Posts in Susan’s Musings

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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Be Still My Heart

April 26th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 43 comments

“I vote with my heart,” says a supporter of Cynthia Nixon, the Sex in the City actress who is running against Andrew Cuomo for the governorship of New York State, “and Ms. Nixon won my heart.”

I assume that the above quote, appearing at it does in the April 16, 2018 edition of New York magazine, a sanctimonious liberal publication, is not meant to discredit Ms. Nixon’s supporters, but to represent the depth of their commitment to her. I am not at all a supporter of the current governor, but I find this quote cringe-worthy.

After decades of women insisting that they could be as rational as men, increasingly, scores of females happily confirm that one reason for the early 1900 reluctance to grant women the vote (because they would vote emotionally), was substantive. A school textbook from the 1980s says, “…These reasons may seem ludicrous to us, but at the time were taken seriously by a wide cross-section of women as well as men.” The assumption that the reasons were ludicrous is today being challenged daily.

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The Atheist and the Rebbetzin Should Be Friends

April 20th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma, features a song that allows for a rollicking dance sequence even if it doesn’t do much for the plot. The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends  is a social commentary on the tension between ranchers and farmers in the early 1900s in Oklahoma Territory. The closing lines (after Aunt Eller stops the fighting by brandishing her gun), are:

“I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!”

I think it safe to say that well-known atheist Sam Harris and I (Rebbetzin means Rabbi’s wife) disagree on whether traditional Judeo-Christian morals and values are good for society or not. I think we agree, however, on allowing those with whom we disagree to present their case and the need to recognize that holding an opposing opinion does not automatically make one evil. In fact, having rational and respectful conversation is a wonderful way to refine one’s arguments, recognize flaws in one’s logic and potentially sway opinions. If you believe that your ideas have merit, there is no reason to fear such an exchange.

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Yet We Live

April 12th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 9 comments

As human beings, we struggle to know ourselves; no matter how close we are to someone it is impossible to completely know another person. This is particularly true for our parents.

When my friend, Naomi*, was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning) for her mother, she discovered some flabbergasting news. Naomi’s father was her mother’s second husband. Not only had she been previously married, but she and her first husband had two children. That husband and those children were murdered by the Nazis.

Naomi had known that her mother was in a concentration camp, though her mother never spoke of those years. She knew that her parents met in a DP camp; she knew that she and her older siblings, named for slaughtered grandparents, were born after her parents reached America’s blessed shores. But she never imagined that her mother’s life had included a previous young family. This information explained so much. She now could see her mother’s hyper-vigilance combined with a certain emotional gruffness not as personality quirks but as the tortured expression of inestimable pain.

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Each Generation We Must See Ourselves

April 4th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 25 comments

We are in the midst of Passover and I am delighted to be sharing the festival with so many children and grandchildren.  At the same time, that means that my computer and I haven’t seen a great deal of each other this week. My head is full of menus and cooking timetables, leaving little room for pondering current world affairs. One main focus of Passover, however, is realizing that without continually keeping an eye on the past, present and future, humans are prone to mess up. With this in mind, I’d like to share a Musing from April, 2012 that is no less relevant today.

 

“In each generation every person must view themselves as if they left Egypt.” A few nights ago, Jews around the world recited a sentence expressing this thought at the Passover Seder. Shortly before the holiday started, my son, Ari, saw one aspect of this idea come to life.

I think most of us picture ourselves on the right side of history. Had we lived in different times and places surely we would have stood with the abolitionists rather than the slave-owners; would have joined the Resistance rather than the Nazi Party; and would have opposed Stalin rather than embracing him. We more easily picture ourselves following Moses through the sea rather than ignoring him and the God he represented.  But the majority of Jews did not leave Egypt. Eighty percent chose loyalty to Pharaoh and the status quo.  Bad choice.

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Problem or Progress?

March 29th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 27 comments

Do you wear a watch? The answer to that question may depend on your age. You could say that watches are the new handkerchiefs.

I rarely iron. Nonetheless, when I was a young girl my mother taught me to do so and the first items entrusted to my care were my father’s handkerchiefs. I remember taking great satisfaction in watching a wrinkled piece of fabric turn into a tidy, pressed and folded square. Yet, the box of handkerchiefs my grandmother gave me when I was a young teen lay  unopened in my closet for decades.

While disposable facial tissues are described in an account of 17th century Japan, in the United States Kleenex were introduced after World War I, slowly replacing handkerchiefs over the course of decades. While some very environmentally conscious individuals are urging a return to the cotton square, most Americans never think twice at the idea of grabbing a tissue from a readily available box.

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Can you do it?

March 22nd, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 21 comments

On March 3, 2018, Sir Roger Bannister died. As news of his death at the age of 88 hit the airwaves some might remember that this was the second time his death was publicly announced. 64 years earlier the young medical student became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. As he crossed the finish line in three minutes and 59.4 seconds on that momentous occasion on May 6, 1954, he fell exhausted to the ground. One Pathé newsreel report declared that he had died in his attempt to break the four-minutes-mile just as doctors had warned would happen to anyone who tried to do the impossible. The reporter quickly reversed himself when Roger Bannister triumphantly stood up.

One particularly amazing fact about the aspiring neurologist’s accomplishment was that his record was broken only 46 days later. In the following year, six more people broke the world record and today many college athletes run the mile in less than four minutes. Clearly, the human body is capable of doing so which begs the question as to why young Bannister was the first. He didn’t even have any particularly special training! Yet, his name is famous while the names of those who surpassed his record within only a few weeks and months have faded into oblivion.

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Don’t Like Your DNA? Change It!

March 15th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 33 comments

If you, like me, have been learning from my husband for any length of time, you will be familiar with the idea that the physical world reflects the spiritual world. The fact that our eyes project an upside-down image of whatever we see unto our retinas isn’t a failure of evolution, it is a Divine message. Our eyes can easily lead us astray whether it is when we see a decadent piece of chocolate cake, a beautiful person or a ‘must-have’ gadget.

In contrast, our balance mechanism is located in our ears. Evolutionarily speaking, this makes little sense.  Our heads are in constant motion. The only reason we don’t lose our balance when we tilt our head is the equivalent of thousands of lines of software compensating for our head’s motion.  Evolution should have ensured that our balance mechanism would be in a more stable part of our bodies like the shoulders or hips. This isn’t a failure of evolution, it is a Divine message. We process information more rationally and unemotionally when we hear or read it rather than when we see a picture.

The media is agog with the news from NASA that, after spending a prolonged amount of time in the zero-gravity environment of space, astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA differs from his earthbound twin brother Mark’s DNA. While scientists will discuss how strongly controlled the experiment was and whether the DNA changed permanently or it is only expressing itself differently, we should be asking what spiritual message we can draw from this.

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My Country is Greater than Your Country

March 7th, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 16 comments

When I wrote a Musing about comfort reading, I received a number of gifts from readers in the form of book suggestions. One of these was from my friend, Judy (who happens to be the author of the highly recommended book, The Skeptic and the Rabbi). She suggested the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. While I haven’t started that series yet, her suggestion prodded me to read the first book in the writer’s  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. 

I am hooked. Along with enjoying these charmingly written, evocative and delightful books—I am currently reading the eleventh in the series—I am intrigued by something I have noticed. The protagonist of the books is Mma Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency in Botswana. I admit to knowing little of Botswana before starting these books, but Mr. McCall Smith is clearly in love with the country in which he lived for many years.

Mma Ramotswe is warm and wise. She is also highly patriotic and convinced of the superiority of her country as well as proud that she is a Motswana (member of the Tswana tribe). On occasion, she compares her country to others on the continent of Africa and her tribe to other tribes. There is no cultural equivalency here; her heritage is clearly superior. At the same time, she is a loving foster mother to two children of Bushman background and helps people from all countries and tribes, often at no charge.

I began to wonder what the response might be if a similar series was written extolling, shall we say, the United States among other North American countries. Or perhaps, claiming that Oklahoma was more praiseworthy than New York? Is it all right to compare one’s ethnic heritage with someone else’s to the detriment of the second? Mma Ramotswe’s pride is endearing. Why don’t I find it xenophobic and racist?

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See Something; Say Nothing

March 1st, 2018 Posted by Susan's Musings 33 comments

Today is Purim. Among other things this means that, this week, many people with an agenda are trying to validate their ideas by quoting verses from the Scroll of Esther. Are you a staunch 2nd Amendment advocate? You can find Scriptural support. Do you think that gun ownership should be outlawed? You can find Scriptural support. This doesn’t mean that Scripture has nothing to say on the topic. It means that the ancient Jewish wisdom that emanates from Scripture can’t be easily absorbed or transmitted in one quick column lacking context, subtlety and serious arguments and debate.

On the other hand, it is Purim, so I am going to join the crowd and link to the holiday, not directly on the gun issue, but on two news media items I saw in the press this week. The first was an article by the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency claiming that the speech given at CPAC by the NRA’s executive-vice-president could exacerbate anti-Semitism. Since Wayne LaPierre mentioned Saul Alinsky, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, his speech could be seen as a dog whistle to anti-Semites. To the author’s credit, he acknowledges that it is hard to discuss the gun-control movement without mentioning Soros and Bloomberg as leaders in it, but he thinks that it, somehow, well, kind of, shouldn’t be said because even if Wayne LaPierre isn’t anti-Semitic himself, he might be seen as encouraging others to be so.

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