New York City is one of those crazy places where you can spring for a happy hour of drinks and appetizers for three colleagues that cost $200 and then get into a cab with a young man who left the Kandahar province of Afghanistan the year before the war began.

Sometimes I feel that the chasm between driver and customer is enough to explode the world.  Like fission or fusion or whatever the scientists try to do with the atom.

My cab driver can only meet his Afghani family in Pakistan because he, as an American citizen, is no longer welcome in his home town.  He is now “the other”; the one responsible for civilian deaths.  I know, without asking, that he is also “the other” here, in his adopted land (as is often the sentiment of naturalized citizens).  One has only to read the papers to realize the message we give our citizens of foreign birth and then to realize how that is magnified “on the ground”.

He is a displaced person even though he does not live in a United Nations tent city somewhere in Gaza or Tashkent.

My grandparents never had anyone left in the old country; those that stayed did not survive World War II.  They also had no desire to go back and visit a country that didn’t want them.  So, while not being “of America” had its drawbacks and prejudices, there was no other place to call home.

But this man, a son of Afghanistan, who needed to leave for economic reasons, can never go home again.  He loves America.  But he cannot go home to Afghanistan, his ancestral home, where his grandparents are buried.  The place of his birth, the place of his people, his language of origin.

War doesn’t just kill; it scars the living and the survivors.

Oh, the pain we have wrought.

Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah 5772

SOS (our son, source of sanity) decided that he preferred his former blog “handle”, TLP (the little prince).  I am worried.

But I was immediately distracted by how adorable he was in his blue blazer, tan slacks, penny loafers, and bow-tie and my heart melted.  Just FYI: I keep suggesting “regular” ties, but SOS (or TLP) demurs.  I think because he knows the bow-tie makes him irresistible to many women (not only his moms).  He doesn’t want to chance missing out on the “boob crush” hugs he gets from all the lesbians in the synagogue (hey, breasts are breasts).  When he gets taller and there is no boob bonus in the hugs, he’ll probably switch to regular ties. Just a guess.

SOS lasted nearly the whole service, which is quite extraordinary for an adult, let alone a child.  “E-Mom, does every word end in “echa” in Hebrew?”  Almost, buddy.

The service was a mixture of celebration, remembrance, solemnity and a little irreverence (we are after all, a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and intersex congregation).

The Torah portion we read tomorrow the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham.  I have always hated this story.  A crazy father, a submissive son, and a psychopathic deity.  With a heritage like this, we should start therapy in utero.

What do we learn from that Biblical story, other than we shouldn’t read the Bible to our children, especially before bedtime?


I still don’t get why Abraham was so willing to kill Isaac that the angel twice had to tell Abraham to stop before Abraham put down the knife.

I don’t understand why it is part of our liturgy except for us to be horrified by it.  Our rabbi noted that the story seems to defy the requirements elsewhere in Torah for us, as a community, to teach, love and shelter all of our children.  Abraham, the parent generation, is so invested in his belief that he is willing to kill Isaac, the child generation, regardless of whether Isaac has the same commitment.

I never thought of it quite that way — we say we love our children but we send them to battle the wars we decide to wage.  It is as true then and it is today in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in countless other places where wars have been waged so long that no one remembers peace.  We are horrified at the ghastly stories of child abuse here and yet we barely remember that we have sent thousands of other people’s children to war this year alone.


Love your children.

Protect your children.

Teach your children.

Remember peace.


Burning the Quran is bad for all of us

General Petraeus commented that burning the Quran is dangerous for US troops. (See below.)

It is dangerous for all of us.

The Nazis burned books. The Communists burned books. The McCarthy-ites burned books.

Is this really what America stands for?

And just a little side note:  and these Quran burners call themselve the DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER?  Really?  Really?

P.S.:  ONLY C-SPAN and CNN carried live the interfaith press conference denouncing the burning of the Quran. Fox News Channel had no coverage and MSNBC did not carry live coverage.  WHAT DOES THAT SAY???

By KIMBERLY DOZIER, Associated Press Writer Kimberly Dozier, Associated Press Writer Sept. 7, 2010

[Truncated; excerpt only]

KABUL, Afghanistan – The top U.S. and NATO commander warned Tuesday an American church’s threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.

Meanwhile, NATO reported the death of an American service member in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday.

The comments from Gen. David Petraeus followed a protest Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center — a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy — to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that provoked the Afghan war.

Square Peg; Oval Office

I listened to President’s Obama’s speech.  I did not listen to the pundits.  But let me make some educated guesses:

If you are a GOP candidate or in the GOP leadership, you thought (i) he was short on specifics for economic recovery, (ii) he should have come out in favor of tax cuts, and (iii) he failed to vindicate the success of the surge in Iraq for enabling him to fulfill a campaign promise of ending the combat mission in 18 months.

If you are Keith Olbermann (and sometimes Frank Rich), you wonder why he didn’t renounce war all together, and how he could possibly mention George W. Bush and patriotism in the same sentence.

If you are Maureen Dowd, you wonder what happened to his passion and why, even though we elected Mr. Spock, he didn’t somehow morph into Dr. Spock.

If you are Chris Matthews, you are joking about how his eyes fluttered from time to time because you really can’t cope with your rock star hero’s having to represent the establishment he ran against.

I will go out on a limb here and have an opinion:  I liked his speech.  I thought he spoke movingly of the sacrifices of our troops.  He heard our fears about our economy and tried to be reassuring — as reassuring as one can be in the twenty minutes of prime time allotted.  He danced around the backlash against Muslims and building of mosques and community centers.  That was disappointing, but “politic”.

So, if you are the opposition, you hated it.  If you are among the democrats who wanted public health care and war crimes tribunals for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld (I don’t disagree) you are frustrated to the point of distraction.  If you just want the President to do his job and you appreciate even a little what an impossible job it is, you thought he did fine and just want him to keep trying.

So, how did I do?  If I hit 75% accuracy, I will have saved two hours of my life by not watching talking heads or reading pout-y Op-Eds.  How liberating.


WAR.  We are a nation at war.  We forget that because, since September 11, 2001, no bombs have fallen on our cities.  WAR. 

WAR.  Everyday some of our children go to war and die for our collective safety.  WAR. 

WAR.  Our representatives in Congress voted for two wars.  So, these are our wars.  We own them.  Don’t look away because it is too ugly to watch. WAR. 

WAR.  You cannot turn it off like the TV.  It keeps on even when you cannot stand to hear another word about it.  WAR.

WAR.  The real enemies are not as easily vanquished as are TV villains.  The real enemies want to kill our soldiers and defeat us.  WAR.

WAR.  And they and we have more and better weapons to inflict wounds than doctors have resources to heal them.  WAR.

WAR. Even if soldiers come back in one physical piece, they have sacrificed their minds and happiness to the memories of war that time cannot erase.  WAR.

WAR.  We didn’t think long enough when we sent young people to die in Iraq.  President Obama thought long and hard about Afghanistan, as he should, because this is WAR.

WAR. If my son goes, then I go, too.  If there is a cause for which he should risk his life, then it is a cause worth risking mine.  WAR. 

WAR.  I pray that lives lost in Afghanistan are not lost in vain, as they were in Iraq.  Let us never be so easy about sacrificing lives again.  WAR.

WAR.  It is a small word.  It is a great tragedy.  WAR.

Mr. President, please let me see you sweat


Mr. President, I am sweating.  I am sweating the outcome of the healthcare reform votes.  I am sweating the outcome of financial system reform.  I am sweating the recession.  I am sweating Iranian nuclear proliferation.  I am sweating global warming.  I am sweating more troops in Afghanistan, which just seems to be a quagmire.  In short, everything on the micro-level of my life seems still as precarious as it was when you were elected. 

We elected you in part for your No Drama Obama comportment and you words of empowerment and calm assurance.  But now I want to see you sweat, too, Mr. President, in a take charge way.  Twist some arms to get the reform you promised.  Support the process of stripping health care insurers of the anti-trust immunity if they are bad players. 

LBJ was not Mr. Nice Guy when it came to getting Medicare passed.  And generations of Americans are in his debt.

Mr. President, be principled, be honorable and please be ready to rumble in order to get things done.

Out of the mouths of babes come truths

At a town hall meeting, a fourth grader asked President Obama why everyone hated him.

I think we should stop wondering about the kid who was NOT aloft in a hot air balloon and we should think about what this fourth grader asked the President. It is easier to wonder about hot air balloon boy, his family’s interest in science experiments and their appearance as contestants on “Wife Swap”.  Putting this family under a microscope helps us avoid bigger and, dare I say, more important, issues.

Focusing on the fourth grader’s question requires us to look at how we behave.

We have to examine the tenor of our disagreements, the personal nature of the attacks, our fears for the future of our way of life and our desperate anxiety about not being all powerful on the international stage.

From the simplicity of his question, the following things came to mind:

1. We need to disengage from the-ends-justify-the-means view.  There is another word for “means” and that word is “barbarism” — i.e., torture, character assassination, lies, bribes, etc.

2. Passion for one’s cause not require person attacks, lies and defamationPassion is evident in the force of one’s argument and tireless efforts promoting the cause.

3. There is room for the loyal opposition.  When did we forget the phrase, “my country, right or wrong”?

The goal should be fair and open, vigorous and informative debate, “deciders” act for the common welfare and everyone abides by the result.  If losing means you make up lies and propaganda and continually do things disrespectful of the government, then you don’t deserve to be a citizen.    I was pretty unhappy when GW Bush was declared winner in 2000 and elected in 2004 and every time he did something with which I disagreed, I always hoped that his decisions were right.  Because if he were, the country would suffer.

4.  We must be willing to see the flaws in our own arguments.

I’ll start.  I believe that the public option insurance is necessary, but no one can predict the price tag and it really could be too costly right now.  Maybe in five years, we could afford it.

Also, Afghanistan is a quagmire with a corrupt government.  Nation-building is always a disaster.  I don’t believe that President Obama should send more troops.  In fact, we should remove our troops and seek a relationship with a fairly elected government.  But we should continue to bomb out Al-Qaeda.  (I’m feeling pretty extreme this afternoon.)

Now, let’s look at the GOP who use the slogan, “America First”.  WAIT, do you think Democrats don’t put America first?  Are you delusional?

Let’s look at the facts of the GOP’s putting America first:

  1. Under GOP leadership, manufacturing jobs went overseas in astounding numbers, and promoted the burgeoning economies of India and China.
  2. Refusal to meet with Iran (and GWB’s botching of several opportunities for some sort of freeze) only increased its determination to build nuclear weapons.
  3. The war in Iraq made us indebted to the Chinese government in an insane amount.
  4. Our armies cannot continue another war without a DRAFT.
  5. Our need for fossil fuels has made Russia a necessary player.
  6. De-regulation almost brought this mighty nation to its knees and then the small government politicians had to bailout the banks (SOCIALISM, anyone?)

Now, explain to me again why the GOP blames President Obama for having to forge new diplomatic relationships and alliances?

(Now tell me the truth.  Was I ranting?)

Soldiers and civilians will die whatever the Afghanistan strategy

G-d bless the men and women in our armed services.  They put their lives on the line in Somalia, on the DMZ between the Koreas, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in many other places known and unknown.  They are heroes.  (Ok, there are some gross exceptions to the rule — Abu Gh’raib for example.) 

I hate the war in Iraq and I know I am blessed to have others fight those dangerous battles.  Regardless of how you feel about the war, the veterans deserve all that a grateful nation should give them — honor, respect, the best medical care in the world, the best jobs, the best education for them, their spouses and children, economic security in old age and even throw in a country club membership.  And still, there is no way to repay the dedication and honor of these brave souls who have seen and done the unspeakable.

Afghanistan seems to be a quagmire.  We are damned if we pull out, we are damned if we keep the status quo and there are no assurances of success if we commit further troops there.  In short, soldiers and civilians will die no matter what decision is made. 

I will not allow my son to fight unless there is an imminent threat to our country.  And, in that case, I will go to war with him to protect this nation.  So, I can’t say that other people’s children should go.

For everyone involved in the decision-making process, I hope they have children in the line of fire.  Then, I’ll believe it is the best decision and not a political one.


McCain thinks time is running out to send troops to Afghanistan?  Is this the same man who thought we could “muddle through” in Afghanistan and the real fight was Iraq?

Our last president sent hundreds of thousands of troops into a quagmire with an ever-changing rationale and an aimless strategy.

There is talk about how well the “surge” worked in Iraq.  Psssssst, Iraq is not Afghanistan.  Afghanistan has humbled would-be conquerors throughout history, the most recent being Russia. The terrain is rugged, the tribal alliances are unsure, the drug trade is king and the government is corrupt.

Before more troops go in, we need to have a defined, winning strategy (and then an exit strategy) against two different groups, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  They ARE different groups, but right now are joined in common purpose, to drive out the NATO forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ironically, one country can help us with a winning strategy in Afghanistan.  And that country is the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Iran helped Bush’s military team early in the war until relations chilled again.  Then Ahmadinejad came to power.

Iran shares NATO’s desire to subdue the Taliban.  The Taliban is Iran’s enemy.  The Taliban ideology and jihadist purpose threaten to undermine the Islamic Republic, and Iran does not want to share a long border with a Taliban-controlled nation again.

So, we need Iran for success in Afghanistan and Iran needs us to be successful in Afghanistan.  Iran is also close to having military nuclear capabilities and the US backs sanctions.  President Obama needs to walk the thinnest of tightropes.

I know Jon Stewart pokes fun at the diplomatic tiptoe-ing around Iran, but whatever choices President Obama makes with Iran or Afghanistan will have consequences far beyond any sound bite or comedy skit.