Blog

I TURNED DOWN $5.4 MILLION

I just let an easy $5.4 million slip through my fingers. Foolish? Some people might think so. Because many Americans love a con job. Recently, I received a letter from a “barrister” in London. It promised me the life insurance proceeds of the late “Dr. Darrell Perlstein.” I’d net $5.4 million after 10 percent went…

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WEATHERING THE STORM

Hurricane Ida’s ferocious winds and rainfall hit southern Louisiana hard. Fortunately, my son Seth came out unscathed. Luck? Some. But he was prepared. As for me, preparing for the unknown was a lesson I learned only later in life. Regarding Seth, two months back, he moved from boisterous New Orleans to quiet Prairieville, a suburb…

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THE SECOND CASUALTY OF WAR

If the first casualty of war is truth, a close second is certainty. Unfortunately, Americans often take a mechanical approach to problems. President Biden preaches that there’s nothing a united American people can’t do. If only. Witness the evacuation from Afghanistan. To date, we’ve flown out 105,000 Americans, Afghans and others. But come Biden’s August 31…

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OZZIE AND HARRIET

In 1950s television, virtually everyone was white. So, in my novel 2084, a key symbol for America under a white-Christian government played on a hit ’50s TV show. 2084’s protagonist, a floundering stand-up comic named Sam Klein, aka Groucho, meets “secretly” with his stand-up mentor, Don Green (nee David Greenberg) aka Miltie. They hide in plain…

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AFGHANISTAN

Following 9/11, President George W. Bush sent American troops into Afghanistan when the Taliban refused to turn over Osama Bin Laden. Twenty years later, we’ve all but pulled out. Have we learned anything? The Twin Towers turned rubble, Bush made countless mistakes. Defeating the Taliban was easy. But he refused to send American troops after…

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REMEMBERING HERB

My brother-in-law Herb Zaks (z”l) died on July 27. Married to my sister Kay for 61 years, he was 85. But this isn’t the end. We met when Herb was 21, me 13. He became a big brother, always supportive. We loved sports and went to Yankees games with my father’s weekend and holiday tickets.…

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CHILLING UNDER THE HEAT DOME

My neighborhood woke up to blue skies. That’s rare, because while much of America swelters, San Francisco remains an exception. What is nature telling us? This year, the West established record high temperatures: Death Valley 130, Las Vegas 117, Portland 115, Seattle 108. At my house, we chill in the mid-50s. We like to think…

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GAZA’S EXISTENCE ON FILM

The July 14 New York Times online presented a film, “So They Know We Existed,” about the recent Israel-Hamas mini-war. Gaza residents shot it using their phones. The film is touching. It’s also misleading. First, highlights: An opening title states, “Palestinians in Gaza captured the conflict as it unfolded.” They did, and the film is filled with real images…

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CHARACTER AND COLOR

Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that someday, the content of one’s character would rise above the color of one’s skin. A recent email and a newspaper article lead me to believe that real equality remains a dream—for reasons you may not suspect.  The email came from a literary publication. Like most, it…

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OPEN AGAIN

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, theories abound on what a re-opened America will be like. As to my outlook, I turn—as in the past—to a favorite comic strip. Some people believe the nation will be better—purged?—after experiencing over 600,000 Americans killed by the virus. “Pearls Before Swine,” written and drawn by Stephan Pastis (San Francisco…

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PRIDE

It’s Pride Month, a time for the LGBTQ+ community—an amalgam of communities—to assert, “Here I am.” Yet “pride” carries a more nuanced meaning than many people realize. To begin, I’m the father of three sons—one straight, one trans, one gay (married to my gay son-in-law). I accept all of them for who they are and…

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IT CAN HAPPEN HERE

Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times, wrote an opinion piece last Tuesday as a follow-up to my previous post, “A Bleak American Future?”, in which I mentioned my new novel, 2084. Okay, that’s wishful thinking on my part—but… Douthat’s column, “Are We Headed for A Coup in 2024?” considers the same challenge to American democracy…

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A BLEAK AMERICAN FUTURE?

The New Yorker titled a May 27 article by Susan Glasser, “American Democracy Isn’t Dead Yet, But It’s Getting There.” Hyperbole? Senate Republicans blocked the formation of a bipartisan commission to examine the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.  At a Memorial Day weekend QAnon-affiliated conference,…

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GENOCIDE? WORDS MATTER

The ceasefire holds between Israel and Hamas. Peace in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank? A long way off. Both observers and supporters of the Palestinians could help nudge the parties along by not abusing words blindly targeting Israel.   Proportionality. Hamas sent towards Israel 4,000 unguided missiles. Some landed in Gaza. Many were destroyed. Others struck Israeli civilians.…

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FINDING LOST DOGS

On Wednesday, May 12, my son Aaron’s and son-in-law Jeremy’s 18-month-old pit bull Stella, a sweetie, bolted from her dogwalker’s vehicle at 14th and Castro. A massive search operation ensued. Carolyn and I learned how little we knew about finding lost dogs. At first, Carolyn and Aaron joined friends driving around Buena Vista Park. Then a…

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CANNIBALS BARE THEIR TEETH

Nearly 75 years ago, George Orwell pointed out the mind-bending use of language by authoritarian regimes in his classic novel 1984. The Republican Party long has gone Orwellian. Republican members of the House, with the blessings of Big Brother, aka Donald Trump, purged Liz Cheney from her number-three post as conference chair. Minority leader Kevin McCarthy…

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LESSONS OF MOUNT MERON

A stampede at a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) religious festival in Israel last week resulted in 45 deaths and many more injuries. The tragedy took place on Mount Meron across from the city of Ts’fat (Saphed), center of Jewish spiritualism. What can we learn? One hundred thousand Haredim—all male, teenagers included—gathered to celebrate Lag B’omer, a festive break…

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REVEALED AND HIDDEN

My good friend Les Kozerowitz and I are making biographical videos on Zoom for our children, now very much adults in their 30s and 40s. They’ll learn much—but not everything. We’re recording ourselves—each asking the other questions—because many kids never get to it. Also, we’re not among the many elders who resist being questioned about…

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ROAD TRIP

For 16 months, Carolyn and I didn’t travel farther from our house than 25 miles, and then only for vaccinations. Last weekend, we drove to Los Angeles to see our son Yosi. The trip reinforced the marvels of California—and seeing them at ground level. We overnighted in Pismo Beach, halfway to L.A. Highway 101 doesn’t…

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THE OTHER CONVERSATION

African-American parents long have had “the conversation” with their sons regarding interactions with police. There’s another critical life-and-death conversation all Americans should have. Immigration has been called the third-rail of our national politics. Most politicians engage in immigration rhetoric, not policy. Why? Studying the issues objectively risks alienating many or all of varying constituencies. Why? Rational discussion…

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RACE AND CONTEXT, PART TWO—OTHER VIEWS

I asked several African-American friends (Jewish) to comment on last week’s post regarding Blacks as examples of academic failure (and success). Their comments, edited for brevity: Tamar: “I grappled with what to think about the [Sandra] Sellers audio [Georgetown Law Center] precisely because it doesn’t say much on its face, but what it evokes looms large.…

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RACE AND CONTEXT, PART ONE

This week, some thoughts on race. Next week, I’ll look at comments from two African-American friends and explore related issues. Two weeks ago, two racial incidents resulted in the firing of offenders. One firing leaves me with questions regarding context and perspective. An Oklahoma high-school basketball sportscaster responded to a girls team—only some players Black—kneeling…

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ONE TABERNACLE, TWO LESSONS FOR AMERICA

Who were the five wealthiest Americans in the 1800s? Most fabled poets of 16th century Islam? Greatest emperors of China’s Tang dynasty?  I can’t answer, either. Few people achieve lasting fame. Yet many try to imprint their name on history. Ego often leads them to notoriety or infamy, as they do more harm than good…

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NOT JUST ANOTHER JOE

For five years, I wrote a lot about the most recent former president of the United States. I haven’t yet commented on the man who defeated him, Joe Biden. I’ve had reasons.  Biden, the anti-blowhard, doesn’t seek attention. Measured and self-effacing, he makes no claim to being the man on the white horse. He focuses…

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PFIZER #2 IN ARM—WHAT NEXT?

Last Sunday, Carolyn and I received our second Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations. Carolyn came down with side effects that ended mid-week. I was fine. The shots should eliminate most risk of getting the virus or, if we do, suffering grave complications. Still, I’m left with serious questions. How many Americans will not have timely access to…

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LLAMAS IN THE FOG

In October 2019, I explained how I deal with past mistakes and regrets in “My Llamas.” Some months ago, my llamas taught me a new lesson. Simply put, the 2019 post developed through inspiration provided by one of two Hebrew words for why. They appear both in the Torah and modern use. Lama (pronounced LA-ma) comes from a phrase, L’ma…

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THE JURORS AND THE COMMANDMENT

Go outside, wet your index finger and hold it up. Now you understand why an important commandment in the Torah failed to impact the Senate trial of Donald Trump. Trump “won” 43-57. Of course, conviction requires a two-thirds majority. Seven Republicans voted their conscience. Forty-three cast votes based on which way they saw the political…

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VACCINATION SHOT ONE

On Super Bowl Sunday, Carolyn and I drove down to San Mateo where Sutter Health was giving seniors Covid-19 vaccinations—Pfizer. The process stimulated several thoughts. San Francisco went under “lock down” eleven months ago. Since then, I haven’t been south of the border with Daily City. The farthest north? Giving my car occasional outings, we…

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THE MANDALORIAN AND THE JEWS

Jewish film/TV characters may be identified by “Jewish names” but rarely are depicted living Jewish lives. Yet Jewish writers and directors often include Jewish references in their work. Take The Mandalorian (Disney+). Part of the Disney-owned Star Wars franchise, the series was created by executive producer/writer Jon Favreau, a fellow Queensite, who was bar mitzvah. The Mandalorian provides what seem more…

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KAREN AND GEORGE

Language is powerful, people imperfect. Often, we weaponize words against others. Exhibits A and B: Karenand George. Karen is hurled at white women accused of using their genetic, economic and social status—often termed privilege—to verbally and even physically assault African Americans. Karen accuses a mass of people and denies their individuality. I know two wonderful Karens. But what’s new? A century…

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FINGERS CROSSED

Joe Biden ascended to the Oval Office after a tumultuous post-election period. His inaugural address replaced American carnage with American hope, and Washington’s spectacular fireworks celebrated not the individual but our continuing democracy. What lies ahead? President Biden’s call to “come together to carry all of us forward” was heard across the nation. Not all…

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MOSES AND THE OVAL OFFICE

The terrorist insurrection at the Capitol shocked the nation. Donald Trump’s second impeachment not so much. The American Pharaoh was headed for disaster. His leadership stood in contrast to that of Moses.  Rabbi Shai Held spotlights Moses’ leadership strengths in The Heart of Torah: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus, Volume 1 (2017).  In…

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INSURRECTION AND COMPLICITY

Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol unfolded like a TV mini-series. I binge-watched and rejoiced in the failure of an insurrection by American terrorists incited by Donald Trump. Now, we’re being inundated with pangs of conscience. The attempt to overthrow our democratic process prompted much “soul searching.” I’m skeptical. To engage in that activity, you need…

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THE REALITY CONUNDRUM

Last Monday, two events began shaping the future of the United States. Both offer reason to hope—and agonize. In New York, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center received the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination against COVID-19. Across the nation, the Electoral College met to officially determine our next president.  The first of the…

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THIS CHANUKAH IS SPECIAL

The Jewish Festival of Lights began last night. It brightens winter’s gloom, offers hope we can overcome all the reasons we’ve had to despair. This year, Chanukah is more special than ever. 2020 brought us the COVID-19 pandemic, which shrouded America in darkness—especially since many tens of thousands of deaths probably could have been avoided…

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WHAT HISTORY TELLS US

Carolyn and I had a wonderful Thanksgiving—just the two of us. Carolyn prepared a terrific turkey—meals for a week. We were thankful. We’ll remain so. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 horror, history gives us good reason. In 1918, the Spanish flu broke out. San Francisco required facemasks and imposed a $5 fine on violators. The Anti-Mask…

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