Archive for the ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ Category

CHOSHEK

This past Wednesday, Northern California experienced something resembling the ninth plague with which God struck the Egyptians when Pharaoh refused to free the Israelites. Choshek—darkness—enveloped us. It also issued major warnings.

Exodus 10:22-23 relates, “Moses held out his arm toward the sky and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another . . .” The Israelites were spared. Two days ago, no one was.

Daytime darkness resulted from thick fog covered by heavy smoke from fires raging throughout California and the West. An orange sky—welcome to Mars—cast little physical light. But choshek might illuminate our thinking.

Two issues come to mind.

First, Western fires have grown harder to fight because the region has grown much dryer and hotter. Blindness to climate change won’t cut it. We need more awareness and action from Washington, which has the big bucks. We also need better forest management by federal and state officials. Prescribed burns and, in some cases, letting forests burn after lightning strikes or human malevolence/stupidity can eliminate fuel that would ignite bigger conflagrations in the future.

Further, the cost to taxpayers and stress on firefighters working under brutal conditions continually increase as Cal Fire seeks to protect communities in remote high-risk areas. I don’t blame the victims for loving beautiful, serene forests. But public support may no longer be sustainable for people who live isolated in those forests and won’t or can’t (re)build homes according to fire-resistant standards. Their insurance premiums are likely to skyrocket—if policies are available.

Building smart isn’t cheap. Not everyone has the assets. But it’s doable. Case in point:

My friend Dan recently built a luxury house in Lake County. An outstanding builder-developer, he situated the house away from others. He specified concrete/stucco walls, a metal roof and fire-resistant windows. The floors are concrete-slab with a stone-tile finish—not wood. The house includes other safety details plus a major water supply and fire hydrant on site. This reflects Dan’s sense of personal responsibility.

Second, the nation is experiencing a darkness of the soul, which many Americans refuse to acknowledge. Wednesday morning, a peek into Bob Woodward’s new book Rage (out September 15) documented Donald Trump’s refusal to tell the American people that in early February, he knew the coronavirus was far deadlier than the flu and presented a major public health problem. Trump didn’t want to cause “panic.” Interviewed after the book’s revelations,  he defended his position.

Really? Would you fail to tell Americans a hurricane was coming?

Had Trump been forthright, Americans could have begun isolating and wearing masks far earlier than mid-March. Many who believed Trump’s public assertions about COVID-19 being a hoax and a Democratic plot might have complied. Tens of thousands of lives—a hundred thousand? More?—might have been saved.

The Jewish New Year (5781)—Rosh Hashanah—begins in one week. Hopefully, the choshek we’ve just experienced will prompt Jews everywhere to further search our souls regarding personal and communal responsibilities and opportunities—and all Americans to consider fact and truth to be our friends, not enemies.

May we find a way to see or—light—by foregoing falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and listening to and respecting each other.

May the memories of the innocent killed on September 11, 2001, including all the first responders and courageous civilians who struggled to save them and others—and those who succumbed later be for a blessing. May the survivors heal. And may we learn.

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ALL THAT GREEN

Baseball’s back. Whether the short season will be completed remains in question. But I’m less inclined to look to baseball’s future than its past for memories bigger than the game.

As a kid, I went to Yankee Stadium with my father Morris. I treasured sharing that time with him. Later I went with my brother-in-law Herb. Always a special thrill: the first sight of the field. All that green! After the game, we walked to the centerfield exit across the outfield. I stood in the same place as my hero, Mickey Mantle. As a teenager, still a sports lover, I saw athletes as people and gave up heroes.

I watched lots of Dodgers and Giants games on TV, at first on our nine-inch screen. My family went to several Giants games at the Polo Grounds. We saw a triple play against the Dodgers. My father took me once to see the Dodgers at Ebbits Field.

I regret rooting for the Yankees, who dominated baseball as Amazon does online retail. Like my Aunt Anne and Uncle Moe, who lived in Brooklyn, I should have been passionate about the underdog Dodgers. “Dem Bums” broke the color line in 1947. In 1955, they finally won the World Series—because they broke the color line.

The Dodgers and Giants fled to California in 1958. I was more into basketball. But when the New York Mets expansion team formed, I abandoned the Yankees. I loved the Mets’ disastrous 40-120 first season in 1962, even attended their second home game ever—April 14, Polo Grounds, 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh. I saw Marvelous Marv Throneberry, a mountain of a man, leg out a triple and be called out for not touching second base. To err is human.

At Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I followed the Houston Astros. I went to the Astrodome and saw the San Francisco Giants with Willie Mays. I attended San Antonio Missions’ minor league games.

Moving to San Francisco in 1974, I rooted for my Bay Area teams. At Candlestick Park, former home of the Giants, box seats ran $6 or $7. Lots available. The Giants stunk. But you stay with your team.

I took the family to Giants games. We saw a triple play. In 1989, I took our oldest, Seth—baseball offered us a strong and needed bond—to game one of the World Series against the Oakland A’s. The Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The upper deck behind third base swayed as if it was part of an amusement park ride. We made it. Life, as I’d learned in the army, is fragile.

I’ve gone to spring training in Phoenix and MLB parks across the country. Baseball unites—at least temporarily—diverse Americans. No small thing.

My love of baseball—all sports—has waned. I do follow sports in the Chronicle and on TV. Watching games on TV involves five minutes of killing time.

Still, I look forward to more sunny afternoons at Oracle Park. When the pandemic ends—and it will—fans, including me, will return to live baseball to bask in the comfort of the familiar and reminisce. We need that.

And for those of us who live in cities—including me, two blocks from the Presidio National Park—we’ll still thrill in immersing ourselves in all that green.

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TOP DOWN OR BOTTOM UP?

Classical music and professional basketball have something in common. The link may challenge some preconceptions about race.

The National Basketball Association, re-starting its season July 30, comprises 80 percent Black players. This racial makeup hardly represents a cross-section of the United States. Problem?

No way. Teams and fans want championships. That requires the best players.

Can you imagine the NBA—which once limited the number of Blacks—deciding that diversity overrides talent? Commissioner Adam Silver announcing that next season, Blacks—13 percent of America’s population—will be allotted 13 percent of roster spots?

Me, neither.

What about classical music? New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini (July 16) suggests that orchestras—heavily white—end the practice of blind auditions to achieve greater diversity. That was blind auditions’ original intent.

I sense a slippery slope.

In blind auditions, musicians play screened from judges. Is a candidate male or female, black, white, Asian, other? Judges hear the mastery of instrument and material. Maybe potential. They hire based on a word that has taken on a negative connotation—merit.

Tommasini believes that blind auditions fail minorities because orchestras don’t represent their communities’ ethnic makeup. Thus 40 percent of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s musicians should be Black. Nearly half the chairs in the Los Angeles Philharmonic should be filled by Latinos. This, while the vast majority of symphony-goers may be white.

I suggest a middle ground between merit and representation. A candidate who stands out at a blind audition should be hired. But a toss-up among several qualified candidates? Hire a minority.

On the other hand . . .

If Black and white hoopers compete for the same spot at the end of an NBA bench—15 active players—should the team hire a white player so the majority of fans can identify?

Back to the symphony world. Tommasini acknowledges a challenge that quotas won’t meet: “Some leaders in the field . . . say racial diversity is missing in the so-called pipeline that leads from learning an instrument to summer programs to conservatories to graduate education to elite jobs.”

True. Pipelines build for the future. Minority communities require increased resources devoted to pre-schools, teachers, WiFi connectivity, healthcare services and job training to improve lives from the bottom up.

In Los Angeles, Kadima Conservatory of Music—my son Yosi studies classical violin there—exemplifies this. Kadima trains young musicians of all ethnicities. Every child and adult must demonstrate talent to enter the program and work hard to stay in it. This pipeline and others like it will send prepared minorities to top orchestras and other classical groups.

If minorities are underrepresented in classical music and other fields—as opposed to the NBA and popular entertainment—encouraging interest in classical music and producing minority artists must begin with young children. This bottoms-up approach places us on a long and challenging road given the environments in which many minority youngsters live. To meet those challenges, Americans must take a step back to understand the dogged patience required—patience we seldom exhibit.

Achieving true equality of opportunity and the results it can produce demands a long-overdue commitment to communities in need. Also the wisdom to understand that shunning talented people because of their race or ethnicity adds new injustices to old ones.

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CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

In 2017, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia put American anti-Semitism in full view. Again. Murders followed at synagogues in Pittsburgh (2018) and near San Diego (2019). But whites aren’t the nation’s only anti-Semites.

Ten days ago, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson—African-American—posted on Instagram a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Because the white Jews knows [sic] that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas [sic] secret the Jews will blackmail America.”

Jackson also posted a clip from a July 4 speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the notorious anti-Semite banned by Facebook last year. Read “Farrakhan’s Influence Remains a Problem” by Jonathan S. Tobin (7/14) in the National Review.

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson joined in regarding the Rothschild banking family while citing Farrakhan. The entertainer Nick Cannon launched anti-Semitic and anti-white rhetoric on a podcast causing ViacomCBS to cut ties.

How can African-Americans, victims of racism, give voice to anti-Semitism? Because it’s there. Long has been.

Hitler didn’t introduce anti-Semitism to Germany. Martin Duberman points this out in Jews, Queers, Germans, a history-cum-novel spanning the 1890s to 1930. Count Harry Kessler, a non-Jew, states succinctly to the Jew-turned-Lutheran editor Max Harden, “I tell you anti-Semitism is engraved in all of us. And not just in Germany, though it surely flourishes here.”

Europe today displays strong strains of far-right and Muslim anti-Semitism. In Britain, the leftwing Labour Party under Jeremy Corbin kept anti-Semitism alive and well.

Anti-Semitism in American politics? Some progressives, including representatives Alexandra Octavio-Cortez (D.-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D.–Minn.) have used anti-Jewish tropes before disowning them. Many on the left also don’t just disapprove of Israel’s policies but deny the Jewish state’s right to exist.

In difficult times, people often turn to scapegoating. Given contemporary economic and cultural pressures, those of all ethnicities have much opportunity to pick up on hatred because it’s in the air, fostered by generations of writings, speeches and, most damaging, everyday remarks passed off as common wisdom.

DeSean Jackson, facing a firestorm of criticism, apologized. “My intention was to uplift, unite and encourage our culture with positivity and light. Unfortunately, that did not happen . . . I unintentionally hurt the Jewish community in the process and for that I am sorry!”

Uplift? Unite? Encourage? Unintentionally hurt? Do we speak the same language?

An African-American issuing anti-Semitic slurs can no more be excused than a Jew making anti-Black statements. And some Jews do.

Education can hinder the anti-Semitic and racist virus—when people are willing to learn. Hopefully Jackson is. Ignorance establishes a culture in which the virus thrives.

Important: African-Americans like NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke out against Jackson’s remarks. Decency bridges racial and ethnic divides.

A plea to American Jews: Don’t let the nation’s DeSean Jacksons turn you away from the battle for Black rights. At the same time, don’t turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism from people of color and others on the left. Victimhood does not confer entitlement to hate.

As the quest for civil rights rightfully marches forward, American Jews face the danger of being caught in the middle, attacked by right and left. A small group, we make a big target. Calling racism and anti-Semitism to task makes an even bigger statement.

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WALKING AND CHEWING

Last March, a longtime reader asked me to remove her from my email list. With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc, she couldn’t take getting “bad news from the universe.” I deleted her name. But she missed out on a very critical concept.

True, the universe—in its broadest sense—sent us the virus. But failure to adequately contain its spread in the United States is very much a human issue. We have the power to mitigate it. Yet as simple a matter as wearing a mask became a major political issue starting with Donald Trump, who refuses to wear one and thus motivate his supporters to do so.

No question, the pandemic, economic collapse and social upheaval take an emotional toll. Going ostrich and sticking our heads in the sand is tempting. But whistling in the dark won’t shed light on solutions.

People create or worsen many of our problems and only people can solve them. Greed, envy, lust, ignorance and sheer stupidity are human traits, not those of the universe. Inattention can weaken our will and erode our capacity to tackle our challenges.

We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Don’t want to check the daily pandemic death toll? (I do.) People will continue dying in alarming numbers. Can’t bear another bizarre story coming out of the White House? The mess regarding Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan will likely gain traction because it impacts our intelligence processes and national security. Ignore the rest of the ongoing and destructive mess in the Oval Office? That won’t bring on a Joe Biden victory in November.

Alarm and anger augmented by knowledge and perspective occupy critical places in a healthy society.

That said, entertainment and laughter form part of the mix enabling us to get through difficult times with our sanity reasonably intact. That’s why Carolyn and I, like so many Americans, check the news and also watch TV.

Right now, we’re very much into National Theatre Live from Britain. We attend plays at the National’s showpiece facility on the Thames whenever we’re in London. There’s great theater in America, but the Brits set the standard. That’s why Carolyn trained in two summer programs at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

A week ago, we saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, meticulously videoed in the new Bridge Theatre on the south side of the Thames near Tower Bridge. We howled. The cast included Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), whom Carolyn met at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a few years back, and Hammed Animashaun as a fabulously funny Puck. All and director Nicholas Hytner made the comedy accessible and added to it. Purists may decry the brilliant contemporary touches. Not the audience. It loved them. So did we.

We’re also watching the German sci-fi series Dark on Netflix. Deep mysteries. No idea what’s going on. Love it.

Some people may feel guilty about expressions of joy and laughter in a time of sadness. I suggest that we’re better off both facing our burdens and indulging in all the humor—and drama, music, food, wine and Zoom get-togethers—we can.

If we refuse to walk and chewing gum at the same time today, we’ll end up unable to do either tomorrow.

Happy Fourth! Let’s honor the best this nation stands for. It’s quite a lot. And let’s correct its misdeeds so that the American Dream applies to all.

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DEATH, POLITICS AND GUILT

I have bad news, good news and more bad news. Also an apology.

The initial bad news: The COVID-19 death toll of Americans stands at 124,000.

The good news: Last Sunday, American daily deaths dropped to 275.

More bad news: Daily deaths rose to 833 on Tuesday and 766 Wednesday. Yesterday, Johns Hopkins University charted 2,467 deaths, although this includes figures from New Jersey of indicate COVID-19 deaths previously not recorded. Also yesterday, a record 40,000 infections were reported.

My apology: Sunday’s plummeting death toll left me disappointed. I’ll explain.

The occupant of the Oval Office is so perverse—and his Republican enablers so selfish and malicious—that only a continuing high death toll might convince enough Americans of the incompetence and lack of humanity defining Donald Trump.

Last Saturday, the president told a rally crowd “filling” a third of Tulsa’s BOK Center, “I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’” Talk about magical thinking! Fewer tests equate to fewer infections—if you lack commonsense and decency.

Several of Trump’s senior advisors stated that the president was joking. Believable—if you lack commonsense and decency.

Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman, stand aside. Donald Trump can now claim to be one of the nation’s premier stand-up comics. For example, he hails the novel coronavirus as the “kung flu,” emphasizing its origin in China. Even presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, champion of alternative facts, found “kung flu” offensive—in March.

Not funny: Tuesday, Trump said he wasn’t kidding.

More unfunny: A day earlier, Trump tweeted that the upcoming presidential election is “rigged.” He claimed that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries, and others.” I didn’t bother putting this in all capital letters as he did. I will bother to inform you that Trump VOTES BY MAIL.

Let’s get serious: Trump is setting up an excuse for defeat. The prospect of voters turning him out cannot, in his twisted thought processes, be possible. But a recent Fox News poll—Fox!—showed Trump trailing Joe Biden by 12 points. A recent New York Times poll put Biden’s lead among registered voters at 14 percent. Polls can be sketchy, particularly this early. But if Biden wins, Trump will deny responsibility for defeat.

More threatening, Trump’s tweet recalls the line in the 1964 film Beckett based on the play by Jean Anouilh and spoken by Britain’s King Henry II. At odds with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett, Henry asks his barons: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Media-savvy for his time, Henry could claim he never ordered Beckett’s assassination. Just thinking out loud.

I’m thinking that Trump is dog whistling his followers to disrupt a “corrupt” voting process. Gather with guns near polling places. Damage collection boxes. Delay the proceedings of the Electoral College.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 shows no signs of slowing down. Southern and Western states that rushed to reopen their economies and resisted mandating face masks see infections spiking at alarming rates. While Election Day is more than four months off, it may be that even if Trump-stoked violence arises, the pandemic and our continuing economic meltdown will result in the president’s very legal removal from office.

How sad that it might take 150,000 or more dead Americans to disinfect the Oval Office.

Just before I posted this, Vice President Pence held a news conference during which he praised Trump’s and the administrations efforts to control the pandemic. He didn’t wear a mask. One of us inhabits another dimension.

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DRYDOCKED

The Boat sits in drydock at Clement and Fifth Avenue far from the waterfront. Its captain is giving up the helm. But someday—soon, I hope—it will set sail as it has for 38 years.

Jesse and Roberta Fink opened the Toy Boat Dessert Café in 1982. Carolyn and I had been living in San Francisco for eight years and were settled in a flat on Twentieth Avenue, then with two kids. A terrific new brand of ice cream had been introduced to the City—Double Rainbow. The Toy Boat served it. (Jesse’s brother Steven and his partner Michael founded the ice cream company.)

Given that the Boat offered so many flavors plus pastries plus coffee plus a mechanical horse for the kids and so many cool toys for purchase, we found our way there. After we moved into our house on Fifteenth Avenue late in 1983, a third child now part of the family, we walked to the Boat with some frequency.

In 2004, I moved my office home from downtown and went out to lunch every day. That meant a sandwich, wrap or salad at the Boat once or twice a week. Jesse, whose family once had spent time with mine at the Calistoga Spa, became a friend who’d sit down and talk about—anything.

The Toy Boat long has been a fixture on Clement Street. The desserts and toys—Pez containers, pink Spaldeen rubber balls and stickball bats like we played with as kids (Jesse’s from Brooklyn) and a variety of tin and, later, plastic super-hero figures—may have drawn people for a first visit.

Jesse kept them coming back.

Whether his customers were locals, the legendary Robin Williams, people from across town or visitors from across the country and, indeed, around the world, Jesse schmoozed with everyone. The Boat became a social gathering place. As host, Jesse asked where you were from and what you were doing and made you feel like the center of the universe.

I, a functional introvert, couldn’t have done what Jesse did. “I’m not sure I’m an extrovert,” he says, “but I am outgoing. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to others over time, so in the store, I wouldn’t be nice to someone simply for business reasons.” Outside the store, he’s much the same person.

Jesse long served as what I termed “The Mayor of Clement Street.” But the COVID-19 pandemic put retailers in a bind, especially small ones, which make up almost all the Richmond District’s stores and restaurants. When the City proclaimed its first shelter-in-place order, Jesse closed the Boat on March 16. “I figured we’d be closed only for a week or two.” The City kept extending the order. Jesse let go most of his staff. He gave thought to retiring.

He was 67. When he put the Boat up for sale, he’d been home with Roberta for two months and enjoyed their time together. And, he confesses, he’d been thinking about retirement since January. The pandemic sealed the deal. “My mother used to say, ‘Moments of decision choose themselves.’”

Jesse hopes that the new owners will maintain the Boat’s uniqueness. Me, too. As he says, “Like the Grateful Dead, we weren’t the best at what we did. We were the only ones.”

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MY HAIRCUT

COVID-19 has taken its toll. Now, people are getting back to some familiar routines from working to dining out. But new opening-up regulations don’t compel us to do so. Witness my haircut.

I, too, was getting scraggly. I had my last haircut on March 12. My particularly oily hair badly needed trimming. I can’t see my stylist, Regina, yet. But I have a pretty good substitute at home.

Monday, Carolyn cut my hair. Two weeks earlier, I’d ordered clippers with guides. Watched videos. (What isn’t on YouTube?) I relayed what I learned to Carolyn. She was a natural.

Okay, I prefer Regina cutting my hair. Pre-COVID, I visited her salon every four weeks. Looked great and maintained neat hair until next time. But during a pandemic, the “other woman” is your wife.

We set up in our bathroom. I covered myself with an old poncho. The fun began.

No, not that kind.

I attached the adjustable guide and set it to #10, the longest, to avoid mistakes. Then I started trimming the sides of my head to show Carolyn how the clippers work. Bingo, she was on it. Finished the sides and went to the back. Then the top. Fine-tuned with scissors. Used the clippers to clean my neck.

I admired her handiwork. Then I used the clippers to touch up a spot. Naturally, I cut a bit of a hole in my right side. Doesn’t look bad. Not too. No more of that. Why cut your own hair when you have a talented semi-pro at home?

Don’t think our relationship—in September we’ll be married 51 years—is a one-way street. Despite movie, TV and commercial production being shut down until today, June 12, Carolyn’s had more—I repeat, more—auditions than ever. All self-videoed or self-recorded. Audio, Carolyn handles in a studio set up in our guest room closet. A small closet. I put in the sound-dampening panels.

For videos, I usually get cinematography credit. Using Carolyn’s iPhone, I frame the shots, move the camera when needed and, on most occasions, feed her the other characters’ lines. I also offer tips on reads and pieces of business. Why not? I wrote, produced and/or directed a lot of radio and TV commercials in my day. Disclosure: That day is long past.

Another disclosure: Carolyn and I are not rushing into San Francisco’s reopening. I’ll be 76 in a month. My health is great, and I’m uncommonly fit for my age. But as a physician wrote a few months ago, organs that have been around for 76 years are 76 years old. Now, reports have emerged of a correlation between type A blood and higher COVID-19 death rates. No, correlation is not causation. Yes, I’m type A.

Fortunately, our lives are comfortable. I write. Carolyn takes online acting and singing classes, does auditions. We both watch TV and read. We also walk in nearby parks, take in fabulous views of the Pacific and Golden Gate. Mountain Lake is two blocks away. And we bring in meals from a great Turkish restaurant, Lokma, Clement and 19th Avenue.

If we’re cautious, you can understand. I’d like to be 77 in a year. Hopefully, I’ll celebrate with my favorite chocolate cake and a haircut outside the house.

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THREE IMAGES, MANY QUESTIONS

A Minneapolis cop kneels on the neck of a black man, George Floyd. Peaceful protestors kneel on pavement. An unidentified young African-American woman carries an armload of bras out of Victoria’s Secret. How do we make sense of these images?

Last Saturday, my friend Ira asked: Doesn’t Judaism have anything to offer about the racism endemic in America? Yes, it does. Start with Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this “simple” verse raises complex questions.

Love: A general good feeling about others or a commandment to take action when others face difficulties or injustice? (Cain kills Abel then asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”—Genesis 4:9).

Neighbor: Family and friends only? A religious congregation? Co-religionists only? Those who live near our home? And whom can we reject because of their race, religion, politics?

Yourself: How many of us truly love ourselves, are happy with the kind of person we are? If we consider it obvious that each of us engages in self-love, why does our society endure so much alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide? Can you love and mistreat yourself at the same time?

That said, do we define Leviticus 19:18 to our own liking and use it as a pretext for creating out-groups whom we have no obligation to love? What if we believe that the Bible instructs us to subjugate all who are “different”? What if cherry-picked verses, bent to our own purposes encourage us to forcibly convert others to our own religious and political practices or remain perpetual second-class citizens? Or take their citizenship away?

Slavery is a blot on America’s collective conscience, but some Americans still believe that slavery treated black Americans better than freedom ever has or could. Before and after the Civil War, any number of Christian ministers extracted from the Bible verses they attributed to God advancing the cause of separation of the races. Isn’t that a euphemism for oppression?

Black Americans—all Americans—have both a right and a duty to protest racism directed against anyone and seek meaningful changes in our society. Most protestors have peacefully exercised that right during what has also been an incredibly violent week while COVID-19 deaths continue. That said, I’m still overwhelmed with questions:

Will the violent minority hijack the cause of the peaceful majority? In November, will voters on the fence turn to Donald Trump as their Richard-Nixon-law-and-order candidate? Will others pass on voting for Joe Biden because another Democratic candidate isn’t the nominee? Or will they engage in a pragmatic electoral protest against an intolerable racial situation and a president whose Attorney General had tear gas and rubber bullets used to clear space in front of Washington’s St. John’s Episcopal Church for his boss’s photo op holding—but not reading from—a Bible?

Will a new president make a difference? Can changing laws also change hearts?

Walking/running/driving/birding/breathing while black can never be considered criminal or even undesirable. Can we as a nation find the strength and will to keep our eyes on the prize and work to end the racism that pollutes our society? Are we willing to fall short of a perfect solution?

Here, the Mishnah (Pirke Avot 2:16) offers guidance: “You are not required to complete the work, but you are not free to abandon it.”

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REALITY REDEFINED

As a kid, I played sports. I also was a fan. And, having a vivid imagination, I created my own sports reality. America’s doing the same. It could lead in unexpected directions.

I loved board games played with dice or spinners and based on actual player statistics. Later, I created my own generic baseball, basketball and football games. I ran my own leagues. Today, pro sports are shut down, but the hunger for games remains. Video and board games satisfy that.

Moreover, the media, particularly newspapers, need stories. The San Francisco Chronicle briefs readers on the Giants and A’s during Strat-O-Matic’s simulation of the 2020 baseball season. The Chron co-sponsors APBA’s series between all-time NorCal and SoCal baseball players. In game two, the Giants’ Barry Bonds (NorCal) homered twice off legendary pitcher Walter Johnson (Washington Senators, 1907-27).

It’s like following baseball before television. Even during radio days, most Americans never got to major league baseball parks. They experienced the national pastime in their heads.

Literature understood. In 1968, Robert Coover published a fascinating novel, The Universal Baseball Association: J. Henry Waugh, Prop. A lonely man lives through his dice baseball league—teams and players his own creations. One roll of the dice presents that most rare phenomenon—it happened only once: Cleveland’s Ray Chapman, 1920—a player struck by a pitched ball and killed. J. Henry Waugh faces an agonizing decision. The player is a young star, who has renewed his lagging interest. Should he let him die? If he rolls the dice again, he negates the game’s integrity. We could go on and on about God’s role in history.

Actual baseball, basketball and hockey may resume by July, football in September as scheduled. As with baseball now in South Korea and Japan—and German soccer; English soccer’s coming soon—no fans will attend. Games will be staged for television. Of course, professional sports originated and grew with paying customers filling seats in ballparks, stadiums and arenas. But gate receipts, important as they are, lag behind TV dollars. TV presents reality at a distance, but sports fans long have embraced that.

As play resumes, athletes face real health concerns. They also pose a major expense to franchise owners. Might they and their salaries be replaced with avatars—digital fictions? J. Henry Waugh created his own players, including detailed biographies. They were as authentic to him as the actual Henry Aaron and Mickey Mantle, both 1968 baseball all-stars.

Sports leagues could eventually use holograms of faux players while filling stadiums with real crowds. The action, based on advanced algorithms, would be as exciting as it is now. Outdoor games might be rained out but be played in-studio and on TV. Seasons would avoid interruption by labor strife and—pandemics. Over time, as long as the software remained uncompromised, would anyone miss flesh-and-blood athletes?

Today’s Zoom business meeting, worship service, classroom and family get-together create a new—at least different—sense of reality. What if the people we see and speak with on our devices, not just athletes and entertainers but family members—the ones we wish we had—also were digital fabrications? What if we had a role in creating them? Would we perceive them to be any less real?

Would wefeel any less real?

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