Tuesday, 30 June 2015

There's Never Any Justice in the Weather

I just read a news bulletin saying that Environment Canada is predicting cooler than normal temperatures for my home province of Ontario into July, and more rain as well (see: Summer Forecast Calls for More Cool Weather in July for Ontario, Quebec).  Terrible news if you're looking for some nice hot, sunny weather up at the cottage.  I don't know why, but in the last few years I've become really sensitive to bad weather, even though I know there's nothing I can do about it.  Let's face it, Mother Nature has no sense of justice whatsoever.  For example, this past winter, eastern Canada had a very cold, hellish winter, whereas much of the rest of the world had one of the warmest winters on record.  You'd think we'd get a break from Mother Nature after a long, harsh winter that felt almost as bad as the previous winter in which the so-called polar vortex reared its ugly head.  Fat chance!  We're getting the shaft again.  In contrast, western Canada, much of which experienced warmer than normal temperatures last winter, is getting another gift from Mother Nature in the form of above average highs reaching 40 degrees in some cases. 

But before you pack your bags and head out west, let me tell you that the hot, sunny weather they've been getting isn't all good news, especially if you're a farmer or have a home or cottage anywhere near a heavily forested area.  The hot, dry weather in western Canada has brought on a major drought and farmers are losing their crops.  At the same time, forest fires are flaring up.  So if you ask some people in western Canada, I'm sure that they would gladly send some of the hot, dry weather they've been getting eastward to us in Ontario if they could.  Let's face it, no matter what the weather's like, there will always be someone that isn't happy about it.

Now of course, weather forecasters can be wrong and often are.  Indeed, as time passes, the weather is getting harder and harder to predict.  Why is this?  Well, I can pretty much sum it up for you in two words: climate change.  In fact, most experts will probably tell you that climate change is the main culprit when it comes to "unjust" weather patterns.  And who usually gets the worst of the effects of climate change?  Usually developing countries.  But why?  With the exception of China, developing countries are not the biggest causers of climate change.  It's mostly the industrialized economies, plus China, that pollute the most and hence are the main contributors to climate change.  But again, the weather has no sense of justice which is why although developing countries are not the main polluters, they're usually the ones to bear the worst effects of climate change.

So inasmuch as we like to complain about crappy summers and harsh winters, maybe we should be grateful that at least we're not dealing with killer storms that regularly hammer countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, or droughts that last for years and kill thousands in Africa.  Easier said than done for me and many others who feel that they're entitled to good weather after enduring Mother Nature's wrath for awhile.  


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Fire Israel's Religious Affairs Minister

Israel's current Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay, who is a member of the Shas party, recently said that Reform Jews are "a disaster for the people of Israel" (see: ADL slams religious affairs minister's 'derogatory' comments).  In doing so, he insulted millions of Jews around the world that belong to or identify with Reform Judaism, including members of both my immediate and extended family.  Such remarks are unacceptable, especially from a minister in the government of the State of Israel, which is the ancestral homeland of all Jews, not just the ones that agree with Mr. Azoulay's religious point of view.  For this reason and this reason alone, Mr. Azoulay should be dismissed from the cabinet immediately.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time one of Israel's leaders has insulted his or her fellow Jews and it probably won't be the last.  In fact, the article whose link appears above mentions comments by another Knesset member, Israel Eichler, a member of another Haredi party, United Torah Judaism.  Apparently, Eichler saw it fit to compare the Women of the Wall to the arsonists who burned a church in northern Israel.  Both Azoulay and Eichler have obviously forgotten that without the support of many of the world's Reform, Conservative and other non-Orthodox Jews that they hate so much, they would not have a country to call home.  Anyone ever heard the saying, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you?" 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Hey Airlines, Start Treating Us Like Human Beings!

I decided to write this post after one of my Facebook friends posted a horrid story about passengers on a United Airlines flight who were left to stay at a remote military barracks with little warmth, little food and very little information after their plane made an emergency landing in Goose Bay, a town in northeastern Canada (see: EXCLUSIVE: Hundreds of fuming United Airlines passengers 'abandoned' in remote Canada barracks for 20 HOURS after 'faulty' Chicago-London flight diverts while crew spend night in 'comfy hotel').  I'm actually not surprised that something like this happened, especially with a carrier like United Airlines, who along with several other companies have a notorious record of poor customer service.  For those of you who are interested in finding out what other airlines don't make the grade, just look at this list of The 15 Worst Airlines Flying in 2015.

Anyone who has flown at least a few times during their life probably has a bad story to tell about less than stellar customer service on the part of an airline.  I've heard plenty of tall tales from friends and relatives; tales of lost luggage, rude staff, flight delays and so forth.  What really bothers me, though, is that lately, the airlines have been treating us less and less like human beings and a lot more like chattel.  The seats are getting smaller, the fares are getting higher, and the airlines keep finding more ways to nickel and dime us to death.  Does anyone remember when those headphones were free?  How about those complementary meals on short-haul flights, or being able to check just one bag without having to pay a $25 fee?  Those days are long gone, my friends.  Nowadays, unless you happen to have the big bucks to fly first class or business class, you'll be crammed into tiny seats, jammed up alongside the people next to you.  You'll barely be able to move, let alone do something revolutionary, like cross your legs.  In fact, if a dog is flying on the plane below you in the cargo hold, he'll probably have more room than you since most regulations stipulate that pets travelling on airplanes must be in kept in an enclosure that allows them to stand up, turn around and lie down.  Does this irony sound stupid to anyone else?

It's time the airlines started treating us like human beings.  So for any airline CEO reading this, let me sum it all up for you.  Stop cramming us into your airplanes like sardines.  Give us seats that will allow us to move a couple of inches or more without having to disturb the person next to us.  Better yet, give us seats that will allow us to get up to go to the bathroom without having to wake up the person in the next seat taking a nap.  Stop charging us for things that you used to give us for free.  Hire staff that will treat us with dignity.  And most importantly, do these things for ALL of your passengers, not just those with deep pockets.    

Sunday, 7 June 2015

End "Status Quo" Religious Dictatorship in Israel

In the last few days, I've come across more stories out of Israel that have raised my level of anger towards the country's religious establishment.  The latest story I've read was about Haredim threatening protests if Jerusalem's new cable cars operate on Shabbat (see: Haredim threaten protests over Jerusalem cable car), even though the Jerusalem Municipality issued a statement reassuring everyone, including the anti-Zionist Haredim, that the new transportation initiative would not be operated on the Jewish day of rest.  A few days prior, another story came out about an IDF soldier who faced the wrath of Israel's dictatorial religious laws because he brought a pork sandwich onto his base.  He would have been sent to a military prison for eleven days had it not been for the efforts of his relatives, who spoke to the media, and an unnamed Knesset member who wrote to the defense minister about the incident (see: Punishment Withdrawn for Israeli-American soldier who indulged in pork).  I actually remember posting this article on my Facebook page withe the caption, "I'm beginning to wonder, is this Israel or Iran?"  Also worth mentioning is that after the IDF cancelled the prison sentence for the secular soldier, the deputy defense minister, himself a rabbi and member of the religious Zionist Beit Yehudi party, scolded the military for backing off from the punishment.  Now of course, I have much more respect for religious Zionists than I do for the anti-Zionist Haredim, because religious Zionists are great contributors to Israeli society.  Unlike most Haredim, they work and contribute to the Israeli economy, yet they still devote themselves fiercely to their religion.  That being said, however, they do not have the right to impose religious laws or values on Israel's secular public.  It is just as wrong for Israel's religious Jews to have a penalty imposed on a secular Israeli soldier for eating pork on his base as it would be for secular Israelis to have a religious Israeli soldier be punished for not eating pork.

Unfortunately, stories of secular individuals and government authorities being threatened or punished for breaking or even being suspected of breaking the country's dictatorial religious laws are commonplace in Israel and have been since the founding of the state in 1948.  The reason is the so-called "status quo" arrangement made between Israel's founding fathers and the fledgling Jewish state's religious establishment.  The arrangement dates back to a letter sent by David Ben-Gurion to leaders representing the Haredi community in which he made assurances that religious laws and ordinances on matters including Shabbat, Kashrut, family law and educational autonomy would be upheld and enforced in what would become the State of Israel.  Ben-Gurion, who as we know became Israel's first prime minister, did this because he needed to ensure a united Jewish stance in favour of the United Nations' 1947 Palestine partition plan.  Without this united stance, the partition plan granting Jews an independent state in the Land of Israel may not have passed.  The irony is that the "status quo" arrangement that allowed Israel to be established with international legitimacy is the same thing that is oppressing much of Israel's public today.

So what if Israel's government decided to drop Ben-Gurion's compromise?  What if Israel's leaders suddenly agreed to lift restrictions on activities like shopping and public transportation on Shabbat and other Jewish holidays?  Would we be on the fast track to civil war?  I don't think so, and the reason I don't think so is that even if the Haredim or the religious Zionist community strongly resented Israel's turn towards secularism, they would still not bite the hand that feeds them.  After all, Israel is the one and only Jewish state, and I don't see either the Haredim or the religious Zionist Jews creating states of their own.  How could the Haredim create a country of their own?  They won't even contribute to the society and economy in the country they have now, to say nothing of their refusal to fight for it in the IDF.  Why would they act any differently to create a country of their own?  And as for the religious Zionists are concerned, there may be some of them who may openly talk of creating a second, more religious Jewish state, but I think most of them will continue to remain loyal Israeli citizens because they know Jewish history better than most people and will remember what happened the last time the Jewish people were split into two states.  Hence, they will not want history to repeat itself.

The point I'm trying to make is that for the sake of liberty, Israel needs to end the religious dictatorship that David Ben-Gurion's "status quo" arrangement has left us with, and we can do this without tearing the country apart.  We need to allow ordinary Israeli citizens who want to take the bus on Saturdays or get married without the involvement or the Orthodox rabbinate the right to do so without being threatened or punished.  Now I'm sure I'll get a lot of flak from my fellow Jews who are of a more religious persuasion for what I'm saying here.  Indeed, I've already gotten responses back telling me that if I or anyone else don't like Israel's dictatorial religious laws, we should live somewhere else.  My response to these people is that Israel belongs to its secular citizens just as much as it does to its religious ones, so no member of either community should tell members of the other that they should leave just because they share a different view of what it means to live as a Jew in the Jewish State of Israel.