Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ways to Go . . .

Suppose, just suppose:

You are very old, terminally ill. The alternatives are grim: chemotherapy with dim prognosis; surgery, yet again; being farmed out to a nursing home where, as your neurons click one by one from one to zero,  the big television is always on loud, and the nurse's aides are few, far between, chronically underpaid, though nice enough now and again.

Let us present another choice, an heroic, environmentally sound, even green opportunity: get fed to hungry animals, critters you've sympathized with on nature shows, their survival put in doubt by urban sprawl, climate change, etc..

Put in doubt by us, including you.

If you find this notion worth entertaining, let's proceed.

Which would you choose to be devoured by?

a) Lions
b) Polar bears, grizzlies also being an option.
c) Wolves.
d) Salt water crocodiles (Salties)
e) Sharks
f) Termites.

We are not asking for your old car. We are asking for your old you.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Truth and Power: Democratic debate (12/19/15)

I think Hillary reigned supreme last night. She seemed comfortable in her skin, loose, even on the spot funny. More body language than before, and humor:

Should corporate America like you?
Everybody should like me!

(That was very likable.)

It's like she's digested and  metabolized a bit of Bill.

I prefer Bernie, but think he in effect conceded to her last night, as in conceding too much authority, to her and to the moderators. Bernie corked it when they told him to cork it, as O'Malley, for what it's worth, did not.

Bernie loves truth but it could be to get where he wants to get and to effect the changes he has in mind you also have to find a way to appreciate and exemplify power.

Beyond that, yes of course it makes sense to go after Trump, as all three did, O'Malley even using the f word. But seems to me they should have directed some fire at the other republicans, Trump being something like the exception that proves the rule. The rest of the right-wing pack are hardly better, just less strident.

Friday, December 18, 2015


The big shots who run Wheaton College say they didn't fire Prof Lyrcia Hawkins because she wore a headscarf in order to express her opposition to anti-Muslim bigotry, but because she said Christians and Muslims believe in and pray to the same god.

How dare she, how dare anyone say such a thing.

The big shots who run Wheaton College know different: Allah and the Supreme Being of Christianity (plus, possibly, depending on the denomination, his son and, fuck knows, the holy spirit) are entirely different GAWDS.

They know this how? By virtue of DNA testing? Finger-printing? Sit-downs with the relevant holy spirits?

This makes me fall in love, all over again, with atheism.

I LUV atheism, not that it needs my love or affection or belief to be the case.

Truth is, to paraphrase Daniel Dennett on the subject, I don't think many people believe in God god or gawds. I think most people are sane, and don't believe so much as they try hard as they can to believe or seem like they do.

This doesn't mean I disbelieve in mystery. That would be stupid. We are surrounded by if not embedded in it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reading material: John Kerry FDR

Some thoughts on David Remnick's New Yorker profile of John Kerry:

Re Kerry's 2004 run for president:

He was outraged that Bush, who had won a stateside berth in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, used campaign surrogates, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, to slime his military record. He was furious, too, at Robert Shrum, his chief strategist, and other campaign advisers who had restrained him from hitting back.

My view, as someone who well recalls the Bush v. Kerry campaign, is that it was painfully obvious that Kerry was pulling his punches in the debates with Bush. Kerry can be a powerful speaker, but came across as mild and stumbling, letting Bush seize the stage. For whatever reason, Kerry allowed himself to be gagged by his advisors. The Remnick piece could have been more revealing about why.

On Israel and the Palestinians:

Kerry believes that Israel, along with the occupied territories, is headed toward becoming a “unitary state that is an impossible entity to manage.” He is particularly concerned, he said, that the Palestinian Authority could collapse; that, in the event, the P.A.’s thirty thousand security officers would scatter; and that chaos and increasingly violent clashes with Israel would follow.

“I understand the passions that are behind all of this—I get it,” Kerry told me. “If it were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. I happen to believe there is a way forward. There’s a solution. It would be good for Israel; it’d be great for the Palestinians; it’d be great for the region. People would make so much money. There’d be so many jobs created. There could be peace. And you would be stronger for it. Because nobody that I know or have met in the West Bank is anxious to have jihadis come in.

“The alternative is you sit there and things just get worse,” Kerry went on. “There will be more Hezbollah. There will be more rockets. And they’ll all be pointed in one direction. And there will be more people on the border. And what happens then? You’re going to be one big fortress? I mean, that’s not a way to live. It seems to me it is far more intelligent and far more strategic—which is an important word here—to have a theory of how you are going to preserve the Jewish state and be a democracy and a beacon to the world that everybody envisioned when Israel was created.”

My view is that of a Jew and a Zionist. I use that last word advisedly and deliberately, since I know too many supposedly well-intentioned leftish (not to mention rabid non-leftish) types still equate Zionism —  as they do not, for some utterly mysterious reason, equate other forms of nationalism —  with racism.

I'm tempted to quote Kafka here, who wrote: “I despise Zionism. And I despise anti-Zionism.”

But that was then, when Zionism was nothing but aspiration. Joseph K. can't speak for me on this issue, now that the basic aspiration of Zionism has been fulfilled. A Zionist entity, a Zionist center exists, better known as Israel.

Exists and is laden with the very problems Kerry states well.

Another quote from the Remnick profile:

The dispiriting reality of American foreign policy in the twenty-first century has been neatly summarized in Politico by Philip Gordon, the former N.S.C. official: “In Iraq, the U.S. intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster. In Libya, the U.S. intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster. In Syria, the U.S. neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster.”

The Remnick piece does not overlook Kerry's ambitions, geo-political and personal. Still, I'm sorry Bush rather than Kerry became president in 2004.

Kerry reminds me of FDR, in some ways. FDR's patrician background lent him credibility and persuasive power when it came both to urgent domestic issues and then to war.

Kerry had like credentials.

Friday, December 11, 2015

media v. message

I reiterate that the more time in the election cycle, esp. the more time before primaries, the more time for media, new and old, hence the better it is for the likes of Trump, who feast on nothing so much as media possibilities.

As it is the nature of media, new and old, to feast on and magnify the likes of Trump, such being the nature of the electronic beast.

It may sound simplistic but it seems obvious that constricting the election cycle for president from what it is now — 2 long years? — would contain if not eliminate the viral possibilities and necessities of a Trump.

Is the media, then, the message?

Let me put it this way: shortening the cycle would squeeze media out to a significant degree and highlight message.

As it is now, message is underdog.

Kareem v. Trump

I've read and relished Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's recent piece on Donald Trump, not that I agree with every word of it. Kareem writes that Trump's, "irresponsible, inflammatory rhetoric and deliberate propagation of misinformation have created a frightened and hostile atmosphere that could embolden people to violence." For sure.

Kareem adds that: "While Trump is not slaughtering innocent people, he is exploiting such acts of violence to create terror here to coerce support." I agree again.

It's when Kareem writes that Trump's incendiary speeches "could be interpreted as hate crimes" that I draw back. Hateful as they are, I don't think Trump's pronouncements can or should be treated as crimes. But then I note that Kareem said "could be interpreted as hate crimes." He's not so sure either; he's wondering, as many do, how to counter Trump.

I don't think trying to convict him of criminal activity is the right way to go, one reason, among many, being it tries to short-circuit the electoral process and underestimates the ability of voters to see Trump for what he is. Kareem's essay is, aside from that, very  much the right way to go. It's sharp and insightful.

Discussing one devout but lonely Christian woman's conversion to Islamicism, he writes, "Maybe that’s because. . . the brain’s default setting is simply to believe because it takes extra work to analyze information."

And Kareem ends with an allusion to Yeats's great poem, The Second Coming, that gives it topical spin, when he asks, "what rough beast slouches toward Washington to be born?"

The Second Coming  describes a vision Yeats had, more precisely, a nightmare. President Trump would be a nightmare from which it would take the world a long time to recover.

Monday, December 7, 2015


This guy is known in Icelandic lore as a Berzerker, a warrior so fierce, dauntless, kick-ass, he chomps his own shield. Today, there are heavy metal bands named after him. Back then, he could go toe-to-tusk with a walrus, and if you think walruses are quaint or funny think again; their hides were close to impenetrable, and they were known to kill whales.

The Berzerker in his prime was the most powerful piece on the board, a very walrus of a piece.

The queen had been born but was new to the fray and far from claiming all her powers. At first, she looks a bit confused on the battlefield. Soon she becomes the warrior-in-chief, a combo of a rook, a bishop, and a pawn. She assimilates the mad rage of the Berserker, assuaging it with subtle diagonal moves. Pawns, all eight of them, devote their lives to queening, to becoming a queen.

The king, she protects him. He only displays his limited mettle in battle when she is gone. Then he steps out, devoting much of his activity to getting her — a younger version — back, defending a pawn until it reaches that sweet spot where the lowliest piece on the board is transformed into a mighty queen.

Add caption

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Kahane's killer . . .

I find this in equal measures fascinating and disturbing. Though I disagree with Liel Leibovitz and his increasingly, or more increasingly manifest, right-wing Zionist views, I do not therefore reject this account.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Police Murderer

Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke fired 16 bullets into black teenager Laquan McDonald, who was seen on video backing away. Officer Jason Van Dyke is being held, without bail, on charges of first degree murder.

The point I want to make is not that Jason Van Dyke is like most cops. He's not. My point is rather that true blue cop murderers like Jason Van Dyke — and it's not only Chicago that harbors them — almost get away with it. Cops protect cops. It's called the blue wall of silence. Prosecutors help cement that wall. So, too often, do mayors and other city officials.

And, until recently, there were no videos to penetrate the wall.

It took a year of legal action to pry the video away from the Chicago Police Department and make it public. According to the NY Times (11/25/15), "records show that the officer had been the subject of numerous complaints from residents, including allegations of using excessive force and making racial slurs."

That fits, if not defines, the profile of a police murderer: a history of abusive conduct, racial and otherwise, that ends in the sick result of police murder, which, these days, can now and again, be spotlighted on video.

Most cops are not like Jason Van Dyke. The ones who are usually get away with it. The news is that Chicago is prosecuting this case.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Unobtainium, got any?

In his expose, "The Doomsday Scam", C.J. Chivers  does a superb job of showing how the tenacity of magical thinking is nothing deterred by its attendant absurdity. His subject is a precious, albeit — fortunately — non-existent substance called "red mercury" which would allow those who possess it to construct a "neutron bomb small enough to fit in a sandwich-size paper bag."

As Chivers puts it:

To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world.

The villains Chivers discusses belong to ISIS and its suppliers, as eager for a red mercury apocalypse as fantasy sports addicts are for mega-payouts.  

He writes:

When hopeful sellers were caught, substance in hand, it reliably turned out to be something else, sometimes a placebo of chuckle-worthy simplicity: ordinary mercury mixed with dye. The shadowy weaponeer’s little helper, it was the unobtainium of the post-Soviet world.

Unobtainium it is, and must will be. (You got any?)


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Opposing ideas

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Did he really say that? Where? "Gatsby?" Letters to Zelda?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sharm el-Sheik etc.

The good news of the day, 11/7/15: China and Taiwan are not going to war any time soon.

A Chinese site called "The Wok" has suggested that China intends, instead, to surround Taiwan with a thousand islands that suddenly pop up out of nowhere, throw in some soy sauce, and gobble it.

Then there's the bad news: give up your plan to vacation in the divine Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Moshe Dayan, a great fan that location, once intoned: better Sharm el-Sheik without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheik!

Since Dayan was never famed for humor, there's some conjecture about whether he was kidding.

Besides, Dayan got to Sharm el-Sheik only by routing Egyptian armies in his path and
conquering the whole Sinai peninsula. That's no longer an option, since the Sinai is now infested with the worst sort of Islamist terrorist (as compared to the nicer sort). This leaves us with neither Sharm el-Sheik or peace. Which is a downer.

Finally, the truly weird news: Trump is hosting SNL tonight.

I'm sure he'll fire and get fired many times. They'll overuse the line, for sure. So what. It's still weird news.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Remembering Rabin

There was a mass rally in Tel Aviv this past Saturday (10/31/15), in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated twenty years ago.

President Obama sent a taped greeting. Former President Bill Clinton was there in person to address the crowd of 100,000 or so in attendance.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Anti-Zionism Accelerant for anti-Semitism . . .

Zionism is not just a cover for anti-Semitism, to the degree that it is, and has been accused of being, but in its own right an accelerant. Especially on the left. Just "unfriended" someone  on guess which social medium who I know would not in person be anti-Semitic, nor tolerate it.

He'd be anti-Coughlin, anti-Lindberg, for instance. Maybe, though I'm far from sure, even anti-Farrakhan, so far as Jews go.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Temple Mount, Temple Mount

Temple Mount, Temple Mount or if you prefer, Noble Sanctuary: once again I pray — well, since I don't pray, I must mean joke — that extra-terrestrials would come and take it, the whole of it.

Think of how much blood that would spare our species, blood having been shed, already being shed and with more to come.

That area is the pupik — belly button — of three great and awful Abrahamic religions, seemingly revving up their awfulness content all the time.

If it all disappeared Jews could not blame Palestinians or the opposite. There would be a wonderful moment of total confusion.

A sweet: "HUH!?:

There's no lack of confusion now, but nowhere near enough.

As for today's confusion: Jews and other non-Muslims are permitted up there. (I, in my trip to Jerusalem, was permitted to mount the Mount). Thing of it is, Jews are permitted up there, unless, God forbid, they pray.

Not kidding.

("The Palestinians have accused Israel of plotting to change a decades-old arrangement under which non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site, but not to pray there."

Isabel Kershner, "Palestinians Burn Jewish Holy Site in West Bank as Clashes Kill 4" NY Times 10/17/15)

How do you know if they pray/daven?

Well, devout Jews tend to shimmy when they pray, gather in groups of ten and then there is the kowtow to Hashem during certain prayers.

There are watchers, certified by both Israeli and Jordanian authorities, to pick out the davenners.

Plus, new technology allows for long distance — functional MRI — real time brain scans detection.

You can always tell when someone is praying. Why? I'm no neuroscientist. But some neuroscientists have pointed out that the same neurons involved in prayer are galvanized by pornography.

Only God knows why.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Some of the usual suspects remain sane, New Yorker editor David Remnick high among them. I like him, in this piece, comparing Donald Trump to Charles Lindbergh. As he points out, learning about Lindberg gave Philip Roth inspiration for "The Plot Against America", a superb late-Roth novel.

Wonder if anyone — now or ever — will find a way to pulp Trump for anything in the way of a half-decent book.

Let me stay with this: Roth emphasizes that FDR was old school, in his well-known passion for philately — stamps, how quaint; mail, how traditional, how previous century — whereas Lindberg was hi-tech, campaigning cross-country in a plane.

Lindberg was awful — pro-German as in pro-Nazi — but coherent.

What about Trump? Anything remotely coherent about Trump/ Trumpism?

Reality TV, Trump Towers, chest thumping wealth: reminds me some of Silvio Berlusconi.

But the coherence test is dated: shoot from the hip incoherence is much more American and so very now.

Violent incoherence is Trump's selling point.


Friday, October 16, 2015


From Michiko Kakutani's (10/16/15) NY Times review of Bob Woodward's "The Last of the President’s Men":

Mr. Woodward writes that on a secret document dated Jan. 3, 1972 (the day after Nixon gave an interview to Dan Rather, declaring that the bombing of North Vietnam had been “very, very effective”), the president scrawled a note to Mr. Kissinger: “K. We have had 10 years of total control of the air in Laos and V.Nam. The result=Zilch. There is something wrong with the strategy or the Air Force.”

Obama is no Nixon, mostly, yet he plays golf with GW Bush, who played golf with Dick Cheney, who played golf with Kissinger (assuming "K." played) who played golf with Nixon, so how many partners, strokes, links is Obama away from Nixon?

I ask because Obama's newly announced policy re Afghanistan strikes me as positively Nixonian. Why keep troops there? Horrible as the Taliban is, Obama knows 5,500 boots on the ground can't matter, can't change things, not after over a decade and up to 100,000 America troops didn't.

So Obama says to Joe Biden, or Michelle, or somebody: Nothing we can do about the Taliban that we shouldn't have done already instead of invading Iraq. Truth is, I just don't want to be known as the president who lost Afghanistan.

Nixon would surely understand.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Stupid Things . . .

My friend Fred Owen noted, re Russian air strikes in Syria, that things are getting complicated.

To be sure.

- What with Turkey in full-scale war against the Kurds (again)

- Turkey v. Assad and/or Turkey v. ISIS (hard to know)

- Dreadful signs of a 3rd Intifada in Israel

- Putin straight-up allying with and fortifying Assad

- Iran dicking around with/testing the no nukes deal

- Afghanistan reverting back to complete Taliban control, despite years of expensive, ill-conceived and utterly futile American effort

- Obama still trying hard not to do stupid things, a great idea, given the nature  of the stupid things that preceded him, but maybe yet another, more muted and subtle, sort of stupid thing. . .

- and lots of candidates for president of the United States rabidly champing at the bit to renew our country's right to do all the stupid things we (some, hopefully not a majority) feel like doing.

Yeah, Fred: things are getting complicated.

I don't remember who it was who recently and to my mind sagely commented that these complications reminded him of the gnarly complexities and rivalries that issued into World War I. Another way of putting it: World War I has been said, by contesting historians, to have derived from this or that cause only because there were was all that gnarly complexity setting it off to it, as if inevitably.

This writer I mentioned was sure we would learn from that history.

Today was a perfect fall day in these parts. Sunny, dry, couldn't ask for better. Going to stay that way through much of the week. . .

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Signs & Portents

The bombing in Ankara is dreadful, and will lead to dreadful consequences. The way the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is playing out is dreadful, per usual, and will lead — per usual — to dreadful consequences. Putin buttressing Assad is pretty bad and will lead among other things to ISIS expanding. (Nobody likes ISIS, which doesn't stop it from expanding. ISIS thrives on being hated; some people are drawn to that kind of shit).

The American government — the oldest continuous government I know of — can't seem to scratch its Constitutional itches the way it used to. It's not disintegrating but rattling like an old car with a really bad cough.

Every single Republican candidate for president is either intellectually impaired or convincingly pretending to be. The leading democratic candidate doesn't seem to know where she stands from one day to the next. (She reminds me of the citizens of Nineveh, described in the Book of Jonah as not "knowing their right hands from their left". Forget Benghazi. Is Hillary from Nineveh? When is that going to come out?)

Violence begets violence, as in every day some high school kid thinks nothing could be better than to take out frustrations or get even with the aid of automatic weapons.

The signs and portents suck, most all of 'em.

Anybody got a really good joke?

I used to get good ones from my primary care physician during yearly checkups. He saves his best for distracting you while you're getting your prostate palpated (though lately he's said some people like it and want more fingers. Can you imagine?)

In any case, I fear he's now retired. No more good ones from him.

Here's an old one:

This guy is going for his checkup and wants to know if he has a shot at living until he's 85.

The doctor says first I need to ask some questions.

— Do you smoke?
— No.

— Eat a lot of red meat?
— No.

— Drink a lot?
— Nope.

— Have a lot of unprotected sex?
— I should be so lucky.

OK One more question: Why do you want to live until you're 85?

Now then, the bombing in Istanbul is dreadful, and will lead to dreadful consequences. . .

Friday, October 9, 2015

Point of Information: Speaker of the House

Did just a tad of research about Speaker of the House. Turns out the office isn't merely a political plum but is ordained by the Constitution (Article I, Section 2, as per the Wikipedia).

Someone has to fill that office lest all sorts of chaos ensue, as all sorts of chaos is now ensuing.

The Speaker doesn't have to be of the majority party in the House, though, over the course of history, has usually been.

Doesn't even have to devolve on any one seated in the House. Could be me, could be you, could even, as some have suggested, be Mitt Romney.

Anyone, I gather, upon whom the House decides.

Of course that someone is next in line, should catastrophe befall President and Vice-President, for highest office. . .

I doubt the Founders ever contemplated such a bug in their program.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Let Us Not Forget Fascism: The Trump Phenomenon

Were it most anyone else, I wouldn't take it as seriously; it wouldn't jolt me. But Rick Perlstein is an accomplished, justifiably well-regarded student of recent American history*.

When he warns, in a well-argued piece, that Donald Trump is not like Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan or even G.W. Bush, I want to know why. Likewise, when he says that by dropping the word "fascist," often used after World War II, from contemporary political parlance, we may be blinding ourselves to key aspects of the  Trump phenomenon.

Pearlstein wants to avoid — undue — alarmism, noting that, "it is hard to imagine a President Trump turning America into a one-party state. (Isn’t it?)"

But his conclusion is far from comforting:

"We want to think about Trump using our familiar categories, according to familiar norms, judging him by familiar rules. But what Donald Trump is all about is incinerating the existing rules––which are revealed as all too easy to incinerate. He breaks the system just by his manner of being. It’s humbling, because the system he breaks is the only one we know how to understand.

But with Trump, everything requires revision––for me as much as anyone else.

Rick Perlstein, "Donald Trump, American hustler: The frightening fascist tendencies of his GOP rise"

* His books are: "The Invisible Bridge," "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America" and "Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

yogi berra: fork got taken

so yogi comes to that fork
in the road

&  takes it

fork not taken
but yogi

hitting from the right side of the plate
.298 for the year obp .378
30 homeruns 3 stolen bases
(a lot for a catcher)

 takes it

and now he's where it's plenty crowded
but so what
who doesn't go there

& predictions are easy
very easy
of no future

now it's

nice afternoon in the bronx
probably mel allen

the three ring sign

going going going

mickey mantle has a hit, drives in a run
hank bauer, billy martin have hits
enos slaughter in two at bats
goes hitless

yogi berra goes hitless

so what

roy campenella is hitless
pee wee reese hitless
jackie robinson, carl furillo & gil hodges
hitless hitless hitless

when don larsen is done giving up
no hits no walks no runs!*

while striking out seven

yogi jumps on him like
the happiest kid ever

who took that fork

* you can look it up

Thursday, September 17, 2015


I know, I know, we're many of us cheered that the newly elected leader of England’s Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, cannot be confused with a Tory or with ex-Labor leader Tony Blair — Corbyn never would have given Bush the British partner without which Bush could never have sold the catastrophic invasion of Iraq — and these are good things. And yet there is room for doubt about Corbyn.

I'm not referring to the predictable smears from the Jewish right (for the Jewish right, just for the fun of smearing back, if you're not for Netanyahu then ipso quacko you're for Hitler), and here I must unfortunately include Tabletmag.com, much as I appreciate it and many of its offerings. But when it comes to the Middle East and Israel, between Lee Smith and, increasingly, Liel Leibowitz, the tabletmag mavens on these subjects, I feel like I might as well be reading Commentary. (True, Todd Gitlin does every now and then get a sane word in edgewise. Not often enough.)

Back to Corbyn: when forward.com raises questions — doesn't point the finger, doesn't denounce, doesn't rush to judgment but posts a caution — that's something to consider.

As in:

Perhaps the main reason Corbyn in particular has accelerated the separation of British Jews from Labour, though, is the feeling that he grasps neither the seriousness of his associations nor that anti-Semitism can exist on the left at all.


Friday, September 11, 2015


Does it ever occur to you to think how strange it is that Saudis & Kuwaitis, with the highest living standards in the world,  courtesy of petro-bucks, take in next to none of the Syrian/Iraqi refugees?

It's Europe’s problem?

Sorry I don't have the quote but one high up Kuwaiti said, well, there are cultural differences. It would be hard to integrate them.

Cultural differences? Hard to integrate them?

They're Muslims. They speak Arabic. They're Sunnis, even.

And those countries want to prevail upon Israel to take in refugees to a degree that would destroy the country of Israel per se?

Permit me to scoff.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


,I know that much of German society was in denial about who Hitler was and wanted to be, even as he was becoming it. (Upper classes believed he'd restore order, quiet down the socialists, put an end to political violence in the streets, do something about the economy,  and that would be that; Hitler was a good conservative, a bit unruly but nothing more. In the end, he'd heel.)

I don't think the United States circa 2015 is remotely comparable to Weimar Germany, nor do I think "The Apprentice" remotely comparable to "Mein Kampf." (I know how silly that comparison is.)

Still, it's kind of intriguing, I admit, to think that when fascism comes to America it will do so not via tomes like "Mein Kampf" but through reality television.

'Cause, you know, who reads?

But at the risk of being in denial about Trump I maintain the view he is a schmuck eons away from seizing state power, though he leaves footprints for someone like him down the road with a better shot.

Down the road when America has gone to pieces, much as Weimar Germany had done, as a consequence of World War I.

(As we might, I can't but suggest, but haven't yet, with too many unnecessary and unwinnable wars.)

Trump is a concentrated expression of much that is truly sick and sickening about American right-wing politics -- the racism, the misogyny, the authoritarianism, the rabid militarism, the fascist impulse. (The left has its own problems but not on the same level or with the same national effect.)

Trump won't win this time around. Won't come close. But will leave a trail. And there will always be, as there have been,  aspirants.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Not Just Blacks . . .

Black lives matter. Blacks are far more often subjected to severe police misconduct. But not just blacks. That fact gets lost. As also the fact that the black community is primed to respond, as other communities are not.
Whites, too, can be cut down, without provocation, by cop, as this NY Times piece suggests:


And I'd like to refer back — since I'd prefer we not forget — to Gary Busch, nice Jewish guy in Boro Park Brooklyn, slaughtered by police in broad daylight. Some of the eyewitnesses said it was police execution. The officers surrounded this helpless man, counted down, fired.

Mostly, but not just blacks.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Oliver Sacks Is Dying

Oliver Sacks, age 81, is dying, due, as he announced some months ago, to "multiple metastases in the liver." But as he succumbs he becomes yet more forthright about aspects of his life and character.

In his memoir "On the Move", which is to be recommended for any number of other reasons, including the fact that it is often laugh out loud funny, Sacks is direct and clear about the homosexuality he had been unable/unwilling to live out openly for most of his adult life. (His parents damned it and him when he announced to them his attraction to boys, his mother suggesting it might be better if he had never been born.)

In a new piece for the NY Times he fills in the rich context of being Jewish.

I include that piece here, though hope to be writing more about Oliver Sacks, who is, I think, to our age, what Freud was to his, except better:

NY Times 8/16/15


Oliver Sacks: Sabbath

MY mother and her 17 brothers and sisters had an Orthodox upbringing — all photographs of their father show him wearing a yarmulke, and I was told that he woke up if it fell off during the night. My father, too, came from an Orthodox background. Both my parents were very conscious of the Fourth Commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”), and the Sabbath (Shabbos, as we called it in our Litvak way) was entirely different from the rest of the week. No work was allowed, no driving, no use of the telephone; it was forbidden to switch on a light or a stove. Being physicians, my parents made exceptions. They could not take the phone off the hook or completely avoid driving; they had to be available, if necessary, to see patients, or operate, or deliver babies.

We lived in a fairly Orthodox Jewish community in Cricklewood, in Northwest London — the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the greengrocer, the fishmonger, all closed their shops in good time for the Shabbos, and did not open their shutters till Sunday morning. All of them, and all our neighbors, we imagined, were celebrating Shabbos in much the same fashion as we did.

Around midday on Friday, my mother doffed her surgical identity and attire and devoted herself to making gefilte fish and other delicacies for Shabbos. Just before evening fell, she would light the ritual candles, cupping their flames with her hands, and murmuring a prayer. We would all put on clean, fresh Shabbos clothes, and gather for the first meal of the Sabbath, the evening meal. My father would lift his silver wine cup and chant the blessings and the Kiddush, and after the meal, he would lead us all in chanting the grace.

On Saturday mornings, my three brothers and I trailed our parents to Cricklewood Synagogue on Walm Lane, a huge shul built in the 1930s to accommodate part of the exodus of Jews from the East End to Cricklewood at that time. The shul was always full during my boyhood, and we all had our assigned seats, the men downstairs, the women — my mother, various aunts and cousins — upstairs; as a little boy, I sometimes waved to them during the service. Though I could not understand the Hebrew in the prayer book, I loved its sound and especially hearing the old medieval prayers sung, led by our wonderfully musical hazan.

All of us met and mingled outside the synagogue after the service — and we would usually walk to the house of my Auntie Florrie and her three children to say a Kiddush, accompanied by sweet red wine and honey cakes, just enough to stimulate our appetites for lunch. After a cold lunch at home — gefilte fish, poached salmon, beetroot jelly — Saturday afternoons, if not interrupted by emergency medical calls for my parents, would be devoted to family visits. Uncles and aunts and cousins would visit us for tea, or we them; we all lived within walking distance of one another.

The Second World War decimated our Jewish community in Cricklewood, and the Jewish community in England as a whole was to lose thousands of people in the postwar years. Many Jews, including cousins of mine, emigrated to Israel; others went to Australia, Canada or the States; my eldest brother, Marcus, went to Australia in 1950. Many of those who stayed assimilated and adopted diluted, attenuated forms of Judaism. Our synagogue, which would be packed to capacity when I was a child, grew emptier by the year.

I chanted my bar mitzvah portion in 1946 to a relatively full synagogue, including several dozen of my relatives, but this, for me, was the end of formal Jewish practice. I did not embrace the ritual duties of a Jewish adult — praying every day, putting on tefillin before prayer each weekday morning — and I gradually became more indifferent to the beliefs and habits of my parents, though there was no particular point of rupture until I was 18. It was then that my father, inquiring into my sexual feelings, compelled me to admit that I liked boys.

“I haven’t done anything,” I said, “it’s just a feeling — but don’t tell Ma, she won’t be able to take it.”

He did tell her, and the next morning she came down with a look of horror on her face, and shrieked at me: “You are an abomination. I wish you had never been born.” (She was no doubt thinking of the verse in Leviticus that read, “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”)

The matter was never mentioned again, but her harsh words made me hate religion’s capacity for bigotry and cruelty.

After I qualified as a doctor in 1960, I removed myself abruptly from England and what family and community I had there, and went to the New World, where I knew nobody. When I moved to Los Angeles, I found a sort of community among the weight lifters on Muscle Beach, and with my fellow neurology residents at U.C.L.A., but I craved some deeper connection — “meaning” — in my life, and it was the absence of this, I think, that drew me into near-suicidal addiction to amphetamines in the 1960s.

Recovery started, slowly, as I found meaningful work in New York, in a chronic care hospital in the Bronx (the “Mount Carmel” I wrote about in “Awakenings”). I was fascinated by my patients there, cared for them deeply, and felt something of a mission to tell their stories — stories of situations virtually unknown, almost unimaginable, to the general public and, indeed, to many of my colleagues. I had discovered my vocation, and this I pursued doggedly, single-mindedly, with little encouragement from my colleagues. Almost unconsciously, I became a storyteller at a time when medical narrative was almost extinct. This did not dissuade me, for I felt my roots lay in the great neurological case histories of the 19th century (and I was encouraged here by the great Russian neuropsychologist A. R. Luria). It was a lonely but deeply satisfying, almost monkish existence that I was to lead for many years.

During the 1990s, I came to know a cousin and contemporary of mine, Robert John Aumann, a man of remarkable appearance with his robust, athletic build and long white beard that made him, even at 60, look like an ancient sage. He is a man of great intellectual power but also of great human warmth and tenderness, and deep religious commitment — “commitment,” indeed, is one of his favorite words. Although, in his work, he stands for rationality in economics and human affairs, there is no conflict for him between reason and faith.

He insisted I have a mezuza on my door, and brought me one from Israel. “I know you don’t believe,” he said, “but you should have one anyhow.” I didn’t argue.

In a remarkable 2004 interview, Robert John spoke of his lifelong work in mathematics and game theory, but also of his family — how he would go skiing and mountaineering with some of his nearly 30 children and grandchildren (a kosher cook, carrying saucepans, would accompany them), and the importance of the Sabbath to him.

“The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful,” he said, “and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society — it is about improving one’s own quality of life.”

In December of 2005, Robert John received a Nobel Prize for his 50 years of fundamental work in economics. He was not entirely an easy guest for the Nobel Committee, for he went to Stockholm with his family, including many of those children and grandchildren, and all had to have special kosher plates, utensils and food, and special formal clothes, with no biblically forbidden admixture of wool and linen.

THAT same month, I was found to have cancer in one eye, and while I was in the hospital for treatment the following month, Robert John visited. He was full of entertaining stories about the Nobel Prize and the ceremony in Stockholm, but made a point of saying that, had he been compelled to travel to Stockholm on a Saturday, he would have refused the prize. His commitment to the Sabbath, its utter peacefulness and remoteness from worldly concerns, would have trumped even a Nobel.

In 1955, as a 22-year-old, I went to Israel for several months to work on a kibbutz, and though I enjoyed it, I decided not to go again. Even though so many of my cousins had moved there, the politics of the Middle East disturbed me, and I suspected I would be out of place in a deeply religious society. But in the spring of 2014, hearing that my cousin Marjorie — a physician who had been a protégée of my mother’s and had worked in the field of medicine till the age of 98 — was nearing death, I phoned her in Jerusalem to say farewell. Her voice was unexpectedly strong and resonant, with an accent very much like my mother’s. “I don’t intend to die now,” she said, “I will be having my 100th birthday on June 18th. Will you come?”

I said, “Yes, of course!” When I hung up, I realized that in a few seconds I had reversed a decision of almost 60 years. It was purely a family visit. I celebrated Marjorie’s 100th with her and extended family. I saw two other cousins dear to me in my London days, innumerable second and removed cousins, and, of course, Robert John. I felt embraced by my family in a way I had not known since childhood.

I had felt a little fearful visiting my Orthodox family with my lover, Billy — my mother’s words still echoed in my mind — but Billy, too, was warmly received. How profoundly attitudes had changed, even among the Orthodox, was made clear by Robert John when he invited Billy and me to join him and his family at their opening Sabbath meal.

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived?

In December 2014, I completed my memoir, “On the Move,” and gave the manuscript to my publisher, not dreaming that days later I would learn I had metastatic cancer, coming from the melanoma I had in my eye nine years earlier. I am glad I was able to complete my memoir without knowing this, and that I had been able, for the first time in my life, to make a full and frank declaration of my sexuality, facing the world openly, with no more guilty secrets locked up inside me.

In February, I felt I had to be equally open about my cancer — and facing death. I was, in fact, in the hospital when my essay on this, “My Own Life,” was published in this newspaper. In July I wrote another piece for the paper, “My Periodic Table,” in which the physical cosmos, and the elements I loved, took on lives of their own.

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.