Dark Magic – All Aboard the Conspiracy Train

I love close-up magic. I’m one of those people who never wants to know how it’s done; I just enjoy the ride. In fiction it’s called “willing suspension of disbelief.” I know it’s not real, but there’s a little part of me that wants to think that maybe there is a little magic in this crazy world of ours.

This kind of misdirection and optical illusion is done to entertain and amaze viewers. We are all happily fooled together. And it’s fun!

You know when “magic” isn’t fun? When it has political, economic, or social consequences.

This week I finished listening to 33 Strategies of War. The last section is about “Unconventional (Dirty) War” and the last chapter is called “Sow Uncertainty and Panic through Acts of Terror: The Chain Reaction Strategy.” Now I’m sure you’re all thinking, “Well, of course that would catch her attention. She lives in Israel and deals with this all the time.”

And this would be where I invite you to join me on the Conspiracy Train.

What if the chapter was called “Sow Uncertainty and Panic”? And what if the “enemy” isn’t a band of terrorists? What if uncertainty and panic in the general public serves a different purpose?

In the past few weeks, I feel like my attention is constantly misdirected. In Israel, is it the election that is distracting from the Prime Minister’s corruption charges? Are the corruption charges a misdirection from the alliance with Kahanists? In the US, is Michael Cohen a distraction from the summit with Kim Jong-un? Or is the summit a distraction from the Mueller investigation? What about the southern border wallWhere does Putin’s threat of targeting “decision-making centers” in the US fit in? Or in the UK, is Brexit a distraction from growing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? Or vice versa?

Trying to follow the media on these topics is like running after a hyperactive raccoon jumping into a garbage dump in search of shiny things that are apparently everywhere. The 24-hour news cycle leaves one shiny story after another in the dirt and no one seems to be putting the pieces together.

Sometimes you think the “trick” is finally being revealed. Or is it just another veil  of misdirection?

So how do you fight against uncertainty and panic?
Calm, rational thought. Unity and resolve. Do not bow to fear.

Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scan (1)

We normally expect this kind of inspiration from our leaders, but I’m not sure we can count on the illusionists in office.

As much as I love a magic show, I hope the house lights come up soon. This has gone on too long and I’m exhausted.

Eilat!

A photo essay

There was a rainstorm that closed the Dead Sea road, so we went another way. It should have been scenic, but …

IMG_20190207_133000

*Israeli history moment: In 1949, the Israeli army captured Umm Rashrash (without a battle) and they wanted to raise a flag, but they didn’t have one. So they took a sheet and painted two blue stripes and sewed on a Star of David. It went down in history as the “ink flag.” The original picture resembles the Iwo Jima flag-raising, and so the statue does too.

IMG_20190207_174812

Then we had dinner on the beach.IMG_20190207_180956

Next morning’s breakfast.

IMG_20190209_091131

The road our AirBnB is on.

IMG_20190208_125836

Eilat has changed since I was here last. There are giant luxury hotels.

IMG_20190209_114410

The marina.

IMG_20190209_114426

Sailboats overlooking the Red Sea.

IMG_20190209_114512

Nice views on the beachfront promenade.

IMG_20190209_122053

This is a view of four different hotels. Eilat is growing into quite the tourist destination.

IMG_20190209_122544

Herrod’s is at the end of the world, I mean, the beach. Across the water, you can see the mountains of Jordan and the city of Aqaba.

IMG_20190209_122858

Herrod’s pool.

IMG_20190209_123720

Eilat doesn’t have a “beach” per se. The water in the Red Sea is quite cool and what you can see here is the main part of the beach area in Eilat (looking toward Eilat and Sinai).

IMG_20190209_131515

Still, the weather was fabulous and the promenade was clean, not too crowded, and great for a change of scenery. We’re definitely not in Jerusalem!

IMG_20190209_131927

As a bonus, the flowers are in bloom!

IMG_20190209_132703

A Lion taking care of kitties

I read that the municipality has budgeted $27,000 (100,000 NIS) for cat food to feed Jerusalem’s stray cat population. The city has moved garbage bins to underground locations leaving the food source for street cats inaccessible, so some feeding stations are getting set up.

The new mayor of Jerusalem is named Moshe Lion (there was a notice letting everyone know that Lion is the correct spelling in English, though the pronunciation is /lee – OHN/).

I’m obviously easily amused: Lion —> cats.

Anyone who has ever been to Jerusalem knows that there are cats EVERYWHERE.

Living in Jerusalem, it was inevitable that I would eventually get adopted by some cats. As things stand now, this dog person has 3 cats. For the most part, I treat them like dogs while letting them be independent, aloof cats, who demand snuggles.

 

My three cats in order of adoption (left to right) –
Psycho Kitty, Catski Doodle, KitKat Monster,
but they go by Kitty! or Cat! or Sweetie Pie
or whatever I decide to call them that day

 

These two are obviously related, but adopted about a year apart. As you can see, they take care of each other in the winter by snuggling and head cleaning.

IMG_20181231_191447

These two have spent enough years together that they don’t mind being close, but they don’t snuggle. I wrap them up like sausages.

IMG_20190103_222147

Fine. I confess.
These cats are totally spoiled. There’s a heating pad under the blanket so that they can be relaxed and warm. They eat as much as they want, whenever they want. I am their personal door opener. Even though they are free to go outside, they would still rather poop in the litter box. I suspect they like that I shovel their poo.

They thank me by being purring blankets in winter, unconditionally supporting my hopes and dreams, and being good listeners who give only the best advice at the right time. There’s gentle headbutting to let me know they are underfoot, and they like to share my dinner with the adorable ability to eat daintily from my fingers.

Now here’s the problem: I need to find a way to get in on that Jerusalem cat food budget. I have the whole cast of Cats hanging out in my yard and my soft, bleeding, lion heart tells me to feed them. It started with Kitler (he’s old, cranky, and has a little mustache), then Ginger (the helper cat) showed up with Grey Tigger (very noisy whiner) and Bert (short for Orange Sherbet), the kitten. And those are just the ones I’ve named . . .

 

Feed me.

 

 

A Wall, a Fence, and Border Security

Israel’s border security is the inspiration for the US’s southern border security solutions. Our security doesn’t involve surrounding the whole country with 35-foot-tall concrete slabs. We built smart fences with layered security. Only 5% of the security barrier in the West Bank built to stop terrorism consists of very tall concrete slabs.

Here I’ll focus on the border fence built between Egypt and Israel to stop the flow of unauthorized migration from Africa.

The February 2017 US Senate report (you can read it here) compares the efficiency and efficacy of Israel’s border security to that of the already existing southern US border solutions. Israel’s fence is better by far.

fence

  • 150 miles of fence cost US$415 million
  • Yearly maintenance cost is US$58 thousand per mile
  • It was built in 2 years and the physical structure is made of rebar, barbed wire, and concrete buried underground
  • It’s about 15 feet tall
  • There was a 10-mile section that was easier to breach so they raised that section to 25 feet

Does Israel’s fence “work”? Yes. From tens of thousands of migrants coming through the border, last year fewer than 20 came through.

But here’s what the security fence didn’t do:

  • Write a formal immigration policy for Israel (it never occurred to anyone that non-Jewish people would want to live in a Jewish state, so there are guidelines but no formal policy for people who fall outside the definition provided by the Law of Return)
  • Deal with the tens of thousands of migrants already in Israel
  • Deal with security or trafficking at airports, maritime ports, or any other points of entry not covered by the fence

If the US followed Israel’s plan, here’s what should happen:

  • The US southern border needs about 13 of Israel’s fences (all things being equal), so it should cost US$5.4 billion. This doesn’t take into account terrain differences, proper oversight, consistency, eminent domain issues, etc. Even if you round up for other factors, let’s say US$10 billion
  • It should cost $112 million dollars per year for maintenance

The US already has 650 miles of fence.

  • The lower estimate given by the Senate report says it cost $2.3 billion (though another report says over the years it has been $7 billion). At US prices, Israel’s 150-mile fence would have cost US$530 million (or up to $1.6 billion)
  • Maintenance today on the US fence is US$77,000 annually per mile (or almost US$20,000 more per mile than Israel’s)

In short, the existing US fence was more expensive to build and is more expensive to maintain. But somehow it’s not effective. If the US builds a new fence using a plan based on anything other than Israel’s fence, it will be a case of throwing good money after bad.

Israel’s fence deals with a specific issue: unauthorized African migration, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan.

The US southern border fence claims it will deal with two specific issues: immigration and crime. So I checked a few statistics.

So if the border security “works,” it will stop approximately 400,000 people from entering the US via the southern border. It will do nothing about visa overstayers, nothing about “unauthorized” immigrants already residing in the US, nothing about immigration policy, nothing against any kind of trafficking (most likely), nothing for any other border sector, airport, or maritime port, and nothing about immigration from any other region than Mexico and Central America. It will also probably be over budget and improperly and expensively maintained. In addition, those who might have come via the southern border will likely find alternate routes.

Trump’s US border wall is a Golden Calf. Some will bow down and genuflect to its glittery greatness, and it might even make some people feel better. But like a statue, no matter how much you pray to it, it won’t actually do much.

An Israeli Neighborhood Moment – Home

I went across the street to the local makolet (the equivalent of a mini-mart) to pick up a few things. I chatted a bit with the cashier and an older neighborhood guy joined in the conversation. At a certain point, it was just him and me.

“Have you lived in the neighborhood long?”

“A few months.”

“Oh, where do you live?” (Anywhere else you might think twice about answering this question, but this is Israel.)

“Over there at number ___.”

“Oh, yeah? I was born in that building! Now I live across the street at number ___.”

I found out the guy was in his mid-60s. That means his parents moved into this neighborhood a few years after the state was born, raised their kids, and some of those kids stayed right here. He told me that he lived in his parents’ apartment in my building until he was 28 and got married.

Israel is only 70 years old. I used to meet gray-haired people who built the state. Now here I was meeting a gray-haired person for whom the state was built. In his lifetime, he didn’t remember a time when there wasn’t an Israel. His parents did, but he was born and raised right here on this street with a birthright to the Jewish homeland.

This must be a special neighborhood though. A colleague of mine lives nearby in the apartment he was born in. It used to belong to his grandparents, his parents lived there, and now he lives there with his family. His parents moved down the street.

I find it fascinating from the point of view of someone who was born in Russia, moved to Israel, grew up in the US, and moved back to Israel. Where is “home”? For me, it’s wherever I am right now. For these two, it’s this neighborhood right here and will never be anywhere else.

at-home-1099244_1920

TV Review – Timeless

Short review: A historian, a soldier, and an engineer fighting a worldwide conspiracy to change history by traveling through time? Yes, please! Bonus: Goran Višnjić!

This was one of those shows that had to fight to stay on the air, but we got two good seasons. Thankfully, they had a Christmas special to tie up the loose ends and keep the door open a crack for a new series in the future.

As a historian, I found myself curious about the time periods and characters that they met. I spent time afterward looking up names and dates and thought about moments in history that might have ripple effects in the future – personal moments or historic moments. Just for sparking curiosity, I think this series is worth watching and I can’t wait to see more from Eric Kripke and Shaun Ryan.

Long review: More detailed descriptions of elements I liked. Not exactly spoilers, but if you don’t want to know, you’ve been warned.

timeless

I’ve written before about narratives in history and versions of truths and ultimate truths. And this series takes those ideas and turns them into an interesting story that opens the door to hidden histories. Each episode goes to a different time period and while we might think that the Time Team, as they are called online, is there to stop or save a big event, sometimes it’s a small event that has repercussions generations later.

This can be personal or simply an unknown story. For instance, I had no idea that a little recording session in 1936 by a guy named Robert Johnson would spark blues music, which would lead to rock and roll, the 1960s movements, and eventually to questioning authority (what the bad guys don’t want).

When you deal with merging multiple voices and multiple narratives the right way, you learn about characters you didn’t know before, like Grace Humiston, the first female Special Assistant US Attorney. She was known as Mrs. Sherlock Holmes for helping to solve cold cases involving missing women.

One fun episode was running into Ian Fleming in Nazi Germany. Fleming is the author of all the James Bond novels and he was a real-life spy during World War II. Another is stopping by the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Having read Devil in the White City, I already knew that this was about one of the US’s most famous serial killers. Bonus for that episode: Harry Houdini. And what do you know about Hedy Lamarr? She wasn’t just a pretty face on the silver screen in the 1940s; if you use Bluetooth technology, then you are using something based on the principles she developed. If you haven’t seen the movie Hidden Figures, would you know anything about Katherine Johnson, a black woman working at NASA in the 1960s who made the lunar landing possible with her calculations?

A seemingly benign episode might have bigger repercussions if you think about it. The trio go back and meet the first black NASCAR driver, Wendell Scott. A number of auto executives were going to attend the race. So what happens if the execs get killed by the bad guys? Who would control the whole auto industry?

My favorite thing about the show is that it sparked my curiosity. We all know the basics of history, but to get the full truth, you have to hear all the voices. This was a great way to introduce untold stories to US audiences who suffered through white man’s history. (Or, in the vernacular of my liberal arts university: his-story.)

The great thing about this show is that we see people outside stereotypes. The historian is a young-ish woman. The engineer is a black Star Wars geek who graduated MIT. Another engineer is a Lebanese woman who likes Star Trek. The special agent in charge is Indian (from India) and is married to a black woman. The one character that is stereotypical is the Delta Force soldier; he’s a tasty morsel of all-American origin.

The show takes on the challenge of what a woman or a black man can do in history when neither one of those was respected in society. History is not seen through rose-colored glasses, but it’s not seen as the Dark Ages either. People survived and even thrived. The trio also has to make some tough choices. Would you try to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln?

If you watch a lot of TV and movies (who me?), then you’ll also get the inside jokes. Some of the most fun moments are when they make up names to hide their identities. Cagney and Lacey are investigators. Lando Calrissian is a record producer. John Maclane and Hans Gruber team up. Denzel Washington is a Civil War soldier. Every episode has fun Easter eggs if you’re quick enough to catch them.

Bottom line: If you like history, if you like turning what you know on its head, if you like to be challenged, and if you like laughing, then this show is for you.