“Holy Places”

In “the holy city” of Jerusalem “the holy places,” meaning chiefly the Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount, are going up in flames. Instead of prayer, all one hears are the yells of Palestinian demonstrators on one hand and the equally raucous calls of Israeli policemen on the other. Not to mention the occasional sound of tear gas, firecrackers, rubber bullets, and live bullets that, so far in the present round of riots, has left two dead. Accompanying the hellish scene are the shrieks of police sirens, ambulance sirens, firefighter sirens, and God knows what other sirens. To say nothing about the occasional injured and death.

If this is holiness, I want no part of it In fact I have not been there for years.

Nor is the Temple Mount the only “holy place” that, in reality, is little different from hell. Take Tabcha, on the north western shore of Mount Galilee. Traditionally this is the place where Jesus turned five small fish and two loaves of bread into enough food for a multitude of his followers. Today three separate churches, belonging to three separate Christian denominations, grace the area. Last time I visited it, it was full of thousands of people milling around. Very few seemed to be aware of , or took the slightest interest in, what had, or what is supposed to have had, happened, there. Instead they spent their time buying cheap souvenirs and taking selfies. Worst of all, the drivers of the busses that brought all these people there did not turn off the air conditioning systems but left them to run. The outcome was noise and polluted air of the kind that, normally, you only get in the center of large cities.

If this is holiness, I want no part of it.

Or take Hong Kong. Perhaps the greatest single tourist attraction is a giant statue of Buddha. Constructed in 1993, it symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith. Or so Wikipedia says. So famous is it that it is almost obscured by the madding crowd of people milling about. There is, however a difference; aside from taking selfies and buying souvenirs, they also get to taste the less than mediocre food foisted on them by the local monks as part of the entry ticket.

Thank you very much.

And now a short, very short, list of some of things I do consider holy and cannot have enough of.

A baby laughing, or a litte child just learning to walk.

A dog that welcomes its master.

A field of flowers.

A well-tended garden, however small.

A silent lake in the midst of a silent forest where one can bath nude if that is what one likes, without too much interference from others and without a lifeguard.

The woods as seen, say, from the tree walk at Beelitz, Germany, which stretch as far as the eye can see.

The American prairie as experienced, say, from the parking lot at Mount Cheyenne, Colorado.

Really good music, or a really beautiful painting, or sculpture, or building. All to be enjoyed at leisure.

A calm discussion with friends accompanied, perhaps, by a a glass of wine and a light meal.

Sex of the kind only two people who love each other deeply can have.

The moment when the rainclouds part and the sun breaks through “with all its might,” as the Jewish prayer has it.

Quiet prayer to the god in whom one believes.

Most of these can be enjoyed by anyone, at any place, at any time. Without priests, rabbis, imams, or other self-appointed guardians to tell you what their various god’s commands are. Without politicians to quarrel over them and soldiers to watch over them. Compared with them, the abovementioned “holy places,” both in Jerusalem and elsewhere, are not just profane. They are gross. And often dripping with the blood that has been shed over them. By right they should be demolished, razed, blown up. Or have a nuclear warhead dropped on them, if that is what it takes to make people stop fighting over them.

However, there is a problem. Nothing, not even the pyramids, is more persistent than human memory. The Temple Mount was destroyed at least twice. Jerusalem itself at one point was renamed Aelia Capitolina and put out of bounds for Jews. To no avail, as we now know.

So all I suggest is that people avoided the so-called “holy” places. Both the handful which have been mentioned in this essay and the many that have not. Not only on bad days like those currently passing over Jerusalem, but on “good” ones as well.

A plague on them and on their quarrelsome visitors.

You Have Been Warned!

In Israel, and by no means only in Israel—see the recent shitstorm around Robert Kelly—the man-hunt is on. Not a day goes by that does not bring new stories about men who sexually harassed, attacked, abused, and, yes, raped. In every single case women, are presented as clueless victims. In every single case, asked to explain why they did not do something—such as slap their alleged attacker or at least get out of his way—the woman claims that he has “enslaved” them, “taken away their souls,” “brainwashed them,” “turned them into robots,” etc.

Strangest of all, the media do not try to expose these creatures for the miserable wretches they are. Instead they, the media, keep praising the “courage” with which, often flanked by entire armies of female psychologists, social workers, and lawyers, they turn on their alleged tormentors and denounce them. Following which, the man in question is finished when he is found guilty and also when he is not.

As a former professor who has witnessed several of his male colleagues accused, put in front of a kangaroo court, and punished for alleged “sexual harassment,” I have some experience in the matter. So here is a list, admittedly a very incomplete one, of recommendations for other men to follow.

Never, ever, buy a woman a drink. That is because, if you do, she may later complain that you put something in it. Let them buy their own drinks (and yours as well, while she’s at it). If you are together and she wants to go to the restroom, make her take her drink with her.

Never, ever, give a woman a ride. Several of my acquaintances did so, only to have the woman in question try to blackmail them later on.

Make sure you never, ever, find yourself alone with a woman in an elevator. Not even one made of glass, as many nowadays are.

Remember good old St Thomas Aquinas? A man, he said, can do anything a woman can; but the opposite is not true. Rare indeed is the woman whose skills are such that she cannot be replaced by a man. If, in spite of this, you have no choice but to hire a woman (if only because the law, in the name of “equal opportunity” and diversity” obliges you to do so), never ever speak to her in person or allow yourself to be alone in the same room with her. The best thing to do is to have her, of them, in separate room or rooms with a sign, “out of bounds for all male personnel” on them. Communication with the female employees to be solely by computer, which will record every word.

Don’t ever compliment a female employee and do not give her a dressing down. If you do either, there is a fair chance that she will turn it against you, either by claiming that you have tried to make her or by way of avenging herself on you for not accepting her advances. Prohibit your male employees from talking to their female fellow workers; instead, let all communication pass through an elderly female employee you feel you can trust. That incidentally, was the method many firms used before 1950 or so.

If you are a physician, or psychiatrist, or psychologist, or some other kind of psychotherapist, avoid treating women as much as you can. If again in the name of “equality,” you are forced to do so, make sure you take appropriate defensive measures. Such as having another woman (one you think you can trust) present, recordering everything on video, etc.

Ditto if you are a teacher, instructor, coach, physiotherapist, or a member of a similarly dangerous profession.

If you must have sex, visit a prostitute. The last thing prostitutes want is trouble. As a result, they tend to more honest and less likely to go after you than most women are. Or else, better still, get yourself a sex doll. They are improving all the time. In any case, given all the cosmetic procedures women undergo these days, the distinction between them and sex dolls is steadly being eradicated.

If, in spite of everything, you are going to make love to a woman, have her sign a form first. The form should specify that she is doing what she does while in full possession of her faculties, without coercion and out of her own free will. To make sure, have her sign it in front of a notary. Better still have her sign two forms, one before, one after. But do not kid yourself. A woman can always claim that she signed under duress or else while drunk or otherwise mentally incapacitated (as, it seems, many women are most of the time). So the protection this measure affords is limited.

In case, which is quite possible, all these precautions are no avail and you are made to stand trial, the following measures may help a little:

Hire the best available female lawyer but only after you’ve checked, and checked again, that she can be trusted.

If there is to be a jury trial, have your lawyer make sure, as far as possible, that the jury is made up of young men and elderly women.

Have your female relatives and acquaintances sit in on the trial and show, at every opportunity, how unafraid of you they are and how much they love you.

If, which is very likely, you are convicted and sent to jail, forget your male pride. It will only land you into more trouble. Instead, use every opportunity to show how contrite you are, how much you regret your beastly actions and sympathize with your “victims”, and so on. Doing so is the only way to gain an early release or be put on parole.

Good luck.

“Disaster Area”

Hanging in my kitchen I have a so-called “New Zealand Tourist Map of the World.” Like other humoristic maps of its kind, it carries a brief description of each region. New Zealand, painted green, is best of all. It occupies an entirely disproportionate part of the map and is marked as having such things as “the biggest fish,” “the muddiest mud,” and “the friendliest mermaids” in the world. By contrast, Australia is a “desert island populated by a backward tribe known as strines.” Japan has “earthquakes,” the US, “hamburgers,” and Africa, “wild women.” These are just examples; most of the world has more than one epithet applied to it. Not so the Middle East, which is summed up in just two words: “disaster area.”

Fun aside, for a hundred years now the Middle East has in fact been a disaster area, much to the loss of most of its unfortunate inhabitants. Nor, the recent agreement between Presidents Trump and Putin notwithstanding, does there seem to be any immediate prospect for the turmoil to end. In this brief article I propose, 1. To trace the conflicts themselves; 2. Explain, very briefly, the factors that have prevented peace; and, 3. Say a few words about the probable shape of the future.

*

Many of the problems in the Middle East go back far into the nineteenth century. For our purposes, however, a good starting point is formed by World War I (1914-18). In 1916-18 the British, coming from the Sinai as well as the Persia Gulf, defeated the Ottomans and overran the entire Middle East. Next they divided the spoils with their French allies. France got Syria and Lebanon, whereas Britain took the rest.

The aftermath of the war saw the establishment of the colonies—which later developed into independent states—of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, and Trans-Jordan (as it then was). Saudi Arabia, which was never occupied by either Britain or France, became independent by default. Last not least the Balfour Declaration, which was issued in November 1917, promised that His Majesty’s Government would “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” As one Arab resident wrote to Winston Churchill, who as colonial secretary had been entrusted with fixing the various borders and toured the country in 1922, as long as the Declaration was not repealed peace would “never” return to that country.

Since then the peace to end all peace, as it has been called, has remained the source of endless trouble. First the British had to cope with Arab uprisings in Palestine and, on a much larger scale, in Iraq. No sooner were those revolts suppressed than trouble broke out on the border between Trans Jordan and Saudi Arabia, an entirely artificial line on the map that the local tribes refused to respect. In 1927-29 it was the turn of the French to cope with what is still remembered as the Great Syrian Revolt. Additional Arab revolts broke out in Palestine in 1929 and 1936-39 and in Iraq in 1940.

No sooner had World War II ended than Palestine witnessed another anti-British revolt, albeit that this time it was the Jews who revolted. The establishment of Israel in 1948 was immediately followed by an entire series of Arab-Israeli Wars that lasted until 1973. But trouble was not limited to Israel and its neighbors. The British having gone, during much of the 1950s and 1960 the Kurds in Iraq waged more or less open warfare against the central authorities in Baghdad, a problem that has still not been resolved. The Kurds also tried to break loose from Turkey, another problem that has still not been solved.

In the 1960s Yemen was devastated by a civil war (as, at present, it is once again). In 1970 the Syrians briefly invaded Jordan which was just then engaged in civil war against the Palestinians in its territory. Six year later civil war broke out in Lebanon, and six years after that Israel launched a massive invasion of the latter country. It took until 2006 ere another massive Israeli blow finally brought hostilities in southern Lebanon to an end—and even so there is no guarantee that they will not break out again at any time.

The 1980s saw a massive war between Iraq and Iran. No sooner had it ended than Iraq made a grab for Kuwait and had to be expelled by the United States and its allies (1991). In 2003 hostilities in the Persian Gulf resumed. This time not only Iraq’s armed forces but its government was smashed, leading to chaos that, fourteen years later, shows hardly a sign of abating. Worst of all is the situation in Syria where civil war broke out in 2011. As of this writing it has succeeded in turning much of the country into a wasteland from which t will take decades to recover, if indeed it ever does.

*

How to account for all this trouble? Perhaps the most important answer is the extraordinary complexity of the region. A complexity which the new states, lacking firm roots in the population as they did, never succeeded in controlling. There are, of course, Egyptians and Syrians and Iraqis and Saudis and so forth. But there are also Israelis and Palestinians. And Arabs and Kurds. And Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Copts. There are Sunnis and there are Shi’ites (and there are Allawi’s, whom some do not recognize as Muslims at all) and there are Druze. There are also many kinds of Christians. True, the Christians’ overall role in the region is declining into insignificance. But how strong the hatreds among them are can be seen on major feast days when monks belonging to different denominations at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher regularly take up cudgels and bicycle chains and go after each other.

Had the men—there were no women among them—who made the modern Middle East back in 1915-22 been as saintly as Christ and as wise as mandarins, they would have been hard-put to take all these complications into account. Let alone bring them to an end. If anything, the contrary. Operating on the old, old principle of divide et impera, as when the French separated Lebanon from Syria and the British in Egypt favored the Copts, often they did what they could to accentuate them.

Next, poverty. Early in the twentieth century the countries of the Middle East were, without exception, poor and undeveloped. So much so that, by one estimate, per capita income in what later became Israel, which even then was starting to emerge as one of the more developed regions, stood as just four percent of the US figure (currently it stands at 56 percent). Israel apart, no country in the Middle East has managed to cross the threshold into a mature industrial, let alone post-industrial, society. An antiquated social structure, based on extensive ties between extended families and clans, acts as both cause and effect of this fact.

True, over the last century agriculture has declined and urbanization spread. Yet most of the urban population remains very poor indeed. Nor do most of these people have the kind of education needed to create and maintain a modern economy. As a result, what wealth there is owes its existence mainly to the primary sector. Chiefly oil and related products such as natural gas.

But not all Middle Eastern states possess significant reserves of the precious black liquid. Both in those that do and those that do not, income is so unevenly distributed as to act as the source, not of progress but of conflict, some of it armed. These conflicts in turn are tied to the fact that, again with the exception of Israel, no Middle Eastern country has ever succeeded into converting itself into a true democracy. Meaning one characterized by popular elections, a freely elected parliament able to supervise the executive, human rights anchored in law, and an independent judiciary. Iraq and Syria until they were torn apart by war, and Jordan and Egypt right down to the present day, were or are run by a team of four: namely the head of state, the ruling party, the army, and the secret services. Security of life and property exist, if at all, only to a very limited extent. And liberty is a very occasional guest.

To the internal factors must be added external ones. From antiquity on, the Middle East has always been an extraordinarily important region, geopolitically speaking. The reason is because through it passed the lines of communication leading from north to south and from west to east. With the discovery of oil early in the 20th century, which led to some of the greatest concentrations of wealth in history on one hand and to the most intense competition on the other, its role became even greater. Going back at least as far as 1918 and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, not for five minutes has the Middle East been free of foreign intervention.

At first, as already explained, the leading role was played by the British and the French. After 1945 it was mainly the Americans and the Soviets who called the shots. Both superpowers sought to extend their own zone of influence and expel the other. Now by treaty, now by economic aid, now by assisting a rebel group to mount a coup and overthrow a government, and now by having their respective clients fight one another. Nor were the US and the Soviet Union, later succeeded by the Russians, the only ones with a finger in the pie. As is exemplified by the fact that, currently and at any rate on paper, no fewer than 68 countries are officially committed to fighting Daesh.

Many of the countries in question are at odds not only with their local rivals but with each other too. Take, as an example of the resulting complexity, the case of Syria whose regime has been fighting its own citizens for the last six years. In Syria alone there are said to be some fifty different militias, some fairly large, others very small. Though all or most seem to have this in common that they hate President Assad’s government, many also reflect various religious, ethnic and local interests. The Russians, the Iranians and the terrorist organization Hezbollah (which has its roots in Lebanon, and is made up of Shi’ite fighters operating in Syria, which is mostly Sunni) have all been consistently supporting Assad.

The Turks claim to be fighting terrorists, but in reality they are more interested in keeping the Kurds down and the Iranians, out. The Saudis, bent on bugging Iran wherever they can, are determined to get rid of Assad and provide the Syrian rebels with weapons by way of Jordan. Ostensibly to prevent the war from spreading to that country, the US has stationed troops there. It is also bombing both Assad and his opponents, Daesh. To not much avail, as far as anyone can see. With the US are, as so often, some of its NATO allies playing the role of the jackal. As for Israel, up to the present it has managed to keep out of the conflict. But this does not prevent it from constantly calling on others to topple Assad and so, hopefully, pulling its own chestnuts out of the fire.

*

Niels Bohr, the Nobel-Prize winning Danish nuclear physicist, is supposed to have said that prediction is difficult, especially of the future. The Talmud concurs, saying that “the gift of prophecy is handed out to fools.” One does not, though, need divine insight to understand that, the abovementioned agreement between Trump and Putin notwithstanding, the Middle East is indeed a “disaster area” and likely to remain so for a long time in the future. To proceed in reverse order, one reason for this is foreign intervention which has often aided and abetted local conflicts. Then there is the absence of democracy, representative government, and human rights; all of which, along with the frequent presence of thuggish rulers, are rooted in societies most of which have never succeeded in overcoming their tribal character. Thuggish rulers—in truth, it is hard to see how anyone but a thug could govern the countries in question—are responsible for the fact that free economies could not develop and the distribution of wealth is as unequal as it is.

These facts and many others like them explain many things. They do not, however, explain everything. Some years ago I had the pleasure of coming across a book by the aged doyen of “oriental studies,” Bernard Lewis. Titled What Went Wrong and first published in 2002, it tried to explain how and why the brilliant civilization of the Middle Ages had declined until, finally, it reached the point where the epithet “Arab” is positive only when applied to a horse.

Though I read it twice, I still do not know.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Unhealthy Foods*

A stands for alcohol (of course), artichoke spinach dip (remember Popeye the Sailor Man?), avocado (if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding).

B stands for bacon, bagels, baked beans, beer, biscuits, boxed pancake mix, bran muffins, burghers, butter.

C stands for cake frosting, candy (of course; the rules we do not ourselves stick to we have to inflict on our hapless children), canned soups, canned tomato sauce, chips, cereals, cheese, chicken wrap, chocolate, chocolate cakes, cholesterol, coffee creamer, colas (including both coca and pepsi), cookies, Corn Dogs, corn syrup, couscous, crackers, croissants (I really hate this prohibition, because my wife loves them), croutons.

D stands for deli meat, dipping sauces (most of them), donuts (of course, given how popular they are), Doritos, dried fruit, Dr. Pepper.

E Stands for energy bars and used to stand for eggs (except that the latter have now been declared healthy).

F stands for fast food, fish sandwich, flavored instant oatmeal, flavored nuts, flavored soymilk (apparently anything that has a flavor is bad for you), French fries, fried foods, frozen meals, fruit cocktail, fruit juices, fruit snacks (anything with fruit in it, it seems).

G stands for gin and tonic, gluten-free products, granola, grilled portabella sandwich.

H stands for hot dogs, hummus, hydrogenated oils.

I stands for icecream.

J stands for jams, jellies, junk food.

K stands for ketchup.

L stands for lemon (bad for the teeth), lunch meat (much worse than dinner meat, I suppose).

M stands for Mac (a coloring agent used in cheese), margarine, mayonnaise, microwave popcorn, monosodium glutamate (what one earth is that?) Mountain Dew, muffins (both low-fat and ordinary), multigrain bread, multigrain chips, mushrooms (and I do not mean just the poisonous ones).

N stands for nonfat cottage cheese, Nutrasweet.

O stands for olive oil, orange juice, organic snack foods.

P stands for packaged cookies, packaged turkey, parfait, pasta, pizza (both ordinary and veggie), Pop Secret, potatoes (according to the head of Harvard University’s Nutrition Department, no less), potato chips, pretzels, processed meats, prepared salads (the alternative, of course, is unprepared salads; however, even my late bitch, Sandy, who always had a healthy appetite, rejected them), protein bars.

Q stands for quiche. Yuk, if you ask me.

R stands for ranch dressing, Ramen noodles, red meat, Reduced-Fat Italian Salad Dressing, reduced fat peanut butter (makes you wonder how healthy non-reduced fat peanut butter can be), rice crackers, rice milk.

S stands for saccharin, salt (without which, however, life is impossible), 7Up, Slim Fast Shakes, smoothies, soda, sodium, soy products, spinach pasta, sport drinks, Sprite, sucralose, sugar (and its opposite, sugar-free products), sunflower seeds, sushi (never mind that Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world), sweetened milk.

T stands for tea drinks, trail mix, transfat, turkey burgher.

V stands for veggie omelets, veggie patties, Vodka (a Russian drink, which God forbid).

W stands for white bread, whole wheat bread, wine.

X stands for Xanthan (for those who, like me, didn’t know, it is a common thickener)

Y stands for yogurt.

Z stands for zucchini, if it is fried.

Is there anyone out there who has avoided all these foods and managed to stay alive? If so, please stand up and be counted.

*Compiled from a variety of websites. Any additions to the list will be welcome.