Tuesday, October 4, 2016

free-speech bashing by Kansas City police

Here we go again...

Monday, October 3, 2016

who decides?

Last night, I watched this documentary, about political correctness (particularly on college campuses) vs. free speech, as pertains to stand-up comedy. I found it very thought-provoking. I come down pretty hard on the side of free speech. I've listened to some pretty extreme stand-up, and even if something rubbed me the wrong way, I never felt it didn't have the right to be spoken or broadcasted (and that I always had the right to turn the channel, walk out of the club, etc.). Lenny Bruce, after all, died for our sins,

Then I read this in the New York Times, about hate speech on Twitter, which was even more thought-provoking. I have to ask the question, who gets to decide what constitutes "hate speech"? This is a pretty tricky one, especially since Twitter presents itself as a free-speech medium. But Twitter also does not permit what it calls "abusive behavior" (see guidelines here). Should verbal/written abuse be set apart from "free speech"? And who gets to decide what constitutes "abusive"? If someone on Twitter attacks a person or race or viewpoint, and some number of people think it's correct or OK, and others are offended, is it permissible or not under these guidelines? And how extreme does the "attack" have to be? 

From the Times article: Just take a gander at @Bridget62945958, who published a series of anti-Semitic posts against my colleague Binyamin Appelbaum. One message showed a series of lampshades. Its caption read: “This is your family when Trump wins. Get your Israeli passport ready.”

Do I like this? Nope. Would I be upset if it were directed at me? Sure. Are there Twitter users who think it's OK? I'm sure there are, just as there are readers who think it's horrible. But should it be censored from a "free speech" medium?

And what we're talking about is censorship. One of the free speech advocates in the documentary I watched said that it is absolutely necessary to permit speech that offends any number of people in order to begin a meaningful dialogue and understanding about the issue. I can get behind this, I'm pretty sure. And I'm not certain that there's not all that much difference between a stand-up comic on a college campus or a racist demagogue on Twitter (if Twitter is indeed "free speech"). I can hate it, I can change the channel, I can walk out, I can block the poster or quit Twitter. I've unfriended quite a few people on Facebook who have repeatedly expressed views that I disagreed with or found offensive; now they can post what they want, and I don't have to read it. (I don't really use Twitter much these days, so I haven't come up against that kind of situation in that venue.)

Lenny Bruce got thrown in jail for saying "cocksucker" in a nightclub. Let me repeat that: Lenny Bruce got thrown in jail for saying "cocksucker" in a nightclub. Some people were offended by that word. Maybe some still are. Does anyone think it was OK for him to be jailed for saying it? It was considered an illegal act at that time. Do we consider it illegal now? He was convicted in 1964. He died before his conviction was overturned, in 1966. New York State pardoned him in 2003. No one since has ever been arrested for anything said in a nightclub. 

I am not OK with censorship. I am not OK with "hate speech" (as it is commonly understood, such as the above example), I am not OK with prejudice, I am not OK with soliciting terrorist activity...but those are things that offend me personally. I can change the channel. Maybe I'm being naive, but I think censorship is scarier than any words can be.

That being said...let me share my own experience of being attacked online and being accused of censorship.

Many years ago, I started a "listserv," which was an email discussion group, that eventually became an online chat group. The group was founded to bring together fans of an incredibly minor musical genre (basically defined as three specific musicians and their cohorts). It started with six people I found in a newsgroup (rec.music.folk), back in the 90s, and grew, over about ten years, to (as best I can remember) around 500. I was the founder and the moderator. 

There started to be instances where members assumed that if the others shared their musical tastes, they were sure to share other interests; what I remember specifically was a bunch of posts about astrology. I gently reminded people what the group was about, and asked them to stay on topic. Wasn't a big deal.

Then a guy joined the group - let's call him "Gene." Gene seemed to have a very short fuse and would go off on people for seemingly no reason and in very extreme way. Most of the group members were more or less love-and-peace hippies, and Gene's behavior was jarring to a lot of people. And he was scaring off newcomers, which bothered me a lot. For instance, a newcomer might post something like, "Hi, I'm new to this group. Has so-and-so played in the Chicago area recently?" And Gene would reply along these lines: "IF YOU SHUT UP AND READ THE POSTS BEFORE ASKING STUPID QUESTIONS MAYBE I WOULDN'T HAVE TO TELL YOU TO SHUT YOUR IGNORANT IDIOT MOUTH!!!" So, the newcomer would quit the group. This didn't sit too well with me. I tried asking Gene to try to play nicely with others. No dice.

I should also disclose that Gene went after me, a lot. Example: I had read a book where one of the characters was a fictionalized version of one of our topic musicians, and I said something along the lines of "I thought the female characters were too simplistic and trivialized." The part of Gene's ensuing rant that I remember best was that he called me a "LESBIAN NAZI." (PS, Gene and I were, and are, both Jews.) 

Some of the people in the group liked Gene. (Amazingly, to me, one even married him.) Some found him offensive. Some brushed it off. Some left the group. Some thought he was funny. (Gene did have a credential relevant to the group: he owned a record label that had released one album by one of the artists.) Needless to say, I didn't care for the guy, didn't like his tone, and didn't like his presence in the group. And no one else behaved like him. 

Here's the difference: it wasn't a free speech forum. It was my wheelhouse, my playpen, my topic. The gentle nudges-back-to-topic that worked on astrology did not work on Gene. Here's what I did, which I hated having to do: I wrote guidelines. (Just like Twitter, which does represent itself as free speech.) They were pretty simple: keep on topic, don't attack other people. I was the moderator; I got to judge what "attack" meant. Among our twinkly little music fans, it wasn't hard to distinguish "Is anyone going to so-and-so's show next week?" from "UGLY LITTLE WORMS LIKE YOU SHOULDN'T BE ALLOWED TO BREATHE THE SAME AIR AS THE REST OF US!!!" 

The guidelines further said that the first and second times I judged someone's posting inappropriate based on the above, I would email them privately. After a third time, their posts would be subject to moderation, which meant I would change a setting to read and approve their posts before forwarding them to the group.

It killed me that I had to do this, or felt I had to. It killed me that anything like this became an issue. I had never imagined such a thing would happen, that someone like Gene would join and participate in the group. I was trying to grow and enhance the group, and people were leaving because of Gene. This was not OK in my group. 

This started a lot of yelling about censorship. This started a lot of chaotic behavior within the group. This started a lot of attacks on me. This led to more and more people being moderated. I do not exaggerate when I say that I lost sleep. I do not exaggerate when I say that my husband begged me to quit the group. Although he blessedly lived in another city, Gene did show up to a club show in New York, where he waved a finger in my face and yelled, "I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, AND I'LL DEAL WITH YOU LATER!!!" 

It ended very badly. I eventually banned Gene from the group, and he started his own "rival" group (with a very slight spelling difference from mine), in which people were allowed to post anything they wanted. Gene's pals who belonged both groups started reposting his nasty rants in his group to my group. His group had about 30 members and mine was in the hundreds (and mine eventually included two of the musicians who had become sufficiently internet-savvy), but after ten years, I gave up. I turned the moderation and ownership over to someone who maybe had a more even temperament or cooler head or thicker skin than mine. 

For unrelated reasons, I broke off my friendship with one of the musicians and lost my interest in the mini-genre, lost touch with most of the group members, took my life in another direction. The lost group and friendship felt like losing a family, felt like a divorce. I have no doubt that it was the right thing to do. But I'm still scratching my head over the business of directing/limiting/controlling the discussion in the group. Was I trying to keep the group as I had created it and intended it to be, or was I just a no-good censor?

I think the group still exists, though I have no interest in looking into it. I'm still Facebook friends with a couple of the early members. One of them recently referred to me on FB by the affectionate name a lot of the members used, "Our Jen," and I was touched and happy and sad. It was nice to be "Our Jen" for a while. Bringing the scattered fans together was a good thing. It actually raised the profile of our musicians and led to real-life connections and more gigs for them. We had a member in Ireland and one in Denmark and one in Aruba; the man in Aruba met Barry and me at the airport when we traveled there for our honeymoon, and drove us to our hotel. It was actually pretty amazing. 

Did Gene wreck it, or did I?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

politics and the test

If you've read a selection of my posts, you probably know that I'm not a very political person. I always vote, but to be honest, I don't do much research about the local candidates. I do browse their newsletters when they come in, read the campaign material, but I tend to make decisions on whether they're doing things I like. (When I say "local candidates," I don't include the mayor. Mayor of New York City is a very important office to anyone who lives here.)

But the presidential election this year really has me very interested and attentive. We have one candidate who is really liberal and awesome and amazing, and one who is a wealthy, lying racist using deplorable tactics against his opponents. (I'm kind of sorry that Ben Carson is out of it, because he was entertainingly crazy.)

I'm a liberal and a Democrat, and most of the people I know and like, and the ones I'm related to, are one or both. It's what I'm used to; I don't think twice about commenting on some idiotic thing Donald Trump said.

But...it turns out that I work with some really conservative people! Just about 3/4 or them are orthodox Jews of varying stripe, and for some reason, those folks are kind of right-wingy. I'm told that most orthodox Jews are, but I really don't know why. (I learned that this is also true of many hispanic people - when my Dominican then-boyfriend told me he was...a Republican!)

Don't get me wrong - I adore almost all of the co-workers. And the few I don't adore, I still admire for doing this work. As one of my best friends there said to me the other day, "This is not a workplace - this is a family." This might be the best group I've ever worked with.

But man...early in the Trump campaign, one of the guys said to me casually, "I think Trump has some really interesting ideas." I shuddered. I mean, I knew what a piece of shit Trump was before he was running for president, and pretty much everything he had to say, from the beginning of the campaign was pretty dreadful, and got worse.

For a while, I kept my mouth shut at work. It's really natural for me to comment on some piece of news about the candidates, but "Did you hear that horrible thing about Trump not wanting to let any Muslims into the country!" would probably be met with looks reading "...and your point is?"

But we also have a WhatsApp discussion group, and a couple of people posted "funny" political jokes with themes like "we shouldn't pay for lazy people on welfare," anti-Obama stuff, like that. The first one that was posted, I did hold my tongue and simply suggested, a few days later, that we keep politics out of the group.

That worked for a while, until the same person posted a joke - I couldn't remember it well enough so I looked up the post, and here it is: "Breaking News: The Muslim Brotherhood has officially warned the United States that if the United States continues meddling in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran and Afghanistan, they intended to cut off America's supply of 7-11 and Motel 6 managers. If this action does not yield sufficient results, cab drivers will be next, followed by Dell, AT&T, and AOL customer service reps. Finally, if all else fails, they have threatened not to send us any more presidents. It's gonna get ugly, folks."

This is a huge steaming pile of prejudice and idiocy. It's kind of all the ugly right-wing nonsense all put together. (Well, except for the Gun Lobby.)

This post got some nods of agreement. Then I posted (this is not verbatim), "I think the people who are thinking about are Indians and Pakistanis, not Arabs. Most Pakistanis are Muslims, but most Indians are Hindu."

Then someone asked me, "But don't you think it's a big problem to get those people coming over here?"

I said, "That's what they said about the Jews." He actually apologized to me. And I said, "It kind of upsets me to see this kind of sentiment in a group called 'Where We Help Everyone.'"

So everyone kind of shut about it since. I think they don't want to offend the "house liberal" just as much as I don't want to offend the conservatives. I'm not even sure how many are seriously conservative - but yesterday, senior counselor had a pile of magazines he'd brought from home, and said, "This one's for Jennifer!" It was Rolling Stone with a picture of Bernie Sanders on the cover. I've never told anyone there that I support Sanders, but I guess they figured it out. (And I actually found it kind of funny, when he gave me the magazine. It wasn't disparaging at all.)

I got drug tested today. We heard a few weeks ago that there was going to be a round of random drug tests, and that someone in the organization had tested positive and was immediately fired.

Of course, Little Miss Liberal does not approve of drug testing at all, nor does her spouse, Mister Liberal. But I kept my mouth shut. I let the young-hippie-guy step up to the area coordinator and ask a few hostile questions and say, "I'm not changing my lifestyle for...this! And what if someone is taking something that's prescribed by a doctor?" This guy is pretty bold because he's mid-twenties and not looking to make a career of this at all. It wouldn't break his heart to get fired. But I need my job, and have made a point of being able to submit a clean test. When I first heard about it, I mentioned it to a few other people I felt might find it useful to know. Drug testing is a huge denial of civil liberties, and embraces that hypocritical line between alcohol and non-alcohol mood-changing drugs (the latter generally known as "drugs").

So I took care of business and anticipate no  problem. But it's also true that when I was looking for work, I consciously avoided the kinds of large companies that would test. I would never consider working for a bank or for a big finance form of any sort, for other reasons; but the stand against testing also blocked me from things like entertainment networks and hospitals and a host of other places where it's not OK to smoke some pot on your own time, but is OK to get as drunk as you want when you're not at work.

The laws concerning marijuana are inching along toward a more liberal consideration, but it's kind of haphazard and fuzzy; things like it being legal to sell medical marijuana but not to grow it for legal sale, and suchlike. Marijuana laws right now are where they should have been 20 years ago. The Nixon administration commissioned a study on marijuana, and when the findings that it was not in any way harmful were presented to President Nixon, he glanced at it and threw it in the trash. (You could look it up. I'm getting kind of hungry.)

Go, Bernie!

P.S. One of my co-workers said to me today, "You used to be a writer, right?" That "used to" should not be correct and I am taking measures.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

life gets a little terrifying

Yesterday, I was assigned to a group of seven individuals, along with two other counselors. Our activity was to go the mall. This is a fairly common activity, although I'd never done it before. Everyone brings their lunch, we get into a van, go to a local mall, find bathrooms, eat at a food court (dayhab will often buy each person a soda), walk around and look in windows, find bathrooms, and drive back.

Part of the problem was that the people I work with suffer from the reverse of something I recently ranted about: a dayhab full of Christian counselors would never have taken a group of people to a shopping mall three days before Christmas. Or else someone just didn't think about it, since a group goes to a mall about once a week.

Then there was the destination. Instead of the usual Brooklyn or Staten Island mall, someone (still don't know who) decided to go to Roosevelt Field. This is a perfectly enormous mall on Long Island, maybe ten times bigger than Kings Plaza in Brooklyn. Kings Plaza has one anchor store (a large, "destination" department store that all malls have). And Kings Plaza is so down-on-its-heels that their anchor store is Sears. Roosevelt field has like ten anchor stores: Nordstrom's and Nieman Marcus and Bloomingdales and J.C.Penney and so on.

First, some app throws off our driver, and we get to the wrong town. Then we get to the right town, and it's really slow traffic approaching the mall. We get into the massive parking lot and drive around for 20 minute. We cannot find a spot. The driver decides to let most of us off to go in while she parks the car (later to reconnect via cell phone). As seven of us, five individuals and two counselors, leave the van and walk toward the entrance, I see a lot of people rushing out, holding up their cellphones, and saying, "There's a shooting." I turned around, stopped everyone, mouthed "a shooting" to the counselor who was outside the van, started herding our people back to the van and then quietly told the counselor who was driving. None of the individuals knew what was going on and we didn't tell them.

Then all the sirens, lots of police and ambulances. We made our way to a quiet spot within the parking lot, away from the main mall, and ate lunch in the van. We then went into an office building with a few big storefronts, and I explained to the concierge who we were and that we needed bathrooms. Then we got back in the van, and it took about 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot. Traffic was crawling. Some of the individuals kvetched, but no one really asked questions. It was really slow for the first half of the trip back. We got back just in time for afternoon pick-up (about 3:20).

At first, it was mostly a big ha-ha, about how screwed up the trip was, with the shooting as a slight added drama. But over about twenty-four hours, I realize how scary it was.

The actual shooting was a really minor incident: some schmuck tried to steal a Rolex from Tourneau Corner, got off a wild short that winged an employee outside the store, and then the robber was forced down by, I think it was an off-duty NYC cop and a security guard who was a former NYC cop.


The local press really played up the NYC police angle.

If we had gotten there five minutes later, the seven of us would have been in the middle of panic and stampede. Not near the shooting, but no one knew that at the time. And it's so much scarier when you're responsible for people who can't look after themselves well or at all. It's exactly if it had been a school trip with young children.

The either counselors, who were more experienced than I, were really amazing. The person driving popped in a recording of Jewish children's stories, which distracted everyone and discouraged too much talking. The two of them said and did the right thing, start to finish.

Also, I was kind of fascinated by the story. It was Jewish Jewish, not like Jerry-Seinfeld-Jewish or Woody-Allen-Jewish. It starts with a Jewish kid asking his zeyde (grandfather) to tell him a story. The grandfather has a heavy Jewish accent, so the whole story is told in this accent. It involved a good and a bad duke, who decide to steal the Torah from a little shtetl. The bad guy refers to it as "those worthless Jewish scrolls." The idea is to hold it for ransom. Someone the plot gets foiled by the rebbe (rabbi), not so much from cleverness, but from wisdom and faith. It was heavy-handed but also kind of astonishing. (I guess I've always found kids' books and stories pretty heavy-handed...actually, since I was about five.)

Here's another interesting story: one of our individuals is obsessed with (among other things) a particular episode of a particular game show and three particular answers from that episode. He'll say, " I'd like to solve the puzzle: not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse!" I guess I'm one of his favorites, because he tells it to me a LOT, along with a passage from a kid's book where you have to participate in the dialogue. I noticed he also likes to repeat his favorite things to another counselor, who is religious. One day, it kind of dawned on me to ask her, "Do you know what that's from, "not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse'?" She did not. I never realize how drenched I am in American culture until I meet someone who is not. She's pretty much my peer as far as age, and we really get along well, but she grew up in and lives in a very different space, in many ways.

A lot of the people I work with are pretty politically conservative, even the young ones, which still kind of shocks me. I grew up around a lot of liberal reform Jews, and I always considered it a Jewish thing. Nope. Religious Jews tend to be pretty conservative, though I have no idea why. I realized it was best for me to keep my mouth shut when another counselor said, right after Trump started running, "You know, I think Trump has some interesting things to say..."

On the other hand...another counselor posted a really obnoxious meme on our chat group. The caption, more or less, was "Let's go for Halloween as someone who steals all our candy and gives it to people who are too lazy to trick-or-treat for themselves!" With a photo of President Obama.

Even though I knew that the woman who posted it was too young and stupid to understand that social welfare also means that New York State funds our dayhab and the residences where our individuals live, I was still really angry for a few days. (And hey, she dissed my president!) I thought about it a lot and went very neutral, posted something like, hey, let's not talk politics here. (And one more thing: our chat group is actually called Where We Help Everyone, which doesn't sound like a space to be against helping others. And one MORE thing: would she think I was once on welfare and food stamps because I was too lazy to work? but I didn't tell that story.)

OK, she's my least favorite staff member. Probably the only one I dislike. She is just not bright. And to me, that's not helpful to me in that workplace for a lot of reasons.

All of the other counselors are my lifeline. I got thrown into the job knowing exactly zero, except to treat the individuals with respect. Of course, I've learned a lot about the job from doing the actual work, but I think I've learned more from the others. I learn both from what they tell me and from watching them interact with the clients. (I just can't keep typing "individuals" - it sounds fussy in my head.) They are so amazing and marvelous and patient and gifted in so many different ways. I'm there for six months now, and I often feel like a rank beginner. But it's a good learning process.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

great aunt and great-aunt

The deeper I look into my aunt's estate, the more money turns up. The latest revelation is 4,200 shares of IBM stock. I called the good-for-nothing cousin a week after he got the papers, and got his voice mail. I left a message along the lines of, "I guess you've had a chance to look over the papers, so we should talk. I found out that a copy of the will can be filed for probate in New York State, so my plan is to get an estate lawyer and get it filed. Also, I don't know why you said that I couldn't afford your services as executor, since the executor only receives a set percentage of the estate. I've found where the trust monies are. And I really need an accounting of the trust at your earliest convenience. I know your memory may be fuzzy, but being executor and trustee are serious fiduciary responsibilities." I got a voice mail back from him saying, "I'm in contact with my old law firms and the State of Florida, and I'll get in touch when I find out anything." Eventually, my brother and I will get that money, but I can't do anything without an executor except look in her safe deposit box (just look, not take anything out).

But in straight-up good news, my niece is pregnant, and I expect to be a great-aunt in July!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

hip and holidays

We had an after-work party on Monday to celebrate the birthday of one of our counselors, but it was mostly an excuse to have a staff party. We have a huge kitchen/main room, and tables were decorated with all kinds of sports motifs in honor of Sam; there was alcohol and kosher Chinese food was brought it, cake and a pretty fruit platter. Dancing ensued. Not one was allowed to stay seated. The best surprise was one of the young Orthodox guys doing a killer Michael Jackson. Who woulda thunk?

I acquitted myself nicely, until all of a sudden...a horrible pain in my hip. I limped home, applied a cold pack and took ibuprofen, called in sick the next day and did more of the same, and went back to work Wednesday, still limping and in pain. What I didn't want to do was go to my doctor, who would certainly send me to an orthopedist. Since it continued to hurt a lot - I take seven flights of stairs in my daily commute, plus my apartment is two flights up - I saw my chiropractor today, for the first time in years. (If anyone in Brooklyn needs a chiropractor, I would recommend Scott Skolkin with absolutely no reservations. He is incredible, and one of the nicest guys ever.) The limping was causing all kinds of back and leg pain, which I knew needed a chiropractor. Luckily, Scott is in my insurance network, no referral required, $20 co-pay. However, he couldn't x-ray me without permission from the insurance company, so he didn't adjust me. He did say that a large black-and-blue mark indicated some level of tissue damage. He did do some message and applied heat, so it does feel a good deal better for now. He should have the insurance company approval by around Wednesday.

This was emailed to me a few days ago:

Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year, which prompted Ben Stein, to say, on CBS Sunday Morning,

My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a nativity scene, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Hurricane Katrina). Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives.And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events... terrorist attacks, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr. Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said okay.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell.
Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says.

Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing.

Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit.

If not, then just discard it.... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what a bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,

Ben Stein

I have very mixed feelings about this. I do think it's idiotic to refer to a Christmas tree as a "holiday tree," since it's a Christian symbol of a Christian holiday that occurs during the holiday season, along with something like six other holidays celebrated by various non-Christian religions.

I'm not crazy about being wished "Merry Christmas," because it always seems to carry that implication that everyone is Christian, or at least that everyone should be celebrating the Christian holiday. I generally don't wish non-Jews "Happy Chanukah," although I do wish Christians "Merry Christmas" (or sometimes "Happy Holidays," which to me indicates holidays of all faiths that take place in this season).

I do have a problem with Christmas, since in America, it seems to have become about 80% crass commercialism, 15% peace-on-earth, and 5% birth-of-Jesus. I have no problem with the latter two, but I cannot stand the constant advertising labeling practically everything a "great Christmas gift."  There's a commercial Best Buy is running this year that says if you buy their products as gifts, you will "win Christmas" - meaning that your gifts will be better than everyone else's. Competitive gifting: horrible.

Some years back, I worked in an office with two younger women, who always played an internet radio station which was basically music from the 70s on, minus any black music whatever, not even Michael Jackson. After Thanksgiving, they asked me if it was OK to play Christmas music. I said sure. Those weeks basically ruined Christmas music for me, even the cool ones like Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the Paul McCartney Chirstmas song, "Jingle Bell Rock," et al. I cannot stand Christmas music any more.

Another problem I have with Christmas is this: when I was a kid, I of course always wanted a Christmas tree, and my parents told me very plainly that we were Jewish and did not celebrate Christmas. We had the usual Reform Jewish Chanukah: lit the menorah and said the bruchas (prayers when the candles are lit), received the eight days of modest gifts, ate latkes (potato pancakes which are traditional for Chanukah).

After my parents divorced, my father married a very lovely woman who is Catholic. They had a rabbi-and-priest wedding, but my father is not very religious and my stepmother is very observant, so the Christian holidays pretty much "won." My father announced to my brother and me that we were celebrating Christmas and had to buy gifts for him, my stepmother, and my stepmother's sister and parents. (My stepmother's sister is a very cool nun.) My brother and I were maybe 10 and 13, and not having grown up with the habit of saving up money for Christmas gifts (Chanukah gifts are parents-to-children only), not only had to frantically scrape together money, but also to choose gifts for people we barely knew. Whatever we received did not compensate for the anxiety of the gift-giving end. A year or two later, my father announced that we were no longer to buy gifts jointly, since we were each given individual gifts, and that was even worse. 
One year, I was unemployed, and told my father, in advance of the holiday, that I had absolutely no money to buy gifts He said, "It's OK, they don't have to be big gifts, just a little something." Bad, bad, bad. When I was asked what I'd like for Christmas, I was either told it was too expensive or given the cheapest possible version of the requested gift. At the same time, my father and stepmother unwrapped gifts long after everyone else had finished opening theirs, and some of them were really expensive. I remember one particular year when I was in college (which I did by working for NYU, which earned me two free classes each term), I asked for an electric typewriter, which I needed desperately for my schoolwork. At the time, university jobs paid way less than the private sector (which is no longer the case), and even the registration fee of $125 that I paid each semester was a hard hit. An electric typewriter cost about $125 at the time, and I was told that it was too expensive. 

When Christmas came around, as usual, we took turns unwrapping our gifts, and again, everyone finished way before Dad and Mary. When she opened her final gift, it was a necklace from Tiffany; I couldn't help looking it up later on, and it cost $800.

I'm not sure if I quit Christmas after that year, or continued on for a year or two, but I did finally announce to my father that I did not feel comfortable celebrating Christmas, and dropped out of the celebration, gifts and dinner. (I did not miss the dinner at all, which my step-aunt prepared; it was small, bland, and included that awful string bean casserole.)

As far as Ben Stein's wanting to put religion back into schools and so on, I say no. Emphatically. I think atheism is a perfectly valid choice, and people who do believe in God should be free to choose their own type and level of religion. You know that they wouldn't be reading the Quran or Torah in schools. I have no doubt that it would be dominated by Christianity. When I was in school, we had a Christmas pageant every year, and sang Christian songs in school chorus. Singing the Christian songs initially jarred me; I actually only mouthed the lyrics that were

As far as spanking children or any kind of physical punishment: no, no. no. Violence only teaches violence.

I find it pretty refreshing to work for a Jewish organization. Not only are you not assumed to be Christian, but no one judges your level of observance, or for being non-Jewish. We have a few non-Jews on staff, but most of the staff is more observant than I am, and mostly Orthodox or raised Orthodox. I'm certainly learning a lot about Judaism and Jewish customs. I don't have to use personal days to take off Rosh Hashonah or Yom Kippur; even with my very low level of observance, I never ever work on the High Holy Days. I'm actually kind of tickled about working on Christmas. (The only "American" holiday we have off is Thanksgiving.) And, I have to say, it's nice being around my own kind. Back in the day, I dated men of pretty much every faith and color (except Asians, just because it never happened), but I married a Jew. There's just a certain kind of familiarity within your own faith, plus I also consider being Jewish my ethnicity. Judaism in unique in being both a faith and an ethnicity; some of us use the abbreviation MOT, for "Member of the Tribe," as in, "She's an MOT, right?" I'm glad to be an MOT. Christmas is not for me.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

estate full of money, husband full of glue

As I've mentioned, my aunt was difficult and mean and very old-fashioned and conservative. We had had a poor relationship for the past 25-30 years; it mostly consisted of her criticizing me. If she couldn't find anything current to complain about, she would criticize something I did 20 years ago, or maybe criticize my brother. The last time I saw her, she was so outright cruel to me that I cried for an entire day afterward. This was about a year before she died; after that, on advice of my husband, my therapist and my psychiatrist, I stopped contacting her. She tried to call me several months ago, and we played a little phone tag, but she wouldn't leave voice mail or accept voice mail, so we never did speak.

However - she left my brother and me a shitload of money. The problem is that her will and a trust were prepared by a lawyer cousin of hers from Florida; he is the executor of the will and trustee of the trust. Ten years after, he was suspended from practicing law for failure to report on trusts and commingling trust monies. My aunt left a very good and organized set of papers: copies of the will and trust, info on the safe deposit box, etc. (Her apartment, however, was pure hoarder.) When I called the cousin, he said something like, "Gee whiz, it was such a long time ago, I don't think I have that will, I don't remember anything about a trust." I sent him (certified, return receipt) copies of all of the relevant paperwork, including copies of the check and bank receipt that opened the trust. He has probably had it in hand for about four days now (I sent copies to my brother at the same time, and he's had them for days). Hasn't called me yet, no surprise.

When I called the cousin, I gave him the benefit of the doubt; surely he wouldn't have messed with his cousin's estate. I was still on the fence after we spoke, but here's why I think he is utterly untrustworthy: one of the things he said to me was, "I don't think you could afford my services as executor." I later found out that an executor is, by law, paid a certain percentage of the estate, depending on the state and the amount of the estate - somewhere around 3-6%. I would not have to go out of pocket at all. So not only was he basically lying, but he did one thing that really pushes my buttons: acting as if I were stupid. That's something that never fails to really, really piss me off. I want a lawyer who will punch this guy out in some legal way.

Since the trustee is only required to report the trust finances at death, I had no idea what was in the trust, or supposed to be in the trust. The trustee is legally required to send me this info within 60 days after it is requested. But in the past few weeks, through various sorts of research and some papers sent by her long-time employer, I've discovered that there's a lot of money in all kinds of places. I've also learned that a copy of a will can be filed for probate, and a trust can also be valid with a copy. So it's time for an estate attorney. Since my brother and I are her only heirs, we will eventually come into a really good sum of money. The problem is that it could take a very, very long time.

Barry noticed a bump on his wrist tonight and got very freaked out. I said it was probably from drumming at a jam yesterday, or related to his carpel tunnel, or a ganglion cyst. Luckily, our doctor is a block away and open until 8:00 PM, and he said it was a ganglion cyst. "It's like gloooo," said he, in his Syrian-Jewish accent. He sprayed on some freeze and extracted it with a needle. "See," he said, pumping a bit out of the syringe onto a bit of gauze, "Gloooo." The doctor was very impressed that I knew what a ganglion cyst was and called me "Doctor Levy." I have to admit to being fairly interested in looking at dermatology videos online; the contents of a ganglion cyst are usually described as being a "gel," but I think I like "glooo" better. My husband is now glooo-free.