Archive for November, 2015

THANKSGIVING PLUS ONE

Yesterday, Carolyn, Seth and I (Yosi is in Virginia) celebrated Thanksgiving at Aaron and Jeremy’s house. Food? The usual plenty. Although forgive me for using the word usual. I’m grateful for my good fortune, which happens to include lots of “little” things. Here are three.

Thank you cable TV and content providers like Netflix and Amazon for entertaining, challenging shows. We recently concluded Narcos (Netflix) about the Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar—violent but riveting with a great performance by the Brazilian actor Wagner Moura. We’re about to see Show Me a Hero (HBO) and The Man in the High Castle (Amazon). Showtime’s Homeland and The Affair (Dominic West lives out all my author fantasies) are winding down, but House of Cards (Netflix), Game of Thrones (HBO), Grace and Frankie (Netflix) and Silicon Valley (HBO) wait in the wings.

Thank you books and their authors. I feel unsettled when I’m not into a book even though I’m now reading the December Atlantic magazine with the next Foreign Affairs coming soon. I just finished Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter. It took me 30 years to get to it, although I read the second novel in his Frank Bascombe trilogy, Independence Day, some time ago. I just started Andy Weir’s The Martian—science as fiction. After that it’s non-fiction—Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. I’m not morbid. Just, well, mortal. Then I’ll check my nightstand for more titles. (Tip: Read Chris Cleave’s novel Incendiary, written five years after 9/11, for a British take on Islamist terrorism’s effect on Western society.)

Finally, thank you Shabbat. The late Dean Martin had a great line about people who don’t drink: “You wake up in the morning and that’s as good as you’re gonna feel all day.” I don’t equate Shabbat to alcohol but to something far more soul enriching. The Sabbath, which begins Friday at sundown and ends at sundown on Saturday, restores me weekly.

Sure, I live a low-key life—TV, movies (we have tickets to the new Star Wars), theater and books. That’s in addition to writing fiction and this blog. Plus reading Torah each morning. And getting together with friends. But we all face challenges, disappointments and the occasional inner torment. Shabbat suspends all that. It’s the day, never far off, on which every person can “get off the wheel”—turn aside from the ordinary and celebrate the extraordinary: creation (i.e. the universe) and our connection to that which is greater than ourselves. I worship at my synagogue on Friday night. After, Carolyn and I have a special dinner at home. And watch TV! I go to Torah Study on Saturday morning then out to coffee with friends. In the afternoon, I free myself from humdrum obligations in favor of a walk, reading and an occasional nap.

Admittedly, my pleasures—add ice cream, daily walks and any opportunity to laugh—are simple. Still, I try to be thankful each day—and on Shabbat particularly—for those things that truly nourish us yet often go overlooked. That’s why today I adhere to a mantra echoing the Rabbi’s blessing in Fiddler on the Roof: May God bless and keep Black Friday… far away from me.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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PARIS AND BEIRUT

Last Friday’s terror attacks in Paris continue to dominate the news. Not everyone thinks that’s good. Lebanese commentators ask why Paris eclipses ISIS suicide bombings that killed 41 in a southern suburb of Beirut. That was a horror. But there are understandable reasons why the West cries for Paris.

Yes, the City of Light represents the West. Beirut is Arab. But here’s what really impacts Western sensibilities: Following the barbarity of World War Two, Europe reinvented itself. The Middle East—allowing for colonial and post-colonial influence—did not. The region failed to address its underlying religious, tribal and political conflicts.

Take Lebanon’s civil war. From 1975 to 1990, multiple factions slaughtered each other and innocents. Christian, Muslim—Sunni and Shiite—and Palestinian militias went at it. Syrian, Iranian and Israeli forces—as well as a multinational force—entered the country. Deaths are estimated at 150,000.

Now look at failed Arab wars against Israel despite the United Nations partition of Palestine, the assassination of Egypt’s president and peacemaker Anwar Sadat, and the bloody aftermath of the Iranian revolution. Add in the Iran-Iraq war in which at least half-a-million troops perished. Consider the brutal dictatorships of Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Muammar Qaddafi (Libya) and Syria’s Hafez al Assad, who in 1982 repressed the Muslim Brotherhood by flattening the city of Hama and killing from 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Tragically, there was more: Taliban savagery in Afghanistan. Jihadi attacks in Pakistan and India. Al Qaeda and 9/11. Saddam’s sacking of Kuwait. Iran-backed Hezbollah taking over southern Lebanon. The Arab Spring that produced Arab Winter. Hamas’ attacks on Israel that brought great destruction to Gaza. Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel and resultant suffering in Lebanon. The death cult of ISIS perpetrating such cruelties as the slaughter and sexual enslavement of Yazidis. Then there’s the Syrian civil war and more than 250,000 deaths.

Beirut didn’t disappear from the headlines because the West devalues Muslim lives but because Islamists and so many Muslim leaders do. The West is far from perfect. Colonization was wrong. But that was yesterday. Much of the Middle East so dwells on the past that it can’t focus on the future. (Sidebar: Only twenty years after the Holocaust, Israel established diplomatic relations with West Germany.)

When bombs explode in Lebanon—or elsewhere in the Middle East—the West takes such violence in stride. Sadly, bloodshed will continue as the norm until the region re-imagines governance beyond religious tyrannies, military dictatorships, royal families and corrupt faux democracies.

And this: On Tuesday, Islamist suicide bombers killed 32 people in northeastern Nigeria. The online edition of the Daily Star, Lebanon’s English-language newspaper, provided no coverage on its home page. I had to click on World News then scroll. Way down. In fairness, today’s Daily Star home page reported deadly terrorist attacks in Bamako, Mali and in Baghdad. Ongoing coverage remains to be seen. Lebanon, like the West, has its own issues.

So let’s mourn the deaths in Beirut. Let’s also see Muslims worldwide stand up to the hatred in their midst—the only hope for permanent change. Some are doing so now. I salute them. As the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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

VETERANS DAY EXPOSED

I don’t often rant. But the skewing of American values upsets me. What got me going this week? Veterans Day.

Often the holiday honoring our veterans puts them behind the eight ball. Many workers who’ve never served in the military get a paid a day off. Many vets don’t. When I wrote copy in advertising agencies in San Antonio and San Francisco, none of my bosses ever said, “David, you’re a veteran. Take the day off. With pay.”

A vet who went to the post office on Wednesday to mail something important or pick up a package found it closed. Needed to speak with the manager of his or her bank branch? The doors were locked. Tried to figure out what to do with the kids on a workday—if you weren’t a federal, state or city employee? Tough luck. On the brighter side, you could snag a pre-holiday bargain or two. Stores ran sales.

Don’t get me wrong. Many Americans thanked veterans. Facebook and TV news attested to that. But as a society, we fail our veterans more often than honor them. The hypocrisy of Veterans Day represents the tip of the iceberg.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been caught in scandal after scandal. The VA has flat-out failed to appropriately serve vets—men and women who came home from wars with grievous wounds both physical and emotional. Hopefully Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald will move his department off the dime. But a culture of “don’t rock the boat” will be hard to disrupt.

Along those lines, the suicide rate among veterans is 50 percent higher than among non-vets according to the Los Angeles Times (1/14/15). Suicide rates are highest during the first three years out of the military. And Americans respond by going to the mall?

It’s understandable why many vets have a hard time adjusting to stateside duty or civilian life after tours to combat theaters. The culture shock is huge. Heightened stress levels challenge integration into “normal” life. Moreover, most Americans haven’t a clue. They’ve never served. Yet many non-veterans enthuse about sending American troops into harm’s way without understanding the issues or risks. After 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney ardently pushed President George Bush to invade Iraq—a fool’s errand. Years earlier Cheney supported the war in Vietnam but never served in the military. He had “more important things to do.”

Finally, don’t thank me for my service. After graduating from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia I ended up at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The only action I saw was coaching the post basketball team for two seasons. But I gained new insights and went to graduate school on the GI Bill. The Army gave me far more than I gave it and the nation.

So let me acknowledge the men and women who—willingly or not—gave up their time, their wellbeing and their lives to serve the United States. In their honor and in the memory of First Lieutenant Howie Schnabolk, I sent donations to Fisher House, which hosts families of veterans receiving medical care, and Swords to Ploughshares, helping vets in San Francisco. I can’t think of a better way to make Veterans Day meaningful.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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