CRAFT

Last Monday, Carolyn was in Hollywood shooting a scene for a TV show running on CBS. I can’t reveal which until before it airs, but I can say that her comments got me thinking about the little things—the mastery of craft—required of us all.

This was not Carolyn’s first rodeo. She’s appeared on “Chuck” (ABC), “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC), “Chance” opposite Hugh Laurie (Hulu) and other shows and films. Doing so, Carolyn’s learned a lot about the special skills the camera demands.

For example, actors must hit their marks—taped spots on the floor putting them in proper position relative to other actors, the camera and lights. There’s also eyeline. When a scene is shot from multiple angles, actors must look at the same person or object in the same way for the sake of continuity. 

Carolyn’s also aware of a tip I read from the great actor Michael Caine. In a two-shot (two actors on camera), look at your opposite’s eye nearest the camera to keep your face from being hidden while not distorting the shot.

One more tip—and a key one: Be polite. Carolyn’s worked with accomplished actors who, along with the rest of the cast and crew, have been unfailingly gracious. TV/film production is arduous. The set is no place for egos to run amok.

What does this teach us? Without devotion to craft—the small stuff too easily ignored—there is no art. An actor brings to life—fleshes out—a character other artists—writers—create. The art involves going deep inside and finding the soul of that character. But it’s also critical to hit your mark, maintain your eyeline and work seamlessly with others to make art—and commerce—happen.

I’ve seen sad results when people enamored with their “art,” whatever it may be, fail to master their craft. During my long career as a freelance copywriter, my “art” (though it wasn’t art but rather a business communication skill set) was concepting and writing print, radio and TV commercials along with other media. My craft involved such mundane attributes as listening to my clients, respecting their authority if we disagreed and assuring that copy was concise, well written and, yes, correctly spelled. 

Because I ran my own business, my craft also included sending invoices in a timely matter, following up to be sure I received payments on time, setting aside funds for taxes and maintaining client relationships. To accomplish the latter, I promoted a simple selling point not so easily achieved by many: On target, on time, on budget.

I’m often amazed that many artists—or those who wish to be—want to live the artist’s life— whatever that is—but not practice the artist’s craft and the discipline it involves. As for me, I’m currently half-way through draft 3 of my new novel, editing and polishing every day, having received valuable feedback on draft 2b from nine readers. In a few weeks, my writing coach/editor Tom Parker will read and comment on it so I can produce a final draft 4.

If more people paid attention to the small things—not only in art but in life, every facet of which requires a mastery of craft—we might spend less time sweating so much of the big stuff.

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LAURA AND DUKE—A HATE STORY

America generally accepted racism in 1871, even though the Civil War had ended six years earlier. A century later, bigotry stood officially condemned. Yet prejudice had its champions. Today, those champions have champions. 

On Laura Ingraham’s February 20 Fox News show, author/journalist Raymond Arroyo rebutted the furor resulting from the resurfacing of a 1971 Playboy interview with John Wayne. The Hollywood legend friends called Duke told Playboy, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” 

Arroyo claimed that Wayne shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. Ingraham agreed and likened protestors to the Taliban and ISIS, who “don’t want any vestige of what was.” 

So, what “was” in 1971? Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act seven years earlier. Although millions of whites fought desegregation and equal rights, America officially took a new stance towards racial equality. It was inevitable. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against the concept of separate but equal schools. In 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. Before and after that decision, thousands of black Americans died for our country. Theircountry. 

Educated and responsible citizens? In the ’60s, I viewed my fraternity brothers Paul and Bob, my officer candidate school buddies Kent and Cliff, and L.M., starting center on the Fort Sam Houston post basketball team I coached for two seasons, as more than well-educated to the point of responsibility. Exemplary African Americans? No. Exemplary men.

Duke Wayne’s comments become more reprehensible because he stood as a symbol of American manhood. The symbol was false. His real name? Marion Morrison—although that’s not an issue. Until about the time of Wayne’s comments, Hollywood required actors to adopt short, Anglo-Saxon sounding screen names. These often mollified moviegoers uncomfortable with seeing “foreigners” on the silver screen. (Blacks played maids and train porters, Asians maids and gardeners.) Tinseltown disguised Jewish stars like Paul Muni (Frederich Weisenfruend), Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch), Lauren Bacall (Betty Perske) and Judy Holliday (Judith Tuvim).

Wayne’s heroism? Celluloid myth. He played courageous cowboys and World War Two servicemenas an actor. During the war, the military rejected him because of his age and status as a father. To Wayne’s credit, that dissatisfied him. He made USO tours and visited wounded veterans in hospitals—worthy endeavors but hardly on a par with those who endured combat.

In the post-war years Wayne, a conservative, vociferously supported the red-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC blacklisted many Hollywood actors, writers, directors and others for liberal and/or communist sympathies during the Depression years. It destroyed careers, damaged lives. 

Laura Ingraham’s giving a pass to John Wayne’s racist views helps maintain an environment of hatred that over the past three years has crawled out from the shadows. Recently, an Alabama newspaper editor called on the Ku Kux Klan “to night ride again.” And federal agents in Maryland arrested a white-supremacist Coast Guard officer with a large arsenal of weapons. They accused him of plotting to kill Democratic members of Congress, television journalists and others. 

Should today’s racists be exonerated because their views reflect those of a supposedly cherished—and deeply flawed—past? Should their views be accepted because they match those espoused by a current self-proclaimed hero who also never served in the military? The Laura-Duke hate story deserves no love.

For a detailed look at Washington’s Hollywood purges, read Victor Navasky’s 1980 National Book Award winner, Naming Names.

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WE ARE ALL MEXICO

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump boasted that Mexico would pay for a wall on our southwestern border. His frenzied supporters cheered. What they failed to realize is that the wall would be paid for by them.

In a way, Trump may have been right. Today, we are all Mexicoakin to the millions around the world who declared, “We are all Charlie Hebdo after the January 2015 Islamist killing of 12 people at that French magazine’s Paris offices.

Most Americans support the Mexican people’s desire for a nation free of ignorance, hatred and corruption, all of which threaten our own democracy. Many American citizens—yes, citizens—have roots in Mexico. Many more vacation in or retire there. At home, we eat Mexican food, drink Mexican beer and tequila, and even learn Spanish.   

Of course, the Republic of Mexico refused to pay for however-many miles of wall—or barrier. So our beleaguered president declared a state of emergency. 

As things stand, funding will be pulled from the Department of Defense. Not every American believes that our defense budget needs to be as high as it is, but we all believe that defense is important. Also that our military personnel must be well cared for—from training to deployment to homecoming. If Mr. Trump, an advocate of increased military spending, pulls away $3 billion or more, who gets hurt? Not the members of his golf club, Mar-a-Lago.

Suits already have been filed. Today, House Democrats introduced a resolution—to be voted on Tuesday—to overturn Trump’s trumped-up state of emergency. Ultimately, the courts will rule. One sure bet: If they find for Trump, Americans will pick up the tab.

While legal issues remain up in the air, the facts should ground American opinion regarding what constitutes a national emergency. Trump points to illegal drugs. But the FBI, DEA and other law-enforcement agencies state that the vast majority of drugs from Mexico—85 percent and up—arrive at ports of entry. On January 31, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced the largest-ever seizure of Fentanyl—245 pounds—at the border crossing in Nogales, Mexico. 

Barriers can be partof the solution to illegal immigration and drugs. But Trump continues to put the cart before the horse, offering a symbolic sop to his anti-brown base without assessing the reports and statistics government experts present to him. Why? Trump prefers making decisions based on his gut, which translates to obtaining daily approval from Fox News. 

Where does the public stand? A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reported that 36 percent of Americans favor building a wall, 61 percentoppose.

What lies ahead? NPR reported last Tuesday that 90 percent of the Trump base supports the wall. That leaves 10 percent against. Given the closeness of the 2016 presidential election—Trump lost the popular vote by three million—and the upcoming report on Russian interference in that election from Special Commissioner Robert Mueller—a chipped base can hurt Trump badly. 

Come 2020—if Trump remains president and runs for re-election—American voters will likely declare, “We are all Mexico.” They will refuse to pay for Trump’s wall and what it stands for, as well as his Oval Office salary.  

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DON’T TURN AWAY

The January 25 issue of J! The Jewish News of Northern California reported on Jews of color rising to take their places in the Jewish community. I applaud this. But the article also made me nervous.

Yes, Jews of color have faced difficulties in a religious and cultural world led by Ashkenazim—Jews of European descent (like me). Yet the Jewish world is incredibly diverse. It includes those born of two non-Ashkenazi parents—of color or not—or one. And Jews by choice. At my synagogue, Congregation Sherith Israel, we’re majority Ashkenazi but include Sephardim (descended from the Jews of Spain), Mizrachim (Jews from the Middle East) and congregants with genes from Africa, Asia and Latin America. I’m not sure about Native American descendants, but that would be cool.

Still, Jews of color often are asked, “What brings you here?” and “Are you Jewish?” Many Ashkenazim have no idea regarding Jewish diversity and non-Ashkenazi legitimacy. It’s only natural and right that Jews of color demand an equal place at the table.

Lest you think this problem is confined to North American and Europe, consider Israel. Wander through its cities and towns, and you discover Israeli Jews’ wide genetic and cultural backgrounds. Jews have immigrated—or fled—from the West, Latin America, North Africa and the Arab Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Ethiopia. Some have come from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Far East.

Yet pre- and post-state Ashkenazim often exhibited racist attitudes. Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews were welcomed to swell the young nation’s population but under-funded regarding housing and education. In his book Spies of No Country, Israeli author Matti Friedman notes how Mizrachi Jews spied for Israel’s “Arab Section” during the War of Independence but were looked down on as “blacks.”

Racism isn’t gone, but it has been much reduced. Mizrachim and Sephardim make up half the population—and vote. Also, military service and a growing economy have brought together Israelis from all backgrounds. My cousin Maxine has a son-in-law whose family comes from Iran and Yemen. We spent last Passover with our cross-cultural family at the ancient fortress of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. I love Tsachi’s family the way I love the varied backgrounds of my fellow Sherith Israel congregants and friends newer to Judaism—African-American, Korean, Mexican, Chinese and other. 

The Torah states, “The stranger (ger, later considered by the sages to mean proselyte) who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:34).The commandment to love the stranger appears at least 36 times in the Torah. I hope Ashkenazim everywhere take this to heart.

I also hope that Jews of color will refrain from turning inward. Be’chol Lashon (“In every tongue”), headquartered in San Francisco, runs programs and a summer camp for Jewish kids of color. It enables them to look in the communal mirror and see themselves. That’s good. In a Christian-dominant society, Ashkenazi Jews don’t always get to do that, either. But will Be’chol Lashon remain necessary ten or twenty years from now? It would be wonderful to see the organization eventually disband because it’s simply not needed.

So, I extend a plea to Jews of color: Don’t turn away from me. That would hurt us all.

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STATE OF DISUNION

Tuesday night, as always, I watched the State of the Union address. As always, I suffered. I drew two conclusions: You’ve seen one State of the Union, you’ve seen almost all. And, it’s time to amend the SOTU, mandated by the Constitution’s article II, section 3, with seven new rules:

1. 30-minute time limit. Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” can tell a story in 30 minutes or less, so can our president. For that matter, Congress has passed some legislation in less time. A president who can’t reduce his/her lofty platitudes to half an hour should one million dollars of campaign funds per overtime minute. At the 35-minute mark, TV and radio networks should be forced off the air. Disclosure: My mind turned to jelly well before 60 minutes into you-know-who’s 82-minute address.

2. No guests. This emotional manipulation is no less obscene than corporations’ TV commercials, which deliver platitudes but no specifics about what said corporations are doing to right the wrongs they’ve done—like overcharging for drugs and wrongfully foreclosing on people’s homes. Besides, TV’s few remaining soap operas appear mornings and afternoons. Disclosure: My mother Blanche was a big soap fan.

3. No standing or applauding. Do presidents and their staffs take us for fools? The answer is obvious. Members of Congress in the president’s party stand and whoop at least every sixty seconds while members of the opposition party sit on their hands. Except when the president forces the opposition to endorse motherhood, apple pie and the flag. Well, the flag gets contentious. What a waste of time. I could be watching Sports Center or the Warriors’ pre-game show.

4. No chanting, “USA! USA!” I’ll wager with anyone that the members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, military joint chiefs and assorted hangers-on know that they—and most of us—are citizens of the United States of America. If they’re unsure prior to the performance, they can check their passports. One allowable exception: Homer Simpson doing the chanting. If the White House and Congress are going to produce a comedy, they should do it right.

5. No bragging. Dramamine, please! It’s hard to escape the nausea caused by presidents regaling us with their fantastic accomplishments—all seasoned (i.e. skewed, slanted, distorted) with half-lies, outright lies and statistics. One bright spot: Many people get paid well by the media to serve as fact-checkers and shed light on presidential falsehoods ranging from slight to egregious. They get plenty of overtime, too. America needs growth industries.

6. No platitudes. Forget what I wrote in #1. Everyone agrees on national security, a growing economy and good infrastructure along with affordable healthcare and educational opportunities. Besides, if the state of the union is always strong, why do presidents keep carping on these issues? 

7. Eliminate calls for bipartisanship. More Dramamine! Presidents lead and are beholden to their parties. Sure, bipartisanship can bind many of our nation’s wounds. But the time to call for it is when presidential and congressional candidates stump for their parties’ nominations . . . Finished laughing? 

Let me know if you want to add anything—like a president who shuts down the government or rails against being investigated not being allowed to give the next year’s SOTU on Capitol Hill. That might unite us all.

Do away with the State of the Union altogether? Check Kevin Williamson’s “Great Caesar’s Ghost” in National Review (1-28-14). Thanks to Ron Eaton for sending it my way.

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SCHULTZ VS. TRUMP

Last Sunday, Howard Schultz of Starbucks renown announced he would explore a presidential run as a third-party centrist. Democrats attacked: He’d siphon away enough voters to give Trump a victory. Trump supporters celebrated. But let’s look closer.

While Schultz stands head and shoulders above Trump as a human being (and businessperson), I’m also not thrilled he’s exploring a presidential run. Of course, he’ll be his own man beholden to no one; he has enough money to fund his campaign. But Howard Schultz isn’t prepared to be president no matter how noble his thoughts and how civil his demeanor.

Disclosure: In my novel San Café, I drew on Starbucks for Mobys, the coffee-hustling corporation that seeks to control the affairs of the Central American nation of San Cristo. I presented Mobys’ chairman as a right-wing megalomaniac. He was not patterned on Howard Schultz. 

That said, Schultz has no experience in government. To many voters, that’s attractive—a man uncorrupted by the system. It’s also folly. Lack of government experience—witness Donald Trump—can be disastrous despite soundness of character (Schultz, not Trump). Example: several days ago, Trump called his senior intelligence officials “naïve.” Government’s complexities far exceed those of a private company or corporation. So do the consequences of its failings.

Michael Bloomberg, former Democratic mayor of New York, advised Schultz that he has no shot as an independent. Bloomberg may throw his hat in the ring as a Democrat. Yes, he’s a business titan (also way more successful than Trump). but 12 years in New York’s city hall offered preparation to take on the office’s challenges.

So, by this fall or winter at the latest, Howard Schultz will—pardon me—wake up and smell the venti-cinnamon-shortbread-latte-whipped-cream-for-sure.  He’ll also be done promoting his new book.  Howard Schultz will not run against Donald Trump. 

No one will.

“Donald Trump 2020” may cause the hearts of his MAGA base to flutter, but Trump is toxic. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The Office of the Special Commissioner, aka Robert Mueller III, is tightening the noose on Trump and those closest to him. This is no rush to judgment. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said this week that Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. If Whitaker thinks Mueller’s report will appear in February or March, he’s wishing under the influence. 

The end, however, is approaching. Mueller obtained seven indictments against Trump sidekick Roger Stone. Stone approached WikiLeaks when requested by a “senior campaign official.” That official was prompted by a “higher up.” Mueller knows who they are. They know Mueller knows. Expect more indictments at the highest levels, very possibly including one or more of the Trump family—Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

When will Mueller release his report? May, June or early September. Summer’s a bad time. The report will provide American voters and politicians what they need to go forward. I suspect it also will reveal that Trump instructed someone to pursue the Russia-WikiLeaks connection or was advised about it and remained silent. Result: His resignation sometime between impeachment—unless he wakes up and smells the coffee (from McDonald’s)—and trial in the Senate. 

That will leave him even farther on the sidelines than Howard Schultz.

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THE WRONG OF RETURN

Ten days ago, I and several members of Congregation Sherith Israel met to determine how to present programs on Israel. Regarding the Palestinians, we face a challenge. A January 19 New York Times  column by Michelle Alexander demonstrates the issue’s difficulty.

Our synagogue—and we as individuals—support Israel’s right to exist. But the question of Israeli government actions towards Palestinians is fraught with emotion and disagreement among congregants and the American Jewish community. Moreover, not only Diaspora Jews express a multitude of opinions.

Israelis do not march in political lockstep. We mostly hear from the far right because the political edges make the most noise. But debate in Israel, as reflected in the nation’s multiplicity of parties—and on issues involving other than the Palestinians—is continuous and often raucus.

American Jew often remain quiet. Two weeks ago, Carolyn visited our son Yosi in Los Angeles. Yosi and his friends are more supportive of Palestinian causes than we are. At dinner, conversation was steered away from Israel. I emailed Yosi that that was unnecessary. Mom and I want to know what he thinks—to listen rather than argue.

When I read “It’s Time to Break the Silence on Palestine” by Michelle Alexander, I did so eager to know what she thinks. I agree that Israeli actions towards the Palestinians are often heavy-handed. There is an element in Israel that despises Palestinians as human beings. But this element does not represent all—or even a majority of—Israelis.

Like the late Israeli writer Amos Oz and Times columnist Roger Cohen, who wrote about their friendship, I believe in a two-state solution. Yet also I get the position of Israeli writer Matti Friedman: Peace with the Palestinians isn’t enough. The Middle East remains a powder keg. A weak Palestinian state could endanger, not enhance, Israeli security. For the record: Oz, Cohen and Friedman advocate treating Palestinians with respect.

Where does Alexander not get it? She condemns Israel for not being willing to discuss a Palestinian right of to return to Israel within the “green line” established before the 1967 Six-Day War. Note that the 1947 United Nations partition gave Palestinians moreterritory than contained within the ’67, pre-war borders. In 1948, five Arab nations and Palestinians attacked Israel after its declaration of independence. Israel won and gained land Palestinians would have now for their state had they chosen peace.

Ms. Alexander opts for considering the simplistic, self-righteous Palestinian position—let the refugees back. But if millions of Palestinian—grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled or were pushed out 70 years ago—can return, where do Israelis go? “Back” to Russia, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia, India? Or must they contract into overcrowded ghettos?

It’s time to break the silence regarding the folly of those who wish the world were perfect—from theirperspective. No nation legitimizes self-destruction. While I believe resolving the issue should produce a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, this represents a trade-off. Palestinians will have to forego a right of return less a few symbolic families. As long as Palestinians and their supporters cling to the delusion that Israel opening its borders is up for discussion, a better life for Palestinians also remains folly.

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ROOTING AGAINST OURSELVES

A column by Nick Hoppe in Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle reflected on his father Art, a longtime Chron columnist, writing in 1971 against the Vietnam War. In effect, Art Hoppe rooted against his own country. That poses some interesting questions.

We lost. Withdrawing our last combat troops in 1973 enabled North Vietnam to overrun the south and enter Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. What if we’d won? Would we have defeated our real enemies—the Soviet Union and China?

We didn’t need to be in Vietnam. China was a half-hearted “ally” of Vietnam. In 1979, the two nations fought a brief border war after Vietnam invaded Cambodia. As to the Cold War’s bigger picture, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Two years later, the Soviet Union dissolved.

Hoppe asks his own tantalizing question: What happens when Americans—himself included—root against our country today because we see it engaged in wrong behavior. If the American economy prospers—more jobs, a rising gross domestic product, a stock market climbing again—does that justify Donald Trump in the Oval Office?

Hoppe concedes that rooting against America is rooting against himself. He has to make a living. He has a 401(k) plan. Are he and so many other people opposed to Trump willing to suffer short-term, and perhaps painful, economic stress to limit Trump’s time in office? Bear in mind that the report from the special commission headed by Robert Mueller could offer proof of collusion with Russia and lead to impeachment—or not.

I suspect that many Americans are undergoing such a challenging conflict. They want to succeed personally. And they’re not selfish. They want others to succeed. Still, they hope the nation experiences failures. Yes, they’re alarmed that 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay for four weeks, but they view the partial government shutdown as an opportunity to de-legitimize the president. Trump states that the furloughed workers support him along with farmers. The latter, unfortunately, can’t utilize critical government services informing them of the best times to plant and enabling them to apply for loans. Do those who suffer the most pain really want to endure it?

My key question: If under Trump’s policies—steep tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich, economic and environmental deregulation, trade wars, strained international relationships—the economy continues to grow—and we all do better—shouldn’t “Trump 2020” be on everyone’s lips? Does it matter what insults he hurls? What encouragement he offers racists? How he maintains a relationship with Vladimir Putin?

Isn’t it all about the money?

A look at history: In the 1920s, after Benito Mussolini took power, his government circulated word that the fascists had upgraded the nation’s dilapidated railway system. Even after World War II—Il Duce was shot and his mangled corpse hung at a half-finished gas station in Milan—his supporters comforted themselves by reflecting that “at least the trains ran on time.”

What trade-offs are we Americans willing to make for a thriving economy? Will we sacrifice our democracy, granting its imperfections? Is there a price high enough to impel us to sell out the Constitution? Or is rooting against ourselves, as Nick Hoppe suggests, an illogically logical proposition?

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AMERICA’S REAL CRISIS

On Tuesday night, Donald Trump offered his pitch on TV that America needs a wall across our Mexican border because we face a grave crisis. The president was right. But not necessarily about the wall.

Most Americans agree that the United States has a right to control its border and who may enter the country, including refugees. This does notrepresent an anti-immigrant stance. Despite Emma Lazarus’ moving poem, we no longer can open our borders to all the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’d be swamped. Moreover, the nation has changed. In 1906, my father—as a small child—sailed into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty. America’s western frontier had been deemed closed less than 20 years earlier. The Wright Brothers flew the first powered airplane little more than two years before. Now, we’re a post-industrial society.

Will more wall—we’ve built over 700 miles of barriers, many during the Obama administration—best secure our border with Mexico? Maybe. Read Bret Stephens about Israel’s “smart fences” in yesterday’s New York Times. The problem is, Trump spews hysteria, obscuring reasonable discussion.

Effective leaders examine potential solutions to problems rather than pre-determine them. They call on experts—widely scorned by those on the right—listen to ideas, then propose approaches based on reality rather than ideology or politics.

Congress doesn’t help. It continually fails to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. Some members feel heat from the far left, who want open borders. Others fear the far right who, like Trump, would accept limited numbers of ethnic “Norwegians,” who meet their definition of true Americans as white Christians.

Lately, Trump said he’ll accept a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. Yet former White House chief-of-staff John Kelly stated that the idea of a concrete wall was shelved a year ago. Trump kept trumpeting that wall to incite and deepen his base rather than widen it. He insists that Congress appropriate $5.7 billion for a symbol of border control, not a well-thought-out solution. And Mexico will pay now thanks to the recent trade deal. Really?

Engaged in a pissing match with the new Democratic House majority, Trump insists that the 800,000 federal workers going without paychecks today support him—and will if the government shut-down continues for months, even years. Really?

Frank Bruni wrote in last Tuesday’s New York Times that “it’s not really a wall that Trump is after, if indeed it ever was. It’s a victory for victory’s sake. It’s a show of his might. It’s proof of his potency.” Bruni added, “Seldom has a president’s ego been this tender, and seldom has it required so much shoring up. There’s not enough concrete in creation for that job.”

Like the Energizer Bunny, Trump keeps on going. On Wednesday, he said he has a right to declare a national emergency. Yesterday he said he well might exercise it.

A workable new immigration policy demands stepping back to lay out the facts and objectively determine our options, no matter how imperfect. That our president is incapable of doing this represents a true national emergency. His insistence on a wall as a political sop to his base sends a loud message that the Oval Office is swamped by ignorance and incompetence. That’s America’s real crisis.

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A SERIOUS RESOLUTION—KIND OF

I love to laugh. So I’m going to tell you one of my favorite jokes—in a moment. But you may not hear much humor from me in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong. Growing up in New York, exchanging banter was as natural as drinking mother’s milk. Although I was bottle fed. Scotch. When I outgrew my bottle, I learned to drink from a tippy cup. Vodka. But sometimes humorous comments get in the way. And as I grow older, I sometimes go to extremes. I reference the late George Carlin.

Carlin—also a New Yorker—offered, “Class clown becomes office schmuck.” I was never class clown, although I was chief comic among my friends. I was never office schmuck. But that slippery slope beckoned, and among friends, I often teetered on the brink. I’m pulling myself back. It’s so important to let other people speak and actively listen to what they say. Imagine if Donald Trump, the Oval Office schmuck, followed suit.

Not that I’m burrowing into a hole and clamming up. Although I did that recently. I experimented by spending one year of Torah Study rarely making comments. I wanted to learn more from our teacher and other students. Admittedly, I withheld observations that might have clarified our discussions. The Sages say not to do that. Apologies. When that year concluded, I dialed back my silence and shared thoughts I believed critical, particularly when discussions came close to veering off the rails. In that light, I’ll try to modify all my social interactions in 2019 to be less of a wiseass.

Not that I’ll stop laughing. Last week, Carolyn and I flew to Baton Rouge—a mirthless adventure that took over 30 hours thanks to electrical storms in Texas and Louisiana. Still, we had a wonderful visit with our son Seth, a grad student at Louisiana State University (LSU) in video game design. His degree combines art and technology, and he showed us some of what he’s doing. Fabulous.

Seth gave me a belated Chanukah gift, the book Old Jews Telling Jokes. It’s a compendium told by—yes—old Jews (60 and up) on the YouTube site of that name. Interestingly, Carolyn and I saw an off-Broadway version a few years ago. One of us laughed a lot.

Now for that joke I promised. (It’s not in the book). It was told, as I recall, by the late Myron Cohen. It involves ritual circumcision. If this seems too much for you, don’t read any further. But you won’t find in it the word penis or any of its Yiddish terms, like schlong or schwantz. Still reading? Good.

A mohel (MOY-al)—a ritual circumcizer—enters a luggage-maker’s shop. He says, “Fifty years I’ve been snipping baby boys, now I’ve retired.” He presents the luggage-maker with a large sack. “I saved every foreskin. Make me something to remember my life’s work.” The luggage-maker says, “Sure. Come back in a week.” The mohel comes back and receives a package in a plain brown paper. It fits in the palm of his hand. Wary, he unwraps it. “A wallet? Fifty years, and all I get is a wallet?” The luggage-maker grins. “Rub it. It’ll turn into a suitcase.”

Happy New Year!

The above commentary does not constitute a legal declaration—explicit or implicit—that the writer (aka David Perlstein) will refrain in whole or in part from telling jokes or making comments intended—but not guaranteed—to be humorous at any time and in any place of his (but not the listener’s) choosing during the year 2019 of the common era. Further, this statement does not constitute an agreement with his wife Carolyn that he will refrain from making adolescent comments typical of a man at the age of sixty-fourteen.

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