One step forward, one step back

Two big things happened in Israel:

  1. Israel landed a spacecraft on the moon! (Not what you were expecting first, right?)
  2. Israel had an election

Unfortunately, neither was perfectly executed.

Israel is the fourth country to land a craft on the moon (the seventh to orbit the moon). Just that is praiseworthy and we should be really proud! But “land” is sort of a stretch; it crashed to the surface.

The craft was called “Beresheet” – “In the beginning,” also the name of the first book of the Torah – so we can look forward to more attempts. The main picture making the rounds on social media was the arrivals board of Ben Gurion Airport listing the arrival time on the moon as if it was one of the many flights coming in.

The craft managed to provide a selfie just before crashing (a note about camera use and driving?).

Beresheet moon selfieFrom the moon

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Along with the Israeli flag, the Hebrew says: “The People of Israel Live.” Beresheet came back on line after the crash to provide another selfie. ON. THE. MOON!

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We also had an election. We can be proud that we’re still a democracy and we only have to deal with awful political campaigns for 3-4 months and we’re done. We need another month for the “winner” to form a coalition and then we get back to the business of running the country.

The “winner” is Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) for his fifth term. I put winner in quotation marks because the next largest party “lost” by an extremely slim margin: Likud 26.45%, Blue and White 26.11%, with fewer votes cast than in the last election. But it was enough to push Likud to 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and Blue and White (a coalition party itself) to 35.  Netanyahu needs to put together a coalition of at least 61 Knesset votes and there are enough parties that lean to the right to do it. However, they include religious parties that will have their own demands. Some suggest that Likud and Blue and White (center-right) could come together to have no special interests in the coalition.

Here’s where I think Israel crashed. Netanyahu and his family are under investigation for corruption and he’s come out swinging against the media using Trumpian terminology (witch hunt, fake news, leftist conspiracy, etc.) I’m going to leave aside fake social media bots, vote challenges and recounts by hand, cameras in certain voting locations, and the fact that there were more parties in the race than I have ever seen before – 43 – so every vote for parties that didn’t pass the 3.25% threshold is a lost vote. Rather, I’d like to highlight a few “coincidences.” Perhaps it was a well-timed coincidence that the US recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Perhaps another well-timed coincidence was Russia brokering the return of a soldier’s body to his family. He had been missing for 37 years. Plus we had the anticipated moon landing (a couple of days after the election). The logic is that nobody but Netanyahu could pull all that off – certainly not the political newbies in the other parties – because he’s good friends with Trump and Putin. And look how “good they are for Israel.”

Are all these excellent gifts given for free? Is it because we’re just so awesome and have suffered for millennia? We probably won’t know the true costs for a long time.

As an optimist, I’d like to see the glass as half-full: Israel landed on the moon and has a more or less functional democracy. But there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Spring Forward

Next week (April 9) Israel will be holding its elections. We’re going to have the day off, and I hope everyone does their civic duty and votes.

Israel has a number of parties in the elections and when I was researching who to vote for, I found that many parties have only a few people on their lists and a handful of program points. Most parties in Israel know they have no chance of becoming the largest party putting their top person in the prime minister’s chair. They run because it’s important to have their voices in the Knesset. Israel is run by a coalition so they can sometimes be the swing vote that makes or breaks a bill or even a government coalition.

In this election, there is an actual race between two parties with full platforms: Likud run by Netanyahu and Blue and White led by a triumvirate of Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, and Moshe Ya’alon.

The popular vote is important, but it’s just the beginning of deciding who “wins” in a coalition system. The party that wins the popular vote will get the opportunity to form a coalition government. If that party can’t do it, the party with the next largest number of votes gets its chance.

Here’s my prediction: Netanyahu will “win” in spite of personal corruption scandals, his embarrassing family, and proof that bots created social media accounts to promote him (I wonder who the meddlers are?). He’s an incumbent – it will be his fifth term (think about how crazy that is!). He has his party faithful. He’s been working hard on coalition partners (distasteful as they may be and some barely over the threshold to run). People believe that his diplomatic skills and his excellent English are positive for Israel.

Even so, here’s my gratitude list for this election. I am thankful that

  1. The election cycle is only three and a half months long.
  2. Annoying text messages and calls from unknown numbers will end on April 9.
  3. I don’t watch enough Israeli TV to see all the political ads (those highlighted on social media are untranslatably horrible).
  4. I’ve managed to avoid seeing bus ads.
  5. We changed our clocks so I had one hour less of the election campaign.
  6. The election is in the spring when hope is renewed and we are reminded that this too shall pass.

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Wisteria in Liberty Bell Park

A citrus tree of some kind in my yard is starting to bloom and it smells wonderful!

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I didn’t pay any attention to this sage plant all winter and it bloomed anyway!

Hey, is that an elephant in the room?

With all the fuss about William Barr’s 4-page summary of the Mueller report, I decided it might be worthwhile to read it.

The line that caught my attention and the line that no one seems to be talking about is:

The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.

 

Russian meddling is not alleged or suspected. It is a verifiable fact.

Since I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere, I thought, “How often does a foreign power interfere with elections?” There’s a Wikipedia page about it.

There we find that in the 2016 US election, Russia intervened, Ukraine tried, and there’s some suspicion about Saudi Arabia.

Guess who interferes in elections more than any other government in the world, and by a large margin too?

The. United. States.

One study indicated that the country intervening in most foreign elections is the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions from 1946 to 2000 – an average of once in every nine competitive elections.

This study was done by Dov Levin, an Israeli scholar who started his academic career at Haifa University.

His research shows that the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia use covert or overt “partisan election interventions.” Influence tends to swing the vote by 2 to 3 percent. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes not. (He published his academic article in February 2016.)

He notes that two things need to happen in order for intervention to take place – he calls them motive and opportunity – “a great power must perceive its interests as being endangered by a certain candidate or party within a democratic target … a significant domestic actor must consent to, and willingly cooperate with, a proposed electoral intervention by the great power.” The willing actor need not be the candidate.

In September 2016, Levin published an article in the Washington Post giving a synopsis of his research and said that the Soviet Union/Russia had meddled unsuccessfully in US elections two times previously (1948 and 1984). At the time, he said that Russian interference would likely be ineffective as the United States is a “hard target,” but Putin’s end goal would be “anyone but Hillary.”

In December 2018, Levin published an article stating that it would be unlikely for Mueller to prove that Trump colluded with Russia.

if possible collusion between the Trump camp and Russia occurred along the lines of past cases, the number of people who would know or who were involved in the collusion in the Trump campaign is probably quite small. Many senior members of the Trump campaign, including some of those personnel with ties to Russia, would likely have had no clue of such collusion going on. It may well be possible that even Trump was kept in the dark by those in his campaign who might have conspired with Russia.

Another obvious difficulty is that colluders are not taking notes and keeping records of their activities. Anyone who has seen even one episode of Law & Order knows that you can’t prosecute without hard evidence.

And then I started wondering about the numbers in the 2016 election. Did Russian meddling have an effect?

I’m not a statistician, but here are a few things I found interesting.

  • The trend in the 2016 election was for most states to shift toward the Republican side.
  • In many cases, the shift was not enough to swing a blue state to a red state.
  • In 4 states, the margin of victory was less than 1 percent. Together they equal 50 Electoral College votes (or enough to change the election result).
    • Michigan
    • New Hampshire
    • Pennsylvania
    • Wisconsin
  • Compared with the 2012 election, only 1 state (29 EC votes) had a margin of victory of less than 1 percent, and in the 2008 election, it was 2 states (26 EC votes). In neither case was it enough to change the outcome of the election.
  • Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were blue states in the 2012 election, all shifted toward red, but only New Hampshire (4 EC votes) stayed blue.

Then I took an even closer look.

State Clinton Trump Other parties
Michigan 47.27% 47.5% 5.46%
Pennsylvania 47.46% 48.18% 5.08%
Wisconsin 46.45% 47.22% 7.09%

Neither major party got 50 percent of the vote, and the non-major parties got more than 3 percent of the vote (the number of votes Levin says a foreign power can influence). If Levin is correct and Putin wanted “anyone but Hillary” in office, these numbers seem to suggest that.

Let me add a few more statistics for comparison. These are popular vote percentages (due to rounding, they don’t always add up to exactly 100 percent).

Election Year Democrat Republican Other
2016 48.18% 46.09% 5.73%
2012 51.06% 47.2% 1.73%
2008 52.93% 45.65% 1.45%
2000 (Gore v. G.W. Bush) 47.87% 48.38% 3.75%
1992 (Clinton v. G.H.W. Bush v. Perot) 43.01% 37.45% 19.54%

I added the 2000 and 1992 elections to show that 3rd party candidates can have an influence on the elections – in 2000 in favor of the Republicans and in 1992 in favor of the Democrats, when a viable 3rd party candidate broke the Republican party.

What does all this mean?

  • I’m bothered that foreign interference in a sovereign country’s elections is treated as “business as usual.”
  • I wonder if the interference caused enough Americans to reject both parties, and it was a tossup whether it would favor the Democrats or the Republicans. In any case, the voting statistics show a divided nation with more people considering 3rd party candidates.
  • Maybe the strategy to determine how to tip the Electoral College was suggested by an entity that had a preferred outcome.
  • Did the United States get a taste of its own medicine in 2016? Is this a harbinger of a new world order?
  • We may never know everyone who colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, or at least we may not have enough solid evidence, but we do know Russia interfered and Putin got the result he wanted.
  • Israel’s election is coming up on April 9 and I’m feeling more cynical than ever.

Purim – Celebrating Women!

Purim in Israel looks like Halloween on the outside – costumes, parties, drinking – but it’s actually the celebration of a woman who saves the Jewish people. Coincidentally, I saw Captain Marvel and On the Basis of Sex this month, which happens to be Women’s History Month. If you know anything about the story of Purim, you’ll know that that is also a story full of coincidences.

Unapologetically Feminine

What I found interesting in these three stories is that Esther, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Carol Danvers succeeded in a man’s world without forcing themselves to become masculine. Moreover, their inner spark and strength was hidden in plain sight. Esther was a beauty pageant winner and queen. She followed the rules and requirements of her position, and found a way to avert the genocide of her people. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a wife and mother, valued her family above all, followed societal rules, and still excelled in everything she did (except cooking; she’s terrible at it). Carol Danvers joined the Air Force, became a fighter pilot, and, in typical superhero style, was infused with the most powerful energy in the universe. At first glance, she seems “masculine,” but she leads with her heart and one “friend” calls her emotions a weakness. Rather than a weakness, she finds on her journey that they are her strength. The best feminist line is when she is set to fight a guy she thought was a mentor and a friend. He knows he can’t beat her powers, so he challenges her fist to fist, no weapons, to prove herself to him (he knows he can win). She shoots him with photon blasts from her hands. As he wakes, he sees her surrounded by sunlight and she says, “I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

Encouraging Allies

In Hero(ine) Journey style, Esther, Ruth, and Carol have an ally. The ally is not just a partner, but is a person who reminds our heroine who she is and helps her fulfill her destiny by lifting her up and acknowledging and celebrating her strengths and easing her weaknesses. Esther had Uncle Mordechai. He raised her, helped her win the pageant, coincidentally stopped an assassination attempt, and kept her in touch with her roots and her people. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had her husband Marty. He was her partner in life: an involved father and husband, a supporter of every choice, a peacemaker, and he was also quite a good cook. Carol Danvers had her best friend Maria Rambeau to remind her who she is and what her true strengths are and Nick Fury to help her navigate Earth of the 1990s and fight bad guys.

Stories for Women and Men in the Real World

Women can be inspired and fulfill their destinies. Men can see what true allies look like so that they can move forward by lifting women up instead of pushing them down to soothe their own egos. Armie Hammer who plays Martin Ginsburg said that he could never live up to the standards set by his character, but it was something to aspire to. He says (on The Graham Norton Show): “I think the model of their marriage and their relationship was the basis of the gender equality that Ruth later sought during her entire legal career.”

At the same time, I’m sickened by the news coming out of South Korea right now of Korean pop singers sharing hidden camera videos of their sexcapades, procuring prostitutes for investment schemes, and other crimes. This week a live streaming hidden camera site spying on 1,600 people having sex in their motel rooms was exposed. Under the banner of “My Life Is Not Your Porn” Korean women started taking to the streets last summer to highlight the phenomenon of cameras hidden in changing rooms and public bathrooms. This led to an effort to sweep public restrooms on a regular basis to check for spycams. I hope Korean women can find inspiration from a real person like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a possibly real person in their history like Jews have in Queen Esther, and if all else fails, they can take inspiration from the most powerful superhero in the Marvel universe, Captain Marvel. And from these stories, Korean men can learn to be allies instead of misogynists.

In every reading of the Purim story, we can learn a new lesson. Let’s let this year’s lessons be:

  • Women are strong
  • Sometimes only a woman can save everyone
  • Step by step, with patience and determination, women can change the world

The movies are very good, not the best I’ve ever seen, but they are definitely stories worth telling and sharing.

*This post is inspired in part by this article.

Nevertheless …

Objectively speaking, the world has had a pretty sh*tty week.

  • Massacre in two New Zealand mosques by a right wing extremist who proudly posted it live on social media
  • Rockets in Tel Aviv
  • Response in Gaza
  • Terror cell found in Syrian Golan Heights
  • Boeing 737 Max 8 making air travel scarier than ever
  • Scandal in the US of parents cheating the system to get their over-privileged children into higher-tier universities
  • Scandal in Korea of a Korean pop star who offered sex services for business investment that snowballed into a bigger scandal involving hidden-camera sex videos shared in chatrooms
  • Spa sex scandal in the US, which shines a light on human trafficking all over the US while delegitimizing the massage therapist profession
  • Learning about the despicable crimes of R. Kelly and Jussie Smollett, and wondering why Paul Manafort got off so lightly
  • Anti-Semitism showing itself on the Left and the Right (around the world)
  • Ugly election campaigns
  • Preventable diseases making a comeback because of misinformation and ungrounded fear

It’s weeks like this that make me think it might be a good idea to get off social media and stop reading the news.

Nevertheless …

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

I actually had a pretty good week.

  • Finished a big project on gender equality in the workplace
  • Saw a matinee of Captain Marvel and walked home in my blue suede shoes

Short review: So. Much. Fun!
Best feminist line: “I don’t have to prove anything to you!”
Best multi-level joke: Cat named Goose

  • Cheered for the runners in the Jerusalem Marathon – it rained the day before and the day after, but the on the day of the race, the weather was perfect
  • Took time for self-care, cooking (mushroom barley soup and quinoa fennel cranberry salad), and baking (molasses cookies)

This is not an ode to being selfish. Rather it’s a reminder to be grateful for the blessings in your own life and trying to make your corner of the world a little bit brighter. Human beings always have a choice. We can choose to have good people in our lives and do good things. We’ll slip from time to time and hopefully learn to do better.

But if we start to believe that the world is dark, horrible, filled with evil, and nothing we do even matters in the great scheme of things, well, then we will have a lot more weeks like this one.

So instead of looking at the world and saying “whatever,” let’s look at the world and say “nevertheless!”

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

As I was looking for images for this post, I was taken aback by what the search brought up.

Roses – tons of roses – and other flowers. Now I’m a big fan of flowers, but does that say “International Women’s Day”?

The alternative was the female symbol, some with a fist, some without. Or protesting in the Women’s March.

So I chose this one, which is a combination of both. (There were also some cat options, but let’s not go there.)

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International Women’s Day is marked in Israel in a variety of ways. My office job usually gives women a half day off, but since International Women’s Day was on Friday (already a half day for those who work, but not a working day for most), they decided to do a makeup workshop.

A few thought it would be fun. Others were offended. How does dolling yourself up to meet societal beauty standards empower women? I was more on the “it would be fun” side because I think self-care and making yourself beautiful for yourself is empowering. But I can also see that it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you aren’t beautiful without a full face of makeup.

A guy friend of mine told me that he was really angry about what his office was doing for International Women’s Day. They were sending all the women to the movies to see On the Basis of Sex. He really wanted to see it too! He felt discriminated against. (In his defense, he believes in equal rights and would never look down on a woman for any reason.) Personally, I hope all the men in his office felt discriminated against too. Nothing wrong with a gentle reminder of what discrimination feels like.

Another celebration of women that I’m loving right now is female (super)heroes (should I write heroines here instead?). It seems like almost every movie or show coming out right now has a strong female lead. The problem, of course, is when people “get tired of it” and it “no longer sells.” And then the pendulum will swing back to male-dominated movies. Someday, we’ll just have gender-balance. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So for this International Women’s Day, I hope you all appreciate the women in your lives!

**And special to the Women, Womyn, Womxn, Ladies, and Grrrls: Our strength comes from lifting all of us up, not from pushing others down. We are sparks of light who can lead the way through the darkness.