Archive for March, 2013

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard an appeal against California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. If the arguments for Prop 8 hold weight, the court’s decision—if it doesn’t dismiss the case and renders one in June—may force my wife and I to divorce.

First, a disclosure. We have a gay son. A married gay son. Last August, he and our son-in-law exchanged vows in Vermont—one of nine states along with the District of Columbia that permits same-sex marriage. Now, according to conservative thinkers, same-sex marriage poses a grave threat to American families and thus the nation. Sadly, they’ve missed the point. The real villains are straight married couples, who underhandedly subvert family values.

Ask Charles J. Cooper, representing the opponents of same-sex marriage at the court. The purpose of marriage, he said, is procreation. Same-sex marriage, Mr. Cooper declared, “will refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.” Evidently, Mr. Cooper has not heard of birth control and its widespread employment. Or that same-sex couples raise well-adjusted children.

Most important, he hasn’t factored in the “straight-couple factor.” Based on Mr. Cooper’s views about marriage and procreation, it’s only logical—not to mention moral—that my wife and I divorce. Our 43-year-old marriage is a sham. We’re in our sixties now. Our three kids range from almost 37 to almost 30. We’re empty nesters and not about to have another child. So these days, our marriage consists of nothing more than a very satisfying focus on what Mr. Cooper dismisses as our “emotional needs and desires.”

Should California tolerate our flaunting the purpose of marriage? And what about young straight married couples concerned only with their own “emotional needs and desires?” Should Sacramento demand that straights declare their intention to have at least one child within five years of their wedding to obtain a marriage license? Should the state abrogate their marriages if they fail to become parents? Likewise, should the state terminate marriages that produced children when said offspring reach the age of independence?

This is all new stuff to be sure. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who may cast the deciding vote, noted that, “We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more.” Yet studies of children raised by gay and lesbian unions indicate positive outcomes. And let’s be honest. Cases of children abused and neglected by straight parents fill our courts. Many, many more never see a courtroom.

So Justice Kennedy’s observation doesn’t ring true to me. It almost suggests that Abraham Lincoln should have accommodated the United States’ 300-year tradition of slavery and never pushed the Thirteenth Amendment.

Be that as it may, my wife and I will hold our breath until June. Because, giving full credit to the late Walt Kelly’s Pogo, we have met the enemy of family stability and America’s enduring foundations—and they are us.

Again, Happy Passover and Happy Easter. May freedom and love guide us.

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

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

WHY THIS NIGHT?

The first night of Passover (Pesach) arrives tonight, March 25. (I write this post now because I was in Phoenix over the weekend.) Of great note, with the exception of Chanukah (the Christmas influence) more Jews attend some sort of Seder than observe any other holiday, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur included. Why?

Why indeed. And so I share with you a poem that comprises the first page of the Haggadah I put together some years ago and just revised—Haggadah Shel She’elot, Haggadah of Questions. The Haggadah is the “telling” of the Passover story. But in Jewish tradition, asking is just as important. So whether or not you observe Passover, you may find this of interest. Because when a small minority hangs on to its identity and observances for 3,200 years (dating back to the first Pesach) and more, questions must be asked.

WHY THIS NIGHT?

Why this night? And why this year

Just like last year?

All that tsuris with Pharaoh.

The plagues. The deaths of the firstborn yet.

That was thirty-two hundred years ago.

 

Why this table? This Seder plate?

The shank bone and the greens and the egg and the maror

And the charoset.

All this matzah, too. A whole week of matzah.

Seven or eight days—whichever you observe.

Not to mention the wine. Five cups yet,

Including one for Elijah.

 
And just who is Elijah anyway?

Do we really expect him to walk through the door?

He’s got a lot of doors to walk through

On this night.

Face it. Millions of Jews are doing the same thing

All around the world.

 

And why are there Jews anyway?

Isn’t it just an accident of birth?

Some say, “Hey, I’m a Jew, sure,

But I’m not Jewish.”

What’s the difference?

And what do they gain by

Turning their backs on the past?

And what do they lose?

 

And what’s to lose if we make this night

Like all other nights?

On all other nights, we’re just like

Everyone else.

Isn’t that what we want?

Although when you think of it, everyone else

Is never just like us.

For all of you sitting down at a Seder tonight and tomorrow night, Chag Sameach—Happy Holiday (literally “Festival”). For all of you celebrating Easter this Sunday, Happy Easter. And for all of you who have or create other traditions—Shavuah tov—have a good week.

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

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

 

WHAT’S NEW?

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), written according to tradition by Solomon, exclaims, “There is nothing new beneath the sun” (1:9). True that. Ultimately, what goes around comes around—as it did this past week.

Yes, technology races forward. Solomon could not have dreamed of the printing press and steam engine let alone the high-energy particle telescope, smart phone, Internet and Higgs boson—or “God”—particle that may finally have been detected. Politics and economics also evolve. But human nature remains unchanged. We exhibit concerns and passions no different from our ancestors’ thousands of years ago.

Thus the more things change the more they remain the same. Start with the new pope, Francis I. Once, all popes were Italian. Francis, 76, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, is the third consecutive non-Italian pope (although the son of Italian immigrants). He’s also the first from Latin America. But what’s really changed for the Church?

Sexual predators and dubious financial dealings have cast a pall over the Vatican. Nothing new there. Francis declared his intention to transform the Church while maintaining its traditions. He faces a major challenge. Many in the Church hierarchy prefer the status quo. They have their own interests. There’s nothing new about that, either.

Of course, an Argentine pope doesn’t represent the first big change witnessed by many millions of people living today. In August 1945, nuclear energy leaped from the blackboard to Air Force bombers and brought Japan to its knees. In 1960, a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected president of the United States. In July 1969, we literally saw the first moonwalk—on TV.

As the years rolled on, computers came home. The stock market soared and crashed and soared and crashed. Yesterday’s close set a record for the Dow—14,539. A woman, Madeleine Albright, became secretary of state in 1997. And in 2008, a black man—with an Arabic name yet—was elected president.

Progress? Yes and no. Our A-bombs hastened the end of the war but killed over 100,000 Japanese. They also created a frightening arms race, because weapons change but not the traits of fear and aggression. The race continues. Witness North Korea and Iran.

And while nuclear energy created cheaper electricity, it also engendered disasters at Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima. History repeated itself when America’s Catholic president was assassinated. Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley had preceded him. Manned flights to the moon were abandoned. But other nations and groups developed rocketry to assault neighbors or deliver nuclear weapons across the globe.

We know as well that the Internet brings porn into millions of homes and offices along with cyber bullying and ignorant rants inciting hatred. The human mind, capable of nobility and compassion, still works in perverse ways.

So it comes as no surprise that we’re on the cusp of time travel. Banana Republic has introduced its Mad Men collection so we can retreat to the good old days of 1963. Which the show clearly demonstrates were not terribly good at all.

And which offers the validity of another pearl of wisdom: everything old is new again.

Please note that my next post will appear on Monday, March 25.

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

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

CHAVEZ, DETROIT AND ME

The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, the city of Detroit and I all share a common link.

Chavez and me? In my novel San Café, the would-be socialist strongman of fictional San Cristo, Jesús Garcia-Vega, idolizes Chavez. Both reject the accumulation of private wealth. Chavez redistributed much wealth to the poor. In doing so, he virtually eliminated illiteracy and vastly improved healthcare. Yet he left Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy in a shambles. And no leader who embraces Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will ever play a constructive role on the world stage.

Detroit and me? My youngest son Aaron spent his first year as a professional dancer there—in the suburbs. I made three trips to Detroit, including downtown visits and a pilgrimage to the old Motown studios on West Grand.

The Chavez-Detroit connection? Government can and should play a role in improving the lives of people left out of a nation’s economic advances. But government control on the scale of Venezuela’s can warp an economy and stunt its growth. Venezuela now faces a choice. It can use Chavez’ positive accomplishments as a platform for establishing a responsible market economy or it can continue carrying its people on the government’s back—and sink under its bloated weight.

Detroit also faces a choice. America’s poster child for failed cities is witnessing impressive changes. True, most of the city remains poor and blighted. Yet three of its four major league sports teams play downtown. The opera house draws crowds. The Big Three automakers are thriving. And Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, as well as ambitious entrepreneurs are buying run-down buildings, refurbishing them and filling them with businesses. They’re developing new living spaces, too. Enclave though it is, downtown is coming back even as Michigan governor Rick Snyder plans to appoint a manager over the city’s finances.

Critics decry the downtown surge. They say Detroit’s poor aren’t riding this economic wave. They’re right. But most productive jobs get created when companies and entrepreneurs identify markets, invest money and sweat then take on employees. In the process, they hire contractors and their subs, janitors, IT consultants and security personnel. More workers and residents boost sales at nearby restaurants, coffee houses, drugstores and dry cleaners.

Momentum builds. Enterprising individuals open new small businesses or seek work. The tax base expands. Optimism grows. Business, community and government organizations devote more resources to helping local residents acquire job skills. Give a man a fish and eats for a day, the saying goes. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.

Detroit won’t become an overnight success. But it can make progress—and ultimately spread it to neighborhoods—if citizens and politicians see downtown development not as a racial or class barrier but as a springboard to a better future. The marketplace is imperfect. But it offers more hope than a government-controlled economy that insists that “the people” all be equally poor.

Hugo Chavez would have been exactly the wrong mayor for the Motor City.

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

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

“CHICKEN”—A WASHINGTON FABLE

The sheriff admitted that the county had too much road to cover. The department had been cut way back. Federal money wasn’t flowing to the state like it used to. Funding for counties and municipalities was drying up. Yet those crazy kids kept finding new ways to kill themselves.

The sheriff knew a thing or two about “Chicken.” He’d never been a bad kid, but maybe he’d displayed an occasional bit of hazy judgment in his high-school days. Like others, he’d gone to Friday-night contests where a guy in one car drove straight towards a guy in another car, pedal to the metal, to see who would swerve away first. And God forgive him, he’d even taken his old Chevy out on the road one night to give it a go.

But the sheriff got his diploma, did a stint in the Marines, attended community college then earned a four-year degree in law enforcement. He owed all that to the fact that while those crazy kids played “Chicken” back in the day, they always chickened out. What’s more, the onlookers never expected to hear the sounds of crushed metal and broken glass. The game was dumb, but the kids understood the risks and managed to avoid them.

No longer. The sheriff didn’t know whether it was the influence of TV, which seemed to get bloodier and bloodier, or video games, whose blood lust he didn’t at all understand. Or maybe it was something in the water.

Worse, the rules of the game had undergone a drastic change. Two drivers didn’t simply speed towards each other, stupid enough as that was. Now, the onlookers were participants.  They actually stood in the middle of the road between the two cars. Risks to the drivers had become minimal. Kids seeking a new thrill exposed themselves to way bigger risks. And the drivers didn’t give a damn about who they hurt.

So it was that the sheriff gathered with deputies, local police and state investigators. Flashes of red and yellow lit their faces. The only sounds they could hear above their hushed conversation came from police radios, ambulance sirens approaching from every direction and TV-news producers instructing their camera crews.

“What gets me,” the sheriff told a reporter, “is that the two drivers knew that the kids in the crowd between them would absorb the brunt of the punishment. The drivers figured they’d probably just walk away.”

Of course, they did the perp walk before deputies drove them to the county’s juvenile lock-up where they would be temporarily sequestered. Thanks to air bags, they’d suffered little more than scratches.

The onlookers were another story. Left unprotected, many went to county hospitals. Several were taken to the morgue.

“What I can’t understand,” the sheriff exclaimed, “is why the onlookers kept standing there and cheering on drivers coming right at them. Those kids, they could have voted with their feet. But they didn’t. What the hell were they thinking?”

The two drivers were released on their own recognizance shortly after midnight.

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

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.