Posts in Susan’s Musings

For Your Own Good

May 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

I appreciate warnings. When I’m a guest at a meal and my hostess tells us that one of the dips is super spicy, I appreciate knowing that before setting my mouth on fire. When a friend suggests that I skip reading a popular book because it is filled with profanity, I appreciate taking it off my reading list. When my phone alerts me about an accident up ahead and re-routes me, I appreciate saving the time I would have sat motionless on the freeway.

But what happens if I find out that the dip wasn’t actually spicy at all. There simply wasn’t enough to go around and my hostess wanted to save it for her other guests. Or my friend knew that I would love the book which was actually unobjectionable, but wanted to write about it on her blog before I wrote about it on mine. What if the developers of my traffic app only wanted to route me so that I would pass a certain coffee shop that was giving them a kickback on each beverage sold?

I no longer appreciate the warnings. Instead I feel manipulated.

This is exactly what is happening on Facebook and other social media sites today. I was aware that years ago already, Google and YouTube restricted videos from Prager University warning that they were “inappropriate” for young audiences. If you have seen these videos you will understand that the translation of “inappropriate” is worry that young people might be exposed to conservative ideas and the fear that they may be intrigued to learn more about them.

Recently, however, I’m seeing more of this type of slanting of information masquerading as concern for viewers. Not by silencing  entities like Prager University, which at least has other avenues in which to disseminate its ideas, but by playing liberal extremist nanny to the interactions between individuals. This week, Facebook masked a photo that was posted by a contact of mine. Facebook feigned concern that the post might offend me, so that they wrote, “We covered this photo so you can decide if you want to see it.” There was an additional warning: “This photo may show violent or graphic comment.” Now, there are a lot of inappropriate picture that I wish I did not have to see. Many of them are on the covers of newspapers or magazines that are hard to avoid as you walk through an airport or check out from a supermarket. However, although, I don’t personally know this contact, I do know that she has never posted anything I would consider inappropriate. I proceeded to click on the “uncover this photo” tab.

If you have your smelling salts at hand along with a teddy bear to cuddle if your blood pressure begins to climb, here is the message I uncovered.


You came here from there because you didn’t like there, and now you want to change here to be like there. We are not racist, phobic or anti whatever-you-are, we simply like here the way it is and most of us actually came here because it is not like there, wherever there was. You are welcome here, but please stop trying to make here like there. If you want here to be like there you should not have left there to come here, and you are invited to leave here and go back there at your earliest convenience.

I do hope you have survived this graphic encounter with words that are so out-of-bounds that social media know-it-alls will shield you from them. My first thought was that this should be sent to all those white, wealthy, liberal individuals leaving states like California and moving to states like Texas.

May I humbly suggest that you be careful whose invitations you accept, whose book reviews you respect and whose driving directions you follow. Most importantly, treat concern for your well-being from any politician, academic or media outlet as a clarion call to research more and make up your own mind. 

Nine verses that explain terrible ideas becoming popular once again.

Tower of Power: Decoding the Secrets of Babel


Tower of Power

Dis-Connecting in the Caribbean

May 8th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 9 comments

It is time for re-entry to reality. I have been off-line for over a week and only now do I realize how “connected” I usually am.

For many years, during our summer boating trips, we were out of touch in a way that today’s youth can’t imagine. When we sailed from California to Hawaii one of our friends and crew was a ham radio operator. Every few days he would hail some radio pal, who then, as a courtesy, phoned our parents to tell them that we were fine. Aside from that sporadic crackly contact we spent twenty-two days isolated from the world on our sailing boat in a small world of our own.

Even during our trips along the British Columbia coast, we were often incredibly isolated. My husband vividly remembers taking the dinghy ashore to call his parents from the phone booth on a dock on Quadra Island, BC. When his father asked him what he thought of the war, his response was, “What war?” (The first Iraq War had broken out a few days earlier.)

That is no longer the case. When we nowadays boat in British Columbia as we love to do, we have cell phones that are almost always within reach of a signal.   We often also enjoy WiFi availability courtesy of a harbor (harbour) at which we are docked. By using a hot spot, we can even be online while at anchor. This is a gift for us, as being able to work for a few hours a day allows us to get away more often. However, until this past week, I hadn’t realized how much information is continually bombarding us.

Even though I turn off for 25 hours each week for Shabbat and occasional holy days can add another 48 hours to that tally a few times a year, the expectation of hearing things almost instantaneously has become my norm. This past week, sailing the Caribbean in a small boat as guests of our son and daughter-in-law was a throwback to earlier years. I had no WiFi connection, though the magic of What’s App allowed me to stay in touch with our family chat.

We sailed. We swam. We snorkeled. We enjoyed the magnificent beauty of God’s creation. We read. I completed more embroidery than I usually manage to do in a few months at home.

We had time for deep, meaningful conversations.

Person 1: Does anyone know what day it is?

Person 2: I think it’s Monday.

Person 3: I’m pretty sure it’s Tuesday.

It is time to jump back into real life. Our wonderful team kept our ministry running smoothly, but I look forward to finding out what is going on. I’m eager to read comments on the past weeks’ Ask the Rabbi and Musing. (Now you know why I didn’t reply.) And, while I was perfectly content being unaware of what world leaders, politicians and pundits were doing and saying, too much ignorance isn’t healthy. Yet, it is good to know that the world managed without my input and I have to think that my mental health flourished without input from the world. Perhaps, for a short while at least, I can remember that just because I can access the latest news at the touch of my fingertips doesn’t mean that I should always do so.


The Income Abundance Set



Is Venezuela Coming Here?

May 2nd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

Unless you have family or friends in or from Venezuela, the country seems far removed from most people’s daily lives. Considering the paucity of geographical knowledge that most Americans possess, it might even be considered a success if many people could place Venezuela on the correct continent. Yet, it would be a mistake to ignore that South American country.

In an incredibly short time political decisions, along with Cuba’s intrusive assistance and specifically socialist leanings, turned Venezuela from one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries into a land where hunger, shortage and sadness abound. We ignore the warnings emanating from this disaster at our own risk.  Today, Venezuela serves as compelling evidence of how evil ideologies will gradually impoverish a society and destroy lives.  And all this was done in the name of equality and compassion.

Closer to home, I encourage you to watch two videos. (I strongly suggest you not do so too soon after eating.) They show how two cities, Seattle and San Francisco, are no longer jewels of the American west coast, but have tragically deteriorated into rather filthy, dangerous, crime-ridden cities in serious decline.

When our oldest two children where small, our family spent one summer on our sailboat in San Francisco. We had a wonderful time taking day trips from that magnificent location. Years later, when our family had blessedly added another five children, we moved from Southern California to the Seattle area. We rejoiced in the clean air and breathtakingly beautiful views. Not only was crime low but civic pride and respect for the law was high. Only five years ago, in 2014, when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl, there were articles about how Seattle rioted politely, with joke pages listing posts such as: I rioted by crossing the street on a red light—twice! When a few fans did get out of hand and damaged a pergola in downtown’s Pioneer Square, the public raised funds almost immediately to rebuild it.  As you can sadly see in the video, Seattle is unrecognizable today.

The United States is a large country. It can still thrive as a nation even while parts of it wallow in filth. However, there is a tipping point. Increasingly, those citizens who are financially able to do so are voting with their feet, moving from high-tax, high-crime, failing cities and states. Unfortunately, as they move to safer, better functioning cities, they bring their misguided voting patterns with them, potentially setting in motion the eventual destruction of their new homes.

Pay attention to Venezuela, and should you meet newly relocated neighbors, perhaps a showing of the Seattle KOMO news report would make a fitting “welcome to our neighborhood” evening activity.

If you don’t understand what money represents, you can’t make it
(or recognize why capitalism is better than socialism)

On Sale: The Income Abundance Set


April 23rd, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 13 comments

Picture this scene. Your eight-year-old daughter comes running in with blood pouring down her hand. Sobbing, she explains that her teenage sister left the food processor cutting blade in a sudsy sink full of water. When younger sibling reached in to get a spoon, she badly cut herself.

In addition to bandaging up the wound, are thoughts of punishment for the older child running through your head? After all, the rule about not leaving sharp objects concealed so that they can hurt someone has been discussed many times.

I actually do not remember if I called out my oldest child’s name in anger (though I’m sure she does) before realizing that the “blood” was actually ketchup and the entire story was a fabrication concocted in the mind of a mischievous, sometimes verging on fiendish, little girl.

Knowing the entire story, in context, makes a world of difference.

The above story is one of many I could tell about that impish little girl with a glint in her eye. She is now a lovely young woman, married, the mother of two little boys and a practicing nurse. Fortunately, her sense of humor has matured while remaining vibrant. My thoughts immediately jumped to her when I saw headline snippets of a hard-hearted and clueless Washington state senator declaring that nurses spend their time playing cards.

The facts were almost as incorrect as in my opening story. Senator Maureen Walsh did say that nurses, “…probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” But she was making a point, poorly worded as it was, that was not meant to denigrate nurses or nursing, but rather to point out the difference in the needs of hospitals in urban, rural and remote areas. In a debate on regulations, she was highlighting that rules which make sense under certain conditions can be crippling under others.

My point isn’t whether her argument is accurate or a good one. That should emerge from debate and factual information. However, instead of discovering what she actually said and discussing it, what happened was a public keel-hauling, taking her remarks out of context and stirring the social media pot of venom. Could her words have been more carefully chosen? Of course. Yet, there is not one of us who hasn’t clumsily said something we could have better articulated.

My daughter, who worked in the ICU for two years has, along with her colleagues, missed meals while on 12-hour shifts. They have found it impossible to catch a rest or go to the bathroom. We increasingly treat both our doctors and nurses poorly, if not cruelly, in ways that demoralize them and decrease the care they can provide for patients. Some of that is the result of regulations that sounded good on paper but worked out completely differently in reality. Debate on many issues is desperately needed. A society that plays “gotcha” instead of encouraging open conversation and dialogue, as it did with Senator Walsh, is establishing a more dangerous scenario than the one concocted in my eight-year-old’s imagination.

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Strange Bedfellows

April 16th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

I recently wrote about the #Walkaway Movement, founded by Brandon Straka, as one of the bright lights on the American horizon. I avoided mentioning one aspect of his crusade that I do think deserves discussion. I would like to do so now. How I can ally with them and more so, greatly appreciate their involvement in affecting the future of this country, while disagreeing vehemently with many of their lifestyle choices?

The movement is diverse in a way that few areas of American life are today. Rather than identifying by color, sexual orientation, gender, age, religion or nationality, those signing on agree on shared ideas. Among them are a love for the United States, respect for freedom of speech and thought, and serious concern about the bullying and hate being promoted by today’s Democrat Party.

Wherein lies the problem? Many, including the founder, Brandon, identify and behave, particularly in the sexual arena, in ways that I not only think of as religiously sinful but consider damaging to the long-term health of a culture. Yet, I am grateful for their presence. For their part, they are not demanding obeisance from me or anyone else for how they live their lives, though I imagine at least some are hurt by what they see as my prejudices. At its most basic, you could say that the relationship is based on the idea, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but I think that is not only incorrect, but misses an opportunity.

My husband and I have cultivated relationships outside our “box” for many years. In the early years of our marriage, this took the form of leading a synagogue made up mostly of young Jews who had a strong ethnic Jewish identity but negligible religious education or knowledge. (If you’d like to know more about our electrifying experiences during those years, check out Judy Gruen’s The Skeptic and the Rabbi, telling her story of reluctantly being drawn to faith via my husband’s teachings.) This meant that the Jews we welcomed into our home often behaved in ways that were counter to our convictions. They drove by car to our home or synagogue on the Sabbath; brought us non-kosher food as hostess gifts and sometimes even approached topics with our young children that made us uncomfortable. We had no difficulty distinguishing between their behavior and them. Over the years, many of them involved themselves in our congregation and began to follow the Torah; others did not. People in both of those categories came to be our dearest friends.

When we shifted our professional focus away from our Jewish community and onto the national stage out of concern about the anti-Godly direction the United States was taking, we again forged friendships with those different from us. In this case, our new relationships were mostly with Christians. While we agreed on the moral vision for the country, our theologies were not congruent. Since we all took God and His book seriously we could work towards a mutual goal, however this meant putting our differences to the side. In our case, we truly were (and are) completely not disturbed by the notion that some of these individuals are convinced that we will not meet them in Heaven. (It actually amuses us that some secular Jews who profess not to believe in an after-life and Heaven at all, get highly offended at that theological view.) We respectfully listen as our Christian allies pray in Jesus’ name.  Our Christian friends, on the other hand, put to the side their religious duty to share their faith (evangelize) and rather do what they can to support our religious needs. Once again, we count many of these Christians as dear and cherished friends.

I see the #Walkaway group as another example of this kind of alliance.  I think that many in this group have mistaken ideas and I’m quite sure many in the group think I do too. I can embrace them for their political decisions without embracing everything about them.

Knowing something of history is imperative for making wise choices in life. However,  trying to live as if we were still in an earlier  era is an easily made mistake.  When the Jewish Reform movement first started in Germany during the  1800s, those Jews who abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, did so deliberately rebelling against God. At that time and place, Orthodox Judaism sought no common ground with Reform. Instead what was needed was vigorous opposition to this distortion of Judaism.   By contrast today, most Reform or completely unaffiliated Jews aren’t rebelling; often they are extremely serious about the only version of Judaism they’ve ever known.

When European pogroms against Jews were regular occurrences in many countries, frequently encouraged by the local priest, the answer was not to form a Cossack-Jewish friendship society. But that is no longer today’s world.  For the most part, anti-Semitism today stems from Islam and secularists.

And when sexual norms began to be shattered during the 1960s, whether through the birth control pill, the normalization of homosexual behavior or the  deprecation of marriage, loud voices of opposition were required. However, many of those living by those new rules today are not revolutionaries. They are often following a path that they believe to be good and normative.

I still think that when Jews desecrate the Sabbath, it is a problem. I still think that homosexual activity is a sin, along with many other behaviors (like gossip) that are completely accepted today. Yet those who do these things are not automatically my enemy. A common theme one hears in the #Walkaway stories is how supporting President Trump or even having something positive to say about any Republican is enough to end decades of friendships and destroy family relationships. Yet, what I read and hear is not a desire to reciprocate the venomous feelings towards these ideologically pure “progressives,” but a wish that these estranged loved ones can overcome their hatred.

At this time in history, the right thing is to build alliances with anyone who doesn’t think that those who disagree with him should be physically, emotionally or financially attacked. It is time to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who feels that the power of government should not be used to impose thought control over the populace. It is time to find common ground with anyone who is willing to let each American live by his or her beliefs rather than strip us of our freedom of speech, religion and assembly. There may be numerous areas of disagreement, but, disturbingly, today there is an ascendant group that is trying to crush those with whom they differ. At a time such as this, new friendships and alliances are needed. There may be other times when doctrinal purity must be emphasized. Now is not one of those times.

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Grouchy Women

April 10th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

Dennis Prager’s thought-provoking columns are always interesting to read, and I agree with his arguments most of the time.  A column this week is an exception to the rule.  You can read it here, but to sum it up, he suggests that just as men as a group have more aggressive natures than women do, women as a group have a tendency to being malcontent.

Dennis’ thought process started when he recently read Betty Friedan’s seminal book from 1963, The Feminine Mystique. In January, 2015, I too, decided that, as a book that helped launch the feminist movement, it was worth a read. Like Dennis, I too commented that having achieved more than Ms. Friedan imagined, women today should be rejoicing. Instead, we see many women who are bitter and discontented. I wrote an article asking, “Could it be that…women are just complainers regardless of what is happening?” Dennis and I answer that question differently.

I do agree that, in the aggregate, women and men have different natures. Women are more emotionally driven than men are, a quality that, just like male aggressiveness, can help or harm society. If women adulate and even adopt men’s aggressiveness, as has sometimes happened in history, the world becomes a cruel and vicious place. If men adulate and adopt women’s emotionalism, as has happened in our culture since the 1960s, the world becomes an unhappier and less productive place.

On issue after issue, men have failed to be men, falling prey to emotional and illogical arguments ranging from, “a woman’s body is her own,” when there is clearly another human being sharing that body, to the culture-destroying, “intentions matter more than results.” Most of all, both men and women emotionally embraced the attitude of victimhood, seeing happiness and fulfillment as an obligation that society must deliver. Men and women have chosen and been taught not to take responsibility for their own lives, but to depend on the government and others.

People respond to a false sense of victimhood in different ways. Real injustice can be fought; fake injustice cannot. Men are more likely to respond to this frustration by taking drugs, committing suicide, getting into fights or taking stupid physical risks. In the past decades women increasingly respond by becoming both unhappy and political activists. As we chase God out of our lives, we are supremely less well-equipped to elevate gratitude and appreciation over bitterness and sullenness.  As I wrote in my Musing on this topic, “Those of us who wish to be happy need to inoculate ourselves against that virus, surrounding ourselves with women looking for realistic joy rather than victimhood.” That is true for men as well. Sorry Dennis, but sinking into misery rather than counting our blessings is a human failing, not a feminine one.

P.S. I received a lot of positive comments on last week’s Musing about vaccinations. I also received private messages appalled that I would write this during a measles outbreak. I wish those who wrote privately telling me how irresponsible I was would have posted publicly as well.

I was not specifically talking about the measles vaccine, though my timing may not have been the best, and as I said, I see both sides of this issue. Lack of trust is rampant in many areas of our lives now, and that includes lack of trust in the medical community. In another field, Boeing’s only chance of reviving consumer confidence in the 737 MAX and the company in general means that they have to accept responsibility for their wrongs and explain what will change. Similarly, I think the onus is on the officials  of the American Medical Association, politicians and other in leadership to acknowledge when they have given priority to concerns other than the safety of patients and explain what will change going forward. Certainly, a measles outbreak will encourage some parents who were hesitating to vaccinate to do so, but as long as underlying worries are not aired and respectfully dealt with, I don’t see a change in the basic lack of confidence in the medical establishment that exists among many loving and intelligent parents.

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Can We Talk Vaccines?

April 4th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 114 comments

F.R.I.W.A.F.T.T.  You may not be familiar with that acronym, but my husband rattles it it off whenever we are about to navigate a tricky passage while boating.  It stands for: Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread. I’m not setting sail just now, but I am about to weigh in on probably the only topic that is more contentious and leads to more name-calling, recrimination and venom than the election of President Trump. 

I speak, of course, of vaccines.

While this isn’t a topic that I have devoted a great deal of time to studying, I have read a fair bit. I completely get the public health concerns and the worries about those who are immune-compromised and whose health would be at serious risk were they to contract, for example, measles. As the daughter of a polio survivor, I certainly am not eager to see diseases that have been eradicated reappear. However, I simply don’t understand the vitriol and hatred directed at parents who choose not to vaccinate their children.

People I know who are intelligent, kind and fair-minded on all sorts of controversial topics are nonetheless convinced that there is only one reason that parents might have concerns about vaccines: They believe that these people are stupid. Those who are more sensitive might phrase it somewhat more charitably: Parents who don’t vaccinate  are gullible victims of false information. Ostensibly based on that idea, Facebook and other social media platforms have now removed any articles or videos that raise questions about vaccine safety. Not surprisingly, that autocratic attitude actually bolsters the suspicions of those with questions.

The last time my husband and I sailed in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, we were surprised at a change that the boat rental company we favor had instituted. For years, they had marked off a certain risky passage between two islands in bold red, decisively announcing that charter boats were not allowed to traverse there. This year, they instead marked it as a difficult and dangerous passage and explained that any boat damage sustained while going through there would be charged to the boater.

Why did they make this switch? It turns out that forbidding a passage that, in fact, was navigable with the correct skill set was the equivalent of waving a red cape in front of a bull. Boaters saw going through that passage as an exciting and daring challenge. When the company in effect said, “Feel free to go, but based on our experience we don’t recommend it,” a greater number of their customers chose to avoid the area.

Without weighing in on either side of the vaccination controversy, here are some ideas that deserve to be discussed in an atmosphere of open debate, fact-checking and courtesy. These aren’t necessarily the issues that those who are more invested in this topic would raise, they are simply those that are popping into my head as I write. I think that anyone truly interested in affecting human behavior in the hope of attaining a healthier society should express interest in discussing these ideas rather than tarring and feathering anyone who raises them.

1. Let’s introduce a bit of humility into the mixture. Can we acknowledge that the medical profession and individual doctors have at times made the wrong call? For anyone who thinks otherwise may I recommend reading The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. You might also research the medical establishment’s opposition to the theories of people like Joseph Lister or Sister Kenney, and for good measure look into the accepted medical theories that upheld both slavery and Nazism. It is not ridiculous to ask what might be commonly accepted by the medical community today that is going to embarrass and cause individual doctors guilt down the road.

2. In the same vein of humility, let’s acknowledge that, in the course of history, hordes of people suffered and died due to plagues and illnesses that we no longer see or that are under control.  While correlation does not equal causation, it is rather difficult to make the case that the eradication or lack of prevalence of many of these diseases is unrelated to vaccines and inoculations. Reading and researching the devastation caused by disease in the past is a powerful reminder that today we are blessed indeed. 

See how easy it is to find areas of agreement!

3. Can we get some accurate answers to some really important questions?

The olden days of only a few decades ago used to feature debates where facts mattered and where ideas could be developed. Watch an episode of William Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line and then contrast it to a modern “talk show” where unpopular opinions are shouted down and most answers are delivered in sound bites. The end result is that everyone believes whatever they believe and—often for good and valid reasonsdoesn’t trust anyone offering opposing information.

This means that in order to actually change minds, when someone with credentials says something, they must then take questions from someone else who is accepted as an authority and similarly credentialed. Anyone making an argument loses veracity when they cite only the opposing views of those who are easy to dismiss while ignoring those who are more difficult to ridicule. Censoring any opposing views, such as is happening in this debate, tends to suggest the weakness of an argument, not its strength. I have read numerous anti-anti-vaccine pieces that all feature the idea that science has disproven any connection between autism and vaccines. Leaving aside whether that is accurate, I have also heard numerous concerns about vaccines where the word autism is never raised. Another article pooh-poohing the autism connection, even if accurate, is meaningless if it ignores other worries.

4. There should be a way to get an honest and unassailable answer as to whether physicians get monetary or other incentives to vaccinate patients or whether there is any threat or punishment involved for a pediatric practice with a high percentage of unvaccinated patients (this would include parents going on social media and blasting a pediatrician). Despite looking for an answer, I haven’t found anything I consider decisive. This matters, because the minute doctors are encouraged to make a decision based on anything other than what is best for that specific patient, then no matter what the original good intentions, parents are correct for questioning whatever the doctor recommends. Perhaps the guidelines for getting a medical exemption are drawn unreasonably tightly so that loosening those guidelines might actually result in more, rather than fewer, vaccinations? Perhaps someone could explain why this health “crisis” merits more draconian policies than other, on the surface more serious, health threats that tend to be downplayed and ignored?

5. Here is another question that should be able to be answered factually and should lead to discussion: Do all  ‘first-world’ countries have the same number of vaccines, composition of vaccines and vaccine schedule? If not, why not?

6. My last contribution for this Musing: There seems to be a growing number of allergies, auto-immune diseases and other problems among the young. How accurate is this perception? Who is doing the short and long-term research to ensure that solving one problem with a vaccine isn’t causing different problems? A corollary to that question is whether vaccines provide inferior, equal or superior protection as getting the disease itself.

I no longer have prime responsibility for young children, so I do not need to decide whether to vaccinate or not. However, I am willing to bet that most parents and individuals on both sides of the issue are good people. (Sadly, that good-will assumption does not extend to the government, corporations or medical associations.  People in control of portions of those groups have squandered the right to be trusted.) Portraying the pro-vaccine side as wise and noble crusaders and the anti-vaccine side as dupes and fools does nothing to bring about a society with the safest and most advanced medical protocols. Maybe some mutual respect, active listening and responding to serious questions would be more productive? Alternatively, all my writing has done is anger some, disappoint others and contribute to the fracturing of relationships; after all, F.R.I.W.A.F.T.T.

P.S. Please do not leave comments either for or against vaccinating children. This isn’t the place for that discussion. I simply wanted to point out that a conversation is necessary and possible, rather than for each side to dig in its heels and excoriate those who think differently.

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Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak




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Little Women – and Littler Women

March 28th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

Last week Jews around the world celebrated the holiday of Purim. Starting two weeks before the holiday, we revel in a party-like atmosphere. Jewish elementary schools hold silly hat and pajama days, and you can find an abundance of singing, antics and humorous  spoofs in high schools. So, forgive me for thinking that someone was pulling my leg when they mentioned that Nancy Pelosi advocated lowering the voting age to sixteen.

But Purim has passed and those same news reports persist.  It is hard to hear this being discussed as a serious civic suggestion rather than what it really is—a desperate grab for power.  I mean no disrespect to the teenagers in my life, some of whom happen to be better-informed and more stable than many of their elders.  Still, perhaps this raises the question of whether it is time to see beyond the abuses of the past and restrict voting to those who can pass a basics civics and history exam. While this is probably politically untenable, unlike lowering the voting age it might actually result in a government more capable of maintaining the republic our Founders envisioned.

Recently, in a Wall Street Journal interview, actor Mark Hamill, best known as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, made a pertinent point. He spoke of how as a teenager he thought it was awesome that the Beatles in the movie A Hard Day’s Night had hordes of girls running after them. It sounded like a pretty good situation to him. A few decades later, when he found it difficult to have a quiet outing because of  fans approaching him, he saw things a bit differently. As he put it, “What strikes me now is that it’s like a horror movie. These guys are absolutely trapped.” Funny how real life can differ from our adolescent dreams. Life experience doesn’t automatically convey wisdom and maturity but limited life experience makes wisdom and maturity almost unattainable.

A classic book not only stands up to the test of re-reading, it is a different book each time you read it. Most young girls who read Little Women, for example, identify with Jo. Who doesn’t think of herself as clever, talented and a bit feisty?  Yet, a few years down the road that same young woman might identify a bit more with Meg or even with Marmee. And, Heaven help us, at some point crotchety and cantankerous Aunt March seems closest to one’s own stage of life though, hopefully, not to one’s temperament.

Thinking of Aunt March actually brings my mind back to Nancy Pelosi.

Perhaps it is time for the Ms. (what exactly is the plural of Ms.?) Pelosi and Waters, to pick two names,  to lead by example. They could  resign in favor of others who are more popular with the sixteen-year-old crowd. After all, would Senator Taylor Swift or Senator Kim Kardashian really be any worse than what we now have? 

Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak
We barely notice profanity any more. That’s a big mistake.
What is it really?

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The Young, the Elite and the Ignorant

March 21st, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 17 comments

My father-in-law, of blessed memory, used to say that people aren’t balance sheets. You can’t tout up a subjective view of a person’s good and bad points, do a quick mathematical computation and emerge with a ranking. Say someone always shoveled his elderly neighbors’ drives (+3), gave 15% of his income to charity (+3) and was meticulously honest in business (+4) but had an explosive temper with his wife and children (-4) and indulged in an affair (-4).  Do the arithmetic: 3 + 3 + 4 – 4 -4 = 2.  This does not mean that you can say that he was a  +2 type of guy. God will make his own calculations, but we human beings can only say that he was a complicated person, doing both outstanding and horrible actions.

The lens of history reveals John Adams, second president of the United States, as a complicated man. Undoubtedly brilliant and deeply involved in the founding of this country, as president he also signed into legislation the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts and was unpopular enough not to earn a second term in office.

Among his greatest moments, in my opinion, was his defense of the British soldiers accused of murder in the misnamed Boston Massacre of 1770, one of the events that led to America’s declaring independence. Although Adams was already favoring breaking with England, he set a precedent that made America different from Europe by establishing that everyone, even those who are unpopular or hold unpopular views, deserve honest representation before the law. He famously said,  “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they can not alter the state of facts and evidence.” 

Though he was a graduate of Harvard, I think John Adams would be less horrified at the lies, bribes and schemes of parents wanting to get their children into supposedly superior universities than at a far greater scandal currently unfolding at his alma mater.

What would truly horrify him would be the call by Harvard students to punish one faculty dean, Ronald Sullivan, for joining Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. These supposedly ‘cream of the crop’ students have no understanding of the concept of a fair trial or the basics of America’s ethical and legal system. Whether of not Mr. Weinstein’s general lifetime behavior ranks him as a +1 or a -7, he is being accused of a legal violation. Lawyers defend horrible people all the time and the behavior of horrible people doesn’t always cross a legal line. If the court of public opinion mandated to the justice system that some people (perhaps those in the offense-of-the-month club) were not worthy of being defended, our legal system would collapse. Even worse, rather than rebuking and educating the students, the administration is treating their childish complaints seriously.

Adams had no illusions about the innate goodness of man, recognizing that humans are eminently corruptible. He understood the lure of lying, bribing and cheating to gain benefit. For that reason he saw the need not only for a Constitution but also for an underlying religious and moral system.

However, when Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people,” I don’t think he foresaw that the ignorant people he was referencing would be students at Harvard. Perhaps the true scandal in the admissions cheating matter is that any  parent would want their child in an elite university where ignorance and indoctrination have replaced a love of learning and a serious liberal arts education.

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SALE: Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam

Ideology matters.
The elite of the Nazis were sophisticated, educated professionals.
They followed an ideology that can be traced back to Genesis. 
It’s still around and you can’t fight it if you don’t understand it. 
Read the verses through the eyes of ancient Jewish wisdom

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Twinkling Talent

March 14th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

Please don’t tell the budding musicians in my family but, while I go to their first concerts out of love for them, the music isn’t all that great. Hot Cross Buns and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star grow old rather quickly, especially when played by novice violinists and violists.

This past Sunday, I went to a cello concert, once again motivated by love. This time, the performers, who only a few years ago debuted with the songs mentioned above, provided the audience with a rewarding musical experience. We heard the music of JS Bach and Saint-Saens, Bruch (my grandson’s piece) and Paganini. While not yet quite concert-level performers, these young teenagers’ playing revealed the hours of disciplined practice they have invested. It was a delightful ninety minutes.

There was much to admire. The teachers and parents’ dedication and the youths’ hard work and love for music all obviously deserve praise. But something else jumped out at me as well. The five young men and two young women who performed came from different ethnic, religious, economic and racial groups. In addition to their perseverance and talent, they shared something else in common, something that used to be taken for granted but no longer is. Looking around the audience of relatives and friends (and one woman I spoke to who came because she loves music), I saw mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. And I realized that many teenagers today don’t have that extended family network to cheer them on.

There are the teens whose mothers decided to have a child on their own, depriving their offspring not only of a father but of one set of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well. There are the teens who had one parent walk out of their life when a marriage ended—and those whose parents never married to begin with—where one parent didn’t want the responsibility of a child. Certainly, there are fortunate teens whose extended families widen to include step-parents and additional loved ones, but they are outnumbered by those who have fewer adult figures in their lives than biology would suggest. In most cases, the missing figures are men.

There are more than a few foolish women who argue that men aren’t necessary in a child’s life. The entire (false) concept that pregnancy is an issue of “a woman’s body–a woman’s choice”  has been drilled into the culture suggesting that anything other than a man’s biological contribution is superfluous. The idea that any and every variation of family is equivalent is so widespread, that I rejoiced not only in the euphonious music but also in the web of love and support that surrounded these young musicians.

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A story from ancient Persia or one that is playing out today? 

Clash of Destiny: Decoding the Secrets of Israel and Islam

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