Monday, August 29, 2011

A Blessing And A Curse

Okay, all you Bible’s something for you to think about. It’s the opening of the parasha Re'eh, Deuteronomy, chapter 11, verse 26:

 רְאֵה אָנכִי נתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה
[Re'eh ano'chi notain lif'naychem ha'yom b'racha u'k'lalah.]
See! I set before you today a blessing and a curse

Here’s the thing, the first word is “Re’eh” and that word  means to see. It’s singular, as in, “Hey, fella! See here.”  But the next line has the word "lif’naychem" which translates to “before you” but the you is the plural “you,” as in “before all you folks.”

Rabbi Allen actually talked about this in shul on Shabbos, but it wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this particular sentence. Many moons ago, when I was a starry eyed teenager suffering the first pangs of political awareness, the same line had a profound impact on my thinking. It was good to be reminded of it.

If you're reading the verse in English translation, you can't see the difference because we don't have a plural formation of "you."   And since I don't believe that little word play is an accident or an editorial throw away, not seeing the difference between the singular and the plural forms changes the meaning of the line in huge ways. The precept that individuals comprise a group is lost in the translation. Think about that for a minute.  Then think about hopping on my thought train for a moment.

The Sages explain the 40 years in the desert as a way to ensure that the ones who left Egypt as slaves were all dead by the time the people are preparing to enter the land of Canaan. The collective mentality (as in the Borg “you will be assimilated”) that is  crucial to survival as a slave, has now been replaced a more broader thinking process necessary for self-determination. The rag-tag refugees are now coalescing into a functional society complete with differences of opinion.

And that’s okay. From Genesis forward,  the Five Books of Moses is pretty much geared toward that very instant when the Israelites fully understand they have control over choosing their actions.

Chagall's version
From the moment the woman eats from the Tree of Knowledge, the ignorance defense is gone forever. And that part about the man eating the fruit the woman gave him? That becomes about choosing to do wrong. This isn't about the mythology of the Bible, it's about choosing. We can choose to do a right thing or we can choose to do a wrong thing. It's a decision each individual gets to make. You don't get to blame the serpent.

And right on the heels of that comes this: the part about social responsibility. I don’t know if anyone could’ve said it any clearer or more succinctly: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Note that the word we traditionally translate as "keeper" is  הֲשׁמֵר - [ha'shomer] comes from the root שמר which means "to guard." Well, actually, the answer turns out to be yes, we are our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers.

So, here’s the Muppet News Flash: you are not exempt from social responsibility and if you (singular) are not recognizing the need for social responsibility, you (singular) are gonna have a lot of explaining to do at the end of days. This is the age of too much information and no one, not even the Holy One, is going to believe that you weren’t more concerned with your bank account than your good deeds account.

Get this one straight: I am not talking about tax cuts v. tax hikes, or budget cuts v. increased spending. I am talking about remembering that for every choice there is a consequence. If you choose to cut all social programs, you get to own a piece of the consequences of those cuts. Just make extra sure you fully understand what your choices mean beyond the immediate future... two, five, or ten years down the road.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

© 2011, Steven G. Artley, ARTLEY CARTOON
Need I say more?
(other than "Thank you, Steve Artley!")

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rabblerousing Anyone?

In all the talk and reporting of the last week, I have been astounded (once again) by the lack of good sense and sensibility of both press and public. How stupid do they think we are? Or should I be asking, “How stupid are we?”

It is a given that all politicians lie. It’s what they do. They spin information. Okay, I get that. What I don’t get is why the literate public doesn’t demand raw data information to support or debunk every single utterance. And when raw data is available, why is it routinely dismissed?

Let’s pick on Texas for a moment…just because everyone is carrying on about their stats. While Governor Perry is bragging about how what a great job he’s done for Texas, a bunch of statistics were invoked that made “how great” seem rather hollow.  I won’t regale you with all the stats from the US Department of Labor and the US Census, but let’s look at a couple of categories
Uninsured population by rank
·         Percent of Population Uninsured - 1st of all 50 states
·         Percent of Non-Elderly Uninsured - 1st of all 50 states
·         Percent of Children Uninsured – 1st of all 50 states.

          Health Professionals per Capita:
·         Physicians - 42nd of all 50 states
·         Dentists - 39th of all 50 states
·         Registered Nurses - 44th of all 50 states.

And just so you understand that Texas isn’t all ranches and tumbleweed, of the 20 largest cities (by population) in the US, 6 are in Texas. Three of them are in the top 10.

Now, let’s throw one more number into the pot: according to the Pew Center for Hispanic Studies, the undocumented population is approximately 1,668,000 of Texas’ 24.9 million residents.  That’s 6.7% of the population. 

How does any of this make Texas a success? This is just one aspect. And I haven’t even touched on education or housing.

So I would propose the following for your consideration: instead of judging the candidates on their political rhetoric, why not institute a point system for objective goals? Kinda like No Politician Left Behind. If you cannot produce measurable results, you cannot run for office again.  And yes, this does include you, President Obama.

For example:

If your state shows monies spent harvested from anything other than bona fide revenues  such as taxes, fees, licensing, lotto, et al), you lose points.  Let’s say you got a big tobacco settlement that was earmarked for health care improvement and you end up raiding that fund for any use other than health care, you lose points. Same thing goes for manipulating monies from one state level department to cover the debts of an unrelated state level department. That will cost you.

If your state has a net gain of percentage of people employed with health benefits, you earn points.

Now job creation has to count here, but that’s more complicated than just coming up with a number. So I propose you have to come up with a total number of permanent jobs created in the last election cycle, and then deduct jobs that are a direct result of one or more of the following as applies:
  • Number of jobs created using federal stimulus  funds
  • Number of jobs lost to foreign off-shoring
  • Number of grace and favor jobs  
  • Seasonal labor, both farm or holiday related, do not count as permanent jobs.
Holding  a seat in a legislature? Holding it isn’t enough; you must be pro-active and accountable for your actions.

If more than three bills you’ve authored have been tossed off the chamber floor before real debate occurs, you lose points.

If your absences from the chamber total more than 30% of the voting rolls called, you are automatically disqualified…unless you are recovering from an assassination attempt or other life threatening illness. Junkets are not included.

I did this on the fly, and I’m certain someone will come along to punch giant holes in, but hey! it’s a beginning. Either we begin to set standards for our governing bodies, or we just need to sit down and shut up about it.

Anybody wanna start a movement?

Monday, August 15, 2011

If They Say It, Is It So?

Listening to the Republican debate the other night was a real old-fashioned thrill.  The tit-for-tat bickering between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty was absolutely riveting; it was like listening to my kids when they were still riding in the back seat. I was waiting for somebody’s mother to stand up and shout, “Do I need to pull this debate over right now?”
I’m glad Congresswoman Bachmann cleared up that little misunderstanding about being submissive to our husbands. “What submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect.” I’m not sure I quite get how submission means respect, but if she says it’s so, it must be so.

It was important that they all talked about the debt ceiling business at the debate. There were so many conflicting interpretations about what it all meant! You’d think there was actual room for a debate there! I’m pretty sure that no two candidates on that stage had a real firm grasp on how the debt ceiling thing works, but that’s okay. With all those budget cuts they’re promising us, there won’t ever be a need to raise it again!

My favorite quote-user was Herman Cain, the doddery old uncle who wants everyone to play nice. He said, "A poet once said, 'life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it's never easy when there's so much on the line.'" The quote from the Pokemon: The Movie song was truly inspired. Not only did he choose a anime cartoon song to appeal to all those younger voters, the singer of the song, Donna Summer, is a gay community icon. What could be more embracing than that?

Well, it might be Mitt Romney standing on a hay bale at the Iowa State Fair.  He told us, “Corporations are people.” Well, I guess if the Supremes have decided corporations are people, who are we to argue?  And gee, it's great to know they're paying taxes just like the rest of us regular ol' human people. Maybe it was the way he said it or the way it was reported, maybe it’s Mitt’s hair or his chiseled jaw or his Republicanisms, but I just couldn’t help myself. For a fleeting moment, Mitt was replaced by Charlton Heston at the end of a strangely surreal science fiction movie, shouting, “Soylent Green is corporations!”

Threatening Bernanke?

Okay, let all admit it’s Rick Perry’s candidacy that is truly exciting. He just takes the bull by the horns and calls in G-d to help out. Of course, when he did this the first time back in the spring, there wasn't any rain to speak of, but this is different. This is the nation that's at stake!

Mr. Perry announced in June that he was inviting governors and people from across the country to join him in a day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium because, as his official proclamation put it, “As Jesus prayed publicly for the benefit of others in John 11:41-42, so should we express our faith in this way.” Although he has invited people of all faiths, Mr. Perry has described it as a “Christian-centered” event to pray for the troubles of the nation. The rally is being organized and financed by the American Family Association, an evangelical organization listed as an antigay hate group by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center.
Texas Rally Renews Debate Over 
 the Boundaries of Perry’s Faith
New York Times,  August 5, 2011

We shouldn’t be at all dismayed by this. After all Governor Perry sees his governorship as part of his greater ministry:

“At 27 years old, I knew that I’d been called to the ministry,” Mr. Perry said “I’ve just always been really stunned by how big a pulpit I was going to have. I still am. I truly believe with all my heart that God has put me in this place at this time to do His will.”

from the New York Times,
as stated at a fundraising event last May
 for the days of prayer and fasting.

Wow. I guess this really is a message from G-d. We should all stop what we’re believing …or not believing…and join up.

Or should we be signing up with Madame Bachman because she says she gets her marching orders from G-d, too?  After all, G-d showed her Marcus in a vision and told her to marry him. That has to count for something, doesn’t it? Or maybe, just maybe, we need to think about Mitt’s devotion to Mormonism because, after all, he’s super rich and does look a little like a young Charlton Heston, and Heston did look more like G-d than Moses in the TEN COMMANDMENTS, dontcha think?

All these people talking to G-d…it’s so confusing.  Especially since no one ever talks about the kind of stuff they talk about in the Bible. You know, things like caring for the earth, tending to those in need, helping the migrant in our midst because “you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” You know what I mean. Social responsibility stuff.

But if Michele and Rick, Mitt and Herman tell me I don't need to worry my little brains about stuff like that, I guess I'm going to take them at their word because they're all good Christians and they're not going to let anyone starve or die. Nope. They just wouldn't let that happen. 

Or would they?

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Under 55 and thinking about retirement?
Stop now. 
It ain't gonna happen in your lifetime.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Son, The Bluesman

My kid turned 30 on Sunday.

Back in the dark ages, when I was a young whippersnapper, we had a saying: "Never trust anyone over 30.” 

Yes, I am the mother of an over 30. Me? With a kid that old? I mean, he was like just born! And what’s even weirder is that sometime later this year, I will be exactly twice as old as he is…which means he’s 30, I’ll be 60, and both his grandfathers are 90. There’s got to be some kind of karma-cosmic kinda thing going on here.  Right?

Now, for a moment, indulge this mother. He’s kind, a real gutteh neshumah (good soul), and he’s one helluva bluesman. Yeah, I’ve got a kid who earns his living singing about misery….weird because he’s pretty happy these days. And like most musicians, he’s got a day job…in an antiquarian bookstore which, if you ask me, is the perfect job for this guy who was weaned on the Muppets, the Marx Brothers (Groucho not Karl), Jack Kerouac, and Indiana Jones…with a splash Mario Puzo and Hunter Thompson  thrown in for a bit of color. The Senior Son has always been a step ahead of the rest of us mere mortals, off on a tangent we sometimes didn’t understand... but not for lack of trying.

As an 8 year old, he opened his first stand-up comedy act with an impression of James Mason as one of the Three Stooges. The other kids stared at him like he’d stepped off some alien planet, but the adults were rolling in the aisles. It was ...and still is pretty damn funny. He also had a period when he insisted on being called Wadsworth Siegfried (I have the school papers to prove it). That was followed by the “Let’s move to Palermo” period. Life with this kid was never dull.

It started with a cello, but real passion came with his first guitar. Steve used to take him to bars on open mike nights so he could routinely get beaten up by the best blues players in the Twins Cities. And after a while, they stopped ragging and started teaching. It should’ve come as no surprise to either of us that he would choose this over a more conventional know, the kind with health insurance…but it did….and we got used to it. Confession: some days were easier than others. 

Surrounding by loyal fans
leaving NY gig.
 He’s played with several groups over the years, and has done his fair share of touring. He’s played New York, San Francisco, LA, Louisville, Nashville and a bunch of other villes. He played at the House of Blues in Chicago regularly with the Charles Walker Blues Band. We have assorted CDs from each of the incarnations, and it's fun to listen to how much he's developed as a player.

Misha and Misha
Now he’s making the break and putting together his own group; so far so good. He understands the investment of time and energy, and, thank G-d, so does his significant other who is wonderfully supportive and most graciously tolerant. But then again, she’s an art educator, immersed in world o’weird all the time.

So allow me to flog for the band. You can find him just by Googling “MISHA SIEGFRIED” or go right to the Facebook page. Take a listen. “Like” the page. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, go hear him live and in person. I happen to know there’s a shindig for him tonight at the Up and Under Pub  where he hosts the open mike every Monday. 

And for my final observation:  Misha's been hosting open mike nights in a variety of places for a while now. Steve loved that. He loved that Misha might do for some kid what Moses Oakland and the rest of the Twin Cities blues community did for his kid.  I get to say, for both of us still, we are so very, very proud of him.

Happy birthday, Mousey!

Wifely Person’s Tip o’the Week
Eat dinner together as a family as many nights a week as humanly possible.
This is your best chance to teach your kids about civil discourse
and  interacting live with others.

Monday, August 1, 2011

All About Perspective

In light of the events last week, I thought I should open with an update. Yes, there's a grill on the deck. Yes, the car is in the shop and I'm driving an automatic loaner...which is hard for this stick-shifter. But the bedding took an odd twist.

Along with the comforter, sheets, shams, and coverlet, those shining stars at Macy’s put a duvet and shams set into the bag. Which was very nice since the duvet was more than $200…except I neither wanted nor paid for a duvet. I only discovered this when my daughter-in-law and I unpacked the bag to make sure the color was right for the bedroom. (It is.)

Returning the errant duvet isn’t as easy as it sounds. You see, I would be asked for the receipt, which I have…but it lacks the right UPC code. The shining star would probably think I was trying to return it for cash and call in-house security. So rather than risk a scene, I headed off the whole mess by walking into Macy’s with the receipt and the duvet, went straight to the executive offices, and asked to see the store manager on duty. Fifteen minutes later, after a most pleasant conversation, I left with her thanks and a job offer…which I declined. Seems they need people with actual experience in that area. Thanks, but no thanks. Or, as Ziggy would say, "been there, done that, got the t-shirt."

But all of that became rather trivial after I sat down with Sunday’s New York Times. Two articles dominated: Islamists Flood Square in Cairo in Show of Strength and In Afghanistan, Rage at Young Lovers. I couldn’t get either of these out of my mind.

Pictures of Cairo’s Tahrir Square this week  didn’t look much different from the ones last winter, but this time, they weren’t protesting for intellectual, commercial, or personal freedom, they were advocating for the enactment of Sharia, law that would restrict more than it would encourage Egypt to emerge into the 21st century. We’re not even talking about Muslim Brotherhood here; we’re talking Salafists who advocate for the Wahhabi school of Islam, the same version that runs Saudi Arabia. Instead of moving forward, this would send Egypt back a century or more. And support for this movement is growing rapidly.

Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan, two 17 year old kids from Herat were caught in a car by her family. A mob gathered, demanding their deaths, a riot erupted and people were killed, although not the kids. The boy is in prison, the girl is at home. Her father believes the family has been shamed
“'What we would ask is that the government should kill both of them,' said the father, Kher Mohammed.”

I cannot decide which is more gruesome…the crowd demanding their deaths, or the girl’s father. And just in case you’ve not heard enough, the family of a guy killed in the rioting told the girl’s father they would accept her as a bride payment for the life of the man killed in the riot.

Y’know what? We cannot help those kids. The elders of that country cannot be forced to change, and we cannot force them to stop honor killings. Yet, we continue to pour money, arms, and blood into Afghanistan to prop up a government that condones such behavior because that’s their way of life. At what point do we have to ask the question “is the fornicating we’re getting worth the fornicating we getting” when it comes to any intervention in the Islamic world.

It’s not just these two examples. Look at Syria. This weekend, Assad’s military stormed the city of Hama and scores of people were killed in what were reported to be peaceful demonstrations. The army opened fire on women and kids. What was their crime? Thinking?  Wanting a better level of existence for their families? Where are all the flotilla peace-niks for that one? Why aren't they sending a flotilla of aid to Syria? Or Afghanistan? Or Tahrir Square?

Just so you know no stone is left unturned, there were huge demonstrations in Israel this weekend calling for social justice. Israelis took to the street, and Israelis created street camps to block traffic in Tel Aviv. There was no army, no shooting, no riots... just a whole lotta people of all kinds protesting the cost of housing and things like education reform and health care. Kinda like Wisconsin. But joking aside; this should point up a major difference between Israel and her neighbors. Do I really have to spell it out?

Oh, I do? Okay, it's called F-R-E-E-D-O-M.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week:
 ~ to our Congress-persons ~
If you have federal health care, generous retirement packages, 67 paid holidays,
three weeks paid vacation, AND unlimited paid sick days,
maybe you should share it with those who have nothing left.