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Quote of the Day: Living Without Clinging to Life

 

A short quote concluded my eulogy to my youngest sister. We gathered for her memorial service this past Saturday. The service opened with a silent reading of a series of verses, selected from those her husband found she had highlighted, or underlined, in her Bible over the years. The short quote was among them, unbeknownst to me. So, the same words I found, to summarize how she lived, were among the words she highlighted for herself.

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” — Philippians 1:21 (King James Version)

What do these words mean? This life really does matter, it is filled with meaning. Saint Paul, writing from a Roman prison, and knowing he will die at the hands of the Roman government, writes that living this life has importance to his Lord. So, he strove to conduct himself in a way that reflected and glorified the One he professed.

At the same time, the second half of the quote points to freedom from fear of death. Saint Paul looked forward to something far better than the best of this world. This freed him from compromising his beliefs, to escape Caesar’s deadly wrath.

Notice the balance within this quote. Living, the right way, has supreme value and dying is a door to even more. To live in that balance is to invest each moment with purpose, while being free from mortal fear that turns to clinging.

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On Carrying a Gun in Israel

 

Yes, it’s about self-defense but, then again, it’s also about love. Carrying a gun in Israel, that is.

In Israel, at least for me, carrying a gun, besides allowing an immediate response to potential terrorist acts, is an expression of love for those around me, my extended Jewish family. And when you love those around you, you not only want to protect them in every possible way but you want them to feel protected, too.

Throughout history, and until today, we Jews have been the target of random violence by people who hate us just for being Jews. But until the enterprise of modern Israel, we seldom had weapons at our disposal to fight back.

When I see a Jew in Israel carrying a gun, it gives me a feeling of security, to be sure, but also a keen recognition and sense of appreciation that, at long last, we can defend ourselves against random violence.

I imagine that those around me have similar feelings upon seeing their fellow Jews with guns, and if I can make other Jews feel more secure upon seeing my gun, then carrying that gun is worth it.

When you obtain a gun license in Israel and procure a gun, you are given a holster along with it. It is assumed you will carry that gun at all times, although you are not required to do so, as long as it is at home locked in a safe. But there is no separation between being licensed to have a gun and being allowed to openly carry it. The government wants people with gun licenses to carry their guns, visible in holsters, because a display of firearms among the civilian population is a deterrent to terrorist acts.

That being said, only a very small percentage of the Israeli population is entitled to apply for a gun license. People who can apply for a gun license include those who currently serve in the military at the rank of lieutenant or above, serve currently or served previously in special forces units, work for private security firms, farm in fields at risk for terrorism or agricultural arson, work as firefighters or veterinarians, transport explosive materials, collect old, non-working guns, work in the national parks service and must occasionally hunt down dangerous animals, participate in shooting competitions, or work for Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, since saving lives from fresh terrorist acts may involve encounters with the terrorists themselves.

The largest category of people who can apply for a gun license is the population who live or work in a neighborhood or a town designated as a security risk, consisting mostly of those who live in Judea and Samaria, the so-called West Bank. (Of course, gun licensing is not required of soldiers on leave who carry military issued rifles, a ubiquitous sight in Israel.)

If you live in Tel Aviv, for example, or in most other cities and towns in Israel, and do not qualify for a gun license through military rank, special forces experience, need for a gun as part of your profession, or heightened exposure to possible terrorism through a job that takes you into high risk areas, you will not be eligible to own a gun. The same is true if you live in Jerusalem. Even though Jerusalem is home to 330,000 Arabs, there are only a handful of neighborhoods considered sufficiently dangerous that their residents are allowed to apply for a gun license.

When I first applied for a gun license due to a spike in terrorist activity two years ago, I did not know the rules and filled out most of the paperwork until I discovered that I lived in a Jerusalem neighborhood that did not qualify as a security risk, despite the fact that, a number of years ago, three Jews were randomly murdered by an Arab construction worker close to my apartment. I regularly walk by the memorial erected on the spot where the murders took place and dozens of Arabs still walk through my neighborhood every morning and afternoon on their way to and from work, yet living in my neighborhood is not considered a security risk.

I should have guessed that my neighborhood was not considered a security risk if only because of the grocery store located at the end of my street. This store is renowned for the high quality of its poultry and beef and the meat counter is always crowded with customers. Three men work at the meat counter and show great proficiency with knives. Would you be surprised if I told you that all of these meat cutters are Arabs? In fact, throughout Jerusalem, in grocery stores and supermarkets, those who cut meat are typically Arabs. You might think this would be a security risk but, until now, has not proven to be the case.

It needs to be said that the vast majority of Arabs living in Israel, including those in Judea and Samaria, are focused on living regular lives and have no interest in engaging in terrorist activity. The problem is that you never know who is absolutely benign and who is not. There are many cases where Arabs who were employed by Jews for years and seemed friendly enough who, seemingly out of the blue, came to work one morning with an ax or a knife and killed their employer or fellow workers.

Mob terrorism can also take hold at any time. There are many cases of Israelis mistakenly entering an Arab town or even an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem where their car was suddenly surrounded by a hostile crowd and only by quick maneuvering of their vehicle did they manage to escape with their lives. In one horrifying case, two Israelis who mistakenly entered Ramallah were dragged out of their car and lynched.

About a year ago, I was hired by a company that does business in towns in Judea and Samaria. These towns, branded settlements by those who wish they would go away, are considered a sufficient security risk that anyone who lives or works in them may apply for a gun license. Ironically, perhaps, even though just about anyone living in these towns — around 135 in number with a total population of 430,000 — could apply for a gun license, only a small minority actually do.

When you apply for a gun license, the first step is getting a form signed by your family doctor which declares that you do not have a serious physical health issue or a history of mental illness. Once you turn in that form, your background is investigated by the Ministry of Health and by the police. Since medicine in Israel is socialized (to the tune of less than $50 a month, by the way), the Ministry of Health can quickly examine your complete physical and mental health history. The police will check to make sure you have no criminal record.

Although I served in the Israeli military, military service is not a requirement for obtaining a gun license. For example, men who study in a yeshiva or religious seminary are currently exempt from military service but may still obtain gun licenses. The only advantage for those who serve in the military is that they are eligible to obtain a gun license at the age of 21, while those who never served in the military are eligible for a gun license at the age of 27. Many women, but also some men, who do not serve in the regular army, but fulfill their military obligation through national service, usually as aides and mentors to poor or underprivileged children (including Arab children), may also apply for a gun license at the age of 21. Non-citizens are eligible for a gun license at the age of 45.

Having obtained all the security and health clearances, I was ready to select my handgun. With the exception of competitive shooters, veterinarians, and park service employees, the only gun a licensee is allowed to purchase is a handgun (semi-automatic pistol). It is also worth noting that a gun license entitles you to ownership of a single gun only.

Before you are allowed to take your gun home, you are required to listen to a half hour lecture on gun safety and lawful rules of engagement. Shooting at a suspicious individual is a crime. Unless you see someone with weapon drawn who has already committed or is clearly on the verge of committing a terrorist act, you are instructed to hold your fire. If you must shoot, you are told to aim at the torso since it is difficult to hit the legs and, if you miss, the terrorist could get away. After hearing these instructions, you are required to practice shooting your gun. You are accompanied by an instructor to an adjacent firing range where you shoot 50 bullets at paper silhouette targets.

In Israel, the only place you are allowed to practice shooting is at an authorized shooting range. You can’t just go out to some isolated spot in the desert and shoot tin cans. You must have 50 bullets at all times, no more and no less, including those in your ammunition clip. This means that if you shoot all 50 bullets at the shooting range, you must purchase 50 more upon leaving.

Gun safety in Israel is an extremely serious matter. By law, you must have a safe, located in a hidden place, affixed to a wall or to the floor, where your gun is kept at all times, unloaded, when the gun is in your home. Several years ago, there was a famous case where a boy told his father about a handgun he had been playing with at a friend’s house. The gun did not fire and no one was hurt but the boy’s father notified authorities about what had happened. The owner of the unlocked gun was taken to court, made to pay a heavy fine and nearly sent to jail. His gun license was permanently revoked.

If you leave your residence with your gun, it must be with you at all times. Leaving your gun in your car, even if the car is locked, is a criminal offense. If you plan to be away from Israel for more than 30 days, you must leave your gun at an authorized gun storage facility.

Should I quit or get fired from the job that takes me to Judea and Samaria, I would have to immediately deposit my gun (along with its 50 bullets) for storage at the nearest police station. My gun would remain there until I had a justifiable reason to carry it again.

Although there are strict guidelines as to who can own and carry a gun, I wonder if there would be a significant increase in gun ownership if the guidelines were more lax. Handguns are not manufactured in Israel and, like all imported products, they are expensive. A new 9mm Luger, the most popular type of handgun, costs around 3000 shekels, which is more than $800. When you consider that the average salary in Israel is $2500 per month, a gun is a luxury item. I was content to purchase a used handgun for half the price of a new one.

There is also a strongly fatalistic bent among Israelis that, in my opinion, discourages gun ownership. There is a widespread notion that “if God has decided it’s my time to go, nothing will make a difference, including my carrying a gun.” In Israel, death is a stranger to no one. There is no Israeli who has not experienced the loss of family or friends through either war or terrorist attack.

And then there is also the matter of personal courage. Israelis are, simply put, the bravest people on the planet. Despite regular broadcasts that demand death to all Jews — from Hezbollah to the north (where 150,000 rockets are stockpiled in Lebanese villages and ready to launch) and from Hamas (whose schools and summer camps glorify terrorist acts) in Gaza to the west — Israelis do not interrupt their lives with obsessively cautious behavior. Even when a gruesome terrorist attack takes place, once the victims have been removed, body parts and pieces of flesh have been carefully picked up and preserved for burial, and blood stains have been power washed from the pavement, life quickly returns to normal, usually within a few hours, at the site of the attack.

Speaking of courage, there are a few towns in Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) that, despite close proximity to hostile Arab towns, refuse to be fenced. The residents of these towns maintain that a fence is actually a sign of weakness and serves as an invitation to terrorists to cut through it. And, as previously mentioned, only a small minority of Jews who live in Judea and Samaria carry guns.

I believe that the motivation for owning a gun among most Israelis has less to do with concern for personal safety and more to do with protecting the public which, in Israel, is equivalent to your extended family. Israel is a small country and it often seems like, to one degree or another, you are kin to everyone else.

There is a strong, if unspoken, bond between Israelis that gives each individual a deep sense of responsibility for every other. Gun owners probably feel this responsibility more intensely than those who, although eligible to apply for a gun license, choose not to do so. Among everyone, however, there is a keen awareness that violence could erupt momentarily. This awareness is soothed by an unspoken understanding of mutual assistance which guarantees that those around you would rush to your side if you ever needed help.

Ultimately, carrying a gun is simply the most visible sign of your determination not to be a passive spectator to the carnage of those you love.

Addendum: It has just been reported that, due to the proliferation of lone wolf terrorist attacks, anyone whose military service included standard infantry rifle training may now apply for a gun license.

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Honesty Is the Best Business Practice

 

Some people choose to make a quick buck the shady way, and some choose to build a reputation and a loyal customer base. I’ve had two good experiences in the past week, and have an appointment with another trusted business tomorrow. Perhaps they will strike a chord with your experiences, good or bad.

Last week, I drove 30 minutes to my dentist, who has been my dentist since 2006. I have no intention of changing dentists, regardless of dental plan, so long as I live within an hour’s drive. This is because bad dentists leverage their expertise to sell unnecessary procedures. Honest dentists tell, and show you, what you must have done to avoid emergencies, then offer additional services you might want if you can afford them.

Today, I took my car to a tire shop, part of a national chain. My right rear tire had gone flat over several days. Checking this morning, after refilling the tire last night, confirmed I had a slow leak. The helpful young man at the counter did not try to sell me a new set of tires. He did not even suggest that I would necessarily need two new tires if one was bad.

We walked out to the car. He checked the year and make of the tires and checked tread depth all around. He pointed out that there was a dark band on the sidewall where the rim had run on the flat tire. His concern was to check for internal wear matching the external mark. Again, no sales hype.

I got some lunch, and talked with regulars in a nearby cigar lounge. It turns out this tire shop has been there for 25 years. They always do a steady business. They also have a long reputation for honesty, for even doing minor repairs for free.

I got my car back with the tire fixed and no charge. I asked twice. No charge. I’ll be back the next time I need new tires.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit a general practitioner with whom I have had positive experiences over several years. Nothing major, I hope, but I want an honest, competent, trusted opinion. I can reasonably expect “my” doctor to get it right and give me good advice and treatment as needed.

Honest business makes good dollars and sense, don’t you think? Have you seen sharp operators do well, in the long run? Is there someone you choose to do business with, even though they are not the cheapest “sticker price” in town?

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Quote of the Day: Not My Problem, Grasshopper

 

“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” — Bob Carter

When you consider American conservatism, self-reliance always comes to the forefront. The classic conservative American ideal is the self-made man, the person does not need to rely on others. Now, this is not exactly accurate — we are not islands isolated from each, we are social creatures — but the principle is there. We do not celebrate, barbecue, and launch fireworks for Dependence Day.

There is a harsher side to this focus on self-reliance — the fate of those not self-reliant. This brings up the classic fable of the grasshopper and the ant. The grasshopper partied while the ant kept busy storing up resources and digging a burrow, and when the winter came the grasshopper starved and froze to death. Harsh, yes, but that was the way of the world for centuries. Pity and charity are fundamentally luxuries — if you do not have abundance, the unprepared starve. There is no obligation to help others at a cost yourself except moral principles. It is noble and a deeply respected tradition to offer hospitality to the traveler, even if he was unprepared for the journey. Regardless, there is no formal duty to aid others.

I am not a believer in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, with its hatred of altruism — I serve the King of Heroic Sacrifice — but the modern culture of dependence and refusal to prepare for future misfortune is leading us off of the cliff. Perhaps it is time to bring back a dose of cold reality to our modern grasshoppers.

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Garden Scene: The Don’s Advice To Michael

 

It’s late in the Don’s second term. The Don and his recently elected successor, Michael “Whitey” Pence, sit in the Don’s private garden in Mar-a-Lago on a bright, sunny day in South Florida.

The Don is older and slower now, only able to work 18 hours a day. He’s still recovering from Bob “Ferris” Mueller’s seven-year vendetta to bring down Big D on the mean streets of D.C. on behalf of the ruthless government crime families controlling the nation’s capitol.

The Don: So—Pelosi’s family will move against you first. Nancy, or maybe Maxine, will try to set up a meeting with someone you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at the meeting, you’ll be impeached. (beat) I never drank alcohol before. Now I’m drinking a lot of wine.

Whitey: It’s good for you, Don.

The Don: I don’t know—your wife and children—are you happy with them?

Whitey: Very happy.

The Don: That’s good. I hope you don’t mind the way I…I keep going over this business with Pelosi and the other Swamp families, the Black Hand Caucus… I can’t remember them all. There were so many.

Whitey: I’ve got it, Don.

The Don: It’s an old habit. I spent my life trying not to be careless—liberals and lobbyists can be careless, but if you want to reduce the power in D.C., you… (The Don looks distracted) How’s your boy?

Whitey: He’s good, Don. He’s 37 now.

The Don: You know, I never wanted this for you. I wanted you to be an international financier and currency trader, like…, uh, the ugly guy…

Whitey: Soros.

The Don: Yeah, Soros. I keep forgetting. Anyway, I never wanted you to be mixed up with this political stuff. It’s nasty business. Did I ever tell you how the Clinton family tried to take me down? Couldn’t do it. Then they had to take a shotgun to all their cell phones and computers and bury them in a swamp near Foggy Bottom not far from where they finished off General Flynn and Georgie the Greek…what’s his…?

Whitey: Papadopoulos.

The Don: Yeah. The Greek. And then they went after the fat guy with the bad dye job…

Whitey: Manafort.

The Don: Yeah. I never trusted that guy anyway. So, Michael…

Whitey: (patting The Don on his forearm) Don’t worry, Don. I’m ready for Ferris Mueller, and if the DOJ syndicate comes at me with another dossier, whether it’s steel, or iron, whatever. You taught me…

The Don: Remember, they don’t do the omerta thing anymore. Soon as they’re caught they start singing, or flipping I think they call it…. And remember how we got rid of that tall guy, Cometti, or Comey, what they changed it to when his people came over from the old country.

Whitey: I got it, Don. Let’s get you some rest.

 

Whitey helps The Don up. They move slowly out the garden, Whitey patting The Don on his shoulder.

 

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I Wish I Could Laugh

 

The recent thread on ecosexuals really disturbed me. I know from the comments that the topic amused many Ricochetti, since, on its face, it is ridiculous that women have intercourse with dirt or snow or trees. Nutjobs are nutjobs, right? Well … no. Not at all. Not even a little. And here’s why:

Ecosexuality is merely the next step in the devolution of society, back to the basic pagan idol worship of the ancient world, back when people sought to live in harmony with nature, finding meaning in worshipping natural forces through rituals that, though they may start with words, sooner or later devolve to promoting baal peor celebration of defecation and animalistic/Dionysian sexual rituals, and then, eventually, end up with human sacrifice. And that is not all, of course. Pagan societies are inherently different from free societies, from Judeo-Christian ideas about morality and private ownership of property and personal and societal growth and change.

Pagan societies see the entire world as cyclical, all things as cycles. Only Judaism and Christianity chart an arc, believe in and are positive actors for the idea of historical progress. A society that worships nature necessarily condemns anything that improves upon nature. And it is thus a society that craves returning to the natural human-as-animal in every sense.

The signs are all around us if we just take a step back and view things with a little historical perspective. Human life only has inherent value to Judaism and Christianity because our holy books tell us that we are made in the image of G-d, that each and every person contains within them a divine spark, unique to people, and in sole contradistinction from the rest of nature. Without the Torah’s illogical and counter-empirical assertion that all human life is valuable, eugenics is a perfectly rational way to order society. What started with abortion leads to euthanasia, and then the ability — nay, the virtue — of culling the herd just as nature does.

You might think that I am being a bit dramatic. Sure, there are pagan nature worshippers out there. But nobody really believes the sun or the earth is a deity, right?

Right?

Before you are quick to conclude that nut jobs really can be safely ignored, remember that even as Greeks made fun of their gods, and were not sure whether they really existed; they still killed and sacrificed people in the names of these deities. Remember that believing in a Star Wars-like “life force” is what drives so many within Asian cultures toward eating or drinking parts of animals so as to obtain their essences, or at least their sexual vigor. To this day, native tribes like Inuit prize still-beating caribou hearts as the ideal spiritual feast and physical delicacy. This is precisely why most native peoples ate parts of their conquered enemies: to absorb their spiritual energies along with their blood or other organs.

And look at the open and massive death festivals, on the rise across cultures around the world, orgiastic celebrations of everything that is dead. More cycles; the cycle of life, even especially death itself. This stuff is not harmless fun.

It is all creeping back. And I wish I could really find it funny. Paganism is dangerous and evil and against everything that Judaism and Christianity have spent millennia fighting against. Left unchecked, it threatens progress and civilization.

Here’s the thing: there is no simple way to fix the world. But I can share what I do personally to fight back against this creeping unholy spiritual revolution, and I mean this in all seriousness:

1: I treat animals like animals. Not people. Thinking that there is a soul in an animal (when in fact any animal is nothing more than whatever spiritual energy we invest in it) makes people crazy. When people care more about pets than humans, the world is in danger. I know people who have mortgaged their homes for a kidney transplant for a 14-year-old cat. It is more than eccentric: this kind of behavior tells us that something is very, very wrong.

2: I deliberately and publicly throw trash in the recycling and vice-versa. Recycling is nothing more than a religious ritual, and I only have One G-d. I buy plastic straws on principle. I avoid all “natural,” “non-GMO,” and “organic” products. I generate as much CO2 as I can (CO2 is plant food, and I am in favor of more life).

2b: In keeping with promoting life, I absolutely adore children, and revere mothers. I am writing this from an airplane seat, sitting next to a five-month-old babe in arms whom I stole from her mother under the pretext that I could make her stop crying. I could, and did: but I really just love kids, and I was glad for the excuse.

3: That Rico-thread on ecosexuality got one thing very right: we must use ridicule as well as logic when we want to defeat stupid ideas. We must laugh at everything that deserves our derision, and we must do it in a way that attracts more laughter and fun. Anyone who cannot take a joke needs to be smothered in them.

4: I treat every new idea, especially things like health scares, natural diets and “new discoveries” with deep suspicion. Society is being swept by popular idiocies, and it is only a matter of time before the villagers with pitchforks start re-enacting classics like the Salem Witch Trials, Edward Scissorhands, and pogroms. “Smear the Queer” is the most popular social game in human history, and all it needs right now is one spin of the bottle. Every new idea is a fad until it passes the test of time. Don’t owl or plank or selfie. Get off my lawn!

Most people do not do something because they think it is the right thing to do: they do it because someone else is doing it. This is because most people are followers, and both crave and need the security of believing that the Right Path resides in the safety of numbers or of authority figures or experts. It is human nature to follow the herd. But seeking holiness requires us to figure out what is right, to understand that we, not our herds, are responsible for our own actions.

It would be a terrible shame to throw away this incredible civilization by letting it be pulled, gripped by humanity’s instinctive need to find meaning in all things, back into pagan earth-worship, back into cyclical conformity with the natural world. Ecosexuality is not just silly – though it is that – it is another step toward child sacrifice and open barbarism.

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The Democrat party is crazy

 

I mean, bonkers. Around the bend. The Democrat party would seem to be on their final approach into insanity, and thus, one would imagine, political irrelevance. I mean, no national party can survive for long like this, right? As they get stranger and stranger, they literally become strangers to much of the American population. How […]

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My Book Was Reviewed

 

The American Academy of Religion has a website for reviews of religion books. I (ignorant moron that I am) didn’t know about the site until I got an email announcing they’d reviewed The Conversion and Therapy of Desire, which I remind you is cheap on Kindle. A classics prof from UT Austin said some nice things:

In this fascinating and meticulously researched study of Augustine’s Cassiciacum dialogues, Mark Boone shows Augustinian scholars a productive way forward for better understanding how these philosophical texts can and should be analyzed both on their own terms and as part of Augustine’s evolving ideas about ancient philosophy and Christian theology. This is very much a book by a philosopher, about philosophy, written for philosophers. Still, its arguments will be easily comprehensible to any non-philosopher with a basic grounding in Augustinian thought. Of particular value to the general Augustinian scholar are the excellent close readings of the individual dialogues in the book’s main chapters….

Boone’s work is a valuable contribution to Augustinian studies, and especially to the study of the Cassiciacum dialogues. It is carefully researched, well-written (though, at times, the signposting of the argument seems overdone), and easy to follow even by a generalist Augustinian scholar…

Full review available here.

Hey, did I mention that this book is cheap on Kindle?

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Different Rules, Different Americas

 

New York City cosmetics mogul and multimillionaire Linda Rodin was quoted in the July 28th edition of the Wall Street Journal about her ever-present luxury, vintage, tinted spectacles: “My vision now is always through tinted glasses; I don’t know what the real world looks like anymore.” This comment about her permanent eye-wear accessory perfectly illustrates the disconnect between the way one segment of society lives in and views America, and how the vast remainder of Americans live their day-to-day lives.

It was no more than a blurb in the paper, but it struck me as the epitome of the cultural and political pomposity of metropolitan one-percenters and how clearly different that life is from working-class Americans. This isn’t about a war between economic classes, but rather an observation on the stark contrast between people who write the rules and the rest who are forced to live by them, and the widening chasm between Americans. The late prolific author and journalist Tom Wolfe wrote about the New York City well-heeled society in a famously sardonic June 8, 1970 New York magazine piece “Radical Chic.” He exposed the celebrities, socialites, and “One-Percenters” as no more than frivolous political agitators, only taking on the cause of the moment to advance their social standing and feed the insatiable appetite that is their own shallow vanity. But today that inner social pecking-order amongst our elite has morphed into a farther reaching, more invasive, and more divisive power grab. In a social-media infused world, it’s not enough for the latest “It” celebrity or social-climber to grace the cover of People or have a feature in the New Yorker, now we have the Instagram picture of their breakfast, a Snapchat from their exclusive gym, and tweet about their thoughts on the latest Gucci fashion line. But why stop at imparting this knowledge on the millions of fans and followers when solely by the fact of having a certain ZIP code, obtaining certain wealth, or attending the proper parties, makes one qualified to step into a social cause and be the moral arbiter of political and social views? During the previous administration, and featured prominently in Hillary Clinton’s latest run for president, it got you into the White House, or close to it.

The election of President Obama was arguably the first public fusing of the political and celebrity world. He was the pop-culture president. From the iconic “Hope” poster, to the endless parade of celebrities to White House parties, to appearances on the late-night television shows; even YouTube stars including GloZell (who famously ate cereal out of her bathtub-while sitting in it) went to the White House for interviews at the President’s invitation. During this time, the Obama administration and cultural leaders pushed a liberal agenda on the country despite a reluctance for such drastic change. Americans elected a right-leaning Congress; state houses and governorships flipped from blue to red. But our elites wielded their collective power and the far-reach of their voices to double-down. Fame and fortune were weaponized. Any criticism or backlash was quickly branded racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or bigoted. Any defense of traditional values or even a resistance to the radical infringement of personal rights and liberties was attacked. No one wants to be labeled a close-minded bigot because they support limits on immigration, but we were; even as millionaires sit in their gated enclaves. No one wants to be labeled anti-education, but we do want the choice for our kids to get the best education regardless of address, color, sex, or income; at the same time as the President was sending his kids to the most exclusive private schools. No one wants to be labeled as not caring for kids or advocating violence because we support the Second Amendment, but we are; even as celebrities are protected by armed security. But our political and cultural elites are the ones who get to write the rules, the rest of us have to live by them.

In 2012 Americans re-elected the first African-American president. Even those who didn’t vote for him recognized the historical significance and we celebrated together. But by 2016, many Americans had had enough. Economic recovery was painfully slow, race relations seemed worse, not better. North Korea, China, Iran and Syria all seemed at boiling points with no easy solutions in sight. So Americans moved on and many of the very people that voted for Obama then turned to support a man who was near his complete opposite. Instead of electing the woman who was anointed by the elite class as successor, people decided to vote for their own interests instead of for whom they were told they should vote (by the people who know better, you see).

But revolting from the proper social order, as seen by people such as Linda Rodin, doesn’t go over lightly. They will hold on to their ivory towers with every fiber of their being. Their rarified air mustn’t be exposed to the toxic mouth-breathers of working-class Americans. So they #Resist. Celebrities quickly jumped on the demonize ICE bandwagon. In California, most didn’t need to leave their gated compounds to condemn enforcing the laws that give America a functioning border. The actress Amber Heard (who was married to Johnny Depp and dated Elon Musk) tweeted on July 3, 2018, “Just heard there’s an ICE checkpoint in Hollywood, a few blocks from where I live. Everyone better give their housekeepers, nannies and landscapers a ride home tonight…” She later deleted the tweet. So who’s being racist here? The actress, who sees immigrants as nothing more than cheap nannies, housekeepers and landscapers, and who wants to see the end to enforcement of our border, or citizens who see their fellow Americans being victims of violence by illegal aliens and drugs that flow through our unprotected borders? Ms. Heard has the privilege of branding border control advocates as evil and has the luxury of private planes, secluded neighborhoods, and luxury hotels, while the rest of us deal with violent gangs, street crime, and drugs.

Another glaring disparity is playing out in Portland. A group protesting ICE started an occupation camp in the city near the ICE facility located there. The protestors harassed Scott and Julie Hakes, the owners of The Happy Camper, a food cart across the street from the ICE facility, which raises money for the Hakes’ nonprofit, “Operation Off the Grid.” The Hakes were threatened because they were serving customers who also happened to be ICE agents. They were forced to close. The protesters also yelled threats to their daughter who volunteered at the truck. Portland mayor Ted Wheeler allowed the occupation camp, the harassment of the Hakes, and the threats and harassment of the ICE agents themselves. Law and order, public safety, citizens’ goodwill be damned if there is an opportunity to raise your #Resistance status.

I think most people are willing to have civil conversations about problems in our lives, communities, and nation. Fair-minded people are the best judge of what solutions work for them and their families. But when we are bullied into defending ourselves against false accusations of perceived bigotry and ignorance by those who are furthest from what an average American’s life is like, but instead based on what they think our life should look like, there will be pushback. Take it from a life-long hard-head and descendant of an epic line of stubborn Midwesterners, being told what to do and how to think from people who have claimed the right to know better, results in more disagreements, not less. The sooner we all see ourselves and each other with clear vision, not what we want or assume to see, the sooner we can have honest discussions about solutions instead of blame.

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When Spring Ended in August

 

Fifty years ago today, 200,000 Soviet troops, with reinforcements from East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, invaded the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and the so-called Prague Spring came to an end.

In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, a Slovak, was elected First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, succeeding Antonin Novotný. The latter had been experimenting with a new economic model for a couple of years (Czechoslovakia had been continental Europe’s most highly industrialized country until overtaken by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and was less adapted to the post-war Soviet model), and this attempt at easing the Communist system had spurred writers, such as Milan Kundera, to demand more social flexibility as well.

The Dubček government set about achieving what the new First Secretary described as “socialism with a human face,” abolishing censorship and easing travel restrictions.

On March 30, 1968, Novotný, who was also President of the Republic, resigned the presidency and was succeeded by the war hero Ludvik Svoboda (whose last name, ironically, means “freedom” in Czech).

Any attempt to diverge from the Moscow party line was, of course, immediately condemned by the Russian leadership and for several months Dubček and Svoboda navigated tricky waters, Dubček being summoned to Moscow several times by General Secretary Brezhnev to explain himself.

The Soviets’ patience finally ran out and, on August 18, Minister of Defense General Grechko signed off on the military intervention.

In the early hours of August 21, the Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into Prague, to be met by an angry crowd of workers and students. Not benefitting from 2nd Amendment rights, the Czechs had no weapons. For that matter, the Soviet troops had no specific orders except to suppress a non-existent “counter-revolution.” For a couple of hours, the crowd interrogated the invaders, discovering that the forces seconded from other Warsaw Pact countries were totally bewildered by the situation.

Since radio was the main source of information for the local populace, the crowd moved en masse to block the doors of the Czech Broadcasting Company. The stand-off with Russian paratroopers lasted long enough for the broadcasters to set up mobile transmitting stations in available trucks. When the Russians finally forced their way into the building, they found no transmitters.

There were casualties, though far from the 2,200 dead some sources claim. Probably 100 Czechs died on this day and the following days.

International reaction to the invasion was low-key. President Johnson had his hands full with Vietnam and kicked the ball over to the UN, which as usual, was unable to act owing to the Russian veto on the Security Council.

That was the end of the Prague Spring, but young Czechs, born after World War II, had had their first taste of (limited) freedom and continued to manifest their discontent with the “normalization” (normalizace) which followed. On January 16, 1969, a 20-year-old student, Jan Palach, set himself on fire in the Wenceslas Square. He died three days later and is still revered as a martyr for Czech freedom. Twenty-four other cases of self-immolation followed as the months passed and six more Czechs died for their cause.

One final anecdote: on the very same day that the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, when the whole of Europe was trying to digest the terrible news from Prague, the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich walked onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall and, accompanied by the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under the equally legendary Yevgeny Svetlanov, played one of Czech music’s loveliest creations, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. There were a few shouted protests as the music started, but Rostropovich played the concerto as never before. Friends of mine who attended the concert reported that tears were streaming down his face as he played.

P.S. On a personal note, six years after 1968, in the town hall of the North Bohemian Jablonec-nad-Nisou, I married one of the Czechs who had “welcomed” the Soviet tanks that fateful night. This was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done but my spouse was at least able to leave Czechoslovakia legally with a British passport (she could have left illegally but would never have been allowed to return, at least until 1990).