Archive for December 2013
Throughout November and December, inboxes filled daily with pleas from alma maters, food banks, houses of worship, cultural institutions, political organizations, shelters for women, orphanages, community activists, environmental movements, and myriad other groups touting their tax-exempt status. Recipients were urged to take advantage of the possible deduction from their Adjusted Gross Income on their 2013 income tax return if they “act[ed] now” while there was “still time.”
Pedestrians found themselves with even more people than usual requesting cash donations, as Salvation Army and other volunteers jostled with the regular beggars vying for a piece of the street-level philanthropic pie. Even those passers by who did manage to feign empty pockets or to find a walking route that avoided the solicitors grew more and more irked as the season progressed. The cumulative guilt of either giving nothing – or knowing that what they had given would never be enough – fomented a level of frustration and irritation that came to a blessedly abrupt end tonight.
In this Israeli city, where celebrations of the new year itself are muted, owing to a longstanding perception of the day as uncomfortably non-Jewish, partygoers will nevertheless raise a glass to the newfound freedom from the incessant requests for assistance. “We’re not really into a no-holds-barred shindig,” explained hotel manager Kobi Weiss, whose establishment will host a low-key champagne event in honor of the new year, “especially since most people have to work as usual on Wednesday.” But, he explained, the relief of finally getting through all that pestering is something that everyone present will share.
“It’s been unusually awkward this year,” said Revital Ben-Aharon, a loan officer at a local bank. “My sister started working for a non-profit in March, and every other Facebook status of hers involves a not-so-subtle attempt to attract donations.” It became so uncomfortable, said Ms. Ben-Aharon, that she took to avoiding her sister’s phone calls and ignoring her text messages entirely for the last two weeks.
At press time, celebrants were already filling with anxiety over hearing about nothing but new year’s resolutions for the next few weeks.
Jerusalem (AP) – A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu today lamented Israel’s execution of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann in 1962, noting that the architect of the Final Solution could have been released with other killers of Jews this evening.
26 Palestinians imprisoned for the murders of Israelis in terrorism attacks over the last several decades are scheduled to be freed as part of an agreement with the Palestinians earlier this year. Eichmann managed the sprawling Nazi bureaucracy that resulted in the extermination of two-thirds of Europe’s Jews during the Second World War. He was kidnapped by Mossad agents in 1961 and spirited to Israel, where he was tried, convicted of war crimes, and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out the following year.
Mark Regev, the spokesman, told reporters that the decision to release the convicted murderers was a difficult one, primarily because even taken together, the number of murder victims that Israel has now betrayed will number only in the dozens, and the Netanyahu government currently lacks a prisoner of the caliber of Eichmann, responsible for the deaths of millions. He said the government had considered the feasibility of a military or Mossad operation to kidnap and then release someone with a more impressive number of Jewish victims, but the logistics and cost of such an operation were deemed prohibitive. Candidates for such an operation were said to include Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran.
In the end, explained Regev, the Likud-run government could only go so far in cheapening the memory of the dead and depositing a massive political bowel movement on their graves while thumbing its nose at the families of those murdered.
MK Zahava Gal-On of the Meretz party, currently sitting in the opposition, expressed reluctant support for the move, saying it represented only a small step in the right direction. Ideally, she said, Israel should have absolved the convicts of their crimes concurrent with freeing them, to demonstrate more effectively that killing Jews is nothing to be ashamed of. “But that can always be accomplished later, and can be made part of the Knesset’s legislative goals for the upcoming Parliamentary session,” she noted.
Kiryat Shmonah, Israel, December 29 (AP) – One of five rockets fired from Lebanon hit near this northern Israeli town today, and the IDF responded fiercely with dozens of artillery shells aimed at empty fields, rocky hillsides, and unpopulated cedar groves.
The impressive display of deterrence came amid heightened tensions along the border, where an Israeli soldier was killed by a Lebanese sniper earlier this month. Determined to demonstrate that any such aggression would be met by a firm, uncompromising answer, Israel boldly informed the UN force patrolling the border that it would not tolerate any such violations of sovereignty. The latest violence, which represents a significant escalation, have forced the IDF to showcase the lethality that further provocation would beget, and they did so by taking pains to minimize the lethality of the encounter.
“Israel has no interest in escalation of the situation,” said IDF spokesman Neville Chamberlain. “Our aim here is to demonstrate to Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army that violence against Israel or Israelis will be met with uncompromising avoidance of consequences that actually convey our seriousness.” He added that the units patrolling the border have been equipped with extra white flags in case any fighting breaks out.
The border has been more or less quiet since 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah fought to a standstill. Since then the Israel Defense Forces have studiously sought to prevent a recurrence, lest they be drawn into a conflict for which they have been trained and armed. During that conflict, Israel repeatedly tried to draw attention to the contrast between its own strategy and that of its adversary, pointing out that whereas Hezbollah had no compunction about aiming for civilian targets with its missiles, the Israeli military shied away from hitting targets that might contain actual human beings.
That conservative approach, says military analyst Dunkirk Beech, aims to avoid the sticky question of civilian casualties. Israel attracts opprobrium for any collateral damage, however unintentional, while its opponents openly target noncombatants while suffering no international consequences, diplomatic or otherwise. Accordingly, says Beech, the IDF has evolved a policy of harsh verbal retaliation for any threat to Israelis, coupled with the threat of even louder warnings. If that two-step deterrent system fails to forestall escalation, the Israeli military has no compunctions about terminating inanimate objects beyond the border with extreme prejudice.
A similar approach has characterized Israeli police activity in recent months, during which a war among organized crime syndicates has claimed the lives of criminals, bystanders, and law enforcement officials up and down Israel’s coastal towns and cities. In response to car bombs, drive-by shootings, and intimidation of policemen and prosecutors, police officials have made grand pronouncements about bringing the perpetrators to justice, while not actually having anything to show for their investigative work. As a result, suspects either avoid arrest entirely or are released for lack of evidence.
From the archives:
Lagos, Nigeria (AP) – Mgumbe Uwa, a member of the deposed Nigerian royal family, has found himself increasingly frustrated in attempts to give away millions of dollars to total strangers, as part of an effort to recover the royal fortune.
To Mr. Uwa’s amazement, there have been no takers on his offer of largess.
“I would gladly give anyone TEN MILLION DOLLARS,” said a visibly confused Uwa. “How about you?” he asked a reporter. “Can I give you TEN MILLION DOLLARS?”
The prince, whose family was deposed in a bloody coup, remains in hiding and cannot openly access the tens of millions of dollars in his bank accounts. He planned to convince someone overseas to accept a transfer into their account, figuring he could then spirit the money out of the country. But the plan hit an unexpected snag – complete and utter disinterest from all potential recipients of the money.
“I just can’t understand it,” said the baffled Uwa. “Any one of the people whom I SPECIALLY SELECTED for their TRUSTWORTHINESS could GET RICH QUICK, if they would only ACT IMMEDIATELY IN COMPLETE CONFIDENCE. But nothing.”
“And here I am, knowing that the entire FORTUNE of my late father, his EXCELLENCY KING UWA IV, is just sitting there in that SECRET TAX-FREE account. I feel like such an idiot.”
Mr. Uwa began sending out discreet mailings to everyday Americans and Europeans, hoping to locate someone willing to accept the cash into their account, and to keep a sizable cut of the money. Assuming that the country’s secret police would be unlikely to examine bank records of ordinary people, as opposed to prominent individuals with ties to the old regime, he set out to give away a veritable windfall – so far, without success.
Despite the setbacks, Mr. Uwa remained hopeful, even expanding his efforts to include other assets.
“I recently had the GOOD FORTUNE to have my numbers come up in the UK LOTTO. Foreign nationals are not eligible, so in exchange for a small advance payment, I am happy to bequeath a SUBSTANTIAL SHARE of this GREAT WEALTH to somebody. Anybody.”
Austin, TX (AP) – The Lone Star State was the first US state to perform an execution by lethal injection, and aims to retain its leadership in the administration of the death penalty by offering health-conscious alternatives for Death Row convicts. The certified gluten-free alternative will be made available for all executions taking place after July 2014.
Governor Rick Perry signed the new legislation into law on Wednesday, touting it as an important demonstration of his administration’s dedication to balancing an uncompromising attitude toward crime with a compassion for the rights and needs of those accused, a continuation of his predecessor George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” policy.
Currently, 32 states practice capital punishment, and each of them uses lethal injection, though some also offer alternative methods such as hanging or firing squad. Texas has the largest number of convicts on Death Row among all states, and the state accounts for 40% of all executions in the United States. It was only natural, says Perry, that Texas should leverage its status as the capital punishment leader to institute a more enlightened, healthful method of lethal injection, one that would not put such a strain on the digestive system.
“More and more people are showing sensitivity or allergies to gluten, unfortunately,” acknowledged Perry, “and our current methods do not adequately account for those awaiting execution who nevertheless still benefit from the right to have the state take their dietary needs into account.” The new bill, he promised, will make a gluten-free chemical or combination of chemicals available to executioners upon the request of the inmate. He pointed out that Texas is the first, and for now the only, state that shows concern for convicts’ dietary sensibilities as it kills them, and he hopes other states follow Texas’s lead in providing healtheir options for those executed.
Lethal injection methods vary among the states, but the most common method involves a three-drug combination that anesthetizes, paralyzes, and stops the heartbeat of the convict. Various degrees of controversy surround some of the drugs, as do difficulties in securing an adequate supply of the necessary chemicals. The new law does not specify what drugs will be procured or synthesized for the gluten-free executions, nor how the state will ensure that the chemicals will be certified as gluten-free. Given some recent shortages of some of the drugs commonly used for lethal injections, it remains unclear how Texas will fare in having a steady supply on hand, especially if the state is to maintain its position as the most prolific performer of capital punishment.
Governor Perry, however, remains confident that the law will be carried out with little trouble. “We had some of the same difficulties when we expanded the available menu for a prisoner’s last meal back in 1985,” he recalled. “People doubted we’d be able to secure both beef AND turkey. Well, we had no problem then.”
Currently, a prisoner’s last meal in Texas automatically comes with wheat rolls, and cake for dessert.
Vienna (AP) – When the Vienna Philharmonic posthumously stripped several Nazis of honors it had conferred upon them in the 1940s, members of the organization’s board wondered both why they hadn’t thought of the idea earlier, and what else they could still do to pretend they regret their complicity in the Holocaust.
The popular perception of the Third Reich coercing a weak Austria into the 1938 Anschluss has long held sway, but remains at odds with the historical record of cheering crowds and enthusiastic Austrian participation in all things Nazi, including the persecution, deportation, and murder of Jews. Unlike Germany, which the world saw as bearing direct responsibility for the Second World War and the Holocaust, Austria was viewed, especially during the Cold War, as forced to do Hitler’s bidding, though Hitler himself was Austrian; he was raised in Linz.
Austrians now worry that as the last remaining Nazi war criminals die off after living in the country unmolested for nearly seven decades, they will lose one of the few remaining vehicles though which to feign horror and remorse: each time the quiet life of a former Nazi official or death camp guard would come to light, Austria would erupt in a predictable chorus of mea culpas; they were shocked, just shocked, that such a monster could be allowed to dwell in their midst.
While Germany – first only West Germany, and then, after reunification in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the eastern part – has never ceased demonstrating recognition of the moral and historical burden it bears, Austria has largely lacked the impetus to engage in any such internal reckoning, and shows no sign of considering any. Austrian claims that Nazism and the Holocaust were essentially German enterprises fell on willing ears as the West sought ways to stem the tide of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. The postwar generation of Austrians eagerly promoted the Sound of Music version of history, in which Austria struggled mightily to assert its cultural independence from the yawning maw of Nazi Germany.
The Austrian Ministry of Education is considering a program that would train students in the proper methods of paying lip service to Holocaust commemoration and expiation. Currently, only licensed tour guides – such as those taking foreigners on trips to such locales as the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex – are formally trained to feign remorse that such atrocities could take place on Austrian soil.