Monday, September 29, 2008

My People, My Self

Pity Tzipi Livni who has the hapless task of trying to put together a coalition government in Israel with herself as the new Prime Minister. To achieve her goal Ms. Livni must kiss the tzitzit (fringes worn by observant Jewish men as a reminder of God’s presence) of former Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, spiritual leader of the orthodox Shas Party, and the Jewish equivalent of the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (alav hashalom, peace be upon him).

Rabbi Yosef believes that the Holocaust was God’s way of punishing the reincarnated souls of Jewish sinners. He, like his coreligionists Robertson and Falwell (no, the rabbi isn’t a Christian, but I suspect he along with Robertson and Falwell are really followers of a fascistic Faith of Fear, a Taliban-like cabal whose members highjack the spiritual high ground for their own globalist ends), holds that hurricane Katrina blasted New Orleans in retribution for its affinity for Sodom, and targeted the United States in general for this country’s support of the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

And do not imagine that I am knocking a minor Jewish extremist. Not at all: Rabbi Yosef was Chief Rabbi of Israel and rules his people with the authority of a Pope—and not even a modern Pope but a good old fashion medieval Pope.

Anyone following American politics knows that our political discourse has devolved into a competition among animal metaphors. We no longer argue about foreign policy or economics, but about lipstick on pigs and pit bulls, and the rank odor of unrefrigerated fish. As a loyal American Jew please allow me to add two more animals to our discussion based on the teachings of my rabbi Obadiah Yosef who once said, “Walking between two women is like walking between two donkeys or between two camels,” (see “Israeli party lays out its demands,” USA TODAY, Sept 19, 2008).

I do not know Rabbi Yosef personally, so it is possible that what he thought were human women were in fact donkeys and camels wearing lipstick, which might make his teaching less troubling. But the fact that he couldn’t make up his mind whether women were donkeys or camels, two very distinct animals, is worrisome nonetheless.

In any case the very fact that to become Israeli’s next Prime Minister the clearly human Ms. Livni has to put up with this misogynist saint is just another reason to bemoan the fate of the Zionist ideal, and to question the knee-jerk raising of funds for a country that is, for all its technological genius and creativity, in danger of becoming a Jewish loony bin. And the fact that the good rabbi is a rabbi, and was in fact Chief Rabbi, makes me wonder if it isn’t time to turn in my Torah and reclaim my foreskin.

I have spent the past ten days teaching Judaism to primarily Gentile audiences in Tennessee and California. The Judaism I shared with them has no room for Chief Rabbis and medieval misogynists. My talks were well received and I managed to fool my students into thinking that Judaism was a faith of reason, argument, moral integrity, and spiritual daring. Thank God no one read USA TODAY. I wish I hadn’t.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Playing the Jew Card

Some Jews have a problem with Barack Obama. Some Jews have a problem with me. Some Jews think Barack Obama is a Muslim (nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way, but he is a Christian just so you know especially if you are one of those Jews who think there is something wrong with being a Muslim which there isn’t, but if there were you should know he is not). Some Jews think I’m a Buddhist (nothing wrong with being a Buddhist, by the way, but I’m not). Some Jews think Barack Obama is bad for Israel. Some Jews think I am bad for Israel. But the real reason why some Jews have a problem with Barack Obama is… drum roll… because he’s black.

True Obama is only half black, but the half that is black is the outside half rather than the inside half and that is troubling to some Jews. Especially older Jews. Especially older Jews in Florida. Especially older Jews in my parents’ condo. If only his black half were on the inside and his white half on the outside, then we’d have no problem.

But wait! You think Obama is scary for the Jews? Listen to Florida Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings, “If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention. Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through.” [Cited in USA TODAY]

Wow. OK. I will.

True, Jews don’t usually tote guns unless they are in the Israeli army or part of the Settler Movement that wants to turn Palestine into Boca East. It is actually against Jewish law to hunt for sport. This is one of the few Jewish laws I have never violated, so placing this at the heart of what it is to be a Jew is fine with me. But what about this moose stripping thing?

I have seen many moose in my time, but none of them were dressed. Even my favorite moose, Bullwinkle J. rarely wore clothes, and when he did he only wore a t-shirt from his alma mater Whatsamatta U, and he only wore this in restaurants that had signs saying “Shirts Required.” So why would Sarah Palin strip moose? Who is dressing them up in the first place?

As urged by Rep. Hastings I actually thought this through and discovered that Gov. Palin actually can field dress a moose. This, I assume, means she can dress a moose in the field. This is important: she dresses moose in order to strip them. She has a problem.

I figure there must be a naked moose fetish from which some people suffer. I guess Gov. Palin is one of these sufferers. I tried to find this fetish on the Internet and could not find any association between this moose dressing/stripping obsession and Jews. Now Jews are no different than anyone else so I suspect there are Jews who suffer from this disorder, but no organization devoted to it will accept Jews as members. That, my friends, is anti-Semitism pure and simple.

So Rep. Hastings has a point. Should Jews vote for a woman who refuses to allow Jews to heal from the very same disorder from which she herself suffers? This would be like Jews refusing Tay-Sachs testing to Gentiles. Outrageous! So think about it. Think about it very hard. Think about it so hard that you start to think about moving to Canada. I have.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Page 3A: A Glimpse of Religion in America

Today is Monday, September 21, 2008, the first day of autumn. Like most Mondays I spend a bit of the day reading USA TODAY. Monday is the day the paper features an article about religion on its op-ed page. But this Monday is different; religion is everywhere. Here is just a sample from page 3A:

Item: Along the Texas coast, a day of reflection. This article is about parishioners along the Texas coast whose churches were decimated by hurricane Ike. The buildings may have crumbled, but not the faith of those who worshipped in them. “I know it’s hard. Looking around, it’s tough,” said one pastor to his flock. “But there is a God, and he has a plan for our lives.” It is not my place to argue with the good reverend, but I can’t help wondering if he and his parishioners are really open to God’s plan. What if God wants them to leave Texas, perhaps that is why He destroyed their church. Or perhaps God hates their brand of worship and meant to end it without relying on His usual homicidal option. How come God’s plan is always the plan that we want God to have? The plan, in fact, that always reinforces what we want in the first place?

Item: Homeless pit borough against Bible. Just under the fold and to the left of the Texas church story, we find that the small western Pennsylvania town of Brookville is fining a local church for housing three homeless men in their church-parsonage. It seems that housing the homeless violates zoning laws in the town. My problem is that if the homeless are provided with housing, how is it they are still “homeless”? Can it be that the town can tell the church whom to house in its parsonage? Or is it that these men are not related or married, something that biology (in the first case) and the state of Pennsylvania (in the second case) does not allow?

Item: Ark. keeps custody of 6 children after raid in porn case. This story, appearing just to the right of the article on the illegally housed homeless, is about a two-year investigation of child abuse and pornography allegations against the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. Mr. Alamo (pronounced A-lah-mo), who was convicted of tax-related charges in 1994, denied there is any pornography going on in his church. I was surprised (not really) that he didn’t say the same about child abuse (though he may have, and the paper didn’t print it). In any case I love Tony’s explanation of these charges against him: “Where do all these allegations come from? The anti-Christ government. The Catholics don’t like me because I have cut their congregation in half. They hate true Christianity.” Is the anti-Christ government and the Catholics one and the same? Or is Tony being persecuted by both? I hope it is the former so we can at last vote a pro-Christ Protestant into the Executive Branch of government.

What are we to make of the state of religion in America this first day of autumn? Honestly, I don’t know. But I can tell you this: It is awfully hot for the first day of autumn, but just right for the beginning of the Fall.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don't Put a Witch in the White House

Sarah Palin’s pastor is a witch hunter. The Rev. Thomas Muthee, pastor of Governor Palin’s church waged spiritual warfare against a fortunetelling witch in Kenya who he said was casting demonic spells and causing automobile accidents.

I realize that some of you will simply laugh this off as yet another example of 1) the left wing blogosphere attacking a good and righteous Christian; 2) the left wing blogosphere attacking a good and righteous Republican; or 3) the left wing blogosphere attacking a good and righteous nut job. Whatever your position I got to write “left wing blogosphere” three times (four if you count this one) which should be enough to drive you to vote for Palin-McCain in November. But there is more to this story, and you owe it to yourself and your country to think about it.

Let us review the facts: 1) Pastor Muthee hunted witches in Kenya; 2) Barack Obama’s father is from Kenya; ergo Barach Obama and his father are witches. This is the real reason John McCain chose Sarah Palin to join his team as VP: to recruit Pastor Muthee in the spiritual war against the Kenyan.

Want further proof? Think about this: Why hasn’t Barack Obama introduced us to his father? Sure, he says his father died in 1982, but does a witch die? Remember Barack Hussein Obama Sr. (Senator Obama’s father) was Kenyan; the only other Kenyan we know is a witch defeated by Pastor Muthee, ergo Barack Hussein Obama Sr. was a witch. Witches don’t die. If the Obama campaign wants to disprove this, let them exhume the body of the so-called dead witch of Kenya. They won’t do this because they know the tomb is empty.

Still not convinced? There's more:

The Kenyan Senator admits to being a community organizer. A witch coven is a community, hence Barack Obama admits to organizing covens in Chicago. It is widely rumored (or it will be after I post this blog) that the Witch from Chicago carries a voodoo doll of John McCain in his pocket, and uses a series of pins to the doll’s eyes, mouth, and trigger finger to blind Senator McCain to the economic plight of Americans, to cause the Senator to lie and misspeak, and to force him to act as if we were living a prequel to The Planet of the Apes. In fact it is easy to attribute all of Obama’s success and all of McCain’s stumbles and lies to witchcraft. Indeed I have just done so.

Governor Palin will bring a proven witch hunter into the White House. He, like others before him, will conduct witch-hunts that will rid this country of Kenyans of all kinds. Pastor Muthee has a proven track record in hunting down witches and thereby lessening traffic accidents which, as we all know, is the number one crisis facing America today.

So please think this through: Remember Salem; Vote for Palin.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Caterpillar or Butterfly

I’m always talking about transformation; it is one of my favorite buzzwords. My idea is that we must be other than we are; that we must transform ourselves into that which is not ourselves. But what if I’m wrong? What if transformation is just one of those words that takes on a life of its own without any link to reality?

Can we really transform ourselves? And if we can, who is the self that is doing the transforming? Can I use my right hand to change my right hand? Can the “me” I am changing into be a “me” I’m not? If Einstein is right that the mind that causes a problem cannot be the mind that solves that problem, how are we to change minds? Do we have to be changed by an outside force, or are we like caterpillars designed for transformation into butterflies?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between these two options. There is an outside force, a force greater than ourselves that must do the work of transformation, but this force does not act outside of us but inside and through us. So maybe the word “outside” should be dropped in favor is “greater;” a force greater than us that at the same time includes us is needed to drag our caterpillar minds into our butterfly potential.

But is being a butterfly better than being a caterpillar? Not at all. First, we need caterpillars if we are to have butterflies. Second, each is a necessary part of nature and we could not do without either. So maybe we need our egoic, fearful, ignorant, and violent self (to name but a few legs that comprise caterpillar mind) to set the stage for transformation. Maybe there is nothing wrong with us except that we haven’t finished becoming fully who we are.

But this puts transformation into time, and I am not certain that is right either. When I simply sit still and look, I find that the “me” I think I am disappears. There is just the looker and the looked at in one unbroken unity; there is only “looking.” When I sit still and listen, I don’t hear the egoic chatter, but the global buzz, the humming of the planet as a whole, life itself; there is only listening. My voice is caught up in a symphony of voices, and I can sit back and marvel at the concert.

My normal mind is the “transformed mind.” It is my egoic mind with its caterpillar legs running in all directions at once that is the butterfly. When I see this I don’t need to be caterpillar or butterfly. I don’t need to be anything at all. I am it already.

So maybe all of our rushing around trying to be other than we are is the problem rather than the solution. Maybe what we need do is sit down and sit still, and leave both caterpillar and butterfly alone.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sarah Palin, I Love You!

I love Governor Sarah Palin.

I love the fact that she can stand on the shores of Alaska, watch the ice melt precipitously, and still deny the danger of global climate change and the role of human beings in it.

I love the fact that she can argue for the drilling of oil, a product that takes millions of years for nature to produce, and still believe in Creationism, which doesn’t allow enough time for nature to produce it.

I love the fact that she can love her pregnant teenage daughter and still advocate Abstinence Only sex education.

I love the fact that she can be married to a union member and still promote policies that weaken unions.

I love the fact that she can look all soft and feminine and still be, as she herself said, a pit-bull with lipstick. I love that the most.

I love that the most because I live next to a pit-bull. His name is Rusty and he is just the cutest dog. I keep dog treats with me all the time, and I always give him one whenever I go into or out of my house. True I’m afraid that if I don’t bribe him to let me pass he will rip my throat out, but still I genuinely love this dog. That’s why I plan to purchase some lipstick today, smear it on his mouth while he is preoccupied with a dog biscuit, and take him to the Republican Party headquarters for a one man one dog pro-Sarah Palin rally. It’s only half a mile from my house, and I’m sure the people there will love the gesture.

John McCain made a brilliant choice in picking Governor Palin as his running mate. I am more convinced than ever that the Republicans will retain the White House, and while I fear for my country having to endure four more years of an anti-science, anti-reason, anti-labor, anti-environment, anti-education, anti-Constitution government, I also know that America gets the leadership it deserves.

But the future may be more interesting then a simple return to the good old days of back alley abortions and the Cold War. Here are three possible scenarios.

One: John McCain wins the presidency in November. He starts wars with Iran and Russia triggering a joint Arab-Russian invasion of Israel thus initiating the Second Coming of Jesus who slaughters billions of nonbelievers as part of God’s Pro-Life agenda.

Two: John McCain wins the presidency in November. He starts wars with Iran and Russia triggering a joint Arab-Russian invasion of Israel, but Jesus fails to return, perhaps angry with John for not putting Joe Lieberman, a fellow Jew, on the ticket.

Three: John McCain wins the presidency in November. If he survives his first term, and given his age and the stress of the job and the coming wars with Iran and Russia he may not, he will decline to run for a second term. Vice President Palin then becomes either the first woman president (because John is ill or worse), or runs as the Republican nominee in 2012. In either case, Saran Palin will run for president in four years and opposing her will be another lip-glossed pit-bull, this one in a pantsuit (Rusty will love wearing one of those), and we are in for the most wicked battle in American politics since Burr shot Hamilton.

Oh, and then Jesus back comes after that.

I get it. And it scares me.

I get that John McCain is a war hero. And I get that he is a better American than I am. I readily admit that if captured and threatened with torture (let alone actually tortured) I will tell Dick Cheney anything he wants to know.

And I get that women and men who risk their lives in military service are to be honored. And while I think the best way to honor them is not to send them into wars based on lies and fabricated evidence, I know they are just doing their duty and I respect that.

But what I don’t get is why we should be allowed to exploit them politically.

Last night at the Republican Convention former Governor Mike Huckabee told a story about a school teacher in Arkansas who removed all the desks from her classroom and wouldn’t allow any of her students to have one until they could figure out how to earn one. They suggested good grades and good behavior, but she said that wasn’t it. After five class periods of deskless guessing, she told her assembled students that in fact they couldn’t earn their desks because veterans had already earned the desks for them. She then opened the door to her classroom and twenty veterans carried in twenty desks. The convention crowd went wild.

I doubt this story was true. What classroom in America has only twenty desks in it? But, assuming it was true, what was the message? If good grades and good behavior don’t earn one a place at the education table, why would someone else’s military service?

I think the idea was that freedom isn’t free. OK, but public education is paid for by all citizens not just soldiers. And if someone else has secured my desk for me, and grades and behavior have nothing to do with it, what am I doing in school? If everything of value has to do with the military then why not just make all public schools military academies and funnel high school grads right into the service? Israel does this and it is one of the most important features of their society. Honestly, such a move would end racism, sexism, and homophobia in this country within a generation, two at the most.

Listening to the speeches at the Republican Convention last night I thought I was living in ancient Sparta. Rather than referencing John McCain’s war record as a sign that he would keep us out of war, rather than pointing to his brutal torture as proof that he would stop America’s use of torture; speaker after speaker glorified war and rumors of war. Rather than use the moral high ground to be moral, they used it to excuse the immoral.

By the time last night’s political speeches were finished I imagined thousands of Republican delegates leaving the conventional hall so hopped up on war rhetoric that they would attack, torture, kill, and maybe even eat anything that looked liberal on their way back to their hotels.

We don’t honor our service women and men by exploiting them, by sending them into harm’s way for the sake of corporate greed, by allowing the wounded to languish in substandard hospitals or alone on the street, by fighting against veterans’ benefits, or by telling stupid stories about them. We honor by being an honorable nation worthy of their blood, sweat, tears, and lives. I do not believe we are that nation, and this election is scaring me to death.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Save Us Sarah

I saw him from a distance, and should have walked the other way. I had spoken with him before, and should have kept my mouth shut. I knew better, but I couldn’t help myself. It is the curse of the Yankee in the Confederate Gentleman’s Court. Our eyes met. We nodded. And then it happened—he spoke: “So Sarah Palin, the first female Vice President of these United States. Gotta hand it ta McCain.”

“You do,” I said, hoping to get away with a mere two syllables.

“Saves the country from being taken over by Mooslems.”

“Obama’s not a Muslim, and even if he were what is wrong with that? There is no religious test for public office in this country.”

“Didn’t you watch Oh-bama and McCain at Rick Warren’s church? That Mooslem didn’t have a chance. Christian country, Christian people, Christian leaders. No others need apply. Did you know he won’t show his birth certificate? You know why? Because it shows he’s a Mooslem born in Mooslem Africa. Went to Muslim schools. Trained to take over this country, and almost got away with it, ‘cept for Sarah Palin.”

“What are you talking about? Obama’s birth certificate is a matter of public record. It shows he was born in Hawaii.”

“And since when is Hawaii part of the United States? Hurts to be caught don’t it? Barach Hooosayn Oh-bama is a Muslim trained to take down this country. You think the terrorists think they can knock down all our buildings? You think that is how they is going to take over America?”

“Hawaii and Alaska both became states in 1959. And terrorists aren’t trying to take over America, they are trying to…”

“Alaska—now that’s American. They got oil, You know what Hawaii’s got? Mooslems! There ain’t no Mooslems in Alaska. You know why? Sarah Palin, that’s why. That’s why Oh-bama’s a Mooslem and Sarah Palin is a God-fearin’ Christian. But you’re right that Mooslems can’t take over America by knockin’ down buildings. That’s why they planted one of their own and helped him become a senator so he could become president. Oh-bama is a Moolem sleeper cell. You know what he’ll do as soon as he’s elected? He’ll stop all aid to Israhl, arm the Ayrabs, make an amenment to the Constitution outlawn Christianity as the oh-fficial American religion and English as the oh-fficial American language and…”

“But Christianity isn’t the official religion of America, nor is English the official language, we are a secular…”

“You awready in his pocket, ain’t cha, boy? Awready in his pocket. Well, vote fer a Mooslim is you want. It’s a free country, but we have computer recerds of yer vote and we’ll have to hold ya to it. You have a good day now, y’hear?”

I might have, but not now.

PS: I am not trying to make fun of the Tennessee accent, only trying to give you a flavor of what this fellow sounded like.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Should We Apologize for Slavery?

Should America apologize for slavery?

The question came up on an American Airlines flight from Nashville to Dallas two weeks ago. I was reading the September-October issue of Sojourners, a liberal Christian magazine, and my seatmate was reading over my shoulder. We were both taken with a letter to the editor that opposed such an apology.

“She makes a good point,” the woman next to me in the middle seat said. “I wasn’t alive during slavery, and my grandparents didn’t come to this country until the twentieth century, so I really had nothing to do with it. Why should I have to apologize for something I didn’t do?”

“I agree,” I said. “I had nothing to do with slavery either. Of course neither myself nor my parents or grandparents were here when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, so I guess I shouldn’t take any pride in that either. And while I can opt out of having to feeling bad about reducing African-Americans to 3/5ths of a person in the Constitution of the United States—I mean I wasn’t there, it wasn’t my idea—I guess I can’t celebrate the genius of the document or the Bill of Rights that followed it.”

I tried to say this with a straight face, but, frozen facial muscles or not, my voice betrayed me.

“Sarcasm is not an argument,” the woman said.

“True enough,” I said. “But if I think about it I have enough to be sorry for.”


“Well, my grandparents, parents, and I were in this country during segregation, the reign of terror perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan, Vietnam, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments inflicted on black men, the assignations of King and Kennedy, the breaking of treaties with the American Indians, the rape of the Constitution by George W., the terrorizing of Americans by McCarthy in the fifties and Cheney today. And that’s just off the top of my head.”

She was not convinced. “I was alive during segregation but I didn’t discriminate against blacks, so I shouldn’t have to apologize. And I had nothing to do with McCarthy, and I think Bush and Cheney are the greatest Americans since Ronald Reagan, so there is nothing to apologize for there. In fact I had nothing to do with anything regarding blacks or Indians or poor people at all, so I resent the country apologizing on my behalf.”

“But you are willing to take credit for the good things the US has done, even though you personally had nothing to do with them?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“It’s not a question of why not, it is a matter of consistency. If you take credit for the good you had no hand in, you should take responsibility for the evil you had no hand in. All of it was and is being done in the name of the people of the United States, and, unless you plan to give up your citizenship, that means you.”

“No it does not. I’m an American.”

Somehow that non sequitor was supposed to end the conversation with my seatmate taking the gold in logic. And in her mind it did. I was happy just to have her lean the other way and let me get back to my magazine. But I admit to fantasizing about opening the emergency exit and letting gravity, for which this woman also had no responsibility, suck her to her doom.