Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My Thoughts on the Eve of Thanksgiving

It is a tumultuous and troubling time in our country. The offshoots of war seem to touch every corner of our nation and of our minds. Racial inequities and financial struggles continue to impact far too many. There is antipathy between our political parties and an abiding mistrust of those in our midst predicated solely on religious beliefs. We seem forever to be one step away from the next grave problem. Calamity has become our bedfellow.

This week is Thanksgiving, a time when we search out the best in our own lives and express gratitude for the gifts bestowed upon us. But it is a difficult undertaking this year. When so many who are suffering come to our doorstep but are deemed unworthy of our compassion and our beneficence, it is that much harder to celebrate the joy in our personal experience.

When those who would dare to lead us, dare to lead us astray, when guns proliferate in anticipation of the worst in our fellow man, when education is lacking in so many in our population and opportunity is a word that attaches to far too few, when we have come to think so much less of others, how can we not think less of ourselves?

Do I give thanks this year? Can I ask that I hold my thanks in abeyance, that I wait until next week, or next month, or next year? Until a time when we are less angry, less hostile, less consumed with our own well being and more concerned with the welfare of others. More like what we want to be and less of what we are. When we are more encouraging, more enthusiastic, more energized and motivated not by our demons but by our higher selves.

If I have a wish for this Thanksgiving, it is that we take a good look at what we have done, are doing to our fellow man. And that we determine that tomorrow our first priority is that, for those whom we now treat with enmity, their next Thanksgiving should be better than this one. That would indeed be a worthy Thanksgiving tale.

9/11, The "Gift" That Keeps On Giving

Forget the dismal employment numbers, the pension fiasco, the tunnel to nowhere. Disregard the mistreatment of teachers, of Kaci Hickox. Don't fret his abusive manner and certainly deep six anything and everything Bridgegate. It is time to recall 9/11, the "gift" that for Chris Christie, much as Rudy Giuliani before, keeps on giving.

Mr. Christie could touch the seminal moment in our history, could smell its burning embers, see its cloud of death. For a politician whose presidential hopes were on life support, the recent events in Paris served as perverse rescue.

For those like Mr. Christie and Donald Trump, who are masterful at stirring up the fear and hatred, there is nothing that plays better to audiences then damage inflicted upon us by "others". Whether they be immigrants from Mexico coming to take our jobs, Ebola victims from foreign lands come to infiltrate and infect us or refugees from Syria come to terrorize, Mr. Christie will play upon our worst instincts like Paganini on a violin.

And Mr. Christie, like the former mayor of New York, can tell you of the personal pain and intimate details of the horror that was thrust upon us that terrible morning in September of 2001. Disaster, on this level, is Mr. Christie's ultimate political weapon.

In the concluding line of today's article, a New Hampshire resident and Christie convert worries of those in her state that "they can't all see him." I have the same concern.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bombs and Bombast

("How ISIS Defeats Us")

Mr. Bruni is completely right. And utterly wrong.

Yes, the last 14 years have taught us some basic lessons. First, that the two planes which struck the World Trade Center changed the landscape of New York, the face of this nation, and the course of much of the world. We have spent untold trillions of dollars in defense against possible further attacks in the United States, many trillions more in boots on the ground and bombs in the air in hunting down those who we perceived had done us wrong, or could do us wrong. And we have demonstrated that, for all our physical might, we have been unable to stop the conflagration that has ensued.

The other conclusion is that many in this country have played upon our worst instincts and helped produce a country gripped with paranoia and irrational fear. We have turned our collective back on suffering, whether it be from those in Mexico, West Africa or now from Syria. We are in grave danger of losing our moral compass.

To call out President Obama for speaking bluntly against those who incite our internal riot is an error. He has been the adult voice in the room when it comes to our emotional response. If he does not, in moments of crisis, forcefully challenge those who would weaken our moral resolve, then he would be complicit in a terrible crime. If he has shown annoyance or disdain for Mr. Trump, Mr. Rubio, Dr. Carson and those others who have miscast the danger as a marketing tool for their candidacy, if he has demonstrated disgust for the governors who pander to prejudice, if he has denounced the hysteria and hyperbolic predictions, then he has done what he has a mandate to do.

We have gone down a terrible path these last 14 years and the maze that now confronts us is almost impossible to decipher. ISIS has gotten into our heads and into our hearts, has weakened us in ways that are central to the core of our being. If we do not want to veer towards defeat, then it is not with bombs and bombast that we will win but with belief in humanity. If we close our hearts and our borders we have lost the war.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Wall

("More Mexican Immigrants Leaving U.S. Then Entering, Report Finds")

"Mr. Trump, tear down this wall."

Thankfully, President Trump will not have to spend his time and energy or our money in keeping "illegals" out of our country. They are leaving of their own accord.

If anyone has been paying attention, despite the pumped up rhetoric, there has been no crisis for many years concerning mass immigration from Mexico. Our lower paying jobs have not been in ready supply, as Republican led efforts to keep Federal coffers dry has translated into a paucity of employment in infrastructure rebuilding and many other industries.

Mr. Romney's  2012 stated wish to make life so inhospitable for Mexicans that they would self deport has proven prescient. Our national obsession with castigating "others", the vast majority of whom are law abiding, seeking nothing more than opportunity for a better life, has been an unbridled "success."

With the recent hyperbolic response regarding millions of Syrian refugees clearly leaving their war torn country to infiltrate into the US for purposes of jihad, our national conversation has reached an alarmingly new low. We have become a country closing its borders and withdrawing its outstretched arms to those whose lives are lived in grave desperation. We are turning a deaf ear to the cries of the many as we symbolically tell the world to stay off our grass.

When those who seek the welcoming embrace of Lady Liberty decide to walk out of this country and not in, we should examine what we have become.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ebola and the Syrian Refugees

Ebola and the Syrian refugees. Related by the mass hysteria that enveloped both issues. Close the borders. Shut the doors.  The President is inept, incompetent or as Mr. Trump now so delicately suggests, insane.

Eventually we discovered in the Ebola crisis that our government was equipped to protect us, to utilize its capabilities to separate fact from fiction and keep those who could cause us harm from entering our midst.

These 10,000 Syrian refugees who we, in the course of exhibiting our morality and compassion,  are expected to welcome upon our soil in 2016, are they really not to be vetted? All evidence would suggest to the contrary, but if you give in to the ever louder voices of panic and hatred, you do not hear the words of reason.

Like Governor Christie and Kaci Hickox, you quarantine, you exclude, because, well, you can. As of the latest count, 31 governors had joined in the hue and cry to demonize those whom the Federal government would allow upon our shores.

Panic plays easily in these moments. This is not prudence, as Paul Ryan would suggest. Or caution, as the  position of Mr. Bush to exclude non-Christians would demand. There is no rational basis to support the policies being proffered today. But common sense has no place at this table.

Are we keeping all Belgians from walking among us? Didn't the masterminds of the Paris attacks reside there? 

Ebola is thankfully under control. Those who listened to proven science and discarded frantic fictions, were shown to be correct. Our mass hysteria  on that matter appears ridiculous in retrospect. Much like history will likely treat the sounds of nonsense that proliferate on the Syrian refugee issue. 

Insane, to borrow the word from Mr. Trump.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Old Friends

He began with an apology, of sorts. As he strained to capture the remains of a once wondrous voice, all those who listened gave a collective shudder.

Art Garfunkel appeared as a reminder that things do not stay the same forever. Within the sea of white hair that stared at this vaguely familiar looking image, there beat the hearts of those who recalled the halcyon days. When the man on stage projected one full and glorious note after another. Who was this bald headed elder statesman?

It is unfair to demand of our legends that they do not grow old. That they stay as Peter Pan that they look as Dorian Gray, that the constraints that nature imposes on mere mortals somehow fails to apply to them. That they remain frozen, images to be reconstituted at our pleasure.

If one gave this man on stage a chance, the words that came forth still resonated with the same astonishing beauty.  The lyrics so full, the images so vivid. But it was hard to get past the shortened sets, the truncated songs, the missing phrases that were beyond the reach of this version of Art Garfunkel.

He tried to fill in the gaps with short tales that he read, as he put his glasses on so he could, like the rest of those assembled, see the small print. He was, in a word, old. Not like in old friend, but as in one who had been on this stage seemingly since the first light of day. And it was now deep into the night.

I wanted to love this evening. I struggled to like this evening. I could not will myself to any other conclusion.

And as he ended the shortened performance with but two verses of Bridge Over Troubled Water I wondered if Mr. Garfunkel was not himself weary and feeling a little small.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

An American in Paris


An American in Paris.

A  Jewish American.

"We're safe. But is anyone safe in this crazy world."

The earth is seemingly on fire this morning as Paris reels from another barbaric atrocity. As we are warned in pools of blood of the dire consequences of our continuing to interfere with those trumpeting the caliphate while they annihilate their own, cannibalizing the many thousands in their midst who fail to swear allegiance.

There are cheers this morning within the ranks of ISIS as they  demonstrate a depravity of unfathomable proportion. As if these cowardly acts are a sign of strength.

And in the seventh arrondissement sit my friends, wondering what has become of this world. They must be frightened, as we are for them. Come home soon. Be safe. If, as they so touchingly write, that is any longer possible.

An American in Paris. How times have changed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Billy Joel and Kermit the Frog

My throat hurt a little. As I made my way across the room, I sensed I had wasted my opportunity.

I had first selected a Beatles song for my debut as a karaoke singer. I listened to several who went before me, hoping they would all fall down. But a couple were good, maybe even more than that. I worried about my song choice, fearing it was not upbeat enough.

"Are you Robert?"  The young girl approached, unsure if she had picked out the right face in the crowd. I nodded. "I am sorry but the song you picked was used earlier." It was karma. I would now be butchering a Billy Joel classic.

I began to zone out a little, nervously contemplating that I would be unable to recall how the scrolling words related to the music. And then the far too enthusiastic MC called out "Next we have Robert from New York." Somehow I had decided that this crowd of almost all Americans in Mexico would not have heard of my home state of  New Jersey.

There was momentary enthusiasm from the group of 10 or so of my friends who were sitting with me, some in more than a slightly altered state of being.  I had been waiting all of my life for this moment, convinced that those who made fun of my singing, one noting that I reminded her of Kermit the Frog, would be proven wrong.

And so, with several hundred mostly inebriated eyes upon me, I steadied myself as the band played the opening chords.

"Friday night I said I'm sorry. Saturday I said..." It had begun.

I could not stray too far as I had seemingly forgotten all the lyrics, my eyes fixed upon the screen reminding me of the next word. I knew I was singing all in my throat, in my best imitation of Kermit, but I was powerless to do anything about it.

I didn't dare look out at the crowd for fear I would lose my place with the scrolling phrases. And so I couldn't reel them in with my charisma, my magnetism. Most, I am sure, lost interest by the second verse. The most inebriated ones didn't even last that long.

But, as the seconds ticked on, I grew more comfortable. The song began to resonate in my brain. I started to wander left and then right, Mick Jagger like. And then I turned my back to the crowd and locked eyes with the young female singer with the band.

"You may be right. I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for." This was more like it. This was hot.

And then it was over. Suddenly my time fretting and strutting upon the stage was no more. I walked back to my seat to the sound of tepid applause. My career was off to a rocky start.

"You were really good." What else was my wife supposed to tell me? From my posse there were a few "rockin" or the equivalent, but within seconds I was just one invisible face among many.
"I think the mic was too far from you most of the time. It was a little hard to hear you." So, it seemed I had been moving my lips but,  for those more than a few feet away, virtually no sound was emanating.

It turned out that one of my friends had videoed this debacle, at least most of it. And if one listens very closely, the sounds of Kermit the Frog can be heard. Indistinct but unmistakably Kermit. But no back turning, harmonizing with my back up singer. Mercifully, for history's sake, there is no recorded image of that portion of my performance.

With wounded pride and small damage to my vocal chords, my evening as a rock legend has passed. Maybe next time I will do better.  I know I can sing the crap out of "Yesterday." Just be sure to sit near. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Moving Day

(This is written on what would have been the 70th anniversary of the wedding of our parents)

My sister is saying goodbye to our father, again.
Yesterday morning she called me, a quiver punctuating her words. "I have been very weepy for the last two days." She knew that I would understand.

Our father passed away on December 13, 1979 after a two year battle with cancer. Next month will mark 36 years without his slightly crooked smile, the warmth of his embrace, the intelligence and grace that permeated every fiber of his being. One would think that after the passage of so much time the pain of his leaving would have dissipated and eventually disappeared.

But the truth is that my sister and I still grieve, still cry, still are stung by the reality that we have been forced to live so much of our lives without his life, his hand as a guiding force.

My sister has worked in the same building in New York City for more than 40 years. It is this building in which our father had his law office, and it was on a visit to him there that serendipity brought my sister and her employer together.

Her company is moving to another part of the city at the end of this week. It is time to say farewell to this home, but it is not in the job related memories being stored in the packed boxes that my sister's sorrow lies. It is in the recollection of the days that she and our father would meet for lunch, in the moments that they could steal together from their work days, in the sound and feel of our dad's office, in the comfort of knowing that he was there for her, just a moment away. 

It is that immediacy which my sister senses is being discarded, like one more item that is not making the trip to the new locale. It is the feeling that our father is still alive in these walls, still here, still able to take the time to hold his one and only daughter in his arms, to give her that feeling of security and comfort that only he could provide. It is the sadness of thinking that when her office door closes for the last time, this will all be gone.

I spoke earlier this week with a friend of mine who is going through the grieving process of having recently lost his dad. He talked of recently having gone to a synagogue to pray. He listened to the words of a man who was there to honor the memory of his father's passing thirty years ago, and who continued to lament his loss. My friend said that the reality of this pain had caused him to break down and weep.

I did not cry as I listened to my sister's words. It is hard for both of us to lose control simultaneously. She talked haltingly, long pauses punctuating her conversation as she tried to gather herself. I told her to take solace in knowing that this pain would pass, that tomorrow or the next day she would begin to regain her equilibrium, that there were new adventures that awaited her where she was headed.

But the truth is that tomorrow will really not lessen this pain, the one that has lingered for well more than three decades. And that feeling that every piece of our father that disappears is one we can never retrieve. My sister does not want to leave this place, this attachment this connection. She does not want to lose the touch of our dad's hand, the smile on his face, the knowledge that he is there, right there whenever she needs him.

The last boxes will be carted out of this building by the end of this week, but there is one that cannot be neatly packaged and labeled. It resides in the heart and head of my sister. If there is one piece of advise, one consoling thought that I could give her, it is that she should know that although she physically vacates the building, she can never leave behind the memories of our dad. She carries them with her wherever she goes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Messengers of Death

Maybe it all does fit on the front of Mr. Trump's hat. The despair, the anger, the resentment that the American dream has disappeared. It is the illegals, the left wing, the media, the 1%, the Democrats who have all conspired to take away the hope and belief in a better tomorrow.

For those in the Bible belt, for those on the right, there has been a constant drum beat of negativity. From Rush Limbaugh and the other talking heads to the leaders of their political party, they have been indoctrinated in the belief that their lives don't matter, that they are the forgotten, the betrayed.

Why have they clamored in such large numbers to the most bizarre of Presidential candidates, the ones who spout such hateful speech and convey nothing which resembles an understanding of what it takes to run this nation? Is it because they have become so desperate in their own hearts and minds? There would be seem to be correlation between the rising death toll of white middle Americans and the rise of Mr. Trump and Dr. Carson. 

Mr. Krugman concludes with the assertion that answers to this problem are seemingly elusive. It is the narrative not only of these unhappy lives but of the Republican party that is at the center of this tragedy. Until the leaders stop their constant harangue about how all is lost, how the sky really is falling, this epidemic in the heart of our country, in the head of our country, is likely to continue to manifest.