WWI: A Century’s Past / Veterans Day

World War I was hideously expensive and wasteful in terms of talent. A generation of young people, of talent, of possibility–gone. The hope and potential of growing their lives and cultures mowed down, gassed, and slaughtered. And that lost of hope and potential kept the survivors from the social buoying that youth inevitably bring to the world. From its misery the clock to WW II was wound. My parents were born less than five years after this war, and lived to suffer through it’s implacable, inevitable, tsunami. The senselessness was compounded by the misery of the civilian survivors. And the tens of millions who died in The Great Influenza, a confluence of virus and circumstance putting so many young people, the virus’ prime target, in small, enclosed, and inescapable places.

Vietnam Vet in PTSD therapyVietnam Vets in the media were portrayed as unhinged, crazed people whose demons nipped their heels from acts one through three. And given that depressed and anxious people were told to “get over it,” or “cheer up,” or “leave that in the past,” I can’t say I blame them for being crazed (which they were and are not). PTSD’s stamp on the soul is so deep that epigenetics show it transmits to future generations. Generations of Holocaust survivors. Generations of Palestinians. Generations of African-Americans. Generations of people traumatized by the very government they look to for protection from want, from fear. From living (ahem) in pursuit of life and liberty and happiness. We’ve not learned this lesson in today’s America. We’ve backslid decades in years. If we ever really had that progress.

In my military service I learned many things. One of the big ones was: be nice to the support folks. Your food, your uniform, your mail, your weapon… your life… is in their hands. Eating manot krav (the Israeli equivalent of “C” rations) in a reeking uniform, trying to fix a damn machine gun some armorer hammered together the wrong way at T-20 before a live fire night exercise sucks. So everyone helps. In the moment you need the social worker so you can cry on her shoulder, she’s the most important person keeping you combat-ready.

Writing about ex-military is writing about people. Good ones, bad ones. Good ones in dark places, bad ones in a place they can find, for lack of a better term, grace. And while the military makes distinctions between combat soldier and not, the experiences, traumas, and acts of truck drivers, cooks, and anyone who wears the uniform as a target, must be acknowledged for their level of service and sacrifice. To write the soldier today is to dig into not just their history, their POV. It’s to understand how they process their military experience that’s never a Hurt Locker, and never a Wag the Dog (although…). M*A*S*H had it best: scared, frightened, and determined people with no more control over their lives than the combat soldiers they treated. But in it together, helping one another, in service of their comrades in arms and country. When writing, keeping the characters nuanced, conflicted, and real trumps the simplistic portrayal of veterans in our media.

So today, whether you moved paperwork in a Mississippi Air Station or did five tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I salute you. Your sacrifice in blood and treasure, or “merely” losing four years of youth being told what to do so someone, somewhere, had the clothing, toothpaste, AvGas, or ammunition to do their, more dangerous, job.

Why Charlottesville 2017 is not Berlin 1933

This is my professional blog. I had non-professional blogs once; Facebook takes care of that need now. I do a lot of tongue-biting when something happens in the world and I’ve got this (rather unbully) pulpit from which to vent. However this is a topic that should appear everywhere, in every possible setting, for discussion and calls to action. As the son of Holocaust survivors it would be morally criminal for me not to respond. This is part of my response.

Yesterday one woman was killed and many others injured in Charlottesville. (Two state troopers also died while watching the march, but that appears to have been a tragic helicopter accident.) It’s the events surrounding it that were, with the exception for Heather Heyer’s murder, equally tragic.

The Judicial Response. The First Amendment must be upheld. Except when it generates a danger to the public. US District Judge Conrad was responsible for not only allowing the Nazis to wallow in public, but do so where they did, directly contributed to their feelings of privilege in acting as they did. In this case the Nazis were abetted by an organization that was subverted to this cause: the ACLU. Sometimes one must stand up for the right thing, not the letter of the law. This was one of those times. They’re very proud of their record, however his heinous act appears nowhere in their advertising front page. Anthony Romero, their CEO, and Steven Shapiro, their Legal Director, should pay the consequence for this blind support to the idea, and not the purpose, of the First Amendment. I was a donor. As of today I am no longer contributing to their naive stand.

The Police Response. The police failed in their primary duty. They acted like the fencing in a cage match: protect the bystanders but let whatever happened at the march, stay in the march.

I’m not trying the generalize here: there are photos and stories of law enforcement personnel who did an amazing job in a terrible situation. The African-American officers who stayed on the line, who kept their cool should be models for white officers around the country. They did what many white cops couldn’t do at a simple traffic stop or “quality of life” incident.

My focus is on the city leaders, and Joint Terror Task Force (FBI + state troopers + local law enforcement) that managed the response to the planned event. It was their orders, their strategy, and their actions that allowed this to flare from a meandering of pathetics with flags into a race fiot with all the trimmings. Heads should roll at the top for this.

Religious Leaders. As much as the fascist rabble might want to glom onto it, Christianity is not about fascist, nationalist supremacy. While the idolaters in their megachurches sky grifted, many of the local religious leaders stood as a barrier between the sides. That picture on the right? Those aren’t soldiers, those are Nazis. And the moneyed religious white world was silent. (Yes, a generalization, but an accurate representation, I think.)

Nazi leader response to You-Know-Who inactionThe political response. This is the most obvious, most damning, most egregious part of the riot, more, perhaps even, than the actions of the Nazi thugs and fascists emboldened by their snowflake white privilege. Orin Hatch, someone with whom I have little in common, came through in the style of an old-school politician, as did Senator McCain, who‘s folks wrote a short, sharp condemnation as soon as the events occurred.

Der Amerikanischenführer, the cretin with a finger on the button of nuclear immolation, blamed the “many sides” for this. See note on left from one of the organizers of the riot and murder spree. How the Republican Party, which he leads, cannot bestir itself to distance itself from this blot on American history and culture is beyond me.

My ex had to talk me out of painting “Hail to the Thief” in 2000 after the election fiasco. But for all his flaws, and the many mistakes that cost our country too much “blood and treasure,” W understood what the role of a president was supposed to be. Defend and protect The Constitution. This, this person has not an inkling of his required role.

Yesterday was a sad day for America. Yesterday we learned where our leaders stand when faced with a political base gone gangrenous. Apparently, just standing there is the response.

My heart aches for those injured and the Heyer family. My blood boils at the thought of having to deal with Nazis, a generation after my parents barely survived their encounters.

Happy Fourth!

I grew up suspicious of a country where they lived stealth lives. My dad never wore a kippah (head covering) at work. A fedora on the way in and on the way home worked, but blatant Jewish exhibitionism was something he shied from at Luxor International, which he inherited from his father. A city where “our folks” were kept out of Fieldston area in the Bronx. Where accusations of god-killing were part of hanging in Riverdale, by almost every measure a “safe” place for Jews, if not any tinted minority.
I moved to Israel, to be with “my people,” where I was told I wasn’t, because I wasn’t born there and therefore couldn’t have an opinion. Of being a “Saboni” (soft, like soap). With all that. I never intended to leave Israel.
And then I did, moved to a strange, arid version of America I’d never experienced, but which resembled, in flora and fauna, the Galilee of my past life. I held my mental nose for years.
And then, over the years, I saw the promise of America, buried under layers of vapid manners and marketing. It’s taken close to a quarter century, but I’d begun to embrace the promise of this country, especially as Israel has slid down the slippery slope of ideological and religious fanaticism.
Promises in danger of breaking. A future squandered. A militant, anti-intellectual theocracy is in the offing, a front shill for the cold calculation of Mammon worshipers who cynically used religion and the fear of the Other in a way scarily reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
But it’s not. We still have the rule of law. As a favorite writer of mine said in a book about dangerous foes, “if they could all get pointed in the same direction for more than five minutes, they’d be dangerous.” We have jurisdictions from cities to counties to states to the federal governments.. And courts. And press.
We have attacks on the independence of all of these, along with a worship of the military that’s gone well beyond appreciating their service, while not providing its veterans with anything close to the care accolades might lead one to expect.
We have the power of the ballot box and, frankly, the demographics are on our side. The old white folks, the scared, disempowered-while-simultaneously-privileged young whites. The hate groups. They’ve lost, which accounts for their panic, and this election.
It’s not too late to fight for our country. And I’m sticking it out, because, crappy democracy that it might be, it’s the best one around. Still. Happy Fourth!



I have a character in the short story ShutEye who gives her life for a love she knows she can never have, because it’s the right thing for the greater good. There’s a character in Best Shot (being shopped) who will do anything to get the right photo.

These characters are trivial, flickering shadows in comparison with the real ones. On this Memorial Day weekend there are the obvious ones who fought and died, some knowing their actions would certainly kill them, to save others. The young and the idealistic are great for cannon fodder (said the cynical ex-soldier) because we believed in the true rightness of our cause. The brave are a category apart from that: they are willing to sacrifice themselves to save or help others. For examples, look no further than the American Congressional Medal of Honor stories. Every war has their heroes, from Afghanistan & Iraq to the Vietnam War, back through the Korean conflict and of course World Wars One and Two. And every country has its fallen who died bravely for their military cause.

Yes, one can argue whether the war was justified, or served its purpose in the most horrible of methods. But this is about personal bravery, not the religion- and drug-fuels acts of cowards and terror-mongers. The same Medal of Honor rolls tell the stories of bravery during what they call the “Indian Wars,” which today the world (excepting the current US administration) would call “genocide.” These men were, however, brave in their actions, if not the moral righteousness that history best describes.

Bravery is without border, without nationhood. It’s a person deciding to do the right thing as they see it.

This weekend we have two more recently fallen, and another seriously wounded, protecting their country from enemies domestic. Without uniforms, without preparation, without patriotic pep talks or camaraderie. Bravery comes from within, and the ‘spur of the moment’ comes in part from purity of thought. Neither were there under orders, of with a unit. Their bravery was as true and real as any from the Congressional rolls of recent decades.

Friday night a domestic terrorist apparently tried to attack two women in hijabs on a commuter train in Portland.

If Congress can honor a Arnold Palmer, a golfer, with the Congressional Gold Medal, it certainly, at a very minimum, honor these three men for their service to this country, fighting against terror.


Nazi Anything

Sometimes writing takes a back seat, as it should, to reality.

We spend a lot of time, in this Trumpian, Facebookish era, endlessly macerating previous texts, quotes, and media. It’s easier, it’s true, to quote others than to write one’s own clever words. Of course, some folks’ clever words will stand for ages:

People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people. (Alan Moore, from “V for Vendetta”

Writing is hard. Quoting is easier.

Memes are easier remembered than created. And easier appropriated than created. And memes, by the nature of their being, are slippery viruses that get to all kinds of places you might not consider.

This is difficult. It’s difficult because I’m a child of Holocaust survivors. My mom from Auschwitz, my dad from a nameless slate of forced labor camps. My aunt, one of Mengele’s survivors, was the only close relative to make it through those years. My grandfather, who survived by the grace of a Polish, Catholic farm family by being hid in their attic (his Polish neighbors burnt down his farm after my grandfather testified at their denazification trials).

I’ve faced Nazis (and forebore from killing them, what with this being a democracy and all.) America, after keeping Jews in the line of fire and bringing Nazis back to America after the war to aid in their rocket research, has been fairly good to my people. It gave my parents a home, and a home and opportunity to many of my kind, including the mafioso, the Nobel Prize winners, and the awesome, awesome, everyday people.

Mr. Seinfeld brought humor to American television, in a vapid, aimless way. While I ever found his show funny, he is a pretty good standup comic, and I wish him no ill.

The “Soup Nazi,” however, was definitely not a bright spot in his writing resume for that show. His parents were foreign-American: his dad fought in World War II, and his mom was Syrian-Jewish-American. And he spent time in the early 90s in Israel on a kibbutz. He had to know about the sensitive, “it’s still too soon” aspect of calling people Nazis under any reasonable circumstances.

But his dad was a US soldier. And US soldiers had no problem talking about krauts, spicks, japs, chinks, and gooks. It’s the nature of soldiers and their governments to demote their enemy to non-humans. I know: I’ve been a soldier.

So, the “Soup Nazi” was written, first to paper, then to episodic television, and eventually, became a meme. It was funny, ugly, and therefore quickly absorbed into what passes for the American etymological memory.

We were having a good meeting, this manager and I. He is a sweet, kind, honest, funny, straightforward married dad of a young child. He chuckles, a grownup version of a giggle, and he reminds me of myself, in the 1990s, at an IBM subsidiary, trying to empower and feel for my employees. My contractors. My peers. The world around me.

I want you to be the documentation Nazi, if you—” he said, as we discussed process in his nascent group.

“Don’t ever say that again,” I said. “My parents were in the Holocaust. My father was in labor camps. Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.”

I’m very bad at reading faces, and expressions. I think he was shocked and taken aback (who wouldn’t) at my statement. I _do_ know that, from the tone of his voice, he was surprised at my reaction. And genuinely, honestly, deeply, sorry.

So was I. In some way, I was surprised I didn’t lose it. He said this on the Holocaust Memorial Day. He said this hours after I’d listed, carefully, clinically, the names and dates of all my my immediate family who died in the Holocaust. And how they were people, not numbers. Not even the number carved into my mother’s skin, until, after the war, she seared it from her flesh. 72197.

I can’t help me; I’m the creation distillation, and essence of what my parents, their actions, their family, my actions, and my family, have created. And I can’t help him, not that he needs it, a happy, funny, forward-looking person who wants the best for those around him.

But I can cry, without stop, at the surprising pain of this jab, silly, memetic and trivial though it may be.

And, after breathing, a viewing of “V for Vendetta,” and a possibly unhealthy dollop of wine, I realize that the Nazis really are dead. They’re not making soup, or making fun of it. They’re not standing in front of gun show, advertising their fear. They’re not doing anything. Their power is a function of their reach. And their reach, delusions of the fascist right aside, is the length of their small arms and even tinier hands.

On Language, Lies, and Reality

The British voters supported the referendum proposal to leave the EU. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (which describes the exit process, as as 261 words can) requires that the constitutionally represented leadership call for the cancellation of the treaty.

Oops. Britain does not have a constitution. Does Cameron press the button? His party leadership? The Queen?

In the meanwhile, all the major selling points touted by the ‘Leave’ promoters have already been “rolled back.” This is code, I think for “we lied.” The regrets Britons feel among those who voted to leave are already being heard. As are the complains by heretofore legal EU workers being asked when they’re going home so they won’t take “British” jobs. Not that the askers would do the work these migrant workers are willing to do. (See case studies in every country in the globe with any immigrant population, legal or otherwise.) These are disingenuous comments, as honest as the reasons for Britain leaving the EU; hate speech would be much more accurate.

Finally, referendums do not have the force of law in Britain. This means that the government can be advised by them — although with Prime Minister Cameron’s resignation, it seems that the (deluded) will of the people will be heard.

It’s entirely possible that between the Lisbon Treaty clause and the referendum-level of the vote, all British leadership has to do is select a scapegoat to declaim the referendum and then everything can return to normal.

Except that the genie out of the bottle isn’t the referendum, but the magnitude of the isolationist, xenophobic, sentiment.The bottle is shattered, and, stay or not, Britain needs to focus on basic needs such as education and deprogramming that the right wing there, as it has here, has done on major population and ethnic segments.

This is yet another example of the use, misuse, and ultimate semiotic nullity of words of power.

Deserters, Traitors and Captives

The US wrangled the release of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier. Handily it also got rid of five Taliban folks who’ve been out of circulation for 13 years, and had nothing to do with the Afghan war. (I’m not saying they’re not bloody murderers, its just that we haven’t been able to convict them, deport them, or do anything else with them.)

Some military folks are saying he was a “traitor,” that he “went AWOL.” I’m not sure how that’s relevant to the joy the family has of his being returned. I’m sure the military court of justice will do what it does with all soldiers: try the facts of the case.

I don’t pretend to know what really happened the night he was captured. I _do_ know that PTSD has terrible effects on soldiers: getting drunk, suicidal actions, running away… these are all part of that kind of reaction. What was he like before this? A sane person would not go past the fence into enemy terrain just for giggles. Something drove him, if he indeed did this, out.

The politicians, safe and smug, are throwing stones at President Obama’s actions. Leaving no one on the field of battle is immensely important, no matter what the circumstances. The Israeli army went to great lengths, returning literally thousands of dangerous prisoners to their homes, to regain the remains of soldiers.

I say welcome home, Bowe. You’ll have your day in court, but also the rest of your life as a free man. And to your former comrades-in-arms: take a step back and think about all your partners who killed themselves, instead of “just” walking out into the night past the fence.

The Innocence Slice

The TSA uses insane ideas that “everyone” is randomly searched unless they’re in some kind of list, or matches a list of some time.

Let’s be blunt: If you’re from North Korea, Iran, Syria, or one of several other nations, stripping you and your belonging down to their bare minimum makes perfect sense. These people aren’t US citizens, but so what? They’re from countries at specific and definite antagonism to the United Dates. X-rays, MRIs, microwaves scatter scans… physical groping and palpitation… these are all entirely correct in regards to such travelers.

Someone from Israel or  South Korea wants to pass the pass a barrier? Kewl! Prove your movement doesn’t involve movement of materials or even suggestions of matters that might be detrimental to their parent countries. Anything else is free to flense, manipulate, or analyze.

I’m on the list. Oh yes, sure, not on a list. “Harif” doesn’t match anything the TSA is searching.for. But I’ve had a 73% “random search” rate. Yeah. Random. “Harif” is a Hebrew name. I’m not bothered by ‘Harif’ being conflated with Arabic names.  I stand in solidarity with them. Because being pointed out is a symptom of “excessive caution.”

But the Harifs of today are the Lopez’s of tomorrow. And just because there’s a Semitic slant to a name doesthat mean we must “worry” about the name holder?

In this very myopic post, I suggest we always err on the side of humans, and not on the wacky idea that terrorists might use an “obvious” name to enter the country.