Saturday, June 17, 2017

On Visions of Extreme Ugliness and Extreme Beauty

Driving down I-95 in Northern Maryland this past Monday, I was reflecting on what had surely been one of the best weekends of my life.   It mostly consisted of partying and praying, but there was also a little 2 ½ hour ceremony during which my daughter Hannah and 13 of her classmates were ordained as rabbis.  It was the culmination of five years of post-graduate schooling and a whole lot of soul searching.  Believe me, I was proud of Hannah’s entire class.  It thrills me that these freshly minted Reconstructionist rabbis are being thrust into the world to reinvigorate Judaism and become a “light unto the nations. “ 

Driving my jalopy with “Spinoza” license plates, I was feeling my oats.  I had just passed the beautiful Susquehanna River and Cal Ripken’s baseball stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland and was looking forward to going to a retirement party for one of the jewels of the U.S. Department of Justice (and one of my beloved mentors), Joyce Branda.   Life was good.  So I asked my wife’s permission to indulge one of my guilty pleasures – listening to right-wing talk radio with her in the car.  To my surprise, she said yes.  

Strangely, though, we couldn’t find any suitable stations – at least not until we crossed the Baltimore Harbor.  That’s when we began to hear WMAL, the powerful DC station that has graced us with such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and, in this case, Chris Plante.  

My wife’s patience lasted all of five minutes.  During that time, Plante hurled just about every insult imaginable at Democrats and liberals.  You would have thought he was talking about cockroaches, except that Democrats and liberals are people, or at least I tell myself that we are.  That afternoon, I sounded less like a person than a laughing hyena.  That’s the only way I can cope with programs like Plante’s – by laughing hysterically at the sheer idiocy of his hate speech, speech directed at folks like me and everything I hold dear.  I feel compelled to listen to Plante because I need to know what America thinks, and Plante, Limbaugh, Levin and Company are the rabbis to roughly one third of this country.  

By Wednesday morning, I was back to the rhythm of a normal workweek as the highs of last weekend had begun to fade.   Listening to the morning news, I was shocked to learn about a different form of hate speech.  This time, the speaker communicated not with words but with bullets.  He opened fire on a group of Republican Congressmen and staffers who were targeted solely because of their political views.  It was reminiscent of the January 2011 attack in Tucson, except that this week’s shooting involved a so-called “progressive” hunting down conservatives.   Immediately, my fellow liberals tended to write off the shooting simply as the product of mental illness – a lone lunatic running amuck.   But for me, that excuse is overly glib.  We’re dealing now with an ever-deepening internal conflict in America that is reaching dangerous levels.  Not only are we seeing its outgrowth in politically-motivated homicides but also in terms of policies that reflect utter contempt for large swaths of Americans.  Think about it – how else can we explain why Senators are holding secret meetings to determine how to strip millions of Americans of healthcare insurance if they didn’t think their political base holds the uninsured (i.e., working class Americans) in complete disregard? 

Yesterday, the New York Times led with an article entitled “Partisan Relations Sink from Cold to Deep Freeze: Democrats and Republicans Have Lowest Regard of Each Other in Decades.”  The article featured a graph showing that Democrats’ attitudes about Republicans has largely paralleled Republicans’ attitudes about Democrats throughout the period from 1980 to the present.  The graph also showed that while those numbers had dropped gradually from 1980 to 2000, they’ve dropped precipitously ever since.   Less than a quarter of us now view the “other” favorably – down from 40 percent at the turn of the millennium.  Whoever coined the motto “e pluribus unum” is surely turning in his grave. 

After the terrible shooting in Alexandria, there has been talk of the need for unity.   I’m not feeling it though.  I think this nation is hopelessly polarized at the moment.  I see things getting worse before they get better.   But last weekend, I did see the antidote – on that stage in suburban Philadelphia, where the 14 graduates of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College Class of 5777 were assembled.   There, in that tiny class, I saw white people, black people, men, women, openly gay, openly straight, openly trans.   I saw the faces of love, not of hatred.  Of hope, not of fear.  Of anonymity, not of celebrity.  Of self-effacing service, not of grandstanding hubris.  Of singing and praying, not shouting and demeaning.

I had a vision in which humble, hard-working and committed people like the RRC Class of 5777 stopped deferring to the politicians and media personalities who have collectively driven our national car into the ditch.  In my vision, these young men and women would then take responsibility for identifying leaders from their own generation who wouldn’t suck up to the Chris Plantes or the Rush Limbaughs – or, for that matter, to the snide, liberal analogues who similarly spew hate from the other side of the aisle.   They will take to heart the Jewish precept that “lashon hara” -- speech that is disparaging, even if true – is truly evil and difficult to forgive.   They will, in short, teach my fellow Baby Boomers that it is time to back off and let a gentler, smarter and more humane generation lead us out of the wilderness.

As the Class of 5777 can tell you, our Biblical ancestors wandered in that wilderness for 40 years and never did enter the Promised Land.  Sadly, it has been nearly 40 years since 1980 – when we started turning our political rivals into true enemies.   My sense is that things are going to get worse before they get better.  But maybe, just maybe, in a few years, the spirit of the Class of 5777 will turn things around.  At least that’s my dream.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

One Sad Week


That’s how President Trump frequently ends his tweets.   And if this past week could be summarized in a tweet, we’d surely end it with that same word – thanks, in large part, to President Trump himself.   

Admittedly, my view of this week is colored by my personal life.  The family matriarch, who is now 95 years and 10 months old, suffered major blows to her health.   Every day after work, I’ve made a bee-line to either a hospital or a rehab facility and watched her fight to recover.   It’s inspiring to be the son of such a tough resilient woman.  But it’s also gut-wrenching to see a loved one labor to perform basic functions – like trying to sit up, stand up, and walk a few feet. 

One of the things I like to do with my mom is turn on the TV and watch the news.  The poor woman must be convinced that she’s totally losing it, because the reports have been truly unbelievable -- and not just impossible to believe, but incredibly sad. 

First, we had the sorry spectacle of Tiger Woods, an athlete I’ve supported passionately ever since he left Stanford and joined the PGA Tour.  Just last week, we read that his back surgery gave him “instant nerve relief” and saw him say that “I haven’t felt this good in years.”  But this past Monday, he was found asleep at the wheel, unable to walk a straight line, and slurring his speech.  He blamed it on a cocktail of pain killers and, indeed, the tests showed that he hadn’t had a drop of alcohol.  But it’s difficult to believe that he wasn’t bullshitting fans like me when he raved about how well he was feeling last week.  Once again, Tiger has proven himself to be someone you can never trust when he speaks to his fan base.  Leaving aside whatever mess he has made of his physical or psychological health, his consistent lack of honesty has been worthy of a politician.

The next spectacle to chronicle was provided to us by the boisterous, self-obsessed comedienne, Kathy Griffin.  Somehow, she decided it was funny to depict the President of the United States as a severed head covered with blood.  Funny?  No.  Juvenile, disgusting, contemptuous, and creepy?  Clearly.  Unlike Tiger Woods, who can aptly be called a golfing genius, Kathy Griffin lacks any discernable talent – other than the ability to self-promote.  Fortunately, it looks like Griffin’s 15 minutes are just about up.  Even for a comedienne, she crossed the line.  And if you don’t agree, just imagine what you would think of a conservative “comic” who turned the first black president, Barack Obama, into a severed, bloody head.  Griffen has stooped to a lower level than even the worst of Obama’s most racist critics.  And that, indeed, is sad.

True to her narcissism, Kathy Griffin isn’t leaving the scene easily.  She’s blaming other people for her self-inflicted wound.  According to Griffin, “there’s a bunch of old white guys trying to silence me and I’m just here to say that it’s wrong.”  Actually, what is “wrong” is when a person doesn’t have the class to say “I screwed up big time” and leave it at that.  That’s called taking responsibility.   It’s a lesson that Hillary Clinton could also use a little help in.  If Monday belonged to Tiger and Tuesday belonged to Griffin, Wednesday belonged to Hillary.  Speaking at Recode’s Code Conference in California, Clinton said that "I take responsibility for every decision I make -- but that's not why I lost" She then went on to say that “I'm now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party," Clinton said. "It was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong. I had to inject money into it -- the DNC -- to keep it going."

Personally, I’m getting dizzy trying to figure out exactly who Hillary wants us to blame for her inability to defeat a reality TV star with a record-low approval rating.  I thought the fault belonged to Comey.  Or Russia.  Or the media. Now it’s the DNC.  She apparently believes that everyone is at fault other than the candidate who, in a change election, never explained what she felt compelled to change, and who was so cocky about winning the upper Midwest that she barely bothered to campaign there.

If Hillary’s latest outburst wasn’t sad enough, when CNN interviewed the chair of the DNC and invited him to respond to Hillary’s attacks, he repeatedly refused to do so.  Essentially, he gave the interviewer the old Washington Dodge -- something to the effect of, “I want to focus on the future, not look at the past.”  So, my friends, the new Democratic Party is going to look a lot like the old one – big on smiles, small on candor.  Kind of like a Tiger Woods press conference. 

And that brings me to Thursday.  That’s the day when President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Accords.  It’s also the day when Vice President Pence said, on Fox News, that “for some reason or another, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left in this country and around the world."

How can I respond to that?   Is this really just an issue for those on the “left”?   Well, perhaps it is.  After all, in 2012, in his Democratic National Convention speech, President Obama devoted only about 20 seconds to the issue. Lord knows that the media hasn’t seemed to be terribly interested in climate change.  It isn’t nearly as sexy as topics such as terrorism, police killings or plane crashes.  But let’s not kid ourselves – according to people with PhDs, climate change is easily the gravest source of danger on planet Earth, and I’m not just talking about environmental dangers.  What this country did on Thursday isn’t just sad – it’s devastating.  And now it’s time for those of us on the “left” -- and the center -- to figure out a way to make the powers-that-be care about this issue once and for all.  We owe it to Mother Nature, to our children, and to our own legacies.

So, my friends, this has been one depressing week.  But things had better get better, and I mean quickly.  Next week, the Empathic Rationalist will be on vacation as I head up to Philadelphia for my older daughter Hannah’s rabbinical ordination.  None of this, even my beloved mother’s health setback, can get in my way of enjoying Hannah’s incredible accomplishment.  So ... I pray that this week, happy stories will replace the sad stories of this last week.  Maybe we’ll see some amazing feats of athleticism in the French Open or in the NBA Finals.  Maybe we’ll see a politician or Hollywood star actually assume some responsibility, rather than blaming others or dodging questions.  Or maybe we’ll just see a slow news week during which we can relax and re-charge our batteries.  Come to think of it, that wouldn’t be so bad.  In fact, after this past week, anything would be an improvement.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reflections on the Meaning of Progressivism

In this week’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the show’s host debated with Cornell West, the public intellectual and social activist.   Maher criticized West for creating a dangerous false equivalency between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which essentially encouraged progressive Americans either to vote for a third-party candidate or no candidate at all.  In the end, Maher claimed, lefties like West are responsible for the election of Donald J. Trump.   West, by contrast, indicated that while he always preferred candidate Clinton to candidate Trump, that doesn’t mean he should find her acceptable.  According to West, a progressive is obliged to speak out against Democratic candidates as long as they remain agents of the status quo, rather than finding solace in the fact that these individuals are less right-wing than their Republican rivals.

Score one for West.   If you are a progressive, you need to fight for the party you want, rather than settle for the so-called “lesser of two evils.”  You need to fight for authenticity.  You can’t satisfy yourself with limousine liberalism.  The Democratic party, West would contend, will continue to lose as long as its sole theme is “They’re Crazy and Evil. So Vote for Us.”  Democrats need to stand for, rather than against, something; and that “something” had better include a significant measure of change.  Hillary’s campaign did not clearly enunciate what significant transformation it was looking to make, and that – more than any other reason – is why she is not president today.

Allow me to channel West in a different context by moving forward in time by 48 hours – from Friday, when Maher’s show was taped and aired, to today.  Here we are on the verge of the first momentous foreign policy speech of Trump’s presidency.  He is in Saudi Arabia and is expected to talk about how America respects and honors Islam and hopes to work seamlessly with the Saudis and other Muslim regimes.  Yet surely, nanoseconds after he walks off the stage, mainstream liberal Americans, the ones who praised Hillary throughout her campaign, will return to their regularly-scheduled us-versus-them mockery.    Trump, they will claim, has shown himself to be a typical politician – saying one thing (bashing Islam) in front of his base, and the diametrically opposite thing (praising Islam) when traveling abroad.  Within hours, if not minutes, we’ll be watching montages of Trump’s greatest hits on the subject, showing a Muslim-bashing statement one moment followed by a Muslim-praising statement the next.   Here in Blue America, everyone will be in good spirits laughing at this Zelig of a President.   And, of course, the undercurrent of all this mockery will be a single theme: that Trump was elected by a group of stupid bigots who despise Islam as much as they love Trump, and who will rationalize today’s speech as an example of a shrewd businessman and statesperson sweet-talking his enemies into making the concessions that advance his blessed America-first agenda.

Like West, I am not here to defend what Trump has said about Muslims in the past.  Nor am I here to defend his base.  It consistently refuses to hold the President accountable for his words.  And let’s face it – that base is ridden with Islamophobia.   But the question is, for those of us who feel differently about Islamophobia – who wish to eradicate it as a scourge – is it enough simply to bash the Republican base and the politicians who cater to them?  Or do we have an affirmative obligation to embrace Islam and those who practice it?  In other words, is it appropriate to sit on our couches and mock candidate Trump for demagoguing on the issue or do we need to stick our necks out and publicize to our family and friends what is uniquely beautiful about Islam?  

I don’t always agree with Cornell West.  On the subject of Israel, for example, I would surely find myself to be far more on the Zionistic side of the spectrum.  But what I appreciate most about West is that he is an activist who fights FOR the social transformation he believes in, rather than simply fighting AGAINST the politicians he dislikes.  West has a vision of reform and he is looking to join with other change agents, rather than simply to join in mockery of those who would reform the world in the wrong direction.

On the issue of how the West must deal with Islam, I’ll be blunt: it isn’t enough to condemn Islam-inspired violence (which we must condemn) or to attack the scourge of Islamaphobia.  We must work together with our Muslim cousins on social causes and in fellowship activities.  Plus, we must dialogue with our Muslim cousins, exploring the many profound similarities among our respective faiths and cultures, and embracing the many profound differences among these faiths and cultures.  We must discern what makes Islam special – not just a tributary off the great “Judeo-Christian” river, but a faith that builds masterfully on its Jewish and Christian antecedents.  And we must study the challenges that Islamic extremism presents to the world – challenges that are in some respects far more stark and scary than the challenges we’re now experiencing from Jewish and Christian extremists.

Late in 2016, I helped to spearhead a new initiative in the Washington DC area that is known as JAM-AT:  Jews and Muslims Acting Together. Members of JAM-AT will be meeting this afternoon at a home in McLean Virginia with one goal in mind: to take Muslim-Jewish engagement in the greater Washington DC area to the next level.  

In contemplating today’s meeting, I have pictured Cornell West and Bill Maher attending such an event.   West, though a Christian, would fit in wonderfully.  He has great respect for both Judaism and Islam.    He would be what we in Muslim-Jewish circles refer to as an “Ally.”  And indeed, in the last JAM-AT meeting, everyone who was neither Jewish nor Muslim was asked to stand up so that we can applaud our “Allies” – who are invariably among the most righteous in the room.  

As for Maher, when I imagine him at a JAM-AT event, all I can envision is his discomfort and cynicism.  Most likely, he would view the rest of us as a bunch of stupid religious people, clinging to our primitive superstitions (or, in the case of Spinozist Jews like me, to our contorted rationalizations for embracing organized religion).  Maher has saved some of his meanest mockery for Islam.  He of all people can ill-afford to get on his high-horse and criticize President Trump for Islamophobia.
When I look at a Cornell West, for all our disagreements, I find a fellow traveler.   He loved Heschel as much as he loved King.  Indeed, he is a dreamer far more than he is a hater.    I’ll grant you that his rhetoric against mainstream politicians can be hyperbolic, but that is the way prophetically inspired progressives often speak.  At least I know that what he stands for is more important to him than what he stands against, and what he stands for above all else is universal human dignity.

If you find yourself inspired more by a Cornell West than a Bill Maher, then do me a favor.   Find a mosque in your area, pick a night when it is holding an Iftar that is open to the interfaith community, and break pita bread with them.  Next weekend, you see, is the start of Ramadan.  The Muslim community will be fasting from sun up until sun down throughout the month.  You don’t have to fast – just come one night and honor your hosts with your presence.  Come with an open mind, an open heart, and an empty stomach.  You will likely encounter some of the kindest, most generous people you’ll ever meet.  And if the alternative is to turn on cable TV and watch comedians pull out montages that mock Islamophobic politicians ... trust me, experiencing an Iftar is far better for your soul. 

[Note – The Empathic Rationalist will be on holiday during Memorial Day Weekend and will return on the first weekend of June.]

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mid-Term Grades for American Democracy

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Six years ago, I quoted the above passage in this blog.  I cannot quote it enough.   Ironically, for all its wisdom, it contains one of the most patently false statements in the history of oratory, the clause that “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”  Thankfully, the world has indeed noted what Lincoln said in Gettysburg in 1863; his entire Address has become immortalized, and for good reason.  Few can forget that it began with the words “Four score and seven years ago.”  But perhaps the Address’ most lasting portion is its ending – a plea that “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people [] shall not perish from the earth.”

I keep finding myself reflecting on those words.  As both a small “d” democrat and a small “r” republican, I feel that Lincoln was setting the standard by which a country’s governance should be judged.  Sometimes, I even envision him as one of my professors.  Lincoln is looking at me and all other future American citizens and proclaiming that we’ll be “graded” based on the extent to which our government truly measures up to the standard he has set – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.  It then becomes our job as students/citizens to assess our success level and actively work to ensure that failure is no longer tolerated.

I don’t know about you, but right now, I’d give us a failing grade.  And part of the problem is that while we may well remember the words Lincoln used, we seem to have forgotten what they mean and why they must be respected.

Let’s begin by analyzing the “of the people, by the people, for the people” formulation.  The first of these three phrases refers to the source of governmental power.   It was explained well by John Marshall in his famous Supreme Court opinion, McCulloch v. Maryland: “The government of the Union [...] is, emphatically and truly, a government of the people. In form, and in substance, it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit."

To further illustrate his point, Marshall could have pointed to the introduction to the Preamble to the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”   “We the people” are thus the source of our government’s power – not a work of Scripture nor a set of sovereign states, and certainly not a kingdom across the ocean, but “we the people.”   In this regard at least, I’d say that the American democracy is alive and well, for we haven’t seemed to have forgotten that the source of our government’s power resides in the citizenry.

Next, if you would allow me, I’d like to skip ahead for a moment to the third prong of Lincoln’s formulation, the idea that our government is “for the people.”  Now, we’re not talking about the source of governmental power but its beneficiary.  I hardly need to cite 17th or 18th century documents to explain this concept.  Indeed, every politician in Washington invariably claims that she acts for the betterment of “the people.”   Whether it’s the people of her district, state or nation, it’s always “the people” for whom she selflessly works.   Allegedly.

But do you really believe that’s true?  Do you really believe our politicians are consistently putting “the people” over their own party or their personal re-election chances?  Just look at the way they handle government scandals.  Whenever their party is in power, they become mum; by contrast, if the other party is in power, they become publicly outraged.  Is that what “the people” would want?   Or how about those times when Congress considers an extremely popular bill that everyone knows is going to fail because the lobbyists won’t let it succeed?  Consider, for example, gun-control legislation that is favored by 80-90 percent of “the people” but opposed by the highly-organized gun lobby.   Why do you think those measures fail?  Is it because our politicians believe that they are voting in the best interests of the (ignorant) public, or because they are taking care of their own hides?  To ask the question is to answer it.

I’ve saved for last the second item in Lincoln’s formulation: “by the people.”  Now, we’re not talking about the source or the beneficiary of government power but rather the agent of such power.   Who is doing the actual work of exercising political power?  A limited number of social or economic classes?  Or ALL the people?  My sense is that when it comes time to assigning grades, Professor Lincoln will place a special emphasis in this domain.  Why?  Because it is precisely by broadening political participation among all the people that we can best guarantee that our government will operate for the people in actuality, and not just in lip service. 

Fortunately, when it comes to grading us on our political participation, Prof. Lincoln would have actual facts and figures available to judge us.  And what he’d find is that we seem to be failing miserably.   Roughly nine of every 20 eligible Americans choose not to vote in presidential elections.  In mid-term elections, little more than one in three eligible Americans vote.  So even though we included the right to vote in the Constitution and amended that document four different times to extend that right, only a small portion of this country seems to feel strongly about exercising it.   If that’s not an F-U to Lincoln, I don’t know what is.

But don’t just blame the problem on “we the people.”  “They the Government” aren’t exactly encouraging the people to vote, now are they?  Recall that last Sunday the voters in France went to the polls.   Here in America, we vote on Tuesdays, and we don’t even get a day off from work.  It’s as if the powers-that-be are saying that “voting is a privilege, and we expect people to go out of their way to prove that they’re worthy of it.”   The result is anything but a government “by [all] the people.”  It’s a government by that portion of the people who tend to be relatively well-educated and well-heeled.  It’s not what Lincoln had in mind.

Personally, I think that there is no set of duties more sacred than those of citizenship.  Those duties include voting, but that’s just the beginning.  A citizen’s duties also include marching, canvassing, debate watching, poll watching, you name it.   Plus, they include taking stock in those societal forces that undermine civic interest and working to confront those forces.  I’d suggest that we all begin by focusing squarely and passionately on our woefully inadequate level of voting participation.  This needs to be addressed by our schools, our media, our government, and yes, by concerned private citizens like you and me.  And until this issue is addressed, we have to stop talking like we live in a functioning democracy or that “the majority” voted for this politician or that one. 

Somewhere up there, Professor Abe is waiting to grade us on how we respond to this voter-participation crisis.  And believe me, even for someone as kind as Honest Abe, 36 percent (the percentage of eligible voters who turned out for the 2014 mid-terms) merits an F.   

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mother Earth Calls

This used to be the time in DC when spring was in full bloom.  Now, it appears, we’ve entered the season of summer - and no time too soon.  Ninety degree temperatures have arrived and just in time for the People’s Climate March.   Apparently, when the Good Lord heard that a march was planned to protest global warming, He decided to warm up this part of the globe with record-breaking temperatures.   It’s great to know that God has a sense of humor.

I was at the March for Science last week; today, I’ll be at the Climate March.  My thinking is that if I’m lucky enough to make it to the year 2050, when the death toll from Climate Change is likely to increase by a few digits, I don’t want to think of myself as having been a passive bystander to all this destruction.  I want to know that, at the very least, I took to the streets and screamed, “This is no way to treat our Mother!”

Seriously, the next time some politician or business tycoon says “We support the environment, BUT ....” just remember – when it comes to loving your mother, there is no “but.”  

Mother Earth will surely survive human recklessness.  We can wound her, but we’re not nearly powerful enough to kill her.  What we can do is kill her creatures.  Today, we’re killing the coral.  Tomorrow, we’ll be killing each other – unintentionally, but just as surely.  Climate change will create famines, bring deadly storms, and wreak havoc on the economies least able to tolerate it.   Sadly, everyone can thank the affluent among us, and that includes the so-called “upper middle class” Americans who refuse to think of ourselves as affluent.  We’re the ones who guzzle carbon like it’s flowing from Heaven. 

So, march we must. 

I honestly don’t know much about the folks who are organizing this event.  I don’t know if they will spend the entire time hurling bile that will serve only to further polarize this country.   I may indeed spend half of the time at this event shaking my head about how a march that should be a call to love (our Mother) will turn instead into a call to hate. 

But frankly, I don’t need to know who is organizing this event.  If there is a march against Climate Change, I’m coming.

Lest anyone think that fighting Climate Change is a partisan issue, just think back a few years.  How much did Barack Obama mention Climate Change in his 2012 Democratic Convention address?   If memory serves, he didn’t.  This has always been a minor issue for the Democrats – little more than an opportunity for a bit of targeted pandering.   Precious few of our mainstream politicians have behaved like this issue hits them down to their bones.   That’s because we haven’t reached 2050 yet.  People aren’t dying by the millions or tens of millions.  Yet.   That’s why it feels like a sideshow.   Boy are we short-sighted.

Next week, the Empathic Rationalist will take a week off.  I’ll be at Princeton attending a weekend long conference about Spinoza’s philosophy.  In other words, I’ll be in my element, geeking out on the esoterica of Spinoza’s Ethics and Theological-Political Treatise, both of which I’ve studied in depth.  By contrast, today (like last Saturday), I’ll surely be hearing about the work of scientists who’ve been studying disciplines that I hardly understand.  To a degree, I’ll have to take what they’re saying on faith.  And still ... with each passing year, it becomes more and more obvious that these scientists are on to something.

Our climate is changing.  We can feel it.  Winters aren’t terribly cold any more.  And even the spring is beginning to feel like summer. You don’t have to be a polar bear to notice the difference.  You just have to be willing to put propaganda aside, open your eyes, and take in the magnitude of what’s happening.

If you love your Mother and you’re in a city with a march, please join us.  And bring lots of water.   It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re out in the hot summer sun.   

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Marching for Science

“What do we want?”  “Peace!”  “When do we want it?”  “Now!”

“What do we want?”  “Justice!”  “When do we want it?”   “Now!”

“What do we want?”  “Science!”  “When do we want it?”  “After peer review!”

That last chant was the only one of the three I heard yesterday at D.C.’s March for Science.  It has stuck in my mind because, perhaps more than anything else, it crystallizes the main lesson from the march.      

There were other themes, to be sure.   There was certainly the “Science is inherently good” theme.  I, however, think that’s bullshit.   Yes, science has cured polio and made syphilis more forgettable.    But it has also given us Zyklon B, Chernobyl, and Nagasaki.  Thanks to science, we get longer living through chemistry – but also quicker killing.  Whether science is good or not depends on the agenda of the scientist, and believe me, scientists have agendas like everyone else.  The idea that they don’t was another article of B.S. that was peddled during yesterday’s march.  The truth is that, as one speaker acknowledged, “science is political” – and anything that is political can be corrupted. 

But I’m at peace with the idea that science, for better and worse, is political.  I love it just the same.  Any important domain of knowledge can become both politically powerful and controversial, and be used both for good and for ill.  The prospect of controversy doesn’t take away from the fact that science provides the closest approximation of absolute, certain knowledge that human beings possess.   To some degree, we’re all scientists.  We all have familiarity with the scientific method, apply it in our day-to-day lives, and appreciate that some propositions are correct and others are false.  If we grab an apple from the fridge and let it go, we all know that it’s going to fall to the floor.  We know that to be true, absolutely, and we know it because we’ve done the science starting from a very early age.  Long before we study philosophy or history, we begin doing science.  It’s critical to creating a mental world full of order rather than chaos.

The existence of gravity isn’t controversial. But the idea that human industrial activity is destroying the environment is quite controversial.  So is the proposition that vaccinations do not cause autism.  The problem in these cases is that regular Joes (and here, most of us are included in that category) haven’t done the science to demonstrate to ourselves what the answer is.  We are forced to trust what we hear from professional scientists or from others who purport to summarize what the scientific community has found.   And when you’re a regular Joe, it’s difficult to trust anybody these days.

But that’s where the lessons from yesterday’s march come in.  At a time when trust is difficult, we still need working hypotheses.  We can doubt the truth of these hypotheses, for that’s what scientists do (begin every exercise with doubt), yet we need to believe something.  So why not put what little faith we have in the teachings of respected scientists who have submitted their work to peer review and arrived at theories that have been generally accepted by the scientific community as a whole?   In the case of climate change, I’ve heard the number 97% -- as in 97% of scientists agree that human activity is causing dangerous levels of climate change.  That’s 32 out of 33 scientists, which is one hell of a consensus.  To be sure, think tanks, cable news channels, politicians and industrialists can always find Mr. 1-out-of-33 and trot him out to explain why he is right and the other 32 scientists are wrong.  We regular Joes may not have the data or the training conclusively to refute Mr. 1-out-of-33, but we shouldn’t need that kind of certainty to make practical judgments.  As a matter of practical judgment, whenever we’re evaluating public policy issues involving matters of scientific controversy, it’s time to trust in the peer review process and side with the teachings of the vast majority of scientists.

You see, the paradox here is that most of us love science for its ability to demonstrate certain truth, yet when it comes to the great public policy controversies, certainty is bound to elude us laypeople.   Still, once the judgment of the scientific community has reached a near-unanimous status, it becomes the epitome of arrogance or stubbornness for a layperson to dispute that judgment – at least if we’re talking about an issue that is squarely within the domain of science.   

One of the things I love about science is that it is a skeptical field.  To think scientifically is to observe that academics and government workers can be as prejudiced as anyone else.  Just because their job responsibilities may involve “seeking the truth,” doesn’t mean they can’t be emotionally biased towards locating that truth on one side of a policy divide or another.  So let’s please not take too seriously some of the hyperbole from yesterday’s march, such as the suggestion that “science equals truth” or that it has the power to eliminate all forms of ignorance.  Science is limited, like all domains of knowledge.  Its practitioners need to be steeped in other fields and to think in an interdisciplinary fashion, lest they too fall into the trap of tunnel vision – a trap that frequently snares those who wield power on issues of public policy.  

Still, there are times when people – whether acting as workers, consumers or citizens -- simply have to take a stand.  It’s not enough to be skeptical or cynical.  We have to act.  We have to take positions on vaccines, or stem cell research, or carbon emissions.  And we have to take a position on how large a budget we think is appropriate for scientific research.  In these regards, I stand with the mainstream of the scientific community.  And I do it, not because I am scientistic (i.e., a believer in the scientific method as a cure-all for all forms of ignorance) but because I recognize that science deserves an honored place at the table of truth and beauty.

To quote Ken Wilber, I want to “give to Caesar what is Caesars, to Einstein what is Einstein’s, to Picasso what is Picasso’s, to Kant what is Kant’s, and to Christ what is Christ’s.”  That means that when it comes to matters within the domain of science, I’m going to listen to the folks like Einstein and the peers that might review his work, and not to an industrialist who stands to profit if the scientists are wrong.  The fact that the industrialist can find one scientist in 33 to agree with him is hardly going to shake my trust in the scientific mainstream.  After all, if you pay them enough, you can probably find one scientist in 33 these days who will argue that when you take an apple out of the fridge and let it go, it won’t hit the floor.  In fact, I could swear I’ve seen a few of those scientists interviewed on CNN.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spicing up Our Memories of the Holocaust

In secular America, people usually wait until the end of the calendar year to wish one another a happy “Holiday Season.”  But for Jews and Christians, we are now going through a very different, but perhaps even more beloved, holiday season.   So, before I talk a bit about my own holiday, please allow me to wish all of my Christian readers the most spiritual Easter possible.  May the teachings of Jesus be forever etched in your heart and reflected by your deeds. 
Two years ago, I was blessed to spend this time of year in the Holy Land.  I will never forget the joy of arriving in Jerusalem only hours before the beginning of Passover and then spending the evening at a Seder led by three rabbinical students, one of whom was my daughter.  As the cliché goes, “It doesn’t get any better than that.”   This year, I’ve been blessed to spend the Passover season enjoying a stay-cation.  My activities have included reading the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and making daily visits to my mother’s Assisted Living Facility, where she has been recuperating beautifully from an illness.  All in all, it has been an excellent Passover – excellent enough that I’m able to take a somewhat charitable position in response to what was surely the political gaffe of the week.  I’m referring to Sean Spicer’s comments on the very first day of Passover regarding Hitler and the use of poison gas.
By now, you have surely heard those comments.  Comparing Hitler to Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, Spicer said that “We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War Two. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” Later, given a chance to clarify his remarks, Spicer added, “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”  When a reporter pointed out that Hitler had indeed targeted Jews with gas, Spicer replied that: “I appreciate that. There was not in the – he brought them into the Holocaust centers – I understand that. But I’m saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down into the middle of towns.”

In reaction to these statements, the press’ theme was consistent: Holocaust comparisons are never wise, especially when uttered by public figures.   For example, Chris Christie, on Fox News, stated that “There should be a general rule for anybody involved in public life. Whether you’re a governor, a press secretary for the President, or a host of ‘Fox & Friends,’ don’t bring up Hitler. Ever.”  Similarly, an article in offered the headline: “Sean Spicer just forgot the 1st rule of politics: Never compare anything to Hitler.”  The article itself, by Chris Cillizza, referred to Spicer’s statement as “a blatant violation of ‘Godwin’s Law’ – the idea that by invoking Hitler comparisons in any way, shape or form you are immediately putting an end to any discussion. ‘Oh yeah, well this is like when Hitler did. ...’ is a sentence that you should never, ever say. If you, like Spicer, are trying to say something is ‘worse’ than what Hitler did, you really, really just need to stop talking.

Touche.  Spicer’s comments were stupid.  Even he has admitted that what he said was reprehensible and indefensible.   But I can’t help but notice the irony of the criticism.   On the one hand, the critics are correctly pointing out that the Holocaust is a dangerous topic to bring up in public because it was not only horrific but incomparably so.  But on the other hand, Spicer is demonstrating what happens in a world in which people have been trained NOT to talk about the Holocaust for fear that they may say something stupid and offensive.  The less people speak up about the topic, the more we stop focusing on it, remove it from our hearts and minds, and live as if it never happened. 

Sean Spicer is over a decade younger than I am.  When he was born, the Holocaust had been in the history books for more than a quarter century.  Surely, a young Sean Spicer would have learned about the Holocaust in school, but let’s face it – the stuff we “learn” about in school isn’t necessarily etched into our consciousness.   Speaking personally, I was once schooled on such topics as mitochondria and ribonucleic acid, but that doesn’t mean I remember much about them.  If you want an adult to really understand something, it had better become a topic of conversation for adults, and not just something to which we’re only exposed (superficially) as school children.

Sean Spicer is a Long Island boy.  I suspect he’s been far more exposed to the Holocaust than many Americans.  If he is largely ignorant on this topic, I can only imagine how many other millions of Generation Xers and millennials have been going through life with nary a thought about the Holocaust and its implications.   And if our public figures have been taught to stay away from the subject – lest they cause a fire storm by not speaking about it delicately -- then who is going to remind these young men and women about the need to study the Holocaust?  

You certainly can’t count on Hollywood.  The days of “The Sorrow and the Pity” are long gone.  Now, when people learn about the Holocaust through film, they’re likely to hear more about those who survived or helped others survive than those who perished.   These Hollywood narratives can be heartwarming, to be sure, but they don’t exactly expose us to the real story.  In my family, for example, you either escaped Eastern Europe before the War or you died in the camps.  In other words, I don’t come from a family of “survivors” but rather of “non-survivors.”  It doesn’t make for a great film, but it does make for an honest memory. 

For better or for worse, the Holocaust has been one of my greatest influences in life.  It has largely shaped my theology, inspired me to pursue a career in public service, deeply developed my sense of ethnic identity, and limited my trust in humankind generally and in human leaders in particular.  I can’t imagine walking this earth without being steeped in the Holocaust.  Then again, I’ve been learning about it ever since, as a six or seven-year old, I found a book on the topic at my grandparents’ house and started looking at pictures of Jews who were beaten to death or who had swastikas forcibly cut into their hair. You might say I received too MUCH exposure to the Holocaust at too early an age.  But this is one topic about which I’d rather learn too much than too little.  And I get the impression that Americans are increasingly falling into the latter category.  In fact, with each passing generation, you can expect the memories of the Holocaust to recede further and further, as we are encouraged to think about happier memories and avoid mentioning touchy, dangerous topics in public. 

So, if you’re looking for lessons from Spicer’s gaffe, I say that we need to hear our public figures speak MORE about the Holocaust, not less.  Let them make stupid comments about Hitler if those are the only things they can say about him, because then at least others can point out the stupidity and set the record straight.  Mr. Spicer, Hitler did use poison gas during war time.  He used them on “his own people” – as well as millions of others – because, after all, German Jews were no less “German” than their Christian neighbors.  As for the idea of “Holocaust Centers,” every institution of higher learning, every place of worship, and every democratic government must become a “Holocaust Center” – by which I don’t mean a concentration camp, but rather a force for teaching us all to remember, study and contemplate both the facts of the Holocaust and the profound implications that it has to offer. 

So thanks, Mr. Spicer, for putting the Holocaust back into the American consciousness this Passover season.  As we Jews take stock in what it means to have been liberated from Egypt, may we remember that slavery and genocide have continued millennium after millennium and remain with us even today.  If we are to become forces of light instead of darkness in this world, we must be willing to face the horrors of our world every bit as much as the joys.   Indeed, to those who say that Judaism must become a religion of “joy” and not of “oy,” I say that escapism has no place in Judaism.  Ours is a faith for open minds, open hearts, and above all else, open eyes.   

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Baby Steps

In our impatient world, people understandably want to see excellence, they want it clearly manifested, and they want it now.   But excellence is a rare bird.   Progress, more often than not, comes incrementally and in camouflage form.   Still, when it does arrive, it is worthy of note.  Allow me to cite a couple of examples from the past week.

     Give Donald Trump Credit 

That’s right, you heard me.  Give Donald Trump credit.   Syria has been gassing its citizens again, and finally, an American President stepped in and said “enough.”   Let me translate that for you:  Arab lives matter.

From listening to MSNBC, you wouldn’t know that Trump did anything right.  That channel would no more praise Trump for anything than Fox News would criticize Bill O’Reilly.   But if you take a step back from the incessant Trump criticism – much of it well deserved – you might recognize some very reassuring developments on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  First, Mr. Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council.  Second, notwithstanding all the “America first” rhetoric and all the “Trump is Putin’s Minion” mockery, our President authorized a slew of missiles to be launched against Putin’s puppet regime in Syria.  This doesn’t look like the act of an isolationist or an Alt-Right ideologue.  It looks like the act of a humanitarian who says “the hell with our parochial interests, we can’t just sit back and watch as innocent people are poisoned to death.”

Last evening on my way home from work, I was listening to WPFW, Washington D.C.’s station “for jazz and justice.”  The DJ, Garland Nixon, lambasted Trump for striking back at Assad’s airfields and playing the “world’s policeman.”  Speaking as a “progressive,” Nixon said that America has no right to intervene in other countries’ business when our own interests are not being threatened.  Really?   Is that what progressivism stands for?  The duty to stay away from the next World War long enough to enable the next Hitler to slaughter six million more Jews?   Because if that’s what progressivism means, sign me up for the neo-con alternative.  

Believe me, I’m no fan of war.  I still haven’t forgiven the Democratic Party – let alone the Republicans – for the insane misadventure known as the Iraq War.  But sometimes, a humanitarian disaster reaches a point where the United States can no longer justify sitting back and doing nothing.  Syria has more than reached that point.   As the nation with the most powerful military in the world, the United States is uniquely positioned to beat down a bully that uses chemical weapons.  No, I’m not suggesting that we take over Syria the way we took over Iraq, but I am saying that just as our military can do too much in Syria, we also can do too little.  In fact, we have been doing too little for too long.  Give Trump credit for taking that first baby step away from the ideology of isolationism (and America first-ism) and toward global humanitarianism. 

    Yes Virginia, Women Can Play Golf Too

This weekend, the eyes of the sports world will be focused on Augusta, Georgia and arguably the most beautiful golf course on the planet.  You hardly need to be a golf fan to love Augusta in the spring.  You need only appreciate trees, bushes and the occasional pond.  It’s truly gorgeous.  The fact that the best golfers in the world will be whacking balls beside these pines, oaks, magnolias, and azaleas is but a bonus.

In comparison to Augusta National, the golf course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California is merely pedestrian.  Similarly, the quality of golf that was played there last weekend is not as high as we would expect from this weekend’s Masters.   Not surprisingly, the women who were competing at Mission Hills were relegated all weekend to the Golf Channel (and its fringe audience) because a men’s tournament was being played at the same time and, as everyone knows, men’s sports is still the “king” when it comes to the ratings. 

Well, I’m proud to say, I was part of that fringe audience watching the Golf Channel last weekend.  This was, after all, the first major tournament of the year, and I’d rather watch a major women’s tournament than a minor men’s tournament.  The overall quality of play might not be as good, but the quality of the drama is far better -- and besides, those top LPGA players are still amazingly skilled.  They might not drive the ball as far, but they can putt, chip, and hit a short iron with deadly accuracy.  If you’ve never watched them, give these ladies a chance – you won’t be disappointed.  

Last Sunday, with only about six holes to play, the LPGA tournament turned to the theater of the bizarre.  American Lexi Thompson was making her way to a decisive victory at Mission Hills when a sheepish announcer told the TV audience that Thompson would be assessed a massive four stroke penalty for inadvertently placing a ball literally one inch too close to the hole on a two-foot putt.   For those of you who follow football, that’s like being assessed a three touchdown penalty in the fourth quarter for inadvertently lining-up offsides.  What’s more, the infraction happened a day earlier.   Some Einstein noticed it on TV and reported it to the tournament officials, who then assessed Thompson a two stroke penalty for her innocuous ball placement and an additional two stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard.   As it turned out, that four stroke penalty was just enough to kill her chances.  Her three stroke lead immediately turned into a one stroke deficit, and even though she valiantly fought back on the last several holes to force a playoff, she lost on the very first playoff hole.    

Like most golf fans, I was livid when I watched this spectacle unfold.  I was pissed at the rules of golf that apparently allow for no “prosecutorial discretion” or make room for a de minimis/immateriality threshold.  I was pissed at the obsequious Golf Channel announcers who didn’t dare wax indignantly about the sickening bureaucratic rigidity that was on display (Howard Cosell would have screamed bloody murder).   And I was later annoyed at Thompson’s Korean competitor who took the customary plunge into the pond as if she deserved to win the tournament when, in fact, this was a robbery worthy of Jesse James.  But days later, I realized that perhaps this was all for the best because at least people now are talking a bit about women’s golf.   Decades of exquisite play hasn’t put the sport on the map.  Maybe it needed those Kafkaesque officials to remind the sports world that women play golf too. 

Thompson may have hit a loose putt on the 18th and a loose iron on the first playoff hole, but her part in this drama was nothing short of magnificent.  After she was hit with the absurd penalty, she proceeded to nail birdie after birdie – all the while fighting off tears.   And then, once she lost, she just went about her sportsmanlike business -- signing autograph after autograph.   She never whined.  Instinctively, she must have understood that that this was a teachable moment, and the lesson was all about class.  Perhaps she also recognized that being the top-ranked woman golfer in the United States at the tender age of 22 is probably a decent enough consolation prize.  

Thompson has already won one major tournament, and something tells me that more championships are yet to follow.  Plus, given what happened last week at Mission Hills, more people will be watching.  And besides, golf is just a game.  Chemical weapons – either using them or turning a blind eye when others use them?  Now that’s real life.   

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Bitten by the Bug

Unfortunately, your humble scribe is temporarily out of commission with the flu.  The Empathic Rationalist plans to return next weekend.   Good bye for now.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Blogger's Mea Culpa

In the past few weeks, some of the more interesting things I’ve heard have come from my friends.  One talked to me about the devastating earthquake in Haiti and how one of the world’s most prominent international-relief charities thoroughly squandered the money that it received from donors.  Another spoke about a scam widely perpetrated by affluent high school kids who have figured out how to get tons of extra time on their SATs by pretending to have some sort of “learning disability.”  I was also informed about how one of our nation’s top colleges is similarly pretending to have a diverse student body when, in fact, it has simply figured out how to stock up on white kids with the temerity to call themselves “Native American,” even though they may have few if any Native American ancestors.   

I’d love to know how much truth there is to these statements.  And I’d really love for our society-at-large to be informed, assuming these statements are accurate.  Because I trust my sources, I suspect there is plenty of truth in those rumors that ought to be revealed.   But most likely, the facts here will remain buried.  That’s because we have now reached the point in our society where the relevance of investigative reporting has hit rock bottom. 

Oh, the rumor mills are churning out pulp like never before.  Yet for someone like me, that provides little sustenance.  I’m not satisfied with allegations, I want demonstrated facts.  I want to read articles from respected, impartial news sources that have been meticulously researched and that quote credible witnesses or documents.  Unsubstantiated talk is cheap – and it hardly is worthy of the term “journalism.”

Perhaps I personally shoulder some of the blame.  Every week, I enter this quadrant of cyberspace and pump out my thoughts to hither and yon.  The question needs to be asked: what gives me the right to spew opinions – let alone “facts” – concerning world affairs, domestic politics, and other Empathic Rationalist staples when I work as a full-time lawyer and part time author and interfaith activist?   Please allow me to state the obvious:  I am no journalist.   I don’t take the personal risks that journalists take, I don’t take the time to serve as an investigative reporter, and I don’t have credible sources in the halls of power who talk to me when they wish to reveal the truth to the world. 

Fortunately for my soul, however, I don’t hold myself out to be a journalist.  Never have.  But lately, while watching TV news, reading the newspaper, or clicking onto the major on-line news sites, I’ve been bombarded with blather from “journalists” who don’t seem to have much more of a claim to that moniker than I do.   Perhaps that should be expected from cable news.  What is far more disturbing, though, is the weakening of investigative journalism in the newspapers.  Unless  we’re talking about unearthing the latest foray into the never-ending feud between Democrats and Republicans, neither my daily New York Times nor my daily Washington Post uncovers the kind of dark facts about our world that educated citizens need to understand.  For that matter, if some intrepid journalist did write an analysis on a topic that fell outside the domain of politically-partisan bickering, we can be sure that it would be relegated to page 13 of the newspaper and perhaps 30 seconds on CNN.   Not even MSNBC or Fox News would cover it.

It is difficult to overestimate the consequences of the death of investigative journalism.  Let’s just mention a few.  First, we can no longer expect to be a society of scientists, historians or philosophers who are driven by facts.   Instead, we will find it easier to be a society of herd animals, driven by opinions and perspectives that happen to agree with our own (and our fellow partisans).  Stated differently, if we did approach our media outlets with honest-to-God curiosity about learning truths, we’d rapidly realize that this curiosity would never be sated.  As a result, we gratify what we’re able to gratify -- the urge to get even more pissed off at the politicians or political parties that we already opposed when we picked up the newspaper or turned on the TV.  Second, even though we live in a world in which certain critical facts must be comprehended if we hope to make responsible decisions as voters or consumers (the likely effects of climate change come immediately to mind), we are condemned not to learn these facts.  As a result, we will tend to screw up when it comes time to enter the ballot box, head to the department store, support a charity, or choose a college.  Third, we will tend not to fall in love with journalism or scholarship but rather with entertainment, rhetoric, bullshit ... and those who peddle it.   In fact, because those peddlers get rich and famous doing what seemingly anyone without much discernable talent could do, that only helps us to relate to and appreciate them even more.

Spinoza once wrote that “[A]ll happiness or unhappiness depends solely on the quality of the object to which we are bound by love.”  When a citizenry is informed by investigative journalism, that beloved is the “objective truth” – or at least as objective a truth as we human beings are capable of attaining.  By contrast, when a citizenry is informed by bloggers, talking heads, and tendentious reporters, our greatest beloved becomes our own pre-determined world view ... and the closed mind that emerges from it.

As our President would say, “Sad.”

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Annual Purim Essay

Empathic Rationalists,

For this week, I will be directing you to my website, where you can find my annual essay written in honor of the Jewish holiday of Purim.  

Here's the link to my Purim talks:   Go to the bottom of the page and you'll find the essay for 2017.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Save the Date – April 22, 2017 (on the National Mall)

It was a lovely day today in Bethesda, Maryland.   The mercury topped 70.  Again.   We had several such days in February.   January was colder, but rarely was it legitimately cold.   Today is March 9th, and we still haven’t had a single snow storm in a full year.   Yes, we’ve had some dustings, but I don’t believe we’ve topped an inch of snow all “winter.”  

Today, as I drove to a doctor’s appointment, I was greeted with a line of trees sporting white blossoms.   Here we are in early-March, and already it’s cherry blossom season.   This is not the Washington, D.C. I’ve known for the past 5 ½ decades.  It feels more like North Carolina or Georgia.  Who knew the South would win the Civil War after all. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t get so worked up just because the weather in a single city during a single winter has been worthy of the Twilight Zone.  So let’s look at some more global information, such as the fact that these past three years have been the three hottest years on record, with each year setting a new planetary record.  Coasts are eroding.  Ice is breaking.  The ocean is getting acidic. Coral is dying – and one aquatic species after another is sure to follow.  Storms have been getting deadlier too.   But if all of this isn’t scary enough, just consider that the effects on agriculture over time are likely to devastate the living conditions of our own species, especially in poorer parts of the earth, where people may die by the millions.

So be afraid, be very ...   Oh wait.  I didn’t get to the craziest part of this entire equation.   The real kicker is that nobody on TV or even in the newspapers is paying much attention to any of this.   The government doesn’t care – meaning neither party.  And even the media appears to be taking a bit of comfort in the nice weather.  On the radio this afternoon, I heard a reporter remark that the climate this “winter” has been good to our economy.  With less cold and icy weather, construction companies have started their work earlier in the season.   More jobs.  More warmth.  More fun.    “An Inconvenient Truth” has morphed into “Endless Summer.” 

It’s all good, right?

Well, if you believe that, I’m guessing you’re too dumb to be an Empathic Rationalist reader.  As you probably understand, just because we’ve only been playing in 70 degree (February) weather doesn’t mean we’re not playing with fire.   We’re completely blowing off our obligations to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, not to mention our duties to the world’s other species.   This is, in fact, the epitome of recklessness, and it’s taking place on the grandest possible scale.  We need to act, and we need to act now.

Saturday, April 22nd is Earth Day, and it will be celebrated as such around the world.  In Washington, D.C. on the National Mall, environmentalists from all over the nation will be joining together in an event billed as the “March for Science.”    It could be the largest outpouring of support for the environment in American history, leading to the creation of a truly sustaining movement against science-denial and in favor of honoring Mother Earth.  Or, it could be just another march – full of sound and fury but signifying nothing of consequence.

Your decision to march – and the decision of others like you – will make all the difference.   That’s because the marchers will surely become more inspired to act and more knowledgeable about how to act, but only if the march is as big as it has the potential to be.  So please, if you too are an American, whether you live in Bethesda, Boston, Berkeley or Boise, come to DC this April 22nd and help get this movement started before it’s too late.

We don’t have to sit on the sidelines – not on this issue.  There’s a way for all of us to get involved and a need for all of us to get involved.  See you in April.