We got an earful from our parents when we were kids. We were taught the ropes – the “dos” and the “don’ts”. Mostly the “don’ts.” Whatever we thought of these directives – viz “Don’t talk while you’re chewing,” “Don’t play with your food,” “Don’t be fresh,” “Don’t talk to strangers,” “Don’t hit your sister,” etc., we made some effort to comply – at least when we were in their presence.
So you see why we couldn’t wait to grow up. We’d be liberated, would no longer be told what to do and how to behave. But, alas, just look around. Prohibitions and restrictions are everywhere. Just consider this sampling of the warning signs we encounter every day.
You never see it coming. It’s always a surprise. Just the other day, in fact, I’m standing in midtown Manhattan when a guy suddenly comes up and asks me for directions. I happen to know the location so I replied immediately and pointed him in the right direction. He immediately took off. But after a moment or two I began wondering whether I’d answered too quickly. Had I gotten it right? My directional sense, after all, is woefully deficient. I’m never quite sure how to proceed myself. I’m the last person one should ask. But alas, just like most everyone else I’ve been approached countless times. How are people supposed to know providing directions is not one of my strengths. Still l did review his request and felt confident I’d not led him astray.
But that sometimes is not the case. When people single you out and ask for directions your first instinct is to assist. You don’t want to let them down. You’re reluctant to plead ignorance, unless, that is, you draw a complete blank. Nonetheless you are always taken by surprise, always your thoughts at that moment are elsewhere. But now you’re forced to concentrate and be totally precise. And you’d best be right. Imagine giving faulty information to a stranger, who picked you out – who is relying on you.
It’s best, I find, not to respond too quickly. And if I’m not exactly sure, not act as if I am. My mind does not immediately visualize a map whose details and twists and turns I can readily convey. Distances, whether in blocks or miles I can at best only approximate. But I don’t wish to disappoint. (After all, how many times have I asked for directions and relied upon the information received? So I concentrate, try very hard to make it accurate and simple.
Sometimes I’m bailed out by a passerby who has overheard the conversation, sensed a degree of uncertainty and decided to impart his “expert” knowledge. I welcome such interventions, immediately recede into the background in the presence of someone more confident and presumably knowledgeable.
I do worry sometimes about those who’ve relied solely on my directions and thanked me profusely for assisting them. Did I get it right? Should I have admitted some uncertainty? Were my directions clear enough? Have I truly aided a fellow human being or needlessly complicated his life? Such thoughts always intrude on such occasions.
I console myself, however, with the thought that even if I’ve led him astray, even if he gets lost, he’s not without recourse. There will always be someone, better informed than I, to set him straight, get him back on track.
Forget about Chief Justice Roberts and The Supreme Court. Its members have become too partisan, too prone to overturn precedents when it suits them. Too willing to confirm existing power arrangements in the society. No, who we need running the show and making the big decisions is Ken Feinberg. He’s been put to the test again and again. His decisions carry great weight. Universally respected, he’s been called upon repeatedly to make tough judgments and determine compensation in a bewildering number of cases involving Agent Orange, Asbestos, 9/11, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Boston Marathon bombings, Virginia Tech shootings, the Aurora, Colorado movie theater killings, the Penn State sex scandal, compensation after the Sandy Hook school massacre, and most recently, the GM auto fatalities. Ken Feinberg is the “go to” guy, summoned repeatedly as an advisor or consultant to resolve weighty issues of responsibility, loss and compensation. A man as judicious, so unbiased, so much sought after in high profile situations should be urged to expand his portfolio, take on issues others have failed to resolve. Why not ask Ken Feinberg to: Continue reading →
Recently, while driving, I heard a radio host ask a guest for a response “off the top of your head.” That somehow prompted me to consider how many English words or phrases incorporate body parts. A lengthy car ride is a fine place and opportunity to indulge in such mind games, so I started brainstorming. Here’s my list, one that avoids literal references but uses body parts words to convey other meanings (e.g., not headgear but headstrong and head start). Continue reading →
Al Qaeda leadership is no doubt proud of the fact that the roster of affiliated organizations continues to grow. Accordingly, it can now offer new recruits a choice of where they wish to serve. For that reason it has prepared an information sheet, so that Jihadists can be assigned to battle theaters of their choice. We have been able to obtain a copy of the form currently in use.
Name _________ __________ Age _______ Country of Origin ___________________
Education: None ___ Attend Madrassa: Number of Years ( )
Moslem Sect: Shiite ___ Sunni ____ Other ____
Knowledge of Koran: Excellent ___ Good ____ Fair ____
Special Skills: Explosives ____ Sniper ____ Spy ____ Courier ____
Previous Experience: Country ______________ Period Served ___________
Suicide Bomber Candidate: Yes ____ No ____ Uncertain ____
There’s widespread agreement on God’s attributes and on the way He relates to believers. Enthroned in heaven on high He is all-knowing, guides our lives, intervenes in our affairs and is quick to forgive us when we go astray. Billions of us humans worship Him even when their prayers go unanswered and His ways remain inscrutable, beyond human comprehension.
Can anyone or anything compare to God? What a bizarre, even blasphemous question? Still, I couldn’t help reflecting upon that issue as I sat behind the wheel on a recent lengthy road trip as I pondered the GPS (global positioning system) resting next to me. Now, most of you must remember what it was like before GPS entered our lives. You’d set out on a trip clutching an unwieldy map to which you’d refer to repeatedly, squinting to locate and follow the much meandering lines that defined your route. Often you’d grow fearful and confused and have to pull over either to study the map more closely or to summon a passerby who might either restore your confidence or point out where you’d gone astray. Thus, the trip almost always included many anxious moments together with numerous wrong turns and wasted time.
Today, with GPS, we’ve entered a new world. The system, guided by orbiting satellites cruising 12,000 miles overhead, communicates directly with my receiver. Accordingly I get immediate personalized continuous service. Once powered up, it detects exactly where I am and, after entering my personal destination, prepares instantly to guide me there step by step. It speaks to me constantly, informing me about turns coming up, exits to be taken and the precise mileage one must travel along each roadway. Should I err it does not abandon me but rather it gently guides me back towards the proper path. What comfort that brings. It does not rest; it never leaves me short of my goal. With the words “Arriving at your destination” it concludes its infallible service.
By now can you see why it’s possible to view the GPS with almost godlike reverence? It occupies the heavens, but is responsive to those who call upon it here on earth. It is all-knowing, even as its ways are mysterious and inscrutable. It recognizes frailties and our tendency to go astray; still, it continues to guide us. Because we believe, our faith is rewarded as we arrive unfailingly each time at our destination.
No religion is likely to form and proclaim GPS to be its revered deity, but tens of millions of motorists will doubtless agree with those who hail it as a modern day Savior.
Sports fans love talking trades. However successful their team, they’re never satisfied. There’s always an eagerness to trade for fresh, exciting talent. If, on the other hand, their favorites are consistent losers, fans will insist upon trades in order to revive the team’s fortunes and turn them into contenders.
Most every fan, as they think back over the years, can recall trades that made all the difference. It started, they’ll tell you, with Babe Ruth being shipped by the Red Sox over to the Yankees in 1920. But then came so many more including trades that sent the likes of John Elway, Nolan Ryan, Scottie Pippin, Tom Seaver, Sammy Sosa, Pedro Martinez, Herschel Walker, Wilt Chamberlain, Bret Favre, Kobe Bryant, Wayne Gretsky and countless others to teams whose fortunes improved dramatically as a result. Trades are without doubt the lifeblood of professional sports. They stir the pot, keep fans buzzing and busy devising their own blockbuster deals, that they hope will improve the chances their team will be successful.
Now imagine the possibilities were trades permissible and encouraged, not just in sports but also in more critical areas of our lives. Trading people is not an alien concept. In warfare both sides will on occasion agree to prisoner exchanges. Among rival nations, captured spies from one side will at times be traded for those detained by the other. In a hostage crisis someone may agree to trade places, become a captive, so long as others are released. Our concern here, however, is with circumstances less urgent, though not inconsequential.
Consider, for example, that you and your husband have three boys and you long for a girl. Should it not be possible, instead of taking your chances with another pregnancy to arrange to trade one of your boys (possibly the middle child who ordinarily is not happy with his position in the family) for a girl from another couple with only girls. (Such transactions would require a clearinghouse whose expert staff could assess the circumstances and recommend or overrule proposed exchanges.)
Let’s say you’ve been dating this girl but the relationship has grown stale and unrewarding. Coincidentally your friend’s girl, to whom you’ve taken a fancy, seems to have grown weary of your friend. The opportunity is ready-made; a trade should be proposed. On a more serious level, let’s consider certain married couples where ardor has cooled and monotony set in. Might there not be benefits all around if wives or husbands could be traded to other couples well acquainted with each other. (Do not such exchanges already take place?) Consider the fact that in this transaction two family units would be preserved. Also recognize that in every family there are members reckoned as embarrassments – an uncle all too frequently tipsy; a cousin forever “taking”, never giving; an aunt who dresses inappropriately and is intent on minding everyone else’s business. Why not trade them off, their places filled by others more suited to the family circle.
There are few limits to the trades that might be arranged. Teachers, bosses, fellow workers, neighbors could all be reshuffled, likewise politicians and government leaders. The point is that nothing need remain fixed, systems can be revitalized, scripts rewritten. As with our favorite sports team, a renewal of hope, an infusion of energy, an emotional uplift – all could be but a trade away.
There I was sitting at the edge of the pool, feet dangling in the water. I am not, like some, a plunger throwing caution to the wind and instantly jumping in. I first, as they say, “have to get used to it.”
So while waiting for the “right” moment, I’m scanning the water’s surface. Predictably floating at the top are a wide variety of insects that overnight heedlessly hit the water and, unable to get airborne again, met their deaths. Their inert bodies bob up and down and, in time, will either sink to the bottom or be drawn into the outflow pipe and be carried away. Since I’d never developed a soft spot for these creatures, I considered that the pool, besides its primary function also served me well by reducing the insect population in the immediate vicinity.
But not all the insects had met their fates this day. One, I noticed, was thrashing about at the surface. Had it been a species I associated with aggressive behavior I would have thought “good riddance” and watched it succumb. This one appeared inoffensive, even admirable. That’s because it displayed considerable spunk – kept trying to avoid certain death. It would “rest” and then exert mighty effort to escape the water’s grasp. Rest and then….
I had been drawn into its struggle, could no longer ignore the situation. I had, I know, the opportunity to make a difference, and the power to be its savior. Locating a stick I lifted it out of the water and onto the dry concrete along the edge of the pool. The insect “rested” briefly and then scrambled energetically toward a nearby patch of grass.
At that moment the thought occurred to me that what I had done mirrored how God probably operates. Although most people in need or danger are ignored and left to their fate, God, somewhat haphazardly does become involved at times, rescues particular individuals in crisis. Such selective interventions seem sufficient to convince many of us to pray for and have faith in such divine intercessions.
Now I don’t know whether the insect I rescued then went about and spread the word about this “miraculous” occurrence. Or whether he credited me with saving his life. All I know is that since the event I’ve not been harassed, attacked or bitten by any of these creatures. And now, as I sit along the pool, I systematically look about to see if I can once again demonstrate such praiseworthy benevolence.
Recently a leading hedge fund manager accused Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke of having conducted “the most inappropriate monetary policy in history.” Now, Bernanke has his critics for sure, but probably just as many defenders. Therefore, to characterize his stewardship of the economy as the worst ever certainly smacks of verbal excess and deliberate exaggeration.
But that kind of talk is all too common. The greatest scandal in history – the most powerful army assembled since the beginning of time – the most sinister conspiracy ever hatched – the worst atrocity of all time. Everyone invokes “history” to add both substance and shock value to their remarks. But do they ever offer any proof, any specific evidence from the past? Do they ever consult with historians?
“History” in such instances stands mute, takes no steps to engage with the issues raised. “History” is wise for doing so, understands that such references to the past are merely verbal devices, argumentative ornaments, not in any way serious inquiries. History is, after all, about painstaking research and considered interpretation, not overheated rhetoric.
Each spring we eagerly await days like this and occasionally nature obliges us, compensates for the discomforts winter had brought. This particular day approached perfection – dazzling sun, baby blue sky, gentle breezes and the comforts of temperatures in the mid-70s. There I am driving along the highway under a canopy of endless blue when up ahead, high above me floats a single white cotton puff of a cloud. Distance distorts, but size-wise I figure it to about a thirty foot rectangular-shaped cloud, all by itself amidst the vast dome of the sky.
What is it doing here? It’s easy to imagine it as a stray sheep, one that’s drifted away from the flock or had deliberately chosen to be alone. Or perhaps a strong-willed puff of white gauze that had mistakenly pushed out from behind the blue backdrop to enjoy a peek at us. Could it be viewed as a blemish, akin to a knot on an otherwise exquisite slab of wood or an inadvertent drip of paint marring an otherwise spotless canvass?
I know little about the process of cloud formation and what atmospheric conditions result in their production. Assuming they were not favorable for their presence this day, how then did one materialize?
I kept gazing up at that lonely speck in the sky wondering whether there were companions I had not yet spotted. There weren’t. Further up the road I looked again. This time I couldn’t find it. Perhaps trees along the road were blocking my view. But I kept checking – still no cloud.
Had this fragile, unsubstantial fragment simply disappeared, enjoyed but a brief moment in the sun? I can’t say. But I do recognize that some of nature’s most compelling scenes – rainbows, lightening bolts, shooting stars, those that excite the imagination, depart quickly leave little evidence either of their presence or passage.