La La How The Life Goes On

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It’s that time of year again, friends. Tis Passover. Where Jews around the world gather at Seders to remember The Exodus. That panicked flight from bondage in Egypt, with only the clothes on their backs, pursued by Pharoah’s military.

We are commanded to experience the Seder as if we were there. As if we ourselves were slaves in Egypt. As if we ourselves had to flee for our lives. As if we ourselves were escaping servitude or death in hopes of reaching a promised land. The purpose of this command is so that we never forget what it’s like to be in that position; what it’s like to run for your life, pursued by people who want to kill you and your precious babies.

Some folks struggle with how to effectively meet that command. How do we inculcate in our modern day cushy-life kids the belief that we must fight slavery in all its forms because we were once slaves in the land of Egypt? That we cannot consider ourselves truly free while another people is enslaved? That we are not just encouraged but REQUIRED to combat slavery and oppression as a result of our own history?

The simple answer is: Ask A Syrian Refugee.

If you struggle with whether we should aid refugees from Syria, you need to have a seat. All y’all who oppose having “those people” come to the safety of the West need to take a good, long, hard, cold look at your soul. At your pious intonations about freedom around the Seder table. At your claim to Jewishness. At your insistence that we help “our own” first.  Because today I’m calling you out for hypocrisy and pettiness.

Those children stuck in refugee camps on the borders of various European countries? Those children ARE our “own.” They are children in our human family, fleeing for their goddamn lives at ages when you and I were watching Sesame Street and choosing ice cream flavors. Those families full of “suspicious men” are broken apart, in some cases because a mom and one child crossed a border before it closed and now the father and daughter are left behind. They cannot go back to certain death and they cannot move forward until someone opens a border and lets them in.

Hear, O Israel: the Passover liturgy commands us to love the stranger in our lands, since we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Nowhere does God say you must treat the stranger with compassion IF YOU LIKE HIM or IF HE’S YOUR RELIGION or IF HE DOESN’T FREAK YOU OUT or IF HE WON’T NEED WELFARE or IF HE FITS SOME SANITIZED VERSION OF ‘STRANGER’ YOU HAVE IN YOUR HEAD. Love the stranger: The End. So you want to read a nice big story about a persecuted people fleeing death? And you want to feel like a good person because you checked all the boxes of the Passover Seder Required Elements? You go ahead. But unless and until you take positive action to treat that stranger with compassion and kindness, right now–today, and in whatever form he may take–you may be talking Jewishly but you are not acting Jewishly.

So, during this Passover 2016, take as long as you need to think about how you can right now–today–participate in a modern day Pesach story. How you can play a part in freeing fellow humans from fear and danger. How you can live that commandment to love the stranger. How you can put your money where your matzoh is–and advocate for the refugees who need us to help part a sea and bring them to safety.

FRONTLINE Children of Syria:  http://to.pbs.org/1SJs7vz

 

 

 

I have to say this, and I say it with love for my friends who Feel The Bern.

Bernie Sanders is not going to win the Presidency.

Because Bernie Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination.

It is NOT because “the party elites have rigged the system and votes are being stolen and he is being cheated and the will of the people is being ignored!”

It is because Bernie Sanders is not a competitive candidate on a national level when you look at actual data rather than the feelings you hold in your heart. He simply isn’t.

Let’s talk about “the will of the people,” and get this out of the way immediately: Clinton has 2.4 MILLION more votes than Sanders.

But but but! Sanders has won 8 of the last 9 state primaries! Well. He won mostly caucuses. The average turnout for primaries is around 14-20%. The average turnout for caucuses? About 3%. Alaska had a “huge” turnout. At 15%. This means only about 10,000 Dems voted out of 66,000 registered. Why? Because caucuses are hours-long affairs that involve being in high school gyms, moving to different corners to signify your obviously-not-secret-ballot vote. They can take up to three hours on a Saturday. Thereby excluding people with kids, those with special needs, folks who work hourly wage jobs who can’t take off work to go vote for THREE HOURS PLUS. Also, any observant Jews or Seventh Day Adventists, and anyone who believes their vote should be their own damn business. Think about AAALLLL the American citizens who don’t get to vote in a caucus. Then who are you left with? College students, young people with no kids or jobs on a Saturday, wealthy people, maybe, who can pay someone to babysit their kids and who don’t work Saturdays? I have two kids and a pretty cush life all things considered. It would be nonetheless extremely difficult for me and the babydaddy to go hang out somewhere on a Saturday for an unknown number of hours just to vote. And as political as I am in these pages, I very seriously do not want to “vote” with my feet in a gym with my neighbors watching. So while I congratulate Bernie Sanders on his caucus wins, you’ll forgive me for not conflating his delegate wins from these states with actual one person-one vote support.

But but but! The system is rigged! The Superdelegates usurp the will of the people! We’ve had this conversation before. Bernie Sanders joined the Democratic Party in November 2015. He ostensibly knew that the current structure is the structure under which he would run. He ostensibly agreed to this structure when he decided to run as a Democrat for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. So, again, cry me a river, Bernie, about how that system is unfair. If the system is flawed, by all means work to change it. But to have your surrogates accusing other people WHO ARE RUNNING UNDER THE SAME STRUCTURE YOU ARE of cheating or rigging or being otherwise dishonest is just really really shitty behavior. Superdelegates weren’t invented last month to stop Bernie Sanders. They’ve been around since the 80’s. Every single person who has run for the nomination since then has run under the Superdelegate system. But all of a sudden, because they aren’t necessarily for Bernie, it’s theft. Take a goddamn seat.

So let’s recap: Sanders has won eight of the last nine primaries, and as of today Clinton has more delegates. What chicanery allows this?!! Well, Clinton has won 19 of the last 36 states,  including the biggest states on the ballot so far:  Ohio, Florida and Texas, almost all of which have 100+ delegates.  So, as one would expect when one wins more primaries and wins the larger states, one leads in delegates.

The superdelegates have never, in the history of superdelegates, overturned the pledged delegate vote. I’ll say it again: the superdelegates have NEVER overturned the pledged delegate vote. They have thrown their support behind the candidate with the majority of pledged delegates. Hillary’s SDs flipped to Obama when it became clear he had the majority of pledged delegates. SDs are of course undemocratic but I would argue only if they overturn the will of the voters, which they are not going to do because Bernie Sanders will not win the majority of pledged delegates.

The math is simply not there for Bernie Sanders. No matter how fervently his supporters believe in him, no matter how they think the system is corrupt. Every single candidate since Walter Mondale has run under this system. This system has been around longer than Sanders has been a Senator. If people want to overhaul it, then have at it. But you don’t get to do it in the middle of the contest simply because you feel it does not favor your candidate.  And you don’t get to act like assholes in the process.

Should Clinton get the nomination and the projected 1 out of 4 Sanders voters who are Bernie or Busters do not vote for her, Clinton will still be able to prevail. But if she does not, I simply remind these privileged purists that when similar Ralph Nader acolytes refused to vote for Al Gore in Florida because “Gore and Bush are the same Big Money candidates!” we got two wars, torture, and an economic depression for that high-mindedness. People who refuse to vote for “the lesser of two evils” miss the point of politics entirely. Elections will ALWAYS be a compromise of our values, because that is the nature of a democratic system of government. Politics is dirty. Politics is messy. Politics is various levels of straight-up suckage. Politics will NEVER be a system under which you get exactly what you want. But it is the best alternative we have in this imperfect world to bloodshed. Our politics is what keeps us from storming the White House and killing everyone inside. It’s what stops military posses from gaining power and creating violent factions. It is what holds us together as a nation: the shared commitment to compromise and dissent and debate and a vigorous competition of ideas. It will always be messy. It will always be ugly. But it’s the only and the best thing we’ve got.

 

 

 

I just got back from Las Vegas.

I completely loved Las Vegas.

I have many thoughts about Las Vegas.

These many thoughts can all be distilled into one statement: From its origins in the early 1800s as a waypost for traders on the way to Los Angeles, to its current status as the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas represents everything that is both inspiring and troubling about America.

I have a soft spot for Las Vegas. Which is odd considering that 72 hours ago I had never been there. But I have wanted to go since I was a wee chubba Scottish kid watching Dan Tanna make it with The Ladies on Vega$. You know the show. And if you were a wee chubba kid in Scotland you knew that what you were watching on TV had to be a rich and fabulous American’s fever dream. I mean, the man drove his car into his damn house, y’all! He had a drive-in freaking living room! There was not a Scottish mother on the planet in the mood for that foolery. Trust me. Which made it fabulous times ten. He also hung out with ditzy bombshell Judy Landers and poor-man’s-Huggy-Bear, Binzer, while solving crimes in the most debonair way possible at some of the most famous Vegas Strip landmarks possible. There was not a single thing not to love about Vega$–AND Vegas.

You told your little chubba Scottish self you were going to get there someday. Even if only in that impossible dream “and maybe I’ll go to visit JR at Southfork Ranch or marry Parker Stevenson and have Hardy Boy babies” kind of way. It seemed impossible. But this being a dream about Las Vegas, something inside you kept telling you it WAS possible even if you hadn’t yet figured out the ways and means.

I was so interested in Las Vegas that I remember (now, stay with me young’uns) going to my local library’s card catalog (google it; I’m not your damn card catalog) to find books about it. I pulled out that 8 foot long drawer and flicked my little fat fingers through the well-worn cards. I consulted various encyclopedias and atlases. I learned the names Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. I learned about Mexican merchants and Mormon bankers. I learned that Las Vegas means, “the meadows” because–you may need to sit down for this–LV used to have water wells that supported a marsh ecosystem before it all receded leaving the desert we know today. I learned that the Las Vegas Strip is actually municipally separate from Las Vegas proper. I learned all about the checkered and proud history of Las Vegas, Strip and City, which we owe for the thoroughly unique and inimitable place we know today.

As I grew up I realized that the Las Vegas Spectacle detailed in works of fiction is as real as such a spectacle can get. That the larger-than-life, dare to dream ethos that said, “We can totally build a gambling mecca for the entire planet on this patch of dirt” is real. That every bit of perseverance, great expectations, and arm-twisting disguised as glad-handing that we associate with American success is real and thriving in Las Vegas.

We stayed at the Wynn Encore. A $2.3 BILLION enterprise. The luxury involved in this property is maybe standard for some folks. But for us it was jaw-dropping. They say that Everything’s Bigger in Texas. FALSE. It’s Las Vegas. Do you need transportation? How many Escalades do you require? First time guest? Here’s $100 as thanks. You like an AM coffee at a precise time and of a particular brew? Just tell the staff member and you will awake to find it. Back when I worked at a real job I would periodically meet celebrities at various events. My standard joke with coworkers was to adjust my boobs in my shirt, ostentatiously lick my lips and say in a breathy Marilyn voice, “Hello Mr. Hot Celebrity, How can I make your time with us more profitable and pleasant?” Well, if you go to Las Vegas and you have a little bit of money to spend, THIS IS YOUR REALITY. Everyone wants to make your stay more profitable and more pleasant. If I’d wanted to, I could easily have paid someone to adjust my boobs in my shirt for me. A commitment to customer service, people. It is real.

What makes Las Vegas so appealing is its ability to be all things to all people. If you are a person of limited means who has saved for years to come here, there are hotels and events for you. If you are a wealthy person of unlimited means, there are hotels and events for you. If you are young, old, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, rich, poor; whatever you are, there is a place for you. We saw Rod Stewart at Caesar’s Palace. You want a cross-section of America (and the world)? That’s your show. All ages, all races, all stations in life. All at one show in Las Vegas. The following night was the opening of the T-Mobile Arena featuring The Killers (greatest band in the world, FYI), Wayne Newton, a new local artist named Shamir, and various jugglers, magicians, showgirls, and humans dressed up as rollerskating animals. You know: an average evening on The Strip. Again I was struck by the demographic diversity and the total lack of judgment of other humans at this big crazy party.

As we walked back to our hotel from the arena at midnight, the streets still jammed with revelers, we witnessed the other side of the Las Vegas Freedom coin. Obviously troubled people obviously under the influence. Stores selling alcohol shots on deep discount. Drunk parents with babies in strollers hanging out on the corners. Toddlers in strollers drinking 20 ounce Dr. Peppers while their parents danced to music only they could hear. Obvious pimps carnival-barking about “beautiful ladies” available.  Random guys handing out “hotassgirls.com” business cards. To my husband. In front of me. Inviting us both to strip clubs.

It became clear that a place so limitless as Las Vegas requires you to set and maintain your own limits. That the “anything goes and anything is possible” philosophy that can be so inspiring and freeing for some people (and is the foundational belief that created the city in the first place and fueled its renaissance in the 90s), can be the very anchor that plunges others into financial and psychosocial oblivion. If you are at all untethered in any aspect of your life, you should not make Las Vegas (and certainly not The Strip) your home. Because limits will not be set for you. Moderation will not be the natural order of things. The only moral compass you have will be your own.

And yet this is why Las Vegas serves as a microcosm of America. It illustrates all of the good that can result from believing that anything is possible. One of the first places in America to desegregate was Las Vegas because casino owners recognized that all money is green. Stars like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin would not play at the Flamingo unless Sammy Davis Jr also got a room. It was at the forefront of saying we are all equal–under the dollar bill.  It is a place that turned a patch of desert into an absolutely stunning municipality. The majority of Las Vegans do not live near or frequent The Strip.They make their lives in neighborhoods around the city, doing what people in every other city do. But they thrive as a result of the seeds that were planted more than 100 years ago; a belief that this little trade stop could become something more. And not just something more, but something spectacular.

Las Vegas, at its best, represents what is possible when there is a belief that anything is possible. Las Vegas, at its worst, reminds us of the desperately important delta between “can” and “should” in the human experience. Las Vegas, in all its good and bad, is a triumph of dreams.

Especially for that little Scottish chubba.

12932738_1089041294471404_8388881862975438601_nSomeday we’ll do this gondola thing at the Venetian.
 

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By Thomas Wolf, http://www.foto-tw.de, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43851150
Those of you who know me will understand my joy in this So I Married An Axe Murderer scene, the delight in knowing that Las Vegas means, “The Meadows.” Please enjoy this clip of Mike Meyers playing his (actually MY) dad in his movie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPMS6tGOACo

It’s time to close out the weekend by discussing Bernie. I know many of you FeelTheBern, and I 100% say rock on with your bad selves. I recall backing an upstart candidate 8 years ago to the chagrin of the party faithful. So I will never denigrate anyone supporting the candidate who moves them even if it’s not my candidate. And even if, as a shouty Jew-y person myself, I can assure you that no shouty Jew-y people will be elected President of the United States in this lifetime. **

How do I know? You know my life back in the day was in politics, and that means I believe in the numbers.  That as much as we feel passionately for a candidate, we have to look dispassionately at the numbers. There is no secret magic incantation for winning a national election in the United States. It is simply a question of mathematics as it relates to demographics.

If you reach the correct number of pledged delegates followed by the correct number of electoral votes, you win. The end. There is very literally nothing more to it than that. Not even the popular vote total matters, as Al Gore learned the hard way.

Do you think this is a terrible way to elect a President? Then by all means get involved in our political system and work to change it. But in the meantime, this is the way we elect a President. This is the current mechanism by which we will elect our president this November, and no amount of bitching and no eruption of righteous outrage is going to change it before then.

So, on the basis of the electoral process we have now, the path for Bernie Sanders to reach the required 2,383 delegates is well-nigh impossible. He has performed extremely well in caucus states but has underperformed his delegate goals in primary states. In states where largely homogeneous people have the ability to attend a caucus for several hours, Bernie is killin it. In racially diverse states without major university presence, where voters use the traditional ballot box process, Bernie has done significantly less well. His primary wins have been in areas with major college turnout, in keeping with his domination of the Under-35 demographic.

All of this has brought up the issue of super delegates. SDs were created by the party in 1984 after a series of demoralizing losses. SDs are party poobahs who were tasked with ensuring the Dem party did not keep running unelectable candidates. They were added as a check/balance to the convention selection process. The President is an SD. The VP. Bill Clinton. State governors. You get the picture. People who are part of the party apparatus. By definition, super delegates owe allegiance to no one. They can vote for Mickey Mouse if they damn well please. They are not pledged delegates, who rightly should vote for the candidate they are assigned to.

In past elections the SDs have thrown their support behind the putative nominee. It has been easy to do because the nominee has been a clear winner in every case. In other words, the nominee already had the 2,383 required pledged delegates. So the SDs were just icing on the cake.

In this case, Bernie cannot win the nomination without a large number of the SDs pledging for him to get him to the 2,383. Which has created a movement to call out all the SDs in states that went for Sanders and try to make them switch from Clinton to him. But this movement misses the point. If your candidate cannot achieve the nomination via pledged delegates in the first place, SDs are extremely unlikely to back him, since their entire raison d’etre is to back a winner, not to help a guy squeak it out by the skin of his teeth.

Its also an interesting approach because it fails to recognize that until November 2015, Bernie Sanders was not a Democrat. You read that right. Until 6 months ago Senator Sanders had an (I) after his name. He caucused with the Dems but did not join. So the movement to somehow shame Democrats who have run and governed as Democrats (and who have taken the time to fundraise for other Democrats down ballot) into supporting Sanders, a Dem for 6 months who states he has no plans to assist congressional candidates he will inarguably need in Congress should he win, is a guaranteed fail from the word Go. That said, even Bill Clinton has pledged to throw his SD vote to Sanders should he win the nomination.

And that’s the bar: if you can win the pledged delegates you get the super delegates. If you can’t, you don’t. There really is no magic incantation. There is only math. And that math favors Hillary Clinton.

**This reminds me of an old joke. A Jewish father and son are tourists in DC. Standing outside the White House, the boy asks hopefully, “Dad, do you think someday a man who wears a kippah will be President?!” The dad answers, “Of course he will, son. Unless that man is Jewish.”

Before the sun goes down on this first day of April, I offer this test to determine if you are a MENSA candidate. image

Forty-Four

Posted on: March 30, 2016

That’s how old I am today.

I feel good. I knew that I would now. I feel nice. Like sugar and spice.

Please enjoy these birthday memes that reflect my surprise that I am now as old as my mom was when I was a freshman in high school. I recall thinking she was extremely uncool. And old. As proof that all is right with the world, my children feel the same way about me. I was assured by Baby Sister, however, that I’m not super-super-horrifyingly old because I do not yet have “a floppy face.” Good to know. (*Runs upstairs to apply extra retinol*).

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A friend recently lost her grandson, suddenly and unexpectedly. In a time like this there simply are no words to offer in comfort. Megan Devine, a writer on trauma and grief, offers a beautiful and painful truth to anyone who feels compelled to say things like, “Things happen for a reason” or “It’s God’s plan” or “It will all work out for good.” Or for people, like most of us, who want to rush in and find a way to fix the hurt. Her truth is this:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. 

Anyone who has lost someone special in their life knows this to be true.  A profound loss is never fixed, is never okay, is never erased. It is simply carried. As time goes on, the weight can feel lighter. And yet some days, even decades hence, out of nowhere it will feel like an anvil tied around your neck once again. This is grief and this is loss. And as much as it confirms our utter helplessness in its face, we all know that the only way out is through.

And so we stand with our friends as they carry their loss. We do what we can to carry it with and for them when they cannot.  And we try to offer words of comfort, offered by better writers than ourselves.

WH Auden, Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

Philip Larkin, The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

 

Kevin Young, Redemption Song

Finally fall.
At last the mist,
heat’s haze, we woke
these past weeks with

has lifted. We find
ourselves chill, a briskness
we hug ourselves in.
Frost greying the ground.

Grief might be easy
if there wasn’t still
such beauty — would be far
simpler if the silver

maple didn’t thrust
it’s leaves into flame,
trusting that spring
will find it again.

All this might be easier if
there wasn’t a song
still lifting us above it,
if wind didn’t trouble

my mind like water.
I half expect to see you
fill the autumn air
like breath —

At night I sleep
on clenched fists.
Days I’m like the child
who on the playground

falls, crying
not so much from pain
as surprise.
I’m tired of tide

taking you away,
then back again —
what’s worse, the forgetting
or the thing

you can’t forget.
Neither yet —
last summer’s
choir of crickets

grown quiet.

 

Langston Hughes, Island

Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now:

I see the island
Still ahead somehow.

I see the island
And its sands are fair:

Wave of sorrow,
Take me there.

 

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