Thursday, September 4, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Israel and Palestine

The survival of the Jewish State is vital to the survival of the Jewish people.

The state of Israel may not survive unless there is a permanent solution to the problem of Gaza and the Palestinians.

It is fair to say, "what would you expect us to do when they are raining rockets down on our cities and hiding in mosques and hospitals?"

But the overwhelming disparies between military might and the number of casualties on both sides speak volumes to the rest of the world.

It's like when neighbors see that your child has been beaten black and blue, and you say, "what would you expect me to do when he's running around my house breaking things because he's angry?"

The question that Israelis really need to be asking is, "what would WE do if 1.8 million Jews were walled off on a 130 square mile strip of land for decades?"

What would any group of people do with the building supplies that were so graciously allowed into the refugee camps?

The US military is funding this violence instead of funding a two-state solution (and making such a solution contingent upon future financial aid).

Why is the US doing this, when it's only hurting Israel's chances of survival in the long run? Of course, much of the support from American Christians is simply an effort to bring about the apocalypse and has NOTHING to do with any sincere love for the Jews.

Here is the one truth of which I am certain: people are people the world over, and the way people respond to their circumstances is consistent and predictable regardless of race, color or creed.

Only Israel has the power to change the circumstances that the Palestinians are reacting to, and longer Israel fails to do that, the more bitter both sides become.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cowboys and Indians and Cops and Robbers

Our rabbi said something that struck a chord with me a little while ago, and I've been mulling it over.

He said that the problem with liberals is that they don't believe in evil.

He was speaking, if I remember correctly, in reference to the recent opening of communication between the United States and Iran, but I will focus on the general question of evil for right now.

Certainly, there are evil individuals; psychopaths and pedophiles who prey on innocent children. And I think there is certainly a difference between a legitimately insane individual and one who knows right from wrong and doesn't care.

Also, I would say that there are evil philosophies and regimes; the Nazi's being the best recent example, and I would argue that a lot of very evil individuals rose through the ranks very quickly until the whole system was top-heavy with psychopathy.

But to write off the Nazi chapter in human history as "those evil people" is a cop-out for the rest of humanity.

What about all the Nazis who were not psychopaths? The sheep, the onlookers, the bystanders, the ones who were "just following orders." These people made the psychopaths' world a reality; without the willing masses, the Third Reich could never have happened. And those people, all those people, were no different from you or me.

And the most important thing we have to remember is that, psychopaths aside, the Nazi's thought they were the good guys. In their reality, the people who opposed them were "evil" and needed to be destroyed so that they, the good guys, could survive.

Proof that the Holocaust could have happened anywhere under the right circumstances is the Milgram experiments. (Frankly, it's a shame that Milgram's experiments aren't part of standard middle school curriculum, because this bit of psychology needs to be common knowledge.)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychiatrist, designed an experiment to test how far individuals could be pushed to act against their own moral conscience under the direction of perceived authority figures. The test consisted of three participants: a scientist who was conducting the experiment (the authority figure), a volunteer who was designated the "teacher," and a "student," whom the "teacher" thought was another volunteer but was actually faking the role of "student." The volunteers thought they were participating in an experiment about memory and learning. When the student answered a question incorrectly, the teacher was instructed to push a button that would shock the student, with subsequent wrong answers requiring higher voltage shocks, the highest being 450 volts. With each successive shock, the students reacted as if they were in more and more pain, at some points pleading not to be shocked, screaming, or becoming unresponsive.

When the teacher hesitated or objected, the scientist would urge him or her to continue with four pre-scripted phrases in order:

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.
The experiment ended after the teacher still refused to shock the student after the fourth prompt, or pushed the maximum 450 volt button three times.

It's important to note the teachers in this experiment were so stressed by the circumstances, that many have argued that the experiment was emotionally abusive and should never have been performed. The teachers sweated, stuttered, trembled, and dug their fingernails into their own skin.

The shocking results, which have remained consistent throughout several variations of the test administered around the globe: 65% of participants continued to the bitter end, pressing the maximum voltage button three times.


Because a perceived authority figure told them to.

Because they perceived the men in white lab coats to be "the good guys."

Because they reasoned that the authority figure was the person responsible for the pushing of the button; therefore they themselves were not responsible.

What's so important about this experiment is that the volunteers acted in a way that they knew in their gut was wrong, not because they were evil, but because they were human beings.

You see, while it's true that the Nazi regime could never have existed without the compliance of the masses; neither could Judaism, or Israel, or the Renaissance, or the United States of America. 

If every individual was a visionary leader, their visions would be for naught without large groups of people doing the work to turn vision into reality.

My argument is that it is factually inaccurate to write off an entire people (country or religion) as evil; and because the people themselves are not evil, it is morally wrong to maim or kill them if a viable alternative is possible. Moreover, if we allow ourselves to be persuaded that an entire group of people is evil and must be destroyed, then we are just as guilty of being mindless sheep as they are, and can no longer refer to ourselves as "the good guys." After all, while it is in our nature to follow authority, we do have a moral compass and we are responsible for our own actions.

I don't claim to know where the lines should be drawn when dealing with countries like Iran or Syria, or the Palestinians. I'm only saying that we must recognize that the people with whom we are fighting are exactly like us, even when they do not.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The buck goes on and on and on...

I'm going to start with a simplistic example of outsourcing. I've talked about outsourcing before in the broader context of the economy.

I work in the healthcare industry. There was a time when healthcare facilities did their own laundry. About ten to fifteen years ago, it became the norm to hire an outside company to do the laundry. It's convenient because the truck delivers clean, crisp, folded laundry at the same time that it's hauling away the dirty laundry. This is supposed to save money because the contracted company specializes in laundry and is therefore more efficient at the task. So with this service, the healthcare facility doesn't have to hire and be responsible for employees to do the laundry, and also doesn't have to buy and maintain washers and dryers.

There are several problems with this arrangement, and I'm not entirely convinced there is any money being saved in the long run.

First, there is a noticeable increase in the amount of stained and damaged laundry. So picture this: you just had cardiac surgery, infection is a primary concern for the hospital staff and yourself. While you are up in your chair, the CNA comes in with fresh linen to change your bed. She unfolds the sheet and there is a large noticeable stain. Now, this is a hospital, so that stain was almost certainly caused by some kind of bodily fluid, which is really gross. Of course this kind of thing is bound to happen once in a while, but since the hospital started outsourcing the laundry, this has been happening quite a bit.

The staff complains about the laundry, but doesn't even know who to complain to. The staff used to be able to go to the basement and show the stains or tears to the people who are doing the laundry; and no one likes to be hassled, so the people doing the laundry pay closer attention to what they're doing. But with outsourcing, you never see the people who do the laundry. The people who pick up and drop off the laundry are just truck drivers; they don't know the people doing the laundry either. So, after a while, the complaints may finally reach the person who is in charge of hiring the laundry company, and he will contact the salesperson who sold him on the company's services, and the salesperson will apologize and offer some kind of discount or refund. And all the while, the hospital staff are still unfolding stained and torn sheets over the beds of patients.

I have never seen an example of outsourcing that doesn't work something like this. There is such a complicated web where even the outsource companies outsource to other companies. The buck literally never stops.

Now, lets talk about government outsourcing.

Edward Snowden had top secret US government security clearance, but was not an employee of the US government.

And we can't talk about outsourcing government security without talking about Aaron Alexis, the shooter at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.

How is it possible that the Rhode Island police notified the Navy that Alexis, who was on his way to Washington for a job, was paranoid, delusional, hearing voices and hallucinating, without anyone at the Navy acting on that information in the two weeks before the shooting rampage?

Perhaps the problem is that Alexis didn't work for the Navy. He worked for Hewlett-Packard. And Hewlett-Packard didn't even hire him; they hired another company called The Experts to do the hiring.

But certainly the government performs it's own background checks on people who are employed by the companies the government hires? Certainly the US government decides who gets top secret security clearance?

Ummm... no.

The Office of Personnel Management (HR for the federal government) was privatized in 1996, and the now private hiring company for the federal government doesn't do the background checks either.

They contract background investigations out to a another company called USIS.

USIS was also the company that investigated Edward Snowden's background before awarding him a level of security clearance that allowed him access to... well I don't really know, it seems like the more appropriate question to ask is, "what didn't Snowden have access to?"

More importantly, who is responsible for the actions of Snowden and Alexis? The companies that hired them? The company that did the background checks? The government?

Is NO ONE responsible for hiring the 29-year-old high school dropout/espionage mastermind, or the paranoid delusional young man who had been discharged from the Navy for behavior problems AND had a history of gun violence?

I am tempted to side with the conspiracy theorists who believe that Mr. Alexis really was being controlled by the government with Extremely Low Frequency electromagnetic waves, just so I can believe that somebody somewhere has some kind of handle on things in this country.

But my personal experience with outsourcing leads me to believe that the only convoluted scheme being played out here is the scheme to increase corporate profits while decreasing corporate responsibility.

I guess the only real question I have is, why are we tolerating this? Why are we as a country so disinterested in the fact that no one is ever held accountable for these criminal lapses in our nation's security?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Uncommon sense

Ah, another day, another mass shooting in America.

Land of the free, home of the brave.

Except, of course, for the Liberals and victims of gun violence who are constantly plotting together to try to take guns out of the hands of honest Americans.

You don't want to be a victim of gun violence?

G E T  A  G U N ! 


And don't give me that crap about people in gun owning households being statistically more likely to be victims of gun violence. Studies like these have been deliberately skewed by liberal brainiacs who want to "prove things" using "facts" (which is why the good folks at the NRA have successfully lobbied to de-fund and even outlaw such government research).

But even with the stranglehold that the NRA maintains on Congress in order to ensure every American's right to buy deadly weapons from gun manufacturers, the liberals are not deterred from their natural desire to take away our freedom. First, they love to latch on to victims of gun violence because bleeding-heart liberals can't resist a good sob story. (Did you know Jim Brady used to be a God-fearing Republican before one stray bullet tuned him into a left-wing pansy?) Next, they try to find chinks in the armor that they can exploit to gain public support for a few minor "common sense reform" arguments, but don't be fooled!

One reform which they like to say everyone agrees with, is keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Um, I'm sorry, I didn't know being mentally ill was a crime in this country!

And while, granted, well over half of the mass shootings in the last 25 years have been perpetrated by individuals who had symptoms of mental illnessthat does not justify impinging the civil liberties of an entire group of people. I mean, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that nearly 100% of all these mass shootings were perpetrated by males, so are we going to stop all male civilians from privately owning military-grade weapons of mass destruction? I mean, talk about a slippery slope, where does one even draw the line with this insanity?

The fact of the matter is that there's no way to tell who is going to be the next mass murderer. Many forms of mental illness like schizophrenia often do not present symptoms until a person is in their late teens and early twenties. Other individuals possess latent mental illnesses which may not present until a traumatic life event, if ever.

And since you often can't predict who is going to use a semiautomatic machine gun for reasons other than the harmless recreational activities for which these weapons are produced, the only way to ensure the public's safety is to make sure every citizen is properly armed.

Now, I know what you're thinking: children aren't physically capable of operating machine guns, so how can they defend themselves when the next madman opens fire at their school? Well, as usual, the free market economy has an answer for that: Crickett Firearms: Quality Firearms for American Youth.

And before you go bringing up isolated incidents of children getting injured or accidentally killing their siblings, consider this: the terrorists are already teaching THEIR kids how to use machine guns.

So, by not letting our children have machine guns, we are literally letting the terrorists win!

The next time one of these mass shootings happens, possibly next week, remember: guns are not the problem, gun victims are the problem... because they didn't have guns.