Welcome To Leith

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Here is a multiple spoiler alert:
#1 I am going to give away most of the plot of the documentary by this title, and
#2 This post is about a topic that is guaranteed to upset people who are easily offended.

I am not writing it to be deliberately provocative, but if you are the type who gets riled up at the mere mention of sensitive topics, I suggest you skip this post.

I have watched the documentary called Welcome to Leith multiple times. The issues it raises about civil liberties are really profound, and if you can get past your own biases enough to examine them objectively, they are quite interesting to discuss.

In VERY brief (and I may do somewhat of a hack job of explaining this in the interest of brevity, so please forgive me if I don’t get things exactly right and just go with the spirit of what I am saying…)- a well known white supremacist got a very interesting idea. He would buy land and property in a small town- so small in fact that it had about 25 residents. So small, in fact, that if he could move in enough of his friends they could control a majority interest in the local government and thus democratically vote in their own officials and vote in their own policies. So small that he could create his own white supremacist enclave out in the middle of nowhere (actually in Leith, North Dakota), and they could live how they wanted, not bothering anyone.

The problem was, it bothered the residents of Leith.

And the problem was, on a visceral level, white supremacists bother a lot of people.

So perhaps if it had been a group of vegan pacifists who had wanted to go and vote in peace, love, and happiness, nobody would have cared too much. Or had it been a group of people who wanted to form an artist colony where folks could paint and sculpt and make collages, that would have been okay. But the white supremacist thing got people’s hearts racing- and not in a good way.

All of the land purchases were done legally and above board. No attempt was made to hide anything or be secretive. And to their credit, the original plan was to make use of perfectly legal means to control a government.

But then things went kind of haywire. People started protesting the supremacists being in Leith. The citizens demanded the racists leave. But it isn’t so straightforward to demand that a law-abiding homeowner leave somewhere just because you don’t agree with their political views. The original racist brought in other groups to speak on his behalf. protesters came from far and wide to “support” the original citizens of Leith. Threats were exchanged and petty harassment against the racists escalated to outright acts of aggression and vandalism. Police seemed a little lackadaisical about protecting the racists against the harassment, and eventually the racists took things a bit too far.

They grabbed some guns and went on patrol. Had they merely stayed on their own property, this may have been okay. But they did a walkabout around the town. And they seemed to be looking for trouble. They made several provocative comments, almost wishing someone would provoke a confrontation with them so they could escalate into violence.

The two men who did this were arrested and charged with various crimes, among them some sort of terroristic threats. Though a series of legal ball-dropping and either correct or incorrect (depending on your position) application of the laws in question, the charges were dropped and the men went free. There was a cascade of fallout, which it is worth watching the documentary to see (I highly recommend watching it for many reasons).

But the overall question which I find fascinating is: should people with controversial (some would say abhorrent) views, be allowed to democratically control a government? And I guess the corollary to that is, should unpopular views be allowed to be silenced just because they are unpopular?

If you can suspend your dislike of white supremacists for a moment, let’s do a quick swap. What if a town decided that Catholicism was disgusting and completely contrary to American values? Would it be okay to run Catholics out of town? To deny them the right to buy property in a given place? To silence their voices in a democracy? Because we don’t agree with them in one area does that negate their right to have opinions or their ability to be seen as intrinsically valuable in other areas?

Could we envision for one moment a white supremacist who is also a philanthropist? What percentage of a person has to be “bad” before we discount the whole person? Can you have a Nazi humanitarian? A wife-beater who works for doctors without borders? A volunteer at the humane society who is also a sexual sadist?

Eventually the residents of Leith drove out the white supremacists, but it raises interesting questions about what we say we believe (free speech and free expression) versus what we really believe (you are free to say and express what you believe as long as I don’t find it too distasteful).

Personally I find it useful to do a gut check every once in a while to see if I am truly living in concert with my own principles. Do you?

Why I Won’t Get A Flu Shot

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Believe it or not I have no desire to be controversial. In my last post I wrote a disclaimer (I actually said these very words, which I have cut and pasted; you can go back and check: Let me be clear. I am in NO WAY minimizing the horror of genuine attacks against women. I am ABSOLUTELY in no way whatsoever saying it is EVER okay to force any woman to do anything against her will.), which was apparently so invisible that people still accused me of being pro-rape. But okay, onward and upward.

This past week I got a ridiculously high fever. Like 125 degrees high type of fever where you would be afraid you might spontaneously combust, if you could actually think straight, except that you are so feverish you think your dog is your child and your child is an astronaut who has come to bring you a magical space potion to cure the disease that is turning your bones into powder. Luckily I had moments of distraction from the fever where I was able to focus on the shattering pain in my head and the absolute agony going on in my throat.

My fever finally broke some time on Saturday, and with it went most of the headache. But the sore throat hung on like a high school girl with a boy band crush. Luckily we are blessed in my community with an old tyme doctor who makes house calls. So on Sunday he came over to run a strep test. He looked at my throat and said I had a raging infection, but the test came back not strep.

Okay, fast forward to today. What does that have to do with now? Nothing. But it’s interesting? Right? It’s a fun story. Kind of sucks you in as a reader, huh?

Many people ask, “Do you get the flu shot?” And what’s funny to me is that an abnormal number of people I have actually known who have gotten the flu shot (this is real, not anecdotal, and I don’t have statistics…) have actually gotten the flu after getting the shot. Sure medical professionals will say they would have gotten it anyway, or they will get a milder case after the vaccine than they would have had otherwise, but I believe that to be statistically unlikely and probably bogus. At the very least it’s speculative and CYA…

Now here is my disclaimer for this post, and please read it carefully: IF YOU HAVE A MEDICAL CONDITION, OR ARE MEDICALLY FRAGILE IN ANY WAY, OR ARE UNDER THE CARE OF A DOCTOR OR MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL OR SHOULD BE- PLEASE CONSULT WITH THEM. DON’T LISTEN TO ME. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. WHAT I AM SAYING IS MY OWN OPINION. THIS IS WHAT I DO AND WHY I DO IT. I AM NOT GIVING YOU ADVICE. I MAKE DECISIONS FOR ME AND MY FAMILY. YOU SHOULD DO THE SAME. I MAKE NO CLAIMS TO BE ANYONE I AM NOT.

Okay? Is that clear? I’m happy to share what I do and why. I think what I do is sound and rational. I am not ashamed of any of the decisions I make, but I certainly don’t want anyone confusing what I do in my case with what someone else should do in theirs.

The bigger problem I have with the flu vaccine though is the vaccine itself. If the vaccine was just water being injected into your vein and by placebo effect some people would presto! not get the flu I would say great maybe more people should get the shot (or perhaps I would still not get it for my family and still think it was dumb and mind my own business mostly…), but if you look at the shot itself it is troubling in a number of ways. I’m not suggesting you go to anti-vax conspiracy websites. If you look at places like the CDC (Center for Disease Control) or even the inserts of the vaccines themselves, you will find some pretty horrifying things. The list of ingredients is quite eye-opening. From aluminum (thought to cause Alzheimer’s), to formaldehyde (used to preserve dead bodies), to mercury (people have been urged to remove dental filling containing mercury because it is so toxic)- the list goes on, but these are substances that are problematic in general and in vaccines they are being injected directly into a person’s BLOODSTREAM. Years ago there was controversy over an ingredient called thimerosol, alleging ties to autism. Although it was “disproven” thimerosol was removed. But those lawsuits get the largest chunk of settlement money from the pot of money from vaccine settlement cases. And in a bunch of cases thimeresol was quietly snuck back in.

Also with flu vaccine the batches are mixed up the previous season based on which strains they think will hit the following year. So let’s say last year they thought this year they thought this year we would get hit with strain A and R and J. They put those three into a batch- even though in nature, by the way you will never find a mutation of ARJ- and then have a whole load of ARJ. But what if the flu this year was actually AMT? So when you get vaccinated at BEST you may only have a 1/3 chance of it working even if the vaccine works perfectly and it doesn’t make you sick… Or a 0/3 chance- but you think they tell you that? They just need to get through that batch! So they offer gift cards and meal vouchers and oh you good Samaritan we will even give a free vaccine to a poor kid somewhere for every vaccine we put into you!! You big hero!! (By the way, have you seen these new ads for the HPV vaccine? With the sad eyed kids asking their parents- the viewer- “Mom? Dad? Why did you let me get cancer? How come you didn’t vaccinate me?” Oh gee, maybe because it’s a relatively new unproven vaccine and I would rather have 10 million safe sex talks with my kid before I would roll up their sleeve for your vaccine? Anyway…)

The point is that vaccines are always a cost benefit analysis. My grandma’s father died in the flu epidemic of the early 1900s. She grew up petrified of dying of the flu. You could pretty much ask her to inject bleach into her veins to prevent the flu and she would do it. So in her nursing home when the doctor makes his rounds and asks if she had her flu shot she nods in that trusting way that only very old people do and smiles trustingly into his very young eyes and says, “Oh yes, Doctor!”

And when anyone asks me if I’ve had my flu shot I shake my head derisively in that way only someone of my generation would dare to assume is weighted with meaning and say, “You’re kidding, right?”

Because I would pretty much never vaccinate.

I Hope My Lion Ears Deceive Me

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The recent uproar (pun intended) over the killing of Cecil the Lion has upset me on so many levels it is outrageous. The first few times I heard the news story I assumed it would quickly fade, to be replaced by something of actual substance.

For those of you who have been living in a cave for the last few weeks, the problem that has disrupted the flow of chi in the universe is that a dentist from Minnesota (who has a vacation home in Florida) went on safari in Zimbabwe and killed a lion. This Lion was in a sanctuary of some sort, but was lured out by the leader of the safari (not by the dentist, mind you) and was subsequently killed.

Why this is shocking I don’t know, since safaris in Africa have been big business for as long as money has been printed. There are certain types of people who will pay- and pay a lot- for the chance to kill big game and do weird things with the bodies as trophies. It’s not my thing, but it brings needed money to local economies and I’m not about to debate animal conservation or the merits of hunting. In any case, loads of animals have been killed over time with nary a peep out of anyone, yet here comes Cecil the wonder-lion and everyone falls apart.

At first the story was just about the horror of the Death Of Cecil. I thought that was crazy in and of itself. Then it escalated to the demands for extradition of the dentist to face criminal charges and I was incredulous. When next I heard that the dentist and his family had to go into hiding due to threats against them, and that his home had been vandalized by the people who are so full of love for their fellow creatures that they couldn’t bear to see an animal hurt I just about lost my mind.

Okay, first of all, there is real news happening in the world. There are legitimate things to get outraged about. Women are being abused and raped and children are being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. How about some moral indignation over that? People are killing each other over trivialities so petty as to be incomprehensible to outsiders, yet Americans are up-in-arms over the death of a lion? The media seems angry about Cecil, but I’m angry about this “news” story. I think Joe Average Citizen needs to adjust his moral compass if he thinks that threatening someone’s family over a hunting trip is an okay thing to do, or he just might find his own family a target of similar violent rage the next time he does something randomly unacceptable, like running his air conditioning or eating fast food. I’m not sure that we have evolved as a society if we care so much about animals that we fail to care about humans.

And again I have to wonder why this is hot news. I wonder if in other countries people are sitting by their radios with rapt attention wondering about the fate of Cecil’s cubs (News update: he has 12 offspring who may be killed if a new male takes his place in the pride. News flash: it’s the animal kingdom; that’s how things work. Males fight for dominance all the time, and sometimes there is bloodshed and death. This is not unique to Cecil and could have happened whether the dentist came on the scene or not. Grow up, people. Nature is harsh.).

It would be great if there was no killing, no death, no genocide, no bad dreams, etc etc etc. But it would also be great if people wouldn’t act like idiots and stupid stories wouldn’t monopolize the news.

Just sayin’…

Just Because Race Is Involved Doesn’t Mean Racism Is Involved

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A poignant experiment was done with turkeys. Researchers observed a curious phenomenon, whereby turkey babies would follow their mothers, even into dangerous situations, and even to their deaths. They wondered what made this bond so strong, that while other animals in similar circumstances showed a self-preservation instinct, turkeys would march happily to their own demise as long as their mothers led the way.

As good researchers do, they played around with different variables, trying to figure out which one was responsible for such strong turkey loyalty. What they found out was that turkey moms emit a specific noise, and that was the key. Anything the researchers would hook up with that noise- even inanimate objects- would suddenly find itself the focus of a turkey baby parade. Researchers could put an obvious predator in clear view, and a turkey-mother-noise-emitter in a tin can and drag it past the predator, and sure enough, those little turkeys would just march to their deaths. Publishers of the study referred to this as a “click-whir” response. The brain is programmed to respond to a certain stimulus in a certain way, and gosh darn if it won’t respond that way come high water or predators or zombie apocalypse.

I feel like we have “evolved” as a society to where racial sensitivity has now resulted in us seeing racism everywhere. We clearly have some racial baggage that needed cleaning up. To do that, we needed to be aware of issues of past racism, and how to address them and redress them- but that history has cost us dearly in that now we cannot see race without seeing racism. If police have to give the following description of a suspect, “A 6 foot, 4 inch man, driving a white Honda Accord and wearing a brown jacket…” because to say that he was a certain race- the most obvious descriptor of a person you are looking at!- may be viewed as racist, then we have gone backward instead of forward. If in 2015 we are so eager to show how not racist we are that we are penalizing white people in order to promote less qualified minorities, then we are spitting on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream that people would be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

And when there is an incident between law enforcement and citizens and before the facts are even clear people are shouting, “Black lives matter!” my response is, “Yes, and…?” Of course black lives matter- as do the lives of every person. But yelling this as if this is somehow insightful information is like me yelling, “I think Mexican people are kind of neat!” Perhaps interesting, but it doesn’t really add anything relevant to the discourse.

It reminds me of the time I was leaving a local cafe and someone asked me to sign a petition against LGBT murder. So I asked, “Um, who is in favor of LGBT murder?” The woman went off on a whole shpiel about how “those on the right” (ha!) support policies that cause the murder of LGBT-Q people, etc etc etc… and then after about ten pages of anti-right-wing stuff was the actual petition which was in fact a pro-gay-marriage petition.

Whether the recent incident in Baltimore will turn out to be police abuse or something completely not that remains to be seen. Clearly there are many on the streets and in the media who would like to frame this conversation for us. The last time folks wanted to helpfully sloganize (Remember “Hands up, don’t shoot”?), before the facts were in, the voice of the street was shown to be a conspiracy of shameful lies.

The internet has done so many great things as far as bringing information to people. But when people irresponsibly use social media to spread an agenda before the facts are in, the immediacy of the information age can work against us. For some reason folks almost always see the wrong information, yet almost never see the corrected information later on.

Let’s just hope we can be smarter than a bunch of turkeys.

The Death Penalty- As I Understand It

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As AM radio drifts in and out of my consciousness today I can’t help hearing snippets of conversations about whether or not the Boston Marathon Bomber should get the Death Penalty. I guess the parents of the youngest victim have requested that he not get the Death Sentence, for fear that he will spend endless years appealing it and they will have to spend endless years in limbo going to court case after court case hearing his attorneys explain why he should get his sentence overturned.

From what I have seen and read, this fear is not unfounded. And at the risk of raising the ire of those who think they know more about this than I do, and at the risk of raising the ire of those who may truly actually know more about this than I do, I am going to tell you what I think about the Death Penalty.

I think the Death Penalty can be a great deterrent if it is administered swiftly, fairly, justly, and with certainty. The problem is that none of the four criteria are ever met, nor do I believe they are almost ever possible to meet.

In order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it must come soon enough after the crime that a criminal will know it is a logical consequence of his actions. It will have to come speedily enough that he has time for his case to be fully heard, yet not much longer after that. But since THE IMPRESSION WE HAVE (although this is statistically not true…) is that mistake after mistake happens during a trial, we have to leave time for the Appeals process to play out. In truth, however, if heaven forbid the accused is your loved one, or the case is your case, even one mistake during trial is too many. So until we can tighten up our Judicial System and clean up our house (see next point), swift justice just won’t happen.

In order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it must be seen as a fairly earned punishment for crime. As long as the perception is perpetuated- and it is perpetuated because it actually happens- that poor defendants and minorities are disproportionately sentenced to death, it can’t deter crime in any real way because committing crime will always be seen as a game of playing the odds instead of a A=B equation. Whites and wealthy or well-connected defendants will assume they can skate away from charges, and everyone else will assume it’s a coin toss anyway. If there is no fairness, there is no respect for the law, so it’s hard to convince people to abide by a system that consistently plays them false.

In order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it must be seen as just. That means that the punishment must fit the crime. That means that there needs to be some sort of uniformity in how Death is distributed. It’s a bit of a hard sell to say that in one state a person should die just because they were already a felon when they committed murder, but in another a person must commit the most heinous crime against a child before the State would ever even dream of invoking this most serious of punishments. Either the Death Penalty is drastic and dramatic, and it is reserved for the most awful crimes, or every life taken deserves to be avenged by a life taken, but whatever the standard is, life is Arkansas can’t be more or less valuable than life in Texas, or the Death Penalty is not just.

And in order for the Death Penalty to have a deterrent effect, it absolutely must come with 100% certainty. A criminal must know that if he commits murder, he will die. He can appeal errors in his case, but then it’s game over. There is no 28 years on Death Row, there is no 60 Minutes interview set three years from now, there is no ‘what if technology changes in a decade and we find out we got the wrong guy?‘ That’s an insanely disturbing question, and I don’t know how to answer it, but if we are going to have the Death Penalty- which I believe has many benefits for society- then we are going to have to swallow some bitter pills along with it. Just like in war, sometimes things happen that you would rather not have happen. Not talking about them doesn’t magically wish them away, and not admitting to them doesn’t make them less objectionable. Not saying that sometimes long after a conviction, that conviction is overturned would be me being a liar- or me hiding the facts to make my own case sound better. So, sorry, I am in favor of the idea of the Death Penalty, but there are things about it that make me super uneasy and that’s the ugly truth.

I think warehousing prisoners for a gazillion years is stupid and wasteful. I think Death Row is a sick joke. I think the problem with the Death Penalty is not the idea of it, but the ways we implement it. Does that make me evil? You may think so. I think it just makes me open to discussing an idea.

Maybe you will agree.

Open Carry With A Side Order Of Open Hostility

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A few days ago I was discussing the people who periodically openly carry guns in order to reassert their rights to do so. In case you are not an avid follower of gun politics, here is the crux of the issue: in order to carry a CONCEALED weapon, you need to have a special license. The hoops you have to jump through in order to get this license vary from state to state. On one end are the most lenient “shall issue” states, which start with the premise that they shall issue a concealed weapons permit to anyone who applies unless there is a valid reason why they shouldn’t (for example a domestic violence conviction or a history of mental illness). On the other end are the states who only allow law enforcement and similar folks to have the coveted licenses.

But this applies to weapons that are concealed. The reason is that, at least in the traditional view of American lawmakers, weapons that are concealed are signs that someone could be up to mischief. They are problematic because someone could ambush you and you would never see it coming. They could do harm and people wouldn’t have time to take precautions. So our laws have always been much more stringent when it comes to concealing weapons, but there is something that has been notably absent in this body of law. And that is law regarding carrying weapons openly.

Recently, some people have taken to doing what, from time immemorial people have done to remind the powers that be that a certain right has always existed. In historical England and Scotland farmers would take their animals to graze in places known to them as open land because they wanted to assert to the government that these lands were not, in fact, open to be taken over by the government. By making sure to walk their animals over this land, and to let their animals eat, they were just reminding the government of the correct order of power. Similarly now, there are people who have taken to walking the streets with firearms openly visible just to remind folks that this is a right. If it is not periodically reasserted it may fade in memory and it may be taken away or eroded. Law enforcement may become unfamiliar with this right and then overreact when they see people who are carrying weapons. There have recently been court cases over whether or not this right is still active, and it is.

But today’s world is not the world of the past. Today we have school shootings and mall shootings and random outdoor shootings. People are gun-phobic like never before, and less people are familiar with guns than perhaps any time in this nation’s history. And as with anything else, lack of knowledge can breed fear. This seems especially true with guns. Police are understandably jumpy about unknown people walking down the street carrying large guns. So people openly carrying guns can be creating a dicey situation.

At the same time, many of the people who want to make a point of openly carrying seem to have a bone to pick with police and other authority figures. It is partly because they are afraid of the overreach of power of these very people that they are openly carrying in the first place, so cooperating with them is anathema. There are a number of videos on youtube where you can see these people carrying their long guns down the street, and when they are stopped and questioned by police, usually after several calls by concerned (sometimes hysterical) citizens reporting armed men in the street, they are downright hostile. Yes, they do have a perfect right to be doing what they are doing. And yes, it’s true that they don’t have to give answers to the questions they are being asked by the police. But their ‘please confront me I dare you‘ attitude doesn’t make them the best ambassadors for gun-rights advocates.

On one hand here’s how I think things should play out: I think before someone is planning an open carry he should walk into his local police station and let them know, “Hey guys, at 3 pm tomorrow at 4th and Main Street, I am going to walk down the block openly carrying a weapon to assert my Constitutional rights. You can check who I am so you will see I am not sketchy and not up to no good.” This does several things. It puts the police on notice so when the 911 switchboard gets flooded with calls the operator will know how to process the calls. It won’t tie up his or her time getting unnecessary details and dispatching cars to the scene of a non-event. Also, they can calm down the callers, instead of allowing public hysteria to whip itself into a frenzy. It reassures the police that you are not some wacko when you stroll down the street- in the latest example it happened in front of a school- and lets them know you are following legitimate laws. It gives the police some time to formulate a correct response to what you want to do, one that respects your rights while keeping others both safe and calm, and it lets them do this with a cushion of both time and space.

Here, however, is where my internal conflict comes into play: Part of the reason citizens need to preserve a right to carry weapons is in case the government over-reaches its power. Whether or not you believe in what some would characterize as conspiracy theories, it is absolutely true that in every country where government power has been held in check citizens have played a key role in holding their governments accountable. Our own history is one of armed citizens fighting off a king who had become overbearing and oppressive. So to have to report in with a government body and run your plans by them before you open carry kind of defeats a crucial part of the purpose behind it. To say otherwise is to miss the point. Also, the court cases that have upheld citizens’ rights to openly carry specifically said that those citizens did not need to give their information to the police. Unless you are doing something wrong, or are suspected of doing something wrong, the police cannot force you to identify yourself. Doing so violates your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.

People who openly carry are doing so with the best of intentions. They are trying to preserve rights for all of us. Even if we don’t use those rights now, it doesn’t mean we won’t want or need to use them at some time in the future. And these people are at the vanguard of the fight to maintain those rights in a legal way. I have to applaud them for not only standing up, but for doing it in a way that demands they be both educated and dedicated when it comes to those rights. That isn’t always an easy battle. Much simpler to just wait with a cache of weapons and then jump into the fray if times ever get tough than to put yourself out there to be ridiculed and scorned by those you seek to protect. So I have to applaud those who are willing to walk the walk, even if I wish they would have better people skills at times. Sometimes keeping tyranny at bay is best done by those who are willing to get their aprons dirty and their hairdos mussed… They may not be the prettiest girls at the fair, but I’d darn sure want them on my team if push came to shove…

So on one side, I completely understand that in a world of maniacs with guns who shoot up schools, police are justifiably nervous about random people carrying guns who then won’t identify who they are or what they are doing with those guns. On the other, I am quite sympathetic to the reasons that compel these same people to carry these guns and walk on those streets and avoid answering the questions that would give the police peace of mind while simultaneously chipping away at our rights to openly carry. And I’m not sure what the correct balance should be. It’s a tough question, as all good constitutional questions should be, and it makes me both sad I’m not a lawyer and grateful I’m not a Supreme Court Justice. Either way, it definitely makes for an interesting intellectual exercise.

NetanYaHoo!

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Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today, and I’m going to say complimentary things. If that’s going to make you irrationally or irascibly angry, please skip this post.

He began his speech by saying a ton of very nice things about President Obama. Most of them were quite perplexing in light of Obama’s open diss of Netanyahu yesterday, and Obama’s repeated snubs of both Netanyahu and Israel throughout his presidency. But that is not the subject of this post.

He segued into something I found so fascinating I want to discuss it in depth. He talked about modern-day Iran (Persia) and compared it to the historical story of Purim. Interestingly, Purim this year starts Wednesday night, and it is preceded immediately by the Fast of Esther, a day when Jews the world over fast in acknowledgement of the perilousness and precariousness of this time of year for us, beginning with Creation, but highlighted in the Purim story.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, here is a brief summary of the story of Purim: In the town of Shushan (in Persia) there was a king called Achashverosh (sorry, but I only know the story with names in Hebrew). He was married to a Queen named Vashti, but he became displeased with her, and so he began searching for a new bride. Around this time, there were some people who were plotting harm against the king, and the plot was overheard by a Jewish man named Mordechai, who reported the plot and saved the king’s life. The king wrote down Mordechai’s name in his special book, vowing that one day he would repay Mordechai, who had saved him.

The king’s search for a bride was looking fruitless, although his men commanded every eligible maiden to appear before the king for possible selection. Finally, a beautiful girl named Esther came in front of the king and he was enchanted. Esther just so happened to be Mordechai’s niece (in other places it says cousin). Being a Jewish girl, she was afraid of marrying the king, and of going to live in the palace, but she consulted her wise uncle who advised her to marry the king but not to reveal her Jewish status. They did marry, and she was a good wife to Achashverosh, and he was happy with her.

One day, Esther becomes privy to the king’s right-hand man, Haman, hatching a plot against the Jews. Haman hates Mordechai and the way Mordechai behaves, showing more reverence to G-d than to Haman. He thinks Mordechai is arrogant and obnoxious. So Haman decides to kill all of the Jewish people in Shushan and he wants the king to sign off on the decree. He casts lots (in Hebrew “pur”, with the plural being “purim”, and thus the name of the day…)to decide on the best year, month, and day to annihilate the Jews and it was settled. All that remains is for his plan to be carried out, so he builds gallows upon which to hang Mordechai publicly, a way to show who the real important man is in Shushan, and who it isn’t…

But Haman isn’t content just to plot destruction, he also wants to make sure he is properly honored. So he asks the king what he would do to honor someone who really really REALLY deserves honor. He is delighted to hear that the honoree would be given a kingly robe and crown to wear and a royal horse to ride upon. He would be paraded through the streets so everyone could see him in his glory. Haman is jubilant!

Meanwhile in the palace, Esther is in a quandary over how to save her people from Haman’s plot. Again she seeks the advice of her uncle Mordechai who tells her she must go directly to the king. The only problem is that approaching the king without being summoned is an offense punishable by death. Esther knows that doing nothing is a death sentence for not only her, but for all of the Jews. On the other hand, if she goes to the king unbidden and he is displeased, she will be killed as a result and the Jews will die anyway. Mordechai tells her that she must take the risk, but that in preparation she should fast and pray, and that he will tell all the Jews of the nation to do the same.

Esther does go to King Achashverosh, who as I said before is pleased with her as a wife and regards her highly. She tells him she is quite distraught because she just found out someone is trying to kill her and her whole family. Achashverosh is beyond outraged that someone would dare threaten his queen. He pleads with her to reveal the name of the scoundrel who would do such a thing, and she tells him: It is Haman.

In the end, in what is a theme of Purim, Achashverosh is restless so he looks through his book and remembers that he promised to honor Mordechai, and it is Mordechai who is paraded through the city in splendor. It is Mordechai who wears the robes and crown, Mordechai who is seated on the king’s horse, and Mordechai who is given honors and accolades. It is Haman and his sons (co-conspirators) who are hanged on the gallows, and the Jews are saved at the last minute and against all odds.

Why did I tell you all of this, and why do I think you may be interested?

This morning I got an email from a Jewish woman’s group I am a part of saying how interesting it is that right now (Purim time) a Jewish leader is going in front of arguably the most powerful leadership in the world and pitching the case for the survival of the Jewish nation. The head of modern-day Persia, better known as Iran, wants to have nuclear weapons. Among those he wishes to destroy with said weapons is the modern State of Israel (the “little Satan”) and America (the “Great Satan”- sorry, did you think we were immune from animosity?). Sadly, as most sane people know, when nuclear weapons are deployed, they aren’t exactly containable, so it isn’t exactly a strike with limited ramifications. But I digress.

Things look dark for Israel, and not for the first time. Not only is the country surrounded by far larger countries sworn to wipe it off the map, filled with people sworn to drive the Jews into the sea, but now there is a modern-day Haman who stands on the precipice of being nuclear-capable. For no clear reason (even in the Purim story Haman had some reasons…), the leader of Iran is passionately dedicated to Israel’s destruction. So Netanyahu went in front of the American Congress to ask for our help.

Make no mistake. He was very explicit on at least one point: With America or without, Israel will do what it has to in order to stay alive. And I say, good show, old boy!

But America is in a unique position in history, too. We can either aid and abet a potential war criminal in going nuclear, or we can make his mission that much more difficult. For all the weight America throws around unnecessarily in the world, here is a chance to do some good. Whether you like Jews, hate them, or couldn’t give a rip either way. There are certain facts at play. Israel is the only democracy in an unstable Middle East. They are now and have always been an ally of the U.S.. A nuclear-armed country led by a violent psychopath is in nobody’s best interest.

I kind of feel like if the Purim story happened now, Haman would just have waltzed into King Achashverosh’s palace and said sweetly (fingers crossed behind his back), “Oh, I didn’t mean what I said about destroying anyone. That was all a joke. Hahahaha. Really. I was being so silly. I just want nukes cuz I like the stickers that y’all put on them!” And Achashverosh would turn around and give him like 10,000 tons of enriched uranium and plutonium. “Would you like any reactors to go with that, or do you have your own?”

Or maybe he would cut aid and services to his supposed friends, like Obama did today.

But, like in the original Purim story, I choose to believe that things turn around in unexpected ways this time of year. When it seems like insanity rules the day (not that I’m calling out anyone specific here…), things go topsy turvy. Right always comes out on top.

Benjamin Netanyahu is a masterful speaker, but more than that, he is a masterful thinker. He knows more about how things operate in the Middle East than most people could ever hope to learn. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I’m hoping that Netanyahu can be our people’s modern-day Mordechai, because it seems pretty clear that, in every generation, we face a present-day Haman.

G-d deliver us from evil…

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