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.

The Public Option

For my first and last sports analogy — you can’t score if you don’t get on base. 

Reform is a process.  I think many of us would be surprised by the narrow focus of the Social Security Act when originally enacted.  

If the emphasis on the public option defeats the broader reform bill, then that is a bigger tragedy.

I believe that a public option is necessary because insurance companies will now refuse to insure the currently uninsured at a reasonable cost because of the other reform measures that circumscribe an insurance company’s ability to deny coverage to existing policy holders.  

But first we need:

a law that eliminates pre-existing condition exclusions, prevents “dropping” coverage when an insured person gets sick, and eliminates life-time maximums.

a “best practices” safe harbor so doctors aren’t forced into costly, defensive medicine practices.  We need computerized record keeping to reduce costly, tragic mistakes from insufficient information.

If, within a year after bill passage, there is a spike in health care premiums, even the GOP and Blue Dog Democrats will want a public option because their constituents will demand it.

There are two other reasons to wait a year: 

one, the cost of creating a public option may be more than our economy can handle right now.  Do I know for sure?  No.  No one can know for sure.

two, we need to see how identifiable changes affect the system.  The law of unintended consequences may yield a different set of problems or a different set of options when we see how the reforms actually affect the economy.  And we need some room for tinkering.

I applaud those who recognize that a public option is necessary.  But, please, don’t hold up the other reforms that the nation needs. 

Where are we? Where do we go from here?

This Yom Kippur, our rabbi spoke about the first two questions G-d asks in Genesis: of Adam, G-d asks “where are you?” and, of Cain, G-d asks “where is your brother?”

Why, the rabbi posed, does G-d ask these questions since G-d is omniscient and knows the answers? Because, the rabbi posits, of the importance of Adam and Cain to be accountable for who they are (as in “Dude, look around you.  What are you thinking?”) and what they have done (as in, “Dude, did you think that was a GOOD idea?”).

Once we answer these questions, then next question is:  where do we go from here?

I believe that President Obama has tried to engage us in this conversation.  Especially on the topic of torture.  We, individually and as a society, need to acknowledge that we tortured people and that is wrong and that we failed at the very moment our national character demanded that we stick to our ideals.  It is ok to be imperfect, it is ok to fail at things.  But it is not ok to stay there, mired, unwilling to recognize the imperfection and the failings and set a new course.

Well, this year, I am moved to start trying to answer these questions in my life.  It will probably take me a lifetime to get it right.

Yom Kippur

First, to everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish, I wish you happiness, health and prosperity in the year 5770 (or 2009-10).

With the Yom Kippur fast came a blogging fast.  Both fasts have ended.

This Yom Kippur had bloggable moments, some profound and others, well, let’s just say that I have already started the list of sins for next year’s atonement:

Muslim-Jewish Greetings. A Muslim cab driver wished us health and happiness in our new year.  And I told him that we hope that he had had a blessed Ramadan with his family.  There is an advantage to living in NY.  There are no territorial, ideological or historical impediments to honoring other traditions and religions.  (We are cramped in this City, but for purely capitalist reasons.) I am a conscientious objector when it comes to religion (but not tradition), but I see G-d in these ordinary exchanges between individuals of different backgrounds.  These seemingly mundane holiday greetings have transformative power, precisely because they were between Muslim and Jew.

Gay, Muslim and Palestinian. There was a gay Palestinian Muslim at our Yom Kippur services as a guest of our synagogue (we flew some GLBT Israelis here after the attack on a gay center in Israel, so they can feel a part of a huge community of supporters).  Now, that is bizarre on so many levels.  But closeness to community, to spirituality comes with the setting, not the liturgy.  And, I know, I feel more at home in a mosque than in a church.  The lack of iconography (i.e., no depictions of suffering Jews) and the Sephardic melodies are familiar to me.  Spirituality doesn’t, I believe, require belief in a deity, or a particular theology; rather, a sense of essential goodness in (most) people who are inextricably tied one to another because of our inherent humanity.

A River Runs Through It. The rabbi reprised her Rosh Ha-Shanah theme of the colors of the river.  It reminds me of when I tell a joke (or make what I think is a witty comment) and no one laughs.  I assume that no one heard.  I have to remember that everyone heard but no one thought it funny.  So, the rabbi didn’t get that no one could follow her metaphor at Rosh Ha-Shanah, let alone ten days later when people are hungry and have caffeine and nicotine withdrawal.  My head was pounding and all I heard was the light of the river, river, river, and whether we saw the light or not and whether we followed the changing light of the river, river, river.  And I thought, I will wait until the light of the river is a major motion picture but please get to the part where the Shofar is blown and the fasting is over and the pounding in my head stops.  The river, river, river made me dizzy, dizzy, dizzy, AGAIN.  Torture comes in many shapes and size and pretexts.

Our Child, Our Oracle. Ok, so here is the best part of the whole Yom Kippur.  Our son was prone to melt-downs this holiday season.  Maybe it was his bow-tie or his blazer that caused a karmatic imbalance (although he was such a chick magnetic and he was in Heaven being kissed and adored by women old and young). So, we had to leave for a while (to relieve everyone from having to hear the meltdown) but PRECISELY because we wanted to leave, our son then wanted to stay.  My partner asked him to rate his behavior in the children’s service.

Our 7 year-old responded, “Mommy, I was a complete ass.”

Parenting manuals don’t teach you how not to laugh and how not to applaud the razor-sharp analysis even though your child used “bad words”.

Choking back laughter and “bravos” for spot-on analysis, we told him those were not words that we used and his choice of language was not ok.  His response:

“Mommy, I don’t think I am being brought up well.  In good homes, children don’t say such words.”

Ok ok ok ok ok ok, it is Yom Kippur, and we are tired, cranky, hungry and our precocious child has laid down the gauntlet.  My partner says something that adjourns the conversation, so that we can prepare for battle or, more precisely, litigation, with our 7 year-old. I have called in reinforcements.

Dear Mom

It’s almost Yom Kippur and I have that rage inside me again.  I am supposed to seek forgiveness and I am still waiting for an apology from On High for making you suffer and taking you away.  Just an acknowledgment of a “Heavenly oops” would work. 

Two of my friends are dealing with the terminal illnesses of their mothers.  I just try to offer my ear because, as you know, it is all of jumble of good, bad, generous and selfish emotions.

The one thing that stays with me always is your last day.  “Your girls” knew from the change in your breathing — the increasingly shallower breaths and the elongation of your breathing rhythms — that the end was near. 

Breathe, two, three, four, five.  Breathe, two, three, four, five.

Breathe, two, three, four, five.  Breathe, two, three, four, five.

Breathe, two, three, four, five, six (phew).  Breathe, two, three, four, five, six.

I even went to the medical supply store to get a suction machine to suction out the mucous because it sounded like you were choking and couldn’t clear your throat (I later learned that is known as the death rattle).

Breathe, two, three, four, five, six.  Breathe, two, three, four, five, six.

At the end, Dad was holding you in his arms and your children were touching your hands and your legs and we watched and we listened. Your breaths were even more shallow and the length between them got even longer.  We stayed with the rhythm and we were breathing with you. 

Breathe, two, three, four, five, six, seven (phew).  Breathe, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Breathe, two, three, four, five, six, seven.  Breathe, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Breathe, two, three, four, five, six, seven.  Breathe, two, three, four, five, six. . . .

And then you didn’t take the next breath and you were gone.

There was an eternity in that time between the last breath and the next one you didn’t take. 

In that eternity was the difference between life and death.  In that eternity was the secret of what makes a person alive.  What was that infinitessimal change that made the difference between life and death? 

I am not religious (as you know) but I really believe that we helped put your soul on the wings of angels.  And I am glad.  And then I think: angels, shmangels.  I just miss my mom. AND I am waiting for that apology.

No-Where-istan gets a national anthem

We No-Where-istanis need an anthem, something to rally around.  I was worried about how to choose the right song — a song to capture the mood, the state of mind (or whatever) and the gestalt of No-Where-istan.

On Friday, I was mulling this on my way into the subway.  The 42nd Street-Times Square Station often gives me inspiration.  Into the bowels of New York I descended.  I saw this woman getting ready to play her saxophone:




She did not ask for money,  just business cards.  She was just learning how to play, as in she would not make the B squad of the high school band.  Maybe she was an out-of-work Wall Streeter, trying to find her inner Marsalis.

Anyway, she started playing, of all things, No Where Man by the Beatles.  For all I know, she was trying to play On the Good Ship Lollipop, but No Where Man came out in fits and starts from her saxophone.  I was the only one who stopped.  More accurately, I was the only one not running away from the noise. 

Then I thought, “No Where Man.  No-Where-istan.  THAT’S IT!!!  It is a real No-Where-istan. . . .”

Another inspirational moment in the subway.

This nation-building thing is really coming together, eh?


Before I go shopping for food for the break fast on Yom Kippur, I am going to the sporting goods store and get all the gear that roller bladers use.  If I am going to go to the Zabar’s counter on Sunday, I am not taking any chances. 

Remember, G-d inscribes us in the Book of Life on Monday and I am not giving G-d any easy chances to have that decision made any sooner.

No-Where-istan is getting crowded


A friend emailed that she wants a senior position in government AND the townhouse must be in Tribeca.  Then again, she thought, the townhouse wasn’t a good idea because there is no staff to help if there is a leak or something.  Ok, so she is sensible, but . . . . .

I need to tell you more about this sensible friend.  We saw her last evening at a function and she was wearing Jimmy Choo, insanely high-heeled shoes.  She is not a short woman and already has a presence about her without being 5 inches higher as a result of lovely but insane shoes.  (By the way, back-breaking shoes are NOT allowed in No-Where-istan.) 

Of COURSE, it was an I-am-40-and-over-and-I-needed-these-shoes crisis.  For those of you not yet in your 40s, don’t think that we are exaggerating the phenomenon.  Save up just for your impulse buys for the 40s decade.  Trust me.  Or ask a female financial planner.  Really.

On the plus side, our friend’s calves looked fabulous (for the real confirmation, she couldn’t ask straight women, so she made sure she asked POB (partner of blogger) and me about how hot her calves looked).

But she is not going to be senior health advisor (high heels knocked her out of the running) and we don’t have health care in No-Where-istan anyway. 

But, we will have a senior official with killer calves. 

She’ll have to take off the shoes when trying to enter the country that is still in my head.


I am trying to change some things in my life.  Change is hard; change is scary.  In fact, people sometimes back away from change they need and want because the unknown is scary.  I know I do. 

If we all went boldly where we have not gone before, then there would be no such saying as, “hey, at least it is the devil you know,” as cold comfort for maintaining the status quo. 

Which begs the question, just because you know how bad it is now, is it possible to have a social contract with the devil (ok, that’s an oxymoron) that the evil will not get worse or different? 

And isn’t there one devil?

If we have come to accept that change is needed, then that means we have accepted that the status quo is no longer tolerable. 

We voted for change.

If change is hard in one’s personal life, then change is excruciating on a national level.  But we voted for change because the status quo is no longer tolerable.

We voted for change.

Believe in change because you have no contract with the devil you know.

We voted for change.

Life in a Backpack, Part 3

After seeing Qaddafi’s tent, I am thinking life as a semi-nomad takes a lot of logistical planning. 

But I still think you can put your life in a backpack (but credit cards and cash in your front pocket). Of course you would have to wear your backpack as a frontpack like you were carrying a baby, because if your life is (figuratively speaking) in your backpack, you would really need to watch it. 

Then you would need a camera to document just how bad your life is that you were forced to pack up your life in your frontpack.

 I am going to rest now from all of this thinking.