Politicians are of course accustomed to spin every fact and carefully craft every public statement, attempting to insure that absolutely nothing negative, embarrassing or revealing is said (a habit that unfortunately has spread to NFL head coaches).  The result is that a minimum of information is conveyed, and what there is is wrapped in platitudes and fine sounding nothing.  But there is a sort of code that can be recognized and deciphered, although it is not as precise as that used by the military, which after all must generally deal with verifiable concrete facts (collateral damage – dead innocents; degraded military unit – bodies blown all over the countryside).  Here is a sampling, many of them fairly familiar.

1. I want to spend more time with my family/explore new opportunities.  (Polls show I will not be reelected/They just fired my ass.)

2. Mistakes were made.  (I or someone under my supervision screwed up.)

3. The American people want…  (My party wants…)

4. We need to energize the base.  (We need to pander to the extremists in our party.)

5. The security of Israel is of paramount interest.  (I want to get reelected.)

6. The level of military funding is dangerously low.  (There is an armaments plant in my district.)

7. We must not infringe upon states’ rights.  (My state does not like Blacks/gays/ abortions.)

8. The other party is playing politics.  (The other party does not agree with me.)

9. We must protect the job creators.  (We must protect the filthy rich who fund my campaigns.)

10. I am for protecting life.  (I oppose abortion and support the death penalty.)

11. I am for choice.  (I support abortion.)

12. I am a man/woman of the people.  (My net worth is less than one million.)

13. I am proud to have served my country.  (I’m glad I didn’t have to work for a living/serve in the military.)

14. To the best of my recollection…  (I’m certainly not going to tell you anything incriminating.)

15. I am taking care of the people’s business.  (I am running for reelection/on a junket/lining my pockets.)

16. We must defend religious freedom.  (We must make the country safe for Christianity.)

17. I respect my colleague’s opinion.  (My colleague is full of shit.)

18. At that point in time…  (Then.)

19. We cannot afford to look weak.  (There is an armaments plant in my district.)

20. The government requires these powers to maintain our national security.  (We are the party in power.)

21. The government possesses too much power.  (We are not the party in power.)

22. This is the worst sort of negative campaigning.  (The ad is true.)

23. He is a Washington insider.  (He has been in office longer than I have.)

24. We need to bring the country together.  (Everyone should agree with us.)

25. He engages in class warfare.  (He talks about income disparity.)

26. He is no friend to the poor.  (Please believe that I am.)

27. This is a personnel matter.  (We are engaging in illegal activity.)

28. This is still under investigation.  (We don’t want to embarrass our colleagues.)

29. There are few rotten apples.  (Most of us are guilty.)

30. This bill is filled with pork.  (None of the pork in this bill is going to my state.)

31. I support free speech, but… (I support free speech unless I or my constituents find it offensive.)

32. I support the establishment of democracy.  (I support the establishment of democracy until they elect someone we don’t like.)

33. We have a zero tolerance policy.  (We can’t be bothered thinking/We don’t want to get sued.)

34. We are all in this together.  (I won’t be losing my job.)

35. I love America.  (Where else could I hold a state office?)

36. He is an elitist.  (He uses words I can’t understand.)

37. We recognize the legitimate security needs of Israel.  (We will ignore the international law we are sworn to uphold.)

38. He leaked classified material.  (He revealed something embarrassing to my party.)

39. I have not yet studied the document.  (My staff has not yet told me what I should say.)

40. We have reached across the aisle in a bipartisan spirit.  (We are voting on our own benefits.)


Stuff from Way Back #9: Olympics

          Once again the Olympics are upon us, as London hosts the quadrennial city-bankrupting festival that every city nevertheless craves.  Of course, now it is not just the expense of building new venues that will likely go unused after the event, but also the cost of providing security in a world descending into paranoid madness over the issue of terrorism.  A British warship come up the Thames to London, surface-to-air missiles on the roofs of apartment houses and with the failure of the contracted security firm more British military personnel than are currently fighting in Afghanistan.  You might guess that the Armada or Luftwaffe is heading towards the city.

On the other hand, since the site is London and not Beijing or Moscow or Riyadh there are no boycotts or protests to disturb the celebration of sport (and sports equipment) and no voices decrying the “politicizing” of the Olympics.  And the Cold War is over, which means no ideologically motivated second guessing of East Block gymnastic judges and no East German women with mustaches and bulges between their legs, always a favorite of the post-war games. Nationalism and patriotic tribalism are of course alive and well, but mobs chanting “USA! USA!” and individual athletes being absorbed into the national herd is not considered inappropriately political.  You may trumpet the superiority of your country; just don’t criticize it.

Is this not how it should be?  Pure sport (well, except for the nationalism), and amateur athletes (except for the professionals) competing simply for honor (except for the product endorsements).  According to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics: “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”  Fine sentiments indeed, except that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the Greeks and the ancient games.

The strongest component of the Greek character was agōn, the need to compete or struggle, and this drive manifested itself in every aspect of their society, from sporting events and dramatic contests to constant political upheaval and warfare.  Unlike the Romans, the Greeks were definitely not team players, and even sex was viewed as a kind of competition, with a winner and a loser.  One result of this urge to competition was the fragmentation of Greece into hundreds of independent and narcissistic little political units, the city-states.  All life revolved around the city-state community, and you were not so much a Greek as you were an Athenian or a Theban or a Corinthian, willing to do almost anything to demonstrate the superiority of your city.

Since everything you did reflected upon your city, everything you did had a political aspect, and sport was no exception.  The original Olympics were consequently highly politicized, more so than their modern successors, and places like Argos and Chios had discovered the public relations value of athletic triumphs long before Berlin or Beijing.  And as far as lionizing our sports figures goes, how many mothers now pray to Jim Thorpe or Wilma Rudolph to cure a sick child?

Ancient Olympians were also hardly the disinterested amateurs of de Coubertin and Avery Brundage.  By the last quarter of the fifth century BC professional athletes were already dominating the games, which were rapidly evolving into pure spectator sport.  Competitors were financially supported by wealthy individuals or the cities themselves, and it became a common (and frequently derided) practice for a city to hire a successful athlete from another city, in effect a ringer, to compete as one of their own citizens and enhance their “medal count.”

But even before the emergence of the professionals the Olympics fell considerably short of de Coubertin’s dream of pure sport.  Amateur athletes expected serious financial gain from their victories, and although the big festivals at Olympia, Nemea, Delphi and Isthmia granted only wreaths, those victors could expect substantial material rewards from their cities.  Money, valuable goods, tax breaks, public support and even political preferences awaited the winners, all of which calls to mind the “amateur” Olympians of the former East Block countries, with their cars, apartments and special access to western goods.

Far more accurately than de Coubertin, Coach Vince Lombardi captured the attitude of the Greek athlete: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”  Greek society had little sympathy for life’s losers or those who tried their best and failed.  There was no second and third place, and losing brought dishonor and even public disgrace.  Consider the epitaph of Agathos Daimon, buried at Olympia: “He died here, boxing in the stadium, having prayed to Zeus for the crown or for death.  Aged 35.  Farewell.”

For all the pressure to win, however, we know of remarkably few instances of cheating in the thousand year history of the games.  For one thing, given the relative simplicity of the events and the lack of our modern pharmacopoeia, it was not that easy to cheat in the athletic competitions, though bribing judges in the more subjective artistic events was certainly possible.  More important, though, was the fact that the Olympic games were first and foremost a religious festival, honoring the god Zeus, and cheating meant that an angry deity would sooner or later be on your case.

In practice the ancient games were more politicized than their modern counterparts, and were it not for the fact that the classical world did not have a consumer market economy, they would almost certainly have been as commercialized.  Souvenirs were in fact sold, and had the Greeks discovered marketing, their businessmen would certainly have vied for the right to sell the official tunic or kylix or whatever of the Olympics.  Even the discoverers of rationalism and builders of the Parthenon could indulge in bad taste.

The modern games have left de Coubertin behind and now more closely approach the spirit of the ancient Olympics, celebrating victory and gain rather than simple participation and effort.  Only in their universalism can the modern Olympics claim to be something greater than the original.  The classical games were limited to able-bodied males (the Greeks would find our Special Olympics an obscene joke) and until the Romans took over, Greeks.  On the other hand, the Greeks considered anyone who did not speak Greek to be a barbarian, so why bother?

Excerpts from the Book of Yitzhak

(Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, the two one-time terrorists become Prime Ministers of Israel, were inclined to speak in Old Testiment terms, inevitably referring to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria and reminding the world that these areas once belonged to Israel and should again.  It is thus appropriate to provide an account of the Shamir administration in such terms.  Just to remind you: Shamir was PM from 1983 to 1984 and again from 1986 to 1992; from 1984 to 1986 his ally Shimon Peres was PM.  In 1986 Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon, Ariel Sharon having presided over the Phalange massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.  The first Intifada erupted in the West Bank in 1987 and over a thousand Palestinians were killed.  The First Gulf War erupted in 1991.)                        

And it came to pass in the thirty-fifth year of the kingdom of Israel that the Lord said unto Yitzhak, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses and Menachem, so will I be with thee.  And I will give unto thee, and to thy brother Shimon, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, and Judea and Samaria, and Sinai and Golan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God, and thou my prophet.

And so Yitzhak went forth among the children of Israel and said unto them, Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord thy God.  And Yitzhak said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Jordanites, and the Iraqites, and the Syrians, and the Palestites, who art an abomination in the sight of the Lord.  Ever with us is He, Who in the ancient days of Baal Four set up an ensign for the nations, and assembled the outcasts of Israel, and gathered together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

And heavy was the burden set upon the children of Israel by the Lord of Hosts, for many were the enemies of Zion and great the company of unbelievers and idolaters.  And the kings of the earth rose up, and the rulers took counsel together against the Lord and against His annointed, and said unto the seed of Abraham, Go forth from the Lebanon, O Israel, for this land is not given thee, and in Sabra and in Shatila the Palestites have suffered a great wickedness and pain, as of a woman in travail.

And the children of Israel gathered themselves together, as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude, and they cried unto Yitzhak, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness.  And Yitzhak said unto the people, You come to me with lamentation, but I come to ye in the name of the Lord, the God of the armies of Israel.  What is my sin before ye, that I have gone the way of Menachem and his captain Ariel?  But the hearts of the children of Israel were hardened.

And so it came to pass that the hosts of Israel came forth out of the Lebanon, and the valley of Bekaa, unto the waters of Litani.  And Yitzhak said unto the nations, Comfort ye, Speak ye comfortably toJerusalem, for she cries unto ye, that her warfare is accomplished.  But the cry of the Shiites is great, and their sin is very grievous, and ever will the Lord rain upon them brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, that He may overthrow their wickedness.

And it came to pass in Gaza, and in Samaria, and in Judea, even unto the waters of Jordan, that the Palestites corrupted themselves, and they worked a great evil upon the children of Israel.  And the wrath of Yitzhak waxed hot, and he cast the tablets of David out of his hands and brake them beneath his feet.

And Yitzhak went unto his captain Ariel, wherein his strength lay, and he laid his hands upon him, saying, Like unto Joshua art thou to me, and like Moses I give thee a charge.  Do thou cross over into Samaria, and Judea, that thou mayest smite the Palestites with the edge of the sword, for they conspire to do a great evil against the children of Zion.  And Yitzhak said unto Ariel, And thou shalt do to Hebron, and to Shechem, and to Ramallah as thou didst unto Tyre, and Sidon, and mighty Beirut; only the spoil thereof, and the water thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves.

And so it came to pass that Ariel went forth into Samaria, and Judea, and even unto the Golan, and many were the tents and camps of the children of Israel.  And great was the anger of the Lord of Hosts, and His wrath blew hot upon the Palestites, and the cries of the rulers of the west were as chaff upon the wind.  And Ariel sent to Yitzhak, saying, Now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, and, behold, I propose to build a house in Jerusalem, unto the name of the Lord my God.

But the hearts of the Palestites were hardened in their wickedness, and no more would Yitzhak forebear, because their sin was very grievous.  And Yitzhak said unto the people, If a Palestite smite a man of Israel with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and though he not die, he is a murderer, and the murderer shall surely be put to death.  And Yitzhak sent to his captain Shinbet, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which the Lord gave unto the children of Israel.  And the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon the people, and they slew the Palestites, who had transgressed.

And it came to pass in the east, by the waters of Babylon, that the Iraqites builded themselves a great army, with chariots of iron, and they conspired all of them together to come and fight against Jerusalem.  And Yitzhak said unto the children of Israel, A great evil and abomination unto the Lord is spawned in the east.  And it is an accursed thing, and ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the accursed thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed and make the camp of Israel a curse.  And the rulers of the west heard Yitzhak, and they gathered a great host, and the Lord rained upon Baghdad brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and great was the rejoicing of Zion.

But great was the number of the enemies of the Lord, and the princes of the west cried unto the seed of Abraham, saying, Go forth from Jerusalem, O Israel, for this land is not given thee, and the Palestites suffer a great wickedness and pain.  And Yitzhak was called forth, out of the land of Canaan, by the kings of the west, and he went unto the Amerikites.  And Bey Ker the Amerikite spake unto Yitzhak, saying, Bring forth the children of Israel out of Judea, and Samaria, and proclaim liberty throughout the land.  Go forth from Golan, and from Gaza, O Israel, for thine enemy is fallen, and by the waters of Jordan shall the Palestites raise a nation.  And even in the house of Israel, Shimon, and his brother Yitzhak, turned not from iniquity, but led their tribe in rebellion against the Lord of Hosts.

And great was the power of the Amerikites, but like unto a lion out of the desert was Yitzhak, and his servant Benjamin, and they were filled full with the strength of the living God.  And Yitzhak said unto his people, The kings of the earth seduce ye, saying, Peace, when there is no peace, and terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon the children of Israel.  But he that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh them to scorn, the Lord shall have them in derision.

Pitch thy tents in Judea, and in Samaria, O Israel, for out of Zion shall go forth our law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  And we shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and we shall beat our plowshares into swords, and our pruning hooks into spears.  For we are the annointed of the Lord, who art charged to carry out His holy work, and I will make of thee a great nation.

And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers, and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.  And Yitzhak went into Samaria, and looked over Jordan.  And the Lord said unto him, Behind thee is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, unto Jacob, and unto Menachem, saying, I will give it unto thy seed.  And I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.  Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers.

And it came to pass in the forty-fourth year of the kingdom of Israel that Yitzhak the servant of the Lord died, according to the word of the children of Israel.  And he was buried in the land of Moab, in the tomb of Likud, wherein lay his father Menachem.





Sheol Welcomes Yitzhak Shamir

Yitzhak Shamir, a founding father and two-time Prime Minister of Israel (1983, 1986-1992), died on June 30.  He was given a state funeral and praised as an outstanding patriot by virtually every Israeli political leader of prominence, including Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he had fought politically.  Interestingly, in praising him his daughter took the opportunity to stick it to the current leadership: “(My father) belonged to a different generation of leaders, people with values and beliefs. I hope that we have more people like him in the future.”

There is no question that Shamir was a patriot and a brave man, who essentially dedicated his life to serving his county.  But of course the same could be said about Adolph Hitler, and while Shamir is certainly not in the same league as the man who murdered his family, life does reveal that Israeli patriotism can accommodate serious brutality.  As in the days of the First Temple, when the Lord of Hosts often expected His people to treat their neighbors with utter barbarity, so too in modern Israel does serving the country sometimes involve behavior generally condemned by democratic societies.

Shamir was born in 1915 in a Jewish village in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, became a Polish citizen after the Russian-Polish war of 1920 and moved to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1935.  There in 1940 he joined the Irgun, a paramilitary organization fighting the British, and when it split into two factions a short time later, he went with the more extreme Lehi, also known as the Stern Gang after its leader.  Financing themselves with bank robberies, the group was so anti-British that it actually had talks with the Nazis and proposed a Jewish state based on fascist principles.  After Stern was killed in 1942, Shamir became one of the leaders of Lehi, which gravitated towards the USSR, declaring in 1944 that it supported a national bolshevism (whatever that is).  While under Shamir’s leadership Lehi assassinated the British Resident Minister in Cairo in November of 1944 and subsequently engaged in terrorist acts both in Palestine and the UK, tactics which Shamir justified with references to the Old Testament.  He was arrested by the British in 1946 but escaped and found political asylum in France, where he was when the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Shamir immediately returned to Palestine and Lehi, which teamed up with the Irgun in March for an attack on the Arab village of Deir Yassein.  The Irgun was then led by Menachim Begin, another future Prime Minister (1977-1983), whose group had blown of the King David Hotel in 1946, killing 103 people, many of them Jews.  In the Deir Yassein operation over a hundred villagers were killed, many of them women and children, and according to the later testimony of an Irgun fighter 80 prisoners were executed.  The massacre was condemned by the two chief rabbis in the area, by the leadership of the Haganah and even by Ben-Gurion, but no one was punished.  Then, in September of 1948 Lehi assassinated the UN mediator, Folke Bernadotte, fearing his peace proposals would surrender coveted territory.  This was too much even for the Israeli provisional government, since during the war Bernadotte had rescued some 30,000 inmates from Nazi camps, about 10,000 of them Jews.  Lehi was declared a terrorist group and its members arrested, only to be pardoned the following year.  In 1980, seemingly as part of the sanitizing of the country’s origins, Israel created a military decoration, the Lehi ribbon, becoming the only democratic state to officially celebrate a terrorist organization.

After the war for independence Shamir served from 1955-1965 in the Mossad, where he could indulge his penchant for assassination.  He entered politics in 1977, and in 1983 the one-time terrorist became the Prime Minister of Israel.  And there he would wield his righteous sword against a new group of terrorists, this one seeking to end the Israeli Mandate in Palestine.

The irony is neverending.