What’s a treaty worth?

The southernmost point in Israel is close to the country’s former enemies: Jordan and Egypt.

It’s so close, in fact, that you can drive to either country in a matter of minutes. The nations all have gone to war during Israel’s 61-year history. But now they’re at peace.

But what’s the treaty worth? A video telling the story of a December 2001 interception of a vessel loaded with weapons of terror, to be used against Israel, tells quite another story.

Israeli commandos departed from Eilat to intercept the freighter that was headed for the port of Alexandria, in Egypt, where it was going to disgorge its contents to be used by terrorists against Israel.

So, here’s the question: If Egypt has a peace treaty with Israel, why would it allow the cargo vessel to dock in Alexandria and then watch the distribution of the weapons to terror merchants waiting in the shadows?

Commerce, it seems, overrules bilateral treaties any day — and that makes the peace agreements worth little more than the paper on which they are printed.

Church and state separation, sort of

The judge in the Israeli courtroom made quite a point about how his government does not integrate religion into government affairs.

Our Group Study Exchange delegations — our West Texas team and our Rotary partners from The Netherlands — all noticed the same thing, however, as the judge made his point in his Be’er Sheva courtroom.

It was the presence of the menorrah engraved in the wall behind him. The menorrah, of course, is the enduring symbol of Hannukah, one of Judaism’s most revered religious holidays.

I couldn’t help but think what might happen in a Texas Panhandle courtroom if a judge engraved a carving of Jesus being crucified. Given that our Constitution speaks directly against such a practice, a judge shouldn’t be so brazen.

It apparently isn’t so obvious for an Israeli judge to speak so directly about the secular nature of his government while sitting under such a recognized symbol of his own religion.

Come to Texas, see the world

You have to love a kid who wins a Rotary-sponsored speaking contest and then declares to a visiting newspaper editor that he wants to come to Texas and “see the world.”

Nir Lifsitz spoke to the Rotary Club of Be’er Sheva/Omarium Tuesday night about the environment and the need to protect the planet. He gave his five-minute talk in Hebrew — which, of course, was “all Greek to me.” But my Rotary host, Alon Bendet, asked me immediately after the competiton, and before the results were announced, which one I thought won. I said the young man mentioned here was the clear winner. Alon agreed.

But as we were taking a break, Nir approached me and asked me about Rotary in Texas. We visited for a few minutes. “Have you been to Texas?” I asked. “No, but I intend to come, because I want to see the world,” he answered with the same self-confidence he demonstrated in giving his talk. How do I know of his self-confidence? His body language spoke universally.

“What is the capital of Texas?” he asked. I told him Austin. “Why isn’t it Dallas?” he wondered. Well, he knew about Dallas because of the Cowboys and the Mavericks, so he figured that Dallas needed to be the capital. I reminded him that Dallas isn’t even the largest city in Texas; Houston and San Antonio are larger.

He also figures that it’s a daunting challenge for American students to learn the capitals of all 50 states. He rolled his eyes and wondered how any American kid can accomplish such a thing.

I was ashamed to admit that many of them never learn the capital of, say, South Dakota (which is Pierre, by the way).

Still, I have a hunch that the young man will knock the socks off most Texans he meets when he finally arrives.

The team has landed

Hospitality — and the warmth it delivers — is universal.

I am leading a team of young professionals on a four week journey through Israel. It is sponsored by Rotary International’s Foundation. My Rotary district, 5730, selected me to lead this team of young folks. I accepted this assignment with a full heart.

And this heart of mine nearly exploded with joy when we arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday. The welcome we received from our Rotary hosts in Israel was overpowering. The district governor, Yael Lazarus, was on hand, along with the man who coordinated the Group Study Exchange with our district, Menashe Livnat and the the GSE team from The Netherlands that is touring Israel side by side with our team. GSE pairs Rotary districts that exchanges teams of four young professionals who will learn from their colleagues. At precisely the time we’re touring Israel, a team from that country is touring West Texas — for the same purpose.

My team comprises Katt Krause, office manager for her family’s landscape construction business in Amarillo; Aida Almaraz, a caseworker at Boys Ranch; Shirley Davis, a math prof at South Plains College in Levelland; and Fernando Valle, a professor of education at Texas Tech.

They are four outstanding individuals who have coalesced into a team. We’ll be showing our West Texas culture to our Israeli hosts throughout the next month, all the while learning about this ancient land, which of course is rich in its own history and culture.

We are staying with host families who have opened their homes to us as if we are family. “We have one rule,” Sari Bendet, our first host told us. “Our refrigerator is always open to you.” Message received, Sari.

I’ll be writing journal entries for the print edition of the Globe-News. My blog entries likely will be of a more personal nature — such as sharing thoughts about the hospitality of our hosts.

Our journey is off to a wonderful start.

I hate to pick nits, but …

I ventured to City Hall this morning to pay a bill and noticed some campaign signs sprinkled around the complex.

Signs for two Amarillo school board candidates caught my eye: Mary Faulkner and John Ben Blanchard.

Why take note of those? A little word on each of them. It said “re-elect.”

Hmmm. Faulkner and Blanchard do serve on the AISD board of trustees. They’re incumbents — having been appointed to their posts by their colleagues on the board. But they haven’t been elected to anything. Thus, the term “re-elect” smacks of, well, misrepresentation.

They’re both fine school board members. They’re smart and dedicated to the children of the school district. But they ought to know better than to suggest that voters have a chance to re-elect them a body to which neither of them has been elected in the first place.

The words “retain” or “return” are more accurate and, yes, more truthful.

What goes around …

Tom Pauken called this morning, chuckling out loud about the mini-tempest over Karl Rove’s appearance tonight at West Texas A&M University.

Pauken is a former Texas Republican Party chairman. He was controversial in his day, leading the party sharply to the right. He’s a conservative’s conservative — who has little regard for the “neocons” who dominated the administration of President George W. Bush.

Why the chuckle? Well, when Pauken was Texas GOP chair, one of his main adversaries was one Karl Rove. “He was always taking shots at me,” Pauken recalled in our conversation.

So, on this day, Rove — who made quite a few enemies while masterminding Bush’s two presidential election victories — is drawing brickbats from Democratic loyalists in the Panhandle just because he is speaking at WT’s convocation.

Pauken, meanwhile, is delivering the same kind of address this very evening up the road a bit, at Frank Phillips College in Borger. And no one’s said a word about Pauken’s appearance, even though he once was considered to be a “controversial” party chairman, even among his fellow Republicans.

We need to find a cure for amnesia.

Transparency? What transparency?

President Obama promised the most transparent administration in U.S. presidential history.

Why not, then, show us those pictures of that ill-advised fly-over in New York City?

Most of us know the story: The Boeing 747 used as Air Force One flew low over NYC for some picture-taking. The White House, the Pentagon or someone wanted to take pictures of the airplane flying over the city’s impressive skyline. In this post 9/11 world, of course, the event stirred up intense anxiety in New York.

The president said he was angry about it.

But now we learn that the fly-over cost about 300 grand — of public money. But the White House says it won’t release the pictures taken during the ridiculous demonstration.

Why not? It’s our money. We deserve to see the pictures.

It is true that in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t all that big a deal. But the president has relied heavily on symbols, first during his winning campaign and in the first months of his administration.

His refusal to release the pictures is, well, symbolic of the same old secrecy that plagued his immediate predecessor’s presidency.

Early voting still scary

OK, I did it.

I voted early today for the Amarillo City Commission. The election judges at City Hall were just as nice as those who work on Election Day. I went through the drill, again just as I do on the actual voting day.

But I’m still holding my breath, more or less, with my choices for mayor and city commissioner. The reason I like voting on the final day of balloting is because I don’t want any unpleasant surprises to erupt prior to Election Day.

At least I have a good reason. I’ll be unavailable to vote this Saturday. I had to do it early because I want my voice heard on this critical election. City Hall, of course, is where officials make decisions that have a direct, tangible impact on our lives.

But I’ll monitor the election results from afar this upcoming weekend — and hope that my candidates don’t make me regret casting my vote for them.

Now … that’s a loop

I just have returned from Midland, where I discovered yet another major West Texas city that has a highway loop that serves as, well, a loop.

It’s Loop 250 and it circles Midland across Interstate 20.

Lubbock has an honest-to-goodness loop, too. It’s Loop 289 and it circles the Hub City across Interstate 27.

How did those cities accomplish this bit of highway engineering, while Amarillo’s so-called “loop” serves as just another busy street, particularly along its western stretch, from I-40 to Hollywood Road? But, by golly, we hung the Loop 335 label on our so-called “loop” — even though it doesn’t serve as a loop the way it ostensibly was designed to do.

It will be years, if ever, before Loop 335 becomes an actual controlled-access thoroughfare that encircles Amarillo. Transportation officials, last I heard, are trying to figure out a way to extend the loop farther west. More private property will need to be purchased, or condemned.

Of course, there’s been next to zero public discussion on the rest of the 43 miles of Loop 335 that could be developed much as Soncy Road has been developed. Try getting across Soncy around 5:30 in the afternoon. You’ll grow old waiting for a break in the traffic.

Meanwhile, the potential extention of Loop 335 farther west of town looms.

Just one request here: Don’t mess with Cadillac Ranch.

Early voting looms

I’m having trouble catching my breath.

A colleague, Cheryl Berzanskis, reminded me this morning that I have to vote early for the May 9 municipal election. Why? I’ll be unavailable on Election Day. I’m finishing my preparation for an adventure that could change my life. I’ll have much more to say about that later.

But this adventure — which begins May 9 — will get in the way of my being able to vote on Election Day, which is my preferred method of ballot-casting.

Why do I prefer to vote on the final day of balloting? Well, it’s a matter of hedging my bets.

I know for whom I’ll vote for mayor and city commissioner. My fear is that I’ll vote early and then one or more of my candidates will mess up. I cannot take my vote back. It’s like trying to unhonk a horn. Once it’s cast, it’s cast forever.

I prefer instead to wait until the very last day, thus reducing dramatically — but not eliminating — the chance of casting of my vote for the wrong candidate. Yes, they still could mess up between the end of voting and the day they take the oath of office. But that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

Voting early, which the state allows to make the process more convenient for Texans, gives me the nervous jerks.

I don’t know yet if I’ll go to City Hall or to the Randall County Annex to vote early. I have to decide soon.

Then I’ll vote — and hold my breath.

Don’t you dare mess up, City Hall hopefuls.

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