What matters most.

Posted: January 25th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Last weekend, Number Two was Bar Mitzvah’d. Towards the end of the service, Number One, my wife and I, all had the opportunity to individually address Number Two and the 250 or so people in attendance. I took the podium after they both finished. As the  audience was enjoying my intentionally humorous dialogue, it was abruptly interrupted by something just short of wrestling match, described by one guest as “a refreshing and honest public display of family dysfunction”. Number Two turned off my microphone. Number One hijacked my “flowchart”. And on a live mic, my wife was insisting that my talk was too long. As a consequence, I only got to present the funny stuff, which while enjoyable to the audience, left me a bit unfulfilled.

So this past Saturday night, at a fund raiser, I was given the opportunity to finish my speech. I began by giving the audience the back-story that I provided above.  Then I delivered the ending, and as I always prefer to speak unscripted and spontaneously, this is approximately what I said:

“It doesn’t matter what your job is, how much money you make or how much money is in your bank account. It doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive, how big your house is or what town you live in. It doesn’t matter what your clothes look like or what the labels inside them say. Life by itself is essentially pointless. It is up to you to give it meaning. And all the people we care about, those that are with us today and those that are absent, all our family, all of our friends and our entire community; they are why we are here. We give meaning to each other’s lives. And that is what is truly important. That is what matters most.”

And then with uncharacteristic brevity, I just thanked everyone and left the podium.

So I told my kids what I did and what I said. And they kind of understood the message intellectually but I didn’t think it really resonated to their core. So I asked them this question. “If you were living in Haiti and came home to find a pile of rubble where your house had been, what would you dig for? Would you dig for your ipod or your macbook? For your new shirt or jeans? of course not, you would dig for your family, your friends or anyone else who might have been in the house. And you would not stop digging despite how tired you were or if your fingers were bleeding because those lives are our most important treasures.” And then they got it. They really got it.

The begining of the end or how regionalism can transform our republic

Posted: January 20th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Back in 1989, I came to conclusion that it was highly probable that the Soviet Union would fracture. Granted it was 2 years early but the signs were clear; overspending, rising nationalism, a distracted and overextended foreign policy and an uncontrolled shifting away from a centralized totalitarian government.

A few years later, during Bill Clinton’s Presidency, I became concerned that rising regional discord brought on by a tax system that was now shifting tax receipts between states, rather than applying those funds on a federally prioritized basis, would start the US down a similar path. My argument was that citizens were clearly more concerned about local issues and problems and resent their tax dollars being “exported” and applied to those of another state located across the country. For example, my home state of New Jersey, as a percentage of federal spending applied to each state, sends more dollars to Washington then it receives back. So effectively federal tax dollars raised in NJ are being sent to California to address their fiscal mismanagement when the money could stay local and be applied to NJ’s own fiscal mismanagement.

Yesterday, the people of Massachusetts, a traditionally liberal and democratic state, reacted en masse, along those lines. As Massachusetts requires it’s residence to carry health insurance or incur financial penalties (sound familiar), approximately 97% of the population are insured. Additionally, those whose incomes are low enough, qualify for subsidized insurance paid for by state taxation. So what happened yesterday? The people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts elected to put their interests first. They have a working system that effectively provides universal coverage and they are already heavily taxed; it is completely understandable that they do not want to subsidize health insurance coverage in other states.

To be clear, I am not judging or advocating any political positions. I am not suggesting that the US will fall into another civil war and “Balkanize”.  I am simply pointing out what I see as a trend that will undoubtedly have a significant effect on the social, economic and political landscape in the years to come.

The more enduring tragedy of Haiti

Posted: January 18th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Two weeks ago, 90 percent of the planet could not find Haiti on the map. Two weeks from now, 90 percent of the planet will have forgotten her. Two weeks ago, mothers were feeding their children biscuits made from dirt and cooking oil. Laying them to sleep onto bed-bug infested mats and tattered blankets. The make shift houses, constructed of piled cinder blocks, corrugated steel scrap and whatever else they could scavenge, provided some shelter from the harsh tropical rain but not from the swarms of mosquitoes carrying Dengue Fever, a deadly menace where their only defense is the acrid smoke of burning garbage that hung ever present in the hot, humid tropical air.  Two weeks from now, I can only hope, that they will have that much as the news cycle will have passed her by. And the world will turn its attention elsewhere. And then with out warning, somewhere else, the people who have the least will be beset by another truly horrific occurrence. And the world will come rushing in and slowly fade away. Again. And again.

Spanning the globe?

Posted: January 15th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

Every now and then I check out the analytic data on who is actually reading these posts and the results simply amaze me. Here are some stats from outside of the US over the last 30 days:

  • someone in Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia has been back 4 times in the last 3 weeks
  • someone in Jakarta, Indonesia started on my discussion of why I don’t like to use the word, God, and then proceeded to spend the next 11 minutes going reading my posts only to then come back for more the next day.
  • in the UK, readers reside in London, Bath, Leeds, Hailsham, Aberdeen, Aveley, Bristol, Kirkintillock, Edgbaston, Camberely and Nottingham
  • Scandinavia is represented by Stockholm, Kerava (Finland) and Trondheim (Norway)
  • My riff on the stupidity of war went over well with some new visitors in Sydney and Moscow
  • Additionally, readers from France, Spain, Germany, Croatia, India, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand, Taiwan, the Philippines, Ecuador, Chile and Canada have all honored me by taking the time to read some of my posts.

Thank you all for taking the time to both read and think about my thoughts. I look forward to hearing some of yours. If you find a post particularly interesting or insightful, please pass it on to your friends.


Plagued by the meaning of the plagues. Or what would MLK say?

Posted: January 14th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Number Two chose this weekend for his Bar Mitzvah. He wanted it to coincide with our national observance honoring Dr. Martin Luther King and the continual struggle to bring equality to all members of our society.  He also chose it because it happened to be the passages in the book of Exodus where the God of the Israelites unleashes the first of the 10 plagues on Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.

He wrote an insightful D’var Torah, or teaching, that discusses the relationship of MLK and the struggle of all righteous individuals to move our society toward one of equality and Moses bringing the word of God to Pharaoh and the demand to let the Israelites go. Number Two put his soul into this lesson. He lives his life by simply not tolerating acts of inequality, oppression or cruelty. And that makes me proud.

My disconnect comes when he talks about the power of the God of Israel; a forceful “kick-ass” God who is portrayed as intent on sending a message to both the Israelites and the Egyptians.  My disconnect is not with my son, but with the actual the passage in Exodus 9:15-16 “I could have stretched forth My hand and stricken you [Pharaoh] and your people with pestilence, and you would have been effaced from the earth. Nevertheless I have spared you for this purpose: in order to show you My power and in order that My fame may resound throughout the world.”

In my mind, the plagues are acts of compassion, not a demonstration of force and vengence. The God of creation could have not only wiped the Egyptians from the face of the Earth, but from history itself, however they were his children too.  So we are witnesses to the sequence of  plagues, delivered as increasingly severe but measured responses, only after Pharaoh repeatedly rejects each demand to let the people go. Acts of compassion. That may not be the traditional interpretation or even the non-traditional interpretation, but its mine. And I would believe that is the lesson that was truly meant to be resounded throughout the world. What would MLK say?

Becoming a man (whether you want to or not).

Posted: January 14th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , | No Comments »

This Saturday Number Two becomes a man. He will be called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. If only becoming a man was that simple, my job would be done. At 13 years and 5 weeks I could send him off into the world with a clear conscience and the utmost confidence that he had been thoroughly prepared for what lies ahead. I know that sometimes he thinks that he’s ready to go out on his own and it would free up some of my time, but I just can’t do it.

Sorry Number Two, its not happening. Despite the fact that I am really proud of how mature, sensitive and confident you are, we still have some work to do. I still have some work to do. You see, I can’t really be a man until I actually have that aforementioned clear conscience and utmost confidence that I have done everything that I could to help you become a man. I guess we’re stuck with each for at least a few more years. And I’m going to enjoy every minute of them.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.

Posted: January 8th, 2010 | Author: admin | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Our society is built upon information. The appropriate application of information can drive an economy forward, topple a government or save someone’s life. So it would seem natural that to be successful in our endeavors we should focus on acquiring more information. And acquire it faster than the next person. And react to it even faster.

This is our society; more and faster. Faster and more. A society that by definition is in constant transition yet is composed of individuals who innately crave stability. So is it any wonder that even in “good times” people feel unsettled? That they feel a need to escape? To self medicate? Or even abrogate a degree of self determination? Of course not, that is simply a consequence of being continually overwhelmed by a world that demands more and faster.

As we embark on the 2nd decade of the 21st century, how can we possibly cope with our own individual stresses much less advance our society when the processes we use were developed centuries ago? We  can mindlessly apply variations of the same things over and over again or we can re-imagine the future as well as our intertwined collective and individual destinies. We can continue to value ourselves from an an external perspective or we can shift our focus toward understanding ourselves internally. And we can continue to proclaim that we value life, free thought and liberty or we actually can. Its time to get some new tools.