Monday, December 22, 2008

A White House Chanuka Without Santa

When captioning the photos I took in the White House on my computer, I decided to refresh my memories by re-reading the souvenir booklet guests received as we departed the Chanuka reception last Monday night. "A Red, White and Blue Christmas: Holidays at the White House 2008" describes the decorations in the main rooms, illustrated in a charming children's-book watercolor style by Peter Catalanotto. I noticed two departures from the printed descriptions that I assume were made in deference to Jewish sensitivities.
In the East Room, the largest room in the White House, "a beautiful creche of terra cotta and carved wood figurines is displayed on the east wall," the booklet notes. "This treasured 18th-century Italian nativity scene, given to the White House by Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Jr., has been on display in the East Room every Christmas season since 1967." But not for the Chanuka party.

In fact, I realized that even kindly St. Nick was excused. We know that some Jews, notably members of Chabad, eschew the idea of saints so much they called my prior hometown S. Monica. And so, especially after the recent slaughter of the selfless Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, and with Chabad representatives coming early to "kasher" the White House kitchen for the preparation of the kosher repast, the jolly old elf vacated the premises.

This was especially noticeable on the "one-of-a-kind gingerbread house in the State Dining Room... [of] the southern view of the White House," according to the booklet. "Hundreds of pounds of chocolate, more than 150 gingerbread sheets and countless hours of hard work went into this masterful and delicious creation." The confection looked so sturdy that at first I thought it to be a wooden yule miniature, with its figures of the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marching in front. On top, a white sleigh, led by eight cookie reindeer, was about to land on the roof. And who was commanding the reins? Well, for the Jewish event, its "mascots," little chocolate replicas of pets Barney, Miss Beazley and Willie, had earned a promotion. Santa was nowhere to be seen.

I would not have been at all offended to find Mr. Claus in his vehicle (which, after all, doesn't rely on foreign oil) or even to see the creche, which clearly has historical significance even if it holds no religious meaning for me. I'm not one to say "Happy Holidays" when "Merry Christmas" is the more proper greeting for someone. And in a home where the occupants are Christian, I respect and appreciate their artistry and enjoyment in expressing the beauty of their holiday, which, after all, centers on the birth of Jesus, their Christ, their savior. We were in the midst of dozens of Christmas trees, glittering with colored balls and lights and garlands. While the adjustments to two of their decorations was out of courtesy, greatly appreciated, I do think all who attended would have felt just as honored were they in their usual places.

An additional gift to guests was a copy of President Bush's Hanukkah Greeting (his spelling) that says, "During the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, we remember the ancient struggle for freedom. More than 21 centuries ago, a cruel tyrant ruled Judea and forbade the Israelites from practicing their religion. A small band of brothers called the Maccabees came together to liberate their land and reclaim the Holy Temple."

Well, it was a bit more complicated than that...including the fact that the battle was even more a civil war between those Jews who would assimilate into the Hellenistic culture, and those who defended God's laws. It was less a "struggle for freedom" than a stand against "tolerance" and "diversity" in favor of adherence to a Torah that was decidedly different and not very elastic. Also, while Judah, of the priestly Hasmonean clan, son of the Hasmonean leader Mattathias, was called "Maccabee" (which means "hammer"), we also learn that the Hebrew letters spelling Maccabee, mem chaf bet yud, inscribed on his shield, were an acronym for the phrase "mi chamocha eilim hashem," which means, "Who among all gods is like You?"

We also received a beautiful copy of the President's remarks to the members of the Israeli Knesset, delivered May 15, 2008. If you haven't read this excellent speech, you should.

Tonight is the second night of Chanuka. We lit our menorahs (one per member of our family) in the window of our den, where (theoretically, at least) neighbors for several miles who look up to the hill on which we live could see the candles burning, publicizing the miracle that God not only gave the Jews the Torah, but continued to honor His covenants to sustain the Jewish people and prevent their extinction. The miracle of Chanuka, the light on the darkest days of the year, reminded Jews through generations of persecution that God will rescue them. And we, so privileged to live in this greatest nation on God's green earth, must remember what saved them and will sustain us--resolute determination to pursue God's will.

I don't think we'll be invited to another White House Chanuka party for awhile, but at least this time I captured some of it in photos, and certainly vividly in my mind. We're headed out of snowy Seattle for a few days; not exactly a vacation since my husband will be working, but for us a long-anticipated family time and, oh yes! some sunshine! To my Jewish friends, Chanuka Sameach! And to my Christian friends, a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moved to Tears: "Am Yisroyel Chai" in the White House

Time to flip over all the cards about the crowning event of the White House Chanuka party. I've got lots more observations, but I want to share with you something that brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart.

My son and I watched with pleasure as the Marines Orchestra performed specially-prepared Chanuka medleys, all the traditional songs. They also roused us with a clip-clop, neeeeigh! version of Sleigh Ride, as well as several classical selections. At the end of the evening, as the uniformed Marines who were the White House hosts herded attendees toward the exits, the orchestra concluded with some lively Jewish music that started women dancing the hora in a circle. Traditionally, men and women dance separately, at weddings sometimes so frenetically that the entire room smells of Eau de Perspiration and revelers are wiping their wet countenances with startched cloth napkins.

As the women danced joyously, they were overtaken by the men, led by, among others, my son. The music reached its crescendo and applause...but then the men took over, singing and dancing words that touched me, right there in the White House: "Am Yisroyal chai!" "L'Shana ha ba Yerusalayim!" The Jewish people LIVE! Next year in Jerusalem! The simcha (joy) with the women clapping time and the men jumping and whirling reminded me just how blessed we are in America, the land founded on ideas, primary among which is love and closeness to God. Here's my little video of the beginning of the dancing...

The White House Chanuka celebration I wasn't Invited to...

Click here for the White House video of the ceremony preceding the Chanuka party I attended. President Bush celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel as well as Chanuka with a little speech. Then the menorah is lit, with a symbolic blessing (since Chanuka won't begin until Sunday night) by the grandsons of President Truman, who received the menorah, and Israel's first prime minister Ben-Gurion. This was indeed the menorah that I took pictures of...and because it has squat little candles inside glass holders, assumed was lit by electricity! Oops!
You'll also hear the group Kol Zimra, with my friend Sam Glaser (the tall guy on the far right in the video). After an interesting event I'll describe in my post tomorrow, my son was asked to join the group! You can read the text of President Bush's remarks (which were distributed to guests, including us, at party's end) here.

Mr. Bush was the first and only President to host a White House Chanuka reception. A topic of discussion with fellow party-goers was whether President-elect Obama will continue the annual event. Most of those to whom I spoke thought he'd have to--but then does that mean there will be an annual Muslim holiday event, too? How about a plaque-presentation by the atheists dissing all religious observances (like we have in our Washington state capitol)? Or will Obama, who has in the past said he favors dividing Jerusalem, choose not to honor America's friendship with Jews and Israel?

By the way, the spelling of Chanuka in English is a phonetic approximation of the Hebrew word, so whatever spelling you like, works. I use the "Ch" to represent the throat sound of the letter Chaf. Some people don't even bother with that non-English sound and just use an "H". I have no idea why some spellings have a double "k."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chanuka in the White House

Just got back from my whirlwind trip to DC for the President's Chanuka party. So quick it seems like a dream. I'm always amazed and awed that we can step into a metal tube, sit down with a book, a newspaper or just a blow-up neck pillow and emerge in just a few hours on the other side of the country.

I'll post more later, but I gave much thought to my golden moments of conversation with the President. Realizing that I was there not really because of what I've done, but because of my husband's accomplishments, I first said that he regretted that his book tour kept him from attending. I said the name of the new book, and the President lit up and replied, "I've got to get a copy; I want to read that book!" and asked how my husband was. After my son shook his hand, the President told him, "Your father's a good man!" I then added that I wanted to thank him for keeping our nation safe since 9-11. He was most gracious. As was Mrs. Bush, who took my hand in both of hers, and looked me in the eye--not a perfunctory pass, but a pause, as I told her "Thank you Mrs. Bush; I appreciate all you do." She thanked me and said "Happy Chanuka." I remember during the photo that the President had his arm loosely behind my back--and so I (awkwardly, without touching, really,) reached behind his, thinking I might be making a faux pas.

It seemed this time that the guests dressed a bit less formally (I'll admit it: I wore the same outfit I wore last time, but with comfy shoes) and that the buffets laid on tables in several rooms were a bit less lavish than the first Chanuka party I'd attended in 2006. Not that the occasion was diminished by it--but I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that this might be a small acknowledgement of the economic situation.

Rather than the four types of latkes (small veggie pancakes) we enjoyed last visit, this time there was just traditional potato-onion, each the size of a half-dollar. In case you're interested, the rest of the main course buffet included: rolled slices of lox, the most delicious white flaky fish, small riblets from lamb (I was told) with the meat pushed down to one end (no knives were offered, so I supposed we were to eat the meat off by lifting bone to lip), some kind of sliced beef (brisket?), and rolled stuffed slices of white meat turkey. There was a veggie and lettuce salad, and a grilled vegetable tray with olives.
One cannot complain about such a generous spread at the White House. At the dessert tables, there were chocolate truffle balls, small fruit tarts, tiny sufganiot (doughnuts, filled with custard rather than the traditional jelly), a chocolate-frosted white cake, and tiered tray of various cookies. Now you know the entire repast. My memory was of waiters bringing tray after tray to replace depleted tables throughout the 2 1/2 hour event.

The White House was decorated in its Christmas finery. The theme was "a red, white and blue Christmas," though wouldn't that always be de rigeur? In the center of Blue Room was a huge tree with fat ornaments representing each state; in the other halls, and we had free roam of about six large rooms upstairs, were other live trees more modestly attired in bows or round glass balls. Holly garlands were everywhere; red velvet ribbons and holiday trinkets in every nook.

Music was beautifully supplied first by a 20-voice men's acapella choir called Kol Zimra (among whom was popular singer Sam Glaser, a friend of ours) and then by the excellent Marines Orchestra; they each performed every traditional Chanuka piece in the repertoire.

I did think it odd (as I did on my first visit) that for a Chanuka party, the tables were festooned with red tablecloths and small fir or topiary trees with glass ornaments. Though Mr. and Mrs. Bush both wore blue, the rest of the environment was completely in Christmas colors. The only nod to the occasion in the decor was a small silver menorah on a windowsill, and a larger one with all "candles" ablaze (with electric lights) in the oval entry at the top of the stairs. Our friend Sam told us that prior to the party, in a small reception where his group entertained, the President and Mrs. Bush presided over a "menorah lighting" by the grandsons of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister (Clifton Truman Daniel and Yariv Ben-Eliezer), who together lit a menorah given by their grandfather to President Truman. This was clearly symbolic--Chanuka doesn't start until Sunday night.
As you can see, I did bring my camera, though I stupidly left my spare battery behind. I've got some surprises about the evening yet to share...but it's quite late and I've got to get my son to school early...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More than a Salute

When I saw this photo in my local Seattle Times today (it's from yesterday's paper--AP photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari), it brought a tear to my eye. Here's the caption: "President Bush kisses Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Marc E. Olson, of Coal City, Ill., on Tuesday at the White House. At left is Lance Cpl. Patrick Paul Pittman Jr., of Savannah, Ga. The two Marines were hurt when a suicide bomber attacked their entry-control point in Ramadi, Iraq. Pittman, who uses a wheelchair, stood for the photo with Bush. The two were serving with Company A, 2nd Amphibian Assault Battalion attached with the 2nd Batallion, 9th Marines."
My heart and gratitude goes to the Marines. And next week I get to shake the hand of this President. Look at his face. I am truly moved.

What Should I Say to the President?

I was hoping this might come through--an invitation to the White House! THAT White House, the one soon to be occupied by Barack and Michelle.

The Bushes are hosting a Chanuka party next week, and I'll be there, with my son as my escort (my husband being busy on book tour).

This is not the first time President and Laura have invited me--two years ago my husband and I excitedly attended the Chanuka festivities, an evening that now in my mind is the kind of twinkly blur that children carry of the glint of glass balls and sparkle of tinsel that comprises the essence of December magic.

Last time, however, I made a couple of mistakes. Firstly, I decided to take the advice of my fashion-forward teen daughter and borrow her very high-heeled shoes. Little did I know the amount of walking one needs to do from the security checkpoint up the long drive to the imposing columned porch, down the receiving hallway and into the inner sanctum of the living quarters. I was not only wobbling, but shortly, limping, the ill-fitting pumps slipping off my heels. I was in pain while being serenaded by a military orchestra, and tottering between room-length buffets of kosher delicacies, the likes of which I'd never fathomed, despite years of Passover resort getaways. (Most vivid in my mind were the tables of pastries so intricately assembled, petits-four drawn with Stars of David or dreidls or other mini-artworks, swirled with chocolate or raspberry or whipped cream so sculpted you'd think it had to be fake.)

My second mistake was in thinking that security would surely prohibit visitors from bringing in their cameras--so I left mine in my hotel. Wrong, wrong, wrong. While other guests were happily snapping photographic remembrances of each heirloom ornament and thrilling encounter with friends and dignitaries, I internally fumed, mentally kicking myself with pointed, painful stiletto at every glimpse of another once-in-a-lifetime-seen artifact, or introduction to someone I'd previously only read about in the newspaper.

Each couple or guest could line up for a photo with the President and First Lady, and the preceding moments allowed a personal greeting and a few exchanged words with the POTUS. Such an opportunity! As I stood in queue, inching forward, adrenaline rising, I kept revising what I would say. "Thank you for all you do for Israel and the Jewish people" was far too unoriginal. "We appreciate you," way too obvious. When it was finally my turn, Mr. Bush took my hand, I looked him in the eye and...what did I say? "Please come to us for Shabbat! We'd be honored if you and Mrs. Bush would come to our home for a Sabbath meal."

I instantly felt very stupid.

To my relief, he not only smiled, but said yes, he'd like to do that. Perhaps when he's got more free time, after January 20, he'll fulfill that acceptance. And now I've got a chance not only to remind him, but to schedule it.

Um, probably not. However, I better start planning what I'm going to say when I see President and Mrs. Bush at the Chanuka party, right now. Any suggestions?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Solution for the Economy: Print Money--right?

OK, OK, I'm really consumed by this economy thing. I just heard Ben Stein say something OUTRAGEOUS to my fave radio host, who was quoting an article saying the federal government doesn't just "have" money; all its funds are taken from somewhere else, like taxpayers, or borrowed from China.

Ben Stein said, "that's easy to dispense with, because it's simply not true. The government can just print more money."

I was going nuts at that--thinking, OK, so there are rooms full of piles of money. What does the government DO with it? It's useless unless it's part of a transaction--somebody has to provide some product or service to earn it, and then somebody has to use it to buy something, right?

Wrong. Government can simply give it away! Good old Government, my favorite uncle! My sugar Daddy! Ben Stein said that if the government wants to do some massive program, they'll just print the money or notes or checks and give it out! Nobody has to pay it back. Nobody has to DO anything for it. It can "bail out" delinquent car companies or defaulting sub-prime mortgage homeowners, or perhaps even be "used" for projects, just like Roosevelt after the Great Depression did(who cares if that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it?).

The Government has unlimited funds! I'm finally educated. And now I wonder why the government even NEEDS our taxes.

Ben Stein said that putting too much fabricated money out there is terribly inflationary. Gee, in a country as big as ours, if we just put out the few billions it takes to run things, who'd notice? We could all be busy generating lots and lots MORE money, making our economy explode with productivity, if there were no taxes!!

Tell me where I'm wrong. I've got to get back to cooking for Shabbat--it comes in at 4 pm in the winter!!

Gypped out of Goodies from Government

Things seem out of whack. Naomi Wolf, who was not long ago a gracious guest in our home for Shabbat but not at all on our page politically, apparently has a new tome coming out about how America is ruined and has gone Fascist. My first reaction: That's why Obama won?

Then, I'm moving the newspaper off the kitchen island so I can make my weekly challah, and I see the New York Times' Business Day section, headlined, "Washington's New Tack: Helping Home Buyers." Before reading the article, I said to myself (I talk aloud to myself, my most approving audience): "Nobody ever expected the government to help buy a house before." Actually, I was feeling cheated, because it used to be that if you couldn't afford to buy a home, your parents "helped" or you just didn't get one until you could afford it. Then, if you lost your job or for whatever reason couldn't make the payments, you sold the house or, if you were a deadbeat and missed payments, you lost your house to the mortgage-holder.

I read the article, and sure enough, the Feds know that those of us chumps who bought our houses under the "old rules" would resent the newbies who get their goodies: "...the new focus on helping individuals could create a bitter split between those who want to buy homes and those who already own them." Yeah, I want one of those Treasury Department "30-year, fixed-rate mortgages at rates far lower than most Americans have ever seen" that will only be available to new homebuyers, not refinancers! Why have my husband and I been working so hard to pour so much interest into the hands of those 'greedy bankers'? We pay taxes--lots! We want our share of them BACK!

My gosh, I thought Pres. Bush was in favor of free markets. Doesn't that include allowing a free-fall in real estate? We know Roosevelt's programs to stop the Great Depression backfired (see Amity Shlaes). I think this is an extreme example of the "Do-Something Disease" my husband talks about. The role of the federal government has morphed from organizing states and providing basic national services (defense, insuring national transportation) into the Great Daddy who has to come through when his kids (in this case, realtors) get in trouble. But the good kids who do everything right? We're stuck with hundreds of dollars more in monthly mortgage payments. What is this???

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do I think Jews are superior?

Perhaps it's gauche to write a post about comments on previous posts. On hugely popular sites, comment threads take on lives of their own, with adversarial discourse zinged between readers unafraid to be rude and bold, often hidden behind blogger monikers (like Northern Light...).

My blog, however, is...a very personal expression. When I got a comment from Jim Page thrashing me as arrogant and xenophobic, both of which I try very hard not to be, I was surprised. I answered. Then I received an encouraging response from a reader named Miriam that I want to respond to here, as I have more to say than merely the few words I'd put in a comment.

After Jim stridently suggested that the Mumbai atrocities were just another example of "religious fundamentalism" like "Witch hunts, Inquisitions, Mormon Indian killers, Zionist shock troops, and so on," Miriam noted that historic horrific behavior was not condoned by the God of the Bible or faithful adherents, who protested them.

Actually, there's plenty of God-commanded slaughter in the Bible. The difference is that God was specific in what He wanted--applied to only those particular peoples, at that time. And never again. There's nothing even remotely similar to ongoing "jihad" in the Bible.

Even though you could say the Crusades were murderous, and that each of the seven had complex aims, generally the medieval volunteers were spurred by religious fervor--to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims, or otherwise further the glory of Jesus and the God of the Bible. Thomas Madden in "The Crusades" suggests that they were defensive wars against Muslim aggressors. That doesn't excuse the massacre of Jews that occurred along the way, or forced conversions (by Christians or Muslims) on pain of death. But, the Crusades were never biblically mandated or suggested, and in the eight hundred years or so since then, the same religion that sprouted them (Roman Catholicism) has changed from a political force to a solely religious one, and condemns violence on behalf of faith.

Crusades were then; with Mumbai, we're talking here-and-now. Radical Islam is the only religion now that advocates killing off all its competition.

Miriam responded to Jim's claim that I'm "despicably xenophobic" for saying Jews (and Americans) stand out on the world stage.

She replies that Jews "aren't the Chosen People because they are better than everyone else (hence no reason for feeling 'superior'). Rather they are Chosen because God wills it so. Singled out for His blessings and singled out for the world's curses."

Well, I can't say God chose us for special blessings (pogroms, the holocaust, and multiple exiles belie that), but for special (added) responsibility. We seem to suffer when collectively we eschew or ignore the 613 mitzvot (commandments) we're charged to fulfill. We're supposed to try to understand rational purposes for the commandments, but do them simply out of subservience to God, even if we don't understand.

Many of the commandments are inconvenient, some majorly so. I did a post last Passover expressing my frustration with some of out all eensy vestiges of leavened products from my kitchen being right up there. You can say we who believe in God and think we get close to Him by abiding by all these rules are stupid. Or misguided. Or backward. But enduring endless persecution, discrimination and, even in America blessedly free from those, the burden of the obligations, surely could not give Jews any feelings of superiority.

Different question: Do I think my religion is superior to other religions? Sure. For me. Otherwise, why bother?

I'd guess Jim Page has the view that religion is at best worthless and at worst destructive. Not just that people can behave worthlessly and destructively, but that the actual basis of all religion is harmful.

But given the number of people who are inspired, uplifted, consoled and restrained from wrongdoing every single day by religion, you'd have to say that over all, the pursuit of it enriches life and provides a useful standard of behavior. If you balance the positive and negative effects of religion, the balance tips decisively toward the positive.

Back to the Mumbai murders at the Jewish outreach center, Chabad. I do think that Muslims have a particular hatred for Jews because of their conflicting belief about Ismael versus Isaac. Jews are not regular infidels, but ones who pervert what they believe to be the truth.

And Rabbi and Rivke Holtzberg of Mumbai were selected not simply because of anti-Semitism but in awareness that Jews have a world-wide significance beyond their numbers, a prominence that brings huge publicity and focus on the terrorists' acts. The bad guys wanted this.

No organization is more globally visible in its programs and education in Torah observance than Chabad. More than any other Jewish group, Chabad brings traditional piousness to out-of-the-way places, through the cheerful self-sacrifice of its emissaries (called "schluchim," Hebrew for "messengers"). This "encroachment" inflames extremist Muslims. So does the existence of Israel. They want to stomp out both.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai Terrorism--Emotion and a Spiritual Response

I may be the last person to be adding to a blogosphere vibrating with emotion about the apalling terrorist murders in Mumbai.
The horrifying carnage waged by those who believe their despicable acts glorify their god--and are even commanded by their god--leave all sane and civilized people in mourning and shock.

A point made by my favorite talk show host today, however, was different, and struck me. Fave Host was talking about a blog post by Commentary Magazine and NYTimes columnist Max Boot for Nov. 29, in which he suggests that by now, terrorist attacks in India are so common as to earn barely a mention in the Western press.

The Host added that in order to gain the notoreity and importance the killers desired--in order to force the world to take notice--they selected Americans and Jews as their targets. Even if their aim was to foment friction or war between India, a Democratic power, and Pakistan, a goal that did not include the United States or Israel specifically.

Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International Editor and a native of Mumbai, said in an interview that he thought disaffected Indian Muslims, left behind in the current economic boom, were recruited by outside groups, probably trained in Pakistan. The name offered by those claiming responsibility, the Deccan Mujahedeen, is unfamiliar to terrorist experts.

But while the perpetrators and their purposes are sorted out, we on the sidelines--who can barely stomach the details and watch reports through cracks between fingers we lift to block our eyes--are personally affected by the horror. Americans in India are not just citizens of any foreign country, who happen to be there. The Jews of Chabad House were not just any religious workers selflessly bringing services and solace in an emerging land. Both Americans and Jews stand out on the world stage as much more.

Americans represent the freedom and diversity that Islam seeks to quash. The wealth and upward mobility that extremist Muslims rue. We represent a free press and instant, constant news. Command the airwaves, command the blogosphere, and you have power.

Jews symbolize all of that and more. Historically attacked, isolated, and destroyed partially because communication is central to the religion, Jews are the opposite of diversity--representing unity, in a direction that jihadist Muslims despise. Jews are as completely "not them" as any people can be. And hated all the more because the Jewish connection to God is via a brother and more importantly, a rival, of a figurehead of their religion. Where Abraham is shared by both Judaism and Islam, the Koran claims that Ishmael, the son of Abraham's concubine/wife Hagar, is the inheritor of the Godly mantle. The Torah, of course, shows Isaac as the descendant God favors, one of the "fathers" of Jewish thought and practice.

Rabbi Gabriel and his wife Rivka Holtzberg, 28 years old with five years invested in Mumbai creating a haven of Jewish worship, study and practice surrounded by a cacophony of alien philosophies and religions, were a natural target. For Muslim extremists, The rival is here and must not prosper.

This very physical battle in Mumbai was a victory for the terrorists, whose free reign in the face of unarmed police and few barriers is a grim warning about the importance of weapons for those who keep peace, and a reminder that Americans dare not become complacent.

But more than that, this is a spiritual battle, and on that front, the values and Godly connection of Americans and Jews worldwide need not lose. The response of the Chabad Jewish outreach organization to the tragedy is to urge Jews to take on a new mitzvah, to draw closer to God by fulfilling more of His commandments, with a more fervent spirit. This is a response with a different type of weapon. The kind that suicide murderers cannot combat, no matter what they try to do.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Protesters, a Pivotal Person...and Privilege

It was a sunny autumnal Sunday, with exhilarating clear yellow light, the Cascade and Olympic Mountains both visible with their dusting of snow, and Mt. Rainier casting a dark silhouette, crisp and looming.

A day for two memorable experiences.

With my husband spending the day on an airplane, good friends offered to take me with them to a concert of an ensemble of musicians from the Israel Defense Forces, given at a local Reform Temple. An annual event, it raises awareness of Friends of the IDF, a volunteer group that provides non-combat-related support for the men and women protecting Israel.

I wasn't prepared for the reception we received. Lining the street in front of the Temple were several clusters of protesters, wielding signs denouncing the "occupation" of Palestinian lands. One held a sign reading "Stop Israeli State Terrorism." A fifty-foot-long banner blared "Stop the Siege on Gaza." Perhaps 35 people hovered near the entrance to the program, menacingly glaring at all who walked toward the door. Each one, without exception, hoisting some placard or sash. Some announced their bearers as Jews. Several police cars were parked nearby.
Sponsors of the event stood on the Temple front patio welcoming concert-goers. "Thank you for coming," they smiled. "Come right in." They were well aware that the protesters' aim was to intimidate. One man entering the venue spit on the ground in front of one of the picketers, and called another who advertised he was Jewish "anti-Semitic." He received no response.

Inside, six musicians and three talented singers in khaki uniforms accented in red performed modern standards and Jewish favorites, encouraging the audience to clap the rhythm and sing familiar lyrics. The second woman fighter pilot, diminutive 24-year-old Lieut. Naami, described her path to the cockpit. The local volunteers who raise money to help families of fallen soldiers, provide recreational and supplementary support in the field, contribute college scholarships to veterans and purchase mobile clubs, gyms and synagogues spoke of their work. Finally, the ensemble's lively harmonies roused many in the audience to traditional dance.

Not a very threatening gathering. But very ominous if you believe Israel should not exist. Israel is the only democracy in its region, where Arab citizens, who make up about 20% of the electorate, have a say in the government. I found it ironic that those who would remove such liberty from the mid-east's one free enclave would use that very freedom to heckle people walking to a charity concert.

Later, we attended a screening of the film "Lonely Man of Faith," a biography of Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik, considered the founder of Jewish "Modern Orthodoxy" in America. The film, a first effort by Ethan Isenberg, a 31-year-old former computer programmer who, after absorbing much of the Rabbi's approach at Yeshiva University and in Israel, spent years "on spec" gathering the biographical information and interviews that are movingly combined in this film.

What we see is the melding of old and new worlds--how a genius from a distinguished rabbinical family from White Russia who fled to Poland and finally the United States, evolved an outlook that could combine a rigorous, academic approach to scriptures with the challenges of a fast-paced, assimilationist culture. In the film, he is presented as an enigma, one who tried to lift standards of his community in Boston while at the same time overlaying a flexibility and plasticity demanded by American life.

For his efforts, he was baselessly accused of sinister motives and theft, completely cleared only after stressful years of conflict. His insistence that women receive top-flight education, and his creation of Orthodox day schools where boys and girls learned together, was controversial among the traditional, and subversive among the assimilationists who were the vast majority of Jews in America.

Finally, he gained not only respect but reverence. Considered among the most eminent Torah scholars and teachers in America, he led Yeshiva University in New York, as well as its women's branch, Stern College, to prominence as the premier centers of Jewish philosophical and halachic (law) study. Yet after four decades of teaching, which included his significant The Lonely Man of Faith essay, Rav Soloveichik (1903-1993) is still unknown by almost all Jews in America and elsewhere.

The film does not really explain The Rav's philosophies, which, given their complexity and depth, would be impossible. But it hints at his torment and difficulty carrying Torah through the pivot of revolutionary world events--escape from persecution, pre-war Poland, struggles in America, the scourge of the holocaust, the birth of Israel, and the advent of the technological age intersecting with the Age of Aquarius.

Witnessing today the anger of the protesters at the FIDF concert, and the challenges of Rav Soloveichik, I feel very small. I look at the insignificant decisions of our privileged lives--even as we watch our savings shrivel in the current financial squeeze--and see both how much more I could learn and how blessed we all are to have so many paths already forged for us.

This is the week of Thanksgiving. I'm planning to cook the traditional turkey (the only time of the year my oven contains real meat) but today's events remind me that the holiday is not about the food in our stomachs, but about the intellectual and spiritual sustenance of the friends and teachers we are so fortunate to know, and the environment in which we are free to enjoy them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Truth will (IS) Out: The 10 Big Lies About America

I may be working on my own book about marriage as the combination of opposites, but right now I'm rather engrossed in the progress of a different book--The 10 Big Lies About America.

My husband's book was published on Tuesday, and I'm not only invested in its success as the "opposite" half of my mate, but because I spent several months working on it.

My husband, who is insecure enough to think his opportunities are fleeting and must all be embraced when presented--regardless of how many other obligations he must fulfill--had signed his book contract months earlier and found himself with deadline fast approaching and still only an outline and lots of ideas to show for it. Every time somebody would mention his book project, he'd change the subject. It became the "elephant in the room," and the weight on his back, even as he wrote three or four columns every day, went to movie screenings several times a week, appeared on countless news TV shows and, oh yes, did a three-hour radio show daily. And kept Shabbat, which removed one day from his potential work time.

He considered who he could bring on board to help get this project done. He already had his editor to nag him, and in the end he decided that perhaps the best writing partner was, um, very, very close. Close enough to sit next to him holding her laptop taking notes wherever and whenever an epiphany struck. This wasn't a wild idea, since we'd collaborated on a book before (Saving Childhood: Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence, which he outlined and I wrote) and I had five other books to my own credit.

However, when one is ruminating in the bathtub or while driving, one tends to get too many good ideas. "We should put in all these massacres in the chapter on Indians..." and I dutifully wrote them all down, and proceeded to research them all and write succinctly about them. I have always been a good, dutiful student. The chapter I wrote on "the crime of genocide" against American Indians included every point he requested. It was 130 pages long and had 128 endnotes. My chapter on slavery, for which I read 56 books, was also 130 pages, and had 136 endnotes.

I ticked off each point my husband wanted covered as I continued writing subsequent chapters, but when the editor heard of the massive amounts of material being generated, he screamed. This was not to be a tome; it was to be like my husband's radio show--cogent points, well-documented, able to fit between commercials.

My hundreds of pages of writing were cherry-picked by my husband, who re-formulated and then wrote the chapters himself. As I read the book now, I see the editor was right--it's darn good. It's succinct, it's punchy, it's clever. Every now and then I see something I uncovered via my hours of digging through obscure my perusal of photocopies of the original letters between the generals accused of suggesting Native American genocide via "smallpox-infected blankets," a myth definitively quashed by my research.

Am I disappointed my work is only peripherally used in The 10 Big Lies? Well, no. The book is fantastic and I envision any parent or teacher who wants to present the truth about American history insisting that children read it. I envision it being quoted around Thanksgiving tables and at family Christmas dinners (where some lucky person received it as a gift) because of its inspiring, uplifting and heartwarming messages.

And since I truly DO believe that man and woman are "sides" of the same unique entity called a marriage, I figure I get all the kudos and thrill that my husband is earning now.

But maybe...hmmm...there's some way to publish my chapters....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wanted: More Liberals to Take my Survey--Plus, Some Preliminary Results

It's been less than two days since I posted my survey asking about men's and women's roles in marriage, and already I have more than 550 responses. If you haven't taken the survey (described in the post immediately below), please do:
Click Here to take survey

Most participants came from my link on, and therefore include respondents who describe themselves as conservative or "right-leaning" (93%). I don't really have connections to any blogs or sites frequented by liberals/progressives, but I'd love to have a broader picture--so I'd appreciate if you could please refer others, or link to my survey.

In the meantime, I'm moved by the thought and insight in the answers provided so far.

As of now, more husbands than wives have responded (60%-40%). Participants were married from 3 months to 57 years, with lengths of marriage pretty evenly represented (fewer as years married increase, of course).

Sixty-four percent said they were "very happy" in their marriages; another 28% chose "happy."

An aside: I wonder if this reflects recent research showing that by every measure, conservatives are happier than liberals. Arthur Brooks, summarizing the research from his 2008 book Gross National Happiness to Free Republic, explained it this way:

"About half the 'happiness gap' is explained by two demographic differences. Conservatives are far more religious than liberals, on average, and much more likely to be married. Faith and marriage both strongly improve life quality for most people."

My survey was for married people, so one criterion for happiness was met. They also overwhelmingly reported preference for religion, many using religious references in their comments, so, two down.

Brooks continues, "The other half of the gap is explained by differing worldviews. Conservatives generally look at society and see a collection of individuals. Liberals are much stronger at the level of the collective... Conservatives feel more in control of their world than liberals do; liberals are more likely to feel like victims when others don’t behave the way they 'should.'” Interesting.

Back to my results: Participants in my survey provided perceptive and personal responses to the open-ended questions, especially regarding what makes their marriages work. My eyeballing of ingredients to their happiness, and advice to engaged couples, reveals themes of 1. shared religion, 2. shared devotion to children, and 3. communication/intimacy.

Though in many marriages the wife did not work, a similar number reported wives bringing in the bulk of the income. Only three surveys showed the husband bringing in 0% of the income, however. A large majority reports that the wife does most of the housework, though several people thought I should have included a housework category acknowledging children's contribution. Many noted that the economic climate now requires both partners' incomes, even if they would prefer the wife to focus on home and children.

Questions about the passage of California's Proposition 8, and views on same-sex marriage brought the expected traditionally-minded responses, with many citing the Bible or religious basis for their positions. A large number expressed compassion for gays, but while not opposed to civil union, insisted the time-honored definition of marriage remain.

These findings are not surprising given the self-selected audience, of course, but the eloquence of the personal expressions was touching and will be useful in my book. I just read over one survey where the writer's answers broke my heart--the psychologist in me kicks in! I want to personally respond to so many of the comments--I hope on Wednesday when I guest-host the third hour of the Michael Medved radio show, I'll be able to have a dialog about some of these issues.

I can argue the reasons why gender differences are the crux of marriage but the passion and sense of the comments I've received adds dimension and vitality to the discussion.

I feel honored so many people took the time to complete my survey, and if you did, I hope it was personally beneficial. Please share the questionnaire with your spouses and friends (and especially, refer liberals!) This isn't just about a book project or a political proposition, it's about the very essence of our most central and intimate relationships, a topic always worth exploring.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How Do You Mesh the Roles of Husband and Wife? Take My Survey!

As I've mentioned before, I'm in the midst of writing a book on the fact that marriage can only be the unique combination of male and female.

As part of my research, I've devised a questionnaire that I hope you'll complete by clicking on the following link:

Click Here to take survey

The survey has only 18 questions, and asks about how tasks are divvied up between the husband and wife. Clearly I have a position on what marriage is, but I want to know how it works for you.

I think that completing the questionnaire will not only be enjoyable, but illuminating. And your responses may also be beneficial for those reading my book. I know the survey can't be considered scientific, and I'll present the results honestly as such. Still, the more input I have, the better, so please feel free to invite friends and family to participate. I'll only be running the survey, called "How Do You Mesh the Roles of Husband and Wife?" for a couple weeks. I'll be discussing it this Wednesday as I guest-host the third hour of The Michael Medved Radio Show, if you'd like to call in to share your thoughts!

Thanks in advance--I'm eager to see what you have to say!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There are Two Seasons in Seattle: August, and The Rainy Season

We've entered "the rains" here in the Northwest, and for the past week or so, with the exception of a few hours Monday afternoon, we've been engulfed in a shroud of showers.
People living here experience SAD (seasonal affective disorder), as many who work in offices drive to work in the dark and leave also in the dark. Add to that the dank, given that the sidewalks grow mold and trees drip moss. Seattleites don't carry umbrellas; instead, we ignore the rain. If we had to open and close umbrellas, we'd waste precious hours.

Seattle joke: What did the Seattleite say to the Pillsbury Doughboy?
--Nice tan.

I have a lightbox. To those of you in southern climes (lucky ducks! Oh wait. We're the ducks...) that's a cringingly bright light that you sit in front of so that you don't go crazy. My desk lamp is a "full spectrum" florescent that ostensibly simulates the soothing rays of sunshine. Doesn't work. My kitchen light is a long "solar" bulb. I nearly wrote "blub." Like I'm underwater.

I remember emerging one afternoon from my office, looking out on the foliage and asking aloud, "what's that white stuff?" It was sunshine. I just didn't recognize it.

However, I do get some practice now and then. We have something known as a "sun break." It's part of the weather forecast, whenever possible. "Rain, then showers." "Drizzles, then rain." "Cloudy, Afternoon rain." Then, our hopes go sky-high: "Rain. Chance of sun-breaks."

Sun-breaks, you would think, are like coffee breaks anywhere else. Here in Seattle, home of Starbucks, we get them together. A "sun-break" means a little space between the clouds when the sun peeps through. If you're in a crowd, you'll hear someone yell "SUNBREAK!" and everyone drops what he's doing and runs outside to turn his face to the "white stuff," craving a mini-dose of Vitamin D. At that welcome word, you hear people formerly with cell to ear saying, "'Callya right back!" and joining the herd heading for the nearest balcony. Even a window will do.

Seattle is a great place to live. It has the highest per capita book purchasing. It is a movie mecca. It has ubiquitous coffee dens with fireplaces. Reading, movies and hibernating--sounds like winter. Ten months a year.

Oh, there's skiing. But my husband won't let any of us try it. Too dangerous. Remember Sonny Bono...though I heard some suspect he didn't ski into a tree after all. That's another story.
Don't think this is just a soppy k'vetch, though I've done a good job of it. What I wanted to say was how happy I am every morning to be able to see the rain-reflections on my patio, and the sheets of gray outside the window, and hear the pecking raindrops on our metal roof and skylight.
I decided a while ago that depressing as this constant cold, dark and wet is to this Southern California girl, I was going to make the most of it.
It's Jewish tradition to "wake up like a lion to the service of the Lord," and after a few moans in my warm down-comforter sleep-number bed, I force myself. "Modeh ani," I recite, the traditional expression of gratitude for being allowed another day. And then, I look outside.
"And ANOTHER gray day in the grayest region on God's green earth!" I leap out of bed like a lion groping for her slippers.
Truth is, I didn't really see much more than the color outside, because before inserting my contact lenses, the world is fuzzy. But after throwing on my gym clothes, I finally pop in my vision and take a look.
"...Pokayach ivrim." That's part of the morning blessings: Blessed is God...who gives sight to the blind. And that's when I don't mind the rain at all.
On the way into the gym today, leaves fallen from two trees, amber and crimson and gold, mingled on the startlingly green grass to create a collage that sparkled with the rain. I was surprised by its beauty. But I didn't pause too long. Because, without an umbrella, I was getting drenched.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

$200 Blue Jeans? I Hope Somebody's Buying

Comments like, "This is exactly why we need to take money away from rich snobs like you and give it to people who need it to buy pizza-level cuisine -- hold the ambiance -- and see if it trickles UP for a change."

Actually, most of the negativity surrounding my piece was directed toward Michelle Obama and her, um, novel election-night dress, or Sarah Palin's alleged $150,000 wardrobe upgrade.

But I want to make clear that I'm on the opposite side of the clothes-buying continuum. Almost everything I wear is from Target, or, more likely,a hand-me-up originally from Target or Forever 21. (Definition of "hand-me-up:" Something daughters consider so out-of-style or shrunken from washings that they can only give it to their mother. And their mother, who paid for it in the first place, can't bear to give it away when it's still perfectly good, so she wears it.)

From my husband's occupation, some people might assume our family lives high on the hog. Of course, the hog isn't kosher, and given the way I was raised, living high isn't acceptable either. I admit we are blessed to live comfortably, due to my husband's hard work. But if you've ever read the best-seller The Millionaire Next Door, you'll learn that vast numbers of people whose net worth ultimately grows into a lot of money do it by living frugally. That's why the millionaire is next door--he doesn't get a fancy house or eat at 3-D-food restaurants or buy $200 blue jeans. He has values that emphasize thrift and modesty and self-sacrifice and prudence.

That's what my parents taught me, and we've endeavored to teach our children. And that's why I've never owned a pair of blue jeans that cost more than one tenth of $200. That's right. In fact my "good" jeans were indeed from Target, purchased six years ago. My everyday jeans are hand-me-ups from Old Navy. Our shoes are from Payless, and when my son needs clothes, we go to JC Penney's. If he wants something from, say, Hollister or Apostale, he pays for it out of his own earnings. He's great with kids and earns most of his cash babysitting.

My husband is what most observers call "sartorially-challenged." His corduroy pants are so "broken in" they have no wale. The joke about "ties older than you are" started with him. And extends to his shirts. We have urged him to relent a little and let us at least augment his antiques with a few newer additions. We buy them (on sale). He refuses them.

By the way, frugality is a way of life that extends way beyond clothes-buying. We host Shabbat meals for a crowd every week, the menu based on sale circulars from our local markets and the coupons I've clipped. A "shopping spree" for me is the occasional trip to Big Lots or Dollar Tree, where I buy cleaning supplies, toiletries and sometimes splurge on something for our Shabbat table. (My creative outlets are fanciful tabletops and digital photography). Our meals out (about twice a month at most) are limited due to the dearth of kosher restaurants in our area, none of which are what you'd consider fancy--or even serve meat.

OK, I feel better. When someone as cheap as I am is accused of wearing $200 jeans, I get a little defensive.

My point stands: Even though I don't patronize them, I still care about the many posh and upscale stores and restaurants I see. I want them to prosper; I want people with means to patronize them, and enjoy their beautiful products and refined dinners. This downturn is causing big problems, and not just for the elite Wall Streeters who are laid off or laid low, but for the retailers who depended on the patronage of middle management, computer techys, and professionals of all types who are being trimmed from suffering companies, big and small.

When I've walked around our local mall--on the way to JC Penney's--I've often wondered who patronizes the stores I consider expensive. I seldom see more than a few customers browsing, and often the stores are empty. White House/Black Market. Ann Taylor. Coldwater Creek. Express. I'm sure each of these stores have sales where their merchandise is marked way down, but even at sale prices, the apparel sold there is usually more than I'm willing to pay. And now, with the downturn, customers are staying away in droves; even the ones who could continue shopping upscale are holding back out of guilt and embarrassment at their conspicuous consumption.

The decline of these glitzy stores is reality but the question remains whether a new President Obama (writing that was tough) will exacerbate or resolve the problem. The reason why I'm worried is because the kind of approach he promises requires more federal programs and thus more taxpayer support. Instead of cutting taxes on businesses that hire lots of people, Obama hopes to tax them further (ask Joe the Plumber), reducing their ability to keep employees and inventory.

As I said before, business is not the enemy but the source of recovery, if we encourage it. The government should cut taxes on profit, and offer workers the option of an 18% flat tax on income. History has shown that lower tax rates bring in more revenue, as citizens have less motivation to hide or weasel around federal demands. We need to re-empower customers to buy, and reinvigorate the entrepreneurial spirit of those in the marketplace.

And maybe my husband would even accept some new pants from Nordstrom Rack if he thought it would help the economy, though they better be far less than $200.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One Reassurring Election Result

The good news in an otherwise disheartening slate of returns was that voters in California, where I was born, raised and lived until moving to the Northwest a dozen years ago, confirmed their previous declaration that marriage can only be defined as one man, one woman.

After four-and-a-half months of gay marriage, sanctioned by only a one-judge margin (4-3) in a case negating the citizens' 2000 ballot initiative and a law that defined marriage traditionally, a majority inserted the time-honored definition into the state constitution, where it cannot be dislodged.

Though this may tear asunder the use of a particular word for gay couples, it does nothing to change their practical status, as California law already gives those in civil unions complete parity of rights with married couples.

And of course, gays always had an equal right to marry, the same right as any other adult, to choose one of the opposite gender. All that's happened is something linguistic, but deeply significant. It is a message that there are indeed gender differences that must be recognized, and even more importantly, that there is one combining of those differences that we hold as the highest, and for most, God-sanctified means of building connections, raising children, and creating a stable society.

This is extremely meaningful for me, as my husband had suggested I put my work on hold pending California's vote. I'm doing a book explaining the importance of marriage as the uniting of opposites; if Proposition 8 had failed, it would have opened the door for national gay marriage and symbolized Americans' indifference toward my subject. With Barack Obama's pledge to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, nothing could have stopped state reciprocity and the generalizing and devaluing of the institution. Now, I'll write with greater urgency.

And what about those same-sex couples who thought they'd married? There's no way to know how many people this affects, since shortly after the mid-May ruling, wedding licenses in California began listing "Party A" and "Party B" for "bride" and "groom." A study released last month by UCLA's Williams Institute looked at the differences in marriage rates between pre-and post-gay marriage rulings at the same times of year, and assumed any increase was gays. Using that questionable standard, they announced that 11,000 gay marriages had been performed. Williams' Gary Gates says many of these are couples who traveled to California for the ceremony, since the bulk of the weddings occurred at top tourist destinations.

By comparison, Massachusetts, the only other state legalizing gay unions, records 10,385 such couplings in four years --since May, 2004, according to a recent LA Times article.

The big fear was that Californians, like the proverbial frog boiled in slowly-heated water, had grown used to the idea of gay marriage, and, given big donors to the No on 8 campaign like the Service Employees International Union ($500,000) and the California Teachers Assn. ($250,000), would roll over and accept it. This outcome reassures us that no matter who's at the helm of the political wheel, our basic values will keep our nation turning the right direction.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Wins--But Will the Economy Lose?

As I walked back in the nip and chill of the evening,far too early and dejected, from the hotel where Republicans celebrate with their candidates, I looked at the tony stores lining the boulevard--and feared for their survival.

I'd just watched on a huge projected TV Sen. McCain's gracious and generous concession speech. Our nation lost the leadership of one who is temperate, dedicated and moral. And my mind turned to the likely consequences of that loss.

Stocks tomorrow and the rest of the week are likely to tumble, at the prospect of serious taxes on businesses already jabbed by the credit squeeze and weak economy. Many will have to contract. I looked at the swanky shops in the newly-expanded shopping corridor: Ex Officio offers "performance" wear for "enhanced comfort," and enhanced price. Nearby, 7 for All Mankind, Eileen Fischer, Rag ("Men's Style"), LaCoste and Free People just opened up. Blue jeans for $200? Not likely this year if taxes skyrocket among the more affluent who are the entire customer base of these stores.

How about the chi-chi eateries offering 3-D dinners--referring to the stacked presentation of items on the plate, as well as the triple-digit charge. A dozen bistros offer lovely ambiance, luscious cuisines of every kind--but they're likely to lose even more profit (restauranteurs report a 10-20% decline since the gas crunch a couple months ago) if gas goes back up, taxes restrict patrons' disposible income and they, as employers, have to kick in for their workers' health plans.

It's not a pretty picture.

Why did Americans let themselves in for all this tsuris (that's Yiddish for trouble)? Easy: emotion trumps logic. I've said it before, and it never fails. Obama's entire strategy, his encompassing approach, and indeed the typical pull of liberals is--well, that famous bleeding heart. "Taking care of you; taking care of others," the sad anecdotes featured on Obama's pre-World Series Infomercial, the dying Grandma whose only wish is to see her grandson become president...compassion, caring, hope and change! It was irresistible.

Sure, the Iraq war had dragged on, and we got used to feeling safe again. And George Bush had acted like a Democrat, expanding federal intrusion into education, and spending up a storm. It was a climate ripe for emotions to dominate.

Enter the economic crisis. The tired pun is that Americans felt over the barrel when it came to filling their tanks to drive to work, at $4 a gallon. Higher gas prices reverberated to everything that required transporting--and that would be everything. Spaghetti that used to cost $1 a pound now is 50% more. Lettuce and flour and pickles and juice all went up. It was a squeeze. Blame Bush! It hurts! Blame Bush! He's an old white guy...we want a young black guy!

By the time the election got close, Obama's policies were immaterial. When you look at him, you see--change. "Ninety-five percent of you are going to get a tax cut!" How? From the rich guys. Relief.

What can solve the economic crisis? First off, it's already easing--but this would instantly revive the economy: Flat tax of 18% across the board on incomes above $25,000, no deductions. Slash business taxes, slash taxes on capital gains and profits. Reward entrepreneureal risk-taking, and more businesses will re-invest what they earn from those risks, hiring more employees, and taking further risks. Our productivity and innovation grow.

But this is not about logic, remember. This is about caring, and caring is important. The question is--what kind of caring is most effective in stemming social problems? Dems don't like the term "trickle down," and yet they want help and aid to trickle down from huge governmental programs. Better is compassion on the personal and local level (which is much more responsive): Extended family, churches, civic groups, communities exemplifying values that encourage personal responsibility--for oneself and for others--and pride in one's daily performance. These are motivators for productivity.

Lots of Americans still champion these qualities. But when the government becomes the teat from which the little helpless ones suckle, only a very compelling factor can wean them from that free, intoxicating nectar of dependence.

And that's why the cold autumn air matched my dampened mood. Who's going to buy all the designer jeans and fancy purses and layered scallop dinners when the wealth is redistributed and the free market is fraught with expense? Who will be left to shop when all the well-to-do must flee? Our nation will survive, but we may be in for some tough times first. Hold on (to the ones you love) and keep praying.

Don't Tell Me Who Wins--Yet

Hope you got your free Starbucks coffee. Starbucks said they would provide a free cup if you voted; this morning I heard that protests of unfairness caused our coffee giant to offer brewed java free to everyone.
I wrote the following earlier. Right now it's just about time (5:41 on the west coast) to start getting some early results. I am not eager.
It's 1:30 pm here in the Northwest, in the overcast, rainy season, and the polls are open. Wide open. Empty, in fact, since 80% of the electorate votes via absentee ballot, like I did. We've got some crucial issues on our ballot, most notably, the election of Dino Rossi, who was elected three times in the LAST gubernatorial election. He won. He was challenged and won again in recounts two more times. Not satisfied, current Gov. Christine Gregoire demanded a THIRD recount. In that recount, 125 provisional ballots, all for her, were found "lost" in the back of a sofa. The election was overturned, to our state's detriment.

We've got other important issues on which to vote, not the least of which is for President. But with the battleground states in the east, and Washington state solidly Obama-land, the election will be "called" in a couple of hours. Long, long before our polls close at 8 pm, we'll "know" the outcome of the Presidential race.

Not much of a motivator to go vote, if you're one of the 20% who still shows up in person. And it confirms that we in the west are second-class-citizens. My husband is in Phoenix, and will go to the Biltmore for the Republican she-bang, where John McCain will appear to either concede or celebrate.


Oh, he'll be there, but there may be no results. This time, it's quite possible that the final determination of the election--one that looks historically close--might not be known for days, even weeks. Lawyers across the country are salivating, looking for means they can reverse an outcome that doesn't match their preferences--or defend against challenges when their guy wins.

But that won't stop pundits and statisticians from announcing the outcome tonight, or, from my perspective, this early evening. I'm planning to go to the Bellevue Hyatt, the traditional site where all the area Republicans gather to watch election returns. Dino Rossi will be there along with the senatorial and local office candidates, local talk show hosts (I was invited by one to come) and die-hard politicos. We'll be there awaiting local news, but will be either buoyed or depressed by a backdrop of national results already widely disseminated. We'll have wall-sized TVs reiterating everything. But I wish they weren't there.

We think we're so advanced because of our instant media and sophisticated polling, our plethora of pundits and analyses. But all this noise interferes with the basic message that in our nation, each person who votes in a booth or mails in a ballot, no matter his location, is equally respected. Our west coast choices are just as important as those made in an earlier time zone. Just keep your projections to yourself until you open my envelope and count my vote.