Friday, October 31, 2008

Lions & Tigers & Bears; Oh, My!




Here's hoping next Tuesday is a real treat!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008


One of my dearest girlfriends is in the process of returning to her childhood roots of traditional Judaism and is becoming more conservative/orthodox in her religious beliefs and practices – and getting a lot of flack about it from her other friends. The lion’s share of their objection and surprise is based on their understanding of Jewish orthodoxy as misogynistic, and my friend is a smart, independent, professional woman, a liberal and a feminist who co-authored a seminal book about the history/dangers of illegal abortion in America, and for a living is a corporate trainer specializing in sensitivity workshops about racist and anti-woman behavior/ policies in the workplace. Her response is to explain that the charge of misogyny is incorrect, that, in fact, women are revered in the many forms of Orthodox Judaism, that they are regarded as the keepers of the spiritual flame and deeply respected as the stabilizing core of family life. (Those interested in learning more about modern orthodoxy may want to check out

As a Jew, an Interfaith minister, a feminist, a crone [wise-woman aged 56 or older], and a lifelong believer in calling a spade a spade, I find this all very interesting – especially considering the emergence of Sarah Palin, which has prompted a fierce debate among women about the meaning of feminism, preceded (for the last 30 years or so) by a return to more traditional forms of Judaism by the several generations that have come of age since the Baby Boomers.

Before I get into Jewish specifics, I want to say that for quite a long time, I’ve believed that 20th century feminism (from the early-century suffragists to the nouveau pioneers of the 1970s) has lost its footing in the 21st century; that in our legitimate effort to liberate/empower women and create opportunities outside the home, we have created a serious gap in the structure of modern family life, and in the dynamics of intimate relationships between women and men. I never would or could advocate a return to the bad-old-days, when a man’s home really was his castle, and women were given the life options of housewife/mother, nurse, teacher, secretary, or whore. But if feminism is to continue to grow and maintain a meaningful, positive impact on social change and interpersonal dynamics, we’re going to have to acknowledge – and address – the fact that the freedom and advancement of women has created new and different problems, chiefly a lack of cohesion in family life and outright hostility in men.

Traditional Judaism, from the conservative to the orthodox (and there are many forms of both) is rooted in family strength, guiding faith, study/erudition, service to one’s fellow man, and the power of ritual. This is not a bad recipe for a happy, meaningful life. But the trouble with maintaining ideas and practices that developed thousands of years ago is that they can be incongruous (if not downright unnecessary and undesirable) in modern times.

For example, it made sense for the Jewish culture that lived in the desert 5,000 years ago to use completely separate wooden and porous clay crockery for meat and dairy; there is no underlying hygienic necessity for classic kashroot today. Similarly, it was probably a good idea, back in the day, for a woman to take a cleansing bath at the end of her monthly menstrual cycle, and making a ritual out of it (the mikvah) didn’t do any harm. But today, when women bathe regularly before/during/after their periods, adhering to the idea that women are “unclean” during menstruation can reasonably be regarded as offensive.

The separation of women and men in many aspects of traditional Jewish practice – for example, in synagogue, in school, and at large social occasions like weddings – can understandably be perceived as segregation/ prejudice to the modern mind; the fact that this is done to prevent men from being “distracted” by the innate power and allure of women doesn’t make it any less so. Indeed, “protecting” men from the power of women – the same reason that women are shrouded in virtual tarps in many forms of Islam – seems like plain old lack of self-control and mature socialization on the part of men, in this day age. Even more important, the only real role for women in traditional Judaism is as wife, mother, and homemaker. Valuable to be sure, but, where are the options for women who don’t want to take on this role, or for gay women and men whose existence is not even acknowledged, let alone accepted?

I think it would be a good idea for people, Jewish and otherwise, female and male, who seek the comfort, familiarity and stability of traditional practices, to just say “This is what I want, it works for me,” rather than try to find contemporary explanations/justifications for ideas that are in fact out of sync with modern life. And I think it would be a good idea for society, secular and religious together, to acknowledge the inevitable disruptions that accompany radical social change and look for practical, equitable solutions. Meanwhile, people who choose religious orthodoxy should be left the hell alone by those who don’t – and very, very, vice versa.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I can’t say enough about how impor-tant it is for Amer-icans of all ethnic stripes to remem-ber that Barack Obama is bi-racial. Being bi-racial gives one a very different perspective about race in particular, and dealing with complexities, polarities and convergences, in general. I’m certain that this is part of what Gen. Colin Powell was referring to when he described Obama as a “transformational figure” in his endorsement of the senator today. Unfortunately, this is an intellectual idea and we are living in an era of wholesale ignorance and lack of intellectual curiosity. As a result, in all the recent media talk about The Role of Race in the Campaign, there has been little or no discussion about the unique nature of bi-racialism and its role in making Obama who and what he is.

I think this is because our historically racially polarized nation, for all its genuinely forward progress, is still hugely uncomfortable with (and disapproving of) the deeply intimate form of integration that it takes to produce a bi-racial child. There are a lot of people of all races who are not racist in a hateful or discriminatory way, but who are nonetheless opposed to mixed race procreation. I believe this view is often more about the longstanding desire to preserve one’s culture than it is some fascistic devotion to racial purity. In the main, for example, Jews believe in the importance of maintaining Judaism by rejecting the cultural dilution of religious inter-marriage.

It’s also important to remember that America’s history of our own brand of actual fascistic devotion to racial purity evolved from the economic demands of Slavery. Even though countless enslaved Africans were regularly making their tortuous way through the Middle Passage, it was essential that the slave stock be replenished without incurring the costs of new purchases, which is how the One-Drop Rule came about. “All it takes is one little drop of Niggra blood and you’re a, Niggra, too,” wails Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County as a Civil War-era southern belle who’s losing her mind, because she fears her Mammy is really her Mommy.

And so it goes. Slave owners automatically owned their slaves’ children. And since a considerable number of them were the products of unions between white men and slave women, the One-Drop Rule ensured that the herd would be increased, even if the kid looked white (like me) or very light (like Obama). Out of this was born the ranking of house slaves and field slaves, the former being light skinned (considered more attractive, civilized), the latter dark (those ugly beasts...); and from that came the self-hating hierarchy among slaves themselves that embraced the standard.

These distinctions are not unique to American racism; Apartheid South Africa expressed its version through the categories of blacks, whites, and coloreds, a laundry-based separation that regarded those of mixed race as a separate class, still inferior to whites but to a lesser degree than blacks. Indeed, it is their institutionally racist form of racial distinction that has contributed to our country’s rejection of bi-racial as a legitimate, personal, third category of racial identity, one that has the capacity to enormously enhance one’s ability to be a “uniter,” a transformational figure.

Bi-racial people have always been viewed as race traitors by both races, light enough to often have an easier racial time of it, even sometimes be able to “pass,” and just not-white-enough to be subject to the same laws and most of the same discriminations. Getting past all this confusing shit to a point of understanding, self-acceptance, and a sense of broadly racially inclusive self-identification, is a brain trainer all by itself. If it doesn’t make you crazy, it can make you exceptional.

Bi-racialism is really about racial transcendence, which is a huge part of why Barack Obama symbolizes the future, that day to come when most everyone will be mocha-colored and culturally united by their shared humanity, rather than separated by cultural distinctions which, for all their sentimental appeal, may be obstacles to social transformation. If he wins, Barack Obama will be labeled by history as the first African-American president. If he can lead (“can” in both the sense of permitted and capable) in a truly transformational way, he may emerge as something far more important – and very interesting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The New Right Stuff

Over the past couple of weeks, in observing the swirl of fright-ening current events and the next-to-final throes of The Campaign Without End, then watching last night’s third and last presidential debate, I’ve found myself reflecting on the nature of intelligence, character and experience, and what exactly it takes to make someone fit to lead. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are smart men. But which of them also has the vision, temperament, and natural talent for leadership that ideally one should have in order to be president?

Since the conventions, both men have had ample opportunity to show their stuff to the people, and they have. McCain has shown that he is old-fashioned and uncreative in his thinking, mean-spirited in his attitudes, loose with the truth, erratic in his behavior, and shockingly self-serving in his ambition as evidenced by his selection of the ignorant and wholly unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate. In reassuring contrast, Obama has exhibited a clear understanding of 21st century realities, innovative ideas, graciousness, civility, straightforwardness, calm under pressure, and a willingness to properly balance personal ambition with a genuine desire for public service.

But even more important, Obama exhibits high levels of “emotional intelligence” and “cultural literacy.” Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, refreshingly introduced the notion that the qualities of social interaction and self-knowledge, including the ability to empathize, delay gratification, and interpret non-verbal social cues, were as essential to personal success as intellectual intelligence. E.D. Hirsch, in his captivating 1987 reference book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, provided the first volume in a string of revisions over the years that list the facts and ideas related to world history & geography, technology, science, language, the arts, religion, mythology and folklore that someone who regards himself as literate needs to know. One only needs to look at George W. Bush to recognize an essentially homicidal lack of emotional intelligence and cultural literacy. John McCain may not be George Bush - but he, too, lacks these important qualities. (Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is George Bush.)

When McCain talks about “winning” in Iraq, he shows a scary lack of understanding that today’s wars (and tomorrow’s) will not be waged and won in traditional military terms, that today’s enemies are not other nations so much as rogue leaders and cults with zealous determination and considerable technological and financial resources; we need smarts, self-control, diplomacy, and a little sophisticated covert operation to address these dangers. When McCain talks about “spreading the wealth” and “class warfare” in disparaging terms, he reveals a dangerous ignorance of the economic imbalances that threaten our national existence and security. When McCain talks about giving people the “choice” to get the health care they want without government interference, he ignores the fact that most people are trapped in HMOs and other profit-making health service structures that long ago robbed patients of meaningful choices and quality care. When McCain rails against taxes and “big government,” he shows a total lack of understanding of how people need to support a government that really and truly supports them. And when he goes into his anti-abortion spiel, well…

Barack Obama is a young man with young ideas. He understands new media. He connects with young adults. He is dedicated to discussion and diplomacy. He has a personal, spiritual foundation that doesn’t deny scientific fact or attempt to control people’s personal behavior. He believes in both personal responsibility and governmental protections. He understands cultures other than his own. He’s a feminist. He supports affordable, accessible education, public education. He’s not afraid to say “I don’t know” or to take counsel and advice from other smart people. He understands the difference between coming from love or fear, and knows that working from fear is dangerous, not insurance against danger. He’s got a cool head and a warm heart. And he’s got Joe Biden watching his back, instead of Annie Oakley. We need this guy and we need him bad.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Comfort of Leadership

On the news last night, Our President looked as grim and pained as if someone had just kicked him in the balls. He spoke to the country for the umpteenth time during this economic crisis and, as usual, essentially said nothing.

We desperately need a leader who can calm our fears and motivate our best behavior, someone who understands how to soothe and rally. FDR did that for America during the Depression with his renowned fireside chats and, of course, his legendary admonishem, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” If Bush were a mensch as well as a real leader, he would say something like this:

“Listen to me, everybody. Things are bad and I know you’re afraid. But sit down, take a deep breath and focus. I apologize for anything I may have done to help bring us to this point. Before I go, I want to do whatever I can to help get us out of it. But I need your help and I need your trust, one last time. We can get out of this thing; we will get out of it, if we’re willing to express our patriotism as optimism and cooperation, and be both brave and generous in the face of what’s happening. It all depends on what each of us does and what we do together.

“To Wall Street I say: traders, counsel your clients, and, clients, keep a cool head. Stop driving the market into the ground and hold tight. Things will bounce back, they always do, but they’ll bounce back better and faster if we don’t let our fears create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stop the crazy sell-off. Show your faith in the companies you’re invested in and help them ride out this storm. Remember that the whole world is following our example of fear and urgently needs our example of courage. This is a chance to show how resilient and resolute and resourceful America can be.

“To the financial industry I say: stand up like grown-ups and admit you behaved irresponsibly – then show you mean it by supporting this country like good and true corporate citizens. Give businesses and individuals the loans they need. Work with the Treasury and the Fed to give folks a second and a third chance to get on their feet and handle realistic mortgages. Remember that money may be your stock-in-trade, but you’re dealing with real people and their real lives, their real homes, their real businesses. Do the real right thing.

“To employers I say: Hold on. Don’t lay people off if you possibly can – and redefine “possible” in a way that takes the greatest good into consideration. Remember that you are one link in a long chain that makes up the economy. And the old adage about the chain only being as strong as its weakest link has never been more true than it is right now. Do your part to be the strongest link you can be. Be loyal to your employees and they’ll be loyal to you.

“Everybody: stay true to your core values. Don’t hide, don’t cower, don’t run. Don’t give in to greed or anger or meanness, because those things are always the byproducts of fear. Nobody benefits from fear, and nobody ultimately benefits by only watching out for Number One. We are all Number One, one country, one people, and if we all put our best feet forward, we can create one great big recovery.”

Alas, I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Buyer's Remorse - Part I

With current events in America moving at warp speed, it’s difficult to absorb the fact that it was just last Friday (three days ago!) that Congress approved the Bail Out/Rescue bill that designates $700 billion in taxpayer funds for stop-gap investments in private investment banks and other investment companies. Today brought a new onslaught of information: Wall Street still has the “jitters” and dropped 370 points more, because they’re afraid the bail out we were told was the only way to avoid economic disaster may not work. And European and Asian markets tumbled as they contracted the fears of our markets like a virus.

Those with economic savvy are pointing out that the earlier bailout of Lehman Bros., plus the $700 billion just approved, plus an additional $200 billion that will in all likelihood be needed, will actually push us well over the $1 trillion mark faster than you can say “We’ll be paying for George W. Bush for generations to come.” Oh, and incidentally, not so you’d notice in the midst of this disaster, but Congress also gave $25 billion to the Big Three in Detroit last week to help shore up the flagging auto industry.

Before the big bailout became a fait accompli, I received an email with a copy of a letter/petition circulated by more than 100 economists campaigning against the measure and pleading for Congressional hearings and taking the time to review the situation and explore other options. Despite what the public was told, there were other options, and there still are. There is also growing consensus that the bailout cannot work, because it fails to address the root of the problem – the free-falling housing market.

There’s every reason to believe that this crisis was severely misunderstood, poorly and irresponsibly presented, and that the public was fear-mongered by Bush & Co. into thinking this boondoggle was necessary. A lot of folks didn’t buy into it and still don’t, but it doesn’t matter, because both the Senate and the Congress did. It was déjà vu all over again of Bush and his bullshit war campaign over the (actually non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction. Instead, the Weapon of Mass Destruction that has most endangered us is our outgoing president. What a surprise.

Everything about this situation is a scandal and a shame of massive proportions. It has been reported that the $700 billion alone could provide health insurance for every man, woman and child in America, and rebuild every crumbling road and bridge. And the next president will be hugely restrained by the wildly increased and already unconscionable national debt enlarged by this maneuver.

What gets me is that both presidential candidates went along with this. Here was a chance for McCain to really behave like a Republican and a maverick and demand that the runaway bailout train be stopped and searched before going any further. But he didn’t. Here was a chance for Obama to behave like a real Democrat and a transformational change agent and …demand that the runaway bailout train be stopped and searched before going any further. But he didn’t either. When the next election comes around, assuming we’re still a voting democracy in 2012, will candidates accuse the incumbent, and each other, of voting for the bail out that sunk us, just as Hillary Clinton was skewered for her initial vote to support Bush’s demand for the Iraq War? She thought she was supporting the commander-in-chief at a moment of crisis. What excuse will either of these men give for their complicity in this insanity?

I do believe Obama/Biden will win out against Sen. McVicious and Gov. Avon Lady. I just hope they’ll be able to do something positive for us all once they get there.