Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Contribution To A Discussion On Spanking

Members of have been discussing the issues of corporal punishment. Two thoughts come to mind on the issue. One is a bit of advice I received from a rabbi with a large family. He said that even scolding should not be done when one is viscerally angry. He said that the purpose of any sort of punishment should be to educate one's child and not to vent anger. I have found that spanking of any sort has limited and diminishing returns, that it should exist mostly as a theoretical possibility rather than as a regular occurrence.

When my oldest boy was about 4 years old, I got a call from my wife at the warehouse where I was working an evening shift. I asked her how the kids were doing. "Terrible!" she exclaimed, adding that my oldest child was running around and not listening to anything she said.

"Put him on the phone." I answered

"Abie*, mommy says you have been behaving badly. You need a spanking, and it can't wait until I get home! Now put your tush up to the phone."

I waited for a couple of seconds and tapped the mouthpiece on my telephone a couple of times.

"Did you do as I said?" I asked.

"Yeah." Abie answered. "And it didn't even hurt".

"Well if I have to spank you again when I get home, it will hurt". I answered. "Now hand the phone over to mommy."

My wife picked up the phone and asked "What did you tell him?"

I asked her "Did he put his tush up to the phone?

"Yes." she answered with puzzlement in her voice.

I spanked him over the phone. I hope I don't have to do it live later tonight."

For whatever reason, my son was well behaved for the rest of the night.

The other trick I used to use was to pretend that I am not mad but that my hand is. I tell the kid that my hand wants to spank him. I pretend to desperately wrestle with the angry hand and to hold it down. I would ask my kid to help me subdue the angry hand. Invariably, the kid would come over and we would hold the hand down. After a minute of struggle I would say "Don't get it mad again."

I don't generally go for gimmicks, but if you can teach a lesson with laughter, why not?

I would never condemn corporal punishment across the board, but it should really be a rarity. Communicating through the intellect and emotions that distinguish us as human is generally preferable.

*Names have been changed

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thank You Klaus Hoffmann

My son and I were discussing geneology and he asked me if Hoffman is a Jewish name or not. I explained that it was one of those names that could be either Jewish or German. His question jogged my memory of a singer from Berlin named Klaus Hoffmann. When I was back in my 20's, my father and I used to drink Ballantine Ale together and listen to his music. At a time in our lives when we differed about so many things, our musical tastes overlapped. Hoffmann sings in regular High German and some songs in Berlin slang, which brought back memories for my father.

One song, the Kreuzberger Waltz had some lyrics that dealt with playing tennis over the Berlin Wall every Sunday. The lyrics went as follows.

zwischen Checkpoint Charlie und Bernauer Between Checkpoint Charlie and Bernauer
spiel ick sonntags Tennis an der Mauer I play tennis on the (Berlin) Wall
mit der Linken üb ick Rückhand With my left hand I practice backhand

so hau ick den Ball über den Wall and Hit the ball over the wall
ins andere Land into another country
det is jetzt 'n Volkssport geworden It has become a people's sport
das Mauercuptennismatch the Wall Tennis Match
am Sonntag, da stehn die Horden on Sundays the hordes stand there
und haben Kontakt, auch ohne Vertrag and have contact without a treaty
von Ost nach West from East to West
das nennt man den Kreuzberger Walzer that is called the Kreuzberger Waltz
das Mauercuptennismatch The Wall Cup Tennis Match
das spielt man am Sonntag von Westen nach Ost one plays from West to East
und och von Ost nach West and also from East to West

I heard this song in 1978. Hoffmann, who was born in 1951 has been singing and acting since the late 60's, and came out with his first album in 1974. When I heart about his song about playing tennis over the Berlin Wall, it was a wild, insane fantasy. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it upstaged Klaus Hoffmann's song in a way that must have delighted him.

Hoffmann ranges in style from introspective such as his song "Novembermorgen" to angry and satirical, such as in his song "Nein".

There is one line from Hoffmann that has many times rescued me from deep sadness. "Hol mir die Kraft aus Sommertagen und leb' in November davon. "Take for me the power from summer days and live from that in November".

Next time my son stops by with his family, I think I 'll play him some of these songs my father and I used to enjoy together.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pelosi Wants To Investigate Mosque Critics

One of the advantages of daily exposure to Pakistanis and Indians, Serbs and Albanians, Muslims and Jews and other groups listed at war with each other is that one gets regular exposure to mutually exclusive historical narratives. Nancy Pelosi, one of the great limousine liberals of our time, needs such exposure badly. Her latest outrage is her desire to investigate the critics of the mosque at Ground Zero. It reminded me of a moment in the early 60's when I saw a picture of IRS agents executing a search warrant on the headquarters of the Communist Party of the USA. Instinctively I knew that there was politics driving the raid more than anything else.

So Nancy Pelosi wants to investigate the Ground Zero Mosque critics. She wants to keep them busy talking with auditors so they won't have time to fight the Democratic agenda.

The Washington Times quotes the Dragon Lady as follows."I support the statement made by the Interfaith Alliance that 'We agree with the ADL that there is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center. At the same time, we should also ask who is funding the attacks against the construction of the center.'

Don't think for one second that this question will only be asked at Ground Zero. Pelosi, the multi millionaire defender of the downtrodden, knows better than all of us what is good for the oppressed masses. She treats critics like naughty children in junior high school. In the age of the internet, a lot of right wing critics of the Democrats are unpaid, underpaid loners who thrive on caffeine and the ego gratification of seeing their stories hit page 1 of a Google search. Not to be discounted is the desire to stop yelling at the television blaring the 6 o'clock news and to actually reach into cyberspace to influence the direction of the country.

There is a critical difference between wanting to overthrow a government, cancel the constitution and abrogate the rights of citizens and to want to replace legislators who function within that constitutional framework. Pelosi and many of her Democratic allies seem clueless to this critical distinction.

There are all kinds of laws governing campaign contributions that are designed to supposedly rescue us from big lobbyists. A well paid lawyer and an accountant can easily circumvent such laws. If some evil billionaire like say George Soros (to pick a random name) wants to buy a candidate, there should be no legal impediment to doing so, as long as his name is not hidden. In the age of the internet, such information can be spread by grass roots committees of correspondence.

Pelosi and her ilk think that the unwashed masses should welcome her like some North American Evita Peron. Americans aren't buying it. Get a clue Nancy. The people who oppose you are paid a lot less than you and your millionaire husband.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Female Palestinian Peace Activists Suffer Sexual Harassment, Rape From Palestinians

It won't make the front page of the New York Times, but it seems that female peace activists in Israel who go to Arab villages are looked at as "piece" activists by the locals in the Arab villages. Women who go to these villages are sexually harassed, molested and in some cases raped Haaretz, a very left wing Israeli newspaper reported as follows on one incident, which it made clear was not isolated but a part of a trend.

"The European and American female activists reportedly agreed to let Aladdin stay with them after he had told them he feared the Israel Defense Forces were on his tail, adding that he had been severely beaten at an IDF checkpoint only a week before.

During his stay Aladdin allegedly attempted to rape a Muslim-American woman, nicknamed "Fegin" by fellow activists. The woman escaped, later accusing the popular protest man of the attempt. One villager who had encountered the American following the incident said she had been in a state of shock."

Rather than curbing the incidents themselves, the Palestine Authority and the peace organisations have asked victims to keep quiet, lest the incidents create bad publicity for the peace movement. Local Arabs are not used to women traveling independently, dressing in revealing clothing or showing support for homosexual rights Muqata reports as follows on the Muslim attitude towards homosexuals encountered by peace activists.

"And if rape and sexual assault weren't enough, one female Arab from of Sheikh Jarrah has been telling the protesters to stop bringing their Gay Pride flags to the protest because they don’t like gays and she would like to kick them all out of the country. I assume the protester she told this to was gay."

A further indication of the prevalence of sexual harassment of peace activists is the fact that there are workshops for activists such as “How to deal with sexual harassment during direct activities against the occupation”.

The evidence is there to see for anyone who wonders what kind of society that will evolve from a Palestinian victory. Any territory controlled by an entity called Palestine will first kick out its Jews and then make life for all non Muslims intolerable. The experiences of the peace activists testify powerfully to the lack of respect for those who want freedom from religion.

The peace activists are making some very telling points about the nature of Israel's enemies, which is hardly what they set out to do when they went to demonstrate against Israel.

Why do the leftists support the Palestine Authority? It seems almost suicidal for them to do so. Common decency would dictate that supporters of the Palestinian cause would get VIP treatment from the Palestinians.Instead they are treated like garbage. It seems that common decency is not so common after all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Steven Slater And Newt Gingrich, Flip Sides Of The Same Coin

The public is taking a second look at Steven Slater, the mercurial flight attendant who cursed out a plane full of passengers and then left the plane through the emergency escape hatch and became a national folk hero. Now it turns out that he may have been an instigator rather than a victim. CBS News reports as follows.

Port Authority police are beginning to doubt how true that is. The Journal quotes them as saying none of the passengers told investigators they witnessed Slater being injured. "I think this is moving toward a working theory of, 'It never happened,' the Journal quotes one Port Authority officer as saying. "There are some people who have said he came on board the aircraft with injuries," the officer continued.

And police who took Slater into custody told the Journal that, at the time of his arrest, "His eyes were bloodshot, he smelled of alcohol and he was unsteady on his feet."

Slater had a lot of problems. His mother is battling lung cancer and he is battling alcoholism. Accounts of Slater being rude to passengers and acting bizarrely are a recurring theme in investigations of the Jet Blue dustup. In addition to suspicions that Slater's account was made up are nagging doubts that Slater's account has anything at all to do with reality as we know it.

Slater was supposed to be the latest "working class hero", recklessly acting out a fantasy shared by millions of slapping down (figuratively) a snotty customer. Now it turns out that it may well turn out to be a self promotional stunt.

Then there is Newt Gingrich, an articulate and persuasive spokesman for conservative values. His second wife, Marianne Gingrich, (who started out as a side dish while Gingrich was married to wife #1) has dished to Esquire Magazine about her former husband, who has now dumped her and his Baptist faith for Catholicism and a new wife.

Divorce is no longer a death sentence to a political career, but hypocrisy is still going strong as a deal breaker for voters. It is already well known that Gingrich went to the hospital to talk divorce details with his first wife Jackie, who was reeling from having just undergone chemotherapy for her uterine cancer.

When Marianne Gingrich found herself being replaced by Mrs Gingrich #3, she asked Newt how he could be so cold blooded. Politics Daily quotes John H. Richardson's Esquire interview as follows.

"How do you give that speech and do what you are doing?" Marianne asked him. They were in the death throes of their relationship. "It doesn't matter what I do," he told her, according to the Esquire story. "People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I say. It doesn't matter what I live."

There are plenty of conservative believers who trust in the ideals but doubt the sincerity of some of its proponents. Gingrich may have the gift of gab, but he gives himself far too much credit. No one is irreplaceable. There are plenty of conservatives who don't feel that liberating America does not have to involve Newtism.

Newt Gingrich and Steven Slater have a few things in common. They are both self promoters. They don't mind using and discarding people, whether it is in the aisle of an airplane or in a cancer ward. One is a working class hero, and the other has latched onto patriotism and family values. But neither Gingrich nor Slater believe that the rules apply to them. They are both like passengers on a Ferris wheel who gleefully spit from the top car without paying any mind to the fact that they too will be in the bottom car later on.

Any thinking person knows that cashiers, flight attendants and service personnel are not a species apart from customers. We all spend our time on both sides of the service desk. There is a thread of common humanity that binds us together.

People like Gingrich who exempt themselves from laws that they inflict on the public and people like Slater, who view an aircraft full of passengers as bit players in their personal psychodrama are flip sides of the same coin. They have a book full of rules for everyone else and a book full of excuses for themselves.

I really wanted to have confidence in Gingrich. I also wanted to believe that Steven Slater was an avenger by proxy for all the people who are treated like serfs by unappreciative customers, passengers and citizens. But it appears that both men are using an ideal and the projected wishes and beliefs of the public for their own aims.

Whatever we believe, there will be users like Slater and Gingrich who hijack our dreams to their own private destinations.We too struggle to live up to ideals that demand much of us. The important thing to remember is that ideal don't die when people fall short of them. The best we can do is to strive for perfection through imperfect means.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steven Slater And Going Postal In Style

The Steven Slater story has elicited a tidal wave of sympathy all across America. Steven Slater is the flight attendant who went ballistic when he was trying to get an unruly passenger to sit down while a Jet Blue flight from Pittsburgh was landing in New York. When he asked the woman to wait a few minutes to wait until the plane stopped in the terminal, she cursed him out and accidentally conked him on the head without any apology whatsoever. The Daily News reports as follows on what happened next.

"After he was bonked in the head by a bag, Steven Slater stunned passengers by spewing profanity and ranting about quitting as the flight from Pittsburgh pulled up to the gate about noon.

"To the f-----g a--hole who told me to f--k off, it's been a good 28 years," Slater, 38, purred, cops said. "I've had it. That's it," he added, a passenger said.

The mad-as-hell steward grabbed a couple of brewskis and popped one open before activating the emergency exit, witnesses told airport employees.

After tossing his two carry-on bags on the slide, he followed them to the tarmac."

Slater did not hide after his outburst. He went straight home to Bal Harbor where about 50 police cars reportedly showed up to take him into custody.

I have worked in retail and in customer service. Most of the time, when you are providing a service or a product to the public, you have to keep your feelings under wraps. I once worked in a store where a neighbour came in and snapped his fingers at me to demand service. He wanted me to run to the basement ASAP to get a case of diapers. I went downstairs and watched the clock in the basement do 5 full sweeps of the second hand. Then I came to the front of the store moving in slow motion. The guy was furious, which is what I wanted.

Most of the time, I am the middle man between management and the customer. I really do feel empathy with the guy who wants his merchandise or his service. I had one boss who was so awful to the public that it embarrassed me to cover for him. He was needlessly inflexible about COD's and made it hard to fill rush orders. A lot of the time I shared the customer's opinion that the boss was a real proctological phenomenon. Towards the end of my employment at that company, I would sympathise with customers by saying, "I have no official comment".

Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue. When I was working in health care, families of seriously ill clients could be very demanding. Having dealt with serious illness in my family, I could relate to their pain. Whether you are a sales person, a nursing assistant or an exterminator, it is helpful to cultivate the ability to look at oneself in the third person and look dispassionately at the conflict in which you find yourself.

To me, life is a wheel. sometimes, you are the customer and sometimes you are the guy behind the counter, who has to sublimate his emotions and function as the face of the company. This attitude is so ingrained in me that I find it hard to complain in a restaurant unless the food has actually spoiled or it has dangerous amounts of sugar, which I have to avoid. It seems frivolous to pester a hard working waiter or waitress because my chicken is a bit tough or I got cauliflower instead of broccoli.

We all do our time as "humble servants", clock out and become mighty customers when we are not on shift. But we are still human beings, who should respect each other. Steven Slater gave us a dramatic reminder of this simple truth.

There are civilised ways to complain about bad service. I have gotten apologies and refunds simply by describing a problem I had. When that doesn't work, I have shifted my business elsewhere. Whether it is groceries, clothing or prescriptions, I have shifted my business elesewhere when I felt I was being treated with contempt.

Late last month, a guy I buy newspapers and lottery tickets insisted that I had given him a 5 dollar bill when I had beyond a shadow of a doubt given him a 10. I had no way of proving it. He had already put the bill in the register. The same guy had sold me stale snacks and even soda that was past its expiration date. I decided to stay away from his store for a month. When I go back on August 25, I will quietly remind him that shortchanging me 5 dollars cost him a month of my business, buying newspapers, lottery tickets and small snack items. According to my calculations, he lost more than the 5 dollars he overcharged me.

The only regret I have about Steven Slater's outburst are the reports that he was a recovering alcoholic and that he had some beer after his meltdown. I hope he gets back on the wagon. Addictions are hard to shake, and you really have to hold the line with staying away from your drug of choice.

It's a tough job market out there. I hope Steven Slater gets a break from Jet Blue or from another employer. Biting your tongue all the time can be a bit wearing. The man has my sympathy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Learning The Hard Way At Radio Shack

In 2 months, my daughter and I both burned out power cords for our respective laptops. I went to a local Radio Shack to get a cord for my daughter's notebook, the kind with the little box that steps down the power from 110 volts to 18.5 volts. The sales person at Radio Shack sold me an iGo laptop wall charger, which had a sleek green logo and a bunch of adaptors so you could plug in any laptop you want. It was a lot more bells and whistles than I wanted, but I was in a hurry. The eager young salesman rang up the power cord. It was $99.99 plus tax. I was shocked, but I had never replaced a power cord before, so I bit my tongue and paid the price.

This morning, my power cord died. I couldn't check my e mails. I could have run around the corner to Radio Shack, but I wanted to find an alternative to a $100.00 cord. So I went to a local computer repair shop about 3/3 of a mile away from where I live. The guy is independent. He doesn't own a chain of stores.

His walls are a jumble of cables, peripherals and accessories. I showed him my dead power cord. He went over to a hook on the wall and pulled down a power cord with tiny writing on it. Sure enough the specs matched my burned out old cord. I winced as I asked him how much the thing cost. "$25.00 plus tax", he replied. I paid him with a smile and said, "Thanks on 2 counts. First, you had the cord I wanted. Secondly, now I know how badly I got ripped off at Radio Shack."

I can't say I'll never shop again at Radio Shack. But I will look at local merchants and at Staples before I ever go to Radio Shack. Usually, Radio Shack will have a hard to get item that I am looking for, but it is all too frequently overpriced. If the sales person at Radio Shack would have sold me a reasonably priced item, he would have had a repeat customer. Since I was overcharged, it will probably be a very long time before I go back to Radio Shack. Who wants to pay $100.00 for a computer power cord when I can get one for $25.00? Not me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Spirit" and Other Musical Memories From The 60's and 70's

There are some songs and groups that don't make the "oldie but goody" compilations that one hears on classic rock stations. One such group is "Spirit". Their album "The Family That Plays Together" was one of the all time classics of rock music. I just went to and ordered one of the more obscure songs from the album, a song called "Jewish", which was the only song I had access to at the time with lyrics entirely in Hebrew. The most famous song on the album was "I've Got A Line On You." Another song of Spirit that was popular at the time was "It Shall Be"'

None of the songs by Spirit had lyrics that I really connected with. Their strength of their music for me was the moods it captured. When I listen today, the vivid memories it brings back make it easier to empathise with my own children.

Some 60's and 70's music contains powerful images and aphorisms. My favourites from Leonard Cohen are "Where do all these highways go, now that we are free?" That line comes from "Stories of the Street". I have spent a lot of time contemplating that song and reflecting on what I have bartered my freedom for.

Another beautiful line from a Leonard Cohen song, "Sisters of Mercy" is as follows.

"If your life is a leaf the seasons tear off and condemn, they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem." The mere thought of such love existing gives it reality.

Some other lines from that song capture the essence of various moods. "It's you who must leave everything that you can not control." There is another line that captures a depressed, spiritually sluggish mood very well. "When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned." Sometimes a singer will give words to a feeling that eludes definition. Leonard Cohen songs do that very well.

There is one country song by Don Williams that deals with reaching into popular song to give words to one's feelings. "Listen to the Radio" captures that mood very well. One has to wonder when the music stops and where one's own feelings begin. James Taylor deals with that question in "Riding on a Railroad" and "Hey Mister That's Me Upon the Jukebox."

"We are riding on a railroad, singing someone else's' song." raises the question for me of whether I am really independent in my thinking or somehow being shaped and directed by trends and popular moods. The best way to define this uneasy feeling would be to say that I have boarded a train of thought that seems all too crowded.

I don't know what moved me to check out Spirit and to download their songs. When raising a family, I find that it helps to look into my past and to remember how I felt when I was younger. Old songs almost forgotten are very helpful in doing that. I have little doubt that I might see things in songs that were in no way intended by the author and the composer. Each person who listens to music attaches different feelings, images and memories to it. In a sense, one recreates a song as one listens to it.

I wish "Spirit" success. I hope that more people discover and rediscover their contributions to the music of the 60's and 70's.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Maxine Waters Wins Elliot Spitzer Hypocrisy Award

Maxine Waters is facing 3 ethics violation charges. It seems that she tried to help her husband's bank get some bailout money. Waters' husband, Sidney Williams, owns stock in OneUnited Bank. He is a board member of the bank as well. All of Waters' alleged ethics violations stem from allegedly helping her husband's bank without properly disclosing a conflict of interest.

Charles Rangel has had a series of ethics violations that have already cost him his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means committee. Maxine Waters, by contrast has only 3 ethics violations all connected with the same ethical lapse.

A video has come to light that puts Maxine Waters in line for the coveted Eliot Spitzer Award For pompous Hypocrisy. In 1995, Newt Gingrich was facing 3 ethics violations, just like Maxine Waters is today. Maxine Waters swaggered up the podium and angrily denounced Gingrich thundering "What's good for the goose is what's good for the gander!"

Now it seems that Waters has joined the goose of her cliched metaphor.

It reminds me of Eliot Spitzer, who as attorney general was relentless in hunting down malefactors. He had some alleged blue collar criminals marched out of their offices in handcuffs in front of stunned colleagues. Some of the humiliated suspects were later acquitted. When Alan Hevesi used a government limo to transport his wife to doctor's appointments and on shopping trips at a time that she was battling colon cancer. Instead of cutting Hevesi a break, Spitzer forced him to resign.

So when Spitzer was nailed for going to prostitutes, along with whatever crimes were committed in paying for their services, no one wanted to give Spitzer a break. Publicly humiliating suspects who turn out later to have been innocent as well as driving a man whose wife was battling cancer out of his job did not elicit public sympathy. Spitzer had run sacharin sweet ads touting his own high morals. Later on, those ads came back to haunt him. Instead of forgiving "client number 9" cavorting around with hookers while insisting on wearing his socks, people decided to let him twist in the wind.

I was ready to cut Maxine Waters a break for a single lapse in judgment. I see how ready she is to jump on someone else and even swagger up in front of a live mike to denounce him. I was ready to cut Maxine Waters a break. I think instead that I will give her 9 pairs of white socks and a framed portrait of Eliot Spitzer.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trinidad Creole Lives !

While shopping in Brooklyn the other day, I had a rare pleasure. I discovered a new language. Two cashiers who ring me up regularly departed from their usual flawless English and spoke with each other a language that I first thought was Spanish. I was puzzled, however, because the percentage of the conversation I could understand was much lower than it would be with Spanish.

"Is that Spanish you're speaking?" I asked.

"No, it's patois, one of them replied." It's Trinidadian patois."

She then explained that the language hearkened back to the days when Trinidad was a Spanish colony. The language has a Spanish component, mixed with a great deal of French and French Creole. The infusion came about during a period in the 1700's when the Spanish encouraged settlement of the island from nearby French colonies to develop Trinidad.

The British did their best to replace Trinidadian Creole with English when they took over Trinidad. The language was marginalised and its speakers ridiculed. Holly Betaudier, a speaker of Trinidadian Creole had experience with such prejudice. Montray Kriyol, a web site devoted to the linguistic treasures of the Carribean reports as follows.

He noted that the French never taught slaves their language but the English did. When the British system was brought in, the colonisers taught everyone to speak their language and the patois became a "bastard" language.

Betaudier’s parents came from Martinique and his grandmother, who raised him, only spoke the patois to him. He recalled going to school and one day the whole class laughing at him because he was talking English with a patois accent.

He said that during that time, if a student couldn’t speak English, he was considered "less than a dog". He added that to get employment, people had to speak and write in English, and the patois was considered "degrading", so only older people spoke it.

The campaign over decades has reduced the number of fluent speakers of Trinidadian Creole to about 6% of the total population. Fortunately, public attitudes are shifting and Trinidadian creole is getting some belated respect. Trinidadian creole is a language with vocabulary and grammar that reflect the history , immigration patterns and social relationships among the people of Trinidad. It is heartening to see one of Trinidad's cultural treasures get some respect. I wish the language and its speakers long life and prosperity.