April 16th, 2015
My first visit to Israel was two years ago where I was thrilled to meet many other visitors from places I’d never been in Europe and Asia. Fortunately, good manners among the young have declined so I was able to hear their sincere views about Jews in general. The advantage was our ability to speak honestly about their misconceptions. Some Chinese business majors held the opinion that Jews had all the money; Russian youth professed the view that Jews owned the US Federal Reserve bank; still more wanted to know about ‘Jewish occupation’.
I generally laughed and began our talks by saying I must have misplaced my savings passbook (really, we were meeting in $25 per night hostels) and that the Federal Reserve ‘heads’ were appointed by the US government. It was most disturbing to hear college students who’d never taken a course in Jewish history talk about occupations. Students do not get credit for being admitted to institutions of higher learning but gain both credit and credibility from finishing classes in their areas of interest.
Had they taken classes in this subject matter, presently consuming a great deal of campus time, they would learn that Israel did not begin with the modern efforts of Ben Gurion in 1948. The Herut party formed in 1948 by Menachem Begin means ‘Freedom’ and happens to be a word engraved on coins (Herut Zion) minted in Jerusalem back in the days of the Roman Empire. Coins issued by the nation of Israel at that time were called shekels and prutah.
Among the signs of life for nations of the world is the ability to issue money. Jews have lived here throughout the ages and re-issued coins by the same names in 1948. Our identities remained unchanged. Knesset (parliament) minister Naftali Bennet spoke to this issue in this CNN interview.
There are few better learning opportunities than travel and Israel offers a wealth of history and heritage for view. However, you will pay for your stay using coins of the realm and those are of very old vintage indeed.
Categories: commentary, Life Observations
April 12th, 2015
Dear Mr. Maher,
Thank you, along with many other comedic pundits who have helped so many of us laugh in understanding over the years. Tonight, I’m writing to look into your opinions about humanism, as opposed to religion.
I truly enjoy your pokes at ‘dogmatism’ but also believe that to be a characteristic of humanists as well. The other week, you interviewed a reverend and questioned him repeatedly about how he can believe in an invisible deity whose scribes, (by inspiration, if not via dictation), approved of slavery and sacrificial offerings of meat.
My question to humanists (not to infer that religiously oriented people lack those attributes), is whether you believe in ‘freedom’. I ask this question because freedom is an invisible idea(l) that few have seen in their lifetimes, yet express the firm belief that it exists.
We are all bound to the dictates of human physiology, laws that – if broken – take away our abilities to breathe, eat, sleep, think and procreate, absent painful impediments. We are also bound to levels of expression and action congruent with those at the lower end of our community spectrums. Those at the higher end must then spend most of their time guarding their advantages from the remainder who view the remote concept of freedom as a privilege they can either transfer to themselves, or revoke for everybody. A humanist must address the fact that ‘humans’ commit atrocities daily and huge numbers profess to have no religion under various political regimes.
Apparently, humanists will have to prove ‘freedom’ is alive in the world today if you expect anybody to believe in that English word.
Palm Desert, CA. And
April 10th, 2015
This page is about the business of doing business. Please fasten your seat belts and keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times.
Going about the business of life generally requires the signing of various contracts. From the complexities of mortgage agreements to the presumed ease of buying a SIM card for a cell phone, it remains a toss-up whether or not one party or another might fail to meet the agreed upon terms. I’ve already written about what might happen when a simple purchase contract moves into the realm of the surreal. While traveling in Greece, I insisted a SIM card contract be translate into English and learned that I would be legally liable for any ill intent on the part of the ‘party’ on the other end of a phone call in that locale. I rewrote that contract and kept a copy with me, at least until a pick-pocket relieved me of that Alcatel model open phone in the Athens underground. I published the details of that contractual snafu on my blog here, http://www.armchairactivist.us/?p=1392
When I replaced the phone and sought another SIM card, I learned the contracts were now a single page instead of four and much like any other phone contract elsewhere in the world.
In law, putting out a contract is supposed to generate the terms of a business deal that offers benefits to all parties involved. As the author of a novel written in 2013, I sought out a publisher who would knock it into shape (editorially speaking), and assist through the marketing phase of book selling. The following posts (2 parts, under the pages) detail the almost full story of that aborted contract for the publishing of my novel.
You will find no recriminations here, epithets or rage. You will read all of the many emails detailing how a contract was negotiated, signed, nursed for a year and finally dissolved for cause. The loss of time was far more injurious to myself than the loss of $499.00 in editorial fees and additional monies for legal assistance.
I redacted email addresses and web pages – everything else is the same -including the name of the representative of this company who declined to provide the names of others I might work with when our own exchanges became unworkable. My personal narrative provided between emails will appear in bold for the ease of the reader to distinguish between the records of this business and the review offered herein.
The purpose of this Blog entry? Hopefully, my losses will translate into gains for future authors who are approaching the mysteries of publishing their work for the first time.
The long awaited letter from a publisher-
Sent: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 12:07 AM
Subject: Your Submission
I have the pleasure of informing you that we have looked over your submission and we have decided to accept your work for publication. We have attached our Acceptance Packet to this email, which includes all of our contracts and relevant information.
While you’re looking over this information, we highly recommend that you click on the link below, which contains valuable information about the partnership you are being offered.
(Website offered here)
Please feel free to get back to us if you have any questions or if you’re ready to proceed at this time. Thank you again for your time and interest. We look forward to working with you in the days to come!
Raider Publishing International
Please look under this page for the rest of Part I
Categories: commentary, Letters, Publish or Perish
April 10th, 2015
The Escargot Series – A thriller with an ear towards the future.
Part II – Tracking Down The Problem
The last post above was about the police inquiry made to determine if I’d been dealing with a case of identity theft at a phishing site. That letter obtained a reply.
Sent: Friday, May 23, 2014 5:30 AM
Subject: Apologies/Production Timeline/Upgrade
There is no need to take the actions mentioned, I can assure you. Your email was a bit of a shock to me, as we haven’t heard from you for many months. I’ve just taken a look at your contract and legally, we still have around three months to produce your book for publication, so I would imagine reporting us to the authorities would be dismissed. I do however apologize for the lack of email communication, as it is a bit of a mystery to me as to why we haven’t been in touch sooner.
I’ll take personal control of the production of your book, and if you can promise to hold off filing an official complaint with anyone, I’m confident that we’ll be able to get your edited and designed proofs to you for your final review, shortly.
To put a timeframe on it, I’ll move some of our production work around and make sure that your book proofs are sent to you for your final review on or before June 6th.
As an author myself, I can certainly understand why you are upset and I sincerely apologize for any stress this might have caused you. We would like to upgrade your package as well, to our Silver Package (a $1,400 offer) as a way of apologizing for these email troubles.
I hope from here we can move forward in a constructive way, towards what we both want, which is the success of you and your book. We hope to hear from you again, someday soon.
For the rest of these contract negotiations, please look under this page-
Categories: Business, commentary, Letters, Publish or Perish
April 7th, 2015
(Links are not posting reliably so please excuse the URLs in the post used for proper attribution. I’ll be editing older posts for the same purpose.)
Many states are seeking to reprise Federal restatements about religious freedoms. These state-by-state activities pose an urgent question. Why do legislators at local levels believe that kind of repetition to be important? The latest brouhaha is in the state of Indiana where Governor Mike Pence signed the “…Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which states that a “government entity” cannot “substantially burden” what is broadly classified as “a person’s exercise of religion.” The quote is from article 9 of that law, the entirety of which bill may be read from this Washington Post article:
The answer is quite simple. In an era that is openly acknowledged in many circles to be “post-constitutional”, states would have an urgent need for their own courts to be bound by regulations as the Federal court system becomes less available to the average person. I am a minority in the USA and have followed the discussions about the issue from here in the Middle East, where religion is of primary import in terms of regional identification and law. Many synagogues are closing in the USA and others experiencing vandalism with the rise of general unrest, sometimes denied by enforcement agencies as targeting a religious group. In Israel however, the courts may not make rulings that interfere with the ability of Jewish Israelis to observe Jewish traditions so there is no conflict of interest between secular and religious lawmaking in the Parliament (Knesset).
If some provisions in the Constitution, like the separation between Church and State, requires repetition, why would that be regarded as threatening to minorities? Humans and corporations are protected under numerous statutes. However, those who relate to some form of religious identity need more reassurance than that to be found in an article of a frequently ignored document signed in 1776.
First amendment rights don’t seem adequate when ministers are demonized for speaking about legislative matters in Texas. The problem is that religion doesn’t speak for itself but is dependent upon the actions of those who hold to those ways of life. Strangely, the damage done thus far by the law happened to a business that merely answered a hypothetical question, instead of preparing for the day action would be required. Who caters weddings through a pizzeria anyway?
As far as bakeries go, I’m willing to bet that if a pastry chef refused to provide a cake for the wedding of a 14 year old on moral grounds, they’d be recognized in a positive light. Businesses make decisions all the time about their actions, risking boycotts just by dint of the posters they put in their windows at election time.
The Jerusalem Post had an interesting article about the Indiana law from the non-business viewpoint. My business hackles rose as I thought about those offering services that are NOT discriminatory but TAILORED to meet the needs of a type of client. Are saloons discriminatory for not serving liquor to religious Mormons? No. Religious Mormons refuse to order drinks. Are Mormons discriminating against bars in need of their dollars? Not as long as consumers have the right to determine that some products are unsuitable for their use. Vendors should have guidelines that free them from performing an act against their mission statement (all companies have those), none of which proscribe them from selling products to any buyer entering their stores.
Laws of this nature have a purpose. Some doctors are refused employment in hospitals because they won’t perform abortions. Still, those physicians do not lose their medical licenses and hospitals aren’t forced to employ them if they fear a patient might be refused a service they are lawfully allowed. What is really an undue burden outside of the medical arena? An undue burden is placed upon a Mosque if demands are made to serve ham at a catered event, a food prohibited under Halal laws for that faith. No court should have to intervene for a refusal in that quarter, even if their non-profit status makes them open to claims of ‘free access’ by IRS rules.
The government can determine that the power vested in clergy by the state and by their non-profit status entitles regulation within those duties performed. Without separation of powers, they can use discrimination as a reason for any publically licensed individual to perform their defined functions. They just haven’t ordered the clergy to perform interfaith or gay marriages yet or give up their licenses to register religious marriages with the state.
It works two ways again. Some pastors say they have a religious duty to sanctify gay relationships: http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2014/04/28/nc-clergy-sues-to-perform-gay-marriage.html
Here, it works the opposite way in England: http://www.charismanews.com/world/40480-gay-couple-sues-church-that-won-t-host-same–weddings
It isn’t about marriage itself but who defines it as a civil right versus a religious rite.
The Post printed my edited letter (below), looking at this law from a business viewpoint rather than stemming from a wellspring of hatred.
With regard to “Thousands march in Indiana to protest law seen as targeting gays” (March 30), I would like to see a follow- up news item that looks solely at the “business” of being a rabbi there.
Rabbis in Indiana, as elsewhere, are vested with the legal power to marry couples. As you know, those who follow Halacha must discriminate among applicants.
Should these rabbis have to perform marriages between Jews and non-Jews because a law states they cannot refuse to serve anyone who approaches them for a service they are marketing? Should a wedding couple be allowed to hire a non-kosher caterer to use a rented synagogue hall? After all, if a synagogue is a non-profit corporation, all taxpayers are presumed to have the right to employment and access.
If there were no protections under religious freedom laws, synagogues might have to give up their non-profit status, and rabbis would have to advise couples to hold a second ceremony before a judge.
Categories: Articles, Jerusalem Post, Letters, Litigation, Newspaper Commentary, Published, Washington Post
March 16th, 2015
Written in the Negev Desert overlooking the Judean hills.
After determining the time was right to return to Israel from the USA, I reviewed the various ways that was managed. This would be a return even if I hadn’t already made my first visit to ‘The Land’ in 2013. A Jewish person is called a Yehudi, a Hebrew word utilizing the letters in G-d’s name along with the letter daled, (‘d’), that recalls the standard of King David whose ancestors came from the tribe of Judah. We have a ‘vertical’ passport through time, having established our nation in this region some 3,000 years ago. One of my great-grandfathers was a Rabbi and the other a descendant of the Kohanim or Priests that trace their families back to the time of the Temple. I have no claims to that depth of knowledge. Still, I must hope some of the wisdom generated over thousands of years became somewhat ingrained through the intensity of parental attention paid to the raising of Jewish children.
The return of Jewish people to Israel is not thought of as ‘immigration’, leaving Israeli statistics about movement into the country a frequent source of confusion to other nations. My preparation for this return didn’t mean I wasn’t raised as a typical American. With little emphasis given to formal Jewish education, I was taught about Jewish life via example in our New York City household with less time devoted to empty conversations on that subject. My parents talked of their personal and adult issues in my hearing, adhering to principles of marital love, respect and fairness. My father took me to his place of work many times where I was taught the vital need for integrity in business matters. Not especially religious, he brought me to synagogue on the holidays and my mother demonstrated how to keep a Kosher kitchen. That upbringing led to my desire to learn the values behind our many rituals and later perform them in my own apartments as an adult.
Jewish rituals of life help avoid the way day to day routines erode mindfulness. Simple attentions to food preparation and weekly Sabbath rest/study, enlarges life. In business, it made even the scut work,(those less pleasant aspects of a job or career), seem important. My sister, a scholar of history, lent to me an interest in the histories of all the lands where our family had dwelled over the millennia. As an American, I understood the enthusiasm of Western youth and the lightning speed of maturation towards a target that appealed to my sense of being four thousand years old. A thousand years later, Abraham’s descendant Jacob became the first Israelite and continued our ancestral drive towards enlightenment as a nation.
I now hold two passports in ‘space’ that shepherd myself and my few belongings through some of the airports and land borders of the world. Those documents tell my neighbors about the latitudes permitted in both of my temporal worlds. However, I had to build my vertical passport through time with the help of family, friends, teachers and soldiers. Whether you begin your ladder with the first farmers who tilled earth’s soil to fill the graineries of Egypt; with Abraham, the Buddha, Aristotle, Jesus or with John Locke, your journey requires an examination of both reason and raison d’être.
I have my passports in space and time. Both kinds are indispensable.
February 11th, 2015
I just moved to Israel where there is no fear of open discussion with regards to the rise in anti-Semitism around the world. Much suppressed in the US, where I was raised to believe my encounters with Jew-haters were isolated events, I now realize those memories are of the future. Feeling free in my NYC childhood, my adult years revealed the realities hidden by my parents in hopes of these very thoughts prevailing.
Shelters are not always made of concrete.
Fastest rundown of Jewish immigration to Israel in a fun vid found on Facebook:
December 28th, 2014
To tell you the truth, I’m sick and tired of watching the equivalent of present-day Nazis hide behind the ridiculous label of “ultra-nationalism’. A person claiming to advocate nationalism from the point of view of a given group is promoting the framer’s view of their identity. Reform efforts still fall within boundaries intended by the framers to permit adaptations to made for the health of the group. Otherwise, individuals might be termed dissidents or even foreign occupiers of a country they wish to remake while retaining the false impression of an unchanged land. An ‘über-national’ is one bent upon erasing the range of thought, action and appearance regarded as natural to a group.
Identity is not threatened by the presence of outside individuals arriving for purposes of tourism, education, commercial enterprise or even asylum. Arrival within the borders of a nation means acceptance of their nature as you pass through. Citizenship is granted based upon a traveler’s ability to learn and adopt a way of life that doesn’t cross that of the host country.
A great deal of present-day controversy is based upon a push towards uniformity of life-style in a manner akin to a “redistribution’ of cultural equivalents, much as some forms of economic policy urges redistribution of wealth. Government after government addresses the definition of marriage, family, religion and economics despite the fact that those falling outside of the traditional views are not persecuted for their differences. The essential expressions of humanity in an upright nation remain intact.
It makes no more sense to attempt to remove the Jewish nature of Israel from its residents than it does to alter Vatican City’s association with Catholicism. Humanity is a species native to earth with sub-groups attached to ways of life that might be akin to a ‘genus’ or recognizable member within the species. Just as you don’t attempt to legislate the gene expression of healthy DNA material, differences should not be dismissed as mere song stylings to be altered for the gig we call ‘Life’. The laws of biology are not up for a vote in a democratic society. Therefore, why expect the nature of a group to be placed on a ballot? Most human rights issues were largely agreed upon in international conventions decades ago.
Is there somehow a dearth of nations in the world that befits the various forms of world cultures? Is there an absence of good will that would deny any disenfranchised group it’s own needs for their expression of unity? The birth of new nations still happens without disbanding older ones.
When New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen, asked the question “What will Israel Become?”, in a recent edition of that paper, I began to wonder how Israel’s identity might possibly have grown vague to anyone remotely acquainted with Jewish history. Just because the rest of the world is in turmoil doesn’t mean the national identity of one of the first nations on the face of the earth has altered significantly. The real questions involve the intentions of other nationals feeling at odds with Israel’s self-assurance. Cohen’s article may be read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/opinion/sunday/roger-cohen-what-will-israel-become.html?_r=0
My letter to the editor was as follows:
To the Editor,
The question posed by Mr. Cohen ought not to be what Israel ‘will become’ after some three thousand years of existence. Jewish people may identify as being ‘of Israel’ from any locality. Israelis have the distinction of living in the seat of the Jewish nation/state, regardless of religious identification or degree of secularism. Israel’s vibrancy describes a characteristic of a population that simply refuses to eradicate its own identity to join with other populations presently in decline.
The term ‘Ultra- nationalism’ used in the article is also an oxymoron. National identity is not a form of marketplace competition as in fascism, where ‘ultra’ or ‘über’ pretend-nationalists are bent upon destroying the identities of others within their borders (e.g. ‘Nazism’). With an eye towards the heritage of the Jewish State, remember that no one speaks of the Catholic ‘supremacy’ of Vatican City. No one questions the religious identity of Catholic Spain, despite a strong and growing Moslem minority.
From Jerusalem, Israel
Categories: commentary, Newspaper Commentary, NY Times
November 19th, 2014
Jonathan Stewart has been under fire for his expressions of ambiguous feelings about Jewish issues. As a Jewish American, I can sympathize with the issues expressed but not the manner of expression. Jewish life, when not viewed in a timeless sense, does lead to confusion about identity given the very definite parameters used applied to members of our nation. Modern education tells us you “are” whoever you want to “be”, as part of a free society. I wouldn’t mind being a rocket scientist but that ain’t happening. Nor am I a Russian although some of my ancestors were born there. Apparently Russians didn’t think my ancestors were Russians either as their passports labelled them as Jews.
An interview quoted in the Times of Israel had Jon stating that the definition of a Jew is supposed to come from outsiders and not insiders. Sorry Mr. Stewart, but the definition is of import when Israel has to decide whom to rescue from a war torn area bent upon murdering its residents. Only Israel and the Jewish people can define whom to rescue. After the rescue is done, it still remains the responsibility of Israel to resolve inequities in education that might lead a Jew to discriminate against another Jew or even label them ‘Fascist’. That is the purpose of requiring a formal conversion when the memory of your origins fades after generations of imposed ignorance about our people lead some of us to regard the issue as ambiguous.
I don’t question Jon’s strength of identification with the Jewish people but the growing strength of anti-Semitism here and abroad requires some further points to be made. Here is the letter I sent to him:
Dear Mr. Stewart,
I am writing to you in order to find out whether or not I am a fascist. This is an important question as I prepare to make Aliyah this month. Israel is home to persons of three major religions, all of whom have relatively stringent definitions of their membership, so the question isn’t limited to Jewish Israelis but also Moslems and Christian Israelis as well.
When you remove your tongue from your cheek when speaking of this issue seriously someday, please remember that only the process of conversion actually requires a candidate to formally observe Jewish rituals for the space of a single year. How else can a convert learn the ways of a nation without living that way in a formal sense? If you were naturalizing to acquire citizenship of a new country, you would be required to live as a member, learn the laws and avoid behaving in a manner that would adversely impact upon that group for at least a year before taking a test that allowed you to live and work there permanently. Having a parent or spouse sponsor your entry into a locale infers there would be a positive influence upon the individual seeking to become a citizen by association. However, the Jewish marriage contract has terms that are not equivalent to a state issued marriage license. Therefore, a claim that you are a Jew (child of Jewish parentage) or are the wife/husband of a Jewish person requires different proofs or a period of naturalization into Judaism. Of course, obtaining Israeli citizenship is not restricted to Jews but the Law of Return is a unique type of contract – one that is made with history, if you define history as A future in the making.
Is the Jewish definition of parentage fascist or merely different, inasmuch as anyone may live according to Jewish norms in any country? Why must any type of state marriage throughout the world be accepted by the State of Israel when some (e.g. gay) marriages are not even recognized between states under the same federal law of the United States? The transmission of a way of life is not identical between nations. Can you put the transmission of a Porsche under the hood of a Jag and still have it run as per their design? There are documents,solely Jewish in origin, that assure authorities you had that ‘beginning’ and are ready to build upon the foundation of the Jewish way of life.
Jews must learn to understand all levels of life, possessed of a both the longitudinal tradition and an immensely wide latitude in it’s expression. While no one will ask you if you believe in a deity, you ought to know the names of our anscestors and how to observe our traditions before you can recognize when others (Jew included), discriminate against any of us. Think of the conversion period as a form of ‘naturalization’ in a nation without borders. Religion knows no boundaries and Jewish life is marked by events without divisions in terms of eras. Israel, for Jews, is larger than any land mass.
The terms of Jewish contracts, like marriage or business arrangements, fall within the guidelines of the country where Jews reside. Still, those retain the expectation of an additional level or standard than exists where we dwell. You may recall the classic commercial for Hebrew National hot dogs, where they spoke of answering to a ‘higher authority’. While anyone could eat and enjoy those franks, only a person with an “insider’s” education would be able to manufacture them.
A Jew is hopefully educated not to regard any other Jew as either quaint, outdated, or as a fascist hoping to rule over a patch of sand. Americans even have communities that live the same way that Hasidim do and will only accept members like themselves. Oregonians in Ashland still dress and speak like many of us did in the early sixties, because time stopped for them at that period of US history. Jewish Hasids dress as seventeenth century Eastern Europeans because time stopped for them at that point when the terms of life under Eastern European governments no longer recognized Jews as worthy of life. To be honest, equal protection under those laws with non-Jews wasn’t really worth a great deal anyway.
Half the people recently surveyed stated that the Holocaust was a fiction. I would not want any of them to convert in order to marry my brother based upon surveys saying that Jewish husbands are less likely to be wife-beaters and more likely to be good providers.
Not without an intensive period of naturalization first.
October 21st, 2014
The American obsession with gender identity has again reared itself into the mainstream, this time in Texas. The start of this remarkable storm began with a rather ‘old’ issue of where people identifying as a gender different than that expected by mere, anatomical study ought to go to the bathroom. Public access to bathrooms is extremely important and the costs of altering them for wheelchair access tells the story of how seriously we do take this essential right to personal health needs. However, this case went further, with the result that every bathroom has the potential to become ‘unisex’, merely because an individual wants to enter it. Their motive is rather irrelevant when women prefer to undress and become vulnerable to prying eyes (and hands) while sitting on a toilet in a cubicle with a flimsy lock and large open area below the doorway. Men have the option to urinate publically, under the gaze of anyone entering the room, or within a cubicle similar to those in women’s restrooms.
The cases in point are important in that it brings up issues of safety and privacy. The right to privacy is easily attained by offering unisex bathrooms for a single person at a time. Those doors lock securely and no one will care about your gender orientation. Those intending harm (sexual predators) will lack the company of the opposite sex sought through wrongful entry into a group bathroom of the opposite sex. A toilet can be cheaply walled off from a larger rest room or a janitorial closet converted into a unisex toilet. This is not an insoluble problem if you delete the issue of ‘May I come into your toilet?’ question and go right to the main event, i.e. “Where may I ‘go’ in peace?”.
Fortunately for us all, this hue and cry led to a marvelous uproar regarding freedom of speech. Politicians unhappy with pastoral sermons advising their congregants to refuse to give up yet another needed privacy for themselves and their youngsters, were suddenly ordered to send copies of their pulpit talks to the government for review. Apparently the use of any lectern to speak about legislation the region where the audience has a vested interest was re-defined as political opposition, rather than education and discussion. Violations of free speech, now expected, were extended to houses of religious freedom. The phrase, religious freedom, was redefined as freedom from religion if you value group nudity. As a wedge into the minds of religious leaders planning their sermons, it certainly guaranteed that religious leaders would never be able to think again about any subject without having their minds on the government minders.
The public response was quite heartening, however. Even those unconnected with religious issues were outraged by the demands and the first amendment fight resumed. Outside of the toilet.