Friday, November 26, 2010

The American Dream

The problem with the American Dream—the problem with all dreams really—is that you have to be asleep to maintain it. In the case of the American Dream—the notion that our kids will live richer and more productive lives than their parents—this means being asleep to the fact that real wages have been falling for decades, that corporations are making more money now with millions of Americans out of work then they were when they employed those Americans, and the realization that the lie of the American Dream is the same as that found on the sign heading into the Auschwitz death camp: Arbeit macht frei/Work sets you free.

It doesn’t. Work, especially working at something you hate to maintain a life style you can’t afford and never have time to enjoy anyway, is slavery. When work is fun, it is no longer work. That is why so many employers try to make work fun; they no it isn’t.

I gave up the American Dream the day I decided not to enter my family’s business, and to pursue instead a life as a rabbi, educator, and writer. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have a summer home up north, a winter home down south, and buy a new car every two or three years. My hope now is to inherit one of those homes, sell it, and use the money to buy a more recent used car than the 2005 Mazda Protégé I currently drive. But am I bitter? No.

My dad loved what he did, and I am proud of the business he and my uncle built, and happy for my cousins who are making it even greater and more financially rewarding. And I am delighted with the life choices I made, and recommend them to my own son who is just beginning his career as an educator and writer. What about rabbi? He teaches Jewish American literature at the university—close enough.

So as Black Friday comes to a close and we begin to prep for Shabbos, let me suggest five ideas to share with your kids about the American Dream:

1. Wake up and stop dreaming it. Find what you love and do it. And if you have to do stuff you don’t love to supplement yourself, do that too. Just don’t abandon what you love.

2. Move somewhere cheap and live even cheaper. The less you have the less you have to earn and the more time you have to play. Get a good financial planner to help you manage the surplus.

3. Don’t go into debt. Only exception is when buying a house, and even then buy small and think twice and then twice more.

4. Don’t count on anyone to take care of you: not parents, employers or the government; yet don’t imagine you can take care of yourself. Build a network of friends who pledge to help one another in times of crises. Even then be prepared to be disappointed. Learn to live with anxiety, ambiguity, and doubt. It called adulthood.

5. Measure the quality of your life by how often you are happy and of service to others. The only advantage to being rich and miserable is that the rich can afford legal drugs to mask their misery while the poor have to risk jail time for their’s. Forget about being rich or poor; seek only to avoid being miserable.

Friday, November 19, 2010

TSA Rhymes with Gay. Coincidence?

I travel a lot, often by plane, and, I am concerned about the new pat-down and scanner procedures of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). My concern with the scanners is not so much that they show my naked body to the world, but that my naked body is so not worthy of such attention. If I were 50 pounds thinner, and if I had actually lifted weights at the gym rather than watch others do so, I might be more comfortable. But really, I wear size XXL to cover up a multitude of dietary sins. If I wanted some guy to view my naked body with x-rays, I’d move to Metropolis and kidnap Lois Lane.

Of course I don’t have to go through the scanners. I could allow a TSA agent to run his hands over my body to make sure that my testicles are not in fact grenades. But this option doesn’t appeal to me either.

Yet I am a patriot, and as such I am willing to allow my country to fool me into thinking that this technology can catch terrorists, and to scare me into believing that everyone from an 8 year-old kid to an 88 year-old grandma is a potential terrorist, so I will put up with it. But I
do have two suggestions to make this procedure more palatable.

First, increase the power of the scanners so that they are capable of identifying tumors and diseases, and have medical techs rather than TSA agents review them and inform me of my current health status. I’d be grateful for that procedure.

Or, if some guy is going to fondle me, why not hire trained chiropractors? Then they could feel for bombs and realign my spine at the same time. Given the horror of airplane seating, I’d be willing to undergo this kind of screening getting on and off the plane.

But until the TSA comes up with systems like these, I’m going for a third option: I’m go to claim I’m gay.

The TSA doesn’t allow a male agent to fondle a woman passenger because of the sexual impropriety, so they shouldn’t allow a male agent to fondle a male passenger if said passenger is gay. Since I would be more comfortable with a woman agent, I am, for all travel related purposes, now choosing to be gay.

If the government denies my claim saying that homosexuality isn't a choice, I will harness support from many well-known pastors and politicians who insist homosexuality is a choice. In a free country I can choose to be gay if and when I want to. And for TSA screening purpose I want to, so I am. And where are the churches and synagogues on this, anyway? Do we really want our children molested by people who aren’t even ordained clergy? And if homosexuality is a choice—which when I’m not flying it isn’t, but when I am flying it is—would we want to put homosexual ideas in our kids minds by having them groped homosexually at the airport? Could it be that the TSA is in fact on the front lines of the Gay Agenda? I’m just asking.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Islam has a Muslim Problem

On October 31st gunmen burst into Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church during Sunday mass and opened fire killing two priests and 48 parishioners. The murderers belong to the al-Qaeda linked terrorist group called Islamic State of Iraq that has declared jihad against Iraq’s Christian population.

This is one of an on-going series of attacks on Iraqi Christians by Iraqi Muslims. Hundreds of thousands (the Catholic Church puts the number at one million) Iraqi Christians have fled to other countries to avoid being murdered at the hands of Islamic fanatics. And make no mistake these are Islamic fanatics; fanatics fuelled by their version of Islam. They are not attacking foreigners, but fellow Iraqis. Their hatred is not fueled by America policies or Israeli occupation of the Palestine. It is fuelled by a belief that Muslims must kill Christians.

Islam has a Muslim problem. The problem with Islam is Muslims who have signed on to a radical, violent, murderous faith that, while violating the deepest principles of Islam, continues to masquerade as Islam, and does so successfully.

Islam lacks a pope who can speak for the religion. And at the moment there is no Reform Islamic movement that can work to bring Islam into the 21st century as Reform Judaism has done for Jews. The kind of academic study of scripture and religion commonplace in so many Christian and Jewish seminaries is largely absent in the Islamic world. There is no quest for the historical Muhammad as there is the historical Jesus. Islam seems to know only competing orthodoxies when it desperately needs liberal reform.

There are factions within Judaism and Christianity that refuse to have anything to do with modernity, let alone postmodernity. And some among them are violent. But these groups are not engaged in wholesale slaughter of innocents. No matter how strongly I oppose the settler movement in Israel and condemn the violence that often defines it, there is no moral equivalency.

This is not religion’s problem; this is Islam’s problem. Only Muslims can solve it. And while no Muslims have asked my advice, I would suggest that someone convene a world council of imams who could make clear to Muslims and nonMuslims alike just what it is Islam stands for, and that would condemn unequivocally the insanity and violence that is perverting the message of Islam. I would also like to see wealthy Muslim visionaries fund
young American Muslims seeking to create a new kind of Islam that embraces science, secular scholarship, critical thinking, and nonviolence even as it affirms the prophetic message of Islam and upholds the beauty and genius of Islamic civilization. Without it I worry that Muslims are doomed to wage a civil war of Muslim against Muslim that will take thousands of nonMuslims down with them.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Farting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Ohioan Christian Summers is eleven years old. Christian Summers is a boy. Christian Summers farts and thinks its funny. Christian Summers suffers from FHS, Flatulence Humor Disorder.

This is not a joke. Millions of eleven-year-old boys suffer from this disease. As explained in Wikipedia, “Flatulence is the expulsion through the rectum of a mixture of gases that are byproducts of the digestion process of mammals and other animals.” ["Other animals" refers to eleven-year-old boys.] “Flatus [the gas generated in the digestive tract] is brought to the rectum by the same peristaltic process which causes feces to descend from the large intestine. [Which is why sometimes farting surprises us with something a bit more tangible.] The noises commonly associated with flatulence are caused by the vibration of the anal sphincter, and occasionally by the closed buttocks.” What Wikipedia fails to tell us is that this entire process is beyond funny if you are an eleven-year-old boy suffering from FHS.

Christian is a mammal and/or other animal. Farting alone is common to his kind. The disorder arises with the involuntary laughter that Christian also expels along with the flatus [so called after the Roman Emperor Flatus Maximus who was known to defeat entire armies by releasing gas from his rectum].

You see those who suffer from Flatulence Humor Disorder think flatus is funny. The louder the expulsion of flatulence, the funnier the FHD sufferer thinks it is. This is a genetic disease found in about 100% of eleven-year-old boys.

The sad thing in this story is that Christian has attacks of FHD while riding on his school bus, and his bus’s driver, who may not be a mammal and/or other animal and who was never eleven years old, gave Christian detention for having this disease.

We should not penalize our children for being the victims of FHD. In fact it may violate the First Amendment. Flatulence may be protected as speech since some eleven-year-old boys can actually make their butts talk while farting.

Whatever you may think of eleven-year-old boys farting on school buses, we must take pity on children who suffer from FHS and not consign them to detention. Or, if detention is the route society insists we take, we must have compassion for the adult who has to sit in a closed room for an hour with these exploding boys.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

GOP vs DEMs? No. Lucy vesus Charlie Brown.

Looking for a metaphor for American politics? Try Charlie Brown trusting Lucy not to pull the football away as he races to kick it.

In 2008 the American voter played the role of Charlie Brown and the Democratic Party played the role of Lucy. The football was Change We Can Believe In. Yes, we believed. And then Lucy pulled the ball away and we found ourselves flat on our backs. This year the American voter is once again playing Charlie Brown while Lucy is played by the Republican Party. The football is still and always Change We Can Believe In.

Is anything going to change come January? No. Why? Because Lucy is Lucy regardless of who plays her.