Shana Tova u’Metuka!

With the Jewish New Year just around the corner (it starts Sunday night!), I try to be a little reflective and think about how next year could be better.

Israel doesn’t seem to have a government. The US has its stuff going on. I even turned to the news in the UK and while it wasn’t any better than anywhere else, I find the British accent, dry humor, and lack of emotion kind of calming.

Then I dove into a YouTube vortex of stand-up comedy and reminded myself that headlines are only headlines and in day-to-day life, we can always choose to see the good.

And with that …

Wishing you all a Shana Tova u’Metuka!

May the next year be full of good health, many joyful events,

and more fish heads than fish tails!
(I’m paraphrasing)

May the good in your life be as abundant as the seeds of a pomegranate!
(that someone else lovingly peeled and broke up for you)

pomegranate-3259170_1280

End of Summer Roundup

I had an incredibly busy summer with approximately a zillion editing projects. Working with other people’s voices unfortunately affects my own voice. You could say I had a kind of laryngitis of my own writing voice – along with a lack of time, inclination, inspiration, and energy.

Baby steps to find my way back to the blog…

Elections

Israel just had its second election in five months. Seriously, America, you gotta up your game! What is the deal with a nearly two-year campaign to elect one person?

To be fair, while we can have an election really quickly, the result does leave something to be desired. There’s not much use in analysis right now since we don’t have a coalition and if one can’t be formed, we’ll have yet another election. Yay?

Am I Disloyal

I really wanted to write when this hit the news cycle, but it took me a while to process this one because as a citizen of two countries, I’m the poster child for “dual loyalty.”

When I vote in Israel, I vote as an Israeli. I think about what is good for Israel. When I vote in US elections, I vote as an American. I think about what is good for the United States. It’s weird to me to vote for a US president who is “good for Israel.” It would also be weird to me to choose a party in Israel that is “good for the United States.” I expect the US president to think about the United States and its citizens before he or she thinks about what’s good for other countries. I expect the prime minister of Israel to think about what’s good for Israel and its citizens before he or she thinks about what’s good for other countries. It’s a pretty strict compartmentalization, but for me that’s the only way to think about how to use my voting power.

Does that make me disloyal? Not to my own principles and values.

Fiction Illuminates Reality

I did manage to take a few breaks (no spoilers).

Beforeigners

Along with my love of Korean drama, I really enjoy Nordic Noir (think Girl with Dragon Tattoo and the original The Bridge). This short series has a paranormal twist: people from the past appear in the bay in Oslo. A short time in the future, many more of these “beforeigners” have arrived and there are huge populations of, for lack of a better term, “Norwegians” from the Stone Age, the age of Vikings, and the 19th century. Many don’t understand modern ways and live in the streets. They cook on open fires in parks. Some don’t believe in a Christian god. Graffiti shows up: “Norway for Nowaday People!”

In short, this show is able to show any horror that a refugee or immigrant might face without any backlash from any group. All the “foreigners” are from the exact same area, only a different time. There are a few scenes showing that beforeigners are picked up out of the water and taken to tent camps. They are scared, confused, and some lost their memories. They have nothing but the clothes on their backs. They are quarantined, drugged, sent to classes to help them adjust. Workplaces are openly prejudiced against beforeigners.

Illumination: It is a default response to reject the Other – someone different from us. To elevate ourselves, we have to acknowledge it and not pretend that there is some rationalization for “us” vs “them.” Build connections and find commonality. And then we can create a better future with everyone in it.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I have to be careful here to avoid spoilers. (By the way: 2 Thumbs up!)

Villain: “The truth is what I say it is!”

Whoa Nelly! He’s the villain because he’s forcing his worldview on everyone else. I think we see that a lot in our online culture. We also see it in the many truths of multiple narratives. There may be a truth there, but it is not the only truth.

Illumination: What we learn through the movie is that you have to retain a sense of self to see through the illusion that others project onto you and the world around you. The key, of course, is to remember that yours too is not the only truth. (P.S. This will make more sense if you stay through to the end of the credits!)

Commitment

From here, I want to get back to a regular writing practice. I’ve missed it.

Less screen time. More real world.

Sometimes it’s good to get out of the computer and into the world. Last week’s adventure was a cruise: Rome – Corfu – Dubrovnik – Kotor – Split – Ravenna – Venice.

But first I have to vent. Europe is seriously overrun by tourists. And it’s awful.

Before my first trip to Europe, I read a book by Rick Steves called Europe through the Back Door. He described his travel philosophy: Go to Europe and live as much a like a local as possible. Meet people. Learn a few words of the local language and learn a little history. Have an open mind about doing things differently. He advocated travelling independently. (He has since sold out and now organizes tours.)

When I travel, I do my best to follow this philosophy whether I’m travelling independently or in a group. I am a curious person in someone else’s home country. I came to learn and experience.

There is also the problem of Things You Must See as if travelling is checking things off list. For instance, when in Rome, you must see Trevi Fountain. Here’s what it looks like. You can’t even get near it. But everyone is checking it off their list.

 

The nearby architectural wonder of Michelangelo’s Spanish Steps? How romantic! You’re in everyone’s pictures! Check!

After my initial shock and dismay, I decided I would have a good time. And I did!

Corfu, Greece

I’d been to Corfu before (see here) and I wanted to say hello to Moshe, the head of the Jewish community in Corfu. I’m happy to report that in the back alleys of Corfu, you can still find a little piece of Israel.

IMG_20190430_105846

Dubrovnik, Croatia

At the moment, this medieval UNESCO World Heritage town is best known as “King’s Landing” (and sometimes Qarth). I walked the city walls (expensive, but worth it!).

Kotor, Montenegro

I knew nothing about Kotor before this trip. What a lovely surprise! I hiked 1,350 stairs to get to fort above the city (expensive, but worth the view and the sense of accomplishment!). Also, the city is dedicated to taking care of all the cats that live there. Yeah, it’s my kind of medieval UNESCO World Heritage walled town. (That cat just came up to me and sat down under my legs.)

Split, Croatia

This town grew up around and into a Roman palace. Everything seems to be both modern and ancient at the same time. It’s not quite as picturesque as some of the other places, but it feels more like a city to live in rather than a city to look at. It’s also a filming location, and it had the best nerd/geek store serving all your fantastical needs from Game of Thrones to Harry Potter to the Lord of the Rings and more.

Ravenna and Venice, Italy

By now we were tired, so we stayed on the ship in Ravenna. The city was an hour away by bus and it had Byzantine mosaics and Dante’s tomb. Pass.

Venice was freezing cold and hailing, so ciao, Venezia!

Synagogues

To be honest, I was a little sad about this. Corfu, Dubrovnik, and Split have beautiful synagogues with almost no Jewish communities. Corfu’s synagogue wasn’t open, but you can see it in the original article I mentioned above.

Dubrovnik

Split

Next on the agenda: Kiev and Odessa. Stay tuned!

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

SOURCE

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!

ballot-box-1359527_1920

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.

IMG_20190405_161210

Wisteria in Liberty Bell Park

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

IMG_20190406_175500

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.