Posts by slapin

Et tu, America?

June 21st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 34 comments

I recently ordered something from Nordstrom and checked the box to pick it up at my local store. After arranging my schedule to make time to go get it in person, driving over, parking and waiting in line, the saleswoman couldn’t find my order. “We think it will be delivered. Here’s the number to call if you don’t get it. You’ll get a busy signal but keep dialing over and over and eventually you’ll get through.”

Well, that’s exactly what happened. Except, it didn’t happen with Nordstrom.  Had it been Nordstrom that iconic store most likely would not have messed up in the first place. Had there been an error they would not have put the onus on me to track down the missing item. There also would have been a heartfelt apology along with some compensation—perhaps a refund or a complimentary gift.

However, the above story didn’t happen with a private business such as Nordstrom. It took place at the United States Post Office.

A few months ago, my husband and I were away taping television for a week and we filled in the USPS form to hold our mail and deliver it on our return date. That day, upon our return, I met our local mail-woman on her daily rounds expecting her to have our accumulated mail. No such luck. She said, “Oh, I forgot it,(insert expletive). I’ll bring it tomorrow.”

Trying to avoid the same problem on a more recent trip, I checked the other box on the form saying that we would pick up our mail ourselves at our local branch. Trying to do exactly that triggered the above response.

One of the things that delights me about President Trump’s administration is that if he heard the above story, I don’t think his response would be either, “Well, what can you do? That’s the Post Office,” or “We need more tax money to make the Post Office function better.” I think he would be appalled and determined to cut the Post Office’s budget while improving the service.

The civil service was instituted in the late 1800s to solve the problem of federal administrations handing out government jobs as prizes to cronies, relatives and supporters. In contrast to the spoils system that preceded it, it was meant to be a merit system allowing those who could do a good job to do so regardless of their political party affiliation or connections. Over recent decades it has changed from a merit system to one of entitlement. Jobs are distributed based on distorted notions of fairness rather than merit, with less and less expected of employees and little accountability. Not surprisingly, private delivery companies constantly win greater market share while many of us avoid using the government-operated post office as much as possible.

Our just-returned-from trip was for a family wedding in Rome.  We found Italy with its 2,000+ year-old Jewish community fascinating and the people we encountered were warm and friendly.  However, we could not help but notice numerous examples of what appeared to be a labyrinth of a bureaucratic system.

What struck us, however, was that upon returning to America we encountered a baggage system at Newark airport that was so horribly incompetent that it could only have been designed by a fiendish brain harboring a diabolical malevolence towards the traveling public.   Upon finally recovering our suitcases, we gratefully headed for Customs and Luggage Control.  To say that this next government function made the Italians look like juggernauts of Germanic efficiency would be too generous.  The mindless and meaningless contortions to which this part of the airport subjected us, made us feel we were unwitting participants in a Marx Brothers movie.  Except that at 11:00 pm after a long flight, it was far from funny.  It was abundantly obvious that jobs that weren’t needed had been created and that no one really cared if the system served the public well.

The United States has neither the antiquities nor the Mediterranean warmth and charm of Italy.  However, it did used to be a land of opportunity with a dream of moving upwards each day to an ever better tomorrow.  Dissolving that old spoils system over a hundred years ago was partly what made American efficiency the envy of other countries.

I know I am not being realistic but the best way to raise government approval ratings a little closer to those of Nordstrom would be to dissolve the civil service system as it now stands.  Is it time to privatize all its functions? The many civil-service employees who want to do a good job, and are capable of it, would be hired privately and those who think that taxpayers owe them a living would not.

I don’t really expect Donald Trump to solve the challenges caused by America’s increasingly intractable public sector.  But perhaps he is taking us back a little to a line from Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address:  “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

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Flag Day

June 14th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind No Comment yet

A number of rulings that have to do with the American flag have been handed down by the Supreme Court on June 14th, Flag Day, in different years. Wouldn’t it be interesting to re-read the arguments and imagine if certain Justices would rule differently were they to have seen down the road? Would those who dissented from the majority opinion wish they had agreed and vice-versa? Wishing you a respectful Flag Day.

Horrified or Amused?

June 14th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

While some people may be concerned about N. Korea or Iran, in the really important news of the week, Netflix banned employees from looking at each other for more than five seconds. Asking a co-worker out more than once is similarly discouraged and, after having been turned down, every effort should be made to avoid that colleague. At about the same time, the National Health Service in England is preparing to diagnose a teenager with its first case of internet addiction and studies show an unprecedented number of U.S. college students are seeking mental health counseling.

While all this was going on, one of our daughters went to enroll her young son in a new school. To her amusement and horror, most of the forms she was asked to fill out overwhelmingly asked about her child’s therapies and special needs. She felt like apologizing for his being a rather uncomplicated kid.

When did normal human interaction and run-of-the-mill childhood become unconventional?  Have we seriously become incapable of differentiating between discomfort and true harassment or of taking responsibility for creating many of the problems we then turn to government and officialdom to solve?

Netflix, and entertainment in general, produce and present media that overwhelmingly revolve around violence or romantic involvement. Sophomoric humor abounds, much of it relating to behavior between the sexes. Sexual interplay between unmarried adults is presented as completely normal and natural. Perhaps employing some internal censorship to produce old-fashioned value-laden shows would be more effective than bulking up the employee instruction manual?

Some individuals have always faced more serious emotional challenges, but it seems to me that we should be worrying less about man-made global warming and instead focusing more on man-made psychological dysfunction. Parents in the 1940s kept their children away from swimming pools in the hope of shielding them from the polio virus. What should parents do today to increase their odds of raising mentally and morally healthy youth and  swim upstream from a culture designed to produce the opposite?  Should Netflix’s new rules simply be laughed at and headline grabbing dysfunction ignored as millions of parents are actually doing just fine? Are N. Korea and Iran a more serious threat than the suicide of western civilization?  Or are things actually better than they seem and are the sensational headlines (to employ a frequently used phrase) just fake news and easily refuted by spending time with one’s rather normal friends and relatives? 

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Needlessly Offensive?

June 7th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 41 comments

I got called on the carpet—very politely and graciously—but called on the carpet nonetheless. The challenge came from a viewer of our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show. I’m not sure when the particular episode aired so I haven’t found it yet, but I must have spoken critically about substituting pets for people. I imagine that I might have mentioned a pet food ad that irks me which shows a cat saying, “Mom, please get me….”

In her letter, our viewer said, “Susan, my animals are my family. They’re all I have. I think the old “walk a mile in my shoes” before you are so critical. My pets are there when I go to bed and when I get up in the morning. I know I’m not their Mother but they are probably the closest living thing to me.” She is making a perfectly valid point and I imagine that my words cut her, for which I am sorry. Yet, I don’t think I can leave it with just an apology.

One of the dilemmas for society is how to deal with unique individuals and their specific circumstances while at the same time maintaining public policies and social norms. At one and the same time, we want to be accepting and helpful to all, but in doing so we run the risk of normalizing things that we don’t want to encourage.

Let’s look at the example of teen pregnancy. I think we can all agree that if a fifteen-year-old girl gets pregnant and opts to keep the baby, she, her baby and society will be better off if she finishes high school. However, when the school sets up a nursery on-site and provides extra support for this mom, it sends a message to other girls that this is a viable and perhaps even a positive scenario. There is a mismatch between caring for the individual and protecting the larger entity. 

Even when there is no element of mistaken behavior, there can be a conflict between a person and the group. When I was a youngster, my friends and I spent most of our summer afternoons riding bikes, splashing in backyard plastic pools and, if enough of us were around, playing punch ball in the street.  For some reason, we didn’t get together in the morning. Instead, I would park myself in front of the TV and watch I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons and the rest of the morning line-up. Some of the episodes stick in my mind through today, including one from the show Family Affair. Unlike what the title brings to mind in today’s environment, Family Affair was an innocent depiction of a bachelor who unexpectedly found himself, with the help of his British valet, raising his orphaned nieces and nephew.

An episode that I distinctly remember concerned the teenage niece, Cissy, suffering as her school prepared for its annual mother-daughter evening. Understandably, the evening loomed as a painful one for the motherless girl. Granted, the school administration could have been more proactive and discussed the evening with her uncle, but it was completely unimaginable that an annual get-together would be canceled because of an orphan in the class.

I think that if the show was taped today, current sensitivities might have her school friends thoughtfully scrap the event. That did not happen in 1966. What we have seen happen in real life in the ensuing years is schools erasing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day from their calendars in order not to make children from broken homes feel bad. That became a step on the road towards insisting that all family compositions are equally positive. By not wanting to make anyone feel bad (an impossible goal – one can be sure that the fictional Cissy deeply missed her parents and that the pain would more strongly surface at major life events) we inadvertently sent a message that led to more heartache for more people.

Our society continues to send mistaken messages, among them that career is more important than marriage and family. As part of that message, we are told that animals are interchangeable with children. I have a daughter and you have a cat so we are both mothers. In parts of Europe today one can barely find a baby aisle with diapers and bottles, but one can find shelves filled with delicacies for dogs. Don’t worry about missing out on children—your pets will love you.

Naturally, there are those who are alone, sometimes even housebound, and who derive comfort, affection and a loving relationship from their pets. That is wonderful. I’m sure that I could have made it clearer that I wasn’t directing my words at those individuals. But I do think it important, as a society, that we not send a false message that at the point when people are making decisions about their future, they come to believe that a pet and a child are equivalent. So, I cringe at the idea that words of mine might have hurt someone, but I also cringe at the idea of going along with a trend towards replacing people with animals that will lead to heartache and sorrow down the road. I thank our viewer for writing and hope she understands.

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Our Palestinian Angel

May 31st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

I have a story to tell you. I have been thinking about this for a week and would love to hear your reaction as well. But first, as Sgt. Friday used to say on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Two and a half years ago, one of our daughters had a pregnancy complication. With God’s grace, she and her husband welcomed a small but healthy son a few weeks early and via an emergency C-section. As grateful as we are for the conclusion, it was scary and traumatic.

Because of her history, our daughter’s second pregnancy was automatically classified as high-risk. Along the way, the doctor repeatedly told her of serious problems she was potentially seeing on the ultrasounds. God answered our prayers and each ominous warning faded away. Eventually, when the baby was almost two weeks past due date, labor started.

Our daughter was adamant about doing whatever was necessary to have a natural delivery rather than another C-section. Being a nurse, as she is,  comes with advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side her insurance is incredible. The down side is that she needs to use whatever doctor is on call and even today many doctors are not fans of VBACs (vaginal delivery after Caesarian).

A week earlier, at a regular check-up, God sent our daughter a gift in the form of a labor and delivery nurse who gave her detailed instructions on what to say and do to advocate for a VBAC once she was in labor. Our son-in-law was fully armed to be her spokesman. He manfully did his job.

Because of this, our children spent a lot of time hiking the hospital corridors rather than following the usual course of laboring women staying in bed. At one point, an OB doctor they did not know rushed over to them and said, “Are you the woman trying for a VBAC?” Upon getting an affirmative reply she said, “I’m a big proponent of VBAC. You’re doing the right thing,” and proceeded to give the patient a hug.

Hours passed and the doctor on call began grumbling that they needed to get things moving or they were putting the baby at risk and they should think of a C-section. Just at that point, the OB they had met earlier dropped in to say goodbye as her shift was over and she was heading home. When she saw what was going on, she pulled off her jacket and said, “I’m staying. We’re going to do this together.”  Two and a half hours later, our healthy and beautiful grandson entered this world in a natural delivery.

Here is the part I have been processing over this past week. When this wonderful doctor came in to the room, our son-in-law noticed that she was wearing a Gaza pin on her coat. He had also heard her conversing in fluent Arabic with a patient in the next room. From the belongings in the room and our son-in-law’s prayers, our children were easy to identify as Jewish.

This doctor was not assigned to our daughter. After an exhausting through-the-night shift, there was absolutely no professional obligation on her to help. And while it would be lovely to say that politics should not enter a medical setting, it certainly could, especially when going above and beyond the call of duty. Yet, as a doctor and human being, she was so committed to the idea of VBAC (and I have to think, frustrated that so many of her peers are leery of them) that her passion and humanitarianism took center stage.

Our family is grateful to this doctor on a personal level. Even more so, as Gaza erupts again in ways that I am sure this woman and we see through diametrically opposite lenses, I see her actions as an omen of hope.

It would be lovely if all cultures equally promoted peace and goodness and if we could make problems vanish by just singing Kumbaya, but that is not reality.  There are certainly warm-hearted Moslems as well as warm-hearted Jewish individuals. There are wicked Moslems as well as wicked Jewish individuals. But when we talk about cultures, there is a gaping difference. Jewish culture encourages making peace and respecting those of different backgrounds. In many countries and certainly in Gaza, hatred of Jews is encouraged. There are celebrations when a terrorist slits the throat of an Israeli baby. Candies and cakes are distributed in honor of terrorists. Children’s stories and TV shows depict Jews and Israelis as demons. Hostility is fomented.

I recently read an account of a Moslem woman in Hebron during the 1929 pogrom that took place there against the Jewish community. (Yes, there were Jews in Israel before 1948 and there was violence against them before the establishment of the State or the success of the Israeli army in battle.) The wife of one of the leaders of the pogrom hid a rabbi in her home and told her husband that she would die before seeing him harmed. One can find current stories of Palestinians shielding Jews who took a wrong turn and ended up in hostile neighborhoods. But the above people are going against the flow of their education and culture. In contrast, when an Israeli mistreats a Palestinian the force of culture comes down against him. The thrust of education is towards peace and respect.

So, our angel of a doctor deserves recognition not only for being a stellar example of her profession, but also for showing that each and every individual can choose to step outside negative cultural influences and chart a better path. I don’t know if she is the product of an unusual family or if she independently chooses life and love, but the more of her there are, the better world for both our children and hers.

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Exposed

May 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 23 comments

Even as I wrote it, I was disturbed by my last week’s Musing. The Musing’s premise was that we shouldn’t be surprised by hypocrisy in our politicians. I think, sadly, that this is true.  When many citizens demand that elected officials sanctimoniously parrot standardized phrases and then vote on the basis of those politically correct formulations we shouldn’t be surprised that the words of those running for office don’t match their personal actions.

This is not confined to politicians, of course. Our society keeps on pushing people to say one thing and think, believe and do another. For example, for many years now students taking a variety of exams, have been forced to choose between marking what they know to be the officially correct answer or responding with the truth according to their beliefs and, often, according to science. Recently, the MCATs, taken by aspiring doctors, added ideological questions that compel religious Christians and Jews to make exactly that deeply disturbing choice.

However writing about Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after allegations of disturbing personal conduct were made, troubled me. This resignation follows a pattern in a continuing series of stories that fling private matters into the public realm.

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I’m Shocked. Shocked!

May 10th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 24 comments

One of cinema’s greatest moments is the scene in which Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe in the 1942 movie Casablanca, saying,  “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”  Just then, an employee approaches and hands the Captain his winnings. The fact that it makes us smile does not mean that we also smile when our own politicians fling their hypocrisy in our faces.

Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after a number of women made allegations of disgusting behavior against him, may or may not be guilty of the charges. That doesn’t change the fact that a long list of pompous and self-righteous hypocrites who allied themselves with the Me Too! movement, make Donald Trump look like a particularly virtuous choir boy.

Piously and publicly proclaiming a cause while privately acting very differently is hardly a new phenomenon. While human failing is at the root of such actions, those shrilly touting their causes may have something to learn as well.

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Where are the children?

May 7th, 2018 Posted by On Our Mind 3 comments

After I wrote a Susan’s Musing about China’s failure to undo its disastrous ‘one-child-only policy, I found out that Japanese attempts to increase that country’s birthrate are also failing. It turns out that when countries realize the economic and social disasters awaiting them from not having enough children, it isn’t so easy to turn things around. Amazingly, (and yes, my tongue is in my cheek) cash incentives and a government “go for it” aren’t enough to encourage people to have children.

While concerns about money do, indeed, cause people to hesitate to have children, giving money or benefits like free childcare as an incentive doesn’t lead responsible, married couples to have larger families. It seems that once you convince women that children are an impediment to achievement and detrimental to a fulfilling life rather than a blessing and gateway to a fulfilling life, it is hard to demand such a sacrifice from them.

Perhaps there should be a warning  label attached to social engineering: Unintended consequences may be hazardous to your health.

Land of Few Babies

May 3rd, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

A lot has been written about China’s one-child-policy, a draconian government edict that has, as entirely anticipated decades ago by wise people (like my husband), led to a demographic crisis. First, China is about to have the oldest population in the industrialized world. Second, there are shortly going to be over twenty million single men desperately seeking wives they can’t find because they were never born. National and international implications notwithstanding, in an article on the subject in the Wall Street Journal, one simple idea jumped out at me.

It seems that when Beijing changed its policy in 2016 to allow a second child, it did not result in a rash of new babies. One person quoted said that even if all restrictions on family size were lifted, “China will learn what many other countries have learned—that it is much more difficult to get people to have more babies,” (than the other way around).

What struck me is how our complex world has transformed what used to be a fact of life – married couples have children – into a controversy. Scientific advances allow men and women both to avoid pregnancy without embracing celibacy and to imagine, often wrongly, that they can have pregnancy on demand. Social trends present children both as parental trophies and as impediments to living a fulfilling life. Having children, like marriage itself, is no longer a normal step on the road of life.

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What was Lot thinking?

May 1st, 2018 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

In Genesis 19:8 Lot offers his daughter to the men of Sodom instead of his two visitors (the angels). This had always bothered me. I can’t imagine throwing my daughter out of my house to be raped. Can you explain this mindset to me?

Kathy H.

Dear Kathy,

To put it simply: No, we cannot explain this mindset to you. And, if we may say so, that may not be the best question. The Bible isn’t literature where we look at character development to better understand the story. We look at character development in the Bible, among many other things, in order to better understand the world and ourselves.

Perhaps in a number of hours of study, we could look at each word, indeed each letter, in this section of the Bible and begin to get a comprehensive picture, but in the limitations of an Ask the Rabbi column, we can’t begin to do this justice.

However, we get so many more questions than we can answer and we decided not to just put yours to the side because of one point it gives us the opportunity to share.

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