Archive for January, 2017

MY ALTERNATIVE FACTS

What’s all the fuss about President Trump calling his inauguration crowd the largest ever? And why bother with photos comparing Mr. Trump’s crowd with those of former president Barack Obama? Last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” presidential counselor Kelleyanne Conway set us all straight. There are alternative facts. I find that comforting.

Alternative facts get down to ultimate truth. For me, that’s particularly important. My family and friends only think they know me. My alternative facts reveal someone else:

More people attended my bar-mitzvah than any of the fifty Super Bowls. The value of my gifts exceeded the combined ticket revenue and beer sales of last year’s game… When I attended Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning back in 1966-67, General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, called me weekly for consultation.

My hair is so beautiful my stylist tips me. So other men won’t get jealous, I die it gray… I’ve won more literary prizes than Meryl Streep has acting awards… My manhood is so large, New York’s American Museum of Natural History requested that it be exhibited there (after my death)—if they can find a room large enough… The Nobel Prize committee intends to honor me in three categories they plan to create just for me.

I not only coached the post basketball team at Fort Sam Houston, I played. In a twenty-point exhibition ass-kicking of the NBA’s New York Knicks, I held Hall of Famer Walt Frazier scoreless… When Carolyn and I visit London, we stay at Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth thanks us for giving two weeks’ notice so she can find alternative accommodations… Three of the Bible’s most compelling characters were modeled after me.

My Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita is the world’s most expensive automobile. After a pigeon left a white spot on its hood, I donated my first to charity and had another made… In Churchill, Canada, I didn’t just feed wild polar bears out of my hand. I rode them… I once toured with the Rolling Stones, singing side by side with Mick Jagger. Calls rang out from adoring crowds: “Who’s that guy with David?”

I have more Olympic medals than last year’s publication totals of romance/erotica novels… My home is so palatial I have views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Las Vegas Strip… The New York Times’ Sunday magazine plans a book-length profile of me—unless the New Yorker wins its Supreme Court case claiming exclusive rights to my story… I star in the world’s top-rated video game. No one plays. They just stare awestruck at the screen.

Dos Equis beer based its advertising campaign, “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” on my life. For credibility’s sake, they underplayed everything… The President of India greeted Carolyn and me when we arrived last October. Three times I turned down his request to rename the capital, New Delhi, Davidpur… Cosmopolitan magazine named me to their “Sexiest Men in the World” list—not just number one but also spots two through ten.

There’s more to a person than meets the eye, an organ prone to repeated failure. When we want the truth plain and simple, all we need is alternative facts. Which make it easy to live in an alternative reality.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. And please don’t support my running for president in 2020. The office would be a demotion.

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LIFE IN THE BUBBLE

After Donald Trump won the presidency, many San Franciscans declared, “We should have seen this coming. But we live in a bubble. We didn’t know what people out there were thinking.” They were right. And they were wrong.

A bubble around San Francisco? Not all San Franciscans live in mansions and luxury condos, dine at expensive restaurants, drink fine wines and vacation overseas. San Francisco consists of many bubbles. The rich? We have them. The struggling middle and working class? The poor? They’re San Franciscans, too.

Yes, political and social attitudes in San Francisco are overwhelmingly liberal while many parts of the nation are equally conservative. As Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (1-5-16), people in rural areas have a different worldview than those who live in big cities and wealthy suburbs. He quotes Baptist minister and former U.S. congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.”

Different ways of seeing the world, often formed by the Christian belief in original sin, can be found in what coastal Americans often term “flyover country.” Those of us who’ve gotten to know conservative parts of America—for me: Western New York, Georgia a bit and Texas a lot—understand that Americans live under a variety of conditions and hold a variety of views, often complex. California coastal “elites” tend not to relate to the desolation (and rays of hope) I’ve seen in Detroit and the desolation (without apparent hope) I’ve seen in Gary, Indiana and much of Baltimore. But here is where those beating themselves up for living in a bubble go wrong.

Out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia, struggling farmers in Iowa and low-paid service workers in Arizona all live in their own bubbles. They see life through the lenses of their upbringing, religion, cultural background, education and economic condition. Life is real there. Life is real here. How good or bad remains subject to individual interpretation.

In his farewell address, Barack Obama asked Americans to get out of their bubbles. If he meant that we should no longer live in communities with those whose backgrounds and interests we share, he got it wrong. People often feel most comfortable with others like themselves. But I don’t think that was Obama’s intention. I believe he asked Americans to expand our horizons, talk to each other across red and blue lines, and listen.

Despite our differences, our “civil religion”—the idea that every American should play by the rules and get a fair shake in return—can unite us. It has in the past when we’ve faced major challenges. Yes, religion and ethnicity often divide us. Only the naïve think that this nation is perfect. But we often find common ground in not just in the tenets of our Constitution but in ordinary things: sports teams, music, Mother’s Day flowers, July Fourth barbecues, Thanksgiving dinner, and visits to national parks and urban tourist attractions.

America is a nation of numerous bubbles. We’re not all the same. We never have been. We shouldn’t be. But if we can peer through our bubbles, respect legitimate differences and open ourselves to all that binds us, the United States will do just fine.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may we respond to another challenging time with hope rather than fear, truth rather than falsehood, love rather than hate.

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THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Last week, I wrote about the military trial of Israeli Sgt. Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter in killing a wounded Palestinian knife wielder. The response by Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), reminded me of an experience I had fifty years ago.

Many Israelis opposed to Sgt. Azaria’s conviction pleaded that he should be exonerated as a child of Israel—“everybody’s child.” Eisenkot replied, “An 18-year-old in the Israeli Army is not ‘everybody’s child’. He is a fighter, a soldier who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.”

The IDF’s code of conduct states that military personnel must respond to a high moral standard that empowers them to refuse orders by their superiors. Jews are all too familiar with “good Germans” who, during World War Two, insisted that they were only following orders when they worked at death camps and took part in or enabled atrocities.

This brings me to Lt. Colonel Bert Bishop, commanding officer of the 97th Student Battalion at the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In May 1967, shortly before my class was to graduate, Col. Bishop informally gave us a glimpse of some of the situations we might confront in Vietnam. (The Army sent me to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and left me there.)

A combat veteran of World War Two and Korea—later a battalion commander in Vietnam, where he was promoted to full colonel—Col. Bishop covered a variety of practical matters, including relationships with our non-commissioned officers on whom we would depend. He informed the Jewish candidates—three of us in a class of 194—that we would have to assume some of the duties of a chaplain for Jewish soldiers wounded or troubled throughout the region where we served. There weren’t enough Jewish chaplains to cover all of Vietnam.

Most important, Col. Bishop told us that we should refuse to carry out immoral orders. How unexpected and extraordinary that was. Our battalion commander, who’d been on the battlefield and whose task was preparing us to close with the enemy and kill him, reminded us that as officers we were responsible to uphold the Army’s code of conduct. Regardless of risk to our careers or legal action some quarters might take, we were not to emulate the Germans who carried out the Holocaust.

We know that in Vietnam—a war we never should have fought—some American troops went awry. We remember the massacre at My Lai in 1968 that stained the Army’s reputation. But I will never forget Col. Bishop’s urging that no situation could allow us to be anything but professional and moral.

Gen. Eisenkot has made the same statement. And while some Israelis will plead that IDF troops face complex challenges—which they do—I believe the majority will agree with the chief of staff. True, we Jews are held to a higher standard. But that’s the standard we set for ourselves. Morality in combat or anti-insurgency situations does not represent weakness. By keeping the Israeli military and society grounded and disciplined in law and Torah, it creates ongoing strength.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may the New Year bring a more peaceful world so that soldiers everywhere can disengage and no longer face these universal moral dilemmas.

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ISRAEL’S “UNTOLD” STORY

Two days ago, Israel experienced bad news and good news. Sadly, most of the world will focus on the bad. But the military court verdict regarding #SergeantElorAzaria must be noted for the good it presents about a nation so often maligned—and blindly so.

Last March, Sgt. Azaria shot dead a Palestinian man—one of two knife wielders in the West Bank city of Hebron. The other Palestinian had already been killed. Israeli troops have the right to defend civilians and themselves under attack. The problem lies in Sgt. Azaria having shot Abd Elfatah Ashareef eleven minutes after another soldier had shot and “neutralized” him.

The court determined that Ashareef had posed no danger and convicted Sgt. Azaria of manslaughter. Many Israelis support Sgt. Azaria. Many Israelis adhere to the law and do not. Yesterday police arrested two Israeli Jews for inciting pro-Azaria violence on social media. Here we need to recognize that Israeli law remains as impartial as it can be in trying times, holding all Israelis—Jews and non-Jews—responsible for appropriate conduct.

This is not the first time an Israeli court—military or civilian—has found a Jew or the government liable for criminal or civil actions. True, not all court decisions are balanced. But Israeli Arabs and Palestinians often achieve legal victories because the law—with support by Israeli Jews—recognizes that they are in the right.

Imagine the same scenario in a military court elsewhere in the Middle East. Would a soldier killing someone who acted against his government face legal—let alone public—discipline? If you can say yes, you know something about the region that I don’t.

Would a court in Russia or China try one of their soldiers who killed someone bearing a weapon with deadly intent after that would-be killer had been neutralized? Would journalists be allowed to report on the case? Would government leaders, pro and con, discuss it? Would those who incite violence on Moscow’s or Beijing’s behalf be arrested? If you can say yes, you know something about Russia and China that I don’t.

Yet these two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (I wrote last week that those settlements are wrong and provide the Palestinians with another excuse to avoid negotiations.) Russia and China hardly stand as advocates for human rights.

Finally, can you imagine Hamas or the Palestinian Authority bringing to trial Palestinians who assault or murder Israelis? I can’t; it doesn’t happen. The killers are praised. If they’re killed, massive funerals celebrate their martyrdom.” Cash payments go to their families.

Israel survives in a region filled with hostility flowing in all directions. The country can and should present a better image to the world, starting with a halt to settlement building. But Israel stands head and shoulders above its neighbors as a nation where law has real meaning, where Israelis of all religions—and Palestinians—can call on the courts with a reasonable, if still imperfect, expectation of justice.

The matter of Sgt. Azaria constitutes a painful story. Still, it must be told and seen in context. Hopefully, American law will remain as respectful of justice.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you find yourself discussing Israel, discuss the whole story.

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