Thursday, November 27, 2008

Olmert Has To Go

Israeli Attorney General Menny Mazuz announced yesterday that he will indict Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, pending a hearing. Olmert is suspected of billing several charitable foundations as well as the state for the same flights, and using the surplus for his family's personal travels.

Olmert resigned a few weeks ago, but is still officially the prime minister until the next government is formed. He should declare himself unable to carry out his duties and allow his deputy, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, to become Acting Prime Minister.

Instead of doing the right thing, Olmert (or, as the media calls it, "people close to Olmert") blasted the attorney general for not waiting until he becomes a former PM. I don't think Mazuz should have waited. Once he has enough evidence for an indictment, he should indict Olmert, just like any other suspect.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Context, Denis Leary Is an Even Greater Asshole

A few weeks ago, the New York Post published an excerpt from Denis Leary's new book, "Why We Suck". The quote, from a chapter titled "Autism Shmautism", caused a stir because Leary claimed kids who were nothing more than brats were diagnosed with autism so their "inattentive mothers and competitive dads" would feel better about themselves. Leary later said the quote was taken out of context and if you read the whole chapter and book you'll see that right after the offending paragraph he talks about autistic kids he knows personally, which would demonstrate that he knows that autism is real.

Well, folks, I've read the chapter. It has been posted online. In context, it is even worse. Here's the part about his friends' autistic children:

"I know a couple of autistic children and let me tell you something they both have in common-they are extremely bright and attentive and­ much like Rain Man-have individual talents and abilities that would lay your empty little tyke’s video game-addled soul to waste. A truly au­tistic child may be able to reproduce music he or she hears with perfect pitch-entire classical pieces, the rock opera Tommy, the latest hit Broad­way musical-over and over again. OR tell you instantly upon hearing what your birthday is-what day it has fallen on every year for the last four decades. What the weather was on those days. Who the president was at the time. What the number one song on the radio was just before singing it note for note and word for word. THAT’S an autistic child. Not some fat-assed simpleton whose brain has been fried by television and the Xbox and no proper daily attention from his or her supposedly caring parents."

All he knows about autism comes from Rain Man and two (yes, that's 2!) autistic savants. The idiot thinks you have to be a genius or have some memory-related superpower to be truly autistic. Apparently, he's never heard the often-repeated saying "once you've met one person with autism, well, you met just one person with autism".

Leary then goes on to say, more or less, that Asperger's Syndrome does not exist. After describing the definition of Asperger's, he has this to say:

"Where I come from, we don’t call a guy like that a victim of Asperger’s. We just call him an Asshole Who Won’t Shut The Fuck Up. You wanna find people who don’t think it strange or boring or mind­numbing to listen to you ramble on and on and on about what it takes to plug electronic boxes into electro converters and then into tubeless amplifiers THROUGH a remote-access special effects board and blap blappety blap until shit shoots out of a guitar played by a guy wearing fourteen-inch-high platform-heeled leather boots and a girdle? Here’s the list:

1. The guy in the girdle
2. You
3. People with Kiss T-shirts on

That’s it.

You don’t belong in the spectrum of autism disorders. You belong backstage with a shitload of AA batteries and a suitcase full of roman candles. Long-winded and one-sided."

I hope his book tanks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

High Functioning, Low Funding

The Israeli Education Ministry is about to change the method it uses to determine how much money to spend on each student with special needs, Or Kashty of Ha'aretz reports (Hebrew version here). Instead of getting money according to the type of disability, each child's level of daily functioning at home and in class will determine how much money the school will get for his needs. This will be determined by testing the child's verbal, cognitive, social and motor skills as well as his level of independence. High functioning children will receive less money than they do now.

This is another case of punishing success and progress. In Feb. 2006 I wrote about how education officials were trying to cut my high functioning autistic nephew's assistance at school. Now, almost 3 years later, he's doing even better, but there is still a lot more he needs help with. So-called experts may see a child who seems almost like all the other kids, just maybe asking too many questions, so they'd cut his funding, meaning less hours with his "shadow" assistant. That would be very bad for him. He still needs frequent, subtle guidance.

As Laura Tisoncik said: "The difference between high-functioning and low-functioning is that high-functioning means that your deficits are ignored and low-functioning means your assets are ignored... Either way, you get ignored."

Crime of First Degree Yawning

The commander of the Ramat David Air Force base has sentenced a soldier to 21 days in prison for yawning during a memorial service commemorating the 13th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The soldier yawned during the commander's speech. The commander put the soldier on trial for disrespectful behavior. More specifically, he says the soldier showed contempt for Rabin's memory. I think the commander was insulted that the soldier dared to yawn during his speech. "My speeches are not boring!", he must have thought to himself as he sent the young man to jail.

Bedouin Obama?

According to the Times of London, an 8,000-member Bedouin tribe in Northern Israel is claiming President-elect Barack Obama as one of their own. Abdul Rahman Sheikh Abdullah, a local council member in Bir el-Maksur in the Galilee, says Obama's grandfather was one of the Kenyans who came to work in the town during the 1930's. He married a local Arab woman and returned with her to Africa. Abdullah's 95-year old grandmother figured out the connection when she saw Obama and noticed a resemblance to the in-law she hadn't seen in decades.

Is there any truth to this? I doubt it. They claim they have documents proving the lineage, but will show it only after they personally present it to Obama first. Since Obama is not likely to invite them to the White House, they'll never show anyone the proof.

If it does turn out to be true, I can understand why they are proud. It won't change Obama's foreign policy, though.

No Cookies For the Cookie Monster

Kristina Chew of Autism Vox reports that Cookie Monster now eats vegetables. He has a cookie once in a while, but what he eats on a daily basis comes out of Mother Earth. Have the producers of Sesame Street gone crazy? I can't even imagine him eating health food. The rates of overweight and obese children in the United States are very high, but is this the way to deal with it? Is Cookie Monster, in his cookie-eating form, a bad influence?

I loved Cookie Monster as a child. I also loved eating cookies. One didn't have anything to do with the other. I bet my love for sweets came along way before I ever watched Sesame Street. And if you think of it, the furry blue muppet never ate the cookies, he just made a mess out of their crumbs. How many children actually imitate him like that?

As a person who grew up watching two versions of Sesame Street in two different languages in two different countries (Israel and the US), I have a request: Bring back the "cookie" into Cookie Monster. If you want to teach children about nutrition, which is not a bad idea at all, bring in a new character for that purpose.

I wonder if Ugifletzet, the Israeli version of Cookie Monster, has also gone vegetarian. My nephew and niece would probably know.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jerusalem's Sad Mayoral Elections

Most of Israel's municipalities are holding elections tomorrow. Jerusalem is one of them, and boy am I glad not to be a Jerusalemite. Three men are running for mayor: Meir Porush, Nir Barkat and Arcadi Gaydamak. To say that they're all unworthy would be an understatement. Every single one of them would be a horrible mayor.

Meir Porush, a member of the Knesset representing the ulta-Orthodox Agudat Israel Party, has been quoted as saying that within 15 years there will be no secular mayor anywhere in Israel. He has a right wing political agenda and would like to impose a "medinat halacha", a state run according to religious law. The outgoing mayor, Uri Lupolianski, who is not running for re-election, was the first ultra-Orthodox mayor of Jerusalem, and he tried not to anger what is left of the secular population of the city. Porush doesn't seem as conciliatory.

Nir Barkat is known as "the secular candidate". He is a millionaire businessman and a right wing hawk who wants to build Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. While the mayor has nothing to do with peace negotiations, he can make things very difficult by creating facts on the ground. Maybe the fact that he is a successful businessman at least means he's a good administrator, but that isn't good enough for a city like Jerusalem.

Trailing in third place, according to the polls, is Arcadi Gaydamak, an eccentric Russian-born billionaire who is wanted in France for illegal arms dealing with Angola. He doesn't speak Hebrew, other than a few words here and there, so he communicates with Israelis in English. I don't really know what his platform is, if he has one at all, but the man himself is the problem. He uses his money to gain political power and does not like dissent. He calls anyone who disagrees with him stupid and worse curses. He even asked "who is Tzipi Livni to decide not to join forces with me in the municipal elections". That's quite a nerve!

Oh, Jerusalemites, don't you deserve better?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Electoral Precognition: The Results

On Oct. 22 I tried to guess how many electoral votes Barack Obama would win and which states he would carry. I predicted he would win 306 EVs. A few days before the elections I revised my prediction, giving him 326 EVs. I misunderestimated him, as Bush would say. Obama has won at least 349 electoral votes. The votes in North Carolina and Missouri are still too close to call, but it seems he is leading in NC and behind in MO, which would mean he would end up with 364 votes vs. McCain's 174.

Of the battleground states, I correctly predicted Obama would win Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and lose Montana and North Dakota, and it so far seems as if I was also right about a loss in Missouri. I was initially wrong about Nevada but was right when I added it to the Democratic column a few days before Election Day. The same goes for North Carolina, presuming the final results will show an Obama win there.

I was wrong about Indiana and Florida going for McCain, but was right about all the other red states. Obama did not lose in any state I expected him to win in.

West Wing Similarities Continue

Many have commented on how much this election seemed to immitate the events of the last two seasons of "The West Wing": A young Democratic member of Congress who is a member of a minority (hispanic instead of black) who defeats a veteran Republican moderate senator from the west (California instead of Arizona). Matt Santos, the Democrat, even picked a running mate much more experienced than himself (a former White House chief of staff instead of a veteran senator) while Arthur Vinick, the Republican, chose a conservative governor to balance the ticket. I also noticed that the new Democratic first lady of the show looks like a younger version of Cindy McCain, the would-be Republican first lady of reality.

Now, with the upcoming appointment of Rahm Emanuel to the powerful position of White House chief of staff, another similarity arises. On "The West Wing", the man President Santos appoints to this position is Josh Lyman, his campaign manager and former deputy White House chief of staff. The Lyman character is widely believed to be based on Emanuel, who was a senior staffer in the Clinton administration.

In the highly unlikely event that Obama decides to offer a cabinet position to John McCain that would be another case of West Wing immitation. President-elect Santos appointed his formal rival as Secretary of State.

Good thing Joe Biden survived Election Night. His West Wing counterpart, Leo McGarry, died of a heart attack before polls closed in the western states. He was written off the show due to the death of John Spencer, the actor portraying him, also of a heart attack. That was another case of West Wing writers predicting the future. McGarry had previously survived a heart attack earlier in the show.

As a side note, Rahm Emanuel's Hollywood agent brother Ari is the basis for the "Entourage" character Ari Gold. I hope Jeremy Piven will be given a line like "I swear I'll get my brother to unleash the IRS on your ass if you don't do what I say".

Obamania in Israel

Haaretz dedicated its front page today to a full transcript of Barack Obama's impressive victory speech, translated into Hebrew. Reporters and news anchors can't wipe the smiles off their faces, even as they ask what Obama's victory means to Israel. Of couse, Israelis are also very happy about the expected appointment of Rahm Emanuel, the son of Israeli parents, as White House chief of staff.

Anybody who thought Israel would go into mourning over the end of Republican rule was wrong. We may have some concerns about Obama, but we are quite confident that Israeli-American relations will remain close.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Constitution Is Making a Comeback

Unexpectedly, I'm feeling quite elated by Barack Obama's victory. I still would have preferred Hillary Clinton and I voted for Obama in the general election only as the lesser of evils. Despite all this, I just can't wipe the smirk off my face.

The end of George W. Bush's administration, along with the end of Republican rule in general, is definitely reason enough to be happy. The total disregard and contempt of the constitution and the rule of law demonstrated by President Bush and Vice President Cheney will not continue under President Obama and Vice President Biden. I am sure that the use of signing statements, statements issued by the president when signing bills into law, will be reduced dramatically, and will be used as directions how to implement the law, not how to undermine and disregard it.

Also, the historical event of electing the first black president of the United States is very exciting. When Obama was born, the southern USA, including his mother's home state of Kansas, was under segregation. Apartheid, in other words. Now, more than ever, America is closer to being the real land of opportunity it has always claimed to be.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why Tuesday: Israel Edition

Today is not only Election Day in the United States. Elections for most municipalities in Israel were also supposed to take place today, but due to the fact that it is November 4th, the anniversary of the Yitzhak Rabin assassination it was postponed by a week. By law, regularly scheduled elections are held on the third Tuesday of the Hebrew month of Heshvan (or the first Tuesday of Heshvan after a leap year). When early elections are called, they are always held on a Tuesday.

The historical reason for Tuesday elections in the United States is well known. Sunday was the Sabbath, and Monday was for traveling to the polling place, Tuesday for voting, and Wednesday was for traveling back. Holding elections on a Tuesday these days doesn't make sense anymore, though, even in the United States. So why are Israeli elections on Tuesdays, other than imitating America?

In Israel, where government services don't operate on Saturdays due to the Jewish Sabbath, I can understand why the weekend is not used for voting. I guess they chose the middle of the week so there won't be a problem with last minute preparations during Saturday, and most of the counting of results is over before the next Saturday.

I think it would be smarter and cheaper to hold the elections for a whole week, from Sunday to Friday, with polls closing on Friday before the Sabbath so the religious parties won't object. The costly day off on Election Day can be canceled, since people will have a lot more time to vote, especially on Friday, when most people have the day off anyway.