UNMASKING THE CHALLENGE

You probably saw or heard the news. America’s two highest officials spurned the guidelines they issued to reduce the spread of coronavirus. What message are they sending us?

Tuesday, Vice President Pence visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The clinic has a set policy: Everyone wears a mask. Mr. Pence didn’t. His excuse: He’s tested often and was negative the last time. The lasttime. Health care professionals remind us that someone who tested negative yesterday could be positive today.

Mr. Pence explained that he skipped the mask to look staffers in the eye and express his gratitude. Really? As someone who always wears a mask outside—made by Carolyn for me and dozens of family, friends, nurses and ambulance drivers—I can say it covers my nose and mouth, not my eyes. Also, masks don’t prevent you from being heard.

Here, the vice president aped his peerless leader. President Trump eschews his own guidelines because he seems to think masked meetings in the Oval Office don’t provide attractive photo ops. Their purpose? Not modeling behavior during the pandemic but pursuing politics. So he met with Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis barefaced as was everyone else in the room, and sitting less than six feet apart. The same situation held when Trump met with Democratic Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards.

The president and his fawning VP missed prime opportunities to shore up their chances at the polls this November—if Pence is on the ticket—by setting an example. Still, the foolish posing and disregard for science was hardly unexpected. Trump said on February 10, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” On February 26: “We’re [U.S. cases of COVID-19] going down, not up.” The president also theorized about shooting up on disinfectant.

As of May 1, U.S. coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, have passed one million. Deaths top 63,000. That’s 5,000 more than American troops killed in Vietnam.

Many states are relaxing shelter-in-place. Georgia got a head start, bowling and getting a tattoo being urgent matters. Let us pray. Eventually, COVID-19 cases will go down, testing ramp up. A vaccine will be developed. Researchers at Oxford University in Britain are bullish on theirs. Remdesivir might heal coronavirus patients faster. But how do we improve public health now?

California, New York and other states are planning phased introductions to normalcy but slowly, letting the data guide them. Being 75, I doubt I’ll be eating in a restaurant anytime soon. That’s okay. I fear for everyone else.

The key to America’s resurgence won’t be found in the White House. It will emerge from the American people making critical—and difficult—decisions. Will they follow updated guidelines, wearing masks and keeping social distance? Or will they succumb to shelter-in-place fatigue, reject science and claim a Constitutional right to risk their lives and those of others?

I walk three times a day. If I said that as many as 25 percent of people I see wear masks, I’d fog—maybe crack—the lenses of my rose-colored glasses. And this in San Francisco! Bluster and disregard for others may well spawn a second, possibly deadlier wave of COVID-19. Wishful thinking can’t mask that awful possibility.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

DEAD RIGHT

 

Recent protests regarding shelter-in-place regulations call to mind a public service TV campaign about traffic safety that ran in New York City many decades ago. It’s worth considering.

The concept is critical because most Americans have encountered major disruptions to their lives to slow the spread of COVID-19. Regulations exact a harsh cost but deliver a major benefit, keeping more of us healthy and alive.

Not all Americans believe the pandemic is just that—a widespread disease for which we lack a vaccine to prevent and serum to cure. While coronavirus has killed about 47,000 Americans as of this writing—the actual number may be higher—skeptics believe COVID-19 is just another cold virus.

The president basically took that view before declaring a national emergency on March 13. Medical and public health officials in the United States and worldwide had sounded loud warnings, but the president’s response had less to do with science than politics. Shelter-in-place orders would damage the economy—has it ever!—and thus his chance for reelection.

In tune with that, Trump supporters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and other states protested what they saw as a loss of First Amendment liberty. In return, the president tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA.” Yet those states’ governors were following the guidelines put forward by—the president. But to quote the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Reality check: Liberty is not license. No one has the right to drive 85 miles per hour on 25 mph city streets. Then there’s the church thing—assembling to worship. My synagogue, Sherith Israel, does so with Zoom. It’s not the same but disregarding public health guidelines risks not only congregants’ lives but those of everyone with whom they come in contact.

I fear that something more than liberty concerns the far right. Give credence to shelter-in-place, and suddenly science matters. Facts count. Experts receive recognition for their knowledge. This proves unacceptable to a segment of Americans who disdain science, facts and experts while embracing ideology. Belief isn’t everything, to paraphrase Lombardi. It’s the only thing.

A pandemic requires a national response. States play major roles, and many governors from both parties are doing much to keep their populations safe. After all, they’re closer to their varied communities than Washington. But without federal coordination and support, deaths will soar.

Why Washington? As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman points out—as does my friend and financial planner Ira Fateman—only the federal government can “print money,” borrowing huge sums, now at low rates, and taking on increased debt. States are restricted to their budgets. Hence Congress just approved an additional $484 billion worth of assistance to small businesses and hospitals. The president will sign the bill into law.

The First Amendment argument is a smokescreen. During wartime and in disaster, Americans may yield some of their rights temporarilyto assure the common good. Tough decisions on Washington’s part? Yes. But otherwise, liberty becomes license becomes lunacy.

Back to that old New York media campaign. It urged pedestrians to cross streets only at green lights, look both ways and, if vehicles keep coming, wait. Yes, pedestrians have the right of way. But as the tagline emphasized, “You could be right. Dead right.”

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

“CURLY”—A SHORT-SHORT STORY

“Yul Brynner,” said Norman, while his wife Stacy stood open-mouthed after releasing a small scream—squeak, really. “He was the king in The King and I and the Cossack chieftain in Taras Bulba. Remember those movies?”

Stacy remembered Yul Brynner’s shaved head. He wasn’t bald. He’d shaved it and stayed with that look. It worked. On him. But Norman had all—almost all—his hair after 75 years. What now? “Baldy,” she managed to utter. “People will call you Baldy. Your name is Norman.” Not Norm. Never Normy. And God help anyone who called her husband by a nickname.

“How about Curly?” Norman asked. He liked the humor of it. The irony. “There was this basketball player with the Harlem Globetrotters, the comedy team. Curly Neal. The dribbler who could control the ball maybe an inch off the floor. No hair. We saw him in Oakland. Maybe the Cow Palace. He died recently.”

Stacy’s hand shot to her mouth. Death was not up for discussion. Not during the COVID-19 pandemic. Okay, she and Norman were sheltered in place about as safe as you could be. Food delivered from Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh. Walks in their quiet neighborhood, including the Presidio National Park a block away. An occasional drive to see the ocean, keep their cars’ batteries up. “Why?” she asked.

“Beats a crappy haircut,” he answered. He’d had a hair-clipper set delivered by Amazon. Plenty of guards for different lengths. Foolproof. He even watched a few videos on YouTube. But nothing was foolproof. After going down to the garage, setting up a mirror, covering himself with a garbage bag and going at it, he wasn’t satisfied. His hair was shorter but the cut was patchy, uneven. Maybe not bad for someone sheltered in place, but—. Then inspiration hit.

He had visions of Telly Savalas, TV’s bygone Kojak. Michael Jordan. Cate Blanchett once went bald.

“Why can’t make a statement?” Norman asked. Stacy’s face didn’t so much betray confusion as broadcast it. “That you’re suffering a late-life crisis? What’s next? A sportscar? Or are you looking for sympathy? People should think you’ve had chemo for some terrible cancer?”

“It’s more a life-affirming thing,” said not-Norm. “We just celebrated Passover and the deaths of the Egyptian first-born. Holocaust Remembrance Day is coming up. And the news. Every day, it’s how many people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, how many people died. All those deaths and memories of deaths create fear. Not necessarily unjustified but not the best road to travel either. So I took my own road.”

The thing was, Norman assured Stacy, hair was a renewable resource. Like grass. Like the sun. “The sun goes down, it also rises.” Yes, it came up on a world reeling in pain. He was no Pollyanna. “Still, it’s a win-win thing. I look cool or my hair grows back. Like I have faith that the country will come back. Not without loss. Not without grief. Not without struggle. But because we refuse not to go forward.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” Stacy said. “Hopefully from more lips than mine. Than ours,” said Norman. “Reminds me of my favorite quote from Torah. Deuteronomy. Two words.” He ran his right hand over his cue ball-smooth scalp and smiled. “Choose life.”

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

GRATITUDE

The post I intended has been postponed a week. I want to get to something both overdue and necessary.

Gratitude.

Cheers to the people on the pandemic’s front lines. Doctors and nurses. Ambulance drivers, lab techs and hospital janitors. A shout-out to non-medical folks promoting the general welfare: farmers and laborers, factory workers, cops, firefighters, EMTs and ambulance drivers. Also, workers at public utilities. Everyone along the food chain. Pharmacists, techs and associates. Mechanics. Bank personnel. Bus, subway and train drivers along with cabbies and on-demand drivers. And everyone else getting it done.

Thanks also to so many people who, over 75 years, I owe so much. I’ll miss some—maybe many—but here’s a sampling.

My parents, Morris and Blanche, taught me to love and do the right thing. Unlike many, they walked the walk. My terrific sister Kay Zaks (and brother-in-law Herb). We encourage and comfort each other across the continent.

Family and friends—Ron and Lynn Laupheimer, David and Ellen Newman, for example—laugh (sometimes) at my jokes and put up with my introversion and occasional lack of social graces. I can’t name everyone, but you know who you are. And if you think you’re in this group, you are.

Now, a few names from the past. My kid/teen buddies Marty, Lenny, Alan, Mickey, Sammy and Dennis. Mrs. Fulton, my teacher in third and fourth grades at P.S. 174, who provided great encouragement. So, too, Mrs. Bushinsky, my Sabra teacher in Hebrew School. Les Kozerowitz, from Camp Colang (summers) then Alfred University, remains a valued friend.

Two men helped me during seventh grade when my emotions went off the rails. When I balked at being bar mitzvah, Rabbi Josiah Darby of Rego Park Jewish Center convinced me to stick with it. Am I glad! When I was miserable—isolated from friends in the seventh-grade Special Progress class that would vault me to ninth—Dr. Gramet, principal at Russell Sage Junior High, gracefully encouraged me to enter eighth grade the following year. And hats off to Mrs. Alexander, my eighth-grade home room/art teacher. I recovered a lot of my lost sense of self in her class. And always, the Perlstein family doctor, Irving Nachtigal, took care of us.

Dr. Mel Bernstein, chair of the English Department and my adviser at Alfred, taught me a great lesson: Never forget your sense of humor. Staff Sergeant Thomas “Fat Cat” Johnson gave basic training at Fort Dix perspective. John McCarthy, my boss in Fort Sam Houston’s Special Services office, modeled true professionalism. Brother Louis Schuster, a dynamic Chaucer scholar at St. Mary’s University where I earned my M.A., reminded me to maintain the discipline I’d learned at Fort Benning on both the academic and life fronts.

John Fabian helped me build a successful freelance copywriting business. Marty Weiner and Larry Raphael were more than rabbis. Friends, their support of my writing, along with Jim Shay, Ron Eaton, Jane Cutler and Tom Parker, mean so much.

I consider my Torah Study buddies, including Dan Weiss and Ira Fateman, as brothers—and sisters.

I don’t know where I’d be without Carolyn. And I love my kids—Seth, Yosi and Aaron (plus husband Jeremy).

Thank you one and all. “No man is an island,” wrote the British poet John Donne. Truer words.

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Ramadan. And if you’re celebrating anything else, may you also find joy, fulfillment and courage.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

SLALOM WALKING

Pre-COVID-19, I took three walks a day to reach a minimum of four total miles. I still do. I’ve noticed some things.

Home-sheltered, more people walk, run and bicycle weekdays. On the first day of shelter-in-place, sidewalks and streets were relatively crowded. The second day, walkers, runners and cyclists tapered off. People are still out but not as many. Is pollen season to blame?

Maybe it’s Zoom. I never heard of Zoom before the pandemic. Now, my family Zoom-gathers Thursday nights. I Zoom Friday-night Shabbat services and Saturday-morning Torah Study. Congregation Sherith Israel has more worshippers and students online. Congregants and guests can stay home. Older folks don’t face a shlep.

After Torah Study, friends and I, who have coffee together, meet digitally. Our jibes, as always, are often juvenile. Correction. My jibes. You grow up in Queens, you retain a measure of adolescence but eventually become a mature, empathetic adult. Well, most Queensites.

As to getting out of the house, I walk in slalom mode. Simply put, I maintain at least a six-foot distance between myself and anyone else (except Carolyn) and so do a lot of zigging and zagging. Maintaining a straight line is impossible due greatly to, what we referred to in the army as that ten percent.

Some folks—the ten percent can be any age—don’t comprehend the safety of six-foot distances. Or maybe how six feet measures out. Often, they’re cell-phone distracted. Chatting or music makes them oblivious to the fact that other people live in San Francisco. Note: The City has grown to almost 900,000. Decades earlier, a stumbling economy pushed us down to near 700,000. Will we see a repeat?

Runners can be exceptionally out to lunch—even after breakfast or before dinner. I ran for decades, so I get that runners hate to break stride or veer, taking themselves out of the zone they’ve entered or fearing a sudden stop or turn will lead to injury. The latter poses no problem. City streets and trails in the Presidio National Park a block north of my house offer great sightlines. People don’t jump out from behind trees to surprise you. Not yet.

Some people—ignorant or self-consumed—exhibit a predilection for walking or running down the middle of a sidewalk or path and not budging even when they see you. Maybe they feel that a two-foot detour will lead them to drop off a thousand-foot precipice. Which might not be all that bad. They leave me two choices. Expose myself to a deep exhale or cough loaded with coronavirus-filled droplets or move over.

I move.

The Mishnah—Judaism’s ancient Oral Law—includes a section called Pirke Avot, often known as Wisdom of the Fathers. The Sages recommend building “a fence around the Torah.” To avoid violating a commandment, stay far from temptation. This can be carried to absurd lengths to avoid going down the slippery slope, but the concept also can be positive.

I say, if six feet is good, eight feet is better. Granted, that’s not always possible. What ispossible is for people to show common courtesy by keeping to the right and moving away, envisioning a world existing beyond themselves. That’s a good guideline in ordinary times. It’s a great one now.

Six feet apart beats six feet under.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

MARKING TIME

Einstein was right. Time is relative. Now, with much of the nation sheltering in place, time takes on a whole new dimension.

When I was 10, relativity seemed clear—in a childlike way. School days were long. Saturdays and Sundays short. A year? Endless. It took all of January to correctly write the new year—say 1955 instead of 1954.

My friends and I marked the seasons. Nature gave New York the classic four. We augmented them. We played each sport at its time. March also brought baseball card season along with far-off spring training. Note: In 1954, the major leagues had 16 teams playing 154 games, not 162, NFL teams played 12 games, not 16 or 17 scheduled for 2021, and NBA teams 72 games, not 82. No baseball playoffs. The World Series—day games only—concluded in the beginning of October, not at the end.

Warm weather brought another seasonal marker—water-guns. We sprayed each other with tiny plastic pistols that needed constant refilling. They looked like comics detective Dick Tracy’s or the small ray guns used by Flash Gordon and TV’s Captain Video. (My opera-loving mother Blanche was one of Captain Video’s Video Rangers.) Winter meant taking sleds out of storage. Bourton Street sloped enough so that we could go belly flopping—take a running start, toss your sled down while hanging on, flop on for the ride down to 63rd Drive. And stop before you got squished by oncoming traffic.

School and summer mark time for kids. When I was five, my family started spending summers at Kappy’s Kottages, a bungalow colony in the Catskills. In lieu of vacation, my father Morris drove up Thursday evenings and heading back to the city Monday mornings. At 12, I went to sleepaway camp in Massachusetts, then in Pennsylvania. College summers varied—camp counselor, selling souvenirs at the New York World’s Fair, office work in Manhattan for Family Weekly, a Sunday newspaper supplement.

Post-college, I enlisted in the Army. Summers were hot—one at Fort Dix, New Jersey, two at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The next summer, Carolyn and I drove from Texas to California to New York, then spent 11 autumn weeks riding trains throughout Western Europe. Then summers faded into work and what to do with the kids (day and sleepaway camps).

When I moved my office home 15 years ago and shifted from writing advertising to fiction, I established a new routine. Breakfast and the newspaper, a walk, reading Torah, writing, lunch out combined with a walk, more writing, walking before dinner. Evenings, Carolyn and I watch one of our TV shows. And read.

Even without sports, my week maintains its rhythm. Monday: AMC’s “Better Call Saul.” Thursday night: family Zoom get-together. Friday morning: posting these thoughts. Friday evening: Sherith Israel’s Kabbalat Shabbat services on Zoom followed by Shabbat dinner with Carolyn. Saturday morning: Zoom Torah Study then Zooming with friends. Sunday night: Showtime’s “Homeland.”

I’m fortunate. Many Americans haven’t the financial resources or familiar tasks to anchor them. They’re adapting. They must.

Eventually the pandemic will end. We’ll heal our wounds. Not to make light of the suffering now being endured and what may follow, the nation, as always, will move forward. I hope to be part of that. Time will tell.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

SICKENING

I almost tossed my cookies in front of the TV Tuesday. No, I wasn’t sick. It’s just that I saw part of Donald Trump’s live remarks to journalists on CNN. Sickening.

The president told the assembled reporters and government officials that he called the COVID-19 problem a pandemic before anyone else did. I’ll repeat that. B-e-f-o-r-e. So let’s take a brief look at Trump’s record, detailed exhaustively by New York Times columnist Dave Leonhardt.

On March 13, Trump announced a national emergency. Good. That freed up federal funds for a variety of sound uses and streamlined various health care procedures to fight coronavirus. But if Trump recognized the pandemic long before, why did he wait?

And wait he did.

Two days earlier, Trump addressed the nation during a special telecast. “I want to speak to you about our nation’s unprecedented response to the coronavirus outbreak,”he said. Prune-faced, he looked like a man who’d soiled his boxers but was duct-taped to his chair. Unprecedented? That word applies only to ignoring public health advisors and underplaying cases of COVID-19 by not yet declaring that national emergency. Trump wanted to keep the stock market and economic numbers up. And how has that worked out?

But surely, the president had been forthcoming, resolute and far-sighted before that? Well, no. On March 7, Trump stated, “I’m not concerned at all.” Do the math. That’s all of six days before the declaration of a national emergency.

On February 26, three days after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic—Trump’s judgment obviously having preceded theirs—he said, “We’re [U.S. cases] going down, not up.” At a February 10 campaign rally and in an interview with Fox Business’s Trish Regan—since dismissed from her show—“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” By next month? Miraculously?

Let’s go back to February 2. Trump banned most foreigners who’d recently visited China from entering the U.S., something he bragged about last Tuesday. He told Fox’s Sean Hannity, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” Which presumed that coronavirus hadn’t appeared elsewhere. Too little, too late? On January 22, Trump said from Davos, Switzerland “… we have it totally under control.”

Our nation’s response to coronavirus says a lot about how we as Americans see reality. Some of it has been, yes, sickening.

A variety of conservative politicians and pundits have linked coronavirus to domestic and foreign plots. At a February 28 campaign rally, Trump promoted their conspiracy theories. He called coronavirus a hoax and added, “The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus” to damage him and his administration.

I’m waiting for conservative Christian ministers to declare coronavirus God’s punishment of a sinful nation allowing a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

I wrote last week that we’ll come through this. To do it, I suggest we replicate the attitude of the Israelites in the wilderness who, in this week’s double Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, demonstrate the strength of community by all bringing abundant gifts for the building of the Tabernacle.

Our task is to come together and respect fact, science and truth. The big question we’ll face when coronavirus is done: What did we learn? We’ll have part of that answer in November.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

PRECAUTION, NOT PANIC

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote as America struggled to birth itself. Now, we face the coronavirus pandemic. To strengthen our souls, looking back may offer a clearer picture of the future.

Is the sky falling? Gray clouds have gathered and they’re darkening. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “It is going to get worse.” At my age, Covid-19 poses a risk, although my health is excellent. Still, the world won’t come to an end.

Am I a Pollyanna? No, a realist. Major events of my 75-year lifetime provide some perspective.

When I was six, Americans were fighting in Korea—wherever that was. At P.S. 174 in Queens, I joined classmates in duck-and-cover drills to protect from a Soviet nuclear attack on New York. Polio still took a heavy toll on children. A friend survived it but emerged with a limp.

Jim Crow was alive and well in the south and practiced unofficially elsewhere. This, too, was a health scare since African Americans’ health was imperiled by being hung from a tree or shot or burned while at home.

The Cold War produced Vietnam. The American toll in Southeast Asia totaled 58,000, including my friend 1LT Howie Schnabolk, an Army medevac pilot shot down on 3 August 1967. Killed and wounded GIs were just part of the story.

The nation was coming apart at the seams. Nightsticks and dogs attacked civil rights marchers. Martin Luther King was assassinated, which led to riots producing death and destruction in urban ghettos. Political unrest forced Lyndon Johnson to forego running for another term as president in 1968. Which gave us Richard Nixon.

American industry took a header. Japanese cars battered Detroit. Then all sorts of industrial jobs fled the Midwest—soon to be known as the Rust Belt—for the American south and then Asia. AIDS emerged in the 1980s. It took the lives of as many as 700,000 Americans, including three of my fraternity brothers.

In the ’90s, the Dot.com Boom lifted a lot of people’s spirits—until the Dot.com Bust sent them plummeting. On 9/11, the Twin Towers fell and turmoil reigned. The nation rose up yet launched a foolish and costly war with Iraq. The stock market soared again until, in 2008, the financial industry collapsed with the market hitting its low point in March 2009.

Yet even recovery from the Great Recession wasn’t enough to calm a deeply divided America. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016.

I’ve seen a lot, but so did my parents: The First World War, the Spanish flu (1918-20) which killed over 50 million worldwide and more than half a million Americans, the Depression, World War Two.

In time of crisis, I turn to the English writer Rudyard Kipling: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . . you’ll be a Man my son!”

Keep washing your hands. Keep maintaining your social distance. Keep your head on your shoulders and your chin up. Male, female or nonbinary, you’ll be a mensch. And as a nation, we’ll get to sing along with another Briton, Elton John: “I’m Still Standing.”

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

APU AND ME

If you’re a fan of TV’s The Simpsons (if not, keep reading anyway), you may have noticed something during this thirty-first season. Apu, the Indian-American owner of Kwik-E-Mart, may be missing. At least, vocally. Hank Azaria, who’s voiced Apu since 1990, believes the character is inappropriate. I understand. But based on two other characters I love, I disagree.

Apu, with his South Asian accent, indeed is a caricature. Yet in India, English-speakers evidence a similar accent. Only there, you have the accent. So that feature of the caricature is fact-based. Also, many non-U.S.-born Indian-Americans run convenience stores, motels and restaurants. It’s a typical immigrants’ story.

Now consider: All characters on The Simpsons are caricatures. From Homer down, they exhibit more breadth than depth. Their foibles make us laugh and sometimes cringe. Yet as each episode ends, they reveal a goodhearted humanity.

Granted, some characters have more trouble connecting with their better selves. Exhibit A: Krusty the Clown aka Herschel Krustofsky. I started watching The Simpsonsduring season three after virtually boycotting the show. I hadn’t liked what I read about it. But I saw thatThe Simpsonswould air an episode in which Krusty falls out with his father—a rabbi. I gathered the family in front of the TV. We were hooked.

Talk about caricatures! Krusty is the show-biz veteran—and ham—from Hell. He’s a serial abuser of alcohol, drugs, women and his fans. Worse, he’s not funny. Which makes him very funny.

Krusty is counterbalanced by Rabbi Krustofsky, voiced by the comedian Jackie Mason—also an ordained rabbi. Rabbi Krustofsky is kind, understanding and wise. Yet he’s a mild caricature, part of traditional Orthodoxy that’s a minority within American Jewry. Like the “Rally Rabbi” bobblehead the Giants give away on Jewish Heritage Night, he’s not typical. But so what?

Despite their caricature status, I love Krusty and Rabbi Krustofsky for two reasons. First, they place me in the American cultural mirror. Growing up, I rarely saw Jewish characters on TV or in the movies unless they were unfunny caricatures—stereotypes. They weren’t me and my family or anyone I knew. Reason number two: For more than half-a-century, Americans have seen Jews take their places across public life, including non-stereotypical roles in entertainment. Anti-Semites might see us as caricatures, but a great many Americans know better.

Apu requires some perspective. In 1990, when he first appeared, South Asians were rarely seen in the media and, if so, as caricatures. If there was a time to exclude Apu from The Simpsons, that was it.

Cut to 2020. South Asians are part of the fabric of American life. Many can be seen all over the airwaves and in film. They’re news reporters, anchors, comics, actors. They appear as expert commentators through their roles in government, the justice system and technology. Nikki Haley served as governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the U.N. In short, South Asians now appear as fully developed human beings.

So, maybe Hank Azaria’s and Apu’s critics will relent. I’d love to see Apu take his place alongside Krusty and Rabbi Krustofsky. Apu can be caricatured like the show’s other characters of all ethnicities, including Whites, because ultimately he comes from a group with an identity overriding all other ethnic considerations—American.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

THE PERLSTEIN SENATE

With Democrats selecting a presidential candidate—it might not happen until the convention—and November’s election looming, I’m puzzled by “one citizen, one vote.” This principle poses two key questions.

One: Why should a 75-year-old military veteran, husband and father, homeowner, holder of a master’s degree, retired businessman and long-time taxpayer have the same single vote as an 18-year-old high school dropout making sandwiches at Subway and living with his folks?

You elitist, you answer, fuming as you read this. Don’t you know that this is America? That the United States represents the ideal of democracy? That every citizen has an equal right to choose our leaders from the local to the national levels?

I respond with question number two: You’re right, but why doesn’t the United States Senate play by those rules?

Following the Great Compromise of 1787, the Constitution granted each state two seats in the Senate. The small states feared being dominated by the large ones in a single legislative body based on proportional representation. The large states believed that such a body based on equal state voting would be unfair to their populations. And here we are.

California, with a 2010 census population of 37 million has two senators. Wyoming with 560,000 people also has two senators. Given the 66-1 population advantage of the Golden State, my individual opinions reflected in votes cast by California’s senators carry a lot less weight than those of a resident of the Equality State, interestingly Wyoming’s official nickname.

I get it that the Founders were challenged to form a single nation from thirteen former British colonies, each with its own interests and none with experience of a republican—small “r”—national government. But America has been around for a while, and the Senate has become wildly unresponsive to the majority of Americans—of both parties.

So let’s amend the Constitution and create the Perlstein Senate. It works like this:

The Senate retains 100 seats. Following each ten-year census, adjustments give the ten largest states—the top five alone, California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois total over 119 million Americans—three seats. The ten smallest states get one. These now include Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska and South Dakota. Lots of miles there but few people—barely over three million, less than three percent of the five largest. The thirty states in the middle retain two seats.

Citizens in three-seat states will still be proportionally underrepresented. But the Perlstein Senate acknowledges that small states often have vastly different interests—though not all—than large ones. A non-proportional Perlstein Senate remains a buffer against the tyranny of the majority but constitutes one far more reasonable.

Conservatives will go ballistic. They’ll point out that the vast majority of American counties voted Trump in 2016. True. Also meaningless. This statistic favors sagebrush over people. Besides, nothing will stop a state like Texas or Florida—purple though they are now—from electing three Republicans each.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address proposed government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It’s time America took that to heart. Acceptance of the Perlstein Senate might have a snowball’s chance in hell, but it’s worth the effort to eliminate the political hell an undemocratic—lower-case “d”—Senate puts this country through.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.