Beyond the Cusp

April 16, 2015

Anti-Semitism Rising Yet It Can’t Happen Here

 

Any sane person, one might think, would not doubt that anti-Semitism is rising in the four corners of the globe. While that is true, each admission of that carries an additional modifier. That modifier is the exact same modifier used by Jews everywhere from the beginning of Judaism as a major religion, “It can’t happen here.” Now, that modifier always has some accompanying rationalizations such as the following: We Jews are an intricate part of the society; we are accepted in society; we are seen as judges, lawyers, businesspeople, and are even elected to positions in government; we Jews are accepted and assimilated; and my favorite, this isn’t Nazi Germany, this is America. There is one item from the previous which has always puzzled me, how it is such an intelligent people, as Jews presumably are, can misunderstand that their being assimilated does not infer automatically that the population has assimilated them into the whole. There are other qualifiers and whatever one you can dream up is probably used by some Jews somewhere. What is really ridiculous is when there are leaders of Jewish society, the central pillar around which the community seeks wisdom and guidance, the Rabbis who when asked, “Should not the Jews leave here and seek someplace less threatening to live?” They answer, “No, of course not. Why would you suggest that? This has been our home and the homes of our families for generations. We have a lot invested in this community.” And my favorite and usually their final rationalization, “The authorities have promised to help us and keep the peace and guard against any further anti-Semitism.” Do not get me wrong, they honestly feel that these rationalizations are completely valid and hold water. They refuse to see that the actual realities have struck holes in their every argument.

 

Things in Europe are at the worse and mostly beyond the cusp range of realities; so I will stick with the queries and responses we received when we began telling the other members of the congregation with whom we had a familiar friendship. First allow me to point out that those with whom we still converse online and the Rabbi all supported our making Aliyah and gave it their blessings if not their desire that it be they who were going to live in Eretz Yisroel. But the others gave responses such as, “Why would you want to go there? You are leaving the United States? But things are so much more civil here. Aren’t you worried about the terrorism? And our favorite, you will be returning here within a year once you see what it is like in Israel. I’ve been there and I know. Those naysayers were wrong. We’ve been here well over a year and are loving it. I, myself, have never felt more comfortable and accepted as I have here and can only imagine how much more so once we have mastered Hebrew, at least master enough to, through spits and starts, get through an entire thought.

 

That little anecdotal trip down memory lane was to point out we have seen this attitude play itself out in our own experience. Of course, as mentioned, our friends all expressed their longing to make Aliyah and come to Israel and many expected to do so in the near future, but time will tell on that. Getting to make Aliyah as a Jew is no longer you show up and announce that you are Jewish, kiss the ground, and be granted immediate citizenship. The paperwork we filled out made a pile almost rivaling the stuff we brought with us. OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration. Still, the process for us was a little complicated and took over two years to complete and during that time it had its many ups, downs and why would they need to know this questions. Eventually we completed the process and many of the items we were puzzled why they were necessary proved not to be required but was stuff they gathered for statistical reasons. OK, so you were collecting mega-data, why didn’t you just say so, we’ve heard about Edward Snowden, we would have understood, honest.

 

Our making Aliyah had to do with a young nine year old boy promising himself, the worst promise you can make because it requires you to either complete the promise or let yourself down, that when the time came and all things in America were fulfilled he would retire in Israel, something the wiffie really might have preferred knowing about before we got married, but she already knew I was a bit strange, right, quite strange, well, if you insist, beyond the cusp strange! There, I’ve admitted it, happy? Still, it may have been the most advantageous thing we ever did as it changed our lives for the better and really opened up our lives much as a rose stretches out its petal to greet the morning sun and drink up the warmth and the blessed energy G0d has seen in His wisdom to provide for that rose bud so tightly shuttered to awaken stretching out revealing its beauty and spreading its fragrance for all to inhale and exclaim that this is a beautiful day. That is how we awaken here most mornings.

 

Back to the subject which is as horrific and threatening as our returning home to Eretz Yisroel was rewarding and enriching. The news we read about places in Europe such as Malmo, London, Toulouse, and numerous other places are horrific and makes us feel for those Jews residing amongst such hatreds it amazes us that they don’t simply pick up their lives and come to Israel. Surprisingly, even including all the terrorism within the Green Line in Israel, you are still safer in Israel than you are from crime in the United States or Europe, surprising but true. Yet not only do these people continue to live in places where their lives are under threat both day and night, but their Rabbis all tell them it is the Jewish thing to do to remain in defiance to the threats. Where in all that is holy is that written? Looking back over the past year or so in the United States, pulling solely from news stories, I am able to remember we have had some horrific acts of anti-Semitism. There was the Rabbi visiting family in Florida walking to synagogue in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood who was approached by two youths, at least younger adults if not teens, a brief exchange of words, the sound of gunfire and the two youths walked away calmly leaving the Rabbi sprawled out dead on the pavement. The Florida local police listed this as a robbery gone bad, as if the youths had no realization that religious Jews, which the attire of the Rabbi was obvious, do not carry money or items of wealth on the Sabbath. There have been near countless desecration of Jewish cemeteries or the Jewish section of a cemetery yard throughout the United States and ten times worse in Europe. There have been desecration committed against Holocaust memorials often accompanied by writings on such structures of “Jews to the gas,” “Hitler was right,” “Jews get out,” “Holocaust was a myth,” “We are the new Holocaust” amongst numerous other defamations of this ilk. Then there was a stretch of time where a “game” which became known as the “knockout the Jew” game where a member of a group of youths as they passed somebody sporting Jewish identifying clothing would attempt to one-punch the targeted Jew at a minimum knocking them off their feet or knocking them unconscious, scoring howls and celebratory knuckle tapping in recognition of this person’s singular accomplishment. Eventually this happening caught sufficient attention from the authorities, especially after one elderly man died from his wounds from striking his head on a curb after being struck as part of this fun game. There have been defiling of synagogues with such an event just this past week in Gaithersburg, Maryland. which is located in Montgomery County. which is heavily Jewish with a percentage of eighteen and two-tenths. That is actually a very impressive percentage when one figures in the percentage of people in the world who are Jews, a whopping two-one hundredths of one percent, for those who might be having difficulty with realizing how small a percentage that is, allow me to reference it in other ways, 0.02% which mathematically comes out to 0.0002 Jews per unit of population, one would require counting out a section of any random grouping of people from around the world a staggering five-thousand people in order to have relative assurance that there would be a single Jew in the group. Perhaps placing a bit of writing that Mark Twain once wrote about the Jewish people will be far more impressive than anything I could ever imagine up, so the rest is from Mark Twain’s essay “All Things are Mortal but the Jew”* also referred to as “The Eternal Jew.”

 

If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him.
He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed; and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind.
All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

 

Beyond the Cusp

 
* “Concerning The Jews,” Harper’s Magazine, 1899
The Complete Essays of Mark Twain, Doubleday [1963] pg. 249

April 6, 2014

Are Privacy Rights Even Possible Today?

The United States Constitution stipulates a carefully constructed and balanced governance with opposing interests and powers separated and posed as checks against the usurpation of excessive power over time by any one branch, individual or small group of individuals. Still, the Founding Fathers were challenged by the representatives of the various states and the people to give stated recognition and formalized structure to the protections of the individual from the power and infringement by the government which resulted in the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. This set of Amendments placed defined limitations on the government and its related institutions as well as defined unabridged rights awarded the people by an authority which superseded the government and any individual, group, corporation or entity. Initially there were a dozen proposed Amendments which were to constitute the Bill of Rights but only ten survived the ratification process. The first of the two Amendments which were not ratified pertained to the number of representatives and the maximum number of citizens they would be permitted to represent all in a sliding scale that increased the ratio as the number of representatives in the House of Representatives is increased as the total passed each hundred. It is easier to read the proposal than explain, so, it reads, “After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.” The other rejected Amendment concerned the rate of payment for members of the House of Representatives and read, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

 

All that may be interesting but it also has as much relevance to the modern world as do those definitions for the number of citizens each House of Representatives member has in their districts as today that number is in excess of seven hundreds of thousands, not the tens of thousands as was originally thought to be a fair ratio. The idea of personal anonymity and the safeguarding of each person from excessive government intrusion and inspection were considered sacrosanct at the writing and founding of the United States. This was a unique concept whose origins were a recent concept then and now is either a concept that has never been addressed for much of the world and becoming a quaint and dated concept where it originated in the political parlors and by the political philosophers and thinkers leading up to the founding of the United States and the explosion of representative governance in Europe and America. The current debate has taken some twists and turns especially since the revelations introduced into the public conscience through the release of classified information by Edward Snowden about the extent of spying on individual citizens by the United States government. Of course his releases told of what many thought to be excessive intrusions by the NSA and other data gathering government agencies and were perceived as being something relatively new as such unprecedented ability for gathering data, especially electronic data, was thought to be a recently acquired ability for government. The reality is even more frightening than what was revealed by Mr. Snowden as the NSA has been capable of recording virtually every bit of electronic data generated in the United States since somewhere back in the 1970s. This ability has been supplemented and expanded repeatedly going through different names, one of the more memorable being the Echelon System used in the 1980 -90s which also was capable of recording huge amounts of data comparable to the total electronic data output of the United States. It is apparent that the NSA has increased their abilities in, at a minimum, direct correlation to the amount of electronic data capable of being produced by the United States, no small feat. Recent revelation have told of the United States actually recording every e-mail and electronic communication of any one nation in the world in addition to its abilities to monitor the United States electronic output and some have spoken of the ability to record to some extent and level all the electronic communications and generated data of the entire planet. What possibility for privacy remains when measured against such unfathomable abilities?

 

Those who specialize in knowing the extent and depth of the abilities to gather data on an individual often are quoted, though almost always as an anonymous source, telling of borderline or even absolutely mind-boggling abilities possessed by the government spying and law enforcement agencies. There have been cases claiming they have the ability to listen to a conversation in a closed room from as much as a quarter or half mile distant simply by pointing a specialized laser at a window pane and interpreting the changes in the vibration of the glass molecules as long as the window is not covered by a thick, sound dampening set of curtains. There are claims that they can locate people using thermal imaging through walls of almost any building. Many have heard that the spy satellites optics are capable of reading a newspaper that somebody is reading sitting on a park bench. The Soviet Union demanded that their government employees never carry any classified documents outside of buildings unless they were safely contained in a briefcase. Many of the tactics used in the biggest Hollywood films such as listening in on conversations from a distance utilizing parabolic microphones and other such routine spy thriller capabilities are likely outdated by the time we see them in movies. There was a recent report that some government agency was researching some form of determining through observable and easily collected data who would be most likely to commit crimes, what those crimes would be, whom they would target and when the crime would be committed with some degree of dependable accuracy. What is the obligation of the government if they are capable of predicting future criminal events in preventing any harm resulting from such acts and how close are we to replacing the precogs lying in a pool and seeing events referred to as precrimes as in the movie Minority Report except using instruments, computers and software programs to predict such possibilities. Between the abilities of governments for data collection, computing of metadata, and making accurate predictions and profiling individuals, what possibility does anybody have of escaping with even the slightest shred of privacy intact? And what can be done to prevent governments from misusing such data, and even more important, what limits should be placed on private companies when it comes to sharing personal data and forming profiles on individuals which can and are used in targeted advertising and other such abilities. And even if such limitations were to be incorporated into regulations or criminal codes, how would they even be enforced or even could they be enforced and if enforced, what other problems would result from government attempting to gather the proof of such crimes being committed? It becomes mind-boggling just playing out the ever-expanding web resulting from data collection and manipulation.

 

The final area that also is providing insights which may be an even bigger threat is in the area of AI, artificial intelligence. Google and Microsoft are working with the United States government and who knows who else to utilize the data they are able to collect using buying patterns and search terminology used when searching the internet and many other data inputs to formulate a program or set of programs that will be able to predict future trends and reason and think in a manner close to that of a human being. They claim such research is being used to better serve the public and to be able to design robots in the future that will be better enabled to interact with people. What threats to our privacy exist as a result of such research and is there any way we can protect ourselves from such intrusions? The result of everything we are experiencing and that are being reported is that there is no longer anything that even resembles the privacy that the Founding Fathers attempted to give the people guarantees would be held sacred by government. That is looking less and less likely with every revelation. Now the United States is implementing a healthcare system which will posit all the healthcare information into the computers of the IRS, Internal Revenue Service, the tax people. How much power will the government have when the IRS has complete records of your healthcare and your financial situation? How will government use such data and will the government now determine the level of healthcare a person will be entitled to be provided conditional on their financial worth to the society as a whole? This could easily enter an area which at its worst could result in some form of euthanasia and a form of means testing to qualify for healthcare treatments at the least. Thinking too long and too hard on the completeness of the government’s ability to gather every iota of personal information on each and every individual, especially realizing that each of us are potentially ourselves, and to utilize this data to predict our future actions and results of everything in our lives such that they can literally know before we ourselves are aware of what tomorrow holds for each of us and use this ability for nefarious purposes which will compromise every shred of our privacy and most know our most intimate thoughts before we even have them, can any government or person be trusted with such knowledge and the power it imparts. Some of the items which were restricted to the areas of futurist political science fiction such as in Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World are now becoming within the grasp of government and companies making these stories warnings of what is coming soon to our worlds and it will make for many horrifying prognostications on what our lives will become. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and ultimate power corrupts beyond imagination and what is coming is beyond even that.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

March 12, 2014

Vladimir Putin Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

The fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin is among the nominees for receiving the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize is strangely amusing in a sick way but is nothing compared to the reasoning given by the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World, a Russian advocacy group that broadly pursues peace, for their nominating him. They claim that since United States President was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize and was reputedly on the verge of launching minimally a withering bombing attack against Syria and Bashir al-Assad as a response and fulfilling a threat for the use by the Syrian military of chemical agents in that nations raging civil war, and as it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who interceded and prevented what could have resulted in a horrendous loss of life including many innocent victims, then fairness dictates that President Putin also should be awarded with a Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee will be meeting in the near future to begin to whittle down the choices from the record setting two-hundred-seventy-eight nominees to a more manageable number somewhere around forty, then subsequently to around twenty-five, then to a slim dozen or so and then finally to a single winner which will be announced some time in October.

 

On what I hope is a more serious note, some of the other nominees are Pope Francis; Denis Mukweg, a physician who for more than a decade “has given medical treatment to survivors of sexual violence and in 1999 he founded the Panzi Hospital in Bakuvu, DR Congo;” Edward Snowden; Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning (and these people wish to be taken seriously?); the protesters against the governments of Thailand and Venezuela; Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper “set up in 1993 at the initiative of Mikhail Gorbachev, who devoted part of his Nobel Peace Prize money for the purpose. The newspaper has since experienced the killings of several of its journalists. Its website has been exposed to numerous cyber-attacks;” and finally the one I would proudly support, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot by the Taliban because of her outspoken support for the education of girls who was a nominee last year and should have already been awarded this prize. With the history of some of the modern awardees of the Nobel Peace Prize such as Albert Gore for his work on global warming or Yasser Arafat for what, introducing the concept of hijacking airliners for political concessions and forcing the release of terrorist murderers? Yes, some Nobel Peace Prizes have been well deserved having the status, accomplishments and selflessness of a Mother Teresa, a worthy Nobel Peace Prize Awardee. I am sure we all would desire that the Nobel Committee would actually award what should and could be a most prestigious of international awards to less controversial and obviously political awardees such as President Obama who apparently was given one for getting elected President of the United States and the aforementioned Al Gore and Yasser Arafat. We will hopefully get an awardee worthy of Albert Nobel’s original intents and purpose returning some of the presumed dignity that a Nobel Peace Prize should confer. Edward Snowden; Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning; and this is supposedly a serious list? Puleeeeze!!

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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