Archive for July, 2015


I don’t support saying negative things about people. The Rabbis consider lashon hara—evil speech—one of humanity’s great sins. But let’s get real. Negativity can be part of a grand strategy to achieve something necessary. Something great. That’s why American political life revolves around attack ads. So I’m adding my own wisdom to the political scene: Donald Trump is a schmuck.

Before you condemn me for engaging in evil speech, let me offer sound reasons for such a statement. I’ll begin with evidence—something politicians tend to avoid.

The Donald slammed Mexicans as rapists and murderers. Mexican immigrants anyway. Well, illegal Mexican immigrants if you’re picky. Lots of people come here from Mexico illegally. That’s wrong. But they come to work—and they work hard. Yet a number of recent mass murders in this nation were perpetrated not by Mexicans but by white American citizens.

Then the Donald attacked John McCain’s war record. “He’s not a hero,” said the Donald. Why? McCain, a Navy fighter pilot, was shot down over Vietnam and held captive for 5-1/2 years. POWs, according to the Donald, can’t be heroes. As it happens, McCain’s father was Admiral John McCain, Jr. The North Vietnamese offered to release the current senator from Arizona during the war—without his captive brothers. McCain refused special treatment. Of course, capturing the Donald would have been impossible. In college, he received student deferments then a 4-F medical deferment before getting a high draft lottery number. In fairness though, he did spend his high school years at a military school.

Campaigning for all he’s worth (“I’m really rich,” he boasts proudly), the Donald flew to Laredo, Texas to speak about immigration. He claimed great personal risk. Bravely, he eschewed body armor and a helmet—if he could find one large enough to cover his comb-over. Still, no one else in attendance appeared worried. The Donald also attacked former Texas governor Rick Perry for wearing glasses, supposedly to make him look intelligent. (I might give him a pass there.) And The Des Moines Register claimed that the Donald denied their reporters press credentials for an event in Osklaoosa, Iowa because the paper urged him to drop out of the Republican primaries, calling him a “feckless blowhard.”

Now let’s move to a better reason for me to castigate the Donald. I’m hoping he gets so riled up that to spite me, he buys 100 copies each of my novels—Slick!, San Café, The Boy Walker and Flight of the Spumonis—and burns them publicly. Nothing spurs an author’s sales like a good-old-fashioned book burning. Those bright orange embers are dollar signs. Trust me, you can’t buy that kind of media exposure and excitement. In fact, I’ll cut the Donald in for one-third of my royalties. It’s the least I can do; we’re both from Queens.

But wait. Could the Donald be playing me? Has he been waiting for me to call him a schmuck so he can burn books so my sales can soar so he can direct yet another revenue stream towards his bottom line? Suddenly, I’m feeling anxious. Out of control. Maybe I should have titled this post “Trumping the David.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about paranoia in Middle America. Last week, I wondered about the nuclear deal with Iran. A recent experience and a reader’s comments induce me to amplify my remarks.

Regarding paranoia, many Americans fear both crime and an encroaching federal government. They often turn to guns for protection. Fear of Washington is misplaced, I believe. Not so fear of crime—particularly in small towns and rural areas.

Carolyn and I spent last weekend among the redwoods up north in Humboldt County with my cousin and her husband—I’ll call him Bob. Summer days reach 100 degrees. Nights cool down. Perfect for growing marijuana. Seemingly powerless, Humboldt civic leaders throw their hands in the air—or look the other way. The economy depends on pot. Many Humboldt residents oppose legalization to keep the industry in place, prices high and money circulating.

Big-time operators, including Mexican cartels according to Bob, have established huge grows. Bob points to the mountains—challenging terrain for law enforcement. Big grows exist on federal and tribal (Hoopa) lands. Growers level hilltops and divert streams. They set out poison to kill “invasive” deer. They’re also heavily armed. You don’t want to hike up there.

Job seekers abound. But growers hire only people they trust. Rebuffed, unsavory characters engage in crime. In Bob’s quiet neighborhood, break-ins occur with disturbing frequency. Several took place while we were there. One neighbor doesn’t bother locking his door. It’s cheaper to lose something trivial than replace a doorframe. Guns go off. Saturday night, I heard a rifle shot. Possibly someone was hunting—illegally. (Summers, deer forage at night.) Or someone spotted an intruder. Bob—no paranoid—keeps a .38 handy.

Now to Iran. Chris, a friend of a regular reader, states that Americans misunderstand that country. Having lived in Iran and traveled extensively, he believes that Iranians don’t mean it when they march, chanting “Death to America! Death to Israel!” It’s all a wink-and-nod affair. The marchers are bused in and paid. They also get “brownie points” from the government. University admission might ride on participation. Chris also emphasizes that the government is weaker than Americans think. “There are so many cabals and power camps that it makes ours look like streamlined, FAR more complex than red vs. blue.”

My response: No and yes. No, not all Iranians hate America. Or even Israel (not so sure there). Yes, Iran’s threat in the Middle East is real. Most Iranians may wish only to pursue their education, careers and family matters. But the ayatollahs and the military, chiefly the Republican Guard, still hold their fingers on the trigger to extend Iran’s influence. They support their regional proxies in doing the same. When Tehran—the government as opposed to the people—launches its version of street theater, the world rightly takes such hostility seriously. Still, I agree that ordinary Iranians have much in common with us.

Bottom line: I’m skeptical that we’ll enhance our security by arming ourselves to the teeth at home. Or dropping bombs half a world away. But let’s listen to those who fret that the world can be a scary place. It can be. Common sense might lead us to common ground. And wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.


The Iran deal is done—at least until Congress votes on it. President Obama will veto a “no” vote, and overriding that veto will be difficult. So what lies ahead? We can only speculate. But I do have a warning.

First, let’s look at some possibilities. We’ve bought time, but following the ten-year agreement, Iran—unless a younger generation abandons revolution—may rush to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran’s holding a nuclear threat over Israel, the Middle East and American policy is unsettling. Some think tank inhabitants believe we can live with a nuclear Iran. Until we get there, it’s all theory.

Before the agreement ends—perhaps well before—Sunni Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and perhaps Egypt, may seek to develop their own nuclear weapons. Make no mistake. A proxy war in the Middle East now pits Shiite Iran against Sunni Saudi Arabia. Yet nations have much in common. They’re Muslim. They fund extremists. And they consider each other apostates.

Regrettably, lifting sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets will enable Tehran to fund more terrorism, increasing its backing for the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite groups in the Gulf and probably Hamas in Gaza. President Obama admittedly focused solely on the nuclear issue. We have our work cut out.

Now let’s examine reality. Peter Beinart—a liberal who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq then later saw its folly—rejects the theory of American omnipotence (The Atlantic online, July 14). We may be the world’s most powerful nation, but power is relative. We cannot dictate terms to other nations which, while not as strong as us, are formidable regional powers capable of great harm. The administration of George W. Bush set out to remake the Middle East with the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Lovely theory. Ugly results.

Unfortunately, saber rattling comes easy. Restraint—particularly when the United States is so potent militarily—poses a major challenge to those who think we can use force with impunity. (Side bar: we are friendly with Vietnam following a war, which cost us more than 58,000 lives; there’s always hope.) Sober commentators like Roger Cohen (New York Times, July 16) point out that the Iran deal does not bring us into the best of all possible worlds. But no one offers a better alternative.

What would have happened had we foregone deal making and ratcheted up sanctions? Would Iran really have given up its quest for the bomb? Remember the bomb drawing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held up at the United Nations in September 2012? Although tough sanctions were in place, Iran was thisclose. But Bibi and his cabinet didn’t unleash the Israeli Air Force.

Look, I’m no pal of the ayatollahs. They and the Republican Guard are odious hate mongers. Their anti-Israel and anti-America rhetoric constitutes a thin ploy to distract Iranians from their deprivation of human rights and Iran’s regional aggression. But Peter Beinart correctly notes the limits of American power and the delusional nature of “American exceptionalism”—to wit, we know it all and can do no wrong.

I’m glad the White House hasn’t trumpeted “peace in our time.” And I hope that the deal’s critics won’t advocate, “nuke the bastards.” The future is murky. Living with uncertainty is a rough challenge. Get used to it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

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Last Saturday, we celebrated July Fourth, official birthday of the United States. But we’ve never been all that united. We endured a bloody Civil War, after all. Blacks and whites lived separately. And only yesterday did South Carolina decide to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds. Key issues divide us. Many seem fueled by paranoia.

Liberals often see themselves and/or others as victims. All of society’s ills stem from ongoing racism and capitalism. Whites cling to entitlement. The “one percent” constitutes a brotherhood of predators. Solution: Tax the damn rich until they bleed! Maybe raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour and guarantee every individual $25,000 a year in income. Plus housing. Doesn’t it work that way in Sweden?

Conservatives fear a rapacious federal government that seeks to strip away Americans’ wealth. They include middle- and lower middle-class citizens struggling from paycheck to paycheck with no wealth to lose. They also believe that liberals don’t care about crime; they abet it. Moreover, the White House and its Black president are waging a war on Christians. Solution: Stock up on guns and ammo, the most lethal money can buy.

If posts I see on Facebook are credible, people I know in Texas, where I once lived, and Arizona really fear for their personal safety. They expect someone to knock down their door and commit mayhem. The news doesn’t comfort them. For example, Baltimore’s homicide rate is up 48% over last year; the mayor just fired the police commissioner. Will ghetto violence spread to white suburban and rural enclaves? Conservatives fear it will.

Conservatives also want to defend their freedom from Washington’s ill intentions. (The libertarians don’t like Washington but appear less threatened.) They celebrate military gear and skills, seeing themselves on freedom’s frontlines like the defenders of the Alamo. (Carolyn and I were married next door.) Interestingly, none ever volunteered for military service.

Honestly, if you love to hunt, kill it and eat it. Target shooting? Enjoy. (It’s fun!) Feel you need a gun for personal protection? I have no beef. But I do offer a caveat. My father’s best friend carried a gun. He was a union biggie in New York, a job entailing considerable risk. However, when a couple of mob goons told him he could retire either standing up or lying down, he moved to Florida. He knew they had much more firepower.

Could it be that guns aren’t the answer? A July 6 report on Yahoo News (Stephanie Pappas for LiveScience) offers the results of yet another study. “’We found no support for the hypothesis that owning more guns leads to a drop or a reduction in violent crime,’ said study researcher Michael Monuteaux, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. ‘Instead, we found the opposite.’” The article adds that studies find that as gun ownership goes up so do gun homicides.

But those are just facts. The National Rifle Association insists that guns don’t kill. People do. Conservatives support that position, including politicians threatened by NRA money. Liberals won’t listen to the fears of conservatives—people they fear. (Remember what I wrote about Baltimore?) So Americans will keep turning away from each other rather than seeking common ground. But shoot, at least we’ll all be united—by paranoia.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

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I was walking on Fillmore Street when I saw a middle-aged man in a crimson ball cap bent over, his hands on his knees. A woman was comforting him. “You okay?” I asked. The man turned towards me. His cheeks were as crimson as his University of Alabama cap. “Never should’ve come to San Francisco,” he said. “Damn liberals want to take away our religious freedom.”

“What happened?” I asked. He straightened. I saw a plain gold cross dangling from a chain around his neck. His wife, a pale blonde, wore a similar cross but smaller. The man pointed at the entry to a clothing store. “They say they don’t do business with Christians.”

I was puzzled. San Franciscans are pretty good about leaving people to their particular religious inclinations. In fact, we were only blocks from a Catholic church and a Presbyterian one, as well as my synagogue.

The woman explained that she’d seen a blouse she liked in the window, so they went in. She found one in her size and knew it would fit. “When we go up to the cash register, the owner tells us we aren’t welcome in his store. He doesn’t want our money. Well, our money’s as good as anyone’s, isn’t it?”

“How crazy is that?” asked the man. “I’m a businessman myself. Own a chain of bakeries from Mobile up to Huntsville. Best wedding cakes in the state. We’re only here ‘cause there’s a convention. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be caught dead in San Francisco. This is the capital of gay marriage, you know.” The woman frowned.

“That fella,” the man continued. “He asks if we keep the Sabbath.” He rolled his eyes. “Jesus is our savior, right? We’re in church every Sunday.” The man’s chest rose and fell. “Then he asks if I work Saturdays. Like I said, I’m just like him. I own a business. Of course, I work Saturdays. ‘Cept football season. Roll Tide!” Apparently, the storeowner told the couple he was Jewish. Working on Saturday violated his religious beliefs. The Fourth Commandment and all. The man shook his head. “Everyone knows the Lord’s Day is Sunday.”

The woman rested her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “That man hasn’t heard the last from us. There are laws you know. You can’t just refuse to sell your goods to law-abiding citizens ‘cause they’re not just like you. What does he expect? That we stop being Christians?”

The man wiped the back of his hand across his face. “It’s not like we want to be friends with that fella. It’s only business. All we ask is to be treated with a little common courtesy like any other customer.” He pulled down on the bill of his cap. “Christians are under attack in this country,” he said. The woman nodded. “I bet that fella’s gay is what,” she said. “And now the Supreme Court says two men or two women can get married. According to my Bible, that’s a sin. And un-American.”

I wondered if they’d ever had a bad experience. “Have gays caused trouble in any of your bakeries?” I asked. The man looked at me with a mix of incredulity and contempt. “Hell, no,” he answered. “We don’t serve ‘em.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at You can get a signed copy from me—July sale priced at $15 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at

To respond, click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.