Global Thoughts — 7 February 2024 including Travel Notes: Israel and Paris

With Nik Wallenda on the high-wire at a circus in Sarasota, Florida. Look, no hands!

I’ve updated my indispensable Packing List because I’ve noticed that many things we don’t need anymore such as lists of contacts, a calculator and camera with extra film. It’s all in your phone now. Here’s the link to the new list. I added an 18 inch foam roller that can fit inside a shopping bag to go with a pillow. Many hotel gyms don’t have them and I find them really useful and they weigh nothing.

I’ve never watched an episode of Seinfeld but went to see the comedian in person last week. My kids said he was for “old people” and it’s funny because when I was their age people were watching his program. He put on a good show, by the way. He looks really good for 69.

You’re gonna love this one. I’m on a subway and about 8 feet from me is this black older guy who is extremely disturbed, being really loud, rude and trash-talky. More so than the usual disturbed. The train is crowded and I can’t get away from this.He shoves a woman and makes his way to the door and exits. I’m standing next to a guy wearing glasses and reading the Economist, white and probably in his 30’s coming home from work. The black guy looks like he wants to re-enter the train. All of a sudden, the guy next to me throws a pushkick smack into the guy’s gut and he sprawls backward onto the train platform, and he ain’t coming back in. The black dude starts trash talking to the guy next to me about what he’s gonna do, but I have the sense that the doors are going to close and it’s sayonara to this troublemaker who was at that point blustering. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was seeing a guy wearing glasses reading the Economist kicking someone’s ass.

I went to this exhibition about the cosmos and they showed various constellations in the sky and I thought about it. Most of the shapes that people thought of from the position of the stars are things like animals and human shapes or things that we relate to. If you were from another planet and looked at the sky, would those shapes be apparent to you? What shapes would you see in the sky? Would you even be looking at the sky to make out shapes from the stars?

Do you think that if I keep the TV off for the next year, that Trump and Biden will go away? Or at least could we agree to ban Trump from all gym TV’s for the next 5 years? My gym has already banned Michael Jackson music from loudspeakers, so why can’t we manage that? In NYC, nobody wants Trump.

Trump made some comment about his domestic opponents comparing them to vermin. A poll of Iowan Republican caucus voters said that comment made 40% of them more likely to go out and vote for him. Wonder what this says about America?

I have this really bad feeling that in 2025 there is going to be a serious war in the world involving the US. It might involve a surprise attack against the US, perhaps by North Korea. People are warning about it, and just because nobody can think of why it should happen is no reason to negate the possibility. Actually, the US needs its ass kicked to knock some sense into this place because the country is not in a good place and everyone knows it, especially with an election featuring Biden vs. Trump. Nobody is really thinking about how America will fight its next war as they focus all their enemies on fighting each other, and its enemies are delighting in this because they are thinking about it and preparing for war. This country like Israel has become a total shitshow and our enemies are noticing. Nobody good wants to even run for high office anymore because the whole business of leadership just means nonstop torture on Fox and death threats by riled up people. Our secretary of defense AWOL in a hospital for 2 weeks? Warning Houthis of strikes the night before for “humanitarian reasons” meaning we’re afraid to get into a war with anyone? Government constantly being non-budgeted and grinding to a halt? A dozen Republicans constantly blackmailing the speaker of the House? Do you recall that Israel did the exact same things the months before October 7? They ignored clear warnings of a surprise attack because they didn’t think their enemies would actually do what they did. No budgets for several years, a defense minister being fired by a prime minister who valued loyalty above competence in his cabinet? And since then, it’s continued to be a shitshow with a prime minister more interested in his political skin than his country’s future, and their war is not exactly achieving anything and the government is paralyzed from the top down because the prime minister can’t make any decisions for fear of having his government fall if he commits to anything.

I’ll bet you don’t think much about navies. Neither do I. But increasingly it is looking like the world is becoming more unstable and the oceans and seas are where the next wars will be fought.  China has been investing seriously in its naval future and the West has not. Ukraine is fighting Russia over the seas by the Crimea. China wants to invade Taiwan. The Houthis and Iran are making a mess of shipping lanes in the Middle East. This stuff is all going to matter. The USA and Europe are already significantly behind but if it invests seriously in things like submarines it can narrow the gap.

The West has to deal with its lack of munitions manufacturing capability. We can’t wait for China to invade Taiwan to realize we would run out of ammunition after a week, which is what would currently happen. The Russians are beating Ukraine because they can manufacture weapons and the West can’t.

Speaking of Ukraine, the Russians are also adapting pretty well over the past year and I would predict that time favors Russia. If Trump wins, they win. If Biden stays but continues to be overcautious, time is wasting and that ultimately results in a Russian win. I feel bad for Ukraine. Two years of war trying not to lose and not really being backed up for long by its allies who talk more than walk. Russia just has to hang in there and ultimately wait for the West to exhaust itself and quit.

It’s been suggested that what the world needs is to be attacked by aliens; the pandemic didn’t help bring nations together, so maybe a common enemy might.

So what is the value of a US passport anyway? There are more US hostages abroad than ever, according to the WSJ. My dad always said the US passport would protect you. Everyone knows that if something happens to you abroad, the last thing you want to do is call up the US Embassy.

Every time I fly, I see the march of the wheelchairs going onto airplanes and I have the feeling that people are faking it to get on board faster; and that if they charged $25 a person to board with a wheelchair, more than half of those would disappear.

I used to bring Elizabeth articles to read that I thought would be interesting. This week she gave me an article from the Atlantic about US politics that she read for class. Lovely to have it coming the other way around!

For the past few years, people were talking about research from a French economist named Thomas Piketty who claimed that the world was becoming more unequal between have and have nots. Recently, his research has been effectively debunked and it seems that the world is less unequal now than it was before. Interesting how that doesn’t make the headlines?

Tel Aviv Beach

The Upcoming US Elections: Nikki Haley shouldn’t have said she would pardon Trump if elected. Gerald Ford never recovered politically after pardoning Nixon, and Nixon was an angel compared to Trump. I’m concerned about her; she shows too often that she has no spine and I want our president to stand up to the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans and, well you get the idea. She is doing her best to alienate the middle of the roaders when she can’t even bring herself to say that the civil war was about slavery while pandering to her base. All other things aside, I just think that a lot of people in the US will not vote for a woman unless that person is really ballsy and special without being bitchy — that’s a really hard combo and it’s almost impossible. People want to feel their prez is a tough person that will defend America and I just think it’s out there even if people don’t say it aloud. That’s why Trump has the best chance to win this year. I’m getting worried that Trump is going to walk away with this election unless something happens either to him or to Biden. If there’s a deep state at work in the US, this is the time for it to make itself felt. Trump’s interests are not aligned with the United States and Biden is drawing the rest of the world to position itself for American weakness. Last year people told me that dealing with his foreign policy team is a pain in the ass because they think of themselves as righteous self-important people.

Another thing out there to be concerned about is the economy. If you read the NY Times, you’d think the economy was great and that people can’t understand why Biden doesn’t get credit for it. Even in the Wall Street Journal, their writers marvel over how well Team Biden did at managing oil prices over the past year. But the real world still doesn’t seem to agree: We went to Orlando for Christmas break and business was down there significantly among the things that involve the lower and middle classes. At Encore-Reunion resort, they didn’t open the restaurant at the pool area this year. At Universal City Walk, restaurants had more open tables than they could remember for this time of year. Inflation is hurting, especially as Disney keeps raising prices and diluting the customer experience (last time I visited we left at 3:30 because we were disgusted and the survey only wanted to know how much more they could torture us before we wouldn’t come back). Whatever the truth is, people don’t feel good out there and they think that Trump’s economy was better for them. Ignore this at your peril in 2024. The issue is that inflation might be down but that is only a matter of the rate of price increase. Prices are not coming down from what they were a few years ago and that’s why people are upset. Biden can talk about lower inflation and job creation but that is not what most people care about. They care about what their money is worth from the jobs they always had.

My wife was in Washington DC for a few days and noticed that all the food places shut down at about 3pm. She said the city is a “shithole” at night with no reason to leave your hotel. Recently, we had a guest from DC who said that in her government agency, people work from home 4 days a week and come in once a week. Nobody is talking about this, but the federal government is basically not functioning since the pandemic and the Democrats don’t seem to think anything needs to change. Hopefully, a Republican administration will demand that public sector employees show up to work.

The Israelis continue to run a shit show government and I’m not sure how much they are really accomplishing in Gaza after over 3 months. They haven’t killed or captured a single senior level Hamas officer. They only rescued one hostage at the very beginning of the war and that’s it. I have read that the Israelis know exactly where the leaders are but don’t want to attack them because they have surrounded themselves with hostages. I don’t know if that’s true or an excuse but does it make sense to keep a war going on for months to save a few dozen hostages? I know this sounds awful, but I think it would have been much better for Israel to have all the hostages die on the first day of the war and then they could prosecute the rest of the war much more successfully for the greater good without having a tail of 100 hostages wag the dog.

You keep reading the daily drivel about the Israelis destroying some Hamas intelligence post and killing senior terrorists, but as far as I can tell, most of the Hamas fighters are still there waiting underground and whenever they want to send over a bunch of rockets to Tel Aviv, they seem perfectly able to land them, just when the Israeli newspapers say they haven’t seen many of them. The Israelis haven’t really entered the Gaza town of Rafah from where the rockets are coming and until they take over that city, the rockets won’t stop and the area from the border up through Tel Aviv won’t be quiet. The Northern border is still very tense, and I assume it is only a matter of time before the Israelis provoke a fight with Hizbullah to secure it. The Israelis are moving divisions of troops from Gaza to the North and they have been assassinating plenty of people in Lebanon and Syria to goad them on.  Hey, the president of Harvard has resigned; maybe Netanyahu will too?

Anyway, later in this posting you will see what I wrote about the current situation in Israel when you look at my Travel Notes from my recent visit to Israel and Paris. Did the visit change my mind in terms of what you read in the last 3 paragraphs?

Tel Aviv beach from atop Carlton Hotel

By the way, did you know that this lady from Harvard is going to continue to receive a salary of about $900,000 a year as a professor? Hush money to a known plagiarist because she’s Black? I read an article in a major newspaper about the identity of the people that make up the board of directors of the Harvard Cooperative, which runs the place and selects the president. There are roughly a dozen people on the board; there might be one single white male. All the others are quite different. Another newspaper looked at their political contributions and found that almost 100% of them were to Democrats. So its seems that Harvard doesn’t mean what it says – it has no interest in being governed by anything that looks like a cross-section of America.

Remember I told you that American Jewish youth don’t see Israel the same way their elders do. A recent poll cited in the Jerusalem Post  by the Jewish Electorate Institute with GBAO Strategies found that 47% of American Jewish youth ages 18-35 think that Biden is too pro-Israel. All things considered, I think that Biden has dealt with Israel effectively. People who think that he should have pushed Israel to end the war or withdrawn his support are not thinking through all of this. Had Biden walked away from Israel, most Arab governments would have seen this as American weakness because they all (except for Qatar) want Hamas out of Gaza. They would have seen America as abandoning an ally just like it abandoned Mubarak in Egypt a decade ago and ran out of Afghanistan a few years ago. Biden was more clever to wrap his claws around Netanyahu and to try and ride the tiger rather than let the tiger roam free and ignore him. Neither of them trust each other, but they both need each other. I was discussing this with Arab friends and after considering the alternatives, they tend to agree with this analysis.

This year, at NYC’s top Jewish prep school (Ramaz), not one student applied early decision to Columbia University. It’s one thing that Ivy League schools are taking far fewer Jewish students, but it’s another when the best Jewish students stop applying. That tells me that among the top schools, parents and best students, people don’t respect Columbia. Between Harvard, Columbia and others, some of the schools in the Ivy League are losing their stature with all this woke shit and it will take a generation to win back its prestige. Meanwhile, the tier just below is eagerly taking these students; my daughter will be attending Washington University in St. Louis and is hoping to avoid the Northeastern liberal campuses with her choice. My daughter is not what you would call a conservative, but she’s sick of being told throughout high school what to think and being preached at over her white privilege. That’s in a school that doesn’t have any black teachers beyond the Phys-Ed department.

Jerusalem Old City from King David Hotel terrace

I’ve been told by people in academia that the real reason Harvard’s prez resigned is that people were starting to ask her to disclose the data she used in her research papers. Beyond plagiarism, she was going to be accused of falsifying data. This means that you take the data and try to replicate the results she got; if you can’t, it might mean that she made up the data. It seems that a lot of research papers these days involves data that academics make up. She’d been asked for years to disclose her data and refused, perhaps because she knew that not only would she lose her job as Harvard’s president but also be tossed out of her academic position if she did. At this point, she still has her professorship and hopes that people will forget about her now that she is out of that job. This also probably explains why MIT’s prez is still in her job – she is not being accused of plagiarism and probably doesn’t have skeletons in her research closet. Columbia’s prez was the smartest of them all – she made sure to be at some conference in Dubai when the congressional hearing took place.

I read the biography of Mitt Romney which got to the top of the best seller’s list this past year because he dished out a lot of dirt on his fellow Republicans. On one hand, he is very wealthy and successful and might have been a good president, but on the other he seems like a bit of a nitwit who obsesses over small things and seems conflicted among himself. It’s a decent book about human character and how people around him let Donald Trump rise to the top of the pyramid.

I’d be a great poster child for a resort chain advertising campaign that says “When you need a mental health day….” I went to Puerto Rico to get away from it all; the island has the whole package including weather above 80 degrees, sun and warm ocean. Florida is not a guarantee of any of that in January. Booked my hotel room on the way to the airport and spent a night there recharging.

The Economist had a survey on the state of philanthropy. The very rich are mostly less charitable than I expected. 127 of the top 400 people rated by Forbes gave less than 1% of their wealth last year; only 11 of the 400 gave over 20%. In total, the top 400 gave about 6% of their wealth. Some of them like Elon Musk came right out to say that philanthropy is “bullshit.” Personally, I give charity but I still believe that at least half of it is probably wasted or diverted.

Here is why you need to read the Wall Street Journal and not just the NY Times. The Journal pointed out in an editorial that the US warned the Houthis before it struck their base to give them opportunity to escape, as a humanitarian gesture. This kind of pin-pricking by Team Biden is why the world is going to pot; all the bad guys see it as weakness and they are looking to kick our ass. The NY Times has pages of coverage about the Houthis and the US but failed to mention this because it would make the Biden administration look weak. This is why the Free Press is attracting a lot of subscribers and money – because the NY Times is not really reporting all the news that’s out there and others have to pick up the slack. Biden’s team is so afraid of winding up in a war that they will cause a war to happen. They took over 100 attacks by Iranian proxies and fought back maybe half a dozen times and this is been going on for over two years. It’s like standing next to a bully in a playground being so dainty about fighting back that the bully just looks at you like an idiot and charges into you. There’s no doubt that the Houthis and Iranians are not deterred by the US and our top generals are openly saying it. So now we’re supposedly attacking Iraq and Syria but I doubt anyone will be impressed until I see that we are hitting Iran. I am really not looking forward to reading newspapers for the next 5 years about an election nobody wants and a president Trump all over again for 4 years. I might not keep my print subscriptions next year. Just reading the same old stories everyday and it’s depressing. The Times is preaching to its own choir and ignoring the rest. And it’s nonstop stories about sexual issues affecting 1% of the population that they keep pushing in front of everyone else. It’s offensive already.

3 years ago I said that when we have a recession the whole work from home thing will disappear. And now you see companies are not promoting or bonusing people who work from home and that they are threatening to fire those who don’t come in 5 days a week.

Someone said that some immigrant from Azerbaijan crossed the Mexican border and told an interviewer “Do you know who I am?” The reporter said no. “Well, you will.” This is great ammo for Trump. I don’t know why Americans are so obsessed with their borders and immigrants but it’s like screaming in a room full of Republicans that you are against a Death Tax that none of them will ever have to pay. This is a winning issue for the Republicans in November and even if they can solve it with a legislative compromise, they’d rather use it as a club over the Democrats’ heads in the elections.  Another example of our great country looking inward instead of dealing with real threats.

Trip Notes Israel and Paris January 2024

Later in this section you will see my roundup as to the current situation based on my visit there.

Western Wall, Jerusalem

I had to travel to Israel on short notice to site check gap year programs for our daughter who is graduating high school. For me this was completing a circle because my first visit to Israel, indeed anywhere outside the country, was my gap year program in Israel at the same age. Only I couldn’t speak the language and had no idea what the program would be like; now she could visit the program in advance and her language skills are excellent, meaning she has a much better start than I did.  A gap year program means a one year program meant to give kids a break between high school and undergraduate college. Kids want a break after their brains have been fried through high school and awaiting college. ElAl Israel airlines has the monopoly on flights into the USA during the war and the airline tickets are super pricey. Their business class has improved over the years with lie-flats on a Dreamliner; the food is roughly comparable to US carriers. Tel Aviv’s airport has become very modern with biometric gates for entry and exit and the VIP service is not really necessary especially now with a pretty empty terminal. The only other plane parked in my concourse was a FlyDubai airliner. That’s what you get when the only country that called to offered help to the UAE when they were rocketed by the Houthis a few years ago was Isael. Another improvement is that instead of getting ripped off by taxis from the get-go, you can download the Gettaxi app and just hail taxis and pay the metered rate. They don’t expect tips and it works well in the cities and at night. It was much better than having the hotel valet call for a taxi.

My visit was very short with 2 days in Tel Aviv and 1½ days in Jerusalem. This is the rainy season and the weather was mostly lousy with 60’s in Tel Aviv and 50’s in Jerusalem but we felt lucky with frequent breaks of sun and clouds amongst the rain. Night-time activity in Tel Aviv is down by about 90% because most of the young men are at war. I’ve stayed at the Carlton Hotel over 40 years and it remains a top city hotel. The Kempinski is the current standard-bearer but right now a good number of its facilities are closed. The Carlton did not cut corners at this time and it was fully functional  with decent enough renovated rooms and facilities, an excellent business lounge and a great beach location with a huge municipal pool and gym next door if the hotel’s is not good enough. During January, it’s too cold to go out swimming anyway. There are several good food outlets within a few minutes walk.

Western Wall Tunnel Tour

We took two walking tours and decided to spend the sabbath in Tel Aviv as a change from being in Jerusalem. One tour started near Carmel Market and included Jaffa and the Neve Tzedek district. The Setai hotel is well situated if you want a hotel in Jaffa. Some areas of the southern part of Tel Aviv such as Neve Tzedek and Florentine have become gentrified and look pretty cool. The districts are larger than you’d think and it takes time to walk through them. I haven’t seen the Dizengoff Circle area for decades and it looks very different now. Rothschild Boulevard is also quite nice. The thing about Tel Aviv today is that if you stand on the roof of the hotel and look around everything looks like shit and the same way it did decades ago. It’s only when you start walking the streets that you see the charm of the place and how things have changed. There are also lots of bike lanes in Tel Aviv. Still a lot of traffic but construction is underway on a light rail system.

A great place for Italian artisan ice cream is Arte at 11 Nahalat Binyamin. It’s a bit different than gelato and their hazelnut is a great flavor. That place takes its ice cream seriously so much that an employee in another store told us to go there and that he had worked there for 10 years. I don’t know why but there are many gelato shops in Tel Aviv the way you would see Starbucks on every other corner in America. Another fun tour is the graffiti street tour; there are several of them and we took one in an industrial zone called Kiryat Malacha. Graffiti art is glorifying civilian heroes of October 7 more so than political or military leaders. Israel’s a democracy and the country’s leaders have to earn respect rather than expect it. The current leaders are not all that popular.

After about 48 hours in Tel Aviv, we transferred to Jerusalem. The King David hotel was about 90% empty when we visited and there is some kind of program in place to pay people 70% of their salaries if they don’t work. This is good for the hotel but not so great for guests because right now somebody from accounting might be checking you in and the concierges are mostly absent. It used to be that when you told people you were staying there they would be impressed but nowadays the hotel’s reputation has soured a bit and they need to sharpen up their flagship property which is still best in town. I spent most of the time in Jerusalem visiting 3 gap year programs and my daughter liked one of them. It is across the green line in the West Bank but it is basically in an area where people pretty much expect Israelis to remain as part of any final settlement and the security situation seemed adequate. The program’s campus borders the town of Efrat about 20 minutes outside Jerusalem. Jerusalem keeps building roads along the perimeter of the city and this helps speed motorists around. One really great tourist attraction is the Kotel Tunnel Tours near the Western Wall in the old city. Some of these tunnels are really huge and you would think you were outside looking up a the sky as you walk along the boulders and what seem like canyons. This is good to book in advance of arrival over the internet. The tickets are cheap but limited.

Departure from the airport has been sped up; if you have only hand-luggage you can skip all the counters and go straight to security. The ElAl business lounge was very good. Our flight to Paris was 4 hours and Murphy’s Law was exactly as a I expected – our takeoff was delayed after the pilot waited for an all-clear after a barrage of rockets hit Tel Aviv while we were taxiing.

Elizabeth Made That Handbag in Paris

This is the point at which I would try to summarize the current political atmosphere in the country. Right now I’m confused after being there because the situation is not normal and I feel like the scene in the pilot of the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati where the DJ moves the needle across the record he’s playing,  rips up the record and puts in a new record changing the radio station’s format. Yes, Israels usually have differences of opinion but usually in a war people come together or at least give each other the benefit of the doubt. Here you have people perceiving the worst intentions in each other and that makes it complicated to be on the same team. So in Tel Aviv you see obsession with hostages (pictures everywhere and constant reminders in public places), and you get the sense that nothing will happen until the hostages come home — and in Jerusalem people will say “they just talk about the hostages because they want to end the war and get rid of the prime minister – I can’t think of anyone else but him to do the job.” In Jerusalem, you don’t see many pictures of hostages. And you hear statements such as “I hear from the front that if they could just let loose, they could finish this in one day.” Arabs are also not exactly in the frame where you would expect. So far Israeli Arabs are not rushing to declare support for Hamas. In the West Bank, Israeli radical settlers and soldiers are inflaming tensions and I am being told that it is a matter of time before things blow up there, but that doesn’t mean that people want their areas to be controlled by Hamas. It’s just that they are happy that Hamas is forcing the world to deal with the Palestinian issue which seemed to be ignored by all the other Arab governments. Hamas wiped Israel’s ass and after 3 months of war the Israelis don’t seem to be able to do very much other than rip Gaza to shreads and energize a whole new generation of Arabs to hate them and become future terrorists. My Arab friends say that if Israel would have let Gazans breath the last 10 years, more might have left, but because they locked the place down so much, they forced everyone to stay there and become even more miserable. Mohammed says give Palestinians a way out and they will reject Hamas and Iran, but currently they have no alternative but to look to them since the Israelis were working to build up Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian authority as a way to make sure nothing would ever happen to move forward. It’s a thesis that worked for Bibi Netanyahu and his supporters until it was disproven this year.

I recently wrote an article suggesting that maybe it would be best if the 5% of Israel that actually works and pays the bills would just pick up and move the enterprise to Panama. This idea didn’t go down well. “But this is our home and look at all that we’ve built up here over 80 years.” Truth is, they have a point. As you travel around Israel, it’s not as small a country as you think and there’s a whole lot going on there. If I were Theodore Herzl starting everything from scratch, I would put the country in Panama but what’s done is done and I guess the Israelis are stuck with their rose garden including many thorns encroaching from the outside and they will have to figure out how to survive against the various threats aligned against them such as Iran and its proxies. As I see it, they will have to deal with the Palestinian issue to isolate Iran as the spoiler and to get everyone else in the region to accept their reality. I’ve been hearing for 40 years how the Israelis say they can “manage” the conflict and keep the Palestinians at bay. I don’t buy it at this point. Otherwise, they will just continue to have everyone hating them and you will go there in another 50 years and nothing will change. It’s a living but it’s not a bright future on the current trajectory, as I see it. It’s just that after 40 years of going there I’ve gotten tired of the fact that it’s not a happy place where there is ever stability for more than a few years at a time and where people can think ahead and build their futures without always having something step on them and set them back. People there take things in some sort of stride and the country rates high on the happiness scale by its citizens, but as an outsider it’s just not for me.

Meanwhile, back at home…

I can’t tell you the answers to the most important questions I have – how much have the Israelis actually accomplished in the war, and do they actually know where the leaders of Hamas are? Hardly anyone knows and this affects the country’s ability for its public opinion to make a reasonable judgment as to what the war’s future should be. It’s not clear what the leadership actually knows and recent polls in the country show that the majority don’t trust its prime minister to be running the war primarily for the benefit of the country. He’s afraid that the minute the war ends, his government falls and he goes in front of a judge for corruption. It’s a real conflict of interest with many lives in the balance. I asked people if it would have been “easier” had all the hostages been killed on the first day of the war. People talked about the values of the country being upheld by caring about the hostages. But as I see it, they are trading lives because soldiers are dying everyday fighting with their hands tied because of 100 hostages wagging the dog making the country spend money, people’s time and the world’s wrath prosecuting a war that may not be accomplishing all that much. I’m already hearing that Hamas units are returning to areas in Northern Gaza where the fighting has stopped.

Another unknown is when will fighting start at the northern border. Some soldiers have been let go from Gaza with orders to return in March. It would make sense to fight after the winter rains end. It’s cold and rainy up in Lebanon and the Israelis are not really equipped for that war just yet because they never thought they’d have to go in and fight it. At this point, after having seen what Hamas did across the southern border, people are not willing to tolerate enemies a softball’s throw away. There are about 100,000 people that have relocated around the country and they don’t want to go home until they feel safe. So it’s just a matter of time because I can’t see any possibility of Hizbullah withdrawing from the area under a diplomatic settlement.

The Americans keep talking about a Palestinian state but the Israelis across the board are in no mood to talk about it. Meanwhile, I’m wondering who is going to pay the bills to rebuild Gaza. The Arabs are not going to pay to reconstruct an area that is going to be ruled for the next few years by Israel, if that’s what it intends to do. The Israelis have no incentive to invest in Gaza. Nobody wants to invest in the area if they think Hamas will return, but the Palestinians don’t have anyone else that is particularly interested in going in there and getting shot at if Hamas is going to be similar to Hizbullah in Lebanon, lurking in the shadows and playing the spoiler.

In order to try and fill in some of the blanks above, I had a half hour conversation after returning home with a senior Israeli diplomat in Jerusalem. There are no “scoops” here but there is insight into the thinking of a Reasonable Centrist Israeli Career Professional at a senior governmental level.  Amazingly, with both of us talking at the same time for a decent amount of the time, we got a lot of points covered. Here are some of his talking points.: Even if we have to stop fighting for 2 months to get the hostages out, we’ll just go in and kill them all later…If the leaders of Hamas leave Gaza, we’ll kill them abroad…. We need to really rip up Gaza to establish deterrence viz a viz Lebanon so they see what’s going on there and don’t want it to happen to them….We have to establish buffer zones in both Gaza and Lebanon; not on our side of the border. Israeli doctrine is that if neighbors are not behaving properly, the buffer will have to be put on their side of the border….The Israelis are accomplishing a lot in Gaza; it will take some more months to finish whatever they want to do. At a certain point, they will get to the senior leadership of Hamas. We may not know exactly where they are, but we have a pretty good idea. They can move around to avoid us but their ability to move is limited….One big failure was our lack of intelligence as to what was going on inside Gaza with all these tunnels…..Hostages provide Israel the moral grounds to continue the war. Had all the hostages died on Day 1 or been released, Israel would be pressured to stop…..Biden shouldn’t have freed up those $6 billion to Iran; it gave them too much money to spread around to their proxies…. A lot of the Biden people are frustrating to deal with. (IC: I’ve heard plenty of that from other people too.) Trump will provide a different set of challenges but will probably be good for Israel. Biden would be too (IC: but I think I got the hint that maybe Trump would be preferred)… A top priority is to restore the contract between Israeli citizens and their government that the army will protect them. Otherwise, nobody will want to serve in the army or return to their homes….Maybe a diplomatic solution will be possible with Hizbullah so that there doesn’t have to be a war up north. The Lebanese government may not have power over Hizbullah but there is hope that there will be enough pressure to avoid the fate of Gaza in Lebanon…..It is frustrating that even in the middle of a war, you have ministers in government more interested in diverting money to the Ultra-Orthodox than to the needs of the rest of the country fighting a war….It’s pretty well understood that at the end of this all, Netanyahu has to go. At least 85% of the country wants him out. ….And finally, we live in a tough neighborhood and the only thing the Arabs relate to is power.

OK, Let’s talk about Paris. I wanted to have a great day in Paris to make up for having to endure this trip to Israel which I really did not want to take at this time. You could imagine the lifting of stress as the plane took off from there, a feeling I’ve unfortunately had on several trips there over the years. The idea was to enjoy 24 Perfect Hours in Paris as an 18-Year-Old Girl on the way home!

The River Seine, Paris

If you are in a business class lane with only hand-luggage, arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris is swift and you’re out in less than 5 minutes. By the end of January, sunset is about 5:45 and at least for my visit the temperatures were about 50 degrees during the day so the city was not all that wintry. Except that the Tuileries Gardens are very stark at this time of year with no greenery.  The Place d’Concorde has exhibits for the summer Olympics and the Hotel de la Marine on that plaza is a great museum. The Louis Vuitton Dream Exhibit at Ponte Nuef was still going on (when I saw it in September I thought it was only temporary) and that’s worth a visit. Berthillon Café is closed on Monday and Tuesdays but you can get their ice cream at a café across the street in another café if you are there on those days. Uber works well in Paris but taxis have special lanes which gives them a rush hour advantage along the Seine river where the streets get jammed. One advantage in January is semi-annual sales; we found some great deals on clothes. Mimime Paris was a lot of fun for my daughter; she made her own handbag. You can reserve this in advance on the internet and it is about a 3 hour workshop in a neighborhood near City Hall. We also went to this perfume shop that sells lip balm in customized mini-wallets that you can put your initials on. It’s called OFFICINE UNIVERSELLE BULY at 6 Rue Bonaparte on the island with the Notre Dame cathedral and Berthillon ice cream cafe within. Both these places my daughter saw on Tik Tok pre-arrival and they were both cool places.

Departure at the airport was easy but it’s important to go to the correct terminal and section. I went to the wrong terminal and had to kick butt to get a taxi to go to the right one. Air France has good food and a nice service. I was a bit surprised that for a US-bound flight there was not much extra security involved.

My French friend who is the CEO of a major company says that Macon’s new prime minister is young and has nothing to lose, so he just might accomplish something. Macron is term-limited so he is a bit of a lame duck. He says that the Evergrande failure in China will have huge repercussions all over the world for businesses.

That’s it for now. By April, there will be some travel notes from Jamaica, Switzerland and Italy so stay tuned.

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