Posts in Susan’s Musings

Comparison Shopping

August 16th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

This week was very unusual for me. While plenty was happening around the world and across our land, within our family, nothing out of the ordinary happened. No holidays, celebrations or guests; no illness or crises. While time often seemed to drag when I was a child, as an adult the weeks usually speed by as if on a dizzying roller coaster. Next week, a crowded calendar beckons once more, but this week was blissfully clear.

I actually managed to look at my non-urgent-to-do list and methodically worked my way through parts of it. I trashed a pair of hole-ridden slippers and a three-decade-old pot that desperately needed to retire and replaced them. I added cuffs to a dress and replaced the battery in my phone. I organized photos for a Grandma Camp project, exercised, and, to my husband’s delight, made supper every night.

This unusual spurt of activity led me to drop in at stores I don’t often frequent and also to spend time browsing online. I found myself caught in a shopping conundrum that is new for our time. I went to a craft store hoping that browsing the aisles might stoke my creative juices as well as to get advice on the best adhesive to use for a particular undertaking.  I was confronted by a befuddling array of glues. Asking the young salesgirl to explain the difference between two products resulted in her shrugging her shoulders and telling me that she had no idea. She was probably a summer hire and could just as easily have been selling hammers or ice cream. I went home, did some online research reading buyers’ reviews of the various products and ordered.

With very different results, I visited a small, locally owned sewing store seeking a backing fabric for some embroidery. The saleslady there directed me to choices and joined in the hunt, getting excited with me when we found something that made the design pop. Being out and around provided a stimulation of its own and while I wouldn’t want to be at the mall regularly, physically walking into stores reminded me of the diverse population that lives around me.

College professors decry the tendency of students to watch class lectures online while mental health professionals on campus warn of depression accentuated by spending little time with fellow students. Brick and mortar businesses are closing, unable to compete with their own on-line platforms as well as those of competitors. Online options are often cheaper, more numerous and don’t need you to find a parking place. You can order at any time you have available even if briefly sandwiched between other obligations.

Yet, we lose something when our lives revolve around a computer rather than around each other. French schools are outlawing phones in elementary schools, deciding that playing at recess should involve something other than each student staring at his or her individual screen. I don’t think we can regulate adults in the same way, but I, for one, would be sorry to see commerce move entirely online. This relaxed and laid back week reminded me of the balancing act we tread as technology affords us unprecedented options that easily fool us into thinking that we are surrounded by people, even as we, alone, sink more deeply into our couches. 

I am looking forward to next week with its frenetic schedule and a full house.  As exhausting as it all can sometimes be, God created us for interpersonal connection and I well know that a quiet week is only enjoyable because it is unusual.

P.S. If you are interested in children, education or homeschooling, I hope you’ll check out my new Practical Parenting section. This week’s latest posts are: Why Did You Pick Sonlight?, What Are You Really Teaching?, and Should I or Shouldn’t I?

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Why Discriminate?

August 9th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

Have you ever played the game Taboo? The goal is to get your teammate to guess a hidden word by giving them clues, but there are certain words you mustn’t use in guiding them. So, if the mystery word is “lemon,” the words “tea” and “car” might be taboo – if you say either of those your turn ends.

Our society has started resembling a game of Taboo. I thought of this when I read about the recently reported scandal at  Japan’s Tokyo Medical University. Entrance scores were rigged to penalize women so that they had to score much higher than men in order to get into the medical school. I’m not a fan of cheating, but I admit to feeling sympathy for those who are trying to run schools, businesses or organizations in the real world while hampered by high-sounding, unrealistic pronouncements unrelated to actual life and which are intended to signal virtue.

While we lived in Los Angeles, there was a period when newspapers were banned from stating that an apartment had a scenic view. The elite powers-that-be decided that this was a hidden form of discrimination against the handicapped, discouraging those who were blind from renting. Foolish as that sounds, the absurdities of anti-discrimination laws has only abounded.

The outcry at Tokyo Medical University’s manipulation of applicants’ data seems to be less at the dishonesty than at reviling the premise that led to the action. In apologizing for what the school did, managing director Tetsuo Yukioka, said,  “I suspect that there was a lack of sensitivity to the rules of modern society, in which women should not be treated differently because of their gender.”

Similarly, we are constantly being told that government-mandated parental leave and day-care is needed so that women can pursue careers without being penalized for having children. Diversity is flung about as a conversation-ender. Once that word has been uttered words such a freedom, experience, competence or profit are taboo.

Discrimination is real. It is not automatically without basis. When we were emptying out our flooded storage room last week we discriminated against one of our granddaughters who wanted to help. This was both on account of her age and gender. We favored her older brothers because we thought they could do the work better and more quickly. Fortunately, she did not complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

There is a very real fact that, on average, female doctors work fewer hours than male doctors. This is one of the reasons the Japanese medical school preferred the latter. Providing more maternity leave, legally mandating that jobs must be held for mothers when they want to return to work, raising taxes so that elderly parents have non-family care, instituting split shifts and other proposals aimed at making life easier for female physicians don’t change that original fact.

We accept that experience and time on the job make a difference for virtuoso violinists. If equal talent is a given, the musician who practices more is going to excel. If one violinist has a second passion for scuba diving and spends two months a year doing that, we do not insist that Carnegie Hall not be allowed to discriminate against his less developed violin skills. Why then is it wrong to ask if society is served more by a doctor who has seen 5,000 patients than 2,000?

In many fields, including medicine, more hours generally equate with greater competency and expertise. Author Malcolm Gladwell famously described how once a professional has reached 10,000 hours of experience, they become qualitatively more competent. Female doctors, as an aggregate, work fewer hours over the course of a lifetime. Changing that will mean forcing women to work even when they don’t choose to. Indeed, in some European countries with maternity policies that make American women drool, staying home with children beyond the mandated leave time is discouraged and made terribly difficult. Women are forced to go back to work against their will by the taxation that pays for these leaves and other policies.

We don’t want to move to a dystopian society that makes childbirth a restricted occupation. Nor do we want to prohibit people from choosing to spend time with family. Only draconian laws will force men and women to choose to allot equal time to those endeavors. Not allowing this to be discussed doesn’t change the facts.

Experience is not the only factor in choosing doctors, of course. Many patients, especially women, choose female doctors (discriminating against male doctors in the process) because they are more comfortable with a female or they equate women with more compassion. Individual doctors develop reputations which make patients want to see them. There are women doctors who excel at what they do and on a level playing field shine far above almost all their male counterparts.

However, it valid to ask what the goal of a medical school is. Is it to make money by providing a service for which tuition is paid? Is it to equip people to provide a service to their community and country? Is it to allow intelligent people with an interest in medicine to pursue that interest regardless of whether they will then use those skills? Is it to enable diversity even if the end result is less qualified or fewer available doctors? All I know is that those questions are taboo.

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A Nation of Immigrants

August 2nd, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 29 comments

This week I read a number of disparate articles and books from a variety of different sources.  As so often happens, they all turned out to be interconnected. Each one provided me with perspective on the great immigration debate raging not only in the United States, but in Europe as well.

Looking for something to read online one night, I logged onto my library account and scrolled through the “available now for download” book section. With apologies to Lidia Bastianich, I had never heard of the Italian chef, but the title of her book, My American Dream, caught my eye. The book, especially the story of her childhood, did not disappoint.

Ms. Bastianich’s family lived in an area of Italy that after World War II came under the control of Yugoslavia. As Communist rule expanded her parents made the decision to abandon their comfortable life and large extended family, and become refugees. While the mother and two children, including nine-year-old Lidia, went by train ostensibly for a short visit to relatives in Italy proper, the father escaped via a dangerous, harrowing trek, evading the regime’s police.

My American Dream describes the family’s spartan and uncomfortable life in the refugee camp in Italy, the grueling process they went through to be admitted to the United States and the years of struggle to rebuild their lives in a country whose language and culture they needed to learn. Their support system was Catholic Charities, neighbors and relatives. Ms. Bastianich’s recognition of her parents’ sacrifice so that she and her brother could have a better life and her honest portrayal of how difficult their path was is honest and moving.

With some embarrassment, I  must admit to knowing little of Josip Tito, or the Yugoslavia/Italy connection before reading that book. But with Italy on my mind, an article in the Wall Street Journal about Italian-born race-car driver Mario Andretti (whose name I did recognize) caught my eye. He spoke of the same time and place in history, when his family lived for seven years – seven years! – in a refugee camp in Tuscany.  For four of those years they  shared a room with nine families while awaiting permission to immigrate to the United States. Mr. Andretti, like Ms. Bastianich, was full of gratitude to his parents and appreciation to the country that took them in.

The third story came from the NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom magazine. It had nothing to do with immigration, but told of a recent hero, Bryan Whittle of Oklahoma City. While driving, he saw a commotion on the side of the road. Thinking that he might be able to help he pulled over and quickly realized that a gunman was shooting at restaurant patrons. Mr. Whittle pulled his own gun, shouted at the gunman to put down his weapon, and when that didn’t happen shot at the murderer, saving the lives of the fleeing customers.

When the police arrived, they initially handcuffed Mr. Whittle and another good Samaritan on the scene who also had his gun out. Obviously, as the witnesses told the story both armed citizens were quickly released and celebrated. (Funny, isn’t it, how the story didn’t make it onto the front pages of national newspapers and into headline news online – yes, I’m being sarcastic.) Mr. Whittle was appreciative for the chance to help others and completely understood that the police needed to secure the area before they could take the time to evaluate the situation and understand that he was a good guy.

This story along with those of Ms. Bastianich and Mr. Andretti,  laid the background for the fourth story I read. On the surface, the article in a liberal magazine was about illegal immigration into the United States. I wouldn’t call it investigative reporting as much as propaganda. In my opinion, it was intended to engage my emotions, provoke me to despise President Trump, confirm that anyone who votes Republican is deplorable and motivate me to get to the polls in November and vote for the Democrats.

What paragraph in the story caught my eye? A young man was quoted who was seeking asylum in the United States because of fears that he would be put to death for homosexual behavior in his own country. After illegally entering this country, he made his claim for asylum. At that point he was handcuffed and separated from the other illegal immigrants to be processed differently. What was his reaction? Gratitude for reaching the United States and potentially being given a safe haven? No – it was embarrassment  and upset at being handcuffed, and presumably the reader is meant to be outraged at that treatment.

Are you kidding me? I don’t think that we must make refugees, potential immigrants or asylum seekers suffer just because people did in the past. But we need to be extremely careful that crossing the border illegally or declaring oneself a refugee or asylum seeker isn’t a way to short-circuit the legal immigration process. Those are drastic measures, not ways to evade the system. Each country has a right to choose immigrants who will help, not destroy or drain it. Humility, gratitude, respect for the laws of the land and a desire to serve one’s neighbors seem to be valid basic requirements to increase the chances having more successful immigration stories and heroes like Bryan Whittle among us.

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Watery Reminders

July 26th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

Our basement, like so many others in the Atlantic region, flooded during this week’s torrential rains. We are fortunate. Our damage was largely luggage, clothing, tools and other replaceable items. We stored very few pictures downstairs and after running the washing machine non-stop for a few days, clothing has been retrieved. Since—surprise, surprise—the flooding is not covered by our insurance, the flooding is going to be expensive in terms of replacement cost and the time it will take to clean up, but we are grateful it was not worse. The biggest loss has been books.

We are enormous fans of used bookstore. We don’t seek the latest best-seller at a discount. Instead, we search out old books, those that you can’t find anymore. Books that beam out wholesomeness and innocence. Books about healthy families and friendships with a noticeable absence of perversion and profanity. One sad victim of our flooding was a box labelled, “Teenage girl books,” that was waiting for our granddaughters to get a bit older.

After a tiring day of clean-up, I curled up in bed needing even more distraction than reading provided. A few weeks ago in a Musing I mentioned the 1960s TV show Family Affair and a search of Amazon Prime showed that it was available for viewing with a click of the mouse. I clicked.

The episode I picked was highly entertaining, not least because it went no longer than two minutes at any point from start to finish without triggering politically correct current thinking. For example, six-year-old Buffy, plays with her doll, Mrs. Beasley while her twin brother, Jody, dances an Indian war dance. This manages to both trample on Native American sensitivity and at the same time promote gender stereotypes.

But the most fascinating part, to me, was how six-year-old Jody was allowed to wander his Manhattan block unescorted, the only admonishment being that he should not cross any streets. Like many other shows of the day that featured children, the plot lines of Family Affair seemed perfectly plausible to me. While my home did not include an English butler or a bachelor uncle, neither of those scenarios were fanciful as, let’s say, the talking horse in Mr. Ed or the extraterrestrial visitor in My Favorite Martian. It certainly did not seem ridiculous to me at the time that a six-year-old would be trusted to go out and about needing only to be home for dinner. That was exactly how my friends and I lived.

We knew not to get into a car with strangers, but had no qualms about being around our friends’ fathers or older cousins or independently roaming the neighborhood. When, in the TV episode I watched, Jody brings a rather disheveled looking man (who naturally will turn out to be the business associate his uncle has been desperately trying to meet) back to his apartment for milk and cookies, it is treated as unconventional rather than sinister.

I know that terrible things did happen in the “good old days.” Predators are not a new phenomenon and there were children whose lives were shattered by perverts. But the assumption when I was growing up was that, unless otherwise indicated, relatives and neighbors were good and life was safe.

Older books, like older TV shows, sometimes do have stereotypes and language of which I disapprove. Many focused on a “normality” that wasn’t universal. There are also some areas in which I think our society has advanced and I have no problem pointing that out to a young reader. But it is important to be reminded that what we think of as normal today, isn’t necessarily so. Children being constantly scheduled, supervised and surrounded by dysfunction should not be taken as progress but rather as the deterioration it is. Children being suspicious and fearful of any stranger  they come across in their daily lives or who, Heaven forfend, smiles at them, isn’t an improvement. I will miss my water-logged, cherished books that presented a picture of safe and sane daily life rarely seen in newer volumes.

P.S. You may have noticed a new section titled “Practical Parenting” under the Susan’s Musings heading at the top of the web page. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

P.P.S. If your family, like ours, picks your video watching carefully, I (in a completely biased fashion) want to recommend our Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show DVD. My husband and I love taping these shows and have collected four favorites to make available. Volume 3 is on sale right now!

P.P.P.S. Much thanks to those of you who responded to our summer appeal for the American Association of Jews and Christians (AAJC). AAJC sponsors Thought Tools, Ask the Rabbi and many other of our activities. To read about AAJC, click here.


Why not Israel?

July 19th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

I love puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, acrostics, Sudoku, logic puzzles…a book full of puzzles even keeps me somewhat content on a cross-country flight. I am telling you this to put into perspective my answer to a question that came to our Ask the Rabbi column.

Matt asked, “I’m always wondering why your family never moved to Israel?” 

While my husband and I always answer the Ask the Rabbi questions as a team, I’m going to make an exception for this one and let my husband answer in that venue while presenting my own answer here. You see, my husband and I received very different upbringings with regard to the modern State of Israel. While the land of Israel is unquestionably precious and special to all Jews and has been since the days of Abraham, how love for the land translates into action is a different matter.


Don’t Clone Your Senator

July 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

Rather than being a science-fiction fantasy (or horror) scenario, cloning of animals seems to be reality. When Barbra Streisand mentioned in an interview a few months ago that she had cloned her dog, it brought the subject to the forefront of people’s minds. When I read a bit about it, it reminded me of my husband’s joke that living with a clone of yourself would be terrible because every time you started to tell a joke your clone would yawn and say, “I know that one.”

Donald Trump’s selection of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court reminded me of one of the advantages of having 50 disparate states with their 100 varied Senators. I have written a number of times in these Musings about my frustration with Republican leadership, a dissatisfaction that many shared with me as evidenced by Donald Trump’s election. However, the other side of the coin deserves to be voiced as well.


Perplexed by Precedent

July 5th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 26 comments

I am perplexed. The response on the Left to Anthony Kennedy’s resignation and the resulting open seat on the Supreme Court has been utterly predictable. I expected their  hysteria and fear-mongering. The response on the Right is what has me puzzled.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican (though I wouldn’t call her a conservative), said, “I view Roe v. Wade as being settled law. It’s clearly precedent, and I always look for judges who respect precedent.”

But she is not alone. Conservative sources that I respect  are suggesting that it is too late to overturn Roe v. Wade or to reverse the 2015 Obergefell decision that legalized homosexual marriage. They are citing a respect for precedent and the danger of rulings that would disrupt huge numbers of lives. Now, that confuses me.


We’ve Come a Wrong Way, Baby

June 27th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 72 comments

Are we happy yet? A few years ago, in Dallas, my husband and I gave a ‘Money and Marriage’ seminar. I spoke about the brilliant Virginia Slims cigarette ads of the late 1960s. Using the advertising slogan, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” the ads contrasted sepia-tinted cheerless, oppressed-looking women from earlier decades with modern Virginia Slims women – bold, happy, often wearing colorful pants suits and liberated by, among other things, their ability to smoke openly. My point was that these ads actually gave an unspoken anti-feminist message. Women could only come a long way by behaving like men, in other words, by smoking.

With that in mind, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at last month’s report from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. Not only have young women achieved parity with men in getting lung cancer, they are actually getting ahead of men

What a triumph for feminism!


Et tu, America?

June 21st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 40 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.


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?


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