Archive for August, 2017

SAY NO TO FEAR

In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I based them on Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic. Given the Trump presidency’s legitimization of the alt-right, the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and a similar rally here in San Francisco tomorrow (which will close most of the Presidio National Park), some American Jews ponder if we should leave the U.S. Not me.

Anti-Semitism is not new to America. It surged in the 1920s and ’30s with an economy that challenged many white Christians while fascism and Nazism developed in Europe. America became more open to Jews in the ’60s. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War altered perceptions of Jews. We became tough guys (we’d already produced plenty of combat veterans and gangsters). I experienced amazing respect from non-Jews when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston.

Today, American Jews are integrated to the point of potential disappearance within the open arms of assimilation. But Jewish memory is 3,700 years long and filled with tragedy. Some young Jews may short-circuit that memory and feel distanced from the Holocaust, but their parents and grandparents understand that Jews in the Diaspora may always be perched on the razor’s edge.

Now, many American Jews have grown nervous. Read the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Intelligence Report,” and you know why some Jews think about fleeing. Israel accepts anyone with a Jewish grandparent or any convert. Across the border, Canada beckons. It’s a democracy, and most Canadians—including French speakers—speak English. Some Jews have left the U.S. but far fewer in relative numbers than European Jews, who face a much darker situation. America, however, is not 1930s Germany.

Still, some voices at my synagogue express only fear. Although not planning to leave (that I know of) they ask, Can a Holocaust happen here? That any American feels the need to ask that question should trouble the nation. I don’t believe we’ll face a Holocaust, but I can’t guarantee that.

To Jews—and the great majority of Americans opposed to white-supremacists in all their variations—I offer a simple message: This is our country, too. We’ve bled for America. We’ve sweated for America. We’ve made a positive impact on the nation in far greater proportion than our numbers. (Jews—religious, cultural and/or secular—constitute roughly only two percent of the population.)

Should we keep tabs on the situation? Absolutely. Should we be reduced to trembling? Absolutely not! Instead, we must inform government on all levels of our concerns, pressure politicians when we must, support organizations that bring to light the truth of white supremacists’ aberrant ideas and make clear that they will be denied the victories they hope to obtain—sowing fear and provoking violence to gain media coverage.

I hear messages about what a terrible week it has been, how sleep eludes so many. Yes, we are challenged. But we are not weak. In the face of publicly expressed hatred, Americans of all ethnicities are uniting as we haven’t in decades. Together, we’ll not only secure the gates against the barbarians, we’ll expose them and drive them back into their holes.

So, let’s be watchful but keep our heads. Let’s also remember the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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CHARLOTTESVILLE

You know the old saying, “There are two sides to every story.” Donald Trump repeated that last Tuesday. Regrettably, such clichéd adages lend themselves to ignoring horrible injustices.

Last weekend, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the city’s proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Some carried Nazi flags and wore Ku Klux Klan regalia. Counter-protestors rallied. Tempers grew hot. Violence ensued. One man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors and killed a 32-year-old woman.

Trump bemoaned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides—on many sides.” Is it bigotry to oppose the belief that non-white, non-Christians should be classified as second-rate citizens or sub-human? Charlottesville does not represent opposing but legitimate principles.

Not until Monday did Trump condemn white supremacy and hate groups by name—just as his American Manufacturing Council began to unravel in disgust. On Tuesday, he circled back and again defended the pro-statue protestors. “There are good people on both sides,” Trump said.

Two sides to every story? I once served as a juror on two criminal trials—a shooting and a stabbing—and a civil trial—a suit against a supermarket chain. These properly represented two sides to each story because jurors were mandated to decide the outcome based on facts. At no time did a judge suggest that any party deserved to be found guilty or innocent, or liable or not at fault, because of who or what they were.

In the criminal trials, the District Attorney’s office was required to make a case against the defendants’ actions, not their characters. In the civil case, the plaintiff’s attorney had to demonstrate wrongdoing by the company, not present an anti-corporate screed. The criminal trials led to convictions. The civil case was dismissed. The juries, after lengthy deliberation, based their decisions on the evidence. The characters and beliefs of all parties played no role in those decisions.

Donald Trump abhors facts. His statement about bigotry on both sides offered legitimacy to the grievances of neo-Nazis against Jews because Jews are, well, Jews. Likewise, he offered white supremacists of all stripes a measure of understanding. In doing so, he implied there must be a measure of truth behind their hatred of African Americans, East Asians, Latinos, South Asians—and Jews.

One could extend this kind of thinking to Hitler. Yes, he ordered the killing of six million Jews and millions of others. But he must have had his reasons. Should we thus tolerate statues of Hitler? By Trump’s logic later in the week, yes. After all, Hitler was a historical figure.

For centuries, American whites enslaved blacks. Weren’t slave owners simply capitalists promoting, like any good conservative, the South’s agricultural economy? Therefore, shouldn’t we maintain statues of Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis as icons of a bygone, if misguided, culture? Trump also says yes to that.

Each week, I evaluate topics about which to write. With disturbing frequency, Donald Trump preempts them. I could ignore him. But how in good conscience can anyone overlook the moral chaos continually fomented by the White House? If Mr. Trump truly wishes to drain the swamp in Washington, he can resign and go back to flushing gold-plated toilets in Trump Tower.

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FIRE AND FURY

Last Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear device to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile. President Trump responded publicly that further threats by North Korea would be met by “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” I turned on CNN. For several seconds, national security reporter Jim Sciutto’s face revealed a fear I’ve never seen displayed by another journalist.

Will North Korea launch a nuke towards Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles? Will Kim Jong-un send missiles to Guam? An attempted strike by North Korea would be met by a harsh American response leaving Kim dead or with no functioning nation to rule. Yet it would be foolish to say that Kim might not launch a suicidal attack if he saw a concrete threat to his regime. American foreign policy must weigh the odds of all possibilities and measure its words. The difference between slim and none can be deadly.

Sophisticated diplomacy can reduce—although not eliminate—the chance of a strike by North Korea. This involves firmly but calmly communicating America’s commitment to use all the power we can summon in response to such a strike. For entirely practical matters, that warning should be made in private.

Why not a public statement like that voiced by Trump? As military and law enforcement strategists know, cornering an enemy often makes him more dangerous. We receive continuing reports of police requiring more training to de-escalate difficult situations. A peaceful outcome isn’t always possible, but it’s more probable when criminals or the emotionally disturbed—or a Kim Jong-un—see a way out without losing face.

I’m reminded of a story I read decades ago about a high-school teacher in Chicago. He encountered a student confronting others with a gun. He made no threat. Rather, he calmly said, “Here, let me hold that for you.” The student yielded his weapon. The teacher averted potential carnage.

Nuclear proliferation, particularly involving countries engaged in hostile rhetoric, such as Iran, must be taken seriously. Still, the United States and its allies—those we have left—must recognize a reality not of our choosing and one we may be powerless to reverse. Today’s interconnected world makes the transfer of technology relatively simple and swift. Added to that, nations in Asia and the Middle East—as elsewhere—boast people who are as bright and inventive as us. Disturbed as we may be, regimes with whom we maintain profound disagreements probably will develop nuclear weapons.

I’m hardly the first person to suggest we adapt our foreign policy to recognizing proliferation’s sad inevitability. To prevent calamity, we must make clear that our commitments to friends remain firm, and that we maintain the option to use nuclear weapons in response to nuclear attacks or massive conventional aggression. We must also make clear that talking out our differences, even if we don’t reach resolution, makes far more sense. And we must do this within the framework of diplomacy.

Responding to threats, no matter how vile, with public counter-threats raises the global temperature and risks buttons being pushed in the heat of the moment. Dealing with this issue requires level-headedness and considerable discipline. Mr. Trump’s comment this morning that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” again evidences failure to display these qualities.

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GONG DAY

On June 9, I wrote “Glowing in the Dark” about my treatment for prostate cancer, highlighted by 45 radiation sessions over nine weeks. Two days ago, my final zapping took place. To celebrate, I banged the gong at the cancer center. I’m glowing brighter than ever.

During radiation treatments, I never experienced pain or discomfort. But every weekday, I drove to the Golden Gate Cancer Center on Townsend Street near AT&T Park. A 10:20 am time slot assured relatively light traffic. Free valet parking saved time. Leaving home to returning totaled 90 minutes.

I experienced some fatigue and “suffered” dietary restrictions. But I continued to walk four to seven miles a day, work on my new novel and marvel at the bizarre White House.

As the magic moment neared, “the Beast”—the radiation machine—swung its final 360-degree arc around my body, destroying cancer cells’ ability to reproduce. My PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level has plummeted from 10-plus prior to treatment to 0.2. Since I still have a prostate, it can’t be zero.

As to the gong: When a patient completes his treatments, he gets to bang a gong near the patient lounge, which includes a large-screen TV and pool table. I took advantage of both, though I’m not sure I now shoot pool any better. (I shot a lot of pool as an undergraduate—badly; that’s another story.)

Six weeks ago, I watched a patient bang the gong. At seventy-three—I celebrated my birthday in July—I’ve learned patience. I took each zapping one at a time while creating milestones to enhance my sense of progress.

Then came my turn. The gong rang true, its tone rich and encouraging. Life is finite, but medical science offers many ways to extend it so that, with some luck, our elder years can be full and rewarding. Mine continue to be just that. If you’re a man middle-aged or older, I paraphrase the Scots poet John Donne: “Never send to know for whom the gong rings. It rings for me—and thee.”

Gong Day included more. Carolyn came down to the center. Our oldest son Seth flew in from Baton Rouge to join us.  In a few weeks, he begins a graduate program in digital arts at Louisiana State University. We have two children—Yosi being the other—living in the South. Perlsteins can’t seem to stay put. We also had dinner with Aaron and our son-in-law Jeremy.

The center’s physicians, technicians and admins were great. In thanks, I brought them pastries from the House of Bagels on Geary Boulevard and a card from Trader Joe’s. Carolyn insists that TJ’s offers the best cards for all occasions. This one worked well.

Concluding Gong Day, Carolyn, Seth and I enjoyed brunch at Town’s End Restaurant & Bakery, 2 Townsend at the Embarcadero—great food and great value. (Yes, this is a well-deserved plug for our friends David and Mary Sperber.) Then Yosi called.

What’s next? Four more testosterone-eliminating hormone shots. After the first two, I find myself doing a good deal of laundry, bed making and kitchen cleanup. Of course, without treatment and over time, I’d be incapable of doing those or any other things. So, I enjoy every moment. And I still hear that gong.

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