🎭 A Place to Play and Grow

This morning, I read in the LA Times about actress Constance Wu’s tweet about the renewal of Fresh off the Boat, and the resulting kerfuffle, which was not actually about FOTB, but losing an artistic challenge as a result of the renewal. I have two words for Ms. Wu:

Intimate Theatre

In particular, Los Angeles’ vibrant 99-and-under seat theatre scene. I’m not an actor, but a long-time LA audience member. Something Actors Equity never learned about Los Angeles is that LA’s small theatres is where TV and film actors go to exercise their craft and find challenge. It is where they go to escape the doldrums of a character they know well, and explore roles — in short runs — that are vastly different than their TV roles. And I’m sure the small companies in LA would love to have Ms. Wu join them. The audiences in LA certainly would, because we need the diversity she would bring to the stage.

Don’t believe me? Ask folks like Laurie Metcalf, French Stewart, Dan Lauria, Dann Florek, and the many other “recognizable” TV actors I’ve seen on the 99-and-under stages here in Los Angeles.

Want that artistic challenge? You don’t need to leave your TV home. Just go to Santa Monica Blvd, Western, Electric Avenue, or the many other streets housing our great local theatres. Do you want to get a taste? The Hollywood Fringe Festival starts the 2nd week of June.


🗯️ Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

userpic=trumpIn the era of Nixon and Watergate, I was a kid. We watched the news as 12, 13, and 14 year olds, but didn’t think all that much about it. We did, of course, read Doonesbury, and hence, the title of this post (and the flashbacks). Today, as an adult, I’m beginning to understand how adults felt in that era, with a President that had clearly committed crimes, stonewalling the investigation, with partisan supporters clearly asserting his innocence, while Congress endeavored to do their oversight job. The only difference between now and then is the magnitude of the crimes (simply burglary and theft for political campaigns seems so naive now) and the fact that we had a President then who understood the politics of the job, cared somewhat about the nation, and had the good sense to resign for the good of the nation. Today, on the other hand…

Stonewalling didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. The truth will eventually come out, the supporters will be proven wrong, and the criminals at minimum will slink away into obscurity, with reputations damaged and destroyed. The only question is: How long will it take for the Nation to recover?

So, some simple questions:

  • If the President is innocent and the report completely exonerates him, why is he hiding under claims of Executive Privilege and telling his aides not to testify? Before you answer: Remember that the Republicans asked the same questions regarding the Clintons, and they did testify.
  • Congress has an oversight role, as the Republicans so doggedly emphasized whenever there was a Democrat in power. The role does not go away or get diminished because the Republicans are in power. As the Republicans said with Hillary: investigate, and if there is innocence, let the truth come out in the investigation.
  • Regarding the tax return information uncovered by the New York Times: the American people have a right to know if the returns were legitimate, or if there was tax fraud taking place. Remember: Al Capone was brought down by tax evasion. Were those losses legitimate, or faked to evade taxes? If legitimate, what does that say about Trump and his business and economic acumen over the long term — and whom does he owe for bailing him out? If faked, what does that say about his respect of the rule of law?
  • In general, if Trump is innocent as he claims, let the facts prove it — the tax returns, sworn testimony, law enforcement investigations. If, as the Right claims, the facts are false, they should be able to prove that as well and present counter-evidence. But that won’t be known until the facts come out in the first place.

As I wrote before, I’m rapidly swinging to the impeachment camp. Yes, I understand it will solidify his base — but they are solid and unthinking and wouldn’t change their minds anyway. Yes, I understand the Senate will not remove him. But having the investigations in the House once charges are brought will provide a strong means of compelling testimony, and having a trial in the Senate will assuredly bring out the facts and compel testimony. Starting the process may be the only way to get to the bottom of the story.

Without that, and with all this stonewalling, President Trump looks quite a lot like President Nixon: as Mark Slackmeyer said, “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty.”


🗯️ What I Want

userpic=trumpThere are those who say I should support Trump because of his economic results, or because of his attention to the border. I say “no” to that. Dictators and despots often get great economic results, at the expense of the “little guy” Dictators and despots often enforce the border at the expense of those truly in need, or at the expense of families. I want more than that in my President. I want a President that respects the rule of law, and that respects the roles inherent in our triparte government as defined in the Constitution (including Congress’ oversight role, which isn’t just oversight of Democrats). I want a President that respects the Constitution, and the rights defined therein — both for citizens and residents of this nation. I want a President that doesn’t try to push one religion’s moral values on those of other faiths in the nation. I want a President that doesn’t encourage the flames of hatred, that works to make this nation safe for ALL its residents — not just those that are white, straight, Christian, and male. I want a President that respects our agreements, actually understand economics, and actually thinks before he or she does anything. I want a President that cares. I want a President whose desire for economic improvement goes beyond the millionaires and corporations, but extends to the white and blue collar workers, the people toiling in offices, stores, and fields. I want a President whose concern goes beyond the economic to the general welfare: including the health of all the people in the nation. I want a President that defends all our borders: not just the Southern border against the ethnicity he hates, but our electronic borders — ensuring that our elections are OUR elections, that our infrastructure is safe from electronic attack, and that our Intelligence agencies are respected and can do their jobs to identify foreign and domestic threats. That includes also defending our people against the scourge of internal terror attacks.

I don’t see any of that in our current President. Any short term economic improvements are not enough to offset what I simply don’t see.


🗯️ The I-Word

userpic=trumpI’ve been thinking a lot about the I-word: “impeachment”. Although early on I was hopeful for it, I began to agree with Speaker Pelosi that to initiate the process might actually increase Trump’s popularity, especially if there was no chance of his removal by the Senate. I did think that investigation was vitally important, especially if it was timed right to bring out information during the 2020 campaign.

But as I’ve begun to see this administration’s reaction to the House’s attempt at oversight, I’m re-thinking my position. I’m also thinking that we may need to have multiple impeachment proceedings, with different charges. What started my latest thinking was articles like: “Trump’s high-stakes subpoena battle with House Democrats, explained” or Trump’s plan to go to the Supreme Court over Impeachment, or Trump directing his administration not to respond to subpoenas. It seems like a party that was 100% supportive of Congress doing its oversight role when Clinton or Obama was in office thinks it should abdicate that role when it is one of their own in office. Here’s a relevant quote from the linked Vox article:

President Donald Trump, while portraying himself as the victim in a political war, is foiling an aggressive House Democratic majority’s investigations with historic fervor by refusing to comply with many subpoenas and other oversight requests.

On one level, this is nothing new. Prior Congresses and White Houses have certainly found themselves at odds over how much information to disclose. But the blanket defiance of the Trump administration has reached a new level of obstruction in recent days.

“That’s about as blatant an obstruction of the lawful processes of a coequal branch of government as I’ve ever seen,” Laurence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional scholar, told the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on Wednesday.

According to Politico, citing House Democratic sources, the Trump administration has denied or delayed the release of information sought by Democratic committees on more than 30 occasions, and half a dozen administration officials have refused to appear before House panels.

As such, I do think Congress should start impeachment proceedings, but initially not for charges based in the Mueller report (or at least, those wouldn’t be the primary charge). Rather, the primary charge should be abdication and failure to uphold the oath of office. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, this President has ignored the constitution through Executive Orders (later to be found unconstitutional), and directives to his staff (that are either unconstitutional or that thwart the constitution). The President has the responsibility to follow and uphold the Constitution, and he hasn’t done that. Making that clear in an impeachment charge would put the focus on something American, and would force his supporters to either recognize his behavior is unconstitutional, or publicly go on record as supporting unconstitutional behavior. In particular, it would make clear Congress’ oversight role and his thwarting thereof, and might — just might — push him into complying with the oversight. At that point, impeachment could be tabled and investigations could begin. Depending on their findings and the timing, the subject of impeachment could come back to the House. But the important thing is compelling Trump to comply with the subpoenas and to do a proper investigation. Congress has few tools to compel the President and his staff to comply — and the court process to do so would take forever — but impeachment proceeding could provide the necessary leverage.

As noted before, Congress has an oversight role to ensure the President does not abuse authority and acts in accordance with his oath of office. It has undertaken this role historically, from Teapot Dome to Watergate, from Iran-Contra to the “Blue Dress”, from the investigations into the Bush Administration to those of Hillary. This President should not be able to escape the scrutiny built into our Constitution, which he has sworn to uphold.


🗯️ Four Questions for Society Today

userpic=divided-nationAfter reading the news of late, a few questions have come to me. These are not of the “Why is this night different?” variety, but they do seem to tell something about what the real attitude is of the current leaders of this country:

  • If the country is full, why the concern about abortions? If there is no room for more people, wouldn’t you want to stop unwanted births? Rather, the agenda appears to be pushing your religious views on when life begins and murder can occur on those with differing religious views.
  • If we must close the borders, why only the southern one? If the country is full and we have to close the border, why is it full only for low-income brown people? This demonstrates that the issue is not the country being full, but a bias against brown and low-income immigrants.
  • Why is there so much money for Notre Dame, and little for the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Historically Black Churches in Louisiana? Could it be we are only in favor of supporting European White culture, and don’t care about black or Islamic culture.
  • If we are concerned about the sanctity of life, why do we not care about people after they are born? There is so much energy waged on the battle against abortion, ostensibly due to a concern for the life of the unborn. But once the child is born, where is the care? Where are the programs to lift people to better lives, to move them out of the cycle of poverty and despair? Where is the concern for the refugee, for whom to return to their country of origin would be certain death? Why are you seemingly only appreciated if you are white and wealthy and Christian?

How we behave, what we do and what we say reflects who are are as a society. On Friday night, we remind ourselves about the battle to escape those who would oppress us for being a minority. We remind ourselves that we once were strangers, and so we should welcome the stranger into our homes. That is central to who we are and what we believe, and we remind ourselves of these values every year. This country’s leadership is behaving in a way that goes against those values: they reject those who are not white… they reject those who are not rich… they reject those who do not hold with their beliefs. Their values go against what America stands for, and deserve repudiation.


✡ An Insult at my Doorstep

This morning, when I went to go out and get the paper, there was an insult on my doorstep. A white, thick envelope addressed “A Message of Hope and Gladness for Jewish People”. I was already nervous. When I opened it up, there was a letter, a set of “Frequently Asked Questions By Jewish People”, and a DVD. On the front of the FAQ was “How a Jew Came to Know and Put his Trust in The Jewish Messiah”.

Oh. Hell. No.

Irrespective of the fact that the author doesn’t know rules on how to capitalize, I don’t need to be preached to about “the Jewish Messiah”. It is an insult to find this on my doorstep. Not illegal, mind you, but an insult. I do not need to be preached to about how your religion can save me. My religion is my choice. Unsolicited evangelism is a violation of my space. In essence, a #metoo in the area of religion. If I consent for you to preach at me, that’s one thing. Shoving it on my doorstep or down my throat without my consent? Hell no.

I don’t believe in “The Jewish Messiah” because he does not meet the job qualifications, pure and simple. You’re giving me a FAQ, so I’ll give you one right back:

Question 17.3:
Countering the Question: Why Don’t Jews Believe in Jesus as the Messiah?

The question above is a typical one asked by Christian Missionaries. The answer is easy, if one understands Jewish beliefs.

Jews do not believe that the Messiah is a part of G-d, or Divine in any way, more than any other person. Jews look only to G-d for our salvation, and when the time comes for G-d to bring the anointed king, then it shall happen. Jews do not concern ourselves with the messiah’s identity, for the messiah is a person and the messiah’s coming does not change our relationship with G-d. Jews do not accept the notion that Scripture “foretells” that G-d would robe Himself in flesh; in fact, to Jews, this idea is idolatry, and we stand against it.

The reason why Jews do not accept Jesus as the messiah is straightforward: he did not meet the requirements in the job requisition! G-d outlined these requirements in the Bible. The key aspect of proof is in the state of the world.According to the Bible, amongst the most mission of the messiah includes returning the world to return to G-d and G-d’s teachings; restoring the royal dynasty to the descendants of David; overseeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem, including the Temple; gathering the Jewish people from all over the world and bringing them home to the Land of Israel; reestablishing the Sanhedrin; restoring the sacrificial system, the Sabbatical year and Jubilee. This simply has not happened. Judaism has no notion of the messiah not doing these things on the first visit, let along needing a second visit to do these things. Whenever these things are described in the Tanach, the description says that the messiah will come and do these things—once.

Want the details. Read the soc.cuture.jewish FAQ, Question 17.3.

So, I’m calling out the Israel Restoration Ministries and Tom Cantor. Your material is an insult, unwanted, and going straight into the trashcan. Attract people by how you live your life, not by proselytizing with unsolicited material on doorsteps.


🚉 A Train Breaks Down … But What About the System?

Yesterday, I had to take LA Metro from El Segundo (El Segundo Green Line Station) to the Pantages (Hollywood/Vine Red Line Station) for a rescheduled show. I’ve done this many times with no problems. I’m a long time Metro support, following all you do for my highway pages, as well as being a participant in the Metro Vanpool Program. But this time, there was a customer service problem. Below is the message I wrote to LA Metro this morning about it:

I had tickets at the Pantages theatre last night, so after taking the van to work, I planned to take Metro (Green to Blue Line Shuttle to Blue to Red) to the Pantages. All was good until we hit the Grand/LATTC stop… where we stopped. We were told to get off the train due to a mechanical problem ahead, and the train was going to go back the other direction. This left those of us completely unsure how to continue our journey.

I’m 59, out of shape, dealing with a poor back. I ended up having to walk to the 7th and Flower station to get the Red Line, where (due to the distance) I got to pay for the privilege as continuing on the red line wasn’t seen as a transfer. I made it, and got my walk for the day (unintended), but was exhausted all evening.

But what about all of those riding Metro who couldn’t walk that distance? Those who didn’t know the city or where to go? What about those that couldn’t afford to pay that extra $1.75?

Trains and stations have problems — I understand and recognize this. It is how we respond to those problems that matters, and this is poor customer service. When a train breaks down, there needs to be clear and repeated customer service and communication, a bus needs to be provided to get the passengers on the train speedily to their next destination, and the driver must take the lead on doing this (instead of walking off to take the train in the other direction). If we fail to do this, what does it say about Los Angeles? What does it say about Metro customer service?


✡ Symbols, Stories, and perhaps a little Politics with your Bitter Herbs

Sunday evening, I had the honor and privilege to organize, and essentially lead, the Men’s Seder for our synagogue brotherhood, using a liturgy that I cobbled together from the MRJ Mens Seder, my personal Seder, and materials from the Temple Beth Hillel Seder we used in 2018. I did not design the Seder to espouse a particular point of view, but to teach about the symbols of the holiday, explore how we use symbols in the Seder to teach lessons, and to explore what we are teaching about men and men’s issues. Still, during the service, one of our attendees got up, made a speech about how leftist the liturgy was, and stormed out (he has since apologized to me for the outburst, which I accepted). This has left me vaguely troubled and thinking … and sometimes the only response is a blog post.

For the most part, religions use holy days to do one of two things: mark the passage of time, and tell stories. The former are occasional (think Rosh Hashanah or Rosh Chodesh); the latter are prevalent. Sometimes the stories that are told are repeats of the religious fables, but sometimes the stories convey a different message and meaning. Often, that meaning is to remind people of themes central to the religion. For example, while Chanukah ostensibly celebrates a miracle, it more importantly reminds people of a military victory and the battle against assimilation. The story of the recent holiday of Purim is a continual reminder of the fight against antisemitism; the central notion is that Haman is a character that keeps showing up, and against whom we must continually fight.

This brings us to Passover, and the Passover Seder. Although one might like the Seder to be apolitical, it is an inherently political story. It is a story that reminds us to stand up to oppressors, to fight for our freedoms, and to welcome the stranger into our midst. All are Jewish values, at the core of our moral system. They are why we tell this story, and why — in home rituals — people augment the telling to highlight the fact that this wasn’t just in the past. The battle against those who want to oppress us continues to this day. The need to fight for freedom for ourselves and others who are oppressed continues to this very day. The need to welcome the stranger in our midst, because we were once strangers in a strange land, continues to this day. The need to remind ourselves that it wasn’t just God who brought us out of Egypt while we were passive, but God working through us to stand up and say, “No, Let our people go!”, and to get up and leave. These are battles we fight to this day.

People add symbols to their Seder plate to take this historical story and demonstrate that the battle to move from oppression to freedom continues to this day. Whether is it the battles of women for equality and a voice, of LGBTQ individuals to be seen, oppressed people in nations from Eastern Europe to Palestine to Africa to America to be free, to workers under oppression, to …. you name it. People use the home service and the Seder to draw parallels to the causes near and dear to them, and to show that the battles fought by Moses and Aaron and Miriam and the people in the desert were not just “one and done”, but continue everyday until oppression is gone.

In the service I developed, I did not intend to take a side. I did intend, however, to explore how the Seder is used in this way. I did intend to remind people that the battle was not done: that there still is ethnic violence, that there still is oppression of Jews, that there are still battles to be fought. I did intend to raise the question of how to bring back the men’s voices: with the increasing movement of women into leadership roles, men’s voices have been disappearing. Perhaps they consider the roles devalued, perhaps … something else. In any case, we need both voices, talking equally and not over each other. How do we recover that was a question I intended to raise.

But then I got accused of having an “agenda” that someone didn’t like. And that, for a people-pleaser like me, continues to gnaw at me and bother me. (On the other hand, the complaint that the liturgy was too long is a valid one — this was essentially a first run through, and we’ll trim and evolve for next year)

But what bothers me more is the notion that a Seder should be apolitical. We’re telling a story every year that is — at its heart — inherently political, inherently subversive, inherently agitating. There’s a reason that Early Christians were scared about the retelling of the story at the Seder. It wasn’t the antisemitic tropes you hear about — it was the message that in every generation we must rise up and fight oppressors, that in every generation we must remember that we were strangers. It is a message that is at the heart of Judaism: a religion that (unlike Christianity) lives for today, and making this world a better place for everyone.