest for this conflict to continue, bleeding Syria (and its Hizbolllah/Iranian allies) at the same time Islamic militants are bled by Assad's forces. 
5.  Our interest in the area is the security of Israel and Jordan.  We should only act if we believe these interests to be threatened.

Now is the time for the US to keep its powder dry for larger, more important things (read: Iran).  We cannot continue to dissipate our power on sideshows. 

I Am Fat

With nine straight weeks of limited exercise and unlimited gluttony, I have achieved a record state of corpulence.  And while I knew this would be the case given the work schedule and the trip to Israel, there is a not insignificant tinge of disappointment in my report.  Not that I am fat, mind you.  That is obvious, known in advance, predictable, etc.  No, my disappointment stems from the fact that even with all of the excess of the last two months, I was not able to crack the mythical "2 Bills" (200 lbs) mark.  My post-sloth weigh in on Tuesday morning in fact only beat my previous high by two tenths of a pound, at 197.8.

And so, I began two days ago yet another quest to drop a few pounds and exercise a little more.  Since I'm on a semi-sabbatical right now, I'm finding the sledding easy, with little excuse to blow off the weigh in and access to a lot of good, healthy choices for meals.

Some of you may know that I have made an important career choice; I will still be in the defense consulting business, but it will be through my own little firm called The FerryBridge Group.   I will still be associated with the wonderful people at Delex who gave me my start in the business, but not on a full-time basis.  Building up my base of clients will take a bit of time and effort, but the plain fact is that things slow down a bit in the summer anyway, so the opportunity exists for me to lessen my own pace a bit, before a full throttle effort later in the summer.    Perhaps by then, I won't be as fat.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer Rite of Passage

The ManCave is my refuge, my office, my home theater, and my monument to the life I led before pitching my tent here on the Eastern Shore.  Truth be told, many of my worldly possessions, if not most, fit right here in this 15' x 25' space.  I've got a storage unit for some kitchen stuff and some big furniture, but most of the rest is right here with me.

A three-bay garage gave up one third of its space for this idyllic place.  It is lightly insulated, unheated and uncooled.  I have a little radiator I use during the cold months, and during the summer, a window air conditioner.  Today is the day the AC makes its appearance.  It is a rite of passage.

Each summer, a point arises in which sitting in front of my computer with sweat dripping down my face becomes unbearable.  Today I reached that point.  I have some important work to do, and the thought of plodding through it in the heat was a non-starter.

So to the attic I go, for the annual dance with death that is the AC installation.  I carefully choose my footware, as 21 years in the Navy reinforced for me the wisdom of wearing the right shoes for the job.  I then walk the route from the AC to the window in which it will perch, moving aside the various trip hazards that have accumulated since the fall when I stored it for the winter.  The radiator I have for winter use forgoes this journey, as it sits quietly and unassumingly in a corner of the ManCave, wheeled and attractive in the spot it occupies when it is in use.  It is light, even, unlike the AC which seems to get heavier each year...apparently like its owner.

But there it is, humming away and filling the space with becooled air, and challenging me to become productive in the atmosphere it so unselfishly provides.  Damn you, air conditioner. 

Israel Wrap-Up

During a conversation yesterday, I was informed that I had "left (my) readers hanging", without an appropriate entry describing the trip home, etc.  This person was particularly interested in my travel rig and was shaken when I told him it was khakis and a polo.

But I am nothing if not responsive to the cries of my readers, so here goes.

We arrived at the airport well inside my standard 3 hours prior to an international flight, which had some of us a bit concerned.  This was driven by the performance of the evening's dinner restaurant, which was superb, but a bit slow.  I had a lasagne bolognese that was to die for, and I am not joking when I tell you that it was the size of a standard US red brick.  Kinda looked like one too.

Even after a number of trips to Israel, I had never flown out--before, a lovely warship conveyed me from its shores.  So this was my first interaction with vaunted Israel airport security.  We had a number of "checkpoints" at which we were pleasantly interrogated--prior to getting to the X-ray screening which seemed less intrusive than in the US (shoes on, liquids in the carry on). 

As we had discussed, the international legs of the trip were on United Business First, though this time I was in a window seat, which was not optimal.  At one point, a stewardess asked me if I were willing to move to another window seat (apparently there was some movement afoot), and I said no thank you, I would move only for an aisle as I was quite comfortable.  A few minutes later, one of the women from our group came up to the empty aisle seat next to me and said, "I heard you don't like windows--I don't like aisles--want to switch".  Heaven.

Because I was in the Holy Land, I was particularly aware of the cardinal sins that I was committing, especially gluttony.  I decided to make the airplane flight my first step toward self-improvement and eschewed the gourmet dinner that was served at midnight, deciding instead to revisit the latest Bond film (classic) and then go to sleep.  Which is what I did, waking up a short 3 hours from our destination and almost immediately having a flight attendant offer me a cup of coffee.  I finished with Bond, was served breakfast (I passed on the "main course".  Who eats breakfast courses, by the way?), chatted pleasantly with my seat-mate and then the flight was over.

We arrived at Newark at 0400 in the morning, so the trip through customs, etc, was short.  I was the second person to enter the complex.  My flight to National Airport was scheduled for 0918, but a well-meaning fellow traveler said that there was an earlier United Express flight (0630) and that she had sometimes been able to get on it.  So I raced from international arrivals to the A concourse, only to be told when I got to the United Express counter that no such flight existed and my 0918 flight was the first one.  Oh, and it is back in the terminal from which you just came.

Back to terminal C for the five hour wait for my next flight.  Except it wasn't five--it was 8.  On a beautiful Sunday morning across the entire eastern half of the US, United STILL managed a three hour delay our our flight, the second leg of the day for this particular plane.  So the morning was spent reading, emailing, chatting with friends and having a random conversation with Bill Cowher, former Steelers coach, while in the United Lounge.

We eventually made it to National, I got into the Jag, fired up the AC and drove to hearth and home, where I've been luxuriating since.

Some closing thoughts on Israel:

--I'm in the tank, and always have been. This trip did nothing to change that.
--I got a much better sense of the strength of the magnetic draw of Israel to the world's Jews.  Something I simply hadn't considered before.
--Because the Palestinians are split--physically (Gaza, West Bank) is not nearly as important as their political split (Hamas, Fatah).  I don't have much hope for Secretary Kerry's energetic ramblings in the region.
--A tour bus with WiFi is a gift from God.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Israel Day 8: Jerusalem: Closing Thoughts

We have three blissful hours to ourselves this afternoon after a solid week of planned activities--ok, that's a little bit of a lie--we've had a bit of free time here and there.  But it has been pretty busy nonetheless.  We will gather in three hours to head  out to our farewell dinner, then to the the airport to await our twelve hour flight home. I just discovered that I have a window seat, so I'll try and trade with one of my new homies for an aisle.

Some of the group have gone out to enjoy one last walk through the Old City.  While we are still in the Sabbath--meaning the Jewish Quarter is largely shut down, the Arab and Christian Quarters remain open for business.  I have yet to figure out what the fourth "quarter" is.  Yet another mystery of the Middle East. I have eschewed the afternoon walk, as it is mighty hot out and I have happened upon another serendipity.  I  called the hotel spa today as soon as we arrived from the Dead Sea (more on that) to see if they had an opening on the massage table this afternoon--and was disappointed to find out that they had nothing until after 7PM.  So I made myself a cup of Nescafe (yum) and sat down to begin this post.  Soon thereafter, the nice man from the spa called to tell me he could fit me in at 5PM.  So I have about forty minutes or so to screw around on the internet before going to my room to pack, as there won't be a lot of time in between the end of the massage and our departure.

In this morning's post, I skipped over the wonderful dinner experience we had last night in the home of two lovely Israelis, Jonathan and Naomi.  Parents of 5 children (only one of whom was home, bright and social David, 10), David is a Professor of Classics and Naomi is a worker at a non-profit.  They conducted for us a traditional Friday evening Shabbat supper, replete with prayers, singing, superb conversation, and a ridiculous amount of really good food.  Pretty much worldwide on Friday evenings, observant Jews do pretty much the same thing.  It is a grand ritual, and something to be considered for implementation in my own routine.  We couldn't have asked for more gracious hosts to help most of us experience our first Shabbat.

Both David and Naomi emigrated from America.  Both are outgoing, friendly, and admittedly politically liberal.  I had a wonderfully comical back and forth over dinner with Naomi, telling her about a TV show in America called "Family Ties" in which two very liberal parents have among their children a very conservative son.  I pointed at David and told her of my high hopes that David might be the next "Alex P. Keaton" of Israel.  She laughed and assured me that I didn't have to vest my hopes in young David, as her oldest was currently working at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan and was an ardent capitalist.

Which brings me to another sticky situation I've encountered here in Israel.  I simply don't know what to make of the American immigrants.  I am really conflicted over the concept of dual citizenship.  Here's what I mean.

I am an American of Irish extraction.  But the thought of emigrating to Ireland does not ever cross my mind, nor am I aware that there has ever been a significant "back to Ireland movement" akin to Zionism within the extended worldwide Irish diaspora.  We have met several people in our visit who left the US for Israel, some meaning to stay permanently and some who came temporarily and decided to stay.  Most left the US shortly after high school or college.  In order for anyone to understand what I'm going to try to convey here, I have to stipulate that the experience of the Jewish people worldwide throughout history and their historic tie to this land trump most other ethno-religious connections.  There simply isn't within the concept of "Irishness" a magnetic cultural and religious yearning which draws successive generations back.  I get that.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I have a tremendous amount of respect for the State of Israel--and that I cannot quibble with the individual decisions Jews have made over the years to move here--I have a problem with their retention of American citizenship and the concomitant extension of that citizenship to THEIR children (presumably ad infinitum).  Put another way, I find myself saying "you made a choice. Stop hedging your bets".  This feeling flows from my own sense of place--and that is, the United States.  I cannot conceive of my attachment to the United States and all that it stands for being any less strong than the forces which drew full-blooded native born Americans to Israel.  There is room for no other loyalty, at least in my tiny world-view.  Jonathan said at the table that he feels "fully American".  And as the rules of engagement at the table were Israeli cage match variety, I took him on, and told him flat out that such a statement was inconceivable.  He was clearly not fully American.  If anything, he was mostly Israeli.  After a bit of back and forth, he conceded my point, and even went as far as to say that as an immigrant, he will never feel completely Israeli.

Again, I'm being obtuse.  Here's the point:  Israel is worth living and dying for.  Most of these folks who emigrated served their requisite three years in the Army and many have seen combat.  Commit to it. THIS is your country.  Whatever reason you continue to hold an American passport for is not that you continue to be an American.  Now I do understand that both Israeli and American law permit this--but it rubs me the wrong way.  I understand the desire to be an Israeli--I simply don't understand the desire to do it half way.

Ok, enough heaviness.

We awoke this morning early and headed to Masada, site of a great battle in 73 AD between rebellious Jews and the Roman Army.  Some of you may know the outcome already--but in the end, the 967 Jews committed suicide rather than submit to the Romans.  Herod the Great constructed the citadel as one of a network of 7 such installations outside of Jerusalem, but this battle occurred long after Herod had died.  Sitting atop a large mountain, Masada appeared impregnable.  As we toured, I continued to wonder how the Romans force the Jews to suicide, and I suppose I settled on their having starved the Jews out.  But this is incorrect; the Jews committed suicide with full larders, in essence saying, "we will die now with full cupboards rather than submit to slavery".  As incredible an accomplishment of engineering and architecture as Masada was, the Romans topped it--by building a "siege ramp" from the base of the mountain to near the ramparts of the fortress.  This was done under fire--every day, day after day, over the course of what must have been months.  Quite an accomplishment.

After Masada, we continued south along the Dead Sea to a spa where we all put on our bathing suits and floated in the Dead Sea, something the Russian and Russian/Israeli tourists found quite entertaining.  If this had appeared on my bucket list, it was now crossed off, but I'm not sure that it did.  Glad I did it though...good bonding experience with my group homies.

And now the trip consists of a massage, a dinner, and a flight.

Thank you to the America Israel Political Action Committed and the America Israel Education Foundation for having me along on this fascinating week.  Thanks to Tom and Esther who served as our minders, and Avi, our wonderfully informative tour guide. And thanks to Richard Goodman, whose family foundation helps to fund AIEF.

I've got to go.  Need to get ready for my massage.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Israel Day 8: Saturday Morning, Tel Aviv

This is our last day in Israel; later tonight after a full day, we'll decamp to the airport for another blissful overnight business class conveyance home.  We'll have a farewell dinner as a group, so I won't feel any obligation to stay awake even for a little bit of the dinner they'll serve at an ungodly hour.  No, as soon as all the silly announcements are made, I'll be flattening to horizontal and heading off to la-la land.

I awoke yesterday at the hotel at Nof Ginosar Kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee.  Our day was spent primarily in two pursuits--the first was to experience Jesus' ministry (which occurred primarily in this area) through visits to various sites associated with that time (Sermon on the Mount, when he appeared to the Apostles for the last time), and second was a trip up into the Golan Heights to talk about the Syrians.  We'd previously been down south to talk about the border with Gaza and tangentially Egypt (with whom Israel has a peace treaty), and up north at the Lebanese border.  Now we focused on Syria.  This was made somewhat more difficult by the ongoing Syrian civil war and the fact that on Thursday, several rockets had been fired into the Golan. So we did not go where we originally were scheduled--which was to Eastern Golan where we would have a view of Syria, concentrating instead on a scenic overlook from Western Golan looking down into the fertile Israeli plains below.

Israel took the Golan from Syria in the 1967 War, with the intent to make it a security buffer.  Like the Sinai Peninsula, it provided them with strategic depth, and also a bargaining chip for future peace negotiations. Unlike the Sinai--which went back to Egypt as a result of the Camp David accords, the Golan remains very much Israeli territory.  Though I believe they deal this away too for the right peace treaty with Syria.  Syria however, remains a problem, and its current civil war does not make things easier.

We finished our day with a wonderful Shabbat meal at the home of an Israeli couple, something I'd like to tell you about but must save for later as we're leaving early today to get started in order to beat anticipated heat. 

This Administration is in Trouble

News yesterday and today about Verizon having to turn over daily cellphone records (presumably other carriers received the same order) and many social media servers being back-doored by NSA contributes to the serious bleeding that the Administration is suffering. Add this to the IRS issue, the AP/Fox News over-reach, and the cover-up of the Benghazi response, and we're left with a picture of a Presidency in trouble.  But there are cautions here for Republicans.

First, there can be no disputing it.  Mr. Obama's view of a positive and benign federal government--is increasingly coming under fire. This is because he has so broadened Uncle Sam's scope and reach into everyday lives, that when excesses occur, they are truly excessive.  That's some of what we're seeing now. 

Additionally, he continues to be exposed as an opportunistic hypocrite.  The man ran in 2008 on a platform that continually criticized the sitting President for his over-reach in the war on terror--and in office, he has not only continued Bush's programs, but he has amped them up.  This is undoubtedly what we will find in this Prism/NSA issue. 

But a word of caution to Republicans--unless you are a libertarian, I'd recommend restricting criticism of the President to the hypocrisy charge.  With respect to the Verizon and Prism issues, I am pretty certain the record will show that the administration followed the law and obtained valid rulings from the FISA court. The laws in question are ones Republicans supported enthusiastically, save for our Libertarian friends.  Let's not all of a sudden try and convince ourselves that we didn't support the Patriot Act.

Israel Day 7: Friday Morning, Sea of Galilee

Sorry to have kept you, but I was busy enjoying myself in the company of the delightful people with whom I am traveling.  I deem them thusly for two reasons--first, because they are.  Irrespective of our widely disparate political ideologies, this is a literate, conversational and incredibly interesting group of traveling companions. Their company is wholly acceptable. Secondly, I write this because several of them have become readers of the blog, at least for period of this trip.

Additionally, our tour guide (Avi), previously identified in this blog as a "50 year old" from "Manhattan" wishes for the record to be corrected to indicate that he is "48" and from "Brooklyn".

Our day started out yesterday with a visit to Yemin Orde, something known here as a "youth village".  The best I can describe it is to compare it to my understanding of what "Boys Town" does or did in the past.  A place for at risk youth, Yemin Orde provides a comforting, supportive, structures and loving place for kids who might otherwise wind up on the margins of this society.  From what I could tell, the students were dominated by two groups--Ethiopian immigrants and Russian Immigrants.  To understand modern Israel, one has to understand the large influx of two groups which have added immeasurably to the polyglot society here.

The first are the Ethiopian Jews.  I gotta tell you, the sight of a young black man walking around in a yarmelke makes one take a second look the first time one sees it.  Google "Ethiopian Jews", and "Operation Moses" to read about the Herculean efforts undertaken in the 1980's to bring this group of Jews to Israel.  At some point in history, Judaism came to a group of Ethiopians.  There are several theories as to how, but the point is they were largely cut off from the rest of Jewry until the late 18th century, and remained largely isolated from the rest until the 80's.  Considered to be not fully Ethiopian by the Ethiopians, most of the people who grew up Jewish in Ethiopia believed that they were the last remaining Jews in the world.  When Operation Moses (and other events) brought them to Israel, many of the young kids were shocked to see all these white Jews.  To hear them tell it is a very funny story.

The second group of immigrants were Jews from the former Soviet Union, a million of whom emigrated after the fall of the Wall, increasing Israel's population by 20%.  Think about what a 20% increase in people would mean in the US.

Yemin Orde's mission is to help at risk youth of all Israel, but particularly from among these populations.  I found the visit to be incredibly uplifting--good people trying to make a difference in the lives of kids in a place where they may not naturally feel they fit in very well.

After Yemin Orde, we headed North--about as far north as one can go in this country, where we visited an Army outpost near where Israel, Syria and Lebanon all come together.  The area is, as you can imagine, a place where there has been much mischief in the past.  UN Forces "occupy" a buffer between the Israelis and their neighbors--who appear to be either peaceful Lebanese and Syrians or Hizzbolah terrorists.   In many cases the distinctions are fuzzy.  We were briefed by an IDF Major, a man of about 35 or so who struck me as a hardened combat veteran.  Articulate and well-informed, he gave us a pretty straightforward assessment of the situation, a who's who in the zoo so to speak. 

We then headed back south to the area of the Sea of Galilee, to our hotel--the lobby of which is providing me the wifi I currently exploit to write this post.  We dined at a nice restaurant right on the water last night, and because we did not have a speaker, the conversation amongst group members was very lively, fueled by what was commonly believed to be tasty Israeli wine.  The group dynamic continued back at our hotel, where the friendly barkeep was solicitous to the group's needs. 

We are nearing the end of the trip, and I'm getting the feeling I always get when I rent a place at the Outer Banks...damn, it's nearly over.  The weather has been sublime, the speakers uniformly interesting, the company first-rate, and the logistics superbly executed.  A lot has been packed in thus far, and I have accreted a great deal of information around an already fairly solid core of understanding. 

I must to the room to pack up for today's movement.  We'll be walking in the footsteps of Jesus today.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Israel Day 5: Wednesday Evening, Tel Aviv

It is a good thing that I decided not to begin anything resembling a diet and exercise program before coming on this trip.  I am eating to excess and exercising not a whit.  And enjoying myself immensely.  It is nearly 10:45 PM Israel time, and I just returned to the hotel from yet another wonderful, gut busting dinner.  Our speakers were two members of the Israeli Press, very good friends and colleagues who worked well off of each other.  Both were experts in the not insignificant number of security challenges Israel has.

We started the day with an interesting and ethically challenging interaction.  We headed south toward Gaza, home of Hamas and the source of innumerable rocket attacks on the cities and villages near them in Israel.  We stopped first in Sderot and talked a bit about living constantly under the threat of rocket and or missile attack.  It was a beautiful, sunny peaceful day, and I have to admit to thinking things a little surreal.  Life was going on around us, children playing, etc.  But take a look at the Wiki article I linked to above, and read about the traumatization that is occurring there.  From Sderot, we headed to a kibbutz that is even closer to Gaza; there we were met by a woman who gave us a very personal idea of the toll that the rocket attacks are taking on the people of her kibbutz (the last attack having been 2.5 weeks ago).

What was ethically challenging about the event was the degree to which I judged this woman.  Let me explain.

She grew up in a peaceful, happy kibbutz before the Oslo peace accords gave the Palestinians control of Gaza.  Their life was a socialist workers paradise, and they enjoyed what sounded to be peaceful relations with their Arab neighbors in Gaza.  She went off to the Army and remained away from the kibbutz for eight additional years, during which time she married, had a child, worked in Tel Aviv, and (presumably) divorced (there was a mention of many family members, but no mention of a husband or father to her child).  She decided at some point to move back and raise here son in the kibbutz where she grew up.

When Israel pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in 2005, the attacks on her kibbutz began. These are rocket and mortar attacks, with short time of flight and virtually no warning, at least for the first volley.  These attacks over time had taken their toll on this woman.  I'm not a trained mental health professional, but within about ten minutes of her talking, I whispered to one of our merry band, "this woman is damaged."  The more she talked, the more she reinforced this notion.  Eventually, she simply came out and admitted as much. 

What I found so ethically challenging was the fact that she was raising a son there.  She then began to tell us of his various psychological problems, each of which she attributed to the atmosphere in which he was growing up.  Here is where I really began to judge her.  She as an adult, with agency, can decide to come and go as she pleases.  She has chosen to stay in a kibbutz that the IDF is challenged to protect (more on this in a second), and it is obviously traumatizing her.  But her son has no choice.  He has to stay.  She could have moved and raised her son in an area of Israel less in the line of fire.  Then she told us that her information was that 70-90% of the children raised under these conditions have developed behavioral issues directly attributable to growing up under fire.  This really got to me.  There she stays, growing more and more traumatized as her son grows up with troubling behavioral and psychological problems. 

But she stays.  She stays because "this is my home".  She stays because of the baked in Israeli phobia stemming from "never again".  In this case, not about the Holocaust, but about being kicked out of their homeland.  There is a powerful, magnetic draw to Jews around the world to this place.  It is more than a place--it is an idea.  And I believe this woman was willing to die for that idea and to take her son with her. Again, this is the judgment I have been wrestling with. 

Basically speaking, all of Israel is in range of somebody's missiles or mortars.  So when I raised my qualms about this woman's choices with our hosts, their answer was essentially, "where would she go? Everywhere is in range of someone".  Yes, this may be true.  But there is a basic physics problem that leads to a basic military problem--that is, the closer the target is to the servicing weapon, the more difficult it is to defend against.  Israel is loaded with sophisticated systems designed to shoot down long, medium and short range ballistic missiles--but mortars and short range rockets are an entirely different military problem.  And in the short visit to the area that I was part of, I assessed that there was an insufficient level of defense of the area to provide this woman--and presumably others like her--a sense of safety.

Now part of this is a function of "what is sufficient"?  She pointed to this during her talk, in that the if an attack appears headed into an open space (that is, does not target a structure or critical infrastructure), it is not aggressively intercepted.  While this may be militarily sound, the explosion it causes in the vicinity of structures (people, houses, schools) contributes to their growing traumatization.  To her, there is little difference in an attack that hits a house and one that hits the yard surrounding it--because we're dealing with terror weapons whose target is the will of the population. 

I came away from this visit a little shaken, wondering why it was that the Israeli government didn't just shut this kibbutz down and evacuate its people.  This is the American in me.  This is the pragmatic military man speaking.  But I'm not an Israeli.  I don't have the psychology of an Israeli.  And I probably won't be able to get my arms around why that woman stays there.

After a hearty lunch at the kibbutz, we bussed back to Tel Aviv, with much of the bus napping for much of the trip.  Once back, we met with a Major General in the IDF; infantry, special forces.  Right out of central casting.  The kind of guy you want on your side.  Whatever your side is.  He discussed with us the various military challenges associated with defending a country of Israel's size, with as many groups around it that wish it ill.  He was the kind of guy who probably gives Israelis a great sense of confidence in their military.

Then it was back to the hotel for a bit of shopping, a nap and dinner.

Many of you probably face the same challenges I do when it comes to the buying of trinkets for your loved ones.  Simply put. my taste appears to conflict with all three of the Kittens.  Interestingly enough, this extends to all spheres and all trinkets.  I sometimes feel that I shouldn't spend too much time and energy deciding on what I get them, as I will invariably select something that will find its way to the Church Sale.  That said, I got my game face on and shopped for the three of them, selecting baubles that I hoped would be acceptable to them and that were very nice to my ill-trained eye.  My return on Sunday will determine if my nearly unbroken record of shopping failure continues.

Ok--long day tomorrow.  Don't know if I will have internet tomorrow night, so you may not hear from me again until Friday night Israel time.

Be good.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Israel Day 4: Tuesday Evening, Tel Aviv

I sit with my back to the patio of my beachfront room in Tel Aviv, a bustling, modern city on the Mediterranean Coast.  The sliding door is open, and I am treated to the competing sounds of surf and city, which combine in a not displeasing way.  We arrived here about an hour ago after a full day, about which I will write in a bit.  We leave for dinner with some Israeli think tankers in about an hour, so I should be able to squeeze this out without rush.

As we neared the hotel, I asked one of our Israeli hosts about nearby cigar shops, hoping to nab one or two of my beloved Macanudo Portofinos.  His eyes lit immediately, as he is an aficionado.  Less than a quarter of a mile's walk from the hotel, he described a fine shop, one that he himself would hit at some point during our visit.  As soon as I checked in, I proceeded with alacrity to the shop.  Of course, with access to Cubans, why would I hope for my brand to be in stock.  It wasn't of course, so I asked for a very mild cigar and was sold a Montecristo Open.  Cubans tend to make my head spin, so I'll tell you how this works out.

Yesterday morning, we had a breakfast with an Israeli official with deep experience in negotiating with the Palestinians.  You'd think that after nearly twenty years of it, he'd be jaded--but he had a great attitude and steadfastly maintained that some talk is better than no talk, even if there look to be no results in the offing.  The talks on this trip are off the record, but I can characterize them as I wish.  This guy was the real deal--very smart, very knowledgeable, and very likely a skilled negotiator.

After a trip to the holy sites of Jerusalem, we proceeded to the Knesset where we met with three different members of the 120 seat chamber (unicameral).  All were very impressive, and they gave us a great tour-d'horizon of Israeli domestic and foreign affairs issues.  One was from the government, a member of one of the coalition parties (not Netanyahu's), and the other two were of the opposition Labor Party.  The final guy we met with was this fellow, Issac Herzog.  I'm naming him only as a way of thanking him--because he really went out of his way to make the group feel special, leading us on a tour of the building and taking us into the Knesset chamber while it was in session. 

Our dinner speaker was a former investment banker turned Israeli entrepreneur.  Like many of the people I'm meeting on this trip, he's a dual citizen, born and raised in the US.  He'd been in Israel for 16 years and raised his family here.  Brilliant guy--sorta the classic broker/banker type--enthusiastic, very social, very interesting.  He gave us a great presentation on the booming Israeli economy, and at one point, I got him to say something that was really, really meaningful to our ideologically mixed group (there are a couple of good  folks from liberal think tanks with us). He was running down all the reasons for the growth of the Israeli economy, and I said to him, "yeah, but those have always been features of Israeli society--why now?"  He answered very clearly..."the government turned from socialism to capitalism".  I wanted to cheer.

This morning we piled onto our bus for a trip to Yad Veshem Holocaust Memorial.  Wow.  Unreal.  A powerful, powerful place full of a catalog of unparalleled evil. We had little headsets on over which our tour guide talked us through, but we had only two hours so we moved very quickly.  Too quickly.  I could have lingered over the photographs for hours.  Scary.  Haunting.  The place was full of young IDF soldiers and we were told that every recruit visits with his unit, and every senior NCO and commander visits.  Since everyone serves in the Army, this means they all come through.  I found myself really considering the merits of national service, seeing all these young men walking around in a museum central to their nation's history.  I realize it is easy for me who volunteered to serve to feel this way, but I couldn't help but feel there would be merit in national service in the US.  Though on a practical level, I wonder how it would work.

After this, we got off our posh Israeli bus (wifi equipped!) and got onto a posh Arab bus.  Why?  Because we were driving into Ramallah, a Palestinian West Bank town to have lunch with the outgoing Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, Salam Fayyed and we couldn't take an Israeli bus in!  An instantly impressive man. We had talked about him on the way there, hearing about his five years at PM and the fact that he had recently resigned, soon to be replaced.  He was apparently a "make the trains run on time" kind of guy, who lowered crime, improved health and education, and improved the economy.  But he had no PLO cred, he wasn't a member of Hamas or Fattah, and he never really had the love of the people or the President (Abu Mazzen).  I really enjoyed this meeting.

Afterward, we sat with a renowned pollster of Palestinian public opinion, who seemed to reinforce my growing sense that for the time being, nothing really important is going to happen between the Israelis and the Palestinians, irrespective of Secretary Kerry's energetic diplomacy.

Well, there are forty minutes left until I have to meet the group for dinner.  Maybe a short nap.  Until tomorrow, friends. 

Israel Day 4: Tuesday Morning

Gotta make this one quick, as the tour overlords want us to deliver our bags down in the lobby in fifteen minutes.

Yesterday was a whirlwind...we met with some incredibly interesting folks--started out with breakfast with a guy who has spent a great deal of his life negotiating with the Palestinians and others.  Probably one of the smartest, most interesting guys I've ever met.  Then it was off to the Old City to tour--Mount of Olives, Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, etc.  I've seen it all before, but it remains a meaningful experience.  You could spend days in Jerusalem--I have--but a few hours was all we got. 

The point of even going was to demonstrate the confluence of the three great monotheistic religions--they are all there, right on top of each other.  Within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, there are probably three or four different Christian denominations who can't even seem to get their act together with respect to who is in charge of what.  A mess.

After lunch in Jerusalem--we headed over the the Knesset--the Israeli parliament. More on this later.

Dinner was at a restaurant in town with a duel Israeli/US entrepreneur who gave us a great talk on "Start-Up Nation"--the serious revolution in high tech going on in Israel.  The guy was fascinating.  Probably more on this later too--gotta go.  Luggage guys will be pissed...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fifth Anniversary of The Conservative Wahoo!

Well folks, this month marks the fifth anniversary (June 25) of the very first CW post.

How should we solemnify the this grand occasion?


I'd personally like to see Goldwater's Ghost return as a guest hasn't been the same without him.

Israel Travel Log--Day 3: Early Morning, Jerusalem

The little clock on the bottom of my computer says 3:56 AM.  It is only this late as I write you because I laid in bed for at least nearly an hour refusing to accept the fate that jet lag had dealt me.  Alas, I am its victim, and my first full day of events in Israel starts in about a three hour hole.

When last we spoke (wrote? typed? read?), I was in the United Club awaiting the departure of our flight.  In the interim, we flew, landed, checked-in, dined/discussed, walked about and slept.  Which brings me to now.

Let's start with the flight.  As I preened the other day, the good folks at AIEF sprung for Business Class, which on this particular 777 is "business/first" combined.  I can't even begin to tell you how sublime it was.  Not only because it was wonderful, but because I slept for nearly eight of the ten hours of the flight.  Having earlier in the evening had a petite filet, the gourmet dinner waiting for me pretty much went to waste.  There were three presumably wonderful entree choices available, but I asked only for the shrimp cocktail and a glass of water.  These consumed and removed by the helpful flight attendant, less than an hour into the flight I reclined my seat/bed to its full, flat position.  I awoke to the sound of a breakfast-like meal being served and the plane heading southeast over Greece.  I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was--bagging nearly eight hours of sleep and waking in time for a meal.  That friends, is good fortune.  So I had a cuppa joe, a little omelet and fruit, and prepared myself for landing.

Flying into Israel, one could be convinced that the topography was actually Southern California.  Heavily built up, areas of desert populated with great expanses of green for as far as the eye can see.  This is a bustling, busy, on the move country.  Things get done here, and it stands in stark contrast to the condition of many of its neighbors.  We landed at the beautiful Tel Aviv airport and cleared customs without much trouble.  Although the young man who interrogated me seemed put off that I didn't have my boarding pass with me. Nor did he appear to accept the explanation that in my view, the boarding pass had served its purpose already.

About half of our group checked a bag, half did what I did and stuffed everything into a carry on.   I thought it would be cool to have shipped five or six empty steamer trunks so that as we stood around baggage claim I could make a big ruckus over my baggage train like some Hollywood star, just to get things off on a good foot with the others.  We collected ourselves up into our little think-tanky band and got on the bus for the ride to Jerusalem.

We have a "tour-guide" for our bus travel, a guy of about fifty with a heavy New York accent.  He is wonderfully educated (MA at UVA, natch), friendly and chatty, qualities I respect in a guide.  Born and raised in Manhattan, he emigrated to Israel twenty five years ago or so.  I am going to enjoy his role in this week.

We made a little loop around the newer parts of Jerusalem en route to our hotel, stopping at a scenic overlook to gaze upon the Old City in the distance.  This really is a beautiful place.  The Old City is quite a small part of modern Jerusalem, sprawling over several hills and through many neighborhoods of various ethnicity and faith.  I am not including photos out of a bit of a logistics problem.  I have a digital camera, but no way to get the trons into the computer.  I have a cellphone with camera, but no way to charge it--having left the charger at home because I figured I wouldn't need the cellphone.  So you'll just have to use your ample imaginations when I describe things to you.

Our hotel is a nice one, modern, with free wifi (I am getting militant about paying for wifi--I realize I sound like a high-tech welfare queen, but the better the hotel in the US, the more likely you are to have to pay for wifi. Ridiculous.).  We had only a short time between arriving and having to gather for our first discussion and dinner--both of which turned out to be enjoyable.  We met with a wonderfully sociable Israeli newspaper editor who helped frame the major issues and challenges facing modern Israel.  Poor fellow had a tough time finding the opportunity to take bites at his feast, as the policy wonks surrounding him at the table had a stream of questions for him (yes, including me.  I embrace my inner wonk).  Afterward, we went for a stroll around the neighboring part of Jerusalem before calling it a night.  Our hosts told us that they do that (the evening stroll) to extend the day a bit further, as they found that if guests went right to sleep after the first event, they wound up waking up at 0200.  Well, they were right.  The hour long walk bought me another hour.

Some observations?  First, I love Nescafe.  I should have written about this last summer when Tom and I traveled to South Africa--but I didn't.  I love the way much of the world continues to take its coffee through little instant packs of Nescafe.  Do you remember when Nescafe was popular in the US?  I do.  Instant coffee used to be EVERYWHERE.  But we've become coffee snobs, what with our single serving Keurig command centers dutifully producing a perfectly brewed cup of Free-Range Cobra Black Fair Trade Coffee within seconds of replacing the spent cartridge therein.  The rest of the world is still tough--pouring a little hot water into a mug with the brown shards of instant magic on the bottom.  And the taste?  Wonderful.  I grabbed a cup before dinner as our group was assembling last night--at a table provided (I soon came to find out) for another group at the hotel and their meeting.  Seeing the bounty (of Nescafe) on the table, I sidled over and poured myself a cup.  No problem.  Though I apparently started a trend, as others in my group tried the same thing and were shooed away, as the much sought after Nescafe was NOT FOR US.

Next, pushing two separate beds with separate bed linens together does not make a larger bed. It makes for a larger floor covering, but you can only sleep in one small bed at a time.  Love this hotel, but I am sleeping in a twin bed, for all intents and purposes.

(Just poured Nescafe #2--sublime.  Smells like heaven)

What's up with "shower gel"?  Who actually uses it, and why would one choose it over a bar of soap?  I took a quick pre-dinner shower last night and was disappointed to only find shower gel. How inefficient it is. This morning, I espied a bar of soap that I had overlooked last night, so I'll be saved from the indignity of trying to spread a liquid rapidly dissipating through my fingers over my estimable girth.  Speaking of girth, I will eat, drink, and be merry this week, for when I return to Easton, it is time to get serious.  No, really.  Serious.

Ok, that's all for now.  Perhaps a little later at the end of a long day.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Israel Travel Log--Day 1: Saturday Night Newark Airport

Flew out of National Airport earlier this afternoon and just finished a steak dinner here at Newark Airport with one of my fellow travelers, a guy I know from the DC Navy and Political scenes.  We're now seated in the United Club, awaiting the departure of our flight to Tel Aviv.  Flight is a little over 10 1/2 hours, right through the midst of my normal sleep cycle.  I'm quite sure I'll sleep through most of it.

As I indicated yesterday, I am--as is my custom--in full dork travel rig.  A white UVA ball cap, a white t-shirt from my trip to St. Croix three years ago, the ever-present Adidas track pants, brown walking shoes and a blue blazer.  The blazer really comes in handy because of all the pockets, great places to stow stuff as I work my way through security.  I am undertaking this trip in true Tom McGrath style--just a simple wheeled carry on bag and a smallish knapsacky kind of thing for my various computing devices.  I have this laptop, an iPad, an iPod, a cell phone, and a digital camera.  I've got more computing power than the entire North Korean nuclear program with me.

I am here in the splendor of the United Club not by virtue of the usual $50 payment, but on the basis of the kind seating arrangements the folks from AIEF have arranged for us to fly to and from Israel.  Biz class both ways, baby.  That means club access.  Flat seats.  Wide aisles.  Helpful flight attendants ("can I take your jacket, sir?") When I was invited to take part in this trip, I must admit that I hoped it would be thus, but I did not expect it.  A great way to travel.

This is a nice airport, Newark.  Easy to get in and out of.  Good places to eat, and plenty of shopping for those so inclined.  I like flying in and getting a good look at the New York skyline--including the new World Trade Center.  Such a powerful looking city.  I think that if I die without having lived there (Manhattan), I will not consider it a true "regret", but it is somewhere on the list of things I'd like to do someday.

A few minutes ago, I read  that the President played golf today.  Good for him.  He deserves to get out and hit a few.  What surprised me was that the round took 5.5 hours, and was played on a military course at Fort Belvoir. Since I cannot believe that he doesn't have a hole ahead of him and a hole behind him to himself--or at least that there isn't a foursome right in front of him--my sense is that he has the course essentially to himself.  How the hell does it take 5.5 hours to play a round of golf when no one holds you up and you are driving golf carts?  Quite a few Mulligans, I suspect.

As I am missing the older Kitten's graduation, I must be careful not to cause undo churn upon my return.  This means that I will likely remain clean shaven throughout this visit.  Were this not the case, I'd get a head start on the two weeks of vacationish downtime I'm planning when I return from this trip and get a good beard going.  The women of my house consider the growing of a beard to be an act of great defiance on my part, a follicular  "thumbing my nose" at their view of all that is clean and wholesome in mankind.  I, on the other hand, believe a week or two's worth of growth adds a rakish angle to the cut of my jib.  I can assure you, if the Kitten goes through with her plan of doing a little travel this summer, I will grow the full Monty.

On the three TV screens above the bar are three different sporting events; the NHL playoffs, the NBA playoffs and a Yankees/Red Sox game.  I could not care less about the hockey.  I have no idea who is playing of in what stage the playoff is.  I am mildly interested in the outcome of the basketball, as I've come to be a pretty fair LeBron James fan (is that how his name is spelled by the way?).  But my eye keeps wandering to the baseball, not even a third of the way into the season.  I am determined to watch more baseball this year.  And to golf more.  Haven't done either, but both are goals.  I am going to a minor league game later this month, so I got that going for me.

Ok, that's enough for now.  I don't think I'll get around to another entry until tomorrow night (Sunday) just before bed.  But by then, the journey will be well underway.  Until then....

Definitely One of the Coolest Things I've Ever Seen

Kit's name is Titus.  What a great name.  I may change mine.
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