Imagine you are playing the game show “Match Game” and Gene Rayburn asks you: The New York City Department of Education is SOOO DUMB…” HOW DUMB IS IT? Well, they called me on the telephone asking me to update my BLANK – and the correct answer is “Phone Number.” Yup, this really happened to someone I know.
Here’s another one: My son is so lazy. HOW LAZY IS HE? Every time he takes off his pants, he can’t be bothered to leave his underwear on! Can you imagine how many times each day I am pulling out underwear from Jeremy’s pants? Does this happen in your home? One person I asked said Yes.
Now, although Jeremy is lazy beyond belief, he does have a brain that is active. On our latest trip, which was to London for Thanksgiving weekend, he came up with a theory which we will call Jeremy’s Theory of Vacation Premium Value. The theory is that you can walk into a McDonalds (or some familiar place) or do some ordinary thing, but because you are on vacation, it seems better than it would be had you just done it at home. So for instance, if you never walked into a McDonalds in New York but did so in Italy, you’d come home saying how great this place called McDonalds was that you enjoyed in Italy. By the same token, if you had gone to a McDonalds in New York, and you went to a similar one in Italy, you’d think it was better. This is an important theory because people perceive things they do on vacation to be better than what they do in their ordinary lives. But is it really? Are we not appreciative of what we do at home? For instance, is that walk down Fifth Avenue in New York not as exciting as it should be for people who live in New York? Is London’s subway system really better than New York City’s?
Jeremy was at a luncheon and was asked by a grandmother what kind of holiday present she should get for her grandchildren. He said not to get them things but to give them some kind of experience, such as a helicopter ride over Manhattan. He said they would forget things they got but not experiences.
Jeremy asked me for login and password to our internet provider because all the kids in school are watching World Cup games on their screens. (I said No.) When USA scored against Iran, the whole school erupted in cheering – in both my kids’ schools. My daughter’s math teacher, who has turned out to be much more personable than he appeared at the curriculum night, sheepishly gave the class 3 options: End class early, put all the screens away, or keep the class going and the kids should pretend to pay attention. They voted for the third choice! Of course, a month ago, none of these kids could care less about the World Cup. But sticking it in November/December during the school day and having a USA team out there competing changes everything.
My daughter took a jazz history course in school so I thought it would be nice to take her to a show that compressed the history of jazz into a 90 minute presentation. She didn’t enjoy it and was impulsively looking at her phone every few minutes hoping something new would appear in her inbox. Kids don’t know how to be bored; it has become an acquired skill. When I was a teenager, I sat through tons of boring classical music concerts with my grandmothers where the concerto lasted close to an hour and somehow learned to endure these things. We don’t even try to make kids sit through long and boring things anymore as if it is constitutionally prohibited cruel and unusual punishment.
Usually by Thanksgiving the trees are bare but this year there is still plenty of green out there.
I can imagine some company having their interns watch all the sexual harassment videos that New York requires people to watch yearly. They are really stupid videos that force you to press keys or click your mouse every few minutes to be sure you’re watching. So far surveys show these videos actually make people more resentful and worsen people’s attitudes. “So what did you do for your internship? Duh, I watched the same sexual harassment video 100 times so the people at the firm could do their work.”
My son was all bummed out after wasting the day watching a football game with a lousy ending. So he insisted on running out to do something cool. He did. He snuck up the elevator to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center! And I thought he was just going there to sneak a look at the Christmas Tree.
I bought this $20 alarm clock that allows you to program up to a 15 second wakeup message and we are using this to prank Jeremy with wakeup calls in the morning when he hates to get up for school. I’ve been recruiting his cousins and other family members and friends to create funny wakie-wakie messages and it’s a great prank!
I was in a Uniqlo store and they have this cool technology that I haven’t seen elsewhere. You put all the clothes into a bin and it automatically calculates the price of all the clothes in the bin. Each piece of clothes probably has some kind of transmitter telling its price and then some application takes all the prices and adds them up. It’s really cool. No need to scan your own items or have a cashier.
In order to collect all my Daddy stickers, you gotta try to get your daughter concert tickets to her favorite teenage idol. Nowadays it’s Taylor Swift. If Taylor walked up to me on the street and said Hello, I’d have no idea who it was, but anyway when the concert dates were announced and my daughter panicked because I didn’t text her back within 20 minutes (I was going through an airport – NO EXCUSE), I realized that I had to get on this or the end of the world was nigh. It didn’t help that the original concert dates did not include any Sunday performances and it would be very hard to arrange to attend a Friday or Saturday night performance during the summer months due to the Jewish Sabbath. This is the moment at which kids hate their religion for not letting them participate in what everyone else is doing. Thankfully, Sunday performances were later announced.
So I spoke to people and got advice and registered for the Ticketmaster presale. After several hours of being in the queue and having the system crash, I finally got through and it was all sold out. The next day was the Capital One cardholders presale with pretty much the sale result. StubHub tickets sellers are entitled to their profits for putting up with all this. At least my daughter knows enough that she doesn’t want to be on the floor; she is 5 feet tall with no extra inches and so is my wife. Karen and I spent 2 hours paying a ton of money to watch Elton John’s farewell concert for New York City on a screen because everyone standing on their chairs 25 rows ahead of us were all trying to watch him live. All I can tell you, I will never go through the presale circus again but at least we tried once.
Ticketmaster is really greedy – I just bought 4 tickets at the box office to the Radio City Christmas show with the Rockettes and the Ticketmaster fees were $30 a ticket. Imagine saving $120 for going to the box office. There is no way that Ticketmaster can justify those charges for the service it provides except that so many of the people going to see the show are tourists who have no other way to buy the tickets. It’s a real monopoly racket that is squandering ordinary people’s hard-earned money and it’s too bad that the government hasn’t done something to cap it.
I was recently in Miami Beach and walking around the neighborhood where my school was. I felt like the guy in the movie who comes back after 30 years and sees that his whole city looks different. Every single building and thing I looked at was completely different. Buildings were torn down and replaced; all the places I used to know were gone. I wonder what the dead would say if they came back and saw the world we live in today. The Setai Hotel was built atop what used to be known as the Concord Cafeteria; a place where my grandpa used to sit with the guys for breakfast and talk shop. I used to love the place as a kid. The hotel has a tower by the ocean as well as its original art deco style building. The hotel has the feel of a resort and it’s actually good at the 5-star level as long as you go to the tower building. The location is also excellent because it’s easy to get there from other parts of the city without being stuck in South Beach or along Collins Avenue and there are plenty of conveniences located near the hotel. It’s also within walking distance of the convention center.
Does anyone know anyone who would like to live in either Russia or China? Enough said. No surprise to me that Chinese are fed up with Xi and are demonstrating now that he has finished his party congress in October. Remember that Disney’s CEO was tossed off just after he signed a 5 year contract. A recent article in Foreign Affairs from a professor at one of the Chinese universities looked at Mr. Xi’s history and said that he was a pretty mediocre guy from privileged parents who was pushed along by them almost all the way to the top of the Chinese pyramid. Here is the link to the article: The Weakness of Xi Jinping: How Hubris and Paranoia Threaten China’s Future (foreignaffairs.com) He’s just not that impressive and it’s a bit tough that he is in charge of that country. To compensate for all this, he’s gone out of his way to create a personality cult around him and make himself look infallible. Behind some of these big dictators lies a huge inferiority complex. I’d rather see more leaders who are not afraid to admit that they don’t know everything and need qualified advisors around them.
The leading rabbi in Brooklyn’s Satmar community broke his silence and said Enough with the Trump Meshugas (Yiddishism for nonsense). He said it has become a cult-like thing with him and people have gone off their rockers. I would take that as a bellweather that people enthralled with Trump are about to move on. That Hassidic rabbi is himself an extremist who is also anti-Zionist, but he is no fool. Billionaires and Average Joes are not going to contribute money to Trump this time around; the GOP and the Super Pacs’ will no longer pay for his lawyers which cost several million dollars a month and other crazy expenses. He will run out of money. Murdoch’s media will ignore him. The only people he will hire will be losers who simply do whatever he tells them to do and he doesn’t really know what to do. It will be a shit show and respectable people will not want to be a part of it. Even his own family is staying away. He will not be a factor in 2024.
I didn’t want to vote this Election Day because I don’t want to re-elect the Democratic governor of NY but I also think the Republican is an idiot. After thinking about it a lot, I decided to vote for the idiot because unless I and others punish the Democratic Party for pursuing bad policies in NY (high taxes, denying there is a crime problem and a mask mandate that went on too long and pushed down NY’s economic recovery), they will never realize they have to change. Look back and you’ll see that Biden’s popularity started to drop when the Delta mask mandates started up during the summer of 2021. (Mask mandates are bad for the political health of incumbents. Notice Hochul’s decline in popularity versus De Santis in Florida who easily won re-election.) I’m also looking to punish the Democratic party for promising to give back the state income tax deduction that the progressives then welched on saying it was only good for the wealthy. Well, with all the wealthy people fleeing for the exits to low tax states like Florida, it’s not going to be good for the progressives. A money manager I know hesitates to buy NY state bonds because he thinks their financial position is being hurt by the exodus of wealthy taxpayers and that’s not going to help the state pay for progressive-backed programs.
I think that China and Russia have learned from Ukraine that they probably made a mistake to act while Biden was president, because Biden is the last of the World War II survivors that knows that Russia is a bad actor that must be stopped. America is the only opposition that counts; the US has given Ukraine $25 billion in military aid and Germany, the supposed leader of Europe, all of $2 billion. Lots of talk and no action. Under either a progressive Democrat or an isolationist Republican, America wouldn’t care to intervene if China invaded Taiwan or Russia went into Ukraine, and we would have left either Asia or Europe to deal with the consequences. China will probably sit for a few years and wait for 2025 and then do whatever it wants in Taiwan knowing that its odds will be better.
Here is a bold statement. Recently I read how America’s CDC (remember them, the Center for Disease Control) and the various states have been incompetent with monkeypox, showing that nothing was really learned from the covid pandemic in terms of gathering and reporting information that could be used to stop the spread of the disease. Right now the Biden Administration is in charge and they were supposed to be better than Trump’s Administration. My takeaway is that even had the Chinese been more forthcoming about the covid virus in its early stages, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference. Trump was running a bad show and wouldn’t have done anything with the information anyway, just like 3 years later, Biden’s people didn’t do very much with the monkeypox virus. Fortunately, this monkeypox is not the same as a fast-spreading coronavirus, but it was enough of a phenomena to be able to test the country’s virus defense system and evaluate its performance. America is still not investing in pandemic defense and is treating covid as a once in a generation event. It won’t be and we’re not going to be ready. But look at the rest of the world; even countries that were prepared for pandemics couldn’t really do much to stop it once it took root except wait for vaccines (ie: Singapore, Switzerland and Israel), and those that tried to prevent it just postponed the agony they suffered later.
The Wall Street Journal reported that China wasted its money the past 3 years controlling its population and didn’t invest in vaccines, vaccinating people or building hospitals. Even if they could build a 1,000 bed hospital in 9 days, it takes years to train intensive care unit doctors; only a very small percentage of Chinese doctors have 7-year medical degrees; 42% of them don’t have any university degrees, according to information cited by the Economist. Now it is in a trap because if it tries to reopen, people will get sick. As many as 50,000 people could die daily. No doubt the country’s leaders know this and that’s why they are barricading people in their homes and people are out in the streets hungry, out of work and bored. It is a bad situation all because the country’s leader is too proud to switch gears and realize Plan A is not working anymore. People want to say that it’s more complicated than this but China experts say that it is that simple: It’s all about Mr. Xi not wanting to be shown to be wrong. Notice that since the latest unrest in China started, Mr. Xi has been uncharacteristically silent.
Here’s another bold statement. I think that in the coming year there will be revolutions in both Iran and Russia. Russia is being completely humiliated and weakened; Germany has never been more confident that it is going to profit from all this to its east and is strangely still sucking up to China even though it should know by now that it will eventually be screwed by them just like they were screwed by Russia. Iran’s unrest started spreading to the sectors that wound up bringing down the Shah in 1979. The authorities succeeded in squelching the strikes, mainly because people are too poor to strike. But you can see the fissures out there. I would not be surprised to see the Iranian government fall within the next 12-24 months. People increasingly feel they have nothing to lose in a country that has become completely corrupt and unequal.
China will be around for a good while because its leader has eliminated all opposition but if he continues to deliver poor economic performance, which is what I expect to happen, he will be increasingly blamed for it since he has put all his people in all the top roles, and he will pay the price. China doesn’t have a cadre of excellent people in senior positions to drive the country forward; it’s all yes-men at this point and all signs point toward stagnation in China for the coming generation. Eventually, Mr. Xi will be history and when he goes it will be a brutal purge of all that he stood for till he also winds up being painted out of its history just like all the leaders before him. The only reason Xi survived this long is that there are a lot of old people in China in senior roles that agree with his general philosophy of elevating the Communist Party above all. It will be the next generation that moves beyond this. Another problem for that country is that all these sycophants around him will be afraid to tell him the truth about anything so he will be fed rosy optimistic information from corrupt officials and economic problems will not show up till it’s too late. For instance, despite billions of dollars having been invested in the semiconductor industry, China has little to show for it because most of the money was diverted to corrupt officials who lied about what their spending was producing. I don’t know what happened at the recent party congress but it seemed very disrespectful to elders to do what he did to the guy sitting next to him who was a venerated leader of the country. The wheel turns and we’ll see what happens to him someday just like I expect Putin to be humiliated by the people he tried to humiliate just before the war started.
Alexander Navalny is a bit of a mystery to me, but he had an op-ed piece in the Washington Post during September that expressed a vision for post-Putin Russia. You might recall that he was the idiot who, after being poisoned in Russia, came back from Germany only to be locked up in jail upon arrival. I assume that at some point Putin will make sure to kill him but meanwhile he lives and still sends out messages from a high security jail. He says that countries with strong presidential systems don’t work well as democracies and that Russia needs a strong parliamentary system which will bring more stability to the country. His writing sounds somewhere between a statesman and a punk rocker even though his article was edited by lawyers, but it is refreshing. I don’t know if he is the right man for the job someday, but his ideas should be looked at.
Ukraine: Consider some of the ramifications of the draft in Russia: Roughly 1 million of the brightest, youngest and wealthiest Russians fled the country after he tried to draft a few hundred thousand people. Many of those who are left will spend years in the army and will die or be wounded to the point that they cannot work. It is a fact that they are being sent as cannon fodder without real training, weapons or proper support such as food and clothing. And they know it, which points to low motivation and poor probability of success. Banks have been told to forgive loans of anyone who dies and to stop collecting on loans on soldiers and their families – meaning banks will be stuck with huge amounts of unpaid debts and won’t want to make more loans. Over 2% of the work force has been taken out of commission. A third of Russia’s industries has deficits of manpower. Fewer babies will be born and the government has to pay out all the salaries of these people in the army and everything will cost more since truck drivers are not exempt from the army and won’t be able to transport things. You just see dead ends all over the place. This whole thing is nuts for Russia.
It may be that Republicans will be less interested in supporting Ukraine but they are interested in the military and this war has been a bonanza for the West and its military – it is a chance to see how things play out on a real-life battlefield and tons of things are being learned and new technologies are being tested. A lot of progress will be made that will make future wars cheaper and more efficient, because the Ukrainians don’t have 5 years to wait for weapons systems and things have to be done on the cheap. This is too good to pass up and you could almost sense that the defense sector does not want this war to end too quickly because this laboratory testing opportunity is almost too good to be true.
I wrote last posting that the Ukrainians would retake the city of Kherson and the knives would come out in Moscow. I’m sure they have; I don’t know what’s going on inside Putin-Land, but I think that the Ukrainians will continue military operations during the winter and it will not be to the Russians’ benefit. The Ukrainians have better military kit and morale. The Europeans will get through the winter without capitulating to Russia. And as I said, Russia can’t count on Biden being drowned out by a Republican majority.
Henry Kissinger’s new book Leadership is not an easy read but I got through it. Frankly, although his writing is dense, I didn’t particularly think there was any tremendous insights that he offered that you can’t see elsewhere. His laments are what we all know – tribalism, digital media supplanting print, technology, etc. The chapter I enjoyed most was of the person I heard of least – Lee Kuan Yew, the helmsman of Singapore from a country where in 1965 the GDP per person was $517 and which now is over $60,000. (That’s a better rate of increase than a 1968 menu at a NY deli where a sandwich was $1.50 and now costs $25.) Its average lifespan is 8 years greater than in the USA. He was a really interesting person who served as its first and longest prime minister for roughly 25 years. If a person plans to visit Singapore, you definitely want to read up about its history and this man first.
UK: The minute I saw Boris Johnson resign in July, I knew that Mr Sunak would not win the election of the UK Conservative Party members, but I thought he was qualified for the job. He refused to promise things he could not deliver and left it to Ms. Truss to do otherwise. She actually did what she was elected to do, but what she wanted to do was nonsense and the markets wouldn’t swallow it. If Johnson strategized that he would step back in after she failed, he miscalculated. Sunak is now in the job he should have been in back in July. Hopefully, he will do a good job. Otherwise, it will be a leader from the Labor Party. Populists in the GOP in the US should take note – some things sound cute in theory but they don’t work. Now there is what is called a “moron premium” on UK debt; meaning the UK has to pay more on its debt because the market views the country as being run by idiots in an unstable political theater.
Here’s what I would like to see happen to Elon Musk who spent $44 billion buying Twitter and who is now firing 50% of its work force along with virtually all its executives, and looks like a guy who is going to run a platform giving voice to racists and anti-semites: These executives get together and start a new Twitter, take all the advertisers with them (most reputable companies will not want to be associated with Twitter at this point) and an advertising-financed model will be more advantageous to consumers than a subscription model especially going into a recession. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy and it will teach people a lesson going forward. He screwed the banks and all these people and shouldn’t come out a winner.
Lately I read about this Saudi prince in Boston who was in graduate school who spoke over the phone to his family about an imprisoned relative and posted something on social media about it. Upon his return to Saudi Arabia, he was put into prison and sentenced to nine years for doing this. That seems to be the short story about what I read in an Associated Press article. Beyond the idea that the Saudis are tapping into these kinds of phone conversations abroad and evidently so rattled by this that they feel the need to go after people for things like this, you wonder why any Saudi will want to ever return to the Kingdom after being abroad. I don’t know that I would ever want to be a tourist in Saudi Arabia for fear of being imprisoned for things I’ve written about in GlobalThoughts, which is not something I would fear in most other countries. I don’t think it’s good for Saudi Arabia to have me think that way about it because then the world will simply be full of people writing about the country who are afraid to actually visit the place. I’ve never respected people who write about a place without ever going to see it and the leaders of most countries want influential people who are reasonably minded to visit their countries so they can see for themselves and have a chance to show them the place.
I’d like to see what he’s done with the country; it sounds really impressive especially since I was there 20 years ago and it would be interesting to see it now, but I’m not going to subject myself to prison because someone over there is unsettled by a comment I wrote in this column and hey, I call balls and strikes here. Especially since Saudi Arabia tells people that they are OK to enter the country and then they arrest them upon arrival. I just don’t see how MBS will have anyone out there who will want to have ties to Saudi Arabia. He’s making the country untouchable especially to Congress which reflects a good sense of public opinion. Business leaders kept kowtowing to China and now they want to do the same with Saudi Arabia, but at a certain point China became too toxic for business and Saudi will wind up in the same bin as well. This is really disturbing – more than the Khashoggi episode because of what it means across the board to anyone who might talk or write about the country and go there. I think that Biden has not dealt wisely with MBS and that the Administration has shown condescension and given short shrift to Saudi Arabia’s reasonable and professionally-driven positions about where they see oil markets going and their own national priorities, but that MBS might just not be a guy you want to deal with. The jury is out on this for me because I’ve heard how arrogant some of Biden’s people are. Clearly he’s very thin-skinned and wants to silence anyone anywhere for the smallest thing that he decides constitutes opposition. Today it will be some Saudi graduate student in Boston and tomorrow it will be some American columnist in DC. At some point, Saudi Arabia is going to find itself without any friends they can count on (and I wouldn’t want to put the security of my Saudi Arabia into the hands of China or Russia), and they might just lose their country when the US doesn’t run to defend them. Believe me, Iran is watching and waiting for its moment. I know that people think he will be running that country for 40 years, but I have this feeling that he might not last nearly that long. I think that other countries will decide he is expendable or too troublesome. I hope it gets better over there but if you thought he learned anything from Khashoggi this latest episode is a big flashing red light to my mind that says he hasn’t and won’t.
Now put all this to the side and consider the following: We interrupt this commentary to bring you a special bulletin from someone I know who just spent 2 hours meeting with MBS. Along with MBS was his foreign and defense minister and other senior officials, none of whom said a word while he commanded the meeting. He describes him as remarkably well versed, well-read, well -informed and a visionary thinker, and one who sweats the details. Not to mention vindictive and ambitious. He was particularly impressed with the fact that although he was educated within the kingdom instead of abroad, he seems to be well educated. I was not expecting that review of him. This person says that the US is underappreciating the depth of transformative change that is taking place within the kingdom and that we need to encourage what is going on there and that it is counterproductive to be questioning whether or not people ought to deal with him or not. So consider all of the above (not necessarily contradictory), and make sense of this as you wish.
It’s been very depressing for me to be planning our family’s visit to Israel for its 75th birthday celebrations in April 2023. Besides the fact that they have elected a government that increasingly does not share the values of most American Jews (except for the Orthodox that also seem to gravitate toward Trump and increasingly don’t care about anything else), you get this feeling that Israelis couldn’t care less about American Jews as tourists or supporters. The younger generation of American Jews are by and large not going to care what happens to this kind of country even if it is attacked by Iran. I know that’s a strong statement but it’s probably true. If they go to war, you’re not going to see hardly anyone non-Orthodox under the age of 50 getting upset other than to say sorry Charlie. They’re not going to run out in the streets to demonstrate or go to synagogue and buy Israeli bonds the way they did in 1967 and 1973. 51% of American Jews age 18-29 surveyed last year by Pew Research Center said they had no emotional attachment to Israel. For those age 30-49 the number went down only a bit to 47%. 62% of the 18-29 group rated Netanyahu fair or poor and the ratings across all age groups were 50% or more except among the Orthodox overall where the figure was 16%. (The percentage of Orthodox among all American Jews is about 10%.) The most recent centrist government again welched on a deal that had been welched by the previous government to make egalitarian prayer spaces at the Western Wall, and that means that most American Jews can’t make a Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration there that they would want to attend. This new government will be hostage to the Ultra-Orthodox and they will never agree to a deal that legitimizes the other 90% of world Jewry.
I just read that Birthright trips to Israel will be cut by a third and funding to the organization is being slashed. The Arison family were its biggest contributors and said it did not want to have this program on its back forever, but others are not stepping in majorly to pick up the slack. Inflation and less interest among young people to take the trip are contributing to this. There may also be domestic politics involved because the government is involved in the program’s administration.
Progressive Democrats are rejoicing now that they will have posterchild racists in charge of Israel’s defense and/or police ministries. They will say that Israel is an apartheid state and Republican anti-Semites and White-Supremacists will not exactly be in a position to object. Netanyahu has absolutely zero political capital in Washington having alienated both Biden and Trump. The UAE warned him that diplomatic relations will suffer with extremists in his government and the last time he was prime minster he did not have friendly relations with either the UAE, Egypt or Jordan. And, as I will point out in the next paragraph, Israel is not exactly putting out the welcome mat to Jewish tourists these days, charging exorbitant prices and telling its most loyal visitors to piss off. If it’s a non-welcoming place that charges you $1,000 for a family of 4 to eat your sabbath lunch at a 5-star hotel (roughly 4x what you’d pay at an equivalent hotel in Sweden or Germany), you figure why go there and why would you care what happens to it? Only a small fraction of very wealthy people will put up with this and they are balking – people who went to these hotels for 50 years have had it and travel agents won’t sell El Al airline tickets because they are so hard with refunds. This past fall holiday season there were lots of empty rooms at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem; a flagship property that would normally be sold out and reviews of the hotel’s new management were pretty bad with people saying they wouldn’t go back. At this point, I hardly know anyone in the country beyond a few elderly cousins and I haven’t been there in 5 years. After I go there for this particular occasion to celebrate its past and current glory, I might not go there again for a long time except for lightning visits for important reasons as they arise such as a niece’s wedding or a daughter attending a gap year program.
To my mind, Israel’s future is in its past. Especially under Netanyahu, it is on the wrong side of history sidling up to autocrats who will turn on a dime against it as Putin recently did. Shared values are the stuff of international relations and Israeli values are moving away from American values. It’s a generational thing as young Israelis who were brought up as Russians and Arab-oriented Jews all want heavy handed leaders and death to the Arabs. It’s not the European kind of mentality that built the country the past generation and the majority of people in that country are young. Netanyahu used to work with centrist parties but they refuse to work with him now; he just wants power and to get the prosecutors off his back, so he’ll just deal with these devilish elements to get what he wants. Maybe he’ll dump them later but I think that’s wishful thinking. He will dance with those that brought him back to the party that had left him. To repeat it simply, Israel’s future is in its past. Of course, we’ll see what the government does as opposed to who is in it. Some of the most unsavory characters were recently guests at a UAE diplomatic reception in Tel Aviv, meaning the UAE will continue to deal with this government because it is in power. Time will tell how the chips fall. Maybe it won’t be so bad. We’ll see.
It’s funny because the older generation of American Jews generally and the younger Orthodox generation think of Israel as an insurance policy in case America goes wrong; I can’t see Israel doing well if America turns its back on its Jews. An anti-Semitic America is not going to look out for Israel. And with autocratic friends like Russia, Hungary and China, who in Israel needs enemies? You see that Russia is no friend of Israel under Putin and that people like him can turn on a dime. I’m almost finished with Walter Russell Mead’s opus “The Arc of A Covenant: The United States, Israel and the Fate of the Jewish People.” It is an excellent treatise on the history of American-Israeli foreign relations and much more, but it is so long that I can’t remember what I read 100 pages back. One of his conclusions is that historically Israel does well when it is strong and America’s alliance with it has been strengthened not as a result of liberal ideas but because Israel was strong and an important strategic asset in a difficult neighborhood where the US could count on boots on the ground that were not theirs. That kind of relationship will continue no matter where the US goes politically because it is convenient to the US to have Israel there. You can expect the same with the Arab countries viz a viz Iran. As for an insurance policy, we see that no matter how bad Russia and Ukraine or even European countries such as France get, Jews there still don’t want to go to Israel (even if the majority of current immigrants to Israel are from Russia and Ukraine, overall the number is low and most are draft dodgers who are being rejected). If America goes to pot, its Jews still won’t go to Israel. So to sum this up for better or worse, Israel will be there and America will support it, but Jews might not be too comfortable in America at some point, but they won’t pick up and go to Israel either.
All I can say is that if I were an Arab looking forward to the UAE’s 75th birthday celebration, I would be in a much better situation choosing among hotels that know how to put out a spread and create special events that welcome the world. So far I’ve been asking around and the Israeli government has not yet created an authority to plan any kind of extravaganza this coming April. That’s par for the course — the Israelis always scrape something together in the final 3 weeks. I know the Qataris have gone head over heel with an unlimited spend to try and do their best for the World Cup; I don’t know if they will get it together in time and maybe they should not have tried to host this epic tournament if they really didn’t want all the crap that comes along with hosting the World Cup, but I wish them the best. So far it seems to be going OK apart from the pre-event carping. Arabs I’ve spoken to say they’re having a great time there. I also wish the Israelis were thinking of putting their best foot forward to welcome the world to their celebration. Somehow I feel they will just stick their middle finger out there and say they don’t give a damn whether you come or you don’t.
Circling back to the point I made earlier, not one person I’ve spoken to in the US (family or friends) says they are planning to be in Israel come April for that Independence Day celebration. You would have thought that for this momentous event people would feel a higher level of engagement with the Jewish State to show up and celebrate 75 years of building that enterprise. Think about it – when I was born, the country was only 18 years old, and I don’t think of myself as being that old. It’s hard to believe the progress that’s been made, and yet where things seem to be heading. For many years, it wasn’t that Israel was so great; it was that the Arab countries around them were so badly managed. But things are changing in the region and the next 75 years might be very different. The Saudis, Emiratis and Qataris are not standing still anymore and will not suffer fools; the Israelis will have to play good game with them.
Let’s talk about the midterm elections. I’m happy that Biden came off this election looking strong because America needs that with Russia, China and Iran all praying for him to look weak. Now they’re the ones on the defensive because they know they are going to have to deal with him for 2 more years and the GOP is not going to be able to muck up his foreign policy initiatives.
Months ago I predicted that De Santis would win reelection in Florida in a landslide because even Democrats liked him. I have also said that at a certain point Americans remind the world that they are not idiots and that they do not want things to go to extremes. In this election, that point was proved. Even though inflation was an issue and Biden was not popular, people rose above this issue and voted down extremists on both sides. Virtually every candidate Trump ran who wanted to take over the election machinery on the state level (ie: secretary of state) lost. Most of his nutso candidates lost. The abortion issue did turn out to count because people saw it as an example of extremism; even red states such as Kentucky voted down restrictions that were on the ballot. The Democratic strategy of power forward extremist GOP candidates turned out to be a winning one as every one of them lost. (It might have been dirty politics but it worked.) Not that people want Biden to seek reelection or for Kamala Harris to run. Some other Democrats need to take up the mantle (just like Pelosi and her aged minions who got forced to do just that), and Biden was supposed to be a one-term president to do just that and he should remember that. The progressives also did poorly with their radicals also losing. People were not as infatuated with Fake News they saw online. Americans were sensible again. Message I take from this election for both parties is to run moderates. I’m going to predict that De Santis might not be the Republican candidate in 2024; if they run a competent moderate governor, that person could win the nomination and a general election. I was not expecting the Democrats to keep the Senate and you’d think the Republicans would just get rid of Trump now that people are bored with him and he is a proven vote repellant for the party outside of his base. The large swath of independent voters decided many of these races and they don’t want him. Lots of people split their ticket when voting and I’m OK with the fact that the GOP took over the House of Representatives – there will be no new taxes as tax bills must start in the House and it ain’t gonna happen now.
My daughter is in the 11th grade and our lives are starting to be infected with impending college doom including pre-college testing and choosing a college. I desperately want to avoid turning this into a circus and to hope that her prospects will be fine for matching her up to whichever college is best for her, due to the fact that she has good grades, works hard, is doing interesting things, and has a great personality. But of course there are others similarly situated and there are those pesky pre-college tests that sort people into boxes and make everyone nutty. I’ve been having to get educated about this (the world has changed a lot in the past 40 years), and I’ve noticed something that doesn’t add up.
You know how people complain that pre-college testing is too elitist, especially since coaching does exist for these situations and seems to make a difference? But let’s be real: Tests don’t just test knowledge; they also test familiarity with material on the test and the adaptation to the logic of the test-maker. In my own life, the first time I took the LSAT (law school admissions test) I made the mistake of listening to the pre-law advisor at my college who said that Yeshiva College students were all geniuses and did not need to prepare for the LSAT and got a 48% percentile ranking; I then spent the summer studying for the test with a testing prep service and raised my score to 88%. Tutoring would have helped me a lot instead of 3 months of classes that ultimately didn’t really help me in my weakest areas, but I didn’t know about such things back in 1987. So let’s look at this subject for a minute. I’ve been finding out that very few people actually want to pay for pre-college testing tutoring. They want to complain about it but not pay for it. But few people need more than 7-10 hours of tutoring. Think about this for a second – if you care enough about this subject, the average person in that category in a big city such as New York City might have already paid roughly half a million dollars sending a kid to close to 15 years of private school, and the cost of tutoring to get an edge on the SAT exam for what will cost another quarter million dollars of college is maybe $2,000, and people are stuck on rewind for that money? That’s a few hours of legal or accounting fees that you wouldn’t think twice about if you had to pay it in the normal course of business or to file your taxes. It boggles my mind that people are so penny-wise and dollar foolish when it comes to running the 26th mile of a marathon. Many of those same people wouldn’t think twice about spending that money for a high school class trip or visiting colleges; some people have turned this into a circus and they visit and apply to a dozen colleges. That has to cost money and I have no intention of engaging in that. Now, of course, most people don’t deal with those expenditures, but if you went for public school education or are looking for financial aid for college, you’d still think that $2,000 was a good investment given the overall picture. So what I’m saying is that people should stop driving this issue out of proportion and take this in its proper context. You might go to driving school to get your drivers license; you invest in preparing for college and, while certain activities people engage in are frivolous, others seem prudent and cost-efficient overall.
I didn’t go outside the USA till after I graduated high school (except to the Bahamas from Florida) and my kids have been to over 25 countries by now. They’ve basically seen most of what I want them to see; I’d like to go to China and Russia but those countries are not exactly receiving tourists for the next couple years it seems. And Russia has turned back the clock 30 years and is probably now the same hostile backward place it was when I first visited in 1992 with my family. I feel funny that I’m almost done showing them the world and providing that level of education for them. Karen and I feel that in a few years when Elizabeth goes off to college, it will be much harder to take these trips with the kids.
Now is a great time to visit London. Usually, Thanksgiving Week is a great week for Americans to travel abroad; this year there were more tourists because of the weak British Pound so hotels raised their rates and were full. Even so, November is more pleasant than December; had hardly any rain and temperatures in the 50’s. Prices for food here are about 35% less than the USA at places such as Pret a Manger, and clothing prices for identical brands are significantly cheaper here. The country is in recession and the pound is almost at all-time lows against the dollar. In London, take as few taxis as possible; they have high charges for cars in the city but traffic got worse because they put in all these bike lanes and have lots of road construction going on. With the Oyster card, you have unlimited subway and buses in central London for roughly $8 a day. That’s the cost of a ride on the Air Train monorail at JFK Airport (unless you buy a 30-day use 10-pack for $26 which is what we used for 8 of us to ride it going and coming at JFK). We flew JetBlue to Gatwick and the service is very good; Gatwick is a much easier airport than Heathrow to fly in and out of. (At JFK Terminal 5, try the healthy food from the vending machine called Farm Express.) You can exit that airport within 5 minutes after going through the electronic passport gates with a US passport. We crashed for a morning nap at the Sofitel which is a 2 minute walk from the North Terminal. We got two connecting day rooms from dayuse.com for $125 each. Hotel was not interesting in terms of its fitness center or its breakfast but it worked fine for a 3-4 hour nap and then we took the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station in London. It’s a 30 minute ride and trains leave every 30 minutes or so. Buy ticket online in advance and 4 people went for about $50. You really don’t want to take a car ride to London from this airport. London makes a great first impression of new development as you cross the bridge into the city on the train. We took a taxi from Victoria to our hotel at Oxford Circus; the ride was $25 and about 40 minutes and it would have been a lot faster to just take the subway.
We started at Covent Garden with a light lunch at Brigit’s Bakery. It’s a great place to start the trip with things like a smoothie bowl, scones, quiche and salad. They have these cute teddy bears that you can cuddle with. I don’t know if Elizabeth lived in London in a previous life but even though we’d never been inside that eatery and it’s been 3 years since our last visit, she found her way to that place from Covent Garden without even looking at a map. I was floored and figured this had to be a prank.
Hatchards Book Store on Piccadilly Street had a book with economic-related questions such as “Why Can’t They Just Print More Money?” My question is how does Hamley’s toy store get those plastic airplanes they throw around to fly perfectly around in a circle while nobody can do the same thing once they get home?
The Langham hotel remains our favorite in this town; I’ve stayed there about 5 times. It’s great on location near Oxford Circus, facilities, food and rooms. Every time I go there I have to relearn how to get to the gym and pool. Go to the first floor, go all the way across and then use the elevator to go down. Stairs are bad steers here. A highlight of our visit was a 3 hour tour of the British Museum led by the dean of a local Jewish college. We zipped through the museum stopping at certain points to see artifacts with Jewish connections to Greek, Egyptian and Assyrian empires. Even Jeremy found it interesting.
“Dig” restaurant chain in the US with farm fresh food has a UK equivalent: Farmer J. It’s less than a block from the hotel.
We went to Abba Arena near the Olympic Park to see the Abba Voyage show. It’s a 90 minute techno extravaganza – the band and backup singers are live, but the 4 members of Abba are avatars. Funny but you see them better than you would at a live concert and the special effects are great. Use the metro to get there. There is a metro stop right in front of the stadium. Also, your Ticketmaster tickets will show up on the Ticketmaster app in the UK but not until you get there.
One annoying thing in the UK right now is strikes. Subway lines, postal delivery – all sorts of things go in and out here and it is an inconvenience even to tourists.
One pretty department store we found was called Liberty in Soho. Even if you don’t buy anything, check out the interior of the building. They sell lots of unusual brands you don’t see elsewhere.
Other attractions we visited were the Soames Museum – an interesting townhouse featuring all kinds of pieces of Greek temples and various artefacts collected by an eccentric architect in the 19th century. It’s free and you can see it in 15 minutes but it’s cool. Another attraction is the British Library where you can see a permanent exhibition of its treasures including the Magna Carta. I didn’t know that the original Magna Carta was in effect only for about 10 days till it was withdrawn by the king; it was reinstated when a newly installed 9 year old king agreed to it as part of a deal for him to take power. I went with the kids to the Arcelor Orbital Mittal Slide in the Olympic park. It’s a 40 second wild ride down a twisty slide. It’s not that crazy of a ride and you can have a Go-Pro video made of you going down the slide which is really not necessary. You get a great view from the top and they offer absailing off the side of the building on weekends. That looks like fun too.
Rovi is one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants and dinner there is reliably good. The kids ate all their veges and we were impressed. Back to the Future is a great “up” energy show that pretty much tracks the movie. It’s opening on Broadway this coming summer. La Clique is a 90 minute cabaret-burlesque-circus show in Leicester Square that is a great holiday tradition with fantastic acts but not appropriate for small children and some teenagers might blush.
Tower of London is a good site and catch the 45-minute Yeoman tours every 30 minutes at the top and bottom of the hour. They have a wicked sense of humor. The Crown Jewels takes a few minutes once inside the building and you want to see them; the line tends to move. We enjoyed the building with the graffiti from famous prisoners. Nearby is the Sky Garden with Darwins Brasserie and good food. You can either book way ahead and get free tickets to go up to the garden at the top of the skyscraper or book into Darwins for lunch or dinner. They tend to open up tables online the Tuesday morning before the weekend. Ten minutes from there is the Tower Bridge and that’s fun to walk across; the walk upstairs is not so bad. The toilets are on the South Side and there is an elevator there. The toilets are close to the bottom of the tower. You can sit on glass and look down on the bridge. The walk along the river on the south side is very pretty at dusk. These three items make for a good 4 hour activity.
The Gatwick Express does not run on weekends, so you can either take a train that takes an hour to get there or just get into an Uber for a 75 minute ride. It’s a bit of a nailbiter going down all sorts of side streets on the edge of London but at least the Uber has a GPS and the taxis don’t. The airport itself moves quickly and is sort of like New York’s Laguardia versus Kennedy. London’s airports are especially better once you learn to put those liquids in a clear plastic bag and make it very easy for the security people to see them by putting them outside the suitcase. The airport has a Fast Pass for business class passengers and those who want to pay a fee. There is also a paid-fee lounge although there are tons of good shops and eateries in the main concourse and the walk to the gate is short. The Pret in that airport is at the top of the escalator and it’s a great way to load up for an 8 hour flight home.