Author Archive

GOD SETS THINGS STRAIGHT

Days before Thanksgiving, energy secretary Rick Perry reassured Donald Trump that God mandated his election to the Oval Office. Perry told the president “. . . if you’re a believing Christian you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.” As a Jew, I wondered. So I went to the Source.*

God anticipated my first question. “This guy wrote this book God’s Others. He says the Jewish view is, I’m the universalistic God—the God of all the earth—of a particularistic religion, in his case Judaism.’” This guy, I said.That’s me! “I figured you could use a plug. Anyway, long story short, I created the heavens and the earth and all humanity. Religion? Whatever’s comfortable. But no religion can claim to know it all. All I ever wanted from any religion was two things.”

What’s the first? I asked. “Go with some form of the Ten Commandments. Eleven? Twelve? That’s cool. The Jews, I gave 613. But you don’t have to have a formal list. Which means? “Just be good to each other. I said that in that old movie, Oh, God. Well, George Burns said it. Nice casting.”

And the second thing? “Be careful about claiming to speak for me.”

But Rick Perry said you put King David and King Solomon on the throne and like Trump, they were imperfect. “Perry—anyone—really knows what I was thinking? I saw potential in David and Solomon, and they delivered on some things. They also screwed up. Bigtime. David with the killing and the women. Solomon with the 300 wives and 500 concubines, and all those taxes. I didn’t let David build My Temple, and after Solomon died, his kingdom split in two. After that, I left people to their own choices—if and when they could make them. Know why?” No, why? I asked. “Parents have to let their children grow up.”

God was on a roll. “Genghis Khan, Oliver Cromwell, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Kim Jong-un in power? Wasn’t me, either.”

But some Christians insist You made Trump president. “I fixed 63 million votes for Trump, 66 million for Hillary and six million or so for third-party-candidates? I made other voters stay home? You want a president, you elect him. Or her. You screw up? It’s on you. Besides, I have better things to do with My time.”

Like what? “Crewel work. There’s also My nightly mahjongg game with the heavenly host. You sound like my mother. Blanche is her own dynamic force and I respect that, so she sits in on Tuesdays. Sometimes, she lets Me win. In return, I keep your father Morris well-fed in My Great Deli in the Sky. Not to mention supplying him cigars ten times better than those four-for-a-buck Garcia-Vegas he had you pick up at the candy store when you were a kid.”

So then maybe you could . . . “Break the rules? Make you president so you can fly on Air Force One and on Chanukah light the national chanukiah in one of the White House’s front windows? I love to see you enjoy yourself, Dovidl, but fixing America’s elections is someone else’s shtick.”

You mean? “Yup. That job was seized by the Kremlin.”

*God’s comments constitute fiction and are not meant, in whole or in part, to represent God’s actual thoughts as related to me in confidence.

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“JOJO RABBIT”

Each November, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) provides members like my wife Carolyn with screenings, discs and streaming codes to see the year’s best films and TV shows. This precedes nominations and the January election for the SAG Awards. The first movie we saw left a lasting impression.

Jojo Rabbit, set in wartime Austria (could be Germany, not made clear and doesn’t matter), presents the relationship between a 10-year-old boy, Jojo (played wonderfully by Roman Griffin Davis), an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth with a good heart, and a young Jewish woman, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house. Sounds like quite a drama, right? It is—and it isn’t.

There’s nothing amusing about the Third Reich and the Holocaust, but there’s everything downright funny about Jojo Rabbit, directed and co-written by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Taika’s name? Maori. So what connection could he have to this material? His birth name is Taika David Waititi, and he’s also known as Taika Cohen (his mother is Robin Cohen).

Here is a film filled with humor but not for cheap laughs. JoJo Rabbit offers satire at its best. The day before we saw it, I presented a talk to members of my synagogue, Sherith Israel, about the uses of satire and comedy in a political context: “Chuckles, Laughs, Guffaws: Autocrats’ Biggest Fears.” Tyrants can fight violent rebellion with more violence. They can counter logical arguments with opposing arguments, no matter how illogical. They can choose to ignore protest, though attention is generally paid. They can even survive a dramatization of the plight of their country. But no tyrant can stand to be ridiculed and laughed at.

Taika Waititi bought the rights to the novel Caging Skies by the New Zealand-Belgian writer Christine Leunens. It’s a serious piece. Waititi loves comedy. He made a movie in which humor dominates, heightening rather than obscuring the drama inherent in the story. (Some of his approach seems inspired by the offbeat filmmaker Wes Anderson). Waititi also plays Hitler—an insecure clown, who speaks with Jojo in the boy’s imagination.

Some things we know. The Allies won the war. Hitler committed suicide. Six million Jews perished in camps, in ghettos, on city streets, in forests. Some survived. Joao Rabbit makes a point of demonstrating that some Germans/Austrians resisted. Many paid with their lives. When Jojo sees several men and women hanged and left on display in the town square, he asks his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) what they did. In one of the best lines of dialog I’ve ever heard, she answers succinctly, “What they could.”

I’m not about to give details away, although I must give a shout-out to Sam Rockwell, in my judgment one of America’s finest screen actors, as Captain Klenzendorf. Let me just say that you will laugh at the idiocy of Nazism and its ferocious anti-Semitism, and you’ll cry.

Satire can be a two-edge sword. Poorly wielded—too obvious, too crude—it can injure its creator and those it wishes to help. Sharpened to a fine edge, it can do what drama often can’t: tell a truth that explodes autocrats’ inflated ego and hypocrisy. As with Humpty Dumpty, all the kings horses and all the king’s men can’t put them back together again.

The post will take off next Friday for Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holiday.

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CIRCLED WAGONS

Lindsey Graham (R.-So. Carolina), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made a startling statement last Tuesday before flip-flopping on Wednesday. It revealed much about the impeachment inquiry and how a large segment of the country is circling the wagons.

Graham said he wouldn’t read the transcripts of closed-door hearings—open to Republican committee members—released by House Democrats. “I’ve written the whole process off . . . I think this is a bunch of B.S.” Translation: Evidence be damned. This mirrors the attitude of much of pro-Trump white rural America.

“To rural white conservatives,” Robert Leonard wrote in the New York Times (10-14), “their culture is being rubbed out right before their eyes.” Whites see themselves enduring religious prejudice. “Democrats have banned Jesus from the public sphere at great cost to society and the potential salvation of millions.”

Ethnic cleansing in America? Native Americans can sympathize.

Yet according to the Times (10-29), Ralph Drollinger, 65, founder of Capitol Ministries— “Making disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena”—has been teaching the Gospel to President Trump’s cabinet. So Christianity is very much present in the public sphere. That’s fine—when Bible classes take place before or after working hours.

Are whites really under the gun? Many in post-industrial and rural America are hurting economically. That’s bad for all of us. But examine the economic circumstances of many African Americans and Latinos. Whites now suffering the loss of jobs and hope long have had a great deal of company.

What whites seemingly can’t abide is their loss of majority status and its accompanying power. Who created Jim Crow? Rich whites have always controlled the nation’s wealth, leaving poor whites with one comfort: They could see themselves as superior to all other ethnic groups. Yet in a decade or two, whites will become a plurality—the nation’s largest minority.

If America’s minorities now enjoy increased visibility “at white expense,” the phenomenon is relatively recent. When I was a kid, only one TV show portrayed then-called Negroes—Amos & Andy. It originated as a hit radio show created and performed by whites. Only one TV show presented Jews—Gertrude Berg’s The Goldbergs. Other minorities? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Jewish characters in movies? Rarely. Jewish movie stars? Many, including Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, John Garfield, Judy Holliday, Lee J. Cobb and Shelly Winters—all assigned screen (non-Jewish) names.

To whites who support Donald Trump, who vowed they could again celebrate Christmas, I ask: Has America ever not? I rarely see anything in the media or the public square relating to Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other religious holidays. Christmas in liberal, secular San Francisco? Inescapable.

The truth that frightens so many Trump supporters is this: Whiteness does not constitute the standard for good citizenship and patriotism. What part of “liberty and justice for all” is hard to understand?

Here, let me say that no white person should ever think he or she is second-rate. Condemning anyone for being white also constitutes racism.

So, will Jesus-fearing whites abandon their persecution complex? I don’t know. I do know that  America’s minorities have experienced the real horrors of racism and anti-Semitism. Still do.

If whites can step outside those circled wagons and demand a better America for everyone, they’ll join all Americans in moving forward.

The post will take off next Friday and return on November 22.

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MY FATHER, THE SPY

Last week, Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman testified before the House Intelligence Committee regarding the impeachment inquiry. Some guardians of the land of the free and the home of the brave suggested that LTC Vindman was not loyal to this country. My father faced the same accusation.

Vindman, a Jew, immigrated from Ukraine at three, grew up in Brooklyn and received a degree from elitist Harvard. All tip-offs. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he swore to protect and defend the Constitution. No real patriot would be fooled by that. Twenty-two years in uniform? A combat infantryman’s badge? A purple heart? Deceptions.

As to my father Morris: When America entered World War Two, he sought to become an air-raid warden. A routine investigation followed. Someone accused him of having been a spy for Tsarist Russia before and during World War One. Made sense, I suppose.

In 1906, Dad arrived at Ellis Island with my grandparents from Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. He was 2-1/2 (whether he was smoking a cigar remains undetermined) and obviously impressionable. Also clever. He claimed he remembered nothing about Warsaw. He spoke fluent English (with a New York accent). Ruses.

In 1914, the Perlsteins became citizens just as the Great War sent Russia reeling and in need of all the assistance it could get. Citizenship obviously enabled my father, 11, to go deep undercover. His smokescreen included baseball—playing in the schoolyard and rooting for the Yankees and Giants.

Russia sought information about American intentions. And what revealed American thinking more than baseball? Was Yankees right fielder Doc Cook a favorite of young boys? Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson? Did immigrant fifth-graders, America’s future soldiers and mothers of soldiers, really prefer penmanship and learning times tables to working in the fields? Were they exposed to endless propaganda about the countries from which their families fled for better economic opportunities and safety, particularly after Jews streamed to these shores following the 1905 pogroms in Kishinev and Kiev?

More proof against my father: Excellent report cards and a bar-mitzvah in 1916. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, he lacked kinship with salt-of-the-earth Christian-American kids packed off to coal mines, stockyards, fields and factories.

Ridiculous? Sure. No one accused my father of being a Tsarist spy, although he did have to submit a lot of paperwork before becoming an air-raid warden in Queens. And for the record, his love of cigars started at 12.

But there’s a point to be made. Defenders of President Trump tend to go off their meds. It’s not that they refuse to believe that he withheld from Ukraine American aid appropriated by Congress until Ukrainian president Zelensky agreed to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden and his presidential-candidate father Joe. And investigate Ukrainian interference in America’s 2016 election, although U.S. intelligence agencies pointed the finger at Russia, and William Mueller got indictments on 17 Russians.

It’s that they prefer character assassination to facts. So some attacked LTC Vindman to make a point of their own: If you weren’t born on American soil to American parents, you’re suspect.

Where then does that leave First Lady Melania Trump, who came to America from Slovenia in 1996 at age 26? I take her loyalty for granted. Does that make me, a native son, disloyal?

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OUR BOYS

The dust-up in Israel regarding HBO’s 10-part mini-series Our Boys began even before its August 12 premiere. Israelis on the right, having seen only the trailer, were incensed. They remained so when the show aired. Were they correct?

Our Boys, a Jewish-Arab Israeli collaboration, explores the 2014 arrest and trial of three Orthodox Israeli men—an uncle and his two nephews—for the murder of a Palestinian youth. It’s important to recognize that as faithful to events as the creators tried to be, the recounting is fictional. Some actual personalities were merged into a single character, the scope of TV and film having limits. The writers also created dialogue, revealing conversations they’d never heard, to add to the drama. I don’t know if they accessed transcripts of interrogations and the trial.

Critically, the show’s opening scenes lay the groundwork by marking a painful moment—there have been many—in Israel’s history. Eighteen days before Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s murder, Palestinians kidnapped three young Israeli Yeshiva students: Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar. Israelis prayed and demonstrated for their safe return. When the students were discovered murdered, the nation mourned. Many on the Israeli right erupted.

Had the creators begun with the killing of Mohammed, ignoring the Yeshiva students’ murders, negative response to the show would easily be understood. Israelis would see themselves simplistically rendered as haters of Arabs (some are, hardly all) and wanton killers.

But Our Boys portrays the revenge murder as wrong and a violation of Jewish values. Yet it never condemns Israel. Rather, it calls to task those who would kill illegally in the name of the state and lauds Israel as a nation dedicated to morality, law and peace.

What’s the problem? As I mentioned, pushback began when Israelis saw only the show’s trailer. Seventy years of attacks by Arab states and Palestinian terrorists have left their mark on the Israeli psyche. Yet to be legitimate, dramas like Our Boys must present complexity and subtlety. The reason is obvious: Human beings are complex and subtle. Murder horrifies us yet we’re often struck by the desire for revenge—more murder. We can celebrate our best attributes only if we confront our worst.

Speaking of complexity, Our Boys presents Mohammed’s parents, Hussein and Suha, sympathetically. They’re human. They’re Mother and Father! Yet the right may fail to note that the show also presents many Palestinians as ardently desiring Israel’s destruction and in thrall to the concept of martyrdom that fuels terrorism against Jews in Israel and (non-Jews included) elsewhere. Many Palestinians disregard the wishes of the mourning parents. Israelis who don’t see the show can’t know this.

Three months after the deaths of the three Yeshivah students, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian suspects in a shoot-out. The three killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir received prison sentences ranging from life down to 22 years for the youngest, an emotionally disturbed teen.

The challenge any people confront when struck by violence is that killing, or convicting and imprisoning suspects, doesn’t necessarily bring matters to a close. Deep wounds heal slowly if at all.

Five years later, Israelis and Palestinians remain at loggerheads. Peace—true peace—seems unreachable. Our Boys touches emotions still raw. If negative Israeli responses seem off the mark to me, they’re nonetheless understandable.

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SHAME ON AMERICA!

The Syrian Kurds fought alongside Americans and suffered 11,000 dead. American troops hailed their bravery. So what did Generalissimo Donald Trump do?

After a phone call with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump ordered the withdrawal of 50–100 Special Forces advisors from Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria and 1,000 troops elsewhere in Syria. Turkey attacked the Kurds.

Our military is aghast.* They appreciate the Kurds’ efforts to help destroy ISIS’ “caliphate” and resist Syrian strongman Bashar al Assad. Even Republican congressional leaders called Trump on his horrendous abandonment of the Kurds.

A self-proclaimed “island of one,” Trump remains committed. “It’s not our border,” he said of the area dividing Turkey and Syria. As it happened, the presence of a few American troops held the Turks at bay. (A Turkish pause gave the Kurds five days to leave the border zone—or else.) To the south, American forces helped block Iran from supplying its Lebanese Hezbollah proxies, who seek to destroy Israel, which also isn’t on our border. Israel now knows that despite Trump’s rhetoric, U.S. support is limited.

Trump opposes “endless wars” in the Middle East. Who doesn’t? Yet the 1,000 troops he’s withdrawing from Syria will likely go to Kurdish Iraq. The Generalissimo is also sending additional forces to Saudi Arabia to bolster the Kingdom against Iran. Saudi Arabia, whose strongman Prince Muhammad bin Sultan ordered or permitted the killing and dismemberment of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. The Kingdom, not on America’s border but awash in oil money the Kurds lack to pay for American weapons and troops.

Trump sees things in black and white. Life’s filled with grays. In 2002, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated the famed “Pottery Barn theory”: You break it, you buy it. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Chaney thought otherwise.

In 2003, Bush sent Powell to the United Nations Security Council to make America’s case for war: Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and had nuclear weapons. Powell failed. He later called the experience “painful.” An understatement.

We invaded Iraq. Victory came with lightning speed. Remember “shock and awe”? Not peace. The Bush administration had no understanding of the Middle East, no plan for transforming Iraq into a stable nation, only an insistence that it become an American-style democracy. Sectarian and tribal fighting erupted. Americans died. Barack Obama withdrew our forces. The Islamic State arose. Obama sent troops back.

No, we never should have been involved in Iraq. Yes, we broke it, we bought it, we needed to fix it.

As to the current disaster, the risk to American forces in Syria was relatively minor. (I don’t make light of even a single American death.) The risk of fueling further Middle East instability? Yuge! Kurds are dying. Syrian refugees fleeing. ISIS prisoners escaping. Who’s filling the power vacuum? The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Speyer (10/16) offers, “Vladimir Putin is now the indispensable strategic arbiter in Syria.”

Is America better off? It’s not far-fetched to imagine American forces returning to Syria in large numbers or, by staying away, permitting increasing bloodshed and heightened threats to our allies.

Wait. Strike the latter part of that sentence. Because Donald Trump has no shame, America has partners of convenience but no allies—to our shame.

*For an enlightening and depressing look at the military’s pre-Kurd views of Trump, read “What the Generals Think of Trump” by Mark Bowden in the November 2019 Atlantic. See also the 10/17 New York Times opinion piece by Rear Admiral William McRaven (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.

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MY LLAMAS

There’s so much to write about, I had difficulty deciding on a topic. So I settled on something seemingly absurd but quite profound.

No, not the House’s impeachment inquiry (now, associates of Rudy Giuliani have been arrested). Or Trump’s throwing the Syrian Kurds under the bus—abandoning allies who helped dismantle ISIS’ “caliphate” and leaving Turkey to attack them. And threatening to dismantle Turkey’s economy.

I could ask—and answer—why members of Congress, sworn to uphold the Constitution, oppose it by supporting Trump. Although they might not agree with his Monday statement re the Kurds and Turkey self-praising his “great and unmatched wisdom.” Yes, he said that.

Instead, let me tell you about the herd of llamas—woolly Andean pack animals—living inside my head. And no, don’t call professional help to get me through some sort of breakdown. It’s simple. Really.

In March 2018, I posted “My New Favorite Word.” I focused on the Hebrew word lamah (LA-ma), which means why. Biblically, lamah often is short for l’mah yeud?—to what purpose? In essence, why would you do that?

The word moved me to consider what I’d gain if I dwelled on all the wrong and foolish things I’ve done in my life. All the things I regret. I’d already acknowledged them, often decades ago. Why torture myself, since I’ve tried to correct my behavior and apply what I learned to present and future actions?

Yet forgetting the wrongs we’ve done can lead us to abandon a sense of moral vigilance. That’s dangerous.

So, I came up with a visualization technique. My llamas enable me to remember past misdeeds but not get hung up on those transgressions and stupidities by stashing them in a special place in my mind. I’m guilty of compartmentalizing my emotions, something for which men frequently are assailed, but I claim extenuating circumstances.

After all, when I remind myself of something regrettable from the past—distant or recent—I ask myself, lamah? For what purpose should I rake myself over the coals? Depress myself? So I transform the misdeed into a llama and place it on a distant green hillside beneath a crystalline blue sky. It stands there among a vast herd of llamas occupying dozens of hillsides. They graze. They stare at me. Sometimes they spit in my direction. But they’re too far away to hurt me.

For sure, I acknowledge each and every llama, because they remind me that I can do better while lifting paralyzing guilt off my shoulders. Remember, they’re beasts of burden.

Last Tuesday evening and Wednesday, my llamas accompanied me to Yom Kippur services. On Yom Kippur, Jews recite the Vidui—a group confession. We acknowledge a great many sins. Individually, each of us may have committed only one or two. As a people of nearly 15 million, we’ve committed all, and we’re responsible, each for the other. Judaism is a highly communal religion.

My llamas enabled me to skip torturing myself with the past, as I used to, and focus on the future. How can I do better—not by repressing guilt but by bearing mine with a certain lightness? My llamas offered me comfort and hope that I’ll be a better person in 5780. And the best part: I can take them anywhere.

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WHALES, DOLPHINS AND AWE

I read Moby Dick ages ago and found myself fascinated by Herman Melville’s lengthy discourses on cetology, the study of whales. Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Ira and Dan on a whale watching trip hosted by the Oceanographic Society. In a word: awesome!

We departed on the Salty Ladyfrom the yacht harbor at the Marina Green off Scott Street. The two naturalists onboard and the captain all emphasized the incredible weather we’d have at sea: clear skies and mild—a relative matter—temperatures. (San Francisco hit 94 degrees that afternoon.)

On the way out, we spotted dolphins, porpoises, humpback whales and sea birds, including more than one albatross, and a rarely sighted skua. Because of the great weather, our captain decided to bypass the Farallon Islands at first and sail to the edge of the continental shelf. There, the seabed drops precipitously from 300 feet to 3,000. An upwelling of water brings nutrients and food sources providing great feeding to whales and other sea life.

Jaws dropped as humpbacks spouted then rose out of the water. We’d see their backs then a huge length of white foam as they submerged. Several jumped out vertically well past their heads. Others displayed their flukes—tails—as they dove.

At the peak of activity, we sighted a pod of at least three whales and maybe five. Spouts rose like the fountains at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel. Dolphins and porpoises leapt by the boat with great frequency. A huge turtle came close—another rare sighting. An ocean sunfish swam alongside. I called out to the sea life, “Guys, slow down. There’s more to see here than we can take in!” They didn’t listen. No complaint from me.

Almost everyone missed the best sighting. After stopping by the Farallons to check out the birds and sea lions—we also saw houses for researchers and Coast Guard personnel—we headed back to San Francisco.

As we sat and chatted, Ira, who’d been seasick until noon and missed the action out at the continental shelf’s edge, spotted a humpback leap entirely out of the water and expose its white belly. By the time he called out, Dan and I could see only the splash. Only one or two others onboard saw the event. We were glad for Ira and had no problem missing what we’d love to have seen because we’d seen so much.

Sunday night, the Jewish world will observe Rosh Hashanah, marking the New Year 5780. The whales, dolphins, porpoises and birds I saw provided me with much added meaning. The ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is known as the Days of Awe. As we contemplate how we’ve lived our lives and acknowledge the Source of Creation, the majesty of the synagogue service can raise our spirits only so far. We need perspective.

Being out on the Pacific, rising and falling with the swells, witnessing the sea’s sheer size and power, and seeing the magnificent creatures with whom we share the planet showed me how small I am and how huge is creation.

At this, or any, time of the year, a little awe-inspired humility can bring us closer to the marvels we can see and the mysteries we can’t.

The post will take next week off and return on October 11. For everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, may you be written and sealed into the Book of Life.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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UNCERTAINTY

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “…nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Mark Twain repeated that. But the real author was Englishman Christopher Bullock in 1716. Recent decades have supported Bullock and Franklin (and Twain) with the dictum that the only certainty is change. Look around.

The President of the United States fills each day with uncertainty. Will policy indicated in last night’s tweets be overturned in this morning’s tweets? This afternoon’s? Probably. So how do we as a nation plan for tomorrow?

Last Tuesday, the Federal Reserve sought to counter economic uncertainty. The economy’s tax cut-fueled sugar high is wearing off and our trade war with China continues. The dreaded “R” word (recession) is making the rounds. So the Fed lowered interest rates to 2.00 percent, its second cut of the year. I’m not betting that investors and economists are reassured.

Uncertainty is keeping us in the dark regarding the recent attacks on Saudi oil processing facilities. Directly or indirectly, the finger points to Iran. But where’s the proof? Washington hasn’t been terribly forthcoming. And how to respond? The president wants more information and a sense of direction from Saudi Arabia. Isn’t that turning things inside out? Shouldn’t the Kingdom be getting guidance from the United States? I’m uncertain, although I suspect some American and Saudi leaders have common financial interests.

I’m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attacks an act of war. But on whom? Will the U.S. place more sanctions on Iran and Iranian leaders? Will we strike limited Iranian military targets? Sit on our hands? Of this, I’m certain: Whatever we prepare to do could change in a heartbeat. That happens in international matters, so let me be more accurate. America’s response may change on a whim (or Fox News editorializing).

The Middle East being a region of great uncertainty, let’s turn to Israel. Last April’s election was so close, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t form a government by assembling a coalition requiring 61 seats (a majority) in the Knesset. A new election took place this past Tuesday. The Blue and White Party, headed by former IDF commander Benny Gantz, seems to have a seat—or two—advantage over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Not yet certain since final results won’t be announced until next week. Who will President Reuven Rivlin charge with forming a new government? Also uncertain.

Uncertainty in Israel can bring grave consequences, as it can in the United States. At the last minute, Netanyahu pledged to annex Israeli settlements in the heart of the West Bank. That would bring one certainty: the impossibility of a two-state solution. But few Israelis—even those who support that position—believe Netanyahu will do what he said. Still, Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the world remain uncertain about where things will go.

Let’s be honest. People talk about loving adventures. That’s fine for a road trip or getting off a plane overseas and winging the experience. But it doesn’t work well for managing an economy. And it’s particularly dangerous for maintaining peace and stability anywhere in the world, especially in the volatile Middle East.

So I’ll paraphrase Bullock/Franklin/Twain: Nothing is as certain as the danger of uncertainty. Will world leaders take heed? I’m not sure.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY

Nine days ago, Carolyn and I celebrated our 50th anniversary. The usual question: “How did you guys do it?” The first part of my answer is simple.

You get up each morning. A golden anniversary requires longevity. When we were married, I was 25, Carolyn nearing 22. We maintained healthy lifestyles. My parents made it to almost 47 years; my father died at 80, just weeks before their anniversary. Of note, my sister and brother-in-law celebrate their 60th in March.

Not every 50th anniversary marks success. Old joke: “I’ve had 10 great years of marriage. Ten out of 30 isn’t bad.” Some couples are miserable but stay together because of religious beliefs. Others can’t imagine living separately minus sufficient income, housekeeping and someone to yell at if not converse with.

Here, the second part of my answer comes into play. It’s not enough to love each other. Or to define love solely as physical attraction, which may seem the case initially. Carolyn and I were attracted to each other from the beginning and still are. That helped. Having married a beautiful woman, I never wondered what it would be like to go after other women. Who could match up?

Still, sex isn’t enough. And when you’re bringing up three children (who surely are uncomfortable if they’re reading this; get over it; this is life), there’s not all that much time or energy left for sex. (Thankfully, there’s some.) Moreover, bringing up kids is a tough job—tougher than you ever imagined. Disagreements over what course to take for each child constantly pop up. You talk. You argue. You compromise. Sometimes, you even admit you were wrong. When you’re done with the theatrics, you get over it—or pay a price.

Carolyn and I were fortunate. Our backgrounds were very different, but our values very much aligned. We wanted children. A close family. We were willing to deal with them as individuals who might not fulfill our parental fantasies. We didn’t necessarily fulfill the fantasies of our parents. We had good days. We had bad days. The next morning, we put one foot in front of the other.

Eventually, the kids flew the nest. We raised them to do that. They had their adventures, and we weren’t always thrilled, but we stood behind them. That takes patience and a willingness to set aside your ego. We learned to cast off our last lingering daydreams and see them as they were. We guided them by setting an example of basic values. They learned from us. They learned from life. They’re doing well.

How did we celebrate our anniversary? Carolyn attended Burning Man for the second time—it’s not my thing—so we met in Las Vegas. I surprised her with a suite at Bellagio and a dozen roses. We ate at top restaurants. Saw Penn & Teller and Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE.

Next? We know we won’t celebrate a second fifty years. So, as we’ve been doing, we’ll take it one day at a time. Carolyn’s acting and music classes. Auditions. Hopefully, more TV/movie roles. My new novel. New short stories. Another novel.

Fifty years seems hard to comprehend. I understand what went into them. I appreciate the full life we got out.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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