I didn’t know this was a selling point for Global Thoughts but at least these posts don’t expire after 24 hours. They are like frequent flyer points that keep building up.
I don’t know why Easter is so special on the calendar. Every morning I look at my son in bed who looks like a Baby Jesus. Waking him up for school is like raising the dead, and after he takes his shower, I have to walk on water cleaning it up.
I got a message from my Outlook calendar telling me that it would take 3 hours and 4 minutes to walk from my apartment to Laguardia Airport and that if I wanted to make my flight which is 3 ¼ hours from now, I ought to get started now. How’s that for artificial intelligence?
Jeremy wanted to go watch the first round of the Big East March Madness basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden. It features 8 hours a day of college basketball from 3pm to 11pm. This is heaven for sports nuts if you like it. Jeremy would watch squirrels play basketball all day long if he could.
This is Karen’s busy season at work so I’ve agreed to put dinner on the table not just once but twice a week for the next couple of weeks. Problem is, my meat repertoire is burgers. Once I’ve done that, it’s either burgers twice a week or what else can I do? French toast, pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches — anyone? Of course, she is wishing for me to fail and cause my starving kids to come running to her as their savior, after thumbing their noses the majority of the time over whatever else she has served to them. On the other hand, this week is my 57th birthday and she celebrated by baking a tour de force — a yeast babka with poppyseed filling. This is not a popular dish in America, but I used to enjoy it when my grandma or European cousins made it and I was very thankful for this birthday treat. So come and get some birthday cake and join the celebration, dear reader!
Almost 40 years ago when I was in my first year of college, I went to visit some friends who were at some Boston-area colleges. I was enthralled with the campuses, all shiny and new with great food, beautiful buildings and an energetic vibe. I was so unhappy when I compared those places to the totally crappy place where I was going to undergraduate school at the time. Through the years I figured that someday my child would certainly go to a place like that. I returned to Boston this past month previewing colleges for my daughter to apply to this coming fall. We visited one of those campuses and stuck around for an hour after the official tour to walk around campus. The beautiful building I saw in awe is no longer a dormitory because the building fell into disrepair. The food looked crappy. There were no signs around campus showing any kind of activities going on. There were signs about petitions to fix up the weightroom which students alleged hadn’t been well-maintained for over a decade and was unsafe, shuttle buses and a housing lottery that doesn’t guarantee upperclassman campus housing because the school is taking in more students than they have room for. And there was no energy around us – maybe the kids were all locked in the library; and the kids we saw during our 4-hour visit didn’t look like kids that felt familiar and that we thought we would see.
Not to mention the very off-putting presentation that the admissions office produced that made us feel that this college would not appeal to us as center of the road White Jews that are looking to be educated and have fun in a stimulating and fair-minded place. The whole thing was over the top woke. My daughter was relieved because she had thought I was going to force her to go there. I had really wanted to love the place and they managed to scare us off pretty bad, although some people told us that in spite of the tour we ought to come for a weekend and we’d like the place more (and I assume that my daughter will return in the fall to check it out, just to be sure). Maybe after all it will or won’t be the place for her even if it is a good school for others; most people I know there report that they are happy. It’s amazing how things change or how things look different when it is an abstraction versus decision time for you in particular. A few months ago, I posted an observation as to what it was like to return to the neighborhood around my high school 40 years later and to see how every single thing looked different. You can’t say the world doesn’t change over time. You just have to go away and come back after 40 years to notice.
As to the overall situation on college campuses where Jews are being quota-ed out, I can imagine the disgust of a generation of Jewish philanthropists who gave money the past 25-50 years to these colleges only to see them going out of their way to exclude Jews now. Not nearly as much money is going to come from the diversity of students the colleges are now accepting and it will require Jewish philanthropists to tell these colleges that the money isn’t going to be forthcoming unless they change their admission policies. I’m hearing that University of Pennsylvania is taking so few Jews at this point that they are going to reduce their kosher food program to 2 days a week and that they may not have a prayer service at the university for failure to have 10 men make a minyan. Tell that to Michael Steinhard who gave all that money to build a beautiful Hillel House, whose usage is down 50% the past 5 years due to admissions quotas against Jews.
Here is the same issue from the other end of things: Do you want to know why there have been more close calls at US airports with airplanes? Pilots are saying that pilot training schools are under pressure to increase diversity and have lowered their standards. Sooner or later, the shit is going to hit the fan from all this diversity stuff which says that merit is some sort of white privilege and somebody will pull the plug on lowering standards to increase diversity. Do you think hospitals will hire medical school students who are not really qualified and risk the liabilities involved? Do you think people will want to go to any minority doctors if they think they are not qualified? It’s going to take plane crashes with dead passengers to bring this movement down to earth. I read something that resonated with me – some of us in the world are living in privilege, and that privilege is to be a US Citizen.
I read an article somewhere that raises a disturbing thought I’ve had. Both Putin and Xi are stirring the pot but have never really had their asses kicked in a real crisis. They are not acting like responsible people who know the dangers of war. Today the world looks similar to that before World War I with reckless leaders who stumbled into war. Their armies are not battle tested and we can see how wonderful the Russian military is doing in Ukraine over the past year. You almost get the sense it would be good for something really bad to happen in the world to shock these people into recognizing that we are not living in a video game; 60 million people died in World War II. A war in Taiwan will not be a joke.
Had Biden not been president, I doubt that the US would have gotten involved in Ukraine. All of the other people running for president have shown a lack of interest in this war. The problem is that what goes on abroad doesn’t stay abroad. The Taliban in Afghanistan were over there until they came over here on 9/11. We overreacted in Iraq because of the fear that Saddam might do the same. We are under-reacting to Iran and North Korea as a reaction to Iraq. Everything here is politicized and I am quite sure in 2025 or 2026 one of the bad actors such as Russia, Iran or China will undertake a major action and test the US figuring that no one will do anything. Biden is the last president alive that knew of World War II and understands that you cannot appease dictators who are hungry for territory. It will take another beating after 75 years to get that point across to a new generation of Americans. The Americans will get punched, but then they will rally and win at the end and find a new national purpose to rally around which right now eludes a divided nation. The Chinese and Russians will be knocked back in the box for another 50 years and we will move on.
Too bad nobody likes to learn from history so we could avoid this fate. We just went through a pandemic; did anything really change? Are we investing in preventing the next one? Probably not. We are just hoping that it won’t happen again for another 50 years. But how much better did the rest of the world do anyway? Nobody really did a good job of dealing with this without shutting down their countries for months at a time and death rates were fairly consistent around the world. Most of the things people did such as cleaning every surface they could find and running around with masks made very little difference. The only thing that mattered was ramping up vaccines, and it probably would have helped had the Chinese been more forthcoming and quicker to disclose what the virus actually was and where it came from. So is there any point in spending billions of dollars preparing other than learning how to make vaccines faster? China would screw the rest of the world all over again and not give them a heads up if the virus started in one of their labs and they knew it.
Part of me feels that news bureaus keeping American journalists in Russia take the risk of having them become hostages but I also feel that a US passport is supposed to confer a certain amount of protection abroad, meaning Don’t Mess With Me – my country stands behind me. I feel that this revolving door of hostages become taken by Russia ought to be stopped. The US Congress should pass a resolution saying that hostage taking is an act of war and that we will retaliate militarily to this kind of thing. Knock off some of their stuff and make them feel there is a price for doing this. Or else we should stop exposing ourselves to this kind of national embarrassment and say to Americans in Russia – get out or you’re on your own.
Growing up we were told that Nixon was the embodiment of evil incarnate but he looks like an angel compared to others such as Trump. Nixon you might remember conceded the 1960 election even though the amount of vote rigging by Team Kennedy probably exceeded anything that Trump might ever have alleged. As President he believed in upholding the dignity of the office. Menachem Begin was seen by liberals as the same kind of devil but he was stickler for following the law and formalities (he was a trained lawyer) and would never have tolerated a Bibi Netanyahu in his ranks. When 250,000 people demonstrated against the war in Lebanon, he retired from politics and went into seclusion. Right now, the same thing is happening in Israel where a recent anti-government demonstration had at least 450,000 in attendance.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if Israel solved its domestic problems by having Bibi Netanyahu take political asylum in some other country that respects autocrats such as the United Arab Emirates?
Israel: A friend of mine shared some disturbing news a few weeks before it became public: he said that senior Israeli government ministers such as Ben Gvir are organizing militias under the cover of national guards. Netanyahu is so obsessed with saving his own skin from prosecution that he is not stopping them. A recent intelligence report says that the Palestinian Authority has lost control in several major cities in the West Bank and that high majorities of young people are against the PA viewing it as corrupt and colluding with Israel to feather its own nest and keep them down, and do not remember the results of previous intifadas to know that it is a bad idea that doesn’t really advance their interests. It is obvious to me that the pot is boiling, and that Palestinians on the street are not going to lie down and take all this crap being thrown at them from both sides for long (meaning from the Israelis and their own leadership). By the time you read this, it will probably be Ramadan when passions run high, and I expect that tourists might not be in the mood to show up to celebrate their 75th Independence Day by the end of April when Ramadan reaches its climax. By the time you read this, I will have regretfully taken the decision to cancel our trip. And yes, the Bahamas water park won out by a landslide. And it appears that many of the organized trips to Israel to celebrate the 75th were indeed cancelled. I asked the CEO of the #1 Jewish organization in America organizing these trips if these trips were being cancelled and he said he didn’t know, which presumably is his unofficial way of saying “Yes but don’t quote me.”
In Israel there is talk about civil war among Jews but I think that is mostly bombast. There is talk about creating cantons within the country and moving toward a federal system with a weak central government, but Israel is not Switzerland which is more uniformly wealthy, and that is not going to work. Jews would leave the country faster than pick up guns against each other and anyway the war would be over rather quickly with 25% of one side being a bunch of Yeshiva students who have no idea how to handle a weapon and couldn’t read the instructions even if you put a gun to their head. The problem is that the ones who make the money and pay the bills are the ones being frozen out; the other side might complain that they have been on the losing side to these people for years and now what’s good for the goose should be good for gander, but meanwhile they never made the place work or paid the bills. Smart and wealthy people will just form their corporations in Delaware, store money outside the country and increasingly leave.
A delegation of 30 prominent Jewish leaders representing the North American Jewish Federation went to Israel in mid-March to discuss this judicial reform issue, and met with the opposition and the country’s president, but nobody from the government would meet with them. That’s pretty humiliating. The reputational risk to Israel from all this is that next time the Iranians, Hizbullah or Hamas attack, they will ask for world sympathy and the western world, including the majority of American Jews, will tell them, “you guys brought this all down on yourselves and have been giving us the finger. Go to your new friends — the Russians, Chinese and Saudis — and let them bail you out.” I’ve contacted an Israeli diplomat who says that people there are well aware of the situation and the cost the country is having to pay now and in the future for what its #1 guy is doing but says that right now it’s all in his hands and it’s up to him to let go. Israel’s enemies sense weakness and recent reports of a joint Hamas-Hizbullah control center recently established in Lebanon is a cause for concern.
One thing the USA, Israel, China and Russia all have in common is a lack of trust among political leaders both inside their own countries and among each other that is making it hard for these countries to make good decisions. Everyone doesn’t trust each other and therefore nobody will cut anyone else any slack to say “OK, we’ll work it out as things happen.” Humans need to be able to trust each other to reduce risk and accomplish tasks, and the world is not being served well because trust is in very short supply.
With regard to Taiwan, the outcome of conflict will depend mostly on whether Taiwanese want to fight. They will have to last long enough for the US to come to their aid, which could several weeks, and the US is not going to want to do that if the Taiwanese don’t seem to really care enough to fight for themselves. That was what drew the rest of the world into the Ukraine war; otherwise they would have been left to rot and to be swallowed up by Russia. It’s not clear what the Taiwanese really want and so far their military looks like the weakest link; the senior military leaders are still fighting old wars in terms of tactics and priorities and it’s not clear that they would fight the Chinese. America has learned from Afghanistan that if the locals are not in the fight, it’s a deck of cards that will fold in a day and that investment is useless. Also, Taiwan’s allies in Asia and the US are not doing very much to increase trade with them so that their reliance on trade with the Chinese could be reduced. China is trying to freeze Taiwan out of regional economic groups and also block their exports to the mainland except for certain items they truly need such as microchips. An Economist survey in March quoted a business leader saying that more than the sexiest military hardware, they need better economic trading relationships with the rest of the world, and so far they are not getting it. This to me is really poor statesmanship on the part of the US which hasn’t done anything to improve the situation and which makes a lot of sense.
Consider the following: A friend of mine works at a plant in the US that refurbishes nuclear bombs. It is said to be the only plant of its kind in the world. Nuclear bombs degrade over time, much like a carton of milk. All these Russian bombs are quite old and probably won’t work, which is probably the most important reason that Putin has not used them. It costs billions to fix these bombs up and it’s not simple work. The plant is hiring lots of people nowadays to work there, and this is probably something the Russians and Chinese have noticed, considering that the Chinese are busy building bombs at a higher rate than before (which is probably why the US is refurbishing stockpiles). The point is that all this talk about nuclear weapons being used in Ukraine sidesteps the question as to whether or not those bombs would actually work.
I’ve been trying to put a finger on what it is about Biden’s policy toward the world that is not optimal. To me it boils down to undue influence of labor unions and other progressives without too much real world experience (given that many of them are young). Our policy toward China does not make sense to the rest of the world because it is more about protecting American labor than it is about opposing China. These tariffs and protectionist laws are not really good for America as a whole, and our allies see them for what they are and don’t want to get behind them because it is suppressing fair competition in the world and they want us to buy things from them as well. Also, there seems to be this didactic element to our China policy – if it is good for them it’s bad for us. The world is more complicated than that and not everything that is good for China is to our detriment. For instance, this deal China brokered with Saudi Arabia is not necessarily anti-American. China wants a more stable region as does Saudi Arabia. America also wants that.
Beyond the fanfare around China’s brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the proof of this achievement will be in the pudding. The two countries have good reasons not to abide by the agreement (along with some reasons to keep to it), and there is nothing in it that says how China will enforce it. So far China has had minimal results from its diplomatic forays in the region and it has no military power behind it in that region, just economic. So let’s see what happens.
In a broader sense, the topic is about the so-called Non-Aligned Nations of the world. They represent about half of humanity and about half the countries on the planet. Big countries such as India and Brazil as well as small ones such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all in play in a way that hasn’t been so for many years. These countries don’t want to choose sides between America or China or Russia and they see big advantages in being influential by being non-aligned. It’s an interesting spectator sport for foreign policy analysts. Arab petrodollars and Chinese loans are being invested in these countries with fewer strings attached and they are combining to sabotage global institutions such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) which had been used by the West to keep the Third World in line. Money is being laundered (ie: Russian oil profits laundered through Gulf banks) and better terms are given to dictators by dictators to prop them up. The US is at an increasing disadvantage in fighting for influence because it is slow and bureaucratic and Congress can stop deals from happening if senators object, and sometimes they do that for no good reason other than to hold them hostage as bargaining chips over their own domestic hangups. The US is still operating as if the world were a different place and its foreign policy needs a reset, and I’m not talking about putting up more tariffs. The Economist says that America needs to stop thinking it is threatened all over the place economically and trying to protect itself against the rest of the world; America is in a better position than the rest of the world, doesn’t realize its good fortune and most of its ideas would only ruin things for America. Thomas Friedman, back from a trip to China, wrote a long op-ed piece in which he asks Why are the US and China Fighting? He kept asking people in both countries the question and didn’t get particularly good answers. There are good reasons for the two countries to distrust each other (he lists at least 10 good reasons for the US to be suspicious of China as well as good reasons for China to distrust the US) and it requires both countries to look at what they are doing and to decide if maybe each of them should back off a bit and realize that the two countries are doomed to have to cooperate with each other and that not everything is a zero-sum game between them where if one side is winning the other side must be losing. Foreign policy for the next generation needs more sophistication not only to deal with external threats but also to recognize a more subtle relationship with potential allies who do not want to be told that they are either with us or against us as President Bush said 20 years ago in the heat of the moment after 9/11.
One irony of the Conservative Right’s 30-year crusade to pack courts with anti-abortion judges may be that such rulings infuriate the mainstream driving them to vote to put more liberal judges on the courts, such as was recently done in Wisconsin. Polling shows that even in solidly red states such as Kansas and Kentucky, solid majorities oppose strict restrictions on abortions. De Santis’ new 6-week ban in Florida is extreme and will help paint him as an extremist that should not be in the White House. Who does he think he is anyway, using Disney as a punching bag to pander to his base? I just read that he is threatening to build a prison next to the theme park. What would he do if he woke up one morning and Disney announced it was relocating Disney World to Georgia and blamed him for driving them off? His recent comments about Ukraine being none of our business was very scary to anyone with a memory of history. No wonder prominent donors are already becoming wary of him. If the Supreme Court upholds the Texas judge who recently banned an abortion-drug who had no real reason to do so other than because of his faith, people will be furious. That, along with the obnoxious expose about Justice Clarence Thomas (half-million dollar vacations at exclusive retreats, use of private planes and sweet-heart real estate deals from a billionaire who backed conservative causes) confirms the worst suspicions of people that the court is political and corrupt. Supreme Court justices and the GOP in Congress are resisting reforms to tighten ethical standards and the whole thing smells really bad.
We recently went on an early spring hike around Bear Mountain, a state park about 45 minutes drive from NY City. You get some nice views and can walk around some cool bridges and an old revolutionary war fort. We had a guide and it turns out there are only about 100 licensed tour guides in all of NY that do hikes and backpacking trips. Only about 5 of those guides work in the metropolitan area around the city. Our guide was Mike Pepa of 360Guiding.com. There were many Hassidic Jews in the park walking around with their fur hats (some of them as big as bowling balls) enjoying a family day out during Passover week; as the day went on and the park became more crowded with them I noticed the bears all went into hiding. Must have been scared of all those animal-skinned hats.
Jeremy and I went to Jamaica on his spring break. I haven’t been there in 30 years but the cost of going to other resorts in the Caribbean has tripled over the past several years and I wanted to find something more affordable that hopefully would be on the level. Jamaica has managed to stave off the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons chains and the hotel we went to is one of the last independent resorts in the region that is perfectly good and gives good value for money. Jamaica is friendly and pretty and the tap water is OK; it’s best if you go with a guide if you go off-property and don’t try driving by yourself. There are lots of two-lane roads and red lights seem to be optional here; we turned onto a highway on our light and somebody just rammed through at 60 miles an hour going against us. The Half Moon resort 15 minutes from Montego Bay airport fits the bill. It was perfectly good; there was nothing I wanted that I couldn’t find there that I would get at other resorts and it was one-third the price of what it would cost me to be elsewhere. Family friendly with nice beaches and facilities such as gym and spa, the food was excellent and the oceanfront rooms and suites really were close to the sea. It has a very relaxing feeling with lots of white picket fences and grass around with the mountains in the background. You ride around with bicycles or a golf cart; breakfast is on a very nice terrace on the beachfront and it had one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve been to anywhere. I liked the Hibiscus section and rooms 3005-3019 due to their closeness to the ocean and the general setup.
Jamaica also has some nice attractions; we went to 3 of them and I used Tours by Locals to arrange the trips because the guides are more flexible than arranging things through the hotel and it is a fun way to meet local guides who are well vetted. For instance the group tours and hotel tours want you to leave at 8am all the time and getting Jeremy to breakfast before 10 is a stretch. The Blue Hole is a swimming hole with rough waters and jumping off points next to a waterfall. Jeremy loved it and I did all the jumps with him. It’s a little bit risky but you have guides with you to keep you steady except for the last one or steps before this 10-feet-high diving platform which was pretty steep without any good grips. This is right near Dunns River Falls about an hour and a half from the hotel. The whole attraction is very fun; the scenery is pretty, the people are funny and there are all kinds of weird things going on around you – all the Jamaican stereotypes you expect including 350 pound mamas getting mud baths. That, my friends, is a sore sight for the eyes. River Rapid Jamaica is about 45 minutes from the hotel and offers tubing and rafting on class 1 & 2 rapids; it is a more interesting version of the Martha Brae rafting trip on a log raft along a lazy river that would have left us utterly zombied in boredom by comparison. It was our original choice due to proximity and scheduling but luckily, there was a cruise ship there with tons of people waiting so we left because they don’t take reservations. The Luminous Lagoon is a cool night-time experience where you go out on a bay on a boat and then you climb down into the water and swim around and make the water bright blue as you move around. It’s a cool activity and none of the water places we went to were that cold. Montego Bay is a city that is not necessary to see or step out of the car, although if you insist on eating somewhere off property consider Peppa’s restaurant on the Queens Road on a mountain looking over the water. They have fish catch of the day and Jeremy liked the “festivals” which are something like hush puppies.
One note about Jamaica: Arrival at the airport is awful. We saw people take 2-3 hours to get out of there with all kinds of lines that make no sense and you don’t know where to go although asking for assistance helps. Reserve the VIP arrival service “Mobay Club” to avoid all this chaos and don’t leave this to the last minute as the service sells out once too many people book a particular time slot. Also, reserve a transfer to the hotel; it was so chaotic when we came out (you couldn’t see past the person in front of you) that we would never have found a taxi on our own. Departure is a lot smoother; take food with you for the plane ride. The offerings in the airport are awful.
A guy from the Canary Islands kept telling me how much better the hotels are in Tenerife. He said that it is the only reliable place near the European continent to get warm weather during the winter. This is good to know because so much of the continent gets cold. Tenerife is part of Spain so Madrid is the best connection. Supposedly there are plans for direct flights from JFK airport later this year.
Later next month I am scheduled to visit Israel for a few days for a niece’s wedding and hopefully there won’t be a war in the meanwhile. On the way back, I have plans for a stopover either in Istanbul or in Paris. I have tickets and hotels booked for both contingencies, but Turkey has presidential elections set for mid-May and might be in chaos when I arrive if Erdogan rigs the election and wins or if he loses and refuses to concede. France has been nonstop demonstrating over pension reforms its president is pushing. The world is an unstable place right now and thankfully our summer vacation is planned for Hawaii, Australia and Singapore, all destinations that should be above the fray.