Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A poet I'm not

For nearly a decade, I have belonged to a writers workshop in the Florida retirement community where I live half the year. We have about a dozen regular members and meet twice monthly. About another dozen residents occasionally show up at our meetings. A couple of the members have had professional writing experience. The others regard their writing endeavors as a hobby and, obviously, as a source of creative pleasure.

At our meetings we read our own handiwork and critique the work of the others. It's all handled courteously and in good humor, and we have become a very congenial social group. Both non-fiction and fiction is offered for discussion.

A considerable amount of the work discussed is poetry. I've never been a devotee of poetry. I regard poetry as a very specialized type of writing for which I have no talent. And I will confess that I have never fully appreciated poetic output.

But I stand in awe of those who do write poetry, and I am impressed by the highly skilled work that many of our workshop members produce.

I recently recalled that I did once write a poem myself. But I have not dared to read it for serious discussion at our workshop meetings.

For posterity's sake, however, I will expose my poetic creation here.

When I returned to New York University after my Army discharge in 1946, I was enrolled as a journalism major. Curiously, the journalism department was then housed in the university's college of commerce, where I was obliged to declare an academic minor. I selected marketing even though, in all candor, I consider it presumptuous that marketing is considered an academic discipline.

The only marketing class that I did find interesting and challenging was one in advertising copy writing. Shortly before the class began, Coty, the world-famed beauty products manufacturer, introduced a new fragrance named Muse.

One class assignment that I still remember was to produce an advertisement for the new Muse perfume. I don't know whether our professor had any business relationship with the company, but he evidently considered the project professionally relevant and topical.

That's when I turned to poetry-writing for the first and only time in my life. This is what I wrote:

Was it said by Homer that no man can refuse
The come-hither aroma of Coty's new Muse?
Oh no it was not a maxim of Homer,
But of truth there's a lot in this quip on aroma.

More than 60 years later, I'm proud to reveal that I received an A-grade for my poetic creation. I have never had the inclination or courage, however, to write poetry again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Afghanistan: A lost cause

The incoming Obama administration will be making a grievous mistake if it goes ahead with its plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan by shipping more troops there.

We were fully justified to invade Afghanistan in 2001. The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. were launched from Afghanistan by the Arab-led Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, for whom the local Taliban radical Islamic government had provided a base. Our goal was to destroy Al-Qaeda, capture its leader, Osama bin-Laden, and topple the Taliban regime.

The U.S. was on the verge of achieving these objectives until the Bush administration unwisely invaded Iraq two years later, deploying resources away from Afghanistan. The military focus shifted from fighting a war against an enemy that had attacked the U.S. to invading another country that had posed no threat to our national security.

Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. The pro-American Karzai regime, which we had installed, has proven to be so corrupt that public confidence has collapsed. Moreover, resentment of foreign military forces has grown as U.S. air strikes have caused heavy civilian casualties.

The Taliban has thus regained much of its power and influence while Al-Qaeda has shifted its major bases to the ungovernable tribal areas in neighboring Pakistan's Northwest Province.

The Obama administration now faces the problem of battling Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. That country has a new, presumably pro-American government that is increasingly under pressure from radical Islamic forces that are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and eager to install a Taliban-like regime in Pakistan.

The much touted "surge" of American forces did strengthen our position in Iraq, at least for the short term. But sending more troops to Afghanistan is unlikely to help the fight against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

This is a situation that could probably be handled more effectively with covert counter-insurgency operations, combined with delicate diplomatic moves, rather than with conventional military action.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

A letter from Israel regarding the Gaza tragedy

I have received the following letter from an Israeli citizen, offering a personal view about the tragic events unfolding in Gaza.

Dear family and friends,

I feel that events are such I should once again try and relay to you my thoughts, in order that you will be able to have a better understanding of the situation here. Again, as in many times before, I am dismayed at the lack of proportions in the in-depth information from Israel as opposed to that coming from other sources. Due to this unfortunate state of events, the international community is too frequently exposed to communications which are far from being "even-handed" or fair.

I will try to be as fair as possible, in portraying the very sad situation here. This is the first report I will be sending you, and I would welcome any comments or questions, and would certainly be happy if you thought that this was something you would like to pass on to your friends.

First some questions:

· When was the last time you ran for your life to a shelter to avoid being bombed?

· When was the last time your children were terrorized to the point where they wet their beds even at ages of 6 and 7?

· When was the last time your child demanded that the light stay on all night, and even then told you of his nightmares the next morning - all this on a daily basis?

· When was the last time you realized that your child will need a psychologist to help overcome his/her fears of loud noises and sirens?

· When was the last time your house had a near miss of a rocket fired at you, or worse, had your house crumble under the impact of a mortar shell?

· When was the last time that you could not tend to your crops, because the last time you went out to your fields you were fired on by snipers?

· When was the last time you lost your job because you wanted to stay at home with your family when your town was under attack?

· When was the last time that your child saw your neighbor lying in a pool of blood?

· When was the last time you checked to see if your child's kindergarten had a bomb shelter, and if not you took the child to another kindergarten which had one?

· When was the last time you went with friends to have a drink at a pub and had a suicide bomber blow himself up in front of you?

· When was the last time you made sure your child had an armed escort when he/she went on a school outing?

· When was the last time your government decided to spend over 400 million dollars on bomb shelters for your town?

· When was the last time your neighboring country swore to wipe you off the face of the earth, and does not recognize your right to exist?

· When…..

Now some facts:

· For the last 8 years (yes… eight whole years, which are 96 straight months) , the southern part of Israel (population around 250,000) has had over 22,000 rockets and mortar shells fired into its cities and villages. This is an average of approximately 2500 per year (since January 2008, we have counted over 3000). This means an average of approximately 8 (!!) rockets a day. Can you even imagine such a number?

· There is no child in Sderot under the age of 10, who knows any other existence than that of daily fear of a bomb landing on his home, school, or shopping mall. How would you feel if this happened in your town and to your children?

· Over three years ago, we unilaterally left the Gaza Strip, removed all vestiges of our army, uprooted all the civilian population which lived there, and abandoned all the homes, fields, and industrial complexes. All this without a reciprocal agreement on the side of the Palestinians to cease all hostilities. This action was intended to allow the Palestinians to fulfill their own dream of a sovereign state, without any interference on our part.

· Since June 2008, there has been a "cease-fire" agreement brokered by the Egyptians. The only trouble is that we have "ceased" while the Hammas has "fired" an average of 6 rockets a week (this is their understanding of an agreement). Besides trying to spot the launchers, and pinpoint attacking them if we were able to do so with 100% certainty, and only then, we did not reciprocate in any other way.

· During this period, we restrained ourselves not to hit back. The only recourse we had, when words, agreements, unilateral restraint and requests did not work, was to warn the Hammas government that if they did not stop the rocket attacks which totally disrupted any sort of "normal" existence for our citizens in the region, we would reduce the entry of supplies to the Gaza Strip. However, out of humane considerations, we continued to send urgent supplies, even under fire.

· To this day, we supply 70% of all the electricity in Gaza, and have never stopped this supply, except for one day when the electric plant in Ashdod, which supplies the "juice" to Gaza, was attacked by a suicide bomber. There is no "darkness" in Gaza, whatever is said or shown to the contrary.

· During the three days prior to our attack in Gaza over 200 rockets were fired at southern Israel, mainly at the city of Sderot, but also to many of the agricultural settlements around the Gaza strip – all inside Israel's international borders. This was the response of Hammas to our willingness to sit and discuss the continuation of the so-called "cease-fire" between us.

· Every such attack has had the entire civilian population of these towns and agricultural settlements running as fast as they can for a shelter - women, children, the elderly, sick people, in short, the whole civilian population.

· These rocket and mortar attacks are aimed specifically at civilian concentrations, to kill and injure as many innocent people as possible.

· Countless times over this period, and before, we have deliberated how to combat this situation, and each time we have opted for another concession towards peace, and have responded infrequently and even then at a very specific location from which the rockets were launched

· The fact is that of the hundreds of Palestinians killed over the past 2-3 years, 95% have been terrorists either setting up their rocket launchers , or on their way to an attack on one of the settlements in the region

· Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was abducted to Gaza by the Palestinian terrorists over 920 days ago, has not been allowed to send or receive letters, the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit him, and he has spent the whole time, close to three years, in a hole somewhere in the Gaza Strip. This is outrageously inhumane.

· During the past ten years, we have signed at least five agreements, in which we requested the same demands that were initiated by the "Quartet" (The USA, Russia, the U.N., and the European Community), namely:

o Recognition of the State of Israel (which all countries of the world have done)

o Cessation of all terrorist activities

In return we would be willing to negotiate for a fair settlement to all the problems between us

· Even though the Palestinian leaders, first Arafat then Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen), signed the agreements, the attacks continued unabated

Now to some comments:

· When we left Gaza, with all the small industrial works and the very modern and sophisticated greenhouses intact, at the request of the world community so that the Palestinians will have the ability to support themselves, they destroyed all of these down to rubble. This has to mean that they had little intention of trying to help their population to self-reliance and the country to some income.

· How can the world sit back for so many years and look upon what was going on in our towns and villages around Gaza, and only become outraged when we finally say: "enough is enough" and hit back?

· What is this nonsense about "excessive force"? For years we have restrained ourselves, we have made every effort to find peaceful solutions, such as those we have in our peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, while we are being shelled on a daily basis. How long can any country stand this? I bet not even Norway, which has grave concerns about our intentions, would stand for this for even one month without retaliating

· As to excessive force, should we send our kids out to throw stones at passing Arab vehicles, as Arab kids do on our roads? Should we sporadically shell cities in the Gaza Strip, just so that our response is "measured" against theirs? Should we recruit maniacs who are willing to commit ritual suicide in Arab restaurants? What are we, as a normal and democratic country, supposed to do? Continuously "understand" that the Palestinian demands should be met so that the world community can finally have some peace in the Middle East? These "salami" tactics will find us in the Mediterranean within five years!

· No. As in any country you are familiar with will do, we will use whatever means we have to achieve peace and quiet for our citizens. If we do not, then are failing our duty as a country to its citizens.

· In addition, since we do not intend to carry out such actions on a regular basis, then on the one time we do strike back, we will do so until the Hammas does not have the will to continue its policy. We have attacked only Hammas installations, and if there was a fair reporting of the events, you would notice that over 90% of all the Palestinian casualties were wearing uniforms. We have tried to be as accurate as possible in our attacks so that we spare the civilian population. We have NEVER targeted civilians, as they have ours

· No one asked Joe Louis to fight all comers with one hand behind his back because he was stronger than his opponents, and no one has asked Michael Jordan to shoot only with his left hand, because he was so much better than all other basketball players.

· We are a country, and we have an army to protect its citizens. Our army has been carefully built so as to be able to answer any threat to our existence. We will use all measures necessary, once all other avenues have been blocked, to thwart this threat.

o The Hammas does not recognize us or our borders.

o The Hammas has sworn to continue to attack us until we drop

o The Hammas gets its weaponry and orders from Iran and the extremist Islam leaders of the world, and will not listen to anyone or any other voice

· We cannot allow this to happen, and cannot allow another Holocaust to our people

· What would you and/or your government do if your border towns were shelled on a regular basis? Sit and wait for the world community to give your neighbor a slap on the hand? I would venture to say that in any Western country, you would hit back after the second or third rocket attack, whether there were casualties or not, irrespective of what the world community says or requests. We have been holding ourselves in restraint for years!

· Barak Obama, when he visited Sderot a year ago, said that if his house, and his girls, were attacked by rockets, he would not stand for it and retaliate

· The Hammas, as part of the radical Islamic groups, is a serious threat not only to Israel, but perhaps even more so to the moderate Arab countries, as well as the Western world. It is inflaming the minds of the Islamic youths, teaching them to hate while not giving them any hope for a future

· During these last few days, we have heard the Egyptian foreign minister and the editor of the official Saudi newspaper, say that the Hammas can only blame itself for what is happening to it now. The other moderate Arab countries have the same sentiments. The Hammas, as the representative of the extremist Islamic groups, is a real and present danger to them and their countries

· What are the ultimate goals of the Hammas? If it is to establish a sovereign state, then three years ago when we left Gaza they had the opportunity to show themselves and the world, that they can do so. We opened all the crossing points to Palestinian workers, assisted Palestinian officials in all the professional activities that a country needs (agriculture, medicine, sanitation, education, etc), and what we got back were suicide bombers and rocket attacks. In this situation, what does any "normal" country do? It closes the border crossings and discontinues its open policy. Would you shake your neighbor's hand, if on a daily basis his dog attacks your child despite your requests from him to rein in his dog?

· If the goal is not to establish a state, then it seems as if is their only aim is the annihilation of Israel. We will not stand for this moment.

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