Monday, 30 January 2017

Revolution and the western media

Size and number of demonstrations do not say anything without the right context.
A prime example was the million people demonstrations at Tahrir square in Cairo. The so-called Egyptian spring.

According to the western media, this was the Egyptian people rising up; a revolution of "we the people".
At the elections after the overthrow of Mubarak, parties associated with the demonstrations received less than 10% of the vote.

Western pundits and media should have expected this.
There was a Pew research into views of sharia punishments published not long before the Egyptian spring.
Around 82% of Egyptian Muslims supported chopping off of hands for theft, stoning for adultery and the death penalty for leaving the Muslim religion.
The western media downplayed the Pew research results because these results did not fit the narrative they were selling: a secular democratic uprising.

Fast forward to the first week of the reign of Donald Trump. He won the presidency with 45,9% of the popular vote.
Gallup has a daily tracking poll of his approval-disapproval rate with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points.
Trump is a divisive figure, a bully who insults women and mocks people with a handicap. There has been no presidential honeymoon. He has never had a higher approval rate than his share of the popular vote.
There are lots of large demonstrations against him. The media feeds up a constant daily barrage of anti-Trump articles, that have reached a frenzy of hyperbole since his executive order on immigration.
A family member of mine who has been watching it all, said that the overwhelming majority of Americans hate him. He should resign.

Is this the case? Is he now opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans?
According to the Gallup poll his approval rate has dropped 2% to 43% in the last week. His disapproval rate has risen 4% and now stands at 50%, (it had peaked at 51%).

These are pretty dismal figures, but a 50% disapproval rate does not correspond to a country rising up against him. Most of those marching never supported him.
The media want to give the impression of an approaching “revolution”. This is the narrative they are selling.
Who knows it might work.

BTW, Gallup has now published Obama’s average job approval as president: 47.9%

Sunday, 22 January 2017

First comments on the new president.

Donald Trump is now the 45th president of the United States.
Time for a few first comments.
Another title for this post could be, the man who would be Andrew Jackson. 

Donald Trump is a bully. He insults women and mocks people with a handicap.
Not a nice person and certainly no role model for my grandchildren.
Still, being a bully and boorish does not disqualify anybody from becoming president. There have been quite a few successful unsavory presidents. 
President Warren Harding had a very young mistress, Nan Britton, throughout his presidency. She even gave birth to his illegitimate child.
Britton wrote a book about the relationship. One famous passage told of their making love in a coat closet in the executive office of the White House.

Trump does not model himself after Mussolini or Hitler, as some would have you believe, but after the populist president Andrew Jackson.
They have the same temper, but there are differences. Trump gets into twitter fights. Jackson carried a gun and shot people in duels.
Jackson pledged to sweep corruption out of Washington, comparing it to the Herculean task of mucking out a “giant Augean stable.” The pledge has a direct parallel to Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp,”

Trump has the vanity of president John Adams, who was also highly sensitive to criticism, though Adams wanted to be called Emperor and outlaw a free press. Trump has not proposed this.

What does the new President stand for? That depends on who you ask. His trademark is unpredictability.
He is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
More a cuckoo who nested in the Republican party to become president. He has no coherent political ideology. He is a pragmatist and a wheeler-dealer.

His behavior is not exactly consistant. In the run up to the elections he said Hillary Clinton was a crook who should be locked up.
Now he asks people to give her a standing ovation.

Much has been made of his use of “America first” in his inauguration speech. Some media have even put this in a neo-Nazi context.
He first used the theme in April 2016 arguing that America’s post-Cold War foreign policy had “veered badly off course,” leading to wrongheaded Middle East interventions.
The “America first” approach downgrades the value of America’s global leadership and traditional alliances.
“We defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay..”
This is the right context not the neo-Nazi story.

On many issues nobody really knows where Trump stands. That is the way he wants it. It benefits his negotiating position.
I expect using this aura of unpredictability to bully organizations and countries will become a trademark of his administration.

Actually, nothing about Trump is really new, even his unpredictability.  
It used to be called the “madman theory” and was a feature of Richard Nixon's foreign policy. Nixon and his administration tried to make the leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations think he was irrational and volatile.
According to the theory, those leaders would then avoid provoking the United States, fearing an unpredictable American response.
It worked for president Nixon and it might work for president Trump. Though for Trump it is a negotiating method not a theory.

I think his biggest problem is the internal division in the US. He did not create this, it was evident under Obama.
However, he has exacerbated it. Irrational, volatile and unpredictable do not work well when trying to bridge differences.

If he does not try to heal the divisions, the country may fall apart. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Diamonds, Jews and Gays

The Diamond neighbourhood in Amsterdam is named after the Jewish workers in the diamond industry who used to make up the population there before the Holocaust. 
It has many special buildings and monuments in the Amsterdam School style of architecture.
Nowadays it is mainly populated by ethnic Moroccans.

All the Jews have left. No recognizable Jews would enter the neighbourhood. If they did, they would be lucky to escape with only spittle on their faces. 
However, it may begin with the Jews, but it never stops there.

The Diamond neighbourhood became notorious some ten years ago because of reports that ethnic Moroccan youths were intimidating, harassing and driving out other inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Their main prey was the LBGT community.

“Streetcornerwork” is a Dutch organization that works with at-risk youth, also in the Diamond neighbourhood. One morning an agitated young man walked into the Streetcornerwork office of a friend of mine. 
He told him the following story.

He was gay, had never had any problems with the youths and was upset with the negative reports about the neighbourhood in the media. He thought it was all very Islamophobic. 
So he decided to do something about it.
He went on local television and told his story: he was gay, enjoyed living in the neighbourhood and had never had any problems with the youths. 

He received a lot of positive and supportive feedback after his much publicized television appearance. It was a resounding answer to Islamophobia.

A few days later when walking to the shops he passed a group of ethnic Moroccan youths who started to hurl insults at him. 
After that, every time the youths saw him, they would insult and threaten him.
Things came to a head when he went to the local snack bar. There was a larger group hanging around outside the snack bar and they started jostling him and calling him homophobic names. 

He was scared and ran away. 

He could not understand what was going on. My friend explained it to him.
For him and people with his norms and values, harassing gays and forcing them out of the neighbourhood was a bad thing. 
He thought he was defending the youths when he spoke on local television.

However, for the youths, harassing gays and forcing them out was a good thing. They were proud of what they were doing. According to them, gays were polluting their neighbourhood. 
They found his appearance on television insulting and a provocation. He had insulted their honour and they would not stop until they had forced him to leave the neighbourhood.

My friend offered to ask the housing corporation to find him a flat in another neighbourhood. He accepted the offer.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The reaffirmation of IDF ethics

One part of the Zionist dream has been fulfilled. Jews have become a “normal” people in their own state. Unfortunately, normal also means that Israel has its fair share of (potential) criminals and murderers. The prisons are full.
The bad people are also called up. They become soldiers as well.

I met a sadist in the IDF.
It is end 1966, and I am on an extra paratrooper course at a special base. It is tough. It has been called suicide base.
There was an incident where a soldier ground up razor blades and ate them. I am not sure if this story is true or just a legend.
I did know someone who never used to clean his mess tin because he said he wanted to get jaundice.

The sadist was our platoon sergeant (there were three squads). His name was Velvella. He was a short, stocky man of Moroccan ethnicity who also used to give us unarmed combat training.
During the day he had little to do.  He used to wait until the night when we were allowed to go to bed. Then he would keep us up half the night by making us clean things and extra inspections.

He knew who the weakest were and he used to give them humiliating punishments.
One of his favourites was “walking like a whore”. Then the soldier would have to squat, hold his rifle above his head and walk about. After a bit this would become very tiring. If the soldier stopped or fell over he would kick him.
He would punch soldiers if they were not quick enough.

I remember one incident.
It had been raining and the whole area was muddy. He ordered one of his favourite victims to crawl through the mud. He thought he was not crawling fast enough, so he started kicking him. The soldier suddenly began to scream and the mud started turning red.
He had to be taken to hospital.

We did not get on.
He did not try those punishments on me but said he was filing complaints against me for insubordination. As there were so many complaints, he said, my sentence would be very long and I would be sent to a special prison.
During the course we could not be sent to prison, only afterwards.

There is a story within this story.
All soldiers on the course had a poncho that was also one part of a two-person tent.
Kalman Wishingrad was the other half of my tent. I found him to be a bit strange but we got on well together.

During basic training Kalman was walking back to his tent to get some sleep after guard duty. He had a magazine with bullets in his rifle.
During basic training you only received bullets for guard duty.

Kalman probably looked a bit disheveled. On his way back to his tent Kalman met Velvella, who was then a sergeant at the basic training. Velvella started to bully him, told him to run up and down, do squats, that kind of thing.
Eventually Kalman had enough. He raised his rifle, pointed it at Velvella and said, "if you don't shut up, I will shoot you".
Velvella did not say another word. He turned around and left.

So, here I am on a special course, sharing a tent with Kalman who once threatened to shoot our sadistic sergeant.
Velvella completely ignored Kalman. He acted as if he was not there.

There is another twist.
After a thirty-five year absence, we went to visit an old friend, Gidon, in Nahariya.
Gidon took us round to visit his daughters' families. He proudly introduced me to one of his sons in law as, "the man who threatened to shoot Velvella".
I have no idea how that got started.

Getting back to Velvella during the extra paratrooper course.
He was aggressive towards everybody, even his own family.
I had a friend who worked in the office. He said he overheard Velvella phoning his wife.
He told her he would not be coming home until late, because he would be fucking the female officers.

One time we were sent up north in trucks with full gear. It was for an infiltration raid in Lebanon. A mine had exploded on a football pitch near the border.
At the last moment the raid was called off and instead we lay in diamond form ambushes all night.
I heard that Velvella was really angry that he did not get the chance to kill anybody. On the way back he saw a pack of wild dogs.
He chased after them in his jeep and shot them. 

The net result of Velvella’s influence on my platoon was that we moved about like sleep-deprived zombies and we had an astronomical percentage of AWOL (Absent Without Leave).
I used to talk about this with a corporal from another platoon. How we met is another story. He was dati, religious.
His surname was Goren and he was a relative of the Chief –Rabbi at the time.

Our base received a new commanding officer. He did not understand how our platoon could have such a high AWOL.
He started asking questions.
Goren told him what was going on. He was the whistle-blower. He told him to speak to me.

We were in the field. I was informed that the commanding officer wanted to see me. I did not have to go to his office he would come to me.
Everybody knew why he was coming and people started pressuring me to keep my mouth shut.
There were no threats. It was more stuff like, we get the best food and we can solve the problem without outsiders.

The commanding officer turned up and took me to one side. He asked questions about the situation and I told him what I had witnessed.
Then he said to me, “why didn’t you shoot him?”.
I had not expected that question and did not have a real answer.
He continued by saying that we were the first generation after the Holocaust and the IDF was not the German army. We had a high moral code and that is what made us different from the Germans and Arabs.
He said that if I ever witnessed an IDF soldier being punched or kicked I should shoot whoever was doing it. “Tell them afterwards that I gave you permission”.

After listening to him I had two dominant emotions.
The first was shame that I had done nothing to stop what was going on.
My second emotion was pride.
The pride of belonging to the IDF, an army with such high ethics.