Back In The Day

 No, not back in the days when Ozzie and Harriet were huge or my cousin had his 1958 gold Chevy Impala with music notes dancing along its curved fins (he was a top shelf sax man).  I’m just going back as far as the 80s, but if you measure that in computer time, it was the Bronze Age.  It was also when Sue, my life-partner, and I bought our first computer-a KayPro lV

I remember it well.  We’d paid a fortune for it-over three grand in 2011 dollars.  And there it was, sitting on our old oak dining room table in all its then modern grey box glory.  We unclamped the keyboard, which served as the cover of this 26 pound metal suitcase, turned it on, and stared blankly as its 9-inch phosphor screen lit up with a flashing green C:> in the top left corner.

We were stumped, stupefied.  Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  Eventually we learned how to use the machine and Sue had an easier time writing her magazine articles (She’s now a prolific nonfiction children’s book author– while I churned out my first novel.

But the real hook for me was my eventual upgrade, the Kaypro 4 with a 300 baud modem.  These were pre-Internet days but folks had already figured out that computers would change communication.  People across the world had set up electronic “post offices” that relayed messages to and from each other and allowed those people who had free computer programs provided by the local “post office” to send and download their mail.

The Great Leap Forward, though, was the development of different interest groups that used this new form of pony express.  I jumped into a writers’ circle that eventually became Pen & Brush and away we went.  Although there were plenty of conversations about writing, the group became a home for open-ended discussions about all things political, religious, cultural, and of course the government.

For decades, it was the same group learning, chatting, arguing through evolving communication processes until the Internet hit and we landed on Yahoo Groups as Keyboard and Stylus.  And there a few of us still remain, more as alter kockers rocking on the porch than engaging in all out debates.

But, there’s life in me yet.  I’ve joined a new group that has fresh blood hungry to view the world through its many facets and a desire to express what they see.

Face (book) the Nation Open Group, housed on Facebook, was created by my college roommate Mark Kruger, now a professor of humanities in St. Louis, with the tireless help of Indira Freeman.  Let me quote her description:

“University of St Louis students and non-students from the entire nation are discussing and seeking to raise awareness about national issues. Topics have included global climate change, wars, homosexuality, education, interest groups, party systems, Wall Street, banks, government power, etc. Our goal is to create a healthy, open environment where everybody has a right to talk about various subjects.  We are group that wants to let every sluice of knowledge be open and set a-flowing. We respect all and believe in equality. Please become a part of this great environment.”

Since I began participating about a month ago, I’ve found the conversations thoughtful, stimulating, and very reminiscent of the old Pen & Brush.  Indira’s description is pretty right-on, though there are some wild and wooly moments. The group is incredibly diverse and the opinions expressed run the full spectrum on a whole host of subjects.  There are trolls, but few and far between.  All in all it’s an experience that engages and one that I fully enjoy.

I say “all in all” because this “alter cocker” finds navigating through all the various topics on the page petty damn difficult–though I have found a personal method to keep track of the various subjects.  But first let me explain how to participate if you’re interested:

1. You need a Facebook account.

2. Once you have a Facebook account (and I urge anyone who signs up for one to go over the privacy settings with a fine tooth comb), type “Face (book) the Nation OPEN GROUP” in the search box at the top of your page, and it will take you to where you can click on “JOIN.” (Given Facebook’s propensity to change how it does things about every twenty minutes, if you have any difficulty enrolling, just leave a note here and I’ll add you the group as my “friend.”)

That’s it.  But if you have trouble with the way Facebook organizes its pages here’s my system:

I created a dedicated email address for the page. In the “Edit Settings” box on the Face (book) the Nation Open Group I have set: NOTIFY ME WHEN A MEMBER POSTS OR COMMENTS, EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS TO the email address I set up,and finally I checked the box that says SEND ME GROUP CHAT MESSAGES.

This allows me to click on emails that take me directly to the specific conversations in which I have interest.

I understand this seems like a convoluted way to screen and follow discussions, and I’m also aware that many people are reluctant to join Facebook.  But if you aren’t uncomfortable with joining, or you already have a page, Face (book) the Nation Open Group is worth the price of admission.  Especially if you enjoy intelligent free-wheeling conversations about a variety of important topics.

Great spirits have always found violent opposition from 
mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not 
thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and 
courageously uses his intelligence. Einstein

Time For Israeli Regime Change

If we are comfortable instigating regime changes in countries that oppress their inhabitants (and three wars suggest we are), then it’s time to take a cold hard look at Israel.

From the moment of its inception, Israel has systematically treated its Arab/Palestinian inhabitants as second class citizens without the same rights afforded to Jews.  First, was a systematic and escalating land grab.

— The Israeli government confiscated any “common land,” untitled ground upon which non-Jewish people lived.

— The Israeli government also took all lands owned by out of the state non-Jewish residents.  (There is an argument that Palestinians left their land at the behest of Arab countries just prior to the 1948 war.  While this is still under debate, there is no question about the Israeli threats that drove other Palestinians from their homes, land, and villages.  This was the land the government then declared to be “absentee owned.”

— If this wasn’t bad enough, the State confiscated territory Palestinians owned even if they were still in Israel but not literally home at the moment of seizure.  Too bad for those who happened to be visiting relatives or out for a cup of coffee.

— And, of course, there were no Israeli inhibitions about taking whatever they wanted by declaring the need for “military land.”

This was no helter skelter response to the 1948 war. It was simply the start of an ongoing and continuous process.  Take, for example, Israeli citizenship categories and the privileges-or lack thereof-that accompany them:

Privileged access to the material resources of the State as well as the social and welfare services of the State. Access to use 93 percent of pre-1967 Israel controlled by the Land Agency. Note that no one can actually purchase Agency land, which is leased to Jews only.

Taxpayers and citizens with voting rights, but denied the right to utilize the 93 percent of pre-1967 Israel controlled by the Land Agency. Denied equal access to water, social and welfare services. Generally not permitted to serve in the military, which automatically excludes many social and welfare services available to those who complete compulsory military service (i.e., Jews).

About 200,000 taxpayers and citizens with voting rights, classified as “absentees.”  Denied the right to utilize property in 93 percent of pre-1967 Israel. Denied equal access to water, social and welfare services. Denied all rights to the property (lands, houses, corporations, shares, bank accounts, bank safes, etc.) they owned until confiscated by the Jewish state. This theft was made “legal” by the Absentees Property Law of 1950.

3,000,000 taxpayers without voting rights. Denied the right to utilize or buy property anywhere in pre-1967 Israel. No access to social and welfare services. Many (mostly those who once lived in pre-1967 Israel) have had all their property confiscated by the Jewish state without compensation and been forced to live in ghettos in two areas that resemble concentration camps.

This information above comes from Israel: An Apartheid State by Uri Davis, published in 1987, but still pretty accurate. Let’s look beyond the second class citizenship that the Israeli government permitted Palestinians during the early years of statehood.  Let’s look at now.

Palestinian suicide bombing, shelling of Israeli cities from Gaza and the West Bank are violent acts that have been, and ought to be, condemned and punished.  But the picture we’ve gotten from the mainstream media looks quite different if we compare some very ugly numbers:

Since September 29th, 2000 to the present, 124 Israeli children have been killed.  The number of Palestinian children killed during the same time period–1,452.

Since September 29th, 2000 to the present, 1,084 Israeli adults have been killed.  The number of Palestinian adults during the same period–6,430.

Since September 29th, 2000 to the present, 9,226 Israelis have been injured.  The number of Palestinians injured during the same period–45,041.

The current number of Israeli political prisoners or detainees is 1.  The current number of Palestinian political prisoners or detainees is 5,935.
Since 1967 the number of Israeli homes that have been demolished for settlement reasons is 0.  Since 1967 the number of Palestinian homes demolished for settlement reasons–24,813.
Israeli unemployment is presently 6.4 percent.

Palestinian unemployment rate in the West Bank–16.5 percent.

Palestinian unemployment rate in Gaza–40 percent.

Of the 40 towns in Israel with the highest unemployment rates, 36 are Arab towns.

According to the Central Bank of Israel statistics for 2003, salary averages for Arab workers were 29 percent lower than for Jewish workers.

U.S. government aid to Israel in 2009 was 8.2 million dollars of military aid per day.

U.S. government aid to Palestinians in 2009–0 dollars.

(These numbers and their primary sources can be found at

Nothing frightens Israel more than the demographic reality of the booming Palestinian population.  And given Israel’s continued and adamant refusal to negotiate anything close to a fair two-state solution, (which would mean the immediateinternationalization of Jerusalem (a holy city to at least three religions), a return to the 1967 borders without any Jewish settlements on the Left Bank, and the cessation of the Gaza Blockade) what alternative will the Israeli government have other than driving the Palestinian Nation into Jordan proper?  Just one, genocide.

As a Jew who lost family in the Holocaust and was schooled in yeshivas from the 3rd to 12th grades, I’m appalled that mypeople, victims of that horror, have no qualms about imposing rigid apartheid on the Palestinian people. I feel sick that Israel has followed such destructive and self-destructive policies for over 60 years.  Policies that have turned their back on any justtwo-state solution, a solution I no longer believe feasible because of Israeli intransigence.  And that lack of belief has me staring what could be the most horrible era in all of Jewish history.  A time when a people, who had been systematically and murderously oppressed throughout our past, becomes an agent of genocide.

Why I Love Television, Part I

Now that laws and attitudes are changing, it’s one of the last “don’t ask, don’t tell” situations.  In fact, in my circles, it’s the love that dare not speak its name.  But I’m here to say it—loudly, proudly, to the world—I LOVE TELEVISION.  And this has been true my entire life.

Why?  First and foremost it keeps me company.  Even when I’m not paying any attention to what’s on, the background murmur reassures me I’m not dead.  And when I’m not paying attention, the TV doesn’t even complain—it’s selfless that way.

Television was my first “virtual” friend and, despite all these years together, we’ve never had an argument.  Sure, I sometimes get pissed.  Why isn’t there anything good on?  Why isn’t anything bad that I like on?  But, TV, as I like to call it for short, has figured that out.  Now you can easily record shows or go On Demand for those barren hours.  Hell, if you’re desperate there’s always a Law and Order variation somewhere.

The notion that it dumbs down our society?  Please.  Can our society get any dumber when 60-some percent of our country doesn’t believe in evolution?

No one trots out that this is stupid, empty entertainment shit when they bow down  to TV’s “Golden Years.”  Do folks really believe that Red Skelton raised IQs?  Or Jackie Gleason with the June Taylor Dancers?  Milton Berle?   Ok, Ernie Kovacs appealed to hipsters and The Honeymooners helped salvage marriages.

If those years were “Golden,” then today’s are Platinum. (Though a warmth lingers still for spotlights and “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”)

But really:

Has there ever been better satire than The Daily Show?

Has there ever been better performance art than The Colbert Report?

Did Playhouse 90 present better dramas than The Sopranos or In Treatment?

Is there anyone better than Rachel Maddow to make progressives feel smug?

Or Papa Bear O’Reilly to make Tea-baggers salivate?

Sorry, if people want to talk about the dumb down, television isn’t the place to start.  Not when programs like The Wire are being written and shown on a regular basis.  And I can’t imagine any comparison between Gunsmoke and Deadwood, which might very well be the best western ever presented in any form.  (And yeah, I’ve seen Red River, and all the Spaghetti’s.)  Tell me, humanitarians and Quincy Jones fans, whether “We Are The World” brought smile and tear.  Damn, even ads have their moments.  “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke,” and China’s Olympic Opening Ceremony (also a commercial—albeit an expensive one) kept people watching.

So why do I feel so protective about my best friend?  Primarily because of where it’s placed in the cultural pecking order—down in the dirt as chicken feed.  And many, probably most, of those who tout the “higher” pecks spend more time watching it than any other medium.

I like watching the best that television has to offer, and also the worst. (Come out of the closet, people.)  Sure I get kick out of the emasculation of Bruce Jenner on Keeping Up with the KardashiansThe Iron Chefs (though I haven’t cooked a meal in 25 years), the weirdos who make the cut on Project Runway, and even the Dog Whisperer , though his magic does nothing for our cats.

And, of course sports.  Perhaps the only thing left in our country where the outcome isn’t preordained.  (I’m not really talking about cage fighting though there was a time when wrestling with those buffed, sweaty bodies…uh, better leave it there.)

But ultimately I’m just glad television is here, 24/7, 52 weeks a year with no chance of dying before me.  How can you have a safer relationship?  Despite no sex, with serious exceptions, very little meaning.  Don’t need that cigarette after NCIS–either of ’em.

Now understand, I really wouldn’t trade Sue or my kids for a television.  Trudat.

But I’m lucky—I don’t have to.  I can have it all, TV never says a jealous word.

(Eventually there will be a PART, 2)

Virtue is insufficient temptation.
-George Bernard Shaw

The Obama Conundrum

Years ago I remember a debate published between Michael Harrington and Christopher Lasch in The New York Review of Books about the efficacy of working inside the “system” or outside it to create social change.  (I might be wrong about the publication—it was a long time ago.)

Since that read, this debate has been a major part of my life as well as my political thinking.  Although my stint in Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) was obviously a “within,” the program I helped developed was not–and, by design. The People’s School, a storefront project that worked with high-school dropouts to eighty year olds, staffed by volunteers, had nothing to do with the Chicago school system.  “Inside” or “out?” Both, really.  VISTA paid my salary.

I was offered a job in Boston at Project Place, which, at the time, was a worker run collective where paid workers and volunteers made collective decisions about defining and running our different projects.  And there were many: a counseling center, 24/7 telephone emergency hotline, runaway houses, legal aid, ambulance, and more.  All the services were free, which meant private and public fundraising.  “Inside” or “out?”  Also both.

I’ve always leaned toward  the “outside” argument and lived much of my life as an “outsider.”  Never felt easy in schools and have no high-school or college diplomas to show for that discomfort–though I attended both, even graduate school, for at least a while.

This headset continued when I decided to write detective fiction.  My main character, Matt Jacob, is definitely a person who works outside any system.  And while he is an exaggeration, the apple never falls far from the tree.  When Random House systematically tried to censure my work (another story for another time) I picked up my fourth book and lawyered out of my contract.  In fact, if it weren’t for the radical changes in publishing and the ability to totally control all aspects of my writing and (soon to be) E-books, I’d a never returned.

But for me, one of the largest outside/inside issue has been the ballot box.  I just could never buy the “better of two evils,” argument as an inducement to the polls.  Since 1972 and George McGovern I’ve never voted in another federal election.  Until 2008 when I not only voted, but worked for the Obama campaign.

Some of it was purely personal.  My father owned a tavern in a small town when I was growing up.  At that time, when a Black person walked into the bar and was served, immediately upon his departure, whoever was bartending had to make a show of breaking his glass.  Not because my father personally disliked Black people; he campaigned among this friends and voted for Obama in 2008.  If the glass had remained intact he would have been out of business the next day.  Literally.

So for me, the notion of a progressive Black having an opportunity to actually win the presidency was right up there with smashing the Berlin wall.

I knew Obama had emerged from Chicago politics and all that implies. But after Bush’s eight years, two wars, the disgusting Patriot Act, and a myriad of other repressive measures, I thought the country was ready for significant change and believed he thought the same.  He was going to be a difference maker.

I was wrong.  Although the Obama administration has accomplished things I believe in—a terribly flawed but better than nothing health care law, abolished Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, non-enforcement of The Defense of Marriage Act, some Wall Street and credit reforms, he simply hasn’t hurdled my “pass/fail” process of looking at life.

We now have three wars.  One without any discussion of an “end game.”  Guantanamo remains open and people held captive without any hope of due process.  And most importantly the nation’s wealth is still shoveled to the rich while the poor and middle class have their services and safety nets dismantled.

I understand that the first two years of his administration was hampered by “Blue Dog Democrats”.  I also understand that the Republicans now control the House.  But maybe it’s time for Barak Obama to read that debate between Michael Harrington and Christopher Lasch.  Despite being president, maybe it’s time to work “outside” the world of political compromise because leading from behind the pack and acquiescing to right wing blackmail just isn’t working.

Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about 2012.

The Firesign Theatre