Archive for June, 2009

Come Hell and Hot Water

There’s nothing quite like a nice cup of coffee on a hot day like today. I do enjoy coffee — in almost any form and most certainly regardless of the weather — and some people would even say that I overindulge and that it’s not good for me.

It turns out that they might be wrong after all.

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published a study led by Dr. Carrie Ruxton that shows that coffee and tea do not lead to dehydration, that they function as a source of anti-oxidants for the body, and that tea can even help prevent heart attacks.

In other words, I don’t have to feel guilty about having a fourth cup now after lunch.

The only thing that might cause concern among enthusiastic caffeine addicts, is the fact that the study was partially financed by the United Kingdom Tea Council.

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June 29, 2009 at 09:50 3 comments

The Postman Has Rung Again

Late in December 1997, I sat at a table at a guest house in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was one of those bitterly cold Jerusalem nights, when the rain pours down as if the gates of heaven have opened up for a second flood.

But I didn’t care. In fact, I hardly even noticed the weather, because I was deeply engrossed in a book — a collection of prose by Willy Kyrklund. That December in Jerusalem I discovered the magic of Kyrklund’s prose, and until this day I still haven’t found anyone who can give literary form to pessimism, melancholy and losers in such a loving and comforting way.

Alas, I’m reached by the sad news that Mr. Kyrklund passed away yesterday. The postman indeed always rings twice.

יהיה זכרו ברוך

June 28, 2009 at 13:01 Leave a comment

The Limits of the Law

Some time a go, professor William I. Robinson at UC Santa Barbara sent an e-mail to his students comparing the Holocaust with the Israeli occupation. This upset some of his students, who then filed a complaint with the university claiming that professor Robinson was violating university policy.

Today, Yediot Aharonot reports that the university has dropped their investigation concluding that this kind of e-mailings should be allowed. Case closed.

I think that the UC Santa Barbara made the right decision. One should be allowed send hurtful, uninformed and counterproductive e-mails. But one needs to keep in mind that we are indeed talking about stupid and uninformed crap. I find claims that the Israeli occupation is like the Holocaust, made by all kinds of people from time to time, problematic for a few reasons.

First of all, from an ethical point of view, I find it objectionable to trivialize the Holocaust in this way primarily because of the hurt that it causes to the survivors who are still alive. The instrumentalization of the brutality and barbarism in the Nazi treatment of European Jewry is just too cheap a shot to be taken seriously.

This brings me to my second problem with these comparison, and that’s historical facts. The Nazis had a plan to murder all Jews, men, women and children, where ever they lived. In order to achieve this, they even built camps designed to function as killing centers for the Jews of Europe and in these camps, millions of people were murdered — primarily with gas. I know that one cannot compare suffering on an individual level, but on the collective level I think it would be hard to find a single Jew who arrived in Treblinka, Sobibor, Birkenau or some other camp, who hadn’t preferred to be in Gaza — and conversely I find it hard to believe that there are any Palestinians who would like to trade places with these Jews. And for good reason.

Let me just stress at this point, that rejecting claims that the occupation is like the Holocaust, shouldn’t be interpreted as a defense of the occupation. One can be against both these things at once. In fact, and here we arrive at my third reason to object to the equation between the Holocaust and the occupation, I don’t think that it helps to improve the situation.

Politically, it’s counterproductive to claim that the Holocaust is like the occupation. On the one hand, it alienates Israelis who won’t take seriously, let alone trust, anyone who makes such remarks. And on the other, it strengthens extremists among the Palestinians, who see it as a way to demonize Israel and win propaganda points on the international scene — forgetting that in order to make peace, and end the occupation, Palestinians need to come together with Israelis — not with their supporters in Europe or at UC Santa Barbara. Thus, if these kinds of affected comparisons have any influence on the politics in the Middle East at all, it’s only going to be a negative one.

With that said, I still think that it should be allowed to make such claims because I’m not interested in living in a society where the first reflex should be to stifle debate. I don’t think anyone benefits from that.

No, that’s not exactly true. People like professor Robinson and his ilk benefit. Because by focusing the debate on whether e-mails like his should be allowed, his students have unfortunately turned the attention away from the fact that it was hurtful, uninformed and counterproductive.

June 25, 2009 at 09:18 Leave a comment

Something Rotten

Very few people have probably missed the fact that there’s unrest in Iran, with protests against the election results met by violence from the regime. What fewer people have noticed is probably the cause for all this unrest.

Luckily, the wise and perceptive representatives of the Iranian authorities have figured out what’s really going on. Foolish and weak-minded people might have thought that the repression in general and the results in the presidential elections in particular were the causes for the last days of protests.

They would be wrong.

According to reports in Scandinavian media, the Iranian embassy in Copenhagen has sent a letter to the newspaper Berlingske Tidende, warning Danish media and politicians for their role in creating unrest in the Islamic republic.

That makes a lot of sense. Of course, it’s the Danes behind it all. As usual. The only thing that surprises me a bit is the fact that so many supporters of the Iranian opposition read Danish.

June 23, 2009 at 13:12 Leave a comment

On an Overrated Swedish Season

Every now and then people ask me why I would want to leave Sweden to move to Israel. Swedes have a tendency to ask this especially at this time of year — at the beginning of the glorious Scandinavian summer season. I do admit that there are a lot of positive aspects to life in Sweden, but — as opposed to popular belief — the month of June is not its finest hour.

The weather in Scandinavia never fails to disappoint: despite the fact that there’s daylight 24/7 (which complicates sleeping), it’s still always too cold and too rainy. The only things that seem to thrive in the Scandinavian climate in June, are the mosquitoes and the grass, leaving you forced to spend hours out in the cold, mowing your lawn while fighting off swarms of noisy insects out to suck your blood.

But, the blue-and-yellow patriots protest, there are some lovely holidays in June: graduation week, June 6, and Midsummer. Don’t I miss these highlights in the civic calendar of celebrations?

Surely you must be joking.

Graduation week, which — by the way — seemed to be at least a month long last time I experienced it, is nothing but a never ending torture session for anyone who’s not graduating from high school. All those trucks decorated with whatever greenery these poor kids have managed to scrape together, balloons, embarrassing childhood photos, blown up to mega-size for everyone to see — and everything topped off with the latest hits, at ear-popping volume on repeat for hours and hours as they cruise around the city center clogging up traffic. The only place more congested is the liquor stores. The only reason the whole thing doesn’t annoy me more is the fact that the poor graduates seem to suffer more than the passers-by and on-lookers.

Then we have June 6. Where to begin?

Sometime in the last decade, the Swedes realized that they didn’t have a day of national celebration, like the Americans have July 4, or the French July 14, or the Norwegians May 17. So they decided to pick a day, and they went for June 6. It seemed like an appropriate choice, since this first of all was the day Gustav I was appointed king in 1523, thus reestablishing Sweden as an independent state, and secondly it was on June 6 that the constitution of 1809 was adopted.

The problem is just that when Gustav I became king, Sweden already had a monarch. As the illegal usurper he was, Gutav then went on to terrorize and impoverish his newly “liberated” Swedish people for decades. 

And what about the constitution of 1809, said to have paved the way for democracy in Sweden? Well, I don’t want to come off as excessively critical, but any document that begins “The king alone holds the power to rule the land” can’t really be seen as a beacon of democracy, can it? I mean, it’s not exactly “We the people…”

It’s a good thing that this particular constitution was scrapped in 1974 — but on the other hand that doesn’t make the celebration of it any more logical. No wonder that June 6 is rapidly becoming a day for politically confused teenagers to arrange street fights, thinly disguised as demonstrations — and to clog up the liquor stores.

That leaves us with Midsummer — the New Year’s of the summer season. By that I mean, that it’s one of those days where you’re supposed to have so much fun that the whole thing inevitably ends in a disappointment. Usually, what happens, is that you spend the day sitting outside — preferably at someone’s house in the country — eating outdoors dressed in your summer best, combined with a winter coat, trying to ignore the cold and the mosquitoes by engaging in some heavy imbibing. So, needless to say, the days leading up to this holiday see a lot of clogging up of the liquor stores.

All in all, June is probably the worst month of the year in Sweden. Not that November or February are all that great, but at least you don’t expect greatness from them, so you’re not all that disappointed when you suffer.

So, no, I don’t regret the move in June, when the temperature and humidity is still more or less under control in Tel Aviv, and the hordes of French tourists haven’t invaded yet. July and August, on the other hand, those are months to ponder a Scandinavian vacation — with lots of pull, as well as push, factors.

June 22, 2009 at 16:46 Leave a comment

Clausewitz and Cabs

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs organized a conference yesterday under the title “Hamas, the Gaza War, and Accountability under International Law”. As usual it was a very interesting event with high-quality speakers and excellent food.

Even though I’m no expert in the field, the topic of international humanitarian law and its application in warfare against an adversary who doesn’t stick to those laws himself, is a complex and — unfortunately — all too relevant one.

Most of the speakers were very interesting, but I’m afraid that my capacity for listening to never-ending presentations and lectures has decreased to a worrying extent since I left academia. I did find myself looking at my watch a bit too often toward the end, and I started to consume a clearly unmotivated quantity of grapefruit juice just to keep myself busy.

Luckily, some people, like colonel (ret.) Daniel Reisner, had the wisdom to lighten up the presentations. Col. Reisner did so by telling the following story:

A priest, a rabbi and an Israeli taxi driver come to heaven and are greeted by an angel from the celestial housing committee. The priest and the rabbi are both given pleasant, albeit modest, apartments in a nice neighborhood of heaven. The cab driver on the other hand, gets a huge villa on a hillside with a marvelous view. The priest and the rabbi get a little miffed about this, so they go back to the angel and say:

What’s the deal here? We dedicated our lives to bringing people closer to God– and then He goes and reward that clown?

The angel looks at them and says:

Look, guys, we’re all very grateful for all your hard work. But that cab driver put the fear of God into more people on any given day than you both did in your combined lifetimes.

I guess that’s one approach.

June 19, 2009 at 14:18 2 comments

Words Don’t Come Easy

High profile policy speech-making seems to be all the rage these days. Some ten days ago, President Obama delivered his highly acclaimed address to the Muslim world, and last night it was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s turn.

Mr. Netanyahu gave his speech at Bar Ilan University. I’m not sure if that was an attempt to emulate President Obama, or just a way to evade being heckled by political opponents in the Knesset, where such political initiatives usually would be presented — at least in the opinion of the speaker of the Knesset, who was rather miffed at the Prime Minister’s choice of venue.

In a way, one can understand why Mr. Netanyahu didn’t want to deliver this address before a hostile audience such as the Knesset. It can’t have been an easy speech to give, and it seemed to have annoyed almost everyone, from the Arab world on the one hand to the Israeli right-wing on the other. Only his fellow speech-maker in the White House has been cautiously encouraging.

Much has been written about this speech already, also internationally here, here and there, so I’m not going to analyze it in detail. Suffice it to say, that it’s an interesting rhetorical feat to — on the one hand — call for immediate peace talks without preconditions, and — on the other — say that the end result will have to be a Palestinian state with no military, no control over its airspace and no part in Jerusalem.

Apart from that it was nice to see Mr. Netanyahu going back to the basics of his oratory repertoire by yet again referring to his heroic dead brother.

The whole speech can be enjoyed here.

June 15, 2009 at 05:07 1 comment

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