PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD

From time to time, one of my readers requests me to write a posting on a particular topic.  In this case, the requestor and I share a strong passion on this controversial issue.  So, Dr. AF this blog is for you.

Currently, one of the hot topics in the world is Palestinian statehood.  The prevailing opinion among world leaders seems to be that the formation of a Palestinian state, even if it were imposed by outside powers, would be a panacea for the conflicts in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors.  I believe that this is simplistic and fallacious, as I will show below.

This week, representatives of some 70 countries have been attending a peace summit in Paris dealing with this very issue.  Significantly, neither Israel nor the Palestinians has sent a representative, although the Palestinians’ points of view are being amply represented by various supporters.  Not one participant has supported Israel, although the UK  tried to strike a somewhat sensible tone by questioning the wisdom of holding the conference mere days before the change in power in the US.  For this, it was heavily criticized. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu correctly labeled the conference as “biased against Israel.”  He characterized it as a “rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French [support] to adopt anti-Israel stances.”  I heartily agree.

It is also clear to me that the tone of this conference is blatantly anti-Semitic.  The attendees, while excoriating Israel for establishing settlements on the West Bank, have conveniently ignored the ongoing Arab terrorist activities and human rights atrocities.  Historically, Jews have had very few friends, and at the present time, thanks to the Obama-Kerry dynamic duo, they really don’t have any reliable allies.    On the other hand, the Arabs have many supporters.  Why is that?  The answer is OIL.  The Arabs have it; the world needs it.  That, my friends, is the crux of the matter.

Doubling down on the outrageous recent UN resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the disputed area, the representatives have resolved that Israel should retreat to its 1967 borders as a basis for meaningful negotiations, which, they claim,  would enable the two sides to reach an agreement on a lasting peace.  If only the Palestinians could have their own land, they say, then all conflicts would magically disappear.

I say, that conclusion is simplistic and demonstrates profound ignorance of some 5,000 years of mutual mistrust and Palestinian animus towards the Jews.  Does anyone in their right mind seriously think that would end ME conflicts?   In my opinion, no.  Consider:

  1.  I believe that although most Arabs in the area are in favor of a peaceful solution, anyone who has been paying attention knows that the Arab terrorist elements among them do not under any circumstances.  If the Palestinians ended up with 99% of the disputed land, and they would still want the other 1%.
  2. No peace treaty would be possible unless the Palestinians recognize Israel as a legitimate State, which they have continually refused to do.
  3. The Palestinians have rejected many opportunities for peace in the last 70 years, and the terrorist elements have intimidated the moderate majority with violence and/or threats (see Anwar Sadat).
  4. The Palestinians have consistently refused to talk directly with the Israelis.  Remember, they don’t recognize Israel as a State.  Instead they engage in diplomatic end-runs through the UN or conferences like the current one in Paris.  Those tactics hinder the process immeasurably.
  5. For various reasons, religious, political and security, the Israelis would never give up the West Bank or East Jerusalem, which is where the  Palestinians insist on establishing their state.  Those areas are the holiest of holies to Jews.  To give them up and risk the Arabs denying access or, even worse, destroying them, is unacceptable.  Any Israeli politician who were to do so would be committing political suicide.  As far as security, would you like a hostile neighbor on your doorstep?  Remember how the US reacted to Russian missiles in Cuba in 1962?  I don’t think so.
  6. The Arabs have steadfastly refused to recognize the State of Israel nor acknowledged its very right to exist.
  7. Iranian leadership, among others, has vowed to destroy, Israel and soon, I predict, will have the nuclear capacity to do it.

These seemingly insoluble issues would have to be resolved before any meaningful, lasting peace could be achieved, and by the participants, themselves, not by an outside party.

In order to appreciate the situation fully, one must be cognizant of the history of the region.  It has been characterized by deep hatred, mistrust and violence for over 5,000 years.  Control has been passed violently from one power to  another.  In the years immediately preceding WWI the region was part of the Ottoman Empire.  After the War the League of Nations gave mandates to England and France to divide up the empire and create various states.  For example, France got Syria (which also included present-day Lebanon) and England got Palestine (which included present-day Jordan and Israel).  In 1917 England issued the infamous Balfour Declaration, which, among other things, declared support for a Jewish homeland.

This incensed Arab leaders in the region who had supported the British against the Turks in the War based on the promise of autonomy in the region.  (The Balfour Declaration created other problems which have persisted to this day.  For instance, it mixed Shia and Sunni Muslims, who loath each other, together in Iraq, and it failed to establish a separate homeland for the Kurds, but that is a separate subject outside the scope of this blog).

The situation in Palestine came to a head in 1948 when Israel, with the approval of the UN, became a nation.   Israel and its neighbors have been in a perpetual state of conflict ever since with no end in sight.

CONCLUSION

French President Holland had the temerity to warn incoming US president Trump against taking any “improvised” or “destabilizing actions” after he becomes president.  That is really humorous.  Like Trump is really going to listen to Holland!

Trump has consistently expressed strong support for Israel.  Whereas Obama-Kerry have actually condemned the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Trump strongly supports them.  In addition, he has expressed a desire to move the US  embassy to Jerusalem.   Provocative?  Perhaps, but it would be a very strong signal of support and could even be interpreted as recognition of  Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Mr. Trump knows Israel is the US’s only reliable ally in the region.  Therefore, we need them almost as much as they need us.  Among other things, it is the only counterweight to Iran.  Now that Iran is on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power (thank you Obama-Kerry), it has designs on taking over the entire region.  That would be a geo-political disaster.  Israel is the only country with the means and the will to oppose it.

It is a misnomer that Israelis do not want peace.  Of course, they do.  All the polls have consistently said so.  Few sane people would prefer war to peace.  The sticking point is that few trust the Palestinians’ sincerity for reasons discussed above.  Impossible?  No, of course not.  After all, the IRA and the UK have made peace.   Very difficult?  Extremely challenging?  Most certainly.  But, it can only happen if and when both sides want it, and any lasting peace would have to be agreed upon by the parties involved directly, not one imposed by a third party.

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INAUGURATION DAY

Friday, January 20, 2017 is Inauguration Day (“ID”).  At noon, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and officially become the 45th President of the United States.  ID embodies one of the unique principles upon which the US was founded and still operates, the peaceful and orderly transfer of power.  Throughout history, most other countries have marked transfers of power by revolutions, assassinations, or power struggles consummated behind the scenes.  One day, Mr. X is in power; the next day, suddenly, Mr. Y has taken over.   Not so in the US.  Historically, regardless of how contentious and bitter the presidential campaign, Americans have accepted the results and moved forward.   Despite the words and actions of a small minority to date, I hope and expect the same this time.

It might surprise most of you that the Constitution is mostly silent as to the particulars of the inauguration process. It specifies the date and language of the oath.  Other than that, everything else that occurs on that date is based on tradition and custom.  Many of these date to George Washington’s initial inauguration in 1789.

According to the Constitution the oath is “I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  Some historical accounts report that Washington added the words “so help me God” at the end of the oath.  Most presidents have sworn or affirmed on a Bible, but this not required and some have used other books.  For example, John Quincy Adams used a book of laws; Franklyn Pierce used a law book; and Lyndon Johnson used a Catholic missal.

Below please find some inaugural facts and traditions:

  1. George Washington took the oath of office for his first term on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in NYC.  The building still stands today at the same site.  At the time, NYC was the nation’s capital.  There was not a lot of pomp and circumstance, just some rounds of ceremonial cannon fire and the ringing of church bells.  The oath of office was administered by the Chancellor of NY, Robert Livingston.  Afterwards, Washington remarked ” I walk on untrodden ground.”
  2. Since then, with few exceptions, such as that for Lyndon Johnson after JFK’s assassination, the oaths of office have been administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  You may recall that Federal Judge Sarah Hughes administered the oath to Johnson on board Air Force One.  (Time was of the essence, and Hughes happened to be available.  The situation was dire.  The nation needed a president to provide continuity of leadership to the country and the rest of the world.)
  3. From 1793 through 1933 inaugurations were held on March 4 (or, March 5 if the 4th fell on a Sunday).  From 1937 to the present, it has been held on January 20 (or 21).
  4. The 1793 and 1797 inaugurations were held at Congress Hall in Philadelphia, which was then the nation’s capital.
  5. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn in in Washington, D.C. in 1801 at the Capitol Building.  In 1805 he rode on horseback from the Capitol to the White House.  Along the way, some cheering people joined him spontaneously.  That was the beginning of what became the inaugural parade.  Over the years, Washington’s simple ceremony has expanded to a multi-day event including balls, luncheons, speeches, parties, a national prayer service, entertainment, and national tv coverage.
  6. Since 1937, the procedure has been for the incoming vp to take his oath of office at the same ceremony immediately before the president takes his.  Prior to 1937 the vp took his oath in the Senate chamber.  The vp oath is identical to the one taken by Congressmen and other government officers.
  7. Attendance is open to the public.  In addition, it is customary for former presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, high-ranking military personnel, Medal of Honor recipients, and other dignitaries to attend.  For various reasons former presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon did not attend their successors’ inaugurations.  This year some government officials have indicated they will not attend as a protest.
  8. Some presidents have used the selection of parade participants as a way to make political statements.  For, example, in 1865 Abraham Lincoln invited AA’s to participate for the first time.  The 1917 parade included women for the first time, and in 2009 Barack Obama included openly lesbians and gays.
  9. Since 1824, with few exceptions, the inauguration ceremonies have been held outside the Capitol Building in one of the porticos.  For example, in 1945 FDR’s was moved because of WWII.  Taft’s (1909) and Reagan’s (1985) were moved inside because of inclement weather.  DC can be cold and/or snowy in January.  Historically, the average temperature on January 20 has been 37 degrees.  In 1985 the temperature was -2 degrees.  Factor in blustery winds, and you can see the hazard.   Tragically, in 1841, for instance, William Henry Harrison developed pneumonia following his inaugural.  In those pre-antibiotics days, pneumonia was often fatal.  Harrison died after just one month in office, giving him the dubious record of being the shortest tenured president.
  10. As one might expect, security is a critical issue.  All the alphabet agencies – DHS, FBI, Secret Service, Capitol Police, Metro Police and the various Armed Forces – are involved.  Obviously, the inauguration makes a very tempting target for terrorists.
  11. Presidential medals are produced and distributed as souvenirs.  Typically, gold and silver medals are given to government officials, and bronze medals are for public consumption.
  12. Normally, there is a plethora of quality entertainment, but this year many “A-listers” have declined to participate.  Rumor has it that some are protesting Mr. Trump’s victory, while others have been intimidated by real or perceived threats of retaliation by the Hollywood powers-that-be or their fan base.  For example, just today, it was announced that Broadway star Jennifer Holiday was backing out citing disapproval of her fan base.

CONCLUSION

Traditionally, the quadrennial Presidential Inauguration has been a celebration of democracy in action.  Regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation most everyone unites behind the new president.  The new president enjoys a “honeymoon period” until reality inevitably sets in for some people.

This year, however, there has been more animosity than usual.  Many hardcore liberals refuse to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.  They have been criticizing him for things he might do or not do even before he takes the oath of office.   Some government officials have indicated they will not attend the inaugural, in protest.

These people have just been unable to accept the results of the election.  First, there were accusations of “voting irregularities,” whatever that means.  Then, there were claims that the Russians “hacked” some voting machines.  Then, people blamed FBI Director, Jim Comey for the way he handled the FBI’s report on Clinton’s emails.  The media and even some Republicans have perpetuated these claims.  Some people continue to refuse to believe that Trump won fair and square.  Through it all, not one shred of evidence of voting irregularities or undue influence has come to the fore.  These “election deniers” are simply diminishing both themselves and the country.

MLK – THE PEACEFUL ACTIVIST

Monday, January 16, we will celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. For some people the day holds no special meaning; it is just a day off from work; a day to spend with family or friends; part of a long three-day weekend. For many of us, however, particularly those of us who were alive in the 1950s and 1960s, it is much, much more.

MLK was born on January 15, 1929. He became the most prominent and influential American civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s, maybe ever. MLK was more than just a pastor. He believed that more could be achieved by civil disobedience and non-violence than by violence. He preached peaceful disobedience, sit-ins, marches and demonstrations, often in the face of violence and cruelty by the police and others, rather than rioting. In this regard, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. In turn, he inspired others such as the Black Civil Rights movement in South Africa.

He also recognized the power of the press to bring attention to his cause and influence public opinion. For example, as many as 70 million people around the world witnessed the police brutality inflicted on the peaceful black and white marchers in Selma, including women and children as well as men. Those images, broadcast live on TV and radio, appalled and disgusted many people and provided an immeasurable boost to the public awareness of the injustices being visited upon blacks in the South.

Unlike any other African American leaders before or since, he had the ability to unite, rather than divide. Although he was criticized by some of the more militant civil rights leaders of the time, such as Stokely Carmichael, he commanded the support and respect of a large majority of blacks and many whites as well. In that regard, he was similar to Nelson Mandela.

After his death, despite the urgings of some civil rights leaders who wanted to continue MLK’s philosophy, more militant African American leaders, such as Mr. Carmichael, came into prominence. There was rioting in over 100 US cities, and a slew of violent incidents at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago in front of the national press and millions of Americans. The Civil Rights movement was changed forever.

MLK came into prominence in 1955 when he led a bus boycott, peacefully, in Montgomery, Alabama. The boycott had been fueled by the famous Rosa Parks incident in which she had refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. She was arrested on December 1. (Most people don’t know that earlier that year in March a similar incident had occurred also in Montgomery involving Claudette Colvin, a black girl who also refused to give up her seat to a white man. However, that case did not receive the same notoriety. Civil rights lawyers declined to pursue it because Colvin was 15, unmarried and pregnant. They chose to wait for a case with a more favorable fact pattern, and they were proven to be right.)

Later, MLK became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and remained so until his death. He applied his non-violence philosophy to protests in Selma, Ala., St. Augustine, FL, and the March on Washington, D. C., among others. He made it a policy never to endorse a particular political party or candidate. He believed he could be more effective if he were neutral and not beholden to anyone. Furthermore, in his view, neither party was all bad, and neither one was perfect. In his words, “[t]hey both have weaknesses.”

Perhaps, MLK’s most famous moment occurred during the famous March on Washington in August 1963. Ironically, MLK was not the primary organizer of the march. That was Bayard Rustin, a colleague. The primary purpose of the March was to dramatize the plight of blacks in the South. Civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins, NAACP, Whitney Young, National Urban League, A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, John Lewis, SNCC, James Farmer CORE, and MLK, wanted to bring awareness of these issues right to the seat of the Federal government. More than 250,000 people of all ethnicities and colors attended. MLK was one of several speakers, and he only spoke for 17 minutes. But, his “I Have a Dream” speech became one of the most famous speeches ever. The March, in general, and MLK’s speech, in particular, are credited with bringing civil rights to the political forefront and facilitating the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Some little-known facts about MLK:

1. His birth name was Michael King, Jr., after his father. In 1931 his father changed his own name to Martin Luther King, after the German theologian, Martin Luther, whom he admired. At the same time, he changed his son’s name.
2. In 1958 MLK was stabbed in the chest after a speech by a woman who had been stalking him and nearly died.
3. The FBI began tapping MLK’s telephone as early as 1963. Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General at the time and who is viewed as a staunch supporter of civil rights, in general, and MLK, in particular, authorized the tapping.
4. MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35, the youngest age ever at the time.
5. MLK won a Grammy Award in 1971, posthumously. It should be denoted that he won it, not because he displayed a great singing voice, but for a “Spoken Word Album,” “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”
6. Even though MLK was one of the great public speakers of his time, inexplicably, he got a “C” in a public speaking course at the seminary. (Kind of like a baseball scout saying Willie Mays can hit “a little bit.”)
7. MLK is one of three individuals and the only native-born American to have a holiday named after him. In case you’re wondering, the others are George Washington (born in the COLONY of Virginia), and Christopher Columbus.

Some MLK quotes to ponder:

1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
2. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
3. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
4. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

CONCLUSION

Today, there is much division among African Americans as well as among their leaders. Some are moderate and want to work within the system; others are more militant. Many of them have their own agendas and look for any excuse to foment distrust and discord.  They would do well to follow MLK’s example.  Instead, I believe that these militant leaders and we all know who they are, do more harm than good, but that is a subject for another blog.

One can speculate whether and to what extent MLK’s assassination changed the course of history. In my opinion, had MLK lived, the Civil Rights Movement would have been considerably different over the last 47 years, more peaceful and less divisive, with better results. Furthermore, his assassination had a significant impact, not only on the history of the civil rights movement, but also on the overall history of the country, itself.

I hope and believe that eventually a moderate civil rights leader will emerge and bridge the gap as MLK did half a century ago.

BLACK “COMPUTERS”

Despite the title, this blog is not about black IBM or Apple computers.

In the early years of the space program, before the advent of computers, NASA employed humans to calculate, by hand, the complicated mathematical data required for successful space missions, such as orbit trajectories, wind tunnel resistance, and re-entry angles.  The persons who accomplished these tasks were known as “computers.”   They were aptly named, as they performed tasks that are now handled by modern computers.

Virtually all of them were women, and many of them were black.  Simply put, in the 1940s and 1950s computer work was considered “women’s work.”  The men were engineers; the women were computers.  Three of these pioneers were African American – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.  They are featured in the current movie “Hidden Figures.”  As Johnson put it in a recent interview, it was a time “when the computer wore a skirt.”  Their story deals not only with the American space program, but also it illustrates the various social issues of the time.

Beginning in the 1940s NASA and its predecessor, NACA, began to seek out black women to work as computers in the nascent space program.  As portrayed in “Hidden Figures”  these black women were college educated and highly skilled mathematicians, but, nevertheless, they were subject to all the “Jim Crow” laws and customs of the day in Virginia.  For example, they had to work in a segregated area, eat at a segregated table,  use a “colored ” bathroom, and find segregated housing.   The movie vividly portrays how Johnson had to virtually run a mile from her desk to the nearest “colored” women’s bathroom to relieve herself.  This may seem a bit “over the top” to us in today’s world,  but it was an accurate illustration of life in the 1950s in the South and one of the subplots that makes the movie so poignant and realistic.

As many of you know, the 1950s and early 1960s was the height of the “Cold War” with Russia.  Communists were the arch enemy.  Americans were constantly living with the prospect of nuclear holocaust.  Space and the need to control it were viewed as critical elements in this war.  And beginning with the launch of Sputnik in October, 1957 the Russians were perceived to be far ahead of us in that area.  That was incredulous and unacceptable to us.  We were playing “catch up,” and we didn’t like it.  Most of us are familiar with the names of the astronauts, particularly John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong, and we are cognizant of the collective efforts and accomplishments of the NASA engineers.  But, in their own way, the computers were just as crucial as them to our ultimate success in the space program.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, WVA.  She married twice, raised three children, and has six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.  Among her many accomplishments in the space program:

  1.  She calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight.  Years later, Johnson said “you tell me when you want it and where you want it [the capsule] to land, and I’ll…tell you when to take off.  That was my forte.”
  2. At John Glenn’s specific request, she verified the IBM computer’s data for his flight.  Glenn did not fully trust the nascent computer technology, and he would not fly until she verified its calculations.  Supposedly, he told the powers that be “get ‘the girl’ [Johnson] to do it….if she says they’re [the numbers] good, you know, I’m good to go…”  Note: the moniker “girl” was not meant to be derogatory.  Everyone called all the women “girls.”  The irony is delicious.  The hero astronaut and future US senator put his life in the hands of a black woman who had to run a mile to go to the bathroom.
  3. She calculated the trajectory for the moon landing.
  4. During her distinguished career, she co-authored some 26 scientific papers.
  5. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

She is portrayed in the film by Taraji P. Henson.

Dorothy Vaughan was born on September 20, 1910 in Kansas City, MO.  She earned a BA in math at Wilberforce University in 1929 at the age of 19.  She taught school until 1943 when she began a 28-year career at Langley Research Center.  She focused on flight path technology.  Her major accomplishments included:

  1. Computer coding and programming using FORTRAN, which she mostly taught herself in her spare time.  Eventually, she taught many others.
  2. She became one of the few female supervisors at NACA, and the first black one.  In a sign of the times, she actually had to function as the de facto supervisor for many years before being granted the title officially.
  3. As supervisor, she continually fought with the powers that be for the betterment of “her girls.”  Regarding her experiences, she later remarked “I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured.”

Vaughan retired from NASA in 1971 at the age of 60.  She died in 2008 at the age of 98.  She is portrayed in the film by Octavia Spencer.

Mary Winston Jackson was born on April 9, 1921 in Hampton, VA.  She earned a BA in math and physical science from Hampton Institute in 1942.  She began her career at NASA in 1951 as a computer, but, after taking several engineering courses, she became an aerospace engineer, a singular feat for a black female at that time.  To do so, she had to obtain a judge’s order to allow her to attend a segregated high school.  During her career she authored or co-authored several technical papers for NASA.

CONCLUSION

Females have made many significant contributions to their respective countries’ space programs.  For example, as of last July 60 of the 537 astronauts have been female.  The first female astronaut was a Russian, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.  The first American female was Sally Ride in 1983.  Forty-five of the 60 have been Americans.

The abilities and accomplishments of the female computers should not be trivialized.  In this era of using computers to calculate even the most mundane mathematical functions it is difficult for us to appreciate the skill that was required to calculate complex orbits and trajectories, and often under severe time constraints.  Without them, the more famous astronauts and engineers could not possibly have succeeded, and the moon landing could not have occurred.