Monday, November 30, 2009

Compulsory Military Service?

Compulsory Military Service?
©2009 David Talbot

I remember when I was a teenager, back in the 60’s. The traditional rite of passage for young men was reaching their 18th birthday, marching down to the Post Office, and registering for the draft. I was proud to register, and so were all my friends.

Somewhere in the late 60’s, serving in the military went out of fashion and the draft was discontinued. We all know the reasons: Vietnam, counter-culture, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. We lost our innocence in the 60’s and never got it back. The all-volunteer Army was born.

Since the 60’s a lot has happened to America and the spirit of serving our country. We have become a country of “What’s in it for me” instead of “What you can do for your country.” Fortunately, the US Military has been able to attract enough volunteers to man the “peacetime” service. But something is missing.

What’s missing is the spirit of service that we all had, back when I was young. And the country is suffering for it. Is there anyplace on earth that still has a system of compulsory military service?

Before I answer that question, here’s a test: What country has more companies on the Nasdaq than all of Europe, India, China, Korea, and Japan, combined? What country has global venture capital 2.5 times the United States and 30 times Europe?

According to Dan Senor’s new book[1], the answer to the above is Israel, tiny Israel, with a population of 7,400,000 residents living in a country the size of New Jersey. So, what does this have to do with compulsory military service?

In Israel, every high school graduate (with very few exceptions) are obligated to join the Israeli Military: males for 3 years and females for 2 years. These 21 year old men and women return from military service and resume their college or university educations, with real world experience and a drive to become leaders in Israeli society and business.

Israel’s corporate CEO’s, Managers, and Investors have become very astute in reading military resumes, in addition to college transcripts. They’ve become experts in finding the talent for running their firms in an environment of constant threats from Israel’s neighbors, no natural resources, and no internal energy sources.

At 25 years of age, these college graduates are individuals whose management skills were tested on the battlefield. They learned decision making skills, based on incomplete and sometimes contradictory information, and will sacrifice their current creature comforts for the success of a long term project. The talents these individuals learn in their military service carries them from the battlefield to the classroom, and from the classroom to the corporate environment.

Mr. Senor interviewed CEO’s of Ebay, Intel, Google, and Cisco (Which has purchased 9 Israeli start-ups this year), requesting a comparison of recent graduates of American and Israeli Universities. With out exception, these CEO’s replied they would select an Israeli over an American, hands down. Due in large part to the Israeli military experience.

On a recent CNBC Economic presentation, Mr. Senor was asked if the Israeli success was due, in part, to the political environment in Israel. To which he replied: “The U.S. and Israel are moving in opposite directions.” Israel , especially since 1990 has moved from a more socialist environment that was stagnant for a couple of decades, to a more entrepreneurial system encouraging a higher percentage investment of their GDP in new and innovative ventures than the United States.

In conclusion, am I recommending a resumption of the Military Draft for America? No, is the short answer. But, there are a few things we must do if we are to resume our position as the world leader in start-up, innovative business applications. “Start-Up Nation” is a good place to start.

Anyway, that’s my opinion.


[1] Start-Up Nation, The story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Jewish Calendar

The Jewish Calendar
©2009 By David Talbot

Here’s something people ask me all the time: “Why do Jewish Holidays fall on different days each year?” There is a simple answer. But, like most things Jewish, I am going to make it more complicated.

The simple answer is that the Jewish calendar is based on the cycles of the moon (A lunar calendar). The Gregorian calendar is based on the cycles of the Sun (A solar calendar). Now we, here and around the world that rely on the Gregorian solar calendar, know the earth revolves around the sun every 365.25 days a year. That pesky little extra causes us to add one day to February, every four years. Why February? My guess is that in Roman times, February was the last month of the year. So it was convenient to add it at the end of February.

But the lunar calendar is totally different. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. And the Jewish Calendar has 12 months with 12 lunar cycles resulting in a Jewish year having 355 days. Some months have 29 days and some have 30. So, every 3 years, in stead of adding a day, Jewish calendars add an entire month, the month of Adar (more or less around February).

The Muslim calendar is also based on lunar cycles. But their approach is to simply come to the end of the year and start over, not adding days or months. The result is that any particular Muslim holiday, such as Ramadan, may occur in Winter, Spring, Fall or Summer.

So, the question is, why does the Jewish calendar require periodic resetting? The answer is in the nature of the Jewish Holidays through out the year. Many Jewish holidays are linked to agricultural events, like the planting or harvesting of crops. So these festivals need to be at specific times in the agricultural cycle. As a result, unlike the Muslim calendar, the Jewish calendar must be re-set so that Passover always occurs in the Spring and Succoth in the Fall.

The fact that Jewish holidays do not always fall on the same dates on the Gregorian calendar is simply a matter of the difference in the number of solar days vs. the number of lunar days in the respective calendars.

Of course, I always answer the question (“Why do Jewish Holidays fall on different days each year?”) with the following example: Chanukah always falls on the same day every year, the 25th of Kislev, on my calendar.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

More Thoughts on the Middle East

More Thoughts on the Middle East
©2009 David Talbot

There is an old expression, “No good deed goes unpunished!” I can’t remember the last time I heard it, but I thought about it this week as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Israeli PM Netanyahu’s concession on settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Her praise was not for what it lacked (a complete freeze) but for the easing of the Israeli position. In other words, it was a start.

Of course, any praise of Israel, no matter how feint, is cause for an immediate knee jerk reaction by the Arab world. The outcry was so great that Secretary Clinton had to “explain” her comments at her next stop in Morocco.

Unfortunately, any progress in the Arab world by President Obama’s apology tour and pronunciation that America is not a Christian nation has been squandered. The current perception in the Arab world, as seen on all the news channels last week, is that the USA has done a flip and is now back to it’s unilateral support of Israel.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has signaled that he is not going to run for office because of the impasse in peace negotiations. Peace negotiations for the Palestinian leadership means: either the Israeli’s give in to all it’s demands, or we won’t come to the table.

The situation for the United states in the Middle East is not unique. We do not have a clearly formulated policy, that reflects our position on the goal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In fact, we do not have a clearly formulated policy on North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, or any other situation on earth. This lack of a cohesive foreign policy emboldens our enemies and confuses our friends.

We jump on Israel for defending themselves. Yet, we have not figured out how to deal with the unstable governments in Pyongyang and Tehran who are not only actively building nuclear armament facilities, but are also the main suppliers of terrorists around the world. Just this week Israel intercepted an Iranian vessel carrying tons of munitions to those “peaceful” Hezbollah terrorists.

If the Obama administration in Washington does not get it’s foreign policy act together, and soon, the next 3 years will be very dangerous for us, at home and abroad. At some point, the powder keg will be ignited by our only ally in the Middle East, Israel, for it’s own survival. Even Israel has come to understand: with friends like us, who needs enemies?

Anyway, that’s my opinion.

Next Week: Why do Jewish Holidays fall on different days every year?