Monday, October 15, 2018

In the meantime, I'm president......

Yes, its true, I'm back from Firenze, but allow me to say it is under serious protest. I flew in Saturday night, went to bed, and woke up to SNOW on Sunday morning. Needless to say, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Not happy about that at all.

I had pretty much avoided the news, fake or otherwise, all week...on purpose. I was on holiday, dammit, and I wasn't going to let anything get between me and Brunelleschi's Dome. To see Bottichelli's The Birth of Venus up close and personal in the Uffizi sucked the breath right outta me. All those years of using it to teach how to unpack a painting in order to see it and there they were. All those times I told students begin with something small and build on that. Start with Zephyr and Chloris on the left, pick one element to compare in each character, and keep moving to the right. I always used the feet. "Are these real, working toes?" I would ask.   It was a great way to open the discussion. A great way to get people to look at the parts that make up the sum of the parts. Know what I mean?

Ferklempt. I was ferklempt.

I slept intermittently on Sunday, but did manage to catch Leslie Stahl's interview with the President of the United States. My favorite line?
 POTUS: Lesley, it's okay. In the meantime, I'm president--and you're not.
I gave serious thought to unpacking that exchange the same way I once did art, but decided I could not. There was no point. But I will unpack one thing for you: Lesley Stahl pushed on facts; Feckless Leader gave her smoke, mirrors, and totally bogus numbers. 
Trump also continues to misstate the trade deficit with China. It’s not $500 billion, as he told Stahl; it was $335 billion in 2017, according to U.S. government figures. The United States imported $505 billion of goods to China, so maybe that’s where Trump gets his number.       The Washington Post

Three weeks until the midterm elections, and I am doubtful there are enough people in this country who are interested in reality, much less facts. 

I cannot write about this stuff without becoming shrill; I am depressing myself.

The Wifely Person's Tip of the Week
A week in Florence is not enough.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Vieni a vivere e di persona da Firenze

This is going to be short because I'm writing on my Chromebook that has a keyboard too small even for my teeny-tiny hands and everything takes much longer to write because I have to backspace damn near every word to correct typos. 

real pizza margarita
Why, you might ask, am I writing on this thing instead of on my trusty big Mac? See, I can't get to the big Mac right now because I am in Italy tromping around Firenze (Florence for those who have not experienced Firenze) with my best partner in adventures, Jen from Israel. We're on a grown-ups only tour to study the art and architecture of Renaissance Firenze well as eating our way across the city. I'd truly forgotten how good Italian food can be, being that in Minnesota there is no real Italian food, just like there is no good Chinese food because everything has been diluted for the local palate or lack thereof. Meanwhile, the pizza I had for Friday night dinner (I was tired and desperate for food) was like the pizza I grew up with. Shabbat dinner at the kitchen table of my Airb&b just blocks from the Great Synagogue was heaven. 

Yes, I went to shul on Shabbat morning where there was an aufruf which made me feel a little less sad about missing an aufruf and wedding back in Minnesota. The amazing part was I had no trouble following the service and the Torah reading, praying, or talking to the women in the women's section. Some of the tunes might've been different...and one guy reading Torah chanted in an almost Gregorian was just like home. The people were lovely and welcoming. I was invited to lunch, but jet lag was calling. By the time Jen arrived, I was ready to rock'n'roll.

Feet under the.....
Seeing things in person that I have only read about, studied, and even, albeit briefly, taught about, is a paradigm shift. The lecturers and the guides put that which we are seeing into perspective, so much so that all the theory that has danced in my head for decades is now becoming very up close and personal. Having read much about Filippo Brunelleschi and the construction of the Duomo, standing beneath it was the stuff of dreams....his, the Medicis, mine. The engineering did not exist to build such a massive thing, so he invented the tools to make it happen. The sheer length of time and labor that went into this undertaking boggles the imagination. 

Here, time is almost meaningless. History less than 500 years old is modern. Ancient history is present in the buildings, the streets, the layout of the city. As you contemplate how the people of Firenze survived the wars, the pestilence, and recently, the extreme floods, time wraps around itself so that the daily bull-oney of our lives in America seems trite and petty....until you see this:

Then you realize the pettiness does not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. 

Let's go back to the synagogue for a moment.

Sinagoga Maggiore Israelitico
Did I mention the shul is behind a wrought iron fence, or that armed Italian soldiers (not the Carabinieri nor the Polizia) stand guard at the gates all day? This is precautionary because the threat is real. Just like the threat was real in northern Virgina this week where a JCC was vandalized with swastikas. 

We live in a dangerous world. A man was just confirmed to the highest bench in the land, despite credible allegations of sexual misconduct, by a senate that forced out a senator for a jokey photo taken in public, for the public, on an entertainment tour where no assault actually took place. Regardless of the allegations, this man deported himself as an intemperate bully and liar under oath, yet the senate confirmed his appointment. What does that say about our senate? That their rules are different from the rule of law? Or that if you're a party member, you can do or say anything you want? 

This is not a tempest in a teapot. This is a real and credible threat to the health and safety of all women. When an Italian waiter asks me how I can allow this to happen, I can only shrug and say I fought against it and lost.

The shining beacon of hope we once were to people across the globe is dimmed, tarnished, and losing visibility. I can only hope that like the city of FIrenze, we can weather this storm and come out, on the other side, stronger and more learned for the experience. 

The Wifely Person't Tip o'the Week
If you have not been to Italy, you should really go.
Perspective is a good thing.

Filippo Brunellschi's death mask.
This is what crazy genius really looked it.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Entitlement, Thy Name Is Kavanaugh

SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh
If Brett Kavanaugh had actually answered questions, I would be more inclined to listen to what he had to say. But he yelled, pulled faces, and prevaricated.The director in me wanted to know who coached this guy. No one goes through that range of emotions unless they're in improv class. The more he ranted, the less I believed him...that's a mother of sons talking. I recognized those sounds as the same kind that came out of 8-year old mouths. If Ziggy were alive, he woulda wanted to take out the ol' truth'o'meter and make Kavanaugh grab the ends. The director in me would not have hired him as a actor. Too unpredictable. Too capricious. Too cocky...and not in a good way. He just doesn't listen or take direction well. Someone needs to talk him off the stage. Fast.

There were some pretty scary things that have come out in the last few weeks about this guy. And I don't mean his sexual history, either. There were things he said that were overtly untrue. Statements that were easily proven to be false. Add to that his political partiality as demonstrated during his tenure with Ken Starr's prosecution of Clinton's impeachment, and this time in the Bush II White House and suddenly you really don't have evidence of a man who has the temperament to sit on the bench of the highest court of the land to render fair and impartial justice. There is more than just a sense of a closed mind coming from this guy; there was something else I could put name to.

The American Bar Association, in reviewing their qualification rating, published a report that downgraded him from Well Qualified to Qualified. Here's the link to the document. Read it; it's worth the time to see what his colleagues and peers have to say about this guy. The word sanctimonious, came up...and suddenly I had a toehold in understanding at least some of my objection to the guy.

There was a hint of what was to come during the first confirmation hearings, an underlying belligerence bubbling right below the surface, as if he could not understand why he was being subjected to what was tantamount to a job interview for a job that was already his. He didn't get the part about how his answers might make or break this entitlement. Without realizing it, he set the stage for his incredibly bad behavior during the questioning by Rachel Mitchell. No, he behaved as if the decision was already made and he was entitled to this promotion. The anger, the venom, vituperative snarling at questioners all made for great TV drama, but did nothing to convince a whole lotta people this guy is fit for the job. If the display of anger won't disqualify him automatically from SCOTUS, his lies most certainly should. 

One relatively minor lie stands out for me, as if it's a dog-whistle to look for other inconsistencies, and that was the line about getting into Yale. At the Judiciary Committee hearing last week, he stated: 
I have no connections there. I got there by busting my tail.
Except his grandfather, Edward Everett Kavanaugh attended Yale. In 2011, the New York Times did a story about this practice:
Admissions offices have long defended legacy consideration as merely a tiebreaker among equally high-qualified applicants. But among legacy applicants for Princeton’s class of 2015, 33 percent of those offered a spot were the children of alumni. Harvard generally admits 30 percent, and Yale says it admits 20 percent to 25 percent. For all three, the overall rate is in the single digits.
No one is discounting the idea that he had the smarts for Yale, but he had to know his grandfather was an alum, and so did Yale. Why lie about it? Did he think it would be overlooked and/or ignored? Such a simple, little fib...but it speaks volumes for the man's character.

#15 James Buchanan
#29 Warren G. Harding

Character. That's the whole shebang in a nutshell, isn't it? Leaders are supposed to be leaders because they display character. We like to delude ourselves into thinking all our past presidents were men of character, of high moral standing, of ethics, and of inner fortitude. That's the stuff that's supposed to distinguish a leader from a follower. Theoretically. But it's not always true. One can look to pro-slavery President James Buchanan who practically laid the groundwork for the Civil War while believing the SCOTUS ruling on Dred Scott would resolve the issue once and for all.  Or more recently, Warren Harding whose administration owned the Teapot Dome Scandal

Not exactly guys we look up to these days for some pretty obvious reason.

Which means that if you have an administration with questionable morals and ethics, you need a Supreme Court with an abundance of them to keep the administration from running off the rails. Hiring a guy for a job that is a job-for-life who displays that kind of terrifying anger proves unequivocally he is not the guy for this job. 

If you do not know where your elected officials sit on the issue of confirming Kavanaugh, please find out. As a voter, your voice counts at this juncture. If you want him in that seat, tell your congress persons. If not use the power of your constituent status to let her/him know how you feel. 

The power of millions of angry women has been awakened. Ignore us at your own peril.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Scenery occasionally needs changing, just like a dirty diaper.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

May It Be A Sukkot Of Kindness, Beauty, and Peace

The shul sukkah with Chef Nataliya
This  is another abbreviated episode, on accounta it's still Jewish holiday season and the next round begins at sundown: Sukkot. That's the one where we build little booths with thatched roofs. We're supposed to live in them, but these days, you take your meals in the sukkah when possible. 

The first year I was doing this blog thingee, I wrote  a pretty good piece explaining the holiday and some of the traditions. I'm not going to cut and paste, but here's the link: Exalted Guests....or WWJT: What would Jefferson Think? The tradition of inviting Ushpizin,  exalted guests, into one's sukkah, is really a magical tradition and one that I somehow manage to ponder anew every year. Who would I want to talk to this time? What questions would I want to ask? What questions would my guest have? And, being I can't help myself, what would I cook?  This year's guest list is tough. I have no idea who should sit at that table, who I want to have sit at that table. 

Artists. Architects. Musicians. Thinkers. NO POLITICS!

I am sick to death of politics and want none of that discussion at my table. I'm seriously tired of the garbage news, and the hate-speech that seems to be permanently attached to those mouths. I'm tired of vetting news stories. I'm tired of thinking, "Oh, that cannot possibly be true," only to find out it's not only is the story true but people are actually believing this crap they're reporting on in the first place. And no matter what I think, this crap spills into everyday conversation like so many toilet paper ads: really gross yet inevitable. 

Yes, folks, the moon is made of green cheese, and there is no such thing as global warming. And yes, all the Democrats are out there coming for all your guns. Shazaaam! You found us out! Happy now? Yes, it's your very own personal, constitutionally guaranteed right to read whatever baloney you wanna read and believe whatever you wanna believe. Yup. You've got the right to do just that. You've got the right to believe coal will come back, the seas won't  rise as the ice caps melt, the world really is flat, and that Spain shares a border with the Sahara Desert. That does not mean the rest of us have to agree. 

During this week of Sukkot, I am going to focus on art, music, beauty, and how we treat our world. I will be adventuring with Little Miss both this Monday and Tuesday, as well as next Monday and Tuesday. We will go to shul in the morning, eat lunch in the sukkah, and then have an afternoon adventure, just like I used to have with her dad, her uncle, and their cousins and friends. We will go to Como Zoo one day, weather permitting, and the science museum (where a friend of Uncle Senior Son is an exhibit builder and will take us behind the scenes) on the other. Someone wants another visit to the Art Institute next week, and at least one park...maybe even Hyland Park...if the weather is fine. But whatever Little Miss and I decide to do, there will be talk of autumn, of harvest, of Sukkot, and what we do to heal the world.  

She may be 3-not-quite-4, but she has a pretty good grasp on what is kind, what is needed, and stuff we can do together to make things better. She'll be a good one to invite as one of the Ushpizin; she's already got an opinion and it's worth hearing. 

I want Little Miss to see kindness in action, the beauty of both the creative world and the natural world, and to experience the peace that comes with the transcendence of sacred time. 

I'll let you know how it goes. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Ushpizin should be people you want to listen to.
Choose wisely.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Iron Your Own Wrinkles

Here we are, the night before the night before Yom Kippur. Old family tradition requires that I freak out right about now because I know I've forgotten to do something, get something, iron something. Because it's just me, anything I've forgotten to do can wait, something I forgot to pick up at the store I probably won't need because Yom Kippur is truly a fast. But the ironing.......

Okay, I still have stuff to iron before I hit the sack tonight, but that was kinda planned because I'm on the last load of laundry at the moment.

Yes, folks, I iron shirts. And skirts. And handkerchiefs. And pillow cases. Yeah, I'm a throwback to another age, but if you must know, I secretly enjoy the chore. It has, in some ways, replaced the zen of lawn mowing, something I really do miss. Ironing is like that. It  begins with wrinkly chaos, has a middle that shows improvement, and ends with very crisp, very tidy stuff. It's mindless, yet not mindless. It's cathartic; when I'm done, I know I have accomplished something tangible. 

If only I could iron out the wrinkles in my own life. 

But that's kinda what Yom Kippur is for. Smoothing the wrinkles requires admitting they are there.  Kol Nidre requires a look back at the life one has lived. On the eve of Yom Kippur, before the official start of the holy day, one is expected to have come to final review of one's year. We can ask forgiveness for sins between one's self and G-d, but not for sins committed between people. So if I dope-slapped my bro while he was here last week, I would have to ask his forgiveness. Forgiving me for dope-slapping the guy is not Her department. 

My prayers tucked into the Kotel last October

Which is an interesting concept if you think about it. In this version of confessing, you are not off the hook for bad behavior with a couple of al-chet verses and a bit of chest-pounding. Nope. You own you own actions and it's your own job to clear your own slate. If you want absolution, you have to work for it. No one can do it for you. Talk about a cathartic exercise! However...

Even if you manage to get absolution from everyone, there remains a caveat: one must strive not to repeat the errors. That can be hard. That takes a different kind of work, but if you know where you went wrong, why not try to avoid the same pitfalls?

With the midterm elections moving closer everyday, this may be a good time to reflect on the vote you will cast in November. If the candidate you currently support mirrors your philosophy on a wide range of subjects, and you agree with the platform-stated policies, then your vote is easily decided. But, if you look at your candidate's positions only to find there is a burgeoning gap between the beliefs and philosophies you share, it might be time to shop for a new candidate. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Independent doesn't matter. Your party membership doesn't matter. What does matter is that you take a moment for introspection, Jewish or not, observing Yom Kippur or not, to consider the magnitude of your vote this particular year. EVERY vote is going to count in this very contentious midterm election. 

For those who observe, have an easy fast.  And to all, 

גמר חתימה טובה 
G'mar chatima tova -  

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Welcoming 5779...and Hoping For The Best

Rosh ha'Shannah starts at sundown on Sunday no matter where in the world you are. And like many Jewish women, I am wearing my Jewish matriarch hat and I'm having a heck of a time keeping it from slipping over my eyes.  Like most Jewish holy days, this one requires cooking and preparation, even if I'm not hosting dinner either night. There are honey cakes to be made, Mam's special brownies to prepare, not to mention my Big Bro is coming in. There's lots to get done before we go join the Junior Son, Mrs. Junior Son, Little Miss and Young Sir, along with the assorted friends and relatives, to welcome the new year, 5779.

For two days, we get to consider where we've been this year, and where we want to go next year...and I don't mean Florence. This is about the inside, figuring out what's important not just to you, and not just within the space of your immediate world, but beyond that, the greater world. 

Right now, I'm working on that answer for me. It's never easy, and I never get the same answers two years in a row. No matter what the latest answer turns out to be, however, I know it is reached carefully and thoughtfully. 

When I started this blog, I never envisioned something that was read regularly in Russia, the Ukraine, Iran, and China...all places that show up on my audience list. Sure, I think some of them are door-knockers, but based on the emails I get, I don't think it's all trash hits. I never envisioned some teacher in Kiev writing to tell me he uses the blog regularly in his English class. Or my regular correspondent in the Netherlands who has taught me so much about her country...and her garden. Or the university student in China who wrote to tell me that my observations gave him great relief that he and his classmates were not the only ones criticizing elected officials who are silent in the face of their constituency. As Kohelet says in Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun."

With those comments comes a sense of responsibility to my readers that I come up with something worthwhile each week, and that ain't easy. I don't always succeed, but each time I sit down at my desk, it's with the desire to say something that will reach someone and be meaningful to that one person. 

We, the People are locked in a battle for the very future of our republic. I have used the blog to talk about politics, social issues, and ethics...things that are all too often diametrically opposed. To that end, I have volunteered my services as a writer to a congressional campaign. I endeavor to get the message out. And it looks like one message has gotten some attention. I have been interviewed for a liberal-leaning advocacy group who will remain nameless for the moment, and they are coming to my little town on Thursday to do a video story with me. I have no idea what that means exactly, but not to worry; I'll let you know when I know where it will be seen and when. 

As I begin the introspective work of the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, I can only hope that I've done some good this past year, and I hold dear the idea that working toward a renewed and refreshed Congress of the United States will be successful for all of We, the People. 

For those who get the lingo: לשנה טבה תכתבו

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy, healthy new year. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Right Of The People To Keep And Bear Tote Bags

I got to thinking about Labor Day as I was watching the funeral of Senator McCain. It was when the 8 members of the Armed Forces carried his casket into the cathedral. They moved as one:  graceful, gentle, and with sad purpose. It was the image of these 8 men from different parts of our military that made me wonder why the rest of  our government doesn’t work that way.

Work. The great equalizer in this nation that came to be because we were tossing off the yoke of an aristocracy. No more lords and ladies, titles and entitlements. Just people who worked hard to build a country from scratch. It wasn’t perfect, and parts of it were terribly wrong. Treatment of the aboriginal population was horrendous and evil. Slavery was horrendous and evil. There have been no real reparations, nothing that can ever fully make up for the rape and pillage of those populations. We take baby steps, but it's a long, slow, arduous process that continues to repress and suppress their progress as citizens of this country. Well, almost citizens. Many aboriginal groups remain in status limbo, their tribal affiliations remain contested. 

Labor Day started as a way to openly protest the treatment of workers. That concept was spearheaded by unionists and labor movement organizers. But I don't want to write a history of the labor movement, a cause near and dear to my maternal family's heart. I have enough trouble understanding how voters in some of the poorest regions in this country can continue to support a man who considers them little more than squashable bugs.

The whole point of Labor Day was to recognize the workers who were in danger of being abused by employers. The unions and the labor movement changed the way workers work forever. YOU benefit from that movement if you have paid holidays, vacation days, health insurance, or retirement benefits. Whether you're an hourly or a salaried worker, the people who stood on those picket lines have changed your life. If, on Labor Day, a day that was to marked with a morning parade followed by an afternoon picnic, the only thing you can think of is the mattress sale at Bob's Beds, you've missed the point. Go straight to Google, do not pass go, do not collect $200.00. Look up what you don't know, and say thank you to those who came before you so you can go to the sale at Bob's. 

There was no parade in my town, nor were there picnics because it kept raining. Instead, I read up on Labor Day, how it came to be, and how we no longer partake in those traditional events. Our society doesn't view a day off as time for reflection, however I chose to do a little digging on opposition commentary. I was really looking for two things: threats of violence from either side, and warnings for the post-midterm results. What I found was terrifying. 

From the right, I saw calls-to-arms, instructions on how to become a better sniper, how to mobilize if a Democrat unseats your Republican incumbent. The word "Antifa" is bandied about as if it described some far left-wing DNC cabal when it's clear to anyone who knows how to google anything that that is not the case at all. But that's not good enough for those on the far right who, instead, march with tiki-torches, cross-body bandoliers, and semi-automatic weapons down city streets. I think Bette Midler said it best: 

Doodle by illustrator Nancy Carlson
It is far easier for the devotees of the Cult of 45 to assign that level of nonsense to Democrats, than to recognize the increasing number of steps toward mid-20th century European style fascism. You cannot read about presidential economic adviser Larry Kudlow admitting his office is "taking a look" at whether or not Google should be regulated by the government, and, if so, how to best go about doing it. Sounds more like Ping than Putin, but hey! Any dictator in a storm. 

And for the record, just so you know, inflation is running at 2.9%, basically wiping out any improvement in take-home pay from the tax cuts. Added to that the refusal to sign the 2.1% pay increase for federal employees means that rather large sector just lost more ground. But it's okay. The president can still afford to play golf.

On a different note, this is the week before Rosh ha'Shannah, and my thoughts are already turned inward to my personal year-in-review. The first night is next Sunday, so there may not be a blog on Monday unless I get one out early Sunday afternoon. After that, it's family time. There will be plenty of sweet, round challot, apples, and local honey. 

To those who observe, L'shana Tovah tikatavu. To those who do not, a sweet and happy New Year, anyway. May this coming year be one of healing for our nation. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Jewish or not, take a moment to notice where you stand.
Are you where you want to be?