Money for Nothing

December 26, 2012 § 11 Comments

Thank you, Michael Moore.  Thank you for saying much of what I’ve been thinking for the last week in this article you wrote, but haven’t gotten my act together enough to write myself.   I think you got the racial analysis wrong, but I love the rest of it.  Thanks for admitting that the NRA’s justification that the only one who stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun has merit.  That even with the best of precautions and intentions, these tragedies will continue to happen.  Thanks for pointing out that what’s missing in our society has a lot to do with the way we view one another and our responsibilities towards others.  “That other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other” and we seem to resist that line of thinking when it comes to national policy is a powerful and profound suggestion.

Thank you, Chris Cataudella.  Thank you for writing from a gun enthusiast’s perspective about practical ways to averting another atrocity like the Newtown shooting from happening again (and for canceling your NRA membership.)  Thanks for suggesting that gun owners should be required to have safes, and offer proof of proper storage of those guns.  Thanks for offering up the common sense ideas of linking mental health databases with ATF computers and including more thorough checks of anyone applying for a gun permit.  A national licensing fee for gun owners is also logical.  I’d go a step further to say that anyone with permits should have to re-apply annually, with that thorough check performed each time.

I’ve been troubled by, among other things, the rash of “Don’t Blame-itis” I see.  “Don’t Blame Gun Owners.”  “Don’t blame Autistic people.”  “Don’t blame the mentally ill.”  (As a side-note, I never understood the “Don’t Blame Me – I voted for Bush!” bumper stickers.  Why would I place responsibility for my misfortunes on someone who voted opposite me and lost?)  I understand everyone’s knee-jerk defensive reactions to the Newtown shooting, but submit that I empathize much more strongly with the “Don’t blame Autistic people” than the “Don’t Blame Gun Owners” side.  Historically, mentally ill people have been much more systematically abused and ignored as a group than, say, gun owners have.

I’d like to offer a shift in thinking, though.  As I’ve mentioned to my kids (not often enough, I’m afraid) – when your impulse is to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” change the word “fault” to “responsibility.”  Was what happened my “fault?”  Maybe not.  Was what happened my “responsibility?”  Sometimes.  Did I do everything reasonably possible to carry out my responsibility?  Often, I’m afraid, no.

American society could use a cleanse – a detox, so to speak.  Just like junk food is poison for the body, and linked to many physical problems, I consider much of what is in the world of media to be poison for the mind.  Intellectual, emotional junk food.  Too much of it wreaks havoc on our society’s mental well-being.  Just because “Toddlers and Tiaras” is on television, doesn’t mean it should be watched.  Just because “Grand Theft Auto” is available for purchase, doesn’t mean it should be bought.  Just because a six-year-old trauma victim can be interviewed, doesn’t mean he should be interviewed.  Part of the benefit of a physical cleanse is that it shakes up our systems and resets our metabolism.  I can’t think of anything America’s collective psyche needs more.

I’m a big fan of thinking outside the box.  What hit home with me most in Michael Moore’s piece (and I disagree with a lot of what he writes) is his take on poverty.  Not to channel Karl Marx or anything, but maybe we DO need an updated, less flawed version of the Communist-like vision.  I’m not proposing a thought control/conform or die mentality, but more national introspection about how and why the wage gap in America is so obscene.  Let’s take a look at the major things – necessities – in our society that are grossly exploited and perversely for-profit ventures.  Education.  Health Insurance.  Medicine.  Food production.  Pharmaceuticals.  Information dissemination.  Access to these things should be a given in our society, advanced as we claim to be.  Access to healthy versions of all of these things should be the floor, not the ceiling.

I’m, of course, at a loss as to how these things can be accomplished in a country as large and complex as ours.  How do we keep our rights AND our children safe?  How do we reconcile the backbone of our country (“Anyone can make it!”) with it’s heart (“Everyone SHOULD make it”?)  How do we dictate the appropriate limits on technology and the free market?  How can we exhibit patience and foresight needed to determine whether a discovery should be implemented just because it can be?  My father once wrote, “technology advances faster than our wisdom in knowing how to use it.”  How can we counteract that self-destuctive societal tendency?

I think we should be willing to consider ANYTHING to be on the table for discussion, from the micro to the macro, regarding where we go from here.

Remember how Warren Buffett suggested we balance the budget?  Make members of Congress ineligible for re-election if they don’t.  Beautiful.  Simple.  I love ideas like this that shake up the status quo.  So to address poverty, is it possible to require that a CEO’s salary is directly proportional to his or her lowest wage earner’s?  As the CEO’s salary goes up, so must his or her workers’?  CEOs whose profits exceed a certain reasonable amount are required to contribute financially to the education of its workforce?  Boards of Directors must distribute bonuses to its lowest wage earners first before anyone else?  From the bottom up rather than the top down?  This applies to every field from textbooks to stocks to food production to technology.  Might mediocrity be rewarded in such a set-up?  Yes.  But one thing we also know from experience is that obscene wealth of the few rarely translates into well-being of the rest.  What can we do to make the mentality of James Senigal (CEO of Costco) more prevalent than the Walton (owners of Wal-Mart) family’s?

As long as I’m throwing ideas out there, in addition to limits on perverse amounts of profit, I’d like to see a limit set on the media.  Is it possible to create a regulation wherein the media is not allowed to approach any crime or trauma victim under the age of 18 OR THEIR CARETAKERS for interviews until six months or a year after the event has taken place?  Can we limit our voyeuristic desire for every detail be transformed into protecting victims and privacy and acceptance of knowing just what we need to know?  Do we immediately need to know what a six-year-old heard and saw throughout these atrocious events?  No, we don’t.

Just like a kid’s not doing his homework or chores, we are a society that needs to accept responsibility for ourselves, and assume responsibility for others in order to grow up.  A step towards this goal might be to stop thinking in terms of what we have to lose, and start thinking in terms of what you have to GIVE.  If gun owners can cancel their NRA membership, and Michael Moore can parrot the NRA’s philosophy with a straight face, what do the rest of us have to offer?  Can we open our minds a little more?  Can we try to see another’s point of view?  Can we recognize value in those arguments with which we disagree?  These are not new suggestions – we hear them over and over again.  People young and old, however, need to hear messages repeatedly before they take hold.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to be told to initiate the sit-up movement with my abs before I actually internalized that one…)  I feel a lot like a kid lately.  I have a myriad of questions and not many answers.  On the other hand, the wisest, most mature people I’ve met are the ones who admit how little they know.  So, while I wouldn’t call myself wise, maybe I am growing up after all.  I hope the country grows up, too.

Ballerinas on the Moon

December 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

In honor of Thank A Teacher Day:  the following is a slightly edited version of a post I wrote for Catonsville Patch over a year ago.    You can read the original version here.

andros-photo-004_thumbnail

The lilting, closing notes to Brahms’ Waltz in A Flat Major still rang in the air.  (We had an actual pianist playing an actual grand piano in the studio when I took ballet.)  We would have just completed our rond de jambe exercises at the bar, and we would be waiting.  Silence.  We’d stand like statues in our closing pose, hands down delicately, elbows gently bent, feet in fifth position, head tilted just so.

A few of the braver and more impatient 10-year-olds among us would break the pose slightly to check on his reaction.  One of them would giggle a little, nervously, and then we all knew what we’d see when we turned to look at him.

Mr. Andros, sitting on a stool in the front of the room, beefy legs crossed at the knee.  One large arm flung around resting on the barre behind him.  The other large arm in the other direction, bent at the elbow and also leaning on the barre.  The bridge of his nose resting between thumb and forefinger, pinky in the air.  Eyes closed, but eyebrows raised.

And then we would hear it – the voice that was a cross between Squidward from Spongebob and Bert from Sesame Street.

“Laaaaaaay-deeeeeeeeez…………………. If you can’t count to four, I suggest you take upknit-ting.”

(No one bothered to point out to him that you also need to count to four when you knit.  You didn’t quibble with Mr. Andros.)

Gray-ish beard and moustache, black unitard, white socks, white ballet shoes, and a little sheer scarf tied around his neck if he was feeling dressy, age placed by me at anywhere between 40 and 90 years old, Mr. Andros was my favorite ballet teacher.  Ever.  In fact, my parents and I did as much as we could to make sure he was my ONLY ballet teacher, though over 8 years of classes at the New York School of Ballet, that was tough to accomplish.

We were young, but we all took dancing pretty seriously.  This was not a ballet school for sissies.  He, in turn, was demanding, but mindful of our youth.  His exasperation wrapped up in mock agony did absolutely nothing to hide how much he adored these groups of hopeful little girls.

He would ball up his hand into a fist and walk around us asking, “How would yyyyyeeeeewwwwwww like to be the first ballerina on the moon?”  We’d giggle, but try harder.

He would explain how a grand jete is done, and demonstrate the leap for us.  Then he’d roll his eyes and say, “Of course when I do it, it looks like the Hindenburg flying through the air…”  We had no idea what the Hindenburg was, but we’d try to do it better than he did.

He sat down with parents of this pre-teen girl, and spoke the words I knew he would, when they asked if I had any sort of shot in hell of being a professional ballerina.  I cannot begin to explain how badly I wanted with all my being for the answer to be yes.  Deep down, though, I knew I didn’t, and I think my parents did, too.

I wasn’t in the room, but I imagine it was the utmost gentle kindness he told them I would never be a prima ballerina.  While I was really good at duplicating moves demonstrated by him, I lacked strength, flexibility and the grace required.  I just didn’t have it.

Cordelia had it.  Cordelia was the same age as I was, but destined to be a ballet dancer.  Cordelia likely emerged effortlessly from the womb with her entire body in the perfect fifth position.  I’m sure as soon as her nose and mouth were suctioned out, she began pirouetting all over the delivery room.  She was proportioned perfectly for a life of dance, the flawless combination of delicate yet strong and flexible.  She was allowed to do our class in pointe shoes, while the rest of us were still years away from going on pointe.  She was that good.

Yet, on one Parents’ Day (we didn’t have recitals – we had a couple of days a year when parents could come watch the class in session) I’ll never forget the time we all did a combination in the center of the room.  When it was over, Mr. Andros was in his pose, sprawled all over the barre in exasperation, eyes closed.  Then he said something like, “Would the Lirtzman sisters (Rachel and me) please come to the front of the class?”  We did, and in front of all the parents and the rest of the class, he cued the pianist and had us perform the combination.

When we finished, he said, “Thank you.  That is how it’s supposed to be done.”

Most teachers help you succeed.  The rare ones help you fail.  Mr. Andros helped me see my limitations while making sure my self-worth and dignity remained intact.  I could let go of a dream without feeling like a failure.  Lesson learned.

(Epilogue:  Years later, my parents ran into Mr. Andros on the Upper West Side.  They were happy to see each other, but my parents told us he didn’t look at all well.  As I began to write this, I assumed he died many years ago.  I Googled him this afternoon for the hell of it, and was surprised to learn he only passed away in 2009, and had left a lot of writing behind.  I am so sorry I didn’t try to get back in touch with him to let him know how much he meant to me and my family, as it would have been so easy given the advent of the internet.  

I’m happy, though, that he lived such a long life, and that he was kind enough to leave behind writings about it. I never knew until this afternoon that he studied with George Balanchine and also taught the likes of Cynthia Gregory, Veronica Lake and JoAnn Woodward.   I learned that and when Mr. Andros was in the army, he was assigned to the Special Service Division of General Douglas MacArthur’s Headquarters Company and that his older brother, Plato Andros, played for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a pleasure to get to know him better, even if it is posthumously.  R.I.P., Mr. Andros.)

If Not Now, When?

December 14, 2012 § 12 Comments

Dear America,

We need to talk.

I love you very much.  You are a magnificent place to live, grow up, and enjoy freedoms the strongest democracy on earth can provide.  Like any human body with an illness, though, as much as you’d like to look away, you shouldn’t.  You have complex and deep sicknesses afflicting your vital organs, and they need to be addressed.  These vital organs should not be removed – they should be healed.  The medicine is difficult to swallow, but if you are to continue to thrive, swallow it you must.

To ALL your citizens – Please do everything you can to drop the stigma associated with mental illness and mental disabilities.  Remove the shame associated with having to see a counselor, psychiatrist, whatever.  Banish all derision and fear you might feel in your hearts for people who seek help.  If someone you love needs help, stand by them proudly for seeking it.  Smile at someone who seems alone.  Befriend them, even.  Be the person who stands up for someone being taunted.  Here’s something you can say to a bully, for example – “Seriously?  You have nothing better to do?” and give the victim a smile and a wink.  Do it.  Be the person who raises their hand in class and says, “Actually, I’m in therapy, too, and it’s really helping.  You got a problem with that?”  Yes, these matters are private, and I’m not suggesting people bare all.  I do think, however, that a little more openness about the need for help for those suffering would go a long way.

To the 2nd Amendment protectors:  I’m one, too.  I have no desire to repeal the 2nd Amendment. I do think it’s funny to watch strict Constitutionalists go insane when some people dare to suggest that literal interpretation of the 2nd Amendment might mean that owning guns should be allowed only if you are part of a well-regulated militia.  “Interpret the Constitution literally EXCEPT for the Second Amendment, okay???”  No, no, I get it.  Guns are legal, and I stipulate that part of the argument.  However, anyone who DARES to suggest there aren’t HUGE problems with the oversights and implementation of gun laws is living on another planet.  Gun owners – step. up.  Do something.  PLEASE support the strong enforcement of existing laws, and perhaps even be open to stricter controls where possible.  Weapons dealers – step.up.  Are you such sociopaths that your desire to make money trumps your willingness to make sure guns don’t fall into the wrong hands?  I hope to God not.  I hope to God not.

To the Entertainment business: I beg you to resist all urges to make any money from telling this story.  While I fear you are already casting the movie, I hope you will stop feeding the sickness that makes your audiences crave more made-for-TV specials.  If you must tell these stories, tell the stories of the victims pro bono.  Have anyone working on the movie/book/magazine article who makes more than a school principal’s salary donate their time, and have any profits from the venture donated to the care and nurturing of the victim whose story is being told.  Perhaps this would help break the cycle of incessant coverage, needless barrages of interviews, and gross exploitation of tragedy.

Finally, to the Media:  Please, please, please, for the love of all that is holy, STOP interviewing the children.  The ONLY ones who should be surrounding these kids are their immediate families and those entrusted with their medical and emotional care.  Do you really need that story badly enough to shove a camera in a child trauma victim’s face?  Is a moving image and haunting words coming from a child whose wounds have yet to be seen and dealt with worth the views?  Will you contribute EVERY. SINGLE. PENNY. of profit your news outlet makes because of your reporting of this story to the healing and welfare of these families so traumatized?  Why?  Why must you show these children to us?  The photo of the children in a line, some hysterically crying outside their school – why?  Do you have the right to wrest control of these children’s images, caught in perpetuity by your camera lens, from them and their shellshocked parents?   I would argue not.  No, goddamn it, you do not.

I dispute anyone who says, “It’s not the time to talk gun control, healthcare, the economy.”  Oh, it’s time to talk about it.  It is time right this very minute.  It’s time to talk about ways to eradicate the shame this multi-faceted cultural disgrace evokes.  The indescribable, the unimaginable, the evil, and the mourning.  The heroism, too – there will be stories of heroism and self-sacrifice.  But right now, dear America, please take your medicine like a grown up. If not now, when?

All my love forever,

Aliza

Gun Control or Domestic Violence?

December 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

After the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide, I had the following discussion on Facebook with my friend, fellow Murrow-ite, New Yorker, and blogger, Chris Cataudella.  Please read and discuss. 

  •  So, all the articles you posted on gun control not being the issue in the Belcher crimes reminds me of a really smart thing some really smart lady once wrote…

    “…people who use abortion as a cheap and easy fix for their irresponsible behavior (if such people exist) are presenting symptoms of much deeper societal ills than the fact that safe and legal abortions are available to them. Just like people who use guns in an irresponsible, devastating way are reflective of a much deeper ill than the fact that guns are legal.”

  • I’ll go along with that.
  • If we look at this whole thing from a sociological standpoint, it breaks down like this:
    We (as a people) don’t wish to look at the deep seeded reasons behind the rise of violence in this country. We blame anything we can NOT to look at the bigger picture. Such as in this case, we have a clear cut issue of domestic violence. The fact that the weapon used was a gun is the focal point being made by certain parties to further their own agenda. However, through the fog of the media blitz, we need to focus on the fact that whatever the object used to murder this woman, the real issue is the domestic abuse. This topic seems to still be a sore spot, and yes, I would think that women should be concerned with that more than ever.
    If the media and “powers that be” choose to focus solely on the weapon used to commit the crime, then where is the understanding and ability to solve the actual crime?
  • Chris Cataudella
    Whether this guy chose his fists, a car, a baseball bat, what does it matter?
    Where is the defense of women as a whole?
    For instance, Let’s say this is Great Britian <sic> and there are NO legal handguns….the guy pulls a cricket bat out and pummels the wife then leaps out the window to his death.
    What do you do?  Say “If there was no cricket bat – the two of them would still be alive today!”  Because, really – that’s what you’re saying…
    And if I were a woman I would be fucking pissed  that the media is poo-poo-ing this whole thing and focusing on the gun.  And that’s my expanded rant on that.
    one ultra right winger once wrote this –
    I could kill ten people driving my SUV to the ballpark, but no one is trying to ban baseball bats or cars.
  • WELL OK THEN!
    phew.
  • I feel like shit. because that was a great Aliza/Chris combined blog post. Copy & paste, and blog it.
  • Well, it was mostly Chris.
  • make believe. say something like – I asked my republican friend who just happens to be a gun owner what he thought…
  • Why don’t you write it? All I did was quote myself in the beginning and agree with you from that point on…
  • because it needs to be written by a woman. I’m just another guy with a gun to alot of the anti-gunners.
  • That’s funny, I think it needs to be written by a man. More powerful when a man comes out against violence against women. Urge congress to pass VAWA, and really take it somewhere.
  • right – but if I write it – I look like I’m cow-towing to the media pressure as an excuse to keep my guns…If you wrote it as a question & answer thing, it would look more honest, i think..
  • I’m gonna write about how we’re fighting about who should write it.
  • actually, that would work out even better…
  • Hmmmmm. Formulating.
  • Something else I just realized…if this is the same so-called “liberal” media bias” concerning gun control, and it truly is part of the liberal agenda, where is that same liberal agenda concerning women’s rights?
    Isn’t that what the Dems won the election on?
    “The War on Women”. Wouldn’t this be case in point?
    Just my $.02.
  • Plenty of people are pushing back, saying guns weren’t the issue. Except for Costas and the other guy, I haven’t seen much upheaval about gun control come from this.
    Though, admittedly, I haven’t been watching much news.
  • No, its been out there. The Brady Campaign…the Violence Policy Center…the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence…they’re all over it. Unfortunately, they get a macabre kick out if these events..
    And don’t forget, Costa and the other guy are part of the NBC network…they do so much anti-gun programming as well as the ultra-left MSNBC…they’re so diametrically opposite to fox news, its like night and day…
    Not that I care much for fox news either…
  • Is fox news framing it as a domestic violence issue?
    FWIW, I think Costa was out of line.
  • He was out of line. He gets paid for sports analysis. And paid well, I might add.
    Yes fox is framing it that way.
    Unfortunately, they’re really not taken seriously by the middle anymore…
  • But that’s well deserved, in my opinion.
  • I agree. Fox hasn’t been a bastion of women’s rights support.
    One of their commentators said of the situation that women should make better choices –
  • Heh. No. They haven’t exactly endeared themselves.
  • Implicitly blaming victims of domestic violence.
  • I agree. And it destroys any credibility on the things they may actually be right on.
  • Sucks being in the middle.
  • Write the post.

Lisa Alcalay Klug’s “Hot Mamalah” – Book Review

December 4, 2012 § 5 Comments

Full disclosure #1:  I’ve never written a book review before.  I apologize in advance.

Full disclosure #2:  The publisher sent me the book for free, but I was not compensated in any way to review it.

Full disclosure #3:  I don’t have a third one, but I kinda feel a list should have at least three things on it.

Do not, I repeat, do NOT read Hot Mamalah, The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe if you are hungry, thirsty, or chocolate deprived.  DO read it if you have a stocked liquor cabinet and an open mind.

Lisa Alcalay Klug formats her book like a meal, with each of the four chapters representing one of the courses.  Truly, though, it is sprinkled with bits of dessert throughout every course, which is how I like it.  It’s the kind of book where you can open up to any page and learn something new about food, Judaism, and a Joan Rivers line.  Groan-inducing puns (a playlist for the “Jewke Box”) and saliva-inducing drink recipes abound.  It’s even better if you imagine it being read to you by Mike Meyers in his Linda Richman Coffee Talk voice.

Rather than refute stereotypes, “Hot Mamalah” celebrates in caricature fashion all the elements of Jews with two X chromosomes.  Recurring informational tidbits help educate and amuse, like the  “Recycle, Reuse, Reschmooze” sections, and the “FYI: For the Yiddish Impaired” boxes.

“FYI: For the Yiddish Impaired

A Joke.
Three Jewish women are sitting quietly minding their business.
The end.”

Lisa devotes entire pages to ways you can know if you’re a Hot Mamalah.  Most are funny, but every once in a while, there’s one thrown in that makes the heart smile.  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because you always exaggerate for the sake of clarity.”  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because your favorite food is seconds.”  See?  Those made me laugh.  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because your life is one adorable clumsy waltz.”  “You know you’re a Hot Mamalah because you befriend kids next to you in line.”  Those made my heart smile.

The lists are abundant and fun – like strong Hot Mamalahs from Biblical times and their claims to fame, and fabulous names for our nether regions titled “Upstairs/Downstairs” – (my faves: Upstairs?  “Mount of Olives.”  Downstairs?  It’s tied between “Hot Pocket” and “The Negev.”)  There is dating advice, break-up advice, and a proven bullshit detection device.

Be willing to abandon linear thinking – this book is a tornado filled with stories, jokes, TONS of recipes, and where things land within each course/chapter, they land.  Once I got into it, though, (I’m a painfully linear thinker) I found it liberating to  just let Lisa grab me by the hand and take me along for the kooky and hilarious ride, wherever it went.  I admit I found myself wishing I knew more Yiddish and Hebrew so I could get all the jokes, dammit!  But isn’t that something a good book does?  Leave you wanting to know more?

I did learn one thing I wish I hadn’t, though – involving the fact that some Bubbes made gefilte fish from scratch, fresh from carp that was actually swimming in their bathtubs.  Daddy?  Please tell me the gefilte fish we had at Grandma’s was out of a jar.  Please?

Here’s the link where you can buy “Hot Mamalah”, which is a follow-up companion book to her guide for 21st-century members of the Tribe, “Cool Jew.”  Buy ’em both!

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