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Shoot first, aim later

It was my birthday, May 13, 1939. The SS St. Louis was carrying 900 German Jews fleeing the Nazis.  They had hoped to land in Cuba and then proceed to the United States but were refused entry by the Cuban government.  With no place to go, the ship returned to Europe and over 250 of those refugees were eventually murdered in Nazi death camps. The United States government played a role in that crime against humanity by also refusing to accept them.

Fast forward seventy-six years.  A band of murdering misfits guns down helpless Parisians whose principal crime was enjoying all that Paris has to offer.  Talking heads go into high gear predicting the end of humanity as we know it. They create an atmosphere of mistrust where people “unlike us” are to be avoided, suspected and kept in their place.

Politicians, seeing fodder for their flagging campaigns, leapt into action and promised to be the answer to the threat hovering somewhere in the ether.  Marco Rubio, forgetting his own heritage for the expedient moment, said that we should stop accepting Syrian refugees.  Not for a moment did he seem to comprehend that these are the very people who are fleeing the murdering misfits.

Jeb Bush, fearing permanent assignment to the ignominious list of also-rans, is somewhat more accepting of the long as they are Christians.  Continuing the parade of presidential hopefuls who believe that it’s constitutional to discriminate by religion, Senator Ted Cruz said Sunday in South Carolina “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Duh.

Donald Trump, once a lukewarm supporter of Syrian immigration, turned his coat and announced that he would, as President, deport any of that ilk. Coupled with his demand that eleven million illegal aliens be summarily ripped from their homes and sent back to their ancestral homes leaves him batting a thousand.  But looking for more points than his competition led him to suggest on Monday that he would “strongly consider” shutting down Muslim mosques in this country in response to the Paris attacks.  “Some of the absolute hatred is coming from these areas…The hatred is incredible. It’s embedded. The hatred is beyond belief. The hatred is greater than anybody understands.”

Reaching for the gold ring, the current heir apparent to the Republican Presidential nomination, Ben Carson, offered this inexplicable foreign policy during a Sunday interview on Fox News..

  • Stated he would not allow refugees into the US because of his “frontal lobes”
  • Insisted that China is active in the Syrian conflict
  • Struggled to name a single coalition partner he could call upon to combat ISIS
  • Advocated a shooting match with Russia over a no-fly zone

A respectable cadre of Republican governors, led by Alabama and Mississippi, joined the “Keep Out the Refugees” chorus by issuing statements saying that those miserable people would find no solace in their otherwise safe and happy states. And if I had a choice, I’d avoid those two states too.

These shoot first and aim later politicians surely are smart enough to realize that their actions merely fall right into the plot set by ISIS.  Generate havoc, let world leader wannabes shout out against Muslims and then reap the windfall of more misfit volunteers to their blighted cause.  But no, fear mongering reaps more votes at the ballot box than calls for helping persecuted people do.

Maybe it’s the “silly season” but I’m not laughing.

Charlton is alive!

Revealed…Charlton Heston did not die in 2008

Thanks to a hidden microphone in a National Rifle Association conference room, it appears that Charlton Heston never died in 2008 as previously reported. Instead, he is alive, well and secretly housed at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia where he serves as chief strategist and inspirational leader.

Comments caught on tape during an August meeting at the NRA seemingly prove that Heston, despite his reported dementia, has been and still is the principal architect of the NRA strategy for increasing gun ownership. “What better person to lead us than some guy who still thinks he’s Moses” can be clearly heard on the tape. References to Heston’s numerous movies apparently also serve as the principal basis of the NRA strategy. His roles in Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, True Lies, and Armageddon feature prominently at all NRA planning sessions.

“Fear drives gun sales and our job is to capitalize on any event that maximizes it. It’s not good enough to sit idly by while random maniacs shoot up schools.” said NRA commandant Wayne LaPierre. “Our gun manufacturers demand that we do more to find and arm the rapidly dwindling number of those who haven’t yet bought a gun. And, my year-end bonus depends on it.”

When confronted by the taped evidence, NRA officials claimed that it was a fabricated fantasy  digitally compiled by employees of Planned Parenthood. “It’s an effort to take the heat off of that Commie, organ harvesting, left-wing butcher shop.  Everyone knows that the NRA has never and will never do anything that increases gun violence.  We all know that guns keep violence in check.  It’s a fact that most of our members never even fire the damn things. Sleeping with them under their pillows is comfort enough.” Mr. LaPierre then added “all this bullshit about the outlandish murder rate in the U.S. compared to other countries is just not true. Those statistics were conjured up by the same nuts who believe in global warming.”

Republicans in Congress were quick to support the NRA in claiming that it was probably all a conspiracy developed by Planned Parenthood and its supporters. John Boehner promised, as a final chapter in his grand legacy as House Speaker, to schedule hearings that would “get to the very bottom of things.”

All satire aside, Dr. Ben Carson, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and an avid gun supporter, said “those kids in Roseburg should have rushed the shooter rather than just stand around.” Later, in a seeming contradiction to his call for someone else’s bravery, Dr. Carson recounted his less than heroic confrontation with a shooter in a Popeye’s fast food restaurant. “Guy comes in, puts the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter…I redirected him.”

On Friday, Carson doubled down on his call for a well-armed populace when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said “Just clarify, if there had been no gun control laws in Europe at that time, would six million Jews have been slaughtered?” Dr. Carson responded “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed … I’m telling you that there is a reason that these dictatorial people take the guns first.”

Even with Dr. Carson’s call for someone else’s self-sacrifice when confronted by a heavily armed gunman, a simple-minded solution to the Holocaust, and an attitude reminiscent of Bruce Willis in Die Hard, he still rises majestically in the polls.

I bet Chuck planned the whole thing. And, Wayne, there’s no need to worry about your year-end bonus.

Charlton Heston as Moses


I never should have let Myrna talk me into this.

“Oh come on, Fred.  We need some more pieces for the annual Art Center photo show. You don’t have to do anything special.  Just help us fill the wall space.  You can just dust off some old thing…pretty puhleeze.”

So I did.

And I got beat out of a prize by a photo of a dead goat straddling the running board of an old truck.  Talk about embarrassment.

I went through the same routine that I’ve repeated, without learning anything, for the last decade.  I shlepped to the Art Center on  Friday morning and spent three hours helping hang the fifty or so pieces submitted by people who were, for the most part, younger than my grandchildren.

Standing back with my objectivity brimming over, I was satisfied that I had honestly scanned my competition.  I then silently mused to myself “my photo is the odds-on favorite to take it all.“  The increased number of awards this year only served to bolster my chances.  I was a shoo-in.

I went to bed that night with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.  I could actually see the crowd elbowing each other for a closer look at my show stopper.  A photo that was perfectly composed, in focus, leading the viewer’s eye to the spot I had designated.  Telling a compelling story about the subjects in the photo as well as providing insight into the mind of the photographer.  God, it was good.

On Saturday, I watched the time pass oh so slowly, anxiously awaiting the start of the Art Center reception.  At the appointed time, Sweetie and I drove to the Center, parked a mile from the door and began a long trek that I can now liken to the Bataan Death March.

We walked through the door and I was instantly drawn to my award-winning photo.  Ok, maybe not first but certainly second.  All right, ok, I’ll settle for an honorable mention.  So where was the award?  Usually it’s pasted to the wall right next to the photo.  Uh, maybe this year it’s real teeny tiny, tucked away unobtrusively, maybe even behind the photo.  Nope.  Not there.  Maybe it fell off.

Like the air being let out of a balloon, my expectations dissipated into the ether.  I was incredulous.  And then I was nauseated.  Then both at the same time.

I thought, ok, so you didn’t make the big time.  The judges must have seen something very special in the dozen photos that beat me out.   Something that I would, as a professional and a right-minded guy, see and understand.  And then I saw the dead goat.

I know you’re saying to yourself “Fred does this every year.  He goes in to the show with great expectations and then whines when he goes home empty-handed.  What a loser.”

Ok, I leave it to you.  Go to the Art Center before July 9.  And tell me if you really like the dead goat.  I’m at your mercy.

Nobody comes to shul…much

We’ve been going to shul more frequently of late. “Shul” is Yiddish for synagogue, temple, house of worship or whatever. The word “shul” is comforting to me, slides off my tongue easily and conjures up memories from my childhood. It brings flashes of the faces of my now long-gone relatives to whom “shul” was the only term they ever used in describing the Jewish house of worship and learning.

In a prior life, as president of our Northridge shul, I regularly avoided Friday night Sabbath services. I made up stories in my head to justify my absence from what seemed to me as an unwelcome intrusion in my otherwise busy week. I just couldn’t see much reason to participate with the other fifteen percent of the shul’s membership who were Friday evening regulars.

Fast forward to Ojai and to a shul that’s about one-tenth the size of our Northridge congregation. In the last fifteen years we’ve wandered through a series of rabbis, who generally stayed with us about two or three years. They moved on either because they wanted more than a small shul could offer or because they just didn’t fit. Our appearances at Friday night services mirrored our Northridge experience, few and far between. The usual exception, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, brought us to shul along with a sea of faces who also needed a map to find the front door.

Sheila, bless her heart, persevered in her position as an on-again, off-again shul president and perennial Friday night service cheer leader. She’s begged, encouraged and even scolded, with little success, miscreants like me to come to Friday evening services. With a small congregation and limited finances, we are able to have a “real” rabbi only two Fridays a month. The rabbi-led services usually generate a reasonable increase in attendance. Enough to warrant turning on the lights and air conditioning. The other Friday nights, led with gusto by Sheila, often found her talking to near-empty seats.

I often said to Sheila, given our congregants’ seeming indifference to schlepping to her capably led though unappreciated alternate Friday night services, that we simply cancel them. Nobody would notice and Sheila could stop whipping herself into a manic frenzy at the thought of another deserted shul night.

Her response was simple. Somebody might need that Friday night service.

That prescient thought was vindicated at last Friday night’s service. Sweetie and I arrived about five minutes before the loosey goosey standard six o’clock start time. Entering the shul we found ourselves facing the only other person in attendance, Sheila. At five minutes past six we were a group of five. Time to start. Even without a minyan.

Wait. Who are those people entering our shul? Two mature adults and five young people. Never saw them before.

Hello. Welcome to shul. What brings you here?

We operate a teen rehab center. These young people are in the program.

These two kids are from New Jersey and the others are from New York. Three of the five are Jewish and the others came along for the ride.

We needed some place to go other than our rehab center. We’re pretty limited since we have to stay away from stuff like, well, alcohol. And other things.

We needed a place that was welcoming and, well, kind of spiritual. We saw your website and the announcement about tonight’s service. So we came. Thanks for being here for us.

One young man led us in a prayer. We all shared the oneg following the service, drank grape juice during the blessing over the wine and touched the challah while holding hands and connecting. We talked for a long time.

They left…smiling.

Glad we were here. For them. And for us.

Thank you, Sheila.

Stick me up!

Watching the circus run in the House by ringmaster Boehner, I was reminded of the Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles.

The basic plotline of the movie is that a bunch of villains want to get rid of the citizens of Rock Ridge so that the chief bad guy played by Harvey Korman can take over the town’s land through which the railroad wants a right of way.  Harvey sends in a gang of thugs which prompts the townsfolk to plead with the governor, played by Mel Brooks, to send a new sheriff to save their hides.

Harvey convinces Mel to pick Bart, played by the black actor Cleavon Little, a railroad worker about to be hanged, as the new sheriff in the hope that the blatantly racist townsfolk, all named Johnson,  will either abandon the town or lynch the new sheriff.

Arriving in town, Cleavon is confronted by an angry mob who he holds at bay as he points his own gun at his head and threatens to “kill the sheriff” if they don’t back off.  The seriously mentally disadvantaged townsfolk give up.

Speaker Boehner, a big fan of the movie, has apparently taken its message to heart as he hurtles through the corridors of Congress pointing a loaded gun at his own head hoping that this will bring his Tea Party inspired colleagues to heel.

What should have turned out to be a no-brainer for the party in charge has instead become a Punch and Judy show replete with pratfalls and nonsense.  I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t enjoying the performance. As an extra added attraction, Boehner has upped the ante by inviting the always delightful Bibi Netanyahu to rally the troops with stories of death and destruction while embarrassing the black guy in the Oval Office.

Boehner, during his extended time in the tanning booth, could and probably did conjure up a reasonable going forward scenario following the GOP’s crushing November victory.  Something like “we won’t shut down the government again…we’ll show the townsfolk that we can manage things…we’ll keep the heat on the black guy…we’ll take over the town in two years…and then we can do whatever we want.”

In other words, create a humble, helping and kindly diversion for two years and wait for the ultimate goal to be realized…replacing the black guy with a white one who looks and talks like a real American.  One who loves America.  Really.

Sort of like what Cleavon did in the movie. In order to misguide the villains, the sheriff creates a fake Rock Ridge, complete with replica dummies of the townsfolk. And to delay the villains arrival, he installs a toll booth on the road to the faux town that the villains need to get through. Arriving at the booth they stop and send someone back to “Get a shitload of dimes”, as the villains have neither the change to go through it, nor enough common sense to simply ride around it. Stupidity costs them as they are easily defeated just short of ultimate victory.

I can’t wait to see the sequel.

Cleavon Little

I’m Charlie…are you?

At first I couldn’t figure out what to say or do in the immediate aftermath of the mass killing of the French staff members who were guilty of publishing satirical Charlie Hebdo cartoons that took aim at the prophet Muhammad.

My initial reaction to the CNN morning news was something like “catch and kill the bastards who did this.  Slowly.”  Then I became more sophisticated and said “the world’s peace-loving Muslims have got to do something about their radical brethren.  Maybe like catching and killing them.”  Beyond that I was at a loss for words or clever thoughts.

And then the French police took  my best two ideas and surrounded and killed the bastards.  I thought “good, that’s done.”  But after a moment’s reflection I felt sort of empty with no place to go.  Later, thinking a bit more clearly, I realized that these unforgivable crimes could and probably would happen again.  It’s far too difficult to prevent the random actions of driven lunatics who obviously were ignored during their childhood, abused by their elders and successful at nothing as adults.

Even two-year olds can get the drop on us.  Witness the infant in Hayden, Idaho’s Wal-Mart who playfully snatched a pistol from his gun-savvy mother’s purse and promptly shot her to death.  Probably because she wouldn’t give him another Tootsie pop.  So who are we to think we can stop some nutcase, believing in life hereafter, complete with virgins, from hurling himself and his dynamite overcoat into a Jewish preschool.

Since the Charlie Hebdo holocaust I’ve read articles and watched talking head interviews that have wrestled with whether we’ve crossed over some line in publishing satirical or offensive stuff about religion and its proponents.  Certainly it’s pretty clear to most sane people that some stuff is beyond just being “offensive” and probably should never see the light of day.  I’m reminded of the Jewish comedian who some years ago regaled us with Jesus jokes in a social hall rented from the Catholic church for a community fund-raiser.  Jesus stared down accusingly from one of the social hall walls at what could only be called a major act of gross stupidity.  But, did the offending moron delivering the painful lines deserve to die?

Short of cartoons and articles that call for the destruction of innocents, I’m not sure where the line is to be drawn.  Personally, I take a major exception to stereotypical anti-Semitic depictions of Jews as Shylocks, political manipulators, and killers of small Christian children on Passover.  While I’d like to see bad things happen to such portrayers (like Mel Gibson, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh) I probably would restrain myself from seeing their movies, buying their cars and asking for their autograph.  Maybe I’d even write a blog about it.

So here’s what I think about the Charlie Hebdo assassins.  They are not heroes.  Heroes don’t wear masks, carry automatic rifles and without warning gun down innocent people who cannot defend themselves.  And they are without a doubt not representative of the overwhelming majority of Muslims.  But the larger Muslim community needs to do more.  It’s not good enough to say “they are not us.”  Separation, denigration and condemnation of murderous Islamists must become the everyday watchword of their faith.  Taught relentlessly to their children in their schools, their faithful in their mosques and, most importantly, in their conversations at home.

Like other faiths over the millennia, Islam is at a crossroad, fought for by competing factions.  Murderous factions.  Factions that are only interested in naked power, subjugation of women and death for those innocents who oppose their will.  It’s not so much a war between East and West.  It’s a battle for the heart of Islam.  One that none of us can afford to lose.

We undermine the support we should provide to moderate Muslims who are waging this battle when we broadly condemn their religion.  Right wing factions in France and elsewhere in Europe see a golden opportunity in this battle.  As the New York Times put it…The French are frightened — or more precisely, they are being frightened. The National Front has made fear its credo. It demonizes millions of immigrants as invaders who feast on welfare benefits while putting others out of work.  Capitalizing on fear and promoting  xenophobia are tools that could catapult them to power, along with their own extremist and exclusionary vision of the world.  A vision that may rival that of Isis, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Finally, what’s to be done about Charlie Hebdo and other cartoons that poke their fingers into Islam’s nose?  There’s little doubt that the continued publication of Muhammad cartoons that negatively portray Islam will exacerbate the already fragile tensions with the Muslim world.  But offensive though it may be to those offended, putting a lid on free speech is a slippery slope fraught with unwelcome consequences.  And, most importantly, It is quite simply unacceptable to condone mass murder in retribution for offensive language, cartoons or speech.  The civilized world has developed a variety of highly successful non-violent methods of dealing with such matters.  The murderers’  failure to use these tools highlights their Neanderthal immorality and inexcusable barbarity.

Freedom of expression trumps the sensitivities of organized religion.  To think otherwise is to invite less debate and more murders in the name of God.

Please…enough already

Please…enough already.

I’ve worn down the delete key of my old HP PC by banishing hundreds of political messages to the trash bin. Messages that warn me that Republican Armageddon will arrive right on schedule on November 4…unless I send money.  Lots of money.  The world will come crashing down on us if my deficit-saddled candidates don’t meet their October fund-raising goals.  And I’m solely responsible.

But things can’t be all that bad, can they? This morning I saw a CNN footer crawl across my bloated political message laden screen that announced “candidates are having a very tough time finding available ad space on TV.”  Big surprise.

More importantly, why is everyone so down in the mouth about the Democrats’ chances of keeping even one back row seat in the 2015 Senate? Live with it I say. It’s your turn in the barrel.  A much improved economy, healthcare for millions, military exits from places we never should have been, and a surprisingly robust stock market have no bearing on the voting habits of the general public.  TV has seen to that.

And then there’s the House of Representatives. There’s not a chance that the House might even seat one surprise Democrat victor.  Everyone knows that the Republicans have a lock on that asylum.  The Democrats have thrown in the towel and the bathtub.  Fugedaboudit.

And what’s up with that eerie silence of late in both the House and among the Senate minority Republicans about their god-given moral assignment to repeal Obamacare.  Accustomed as I am to their single-mindedness about the issue, I find myself missing the vitriolic speeches about the days of death panels, government control of my body and the first step toward a Communist takeover.

Perhaps the ebola virus has taken center stage. Along with the obvious…that it’s all Obama’s fault.  The two cases of the dreaded pestilence could surely have been prevented had the President been on duty in that Texas hospital emergency room when the first of what surely will be tens of millions of cases turned up.  You won’t have to rely on Hollywood manufactured Zombie movies anymore.  They’ll be right at your doorstep.

Fortunately, this morning I was relieved of any concern that something might actually get done in the newly constituted, Republican majority Senate. On Tuesday, in a rare instance of stark realism, the about-to-be Senate leader Mitch McConnell admitted that Obamacare could not be repealed since the Republicans will not, save a miracle conjured up by Pat Robertson or Billy Graham, have the required sixty seats to ram through the as yet unannounced Republican version of a new, more wonderful, healthcare system. But then all hell broke loose in the Conservative ranks.  How dare Mitch, that normally reliable Luddite, even for a moment consider such a logical, but never-to-be-spoken-of possibility.

“Ooops, my bad”, he said. Remembering that he was up for re-election in less than a week, Mitch regained his other-world composure and quickly announced that he was “fully committed to the repeal of Obamacare.”  Shocking.  In brief, he would do so through the previously despised (when the Democrats did it) slippery procedure called Reconciliation.  Requiring only a simple majority in the Senate, Mitch would send blizzards of bills to the President that would, if signed, assure the continuation of the Government (budgets, appointments, housekeeping stuff) in the Republican mode (you know, banning abortion, stopping gay marriage, easing pollution regulations, liberalizing banking rules, loosening consumer protections, strengthening the military and maybe impeaching the black guy.)  And, attached to those bills would be a few succinct phrases that would also dismantle Obamacare.  Aaaah, a breath of fresh air.

Forced to watch the Government descend into nothingness should he not sign the bills, the black guy could cave and Obamacare will be the first victim of its own death panel. A barrage of vetoes by the reclusive (or is it dictatorial) foreign born alien would assure the Republicans of two years worth of talking points that blame the Kenyan sitting in the Oval Office for everything from the disgrace of an unprepared military to a lack of toilet paper in the Senate visitors’ gallery.  Then again, maybe a lack of toilet paper is just the right accompaniment for a constipated Congress.

So, my friends. Not to worry.  We will have the same sort of gridlock for the next two years.  But at least we won’t have to worry about good government interfering with the circus-like atmosphere of nominating the 2016 presidential candidates.


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