Archive for August, 2012

CONCEPTION

Just when I think I’m keeping up with the news, I find out that I’m behind the curve. Only this week did I learn that last April, the Arizona legislature passed a law that pregnancy begins following a woman’s last period—before conception. I’m confused. I thought I got basic reproductive biology. Legislated science seems to be another matter.

According to John Celock of The Huffington Post, doctors often calculate a woman’s pregnancy from her last period because the exact date of conception can’t necessarily be determined. But this is a matter of a physician’s convenience. The State of Arizona has come up with its own medical science. Why? To take two weeks off a woman’s eligibility to have an abortion. I’m no scientist, and while I’m pro choice, I understand opposition to abortion. The question is complex. But still, Arizona took me aback.

Which inspired me to check out what other legislation has been passed this year. And I can report to you that legislatures and city councils across the nation won’t be one-upped by The Grand Canyon State.

— Georgia law states that a woman who announces she’s pregnant right after her period may keep any cash and gifts for her baby even if she hasn’t had sex or undergone in vitro fertilization or any other process to join an egg with a sperm.

— South Carolina ruled that the Book of Genesis is a science textbook, and that the state may fund its printing and distribution in public schools.

— Texas has resolved that it is larger than Alaska.

— Mississippi law declares that African-American residents are legally citizens of Africa and must self-deport before this November’s presidential election.

— Wisconsin now classifies cheese as a fruit.

— Oregon defines marijuana as a vegetable.

— Colorado mandates that anyone who shoots and kills more than one person must become a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association or, if already a member, must fund a gift membership for a worthy person.

— Iowa stipulates that a state-appointed board of ministers and priests may label pork products kosher.

— Oklahoma’s legislature bans any resident who visits the Museum of Natural History in New York from returning to the state. It also makes watching the Nature Channel a misdemeanor on the first viewing and a felony on each subsequent viewing.

— The City of San Francisco will impose a “wealth tax” on individual residents with a gross income greater than $15,000 and couples whose gross income exceeds $20,000. The city exempts all public employees with wages and overtime adding up to $375,000 so as not to exclude the chief of police.

Just thought you’d want to know. Especially if you’re a nun or an abstinent teen who finds herself pregnant twelve times a year.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

INSULT TO HUMANITY

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, offers fascinating insights into the workings of the human mind in his book, The Social Animal. Brooks points to how we often judge people in milliseconds based on stimuli recognized only the subconscious. I had that experienced with a recent photo in the San Francisco Chronicle.

I immediately responded to the face of a man distorted by emotion—not so much anger as hatred. I knew who he was, where he was and what he was feeling. What I read confirmed what a glance told me. The man was an Iranian at a rally in Tehran protesting the existence of Israel.

We know the background. Iran has opposed Israel ever since the revolution of 1979 created a religious-dominated government. It has bankrolled and trained terrorists. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and most of the world believe that Iran seeks nuclear weapons—a charge Iran denies. Israel has declared its right to a conduct a preemptive attack to deter an existential threat. President Obama has stated that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons; American military action remains an option. Mitt Romney offers no disagreement. Tehran responds that it will target American military bases and ships in the Persian Gulf—and Israel, of course—should Israel and the West attack its nuclear facilities.

Geopolitics? And then some! But the face of the man in the photo did not reflect the age-old competition for land and resources. It displayed much more. Here’s why…

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bellowed, “The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.” Opposing Israel’s existence is justified to “protect the dignity of all human beings.” Ahmadinejad, who denies the Holocaust—which tells you something—called Israel “a corrupt, anti-human organized minority group standing up to all divine values.” Iran’s Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader—the latter term also tells you something—Ali Khamenei has called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that must be eliminated. Also last week, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah boasted from Lebanon that precision-guided rockets could kill tens of thousands of Israelis. Military targets? No concern. Human beings? Let the slaughter begin.

So what’s the point? The very existence of a Jewish state on land Muslims once conquered offends God and brooks no toleration, no compromise.

Yes, Jews can hate, too. A few days ago, Jewish teens in Jerusalem engaged in several attacks on Arabs. One involved a severe beating. But here’s the difference: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately stated, “We are not prepared to tolerate racism in Israel.” President Shimon Peres declared, “I am full of shame and outrage… This is an intolerable incident of violence that we must uproot from our midst.” The vast majority of Israelis and Jews worldwide echoed their sentiments.

When Jews practice such hatred, they defame Judaism. Israel and the world Jewish community marginalizes them and justly so. Yet governmental and institutional hatred as expressed by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and others draws wide acceptance—or at best apathy—in the Muslim world. It often attains smug agreement in much of the rest of the world, too.

And it makes quite clear just who is insulting humanity.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT

From time to time, the leader of a Torah study session or Shabbat services will ask the group to come up with an Eleventh Commandment. (The Ten Commandments Moses received on Mount Sinai are well known but often misunderstood.) One of the earliest of these Eleventh Commandments was Holocaust survivor Emil Fackenheim’s instruction to survive as Jews and not give Hitler a posthumous victory. I have my own favorite Eleventh Commandment. It doesn’t seem as awesome, but I think it offers all of us some meaningful opportunities to make the world a better place.

Asked for such a commandment several years ago, I answered, “You shall cut each other some slack.” People laughed. Some may have considered it a goofball response. Granted, I’m quite capable of that. Not long after, I repeated my Eleventh Commandment at Friday-night services. More laughter greeted me. (Afterwards, a woman who has studied and taken classes with me provided a minority report that I really had something.) I suspect that on both occasions, those who heard my pronouncement thought it too humble—too simple—in regard to weightier subjects like avoiding idolatry, honoring parents, and not murdering, kidnapping and coveting one’s neighbor’s wife. On the other hand, my Eleventh Commandment may have made people uncomfortable. Human nature too often seems to resist cutting slack for others.

Case in point: My youngest son, Aaron, married Jeremy Kueffner last Friday in Stowe, Vermont. Aaron and Jeremy had been partners for several years. When Aaron broke the glass at the end of the ceremony—conducted by a justice of the peace—to maintain a link with Jewish tradition, a real marriage had taken place. Two people who love and complement each other had been joined as one.

My oldest son, Seth, put it best. (My middle son, Yosi, perhaps aping me, read from a children’s book with a very deep message about two people who love each other.) I can only give you the gist of Seth’s wedding comments, the most eloquent and moving I’ve ever heard. They went roughly like this: The U.S. just landed a new Mars Rover. It reminded Seth—a sci-buff—of Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry’s position that creation contained many sentient life forms and our highest duty was to respect and protect each, to live in harmony within a great whole. Trust me, Seth put it better.

Of course, the families and friends gathered had no brief against the wedding of two men. But my Eleventh Commandment revealed itself in a somewhat unexpected but delightful way. My brother-in-law Michael is a small-town Texas conservative. He’s a practicing Catholic, too. But he came to the wedding. And he told me something as meaningful as anything Seth said. “I don’t approve of gay marriage. But I came here to support my nephew.”

Imagine how much better our world would be if everyone—in spite of disagreements—cut each other some slack. It’s not all that difficult. Because in doing so, we don’t have to accept each other’s beliefs. All we have to do is acknowledge them. As I wrote in God’s Others, different isn’t bad. It’s simply different.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

POWER

HBO’s Deadwood (2004-06) offers an intriguing look at power. Two of the series’ main characters, both based on real people, and a character in an old movie reveal a lot about America in the late nineteenth century and America today.

Al Swearingen (British actor Ian McShane) runs Deadwood, a South Dakota gold mining camp, with an iron fist. Or tries to when competition for gambling and prostitution dollars arrives. As Shakespearean character as has existed on TV, the complex Al at first posed a mystery to me. His power and wealth seemed to have no purpose. Reared in Chicago under terrifying circumstances—his father beat him mercilessly—he employs a knife and fearlessness to his rise to the top but lacks other goals. Does he want to build a great city? Or flee with his fortune live in opulence elsewhere? The answers are no and no. Another answer takes center stage. Being a very big fish in a very small pond proves sufficient to protect Al from ever again being abused, although he abuses everyone else.

George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), the mining titan and father of newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst, also comes from a difficult childhood. He sees gold as conferring power and thus respect. Hearst has a big home in San Francisco but flees at every opportunity to search for more gold in primitive areas—anywhere “the color” is available. Whereas Al Swearingen looks and acts like a cutthroat but has a sympathetic heart, Hearst displaces a courteous demeanor that hides a terrible viciousness. He freely maims and kills to secure more gold and thus more power and thus more respect.

Another fictional character also comes to mind. In the film adaptation (1965) of James Clavell’s King Rat, George Segal plays lowly Corporal King, surviving in a Japanese POW camp near Singapore. King runs the camp’s black market and rises to the top of the prisoner hierarchy. He has. Everyone else lacks and must curry favor. But when the camp is liberated, King immediately reverts to his lowly status. Back in the U.S., he likely will enjoy all the amenities post-war life offers most Americans. But unless he can exploit talents demonstrated under difficult wartime conditions, he will never again experience power.

That power can be used for bad purposes represents anything but a new concept. The Bible limits the power of an Israelite king. “Thus he will not act haughtily to his fellows… (Deuteronomy 17:20).” But what have we learned?

Today, too many “public servants” sees their task not as doing what’s best for the electorate but simply getting elected and re-elected as if holding power is sufficient to secure the nation’s wellbeing. I’m reminded of the remark made by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. McConnell declared his first order of business when Congress reconvened. It didn’t concern the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had nothing to do with bringing the nation out of economic turmoil. No, Mitch McConnell stated that his first order of business was to see that Barack Obama was defeated in 2012.

I’m not sure that Al Swearingen wouldn’t have done better.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

I AM MY MOTHER—KIND OF

In mid-June, I wrote about having become my father, Morris. Yet we all have two genetic parents. As it happens, my mother, Blanche Finkle Perlstein, died thirteen years ago on August 1, 1999. I’ll say Kaddish for her tonight. And I’ll carry some of her with me—only not as much as I’d like.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m glad to resemble my father. Yet I’m also different, which I attribute to my mother. She was a woman of incredible emotional intelligence with an uncanny ability to charm even strangers—and even under challenging circumstances. Yet she never dominated a conversation. She asked questions and let others speak while sharing her own experiences and feelings with uncommon tact and diplomacy.

What fascinates me is that my mother was as much an extrovert as my father was an introvert. Yet they not only had a forty-seven-year marriage but also a good one. Which adds to the lore that opposites attract—unless we’re talking about genes with opposite traits that tend to do battle on the field of your personality. As they do on mine.

Take cocktail parties. My mother would have a great time. My father? I imagine he felt as I do in such settings—uncomfortable, often miserable. Like my father, I am not a chit-chatter. My mother’s genes try to ease my way. I cheer them on. More often than not, they fail. I remain an introvert.

But here’s the thing: Introverts aren’t necessarily anti-social. In the March 2003 Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch—himself an introvert—wrote an article that offered me great comfort. Rauch pointed out that introverts value and require time alone. Lots of it. But they also can be very social—in small groups (say a dinner party for six) or one-on-one (or -two or -three). Introverts, in fact, can be great conversationalists—when a conversation is focused and specific.

Moreover, introverts can enjoy large events if that same focus exists. Public speaking? I love it. The larger the audience, the more the fun. But remember, I’m focused. I enjoy hosting a big celebration, too. Not simply because I know the guests but because the event focuses (there’s that word again) on the reason for the celebration. When I hosted my launch party for Slick! last November, a crowd filled the house. It was easy to speak with people because the subject was writing in general and my book in particular.

Admittedly, I suffer at most big occasions even when surrounded by people I know. To be honest, I avoid them when possible. I don’t mean to offend. I’m not snubbing anyone. I’m just freeing myself from terrible discomfort.

So at the end of this analysis, I can say that I am like my mother—kind of. She gave me enough of her extroversion to manage—even shine—during certain occasions. Which is why, among many other reasons, I saw the bright flame of her personality in the yarzheit (memorial) candle I lit Wednesday night. And why I will carry my mother with me through the rest of my days not only with love but also with enduring gratitude.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.