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25 July 2006

high school pal e-mails Bob, Bob replies

War refugee and baby at a shelter
in a school in Beirut. (Agence-France Presse)

----- Original Message -----
From: M***** G****
Sent: 7/24/2006 10:01:22 PM
Subject: RE: Bob of Vleeptron on BBC World Service today!!! Soon! Quick!Schnellst! Pronto! immediatement!

Can you summarize for me the viewpoints discussed, especially yours?



From: Robert Merkin
To: M***** G****
Date: 7/25/2006 1:08:15 AM
Subject: big dustup on the phones at BBC

Hey hey M*****!

Oh, okay, a summary. Well, uhh, try to imagine a big angry screaming fight between a dozen family members, like maybe at a big wedding reception the week before the Bush-Gore presidential election. Only worse, bombs are dropping and everybody's got automatic weapons.

The poor BBC radio host -- very un-ethnic proper BBC Brit -- was trying to keep everybody on the narrow question of whether Rice's trip to the region could possibly extinguish the conflict, but everybody on the phone from all over the world was pouring out sixty years of concentrated outrage and frustration from two (maybe more) entirely opposite viewpoints. I'm certain that when the hour segment ended, the poor man staggered across the street to get drunk and pray that tomorrow's topic will be about a flower controversy in Kent.

With my one brief opportunity to scream, I represented the American old hippie peacenik army vet viewpoint, and said we all need to get ready for a big shock: There are now limits to what the world's mightiest superpower can achieve, and Rice's visit was nothing more than "flooded basement" diplomacy -- so removed from the deep festering root causes of the conflict, which American diplomacy had neglected for decades, that she could hope to do nothing except offer a bit of humanitarian relief.

Then the audio engineer turned my pot down to let the other eighteen enfuriated people from Beirut to Nigeria to Jerusalem to Atlanta have their chances to scream at each other. Moiself perhaps included, nearly everyone represented a rigid, entrenched position with clear ideas of Whose Fault All This Was. Culprits mentioned prominently were Hezbollah, the Israelis -- not much distinction made between the government and the people -- Syria, Iran, the Bush administration, the European Union (for doing nothing).

My cord phone wasn't giving a good signal, so the producer called me on Cynthia's cell phone, and I ended up wandering all over the front lawn to find the invisible sweet spot while my cats stared at me in confusion.

This was my second BBC radio roundtable show; in February, my screwy blog caught their attention and I was invited to babble about Google's censored search engine in China. Compared to yesterday's mess, that (human rights vs. obligations to shareholders) was a dainty tea party at the Shoreham.

I can't recall the last time you and I exchanged a political opinion, but the topic was probably about the New Frontier or Civil Rights marches or possibly Sputnik. Well, here we are thrust into 2006, two American Jews shaken by what could be the prelude to World War 3 or, as the fundamentalists cheer for, the Armageddon preceeding the End Times. Forgive me if I inadvertently step on a toe or press a hot button. Forgive me if I natter on too long.

It's the dismay of my life that these faiths and ethnicities haven't been able to construct some grudging kind of peace -- perhaps on the order of the French and the English, who still detest one another, but now confine themselves to insults and wine and cheese trade disputes.

I spend a lot of time in the Netherlands. Amsterdam has 28 mosques (locally pronounced moh-SKAY), and the mayor is a Jew named Cohen. Everybody gets along, Muslims think they get a fair shake from the government and the community, and the last thing they'd ever want to do is go back to North Africa or the Moluccas. Likewise the Jews there don't want to go anywhere else, either the Slavic hell they came from, or to Israel. An Egyptian lunch counter guy on Middleeastraat pointed to an Israeli restaurant and said: "We don't all love each other. But we all moved here, because here our kids don't have to murder each other every fifteen years." I think it's Paradise, a sort of Grudging, Realistic, Violence-Free (or Violence-Lite) Paradise. Detroit/Dearborn has also evolved a community of Muslims and Jews all shoving their kids through the public schools toward good colleges with about the same amount of violence we experienced at Wilson.

Let me know if you want to hear more, or if you want to hear less. But it's always a swell day for me when the phone rings and it's a BBC producer wanting to talk to Bob the Yank Blogger. Doubly swell to hear from M*****!

I hope all's well with you. Love to all you hang with from Olde Tymes.


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