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Many years ago I was invited to tour an ecological experiment that the town of Harwich, Massachusetts was conducting.  They were exploring innovative ways to deal with their sewage.  At the time our consulting firm was quite involved in red-bag biological waste and other types of recycling. I was fascinated with the challenges we humans continually make for ourselves by not thinking things through, and the resulting regulations that get made before we know what does or doesn’t work.

The sewage experiment involved a giant glass water tank, probably fifty feet long and fifteen feet high, teeming with fish and dense, green aquatic plant life.  One could walk along the side and see the fish lazily swimming through foliage so thick the other side couldn’t be seen. Sewage went in one end of the tank…and voilà,  twelve days later out the other end came sparkling, pure, drinkable water!  The system now known as Aquaponics, was from ecological designer John Todd, whose creations reflected his forward thinking vision. His work had begun in the late 60s when he founded the New Alchemy Institute, also on Cape Cod  (more on that in a moment).  Todd is perhaps best known as the inventor of  solar aquatic systems that use the properties of natural systems to clean waste water.

Aquaponics, simply put, is the method of combining fish and vegetable farming that requires no soil. The farmer cultivates freshwater fish (aquaculture) and plants (hydroponics) in a re-circulating water system that exchanges nutrients between the two. Wastewater from the fish serves as organic fertilizer for the plants, while the plants clean the water of fish waste. Net result: a 90% reduction in freshwater use, compared with conventional fish farming, and a significant reduction in added nutrients such as fossil fertilizers. The system can be run without pesticides and, because the fish environment is spacious and clean, without antibiotics.

Given the deservedly negative publicity swirling around Monsanto and their cohorts today, maybe a few more folks are starting to give some traction to the idea that current methods of mass food production are a bad, bad thing.  An unsustainable idea that is fact, poisoning us. 

The delicate but necessary ecological balance in farming is what makes it sustainable and healthy for us.  Soil, water, air, beneficial insects, crop rotation, livestock, etc., are essential elements that are connected and depend on each other to work properly. 

When the “efficient” methodology of mass production is practiced, there is no balance and before long – as in NOW – the soil is depleted; vegetation lacks nutrition; insects hurt crops rather than helping; disease explodes unchecked which requires hormones and chemicals; and then heavier antibiotics are introduced which leads to stronger, more resistant bacteria. Sounds delicious doesn’t it? Do have another helping of whatever that is you are eating.

Perhaps when we started hearing all this ecological babble of the 60s and 70s, it was ignored it because it was delivered by the crispy critter tree huggers who were eschewed by the 9-5 suits.  Remember that guy who was always on Johnny Carson advocating that we all eat twigs and berries.  Perhaps the message was confused with the messenger.  Whatever.  Net result is today we are facing a food crisis and a hunger crisis, the likes of which have never been seen – ever.  And we’ve managed to do all this in less than what? 60 years?  Ah yes, we are nothing if not efficient, aren’t we?  Talk about a “man made disaster.” 

Should we blame this crisis and it’s unintended consequences on the vast Interstate system?  Or was it the innovation and availability of refrigerated trucks?  Could it have been that upward mobility and academic snobbery viewed working the land as something to be done only by those who couldn’t do anything else – so the kids shed their overalls and fled the farm for the bright lights big city.  BigAgra moved in and the next thing you know… OMG, I’m a capitalist – this can’t be happening –   First BigPharma, now Big Agra. Big business does have an evil twin.  Someone save me,  mothernatureI’ve gone over to the dark side. 

You’ve heard the saying “When Mother Nature ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” 

In the documentary Fresh  the opening line startled me.  Then it resonated with me.  The voice states, “When I was in college, a foreign student said to me, You Americans can stand anything but inconvenience.” 

That statement hit me like a meteor. Game Changer. How completely right was that student.  It’s all about convenience isn’t it?  In our culture, we’ll go a long, long way towards having everything we want at our fingertips, 24/7, no matter the cost or the consequence. 

Strawberries in December for 311.6 million?  Sure.  Why not?  Quick – get out the map. Where in the world are strawberries growing in December?  The cost will be astronomical. Doesn’t matter – The People demand it. Check the transportation systems.  How fast can we transport ’em?  Oh, you say, Strawberries are fragile, they’ll rot before they get to market.   No matter, we’ll  spray them with something – we’re scientists – we can figure out how to suspend that rotting process.  Or pick ’em earlier and treat them with something that will stop the ripening until we can get them on America’s table.  Wait!  Better still, do something to the seeds so they’re resistant to cold and drought, and…and suspend that ripening process (how annoying is that?) until exactly when we want them to start ripening again – so they’re perfect when they arrive at market.  Ah, enter the GMOs – genetically modified organisms. 

Do we care that the gene from a cold water fish has been transplanted into those Strawberries?  Don’t ya think we probably should…?

school2.jpgThat New Alchemy Institute I mentioned earlier (you see everything does come full circle) eventually became a large cooperative farm called Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth, Massachusetts.  We were members. I have strong memories of picking our summer produce there, getting basil from the hydroponics greenhouse, the biggest tomatoes in another greenhouse.  We got the most hilarious newsletter sent out by farm manager, Ron Smolowitz, (the crispest critter of the hippie movement) who alerted us to what was ripe for picking and which funky zydeco band was playing at their cafe. 

I won’t tell you about the first time shovels were hoisted and my city boy husband accompanied me to dig potatoes…dig being the operative word in that story. But the 40 pounds (for about ten bucks) we brought home made the most awesome potato salad and scalloped potatoes ever tasted. There are a few advantages to having grown up in West Virginia and having the privlige of being sent to the garden to pick the lettuce for the dinner salad.  Just had to make sure the snails were washed off, ’cause otherwise Mama would have a fit. 

So meanwhile back at the ranch… I mean the farm – there is a growing movement to bring sensible local  farming back to its roots, provide a cleaner environment, create Will Allen holding fish.jpgemployment, and bring delicious, nutritious produce, fish, honey, cheese, and eggs to your table.  No chemicals, no pesticides, no hormones, no genetically altered anything. Is anyone out there sick of tomatoes that taste like styrofoam?   

The Urban Farmer movement is taking neglected plots of urban blight and reclaiming the land for intercity farming.  A fabulous woman in Las Vegas – The Tomato Lady – is growing all sorts of vegetables in triple digit temps.  She says it has to do with rebuilding the soil and developing heat tolerant varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it after I visit her in July.

An organization in Milwaukee called Growing Power headed up by basketball star Will Allen, is teaching the unemployed, the homeless, and even young students, that agriculture, aquaculture and hydroponics are good for the soil and good for the soul. Mark Shepard’s Sheer Total Utter Neglect concept declares that a mere 2% increase in the organic matter in the world’s agricultural land will draw down enough carbon to return atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels

Most of the time we ignore things when we don’t know what to do about them but I’m offering you dozens of answers, proven techniques, and an opportunity to do something! My glass is always half full so I see the positives and the possibilities.  But it does take a community – a village if you will (yeah, Hillary got that one right.) It starts locally, one person at a time.  Here in the desert southwest of California we’ve got some soil challenges but nothing we can’t manage.  So I’ve embarked on a project to convert our flowerbeds into a “biointensive” backyard garden that will enhance the existing plantings (not to mention the air quality) by adding vegetables year round.  First chore, rake up those pink rocks (that retain heat DUH!) and lay out a small  3X3 area where I can develop really good compost (coffee grounds, egg shells, green waste) to mix into this sand they call dirt.  There’s one thing I already know about gardening, it’s not a cram course.  It’ll take patience and time and continual study. 

So, while the plot thickens…who wants to join me? I’m getting started so stay tuned.

A few years ago I did an extensive, year-long search for an orchestra conductor.  One candidate’s remark  still resonates long after the search was successfully completed.  This young conductor told me that, contrary to the traditional thinking of serious and staid classical performance, if orchestras weren’t playing with all the joy and abandon they could muster, there had better be something pretty spectacular going on on the stage, from start to finish, because otherwise, audiences would be leaving the music hall in droves.  Why?  Because audiences today are used to, and expect “wows” with every note.   We are way too over-stimulated to sit still and watch the paint dry.

philadelphia-orchestra-yannickLast night we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra, presented in high definition (HD) at the Palme d’Or Cinema at the Westfield Mall.  Seeing an orchestra concert filmed live in HD with surround sound can actually be pretty exciting, due to the opportunity for up close observation.  The 2nd oboist had a nervous tic.  The french horns were all women.  The bassoonist had to wear some sort of shoulder harness.  Seeing how the conductor actually communicates with the musicians can add a curious and satisfying dimension to what we hear in a performance.  Every conductor is unique and capable of creating a discernible difference in orchestra performance.  When John Williams was conductor of the Boston Pops, it was common knowledge that the orchestra did not like him.  It was front and center when they played for him. 

Under the dazzling baton of Montreal native Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this Philadelphia Orchestra concert was up close and personal, delivering one WOW after the other.  It was obvious that this orchestra really likes their leader.  The programme represented Nezet-Seguin’s fresh approach to programming which was explained during the post concert conversation – yet another innovative approach that orchestras now use to engage us.  Yannick’s philosophy is to pair seemingly unrelated selections but which do indeed have common threads as he explained in the post concert interview.  The idea works and we, the audience, benefit by learning more about what we are hearing.      

I’m telling you about this beautiful concert in the hopes that it will be presented more than once, as many of Palme d’Ors offerings are. Do check the listings. 

In this particular concert,  Nézet-Séguin paired the Mahler Symphony #1 with the Korngold Violin Concerto.   Who, you ask?  If you don’t recognize Erich Korngold’s name you will likely recognize his music – he is considered the father of film music, having written such memorable film scores as Captain Blood, The Green Pastures, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Between Two Worlds, and Of Human Bondage, to name a few.  Those who do recognize his film scores probably don’t know that he was also a prolific and serious romantic composer. 

On the flip side, I wasn’t aware that Gustav Mahler was considered the inspiration for most early film music.  Who knew?  What an exciting pairing. Besides which, if you are like many who immediately think Mahler: heavy, modern, dissonant, ugg – wrong.  There is nothing more delightful, harmonic, and sensible than the Mahler First.  It’s gorgeous and satisfying from beginning to end.

Guest artist Hiliary Hahn, an extraordinary violinist, gloriously executed the extremely difficult Korngold Concerto on her 1865 Vuillaume Violin. What a big fat tone she gets out of her instrument.  Of course, she should have been, and would have been, the highlight of the concert, had the charming and effervescent Yannick not stolen the evening with his riveting interpretation of the Mahler.  I have NEVER, EVER heard a symphony concert audience erupt in cheers the way this one did at the end of the performance.  One would have thought the Phillies had just scored a triple.  WOW, WOW, and triple WOW.   (Thank you Palme d’Or for giving us such a thrill.)

This new crop of fabulous young conductors on the American Symphonic Scene is putting excitement  into orchestra performance like never before.  Whether it’s Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil, Alan Gilbert from the NY Philharmonic or young Yannick Nézet-Séguin from the Philadelphia Orchestra, we need not fear that classical music is a thing of the past.  These young Turks are kicking ass and taking no prisoners. So if you can’t see an orchestra live, you can still enjoy dozens of fabulous offerings at The River Cinemas in Rancho Mirage, the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs, or the Palme d’Or at Westfield Mall in Palm Desert. 

In addition, the Palme provides three plus months of scheduling on their website, so you can actually plan accordingly.  How nice!  In particular The Palme  goes above and beyond to provide a wide variety of programming that more and more has included classical choices in ballet, opera,  theater and concerts as well as their usual array of the best in cinema – not just the latest explosive, car-crash, box office bang-ups.  Also, I should not have been surprised to see listed in general release right now, two films that we previewed at the International Film Festival in January – Fill The Void and The Kon Tiki (actually quite scary.) 

A few recommendations I might make in the coming schedule are:

The Palme:  The National Theater Live presents Helen Mirren in “The Audience,” reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II as she, from young mother to grandmother, meets with each of her prime ministers in an imagined set of conversations.  June 13 live @ 11 am; repeats June 20 4 pm  & June 25, 6:30. I can’t wait for this one.  Also watch for Otello Sept 26 and Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth October 17  & 24.Helen-Mirren

The Palme:  If you prefer ballet or opera you can choose the Paris Opera Ballet Series throughout June and July, including La Sylphide, Fallstaff, The Magic Flute or Carmen.

Fine Art anyone? 

How about great art on the big screen?   That’s different.  The Palme  – July 6th, 12:00 pm will offer a first: a behind-the-scenes look at putting together and seeing an art exhibition – in this case the work of Edvard Munch (The Scream) as celebrated in Norway on Munch’s 150 anniversary. 

The River will offer – October 10, 7:30 pm from The National Gallery, London a major exhibition on one of the most startling and fascinating artists of all-time, Johannes Vermeer, most popularly known as the painter of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer painted little more than 30 works that still exist, and the National Gallery has chosen to focus on his art in relation to music. Music was one of the most popular themes of Dutch painting and revealed an enormous amount about the sitter and the society.  Not to be missed. 

Summer at The River Cinemas also will be offering a full schedule of Live At The Met Opera Encores, including Carmen (stand-out MET performance) June 19; Ill Trovatore, June 26; Armida, July 10th; and La Traviata, July 17th.  The River is also showing  Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Swan Lake live from  the Mariinsky Theatre, Thursday, June 6th at 6:30 pm.  If you’ve never seen a ballet, this is the one to see. 

The Palme will also show the Philadelphia Orchestra with Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, June 26th @ 6:30 pm. 

So as we head into the summer season there is no reason to lament the inevitable heat.  And don’t tell me there’s nothing to do!  I’ve barely scratched the surface and given you plenty of links to source even more options.  Theaters struggle to fill seats during the summer, but unfortunately they don’t market these cultural gems very well.  I believe more folks would attend these stellar performances if there was better exposure to their target market.  So there.  I’m doing my bit. 

Don’t forget Palm Springs Restaurant Week is May 31 June 16th.  Palm Desert Restaurant Week is May 31 – June 9th.  May I suggest you eat, drink and be merry.  With all the lovely culture Coachella Valley has to offer why wouldn’t you?

 

Dear Readers,

I welcome to this forum, guest blogger and Senior Partner of The Saugus Group, Jeffrey M. Moritz, who has some sobering thoughts about the current IRS scandal making the news. 

Do not be fooled.  The IRS scandal is much more serious, much more dangerous a precedent, much more insidious about the reaches of unbridled assumption of power, and much closer to the White House than you might believe.  According to many reports I have read, research I have conducted, and words from them included in this writing, I wish to give credit here for their brave words and unwavering pursuit of the truth. 

The surprising admission by a high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official that the agency targeted tea party and other conservative groups can be seen as a tactical move designed to stave off a deeper investigation of the scandal. Washington insiders say the Obama administration is engaged in a classic tactic called a “modified limited hangout” or MLH — a term that dates back to the Nixon presidency.

An MLH is “a public relations or propaganda technique that involves the release of previously hidden information in hopes of ending a probe and preventing exposure of more important or damaging information”.  The idea is to admit to some wrongdoing, but not all and certainly not the really bad stuff, in hopes of deflating press and public demands for more investigations.  In English – deliberate obfuscation, or in science fiction terms, a “tactic of mistake”.  The term arose during a March 1973 discussion between President Nixon and his top advisers.  It has been reported that Nixon outlined to John Dean a report that Dean would create, offering a misleading view of the White House staff’s role in events surrounding the Watergate burglary. When Dean said, “It’s a limited hangout,” John Ehrlichman piped in: “It’s a modified limited hangout.”

This IRS scandal has all the earmarks of an MLH.

In March 2010, the IRS began targeting tea party and other conservative groups for closer scrutiny, demanding paperwork and other materials from the groups that delayed their approval  for tax-exempt status.  Most of what they asked for is precluded by IRS procedural rules in the IRM (Internal Revenue Manual) such as requesting donor and member lists, contents of educational and prayer material, transcripts of radio/TV interviews, copies of social-media posts, details on “close relationships” with political candidates, and  printed copies of speeches. My understanding is those issues have already been litigated several times in Federal court.  Also note that was the time these organizations were ramping up to help defeat Obamacare and Obama’s coming re-election.  Until they had the tax exempt status they could not technically accept funds needed to ramp up their opposition.  When donors were subsequently contacted by the IRS or in some cases the FBI, they were intimidated from donating, and worse, from participating in their constitutional right to freedom of expression and assembly. 

A congressional committee last year asked then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman about allegations regarding targeting that apparently had been forwarded to congressional representatives from their constituents.  He told the committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.  He lied.  He resigned, or was asked to, in late 2012, and Steven Miller became acting IRS commissioner so they could blame his predecessor. 

Then in early May of this year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report confirming the targeting to congressional investigators, but not to the public.

Apparently fearing the release of the upcoming Inspector General’s report, IRS officials decided, or were encouraged through Treasury, to engage in an MLH to control the spin. They had to or it would become obvious the White House knew about the targeting in 2010.  You cannot convince me that someone in the White House wasn’t watching Shulman’s Congressional testimony and didn’t prep him for the hearing in 2010.

On May 10, 2012 Lois Lerner, head of the IRS tax-exempt-status division, admitted that the targeting had taken place. She denied stalling the approval of groups based on ideology  and said some progressive groups also were selected for further scrutiny.  A red herring.  She asserted that the targeting had not been centrally planned and was carried out by lower-level “front-line people” in the Cincinnati office.  She lied to Congress and the move backfired — the admission by Lerner only served to spark public outrage and encourage investigators to dig deeper.

These “front-line” people in Cincinnati are not exactly GS-11 pay grades.  Most are seasoned IRS employees at the GS-20 levels and are well trained and hand picked for their positions because of their knowledge.  The truth has come out that the cases in question were referred to Washington for “special handling” even though they tried to cover it up by having the responses come from several offices. 

Any IT person can tell you that he who controls the electronic correspondence and location of the sender is in charge of the message.  Almost all correspondence goes through the IRS’ IT department before going out so as to properly keep all information within the case file; a move to protect the system from tampering. My question is why not all letters coming from Cincinnati where the tax-exempt division is headquartered and the applications filed?  The answer is they cannot control the electronic file contents once it is assigned to an agent until the agent releases it.  The IRS keeps everything – right or wrong. So the correspondence written in their name would eventually be seen by the agent the next time the agent opened the file.  Easy – create a fictitious employee and email, create a file, send the correspondence, and bury the file in 200 trillion terabytes of data. Easy if you have the keys and no one is looking.

There is a lot more stuff under the covers.  There is mounting and powerful evidence suggesting the IRS activities involved very high-ranking IRS officials in D.C., and they targeted  hundreds of conservative organizations — not ones simply with “tea party” or “patriots” in their organization names but conservative religious groups and any group openly opposed to Obama’s agenda as well.

Look at some of what the IRS tax-exempt status division was doing during that period. Surprise! Evidence is mounting that the Internal Revenue Service gave far better treatment to left-wing groups with data showing the agency approved dozens of liberal and progressive organizations as tax-exempt while leaving conservative groups hanging. No tea party applications were approved in a 27-month period beginning February 2010, but numerous applications from liberal and progressive groups were given tax-exempt status during the same period,” USA Today reported.  Try and convince anyone that is coincidence and not targeting.

These details come at the same time that it was revealed that the IRS expedited tax-exempt status for a charity run by President Barack Obama’s half-brother Abongo “Roy” Malik Obama, despite numerous questions about how it is run and its legal issues over the past few years. The application from the Barack H. Obama Foundation was even backdated.  Lerner signed off on the organization’s tax status in June 2011, right in the middle of the 27-month hiatus for tea-party groups, and granted it retroactive status to within a month of filing.  Wait – what filing?

In the month before the foundation was granted tax-exempt status, the National Legal and Policy Center filed a complaint with the IRS, asking why the group was allowed to solicit tax-deductible contributions when it had not applied for a determination.  “The Obama Foundation raised money on its web page by falsely claiming to be tax deductible. This bogus charity, run by Malik, had not even applied for tax-exempt status and yet subsequently got retroactive tax-deductible status,” complained Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. Boehm called the attempt to raise money “common law fraud and potentially even federal mail fraud.” 

On Tuesday, four days after Lerner’s admission to Congress, respected elections attorney Cleta Mitchell came forward and claimed that she has evidence the IRS scandal reaches to the White House.  She said she also is aware of nearly 100 other conservative groups that were being targeted by Washington.

“There were nearly 100 groups across the country that got the very egregious set of letters from the IRS that were almost identical in scope and wording and they came from offices all over the country, so I know of at least 85 to 90, maybe more, organizations,” said Mitchell, who represents six groups that say they have been targeted. She added that she had two clients whose groups’ purpose was to lobby against Obamacare, and both received extra IRS scrutiny. Mitchell told reporters she doesn’t believe the president or the White House is as uninvolved in the IRS activities as the administration has claimed.  “They may try to say it was low-level people,” she said. “It was not low-level people. The activities weren’t in Cincinnati. It was being directed out of Washington, and I have them on record saying that.”

We know the White House used the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, OSHA and the Labor Department to try to silence critics about Obamacare and intimidate conservative applicants for tax-exempt status. They tried to use the FCC to go after FOX News, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  When congressional action failed they excluded FOX News from the White House Press Corps.  That didn’t go over so well either when many in the press corps complained publicly.  So if we know they used those agencies, why wouldn’t they also use the IRS to try to silence political critics? 

The next day, Wednesday, May 15 is the day Commissioner Steven Miller was forced to resign.  If you watched Miller’s hearing, or any part of it, you can see his contempt for the members of the committee, especially Republicans.  His disdain and arrogance are clearly apparent.  He may think he is above the wrath of Congress, but they made him swear in, something not normally done for a senior level government official.  They did that for one simple reason. They had been lied to before by the person in the same position.  If he lies he can be criminally charged.  He should have thought about that during the hearing but plainly he thought he didn’t need to.  He does have, after all, the Attorney General, the Senate and the Presidency on his side.  But criminal contempt of Congress is not reserved to that purview. Maybe they should fire him, strip him of his pension, and place him in prison for criminal contempt of Congress until he decides his life would be much better if he told the truth – respectfully.  I wonder if any person has ever testified to Congress in a prison uniform.

In the meantime, the IRS reported that the Inspector General’s office is launching a new investigation. Who is it that said, “Always take advantage of a catastrophe.” If the Republicans are smart and the media cooperates just a little, this and Benghazi may prove to be a two-year investigation right through the next election cycle and result in jail time for some and even impeachment for others.  Also the AP matter has hit the press pretty hard.  Let’s see if their airtime, paper and print are where their mouth is, regarding freedom of the press, or if they will continue to cover for the President and the progressive agenda.  I have hope but no confidence.

I invite debate and information contrary to the contents herein, but come to the table prepared because nothing in this piece is not documented.  Come with facts – not ideology.  Respectfully submitted, Jeffrey M. Moritz

 

Two very satisfying baseball movies are currently making the rounds.  Both give valuable lessons in the triumph of personal courage.

 JackieRobinsonIt’s really hard to imagine in 2013 how blatant and ugly was the shameful, wide-spread and accepted practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws in post-WWII America.  42 is the moving and intimate story of Brooklyn Dodgers Number 42 – black baseball player Jackie Robinson – and the Dodgers’ decision to hire Robinson and take on the struggle to break the color barrier in 1947-48.  42 gives us but a tiny, unvarnished taste of what it must have been like to be the recipient of such vicious, withering, personal attacks from every quarter, and what courage Robinson showed not knowing the eventual outcome.  The despicable behavior of my fellow Americans brought tears of shame streaming down my face, only to be replaced by tears of pride for the humanity that Robinson showed us all in the face of one of the ugliest chapters in our history.

Chadwick Bozeman gives us a towering yet deeply human portrayal of Robinson, playing opposite a crusty Harrison Ford as Dodger owner Branch Rickey who pragmatically sees the future for what it is.  What a team Robinson & Rickey made.  What a story we get from Bozeman and Harrison.  Do not miss it.

yanklesIn The Big Inning….” is the clever tag line of an adorable little independent film called the Yankles, written, directed and produced by two nice Jewish boys from Orange county, David & Zev Brooks. 

The Yeshiva Torah V’Limud rabbinical students have a fledgling baseball team. They have a chance to compete in the intercollegiate athletic system. Now all they need is a coach. Enter three-time DUY loser Charlie Jones (played by Brian Wimmer) who’s just been paroled after an 18-month jail sentence and who must satisfy his community service parole requirement. He just happens to be the X-wife of the sister of Yankles shortstop and team captain, Elliot Eliahu Dubinsky, (played by Michael Buster) who just happens to be an X-AA ball player who is now a huge disappointment to Dad, X-major league ball player Frankie Dubinsky, (played by Don Most of Happy Days fame)  because after a trip to Israel he’s abandoned his baseball career to become a Rabbi.  Did you get all that?  No matter.   For everyone who simply likes a good story, this maisse mit a deitch is a leben ahf dein kip.  You’ll be k’velening all over yourself.  If you like baseball, you’ll like it even better. 

Interesting that the film was shot entirely in Utah and the cast were mostly locals who happened to be of the Mormon faith.  They did an outstanding job in their portrayal of Orthodox Yeshiva students, who must learn from their Rebbe that “some things are more important than winning.  We are Jewish Yeshiva students first and ball Yankles3players second.”  That belief is sorely tested when the Yankles make it into the finals and the smarmy Inter-collegiate sports commissioner (with a  double play of antisemitism and a past score to settle with Coach Charlie) schedules the final game on the Jewish Sabbath so the team won’t be unable to play. 

Although the film hasn’t yet found a home through wide distribution, look for it On Demand, through Netflix or at YouTube.  We were fortunate enough to see it at Temple Sinai in Palm Desert where we were treated to an after film discussion with the writing, directing and producing brothers David & Zev Brooks.

I used to have a sign hanging in my kitchen – Bloom Where You’re Planted.   It always reminded me that quality of life was in direct proportion to perspective.  Being at peace with where I was made it that much easier to find the beauty around me.  It’s always there  if we look so I made it a practice to not wish my life away, wanting to be somewhere else.  But it’s also nice to have a little getaway now and then – to experience something different and learn about new things.  It was with that in mind that we recently headed up the Pacific Coast Highway (320 miles and 5 hrs) to the sweeping, pastoral grandeur of Paseo Robles and its impressive wine region. 

Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the area known as the Central Coast Region, Paso Robles has become a wine and food lovers delight and destination.  The Santa Lucia Mountain Range causes the climate to provide nearly perfect growing conditions for the grapes and I can attest to its delicious hot dry days and cool crisp nights –  perfect for exploring, dining and sleeping.  Is there anything better?

Once best known for  cattle and grain, the land surrounding Paso Robles is now almost exclusively dedicated to grapes and orchards filled with precision plantings of walnut, olive and almond trees.  There is an overwhelming feeling of orderliness that is at once calming and satisfying.  The smaller vineyards also give one the sense that somehow we’ve stumbled into a privileged and well-kept secret.  Lucky us.  Intimate restaurants with an eye towards culinary excellence have cropped up all around the charming area and are poised to compliment these wonderful vineyards that are no doubt giving Napa a run for the money. Lovely to have an intelligent conversation with the Vineyard representatives and not have people jammed up eight-deep at the tasting bar.

The number of wineries in the area is staggering – over 200, and they are all tucked into the country roads that wind through the pristine rolling hills.  All offer tastings and tours of their facilities, a fee for which is waived if a purchase is made. I readily admit to being a “common sewer of wine,”  and I fully expected that most of the “tastings” would be lost on me.  But with a little coaching from our most knowledgable guide and new BFF, Michael Garcia, even I began to appreciate the subtle differences between a Sauvignon or a Grenache.

Winemaking is a fascinating blend of art and science and isn’t for the faint of heart or the investor looking to make a fast buck.  It’s a labor of love that is anything but a poor man’s game when the vintner must wait for years for the vines to mature before knowing whether or not they can expect a drinkable harvest.  Even then fickle mother nature can play havoc, with entire crops being lost to too much rain, not enough rain; too much heat, not enough heat; blights, molds, fungus and on and on. 

An interesting example of the quality small vineyards found in the area is Halter Ranch – where in 2000 Swiss entrepreneur Hansjorg Wyss restored a 1,000 acre 19th century ranch.  They now have 240 acres dedicated to twenty varieties of vines which are currently producing about 35,000 bottles a year.   Their wine making process, with gleaming stainless steel vats and hoppers, is certified sustainable and is a green, state-of-the-art operation in every way.  From energy to gravity to water and resource conservation to sourcing their oak barrels, every aspect of the estate is approached with scientific precision.  Theirs is a very impressive 150 year plan. 

Think the best olive oil has to come from Italy?  Think again.  Award winning Pasolivo Olive Oil farm boasts 6,000 organically farmed trees, olives from which are handpicked and pressed right on the property, usually in late November.  We sampled exquisite oils made from the last harvest and silky and delicate flavors such as rosemary or citrus had our mouths watering for more. I was chomping at the bit to try some on pasta, which I certainly did upon our return home.  Outstanding.

Although we found fine dining experiences a surprising norm, I must single out  McPhee’s Grill in the nearby village of Templeton.  The restaurant, in an old farm-house on the Main Street was an Outstanding Culinary Highlight.  A simple salad of butter lettuce with ruby grapefruit, spicy carmalized nuts and port vinaigrette was followed by a macadamia nut encrusted halibut with a ginger sesame vinaigrette, cocoanut rice and asian slaw.  Nothing exotic, just delicately and expertly executed by extraordinary chef Ian McPhee.  Our dinners were paired with a 2005 Linne Calodo Zinfandel that had everyone at the table nodding with satisfaction – even me!  I don’t have the vocabulary to describe our desert of apricot bread pudding with a warm anglaise.  The menu touted it as one time won’t matter Well, that’s not entirely true because honestly, it did matter.  It was unforgettably, simply heaven.

After a week, we were happy to head back home where I’m now scouring my recipe books for all the new tastes we experienced, like the orange curd on our breakfast scones, and those delicate vinaigrettes I mentioned. In the next few weeks my kitchen will be blooming with the new tastes and flavors that I’m planting in my own kitchen – for today and for many years to come.

Truth has many faces.

Truth always makes me think about Buttercup when she sings to Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore:  buttercup

“Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream;

Highlows pass as patent leathers; Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.”

Our parents’ generation placed great Trust in newsmen like Edward Morrow, David Brinkley and Mike Wallace.  We believed what we read, or heard on the news.  When I became an adult I considered it my responsibility to be informed.  Time, Newsweek and Life made a valiant effort to bring Truth to light, covering the news from differing perspectives.  We Trusted the sources, considered the merits and made informed decisions about Truth.

Many of you know that I’m a voracious reader and student of history.  It’s not unusual for me to have several books going at once.  I shift from one to the other as mood, time or location dictates.  Recently I’ve been completely enmeshed in William Manchester’s Winston Churchill – The Last Lion, volumes 1, 2, 3 (a whopping 2500 pages) along with a very unusual book called Jerusalem, The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore.  I’m also in love with historical fiction and we’re currently enjoying the entire series of the BBC’s Foyles War (available on Netflix.)  In all three cases the ugly face of antisemitism appears without varnish.  Sadly, I am never not surprised by its easy acceptance then, as now when public opinion has shifted away from its previous support of Israel.

I  cannot help but compare the events of the 1930s to today’s Muslim extremists rattling their sabers in Iran, Syria and Egypt. Israel is completely surrounded by antisemites who chant daily prayers for Israel’s destruction.  Why are Americans and in particular our government covering their collective ears – unwilling to hear the Truth in these threats? Last September Iranian President Ahmadinejad stated in a speech to the UN General Assembly that “Iran has been around for the last ten thousand years. They (the Israelis) have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history.”

Since there is empirical evidence of the presence of the twelve tribes of Abraham going back further than 1200 BC in the land of Canaan, I’d say those are pretty significant roots.  But I heard no outcry from our leaders; no contradiction of Ahmadinejad’s statement.  When I was a young student studying the honored profession of journalism, I was taught that journalists had a sacred duty to report the Truths and call out the liars. I hear very few calling out the liars.  More evidence appears in a recent LA Times article that covered the Lance Armstrong scandal.  They reported that “Lying is common, useful and… one of the most durable threads in our social fabric and an important bulwark of our self-esteem.”  

Okay, I suppose I could accept that statement as it relates to little lies, like my weight, or how much I like your new haircut.  But when a culture falls so low that really big lies are routinely ignored, isn’t it time to re-examine the immorality of hate speech towards all groups?   I readily admit I am more sensitive to antisemitism.  Although born into the Christian culture, in my married life the Jewish customs of my husband’s family play a prominent role and I’m quite comfortable with that.  I’ve never found it very logical to have Christian Gods in competition with Jewish Gods or Muslim Gods.  If each religion believes that they worship the one true God, how can they all be right?

Throughout history, one  need only observe the power of certain religions  to realize that organized religion has caused more death and destruction than any single ruler perhaps with the exception of Hitler.  That brings me back to The Last Lion Volume II, which focuses on the 1930s and the buildup to World War II.  Each page brings (at least to me) new revelations of Britain’s widespread antisemitism and how close the British government was to making a “peace” pact with Hitler.  There’s a chilling thought.

The one lonely voice throughout that period was Churchill, who seemed to have a keen insight into the chilling intentions of Herr Hitler and his bold lies.  Incidentally Hitler clearly spelled out his intentions in Mein Kampf.  So it should not have been a surprise to anyone, but Churchill’s railing about the dangers of Hitler and his Nazis fell on deaf ears.  Not much diffeent than today – I hear no such railing against the bold lies coming out of the Middle East.  evilChurchill was an unapologetic throwback to the Victorian era. God, Country, Duty and Truth were sacred to him. A most complex man, he was full of contradictions, wrong as often as he was right, but his commitment to what he believed never wavered.  During that period, (without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight,) “Winnie” was treated as an outcast and a has-been; a back-bencher in Parliament’s vernacular.

No one wanted to hear what Churchill believed was True about Germany’s build up and the looming threat to England and the rest of the world. From the King to the street corner newsboy, England was absolutely opposed to any thought of another war, no matter how dire the circumstances; no matter what Hitler was doing; no matter how frightening the Truth as Churchill saw it.  All of Britain reviled Churchill for telling them something that they simply didn’t want to hear. The devastation of WWI was still too fresh a memory twenty years after an entire generation of English lads had given their life for God and Country.  Their Truth was therefore appeasement.  It was the only course to follow.

Churchill famously said “History is written by the victors” and the history of WWII certainly ignored Britain’s willingness to ignore the Truth of Hitler’s actions.  That little bit of history was left on the cutting room floor. I cannot help but compare dear old Winnie to another current outcast, an equally passionate politician and historian, Newt Gingrich, who has never been afraid to voice unpopular views, such as his recent comments to the New York Times.  Newt’s is a lone voice regarding Israel and Palestine.

So meanwhile back at the war, Germany rearmed, bitterly fueled by the unreasonably harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty and all of Europe buried their heads. Hitler said one thing and did another, giving impassioned speeches that contained not a word of Truth.  PM Chamberlain, along with his fellow Tories were blinded by their own arrogance, thinking that they could “manage the little man” so it didn’t matter what he said.

Germany rolled into Czechoslovakia and they said, “Don’t offend Hitler, that will make it worse.”  And Hitler reassured all that he was only liberating his German countrymen, marooned in a foreign land.  When he marched on Poland,  England and France said “Now Hitler’s appetite will be sated.”  Hitler made more impassioned speeches laced with even bolder lies.  Europe believed him when he said he had no aggressive intentions and with yet another sleight of hand, he rolled into Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland, landing at Frances doorstep.  But as long as he was telling everyone what they wanted to hear, Europe did nothing.

With all things Internet,  my motto is “Crede sed proba” –  trust but verify.  As I researched this article I was struck by a “quote” from Benjamin Netanyahu which gave his justification for the Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip.  Apparently this quote has swirled around the internet for years and after much checking, I’ll accept its veracity.  The words are thought provoking regardless of when or where he said them. The closest I could come was an explanation that while the words were Netanyahu’s, they have been edited from his various statements, not from one particular interview.  I therefore share them with that caveat.

The interviewer asked him: “How come so many more Palestinians have been killed in this conflict than Israelis?”BenjaminNetanyahu

Netanyahu: Are you sure that you want to start asking in that direction?

Interviewer: Why not?

Netanyahu: “Because in World War II more Germans were killed than British and  Americans combined, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the war  was caused by Germany’s aggression. And in response to the German blitz  on London, the British wiped out the entire city of Dresden , burning  to death more German civilians than the number of people killed in  Hiroshima … Moreover, I could remind you that in 1944, when the R.A.F.  tried to bomb the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen , some of the bombs  missed their target and fell on a Danish children’s hospital, killing 83  little children. Perhaps you have another question?”

In another interview Netanyahu was asked about Israel ‘s occupation of ‘Arab lands’.

His response was, “It’s our land.” 

Do you see the tiny red sliver of land in this map?  That’s Israel.

COUNTRY

POPULATION (in millions)

AREA (in sq. miles)

Egypt

71.2

386,700

Iran

69.4

636,294

Iraq

26.6

167,174

Saudi Arabia

23.6

865,000

Syria

19.0

71,498

Israel

7.1

8,019

Jordan

5.3

34,573

Lebanon

4.5

4,015

Sifting through all the various versions of Truth, whose Truth do we believe?  Churchill’s?  Hitler’s?  Chamberlain’s? Ahmadinejad’s?  Netanyahu’s?  Buttercup’s?  With Easter and Passover upon us isn’t this a Truth we should all consider? It’s clear to me that this conflict is not about land – it’s about one group of people who are committed to the destruction of another group of people – and all nicely sanctioned by their religion. 

Crash Course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict:

Here are some overlooked facts in the current & past Middle East situation, compiled by a Christian  university professor:

  • Nationhood and Jerusalem : Israel became a nation in 1312 BC, two  thousand (2000) years before the rise of Islam.
  • Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian  people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
  • Since the Jewish conquest in 1272 BC, the Jews have  had dominion over the land for one thousand (1000) years with a continuous presence in the land for the past 3,300 years.
  • The  only Arab dominion since the conquest in 635 lasted no more than 22 years.
  • For over 3,300 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. Jerusalem has never been the capital of any Arab or Muslim  entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem , they never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to  visit.
  • Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the  Jewish Holy scriptures. Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran.
  • King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed  never came to Jerusalem.
  • Jews pray facing Jerusalem. Muslims pray facing Mecca.
  • Arab and  Jewish Refugees: in 1948 the Arab refugees were encouraged to leave  Israel by Arab leaders promising to purge the land of  Jews. Sixty-eight percent left (many in fear of  retaliation by their own brethren, the Arabs), without ever seeing an  Israeli soldier. The ones who stayed were afforded the same peace, civility, and citizenship rights as everyone else.
  • The  Jewish refugees were forced to flee from Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.
  • The number of Arab refugees who left Israel in 1948 is estimated to be around 630,000. The  number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is estimated to be the same.
  • Arab refugees were INTENTIONALLY not absorbed or integrated  into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Out of the 100,000,000 refugees since World War II, theirs is the only  refugee group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated  into their own people’s lands. Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel , a country no larger than the state of New Jersey.
  • The Arab-Israeli Conflict: the Arabs are represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians. There is only  one Jewish nation. The Arab nations initiated all five wars and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won.
  • The PLO’s Charter  still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. Israel has given the Palestinians most of the West Bank land, autonomy under  the Palestinian Authority, and has supplied them with most of  their needs.
  • Under Jordanian rule, Jewish holy sites were desecrated and the Jews were denied access to places of worship. Under Israeli rule, all Muslim and Christian sites have been preserved and  made accessible to people of all faiths.
  • The UN Record on Israel and the Arabs: of the 175 Security Council resolutions passed  before 1990, 97 were directed against Israel.
  • Of the  690 General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, 429 were directed  against Israel.
  • The UN was silent while 58 Jerusalem synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians.
  • The UN was silent while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish  cemetery on the Mount of Olives. They used  tombstones to pave roads.
  • The UN  was silent while the Jordanians enforced an apartheid-like a policy of preventing Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

Bless be the ties that bind comes from an old hymn written back in the 1800s.  It’s been used in a variety of settings with its meaning applied to many situations.  We experience all sorts of ties in a lifetime.  Sometimes they are broken out of necessity, other times they are strengthened by purposeful or silly acts, binding us together in particularly precious ways that give us indescribable joy. This story applies to the latter.

When I was growing up, my mother’s idea of “being fair” to both her daughters was to never, ever show any sort of partiality.  She was a proper, aristocratic, southern lady and thus, her gifts to us were as equal as she could possibly make them. Identical was ideal.  I don’t think my sister liked it any more than I did, but she, being the good, older sister,  said nothing, while I, being the much younger, “difficult one”, voiced my opinions.  Loudly.  I knew I was different and even before I knew what that meant, I wanted to be treated as an individual. 

Sister and I were far enough apart in age that we really didn’t bond until long after we were adults and discovered we did indeed have some commonality, chief among them, a rather irreverent sense of humor.  Where it came from I don’t know – our parents were both deadly serious musicians.  But for us, there was – and is –  nothing out of bounds.  Later on, when we both remarried  it was a good thing that we selected wise and secure men who were just as nutty as we were.  The normal ones wouldn’t have survived our  practical jokes laced with biting humor.  Nothing was sacred.  When we were together, there was rarely a dry eye as we screamed and cried over the silliest pranks and games.

2One Christmas, years after I was on my own, my mother, true to her sense of fairness, purchased identical gifts for Sister and me – two little Lamb Chop puppets.  They were duly named Flopsy and Mopsy.  The little lambs arrived with my mother for the holidays.  But I was determined. For once my sister was not going to have the same gift as mine.  

When Christmas morning arrived, Mummy awoke to find the two little puppets sitting on her bed holding a large note scrawled in childish handwriting.  The note begged “Grandmother” not to separate “The Little Chilrens”  (must be pronounced with the proper southern inflection) making the case that they were bonded and fearful that one of them was going to be sent, alone, to live with – Oh No! –   “The Mean Sisty Uggler.”  (That was one of my sister’s more enduring nicknames, and just in case you wanted to know – mine was Two Sling Broken Arrow.)

Thus was born The Adventures of Flopsy and Mopsy and their faithful companion bear, Wyndom, seen in this rare family photograph.  Theirs was a continual struggle to remain together no matter what dastardly deeds Sister cooked up.  That first day alone after Sister and her husband arrived for the unwrapping of the presents followed by the traditional Christmas feast –  all accompanied by very loud playing and singing of holiday music – Mopsy was discovered tied to the piano leg, blindfolded with a last cigarette dangling from her mouth.  Flopsy was found suspended from the ceiling fan by a hangman’s noose.  The attached note declared that without the other one, life  was not worth living.  During dinner they were seated at the dinner table and added much to the lively conversation, helped along by all of us in various, high-pitched voices.  I will always remember the look on Mummy’s face as she quietly chuckled at the silly antics of her two grown daughters. No doubt she wondered if her children had been switched at birth. 

Over the years “The Little Chilrens” endured indescribable hardships and at times, downright deprivation.  The first time they were “kidnapped,” threatening messages were left on our answering machine.  Omonous ransom notes composed with cut-out words from newspaper type began arriving in the office fax machine, much to the consternation of the staff.  Signs declaring “lost chilrens” were tacked on utility poles around Sister’s neighborhood.  

On one occasion they were missing without a word for months, finally reappearing at my nephew’s house in Ft. Benning, Georgia.  They were wearing camouflage jump suits with parachutes and army berets, and had settled into their very own high chairs to await Thanksgiving dinner.  Then there was the time they arrived home in an unmarked box, courtesy of the snail mail post office .  Outfitted in warm winter sweaters, they had been salmon fishing  in Alaska with their own fishing gear and little cow bells hanging around their necks – the later to ward off the great Alaskan bears.

During the last weeks of my mother’s life, I brought them to her bedroom, telling her that Flopsy and Mopsy had come to be with her, because they knew she wasn’t feeling well.  It was one of the last smiles Mummy gave me as she drifted in and out of consciousness.  At her memorial service Flopsy and Mopsy honored that somber occasion by wearing little black ribbons.  They were seated with us in the front pew of the church.  We mostly avoided the hostile stares of the church members, Sisters of the Eastern Star and four generations of Mummy’s piano students,  none of whom thought there was any humor to be found at a funeral. We knew better.  I’m confident that she was quietly chuckling.

FlopsyMopsyThe point of my story is that the adventures of Flopsy and Mopsy have brought our extended family together in so many wonderful ways.  Everyone knows about “The Little Chilrens”  and often inquire about their adventures.  When my husband’s children joined our family, there was some serious skepticism afoot, but I like to think that Flopsy and Mopsy went a long way towards bonding our blended family.  Since coming to California “The Little Chirens” have been safe and snug, perched atop our bedroom bookcases, proudly wearing their Boston Red Sox batting helmets – a gift from our daughter, Auntie Rachel.  

Yes, it’s all been relatively quiet –  that is until this past week.  After a visit from a certain person – you know who you are – I found the bookcase shelf empty.  I have my suspicions.  The last person to see them alive and well was…well, I’m sad and grieved to admit it was their Auntie Rachel. 

I do so hate to say it, but Auntie Rachel has, of late, displayed some rather disturbingly similar traits to her Auntie Catherine…The Mean Sisty Ugler. Do you get my drift?  I suppose it’s too much to expect that just because they both reside in New England, and just because we are now so far away, that perhaps they have bonded. You know how it is, out of sight out of mind.  Well that doesn’t give her the right to terrorize innocent children and tear them away from a loving home.   So if you see this woman, do not be deceived by her outwardly kind demeanor orCopy of jmmphotos 069 her sly wit.  Do not approach her.  Just contact The Family.  We know how to handle these people.   

But now I’m wondering.  Could it be that they … went willingly?  I realize there was a bit of jealously last year when cousin Flat Stanley was having such awesome adventures – logging in over 30,000 miles for Elijah’s project.  Sigh.  Sibling rivalry.  It can we so hurtful. 

I suppose all we can do now is wait, and hope that they’re off on another exciting adventure and that we’ll be getting word any day now.  We’ve established a Facebook page in the hopes that some of their friends may offer some clues as to their whereabouts.   If this story has touched your heart, up-to-date bulletins  will be periodically posted at Flopsy Mopsy Moritz Facebook page.  We’re all praying for a safe return.

Maybe the California Desert is just to “retiring” for Flopsy and Mopsy.  I know, I know.  I’m second guessing myself but I just can’t help it.  Maybe it’s  the heat out here.  They do have to wear those little wool suits.

“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

whattodoSome time ago I wrote a note to myself which said “The collective complacency of the baby boomers has been kaleidoscopically shattered.  I wasn’t thinking much about other generations who might be experiencing something similar.  But upon further reflection, it would seem the younger generations might be into their own form complacency.  It’s just that theirs, having different roots, has not yet shattered.  And they have time on their side. 

I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees. Ha!  I was in the forest, on my knees, inspecting pine needles, being my normal self-absorbent-self.  Honestly, in the end, isn’t it always about “how is this going to affect me?”

During that note writing period I was focused on the challenges of creating a new existence – for ME – after retiring from a demanding professional life.  But eventually I realized, once I stopped thinking about ME, that reinvention could be the new reality for everyone. That’s a paradigm shift of classic proportions. Entire industries – music, automotive, retail, telecom, advertising, printing, news media, publishing, among others, were being forced to reinvent themselves.  I, and my recently retired compatriots were no exception.

Somehow reinvention sounded an awful lot like…WORK.    Change and its evil twin, adaptability, are work.  And I wasn’t expecting that.  I suppose I’m like everyone else who is totally absorbed in their career – no space for thinking about that distant future or anything else until anything else is the only thing staring me in the face. 

The brilliant Jeff Jarvis in his ground breaking book of a few years ago, What Would Google Do, warned us that the Internet had caused business “to lose control of so much – brand, message, price, competition, security – but more than anything else, …timing.  The Internet …changed the speed, the rhythm and the process of business and next [would] do the same to government.”

Well…maybe that’s not a bad thing.  Stop.  Is it?  Given the whiplash deployment of recent executive orders in Washington, suddenly I’m pining for the molasses days of yesterday when change was more gradual – we had time to adapt.   Ah, adaptability. Was that what Darwin was talking about?  But did he differentiate between the changes we want, the changes we don’t want…and the changes we need even if we don’t want them?  Do we get a vote?  Actually we did –  Nov 6, 2012.

I’m so dizzy.

I’ve always believed in the law of the pendulum.  When things swing too far in one direction, they will begin to go in the opposite direction.  It’s that mother nature thing. She has a way of leveling that playing field when we mere mortals think we can stack the deck, or take a nap and ignore the obvious outcomes.  Maybe the life lesson is that if you, we, individually or collectively, or our government, aren’t inclined to do the right/smart/efficient proactive things that our representatives are elected to do –  to protect what we confusion2value, and keep things in balance, insure the best future for all – nature does it for us.  Hence, lost jobs, foreclosures, failed businesses, inflation, no economic resiliency, no preparedness for this inevitable correction.

OMG – Don’t you love that term?  People, we’re having a little life correction.  Homes are still being foreclosed,  jobs are still missing, more people than ever are homeless and hungry, cities are closer now to bankruptcy than they were a year ago (See Detroit) and still our government is at a stalemate. It’s shameful.  No leadership there to lead us out of the wilderness.  I’d say that’s enough of a correction. 

So.  If we like all these  changes, that’s a good thing, right? But if we believe that the changes are harmful, what then?  That is indeed the question that has our country polarized.  Half seem ready to accept  (I don’t think for a minute it’s what they actually believe)  a more socialistic society where the haves must take care of the have-nots. The have-nots are given what they need so there is no motivation to go out and do it themselves.  Why should they?  It’s a lovely, idealistic, Kum By Yah philosophy much akin to piling twelve people in a life-raft that only holds six.  You know what’s going to happen, but you can’t NOT do it. So everyone drowns. 

The other half believes just as strongly that the haves succeeded by self-motivation and hard work, and they are entitled to and deserve their success and all that it brings. They are more than willing to do the hard work, but they question the wisdom of those who are capable but not willing to also be self-reliant and accountable for their own success or failure.

Apparently the current culture no longer believes in or teaches self-reliance, capitalistic ingenuity, and independence,  even though study after study proves that without free market competition, the entire system eventually collapses.   Is that what we want?  Our school systems and municipalities are driven by politically motivated and self-serving unions that have no fiscal accountability – hence all the states that are facing bankruptcy do so because they foolishly got bullied into agreeing to provide fantastic benefits which they had no hope of paying for.  They just threw up their hands and hoped someone else down the road would have the courage to deal with the consequences. Whether it’s the state or the federal government, or my family, or yours, it’s very clear.  We cannot spend more than we have.   

Ben Franklin said it so wisely:

“When the people discover that they can vote themselves MONEY, that will herald the end of the republic.”

That is so common sense, I cannot be convinced that there is not some Machiavellian plan afoot to completely dismantle the basic tenants our country was founded upon.  Why else would anyone in the right mind be a party to what is happening in our Government?  At a recent dinner party there  ensued a lively discussion about our corrupted elected officials and one participant commented “Oh well, there’s nothing we can do, they’re all corrupt.”  That can’t be the only response to the problem.

chickenlittleI sincerely believe that free markets function best, but ours have been so manipulated, by so many different factions, how can there be any other outcome but complete collapse, issuing in a world wide economic depression like nothing we have ever experienced.   The decision makers who create jobs and opportunity – the very backbone of our way of life, have had every reliable tool they use for decision making, disrupted by so many layers of government regulation it is impossible to function…and so the inevitable is happening – made all the more clear by the events in Europe. Their socialistic experiment has failed.  Doesn’t anyone grasp that fact or has complacency rendered us all inert?  

Without jobs and opportunity and entrepreneurial businesses to generate the tax revenue to pay for all these lovely free gifts from government, our system will collapse.   Is this glorious two-hundred-fifty-year-old experiment in democracy and self-government over?  There are so many wonderful things about this country that we should value,  it’s hard for me to ignore the alarms I hear in my head. 

I’m numb from the drip, drip, drip of a Chicken Little government that is more invested in shouting about the sky falling in rather than doing something about it.  The whole mess has us so anesthetized  that now I”m sounding like the doomsday naysayers and the Mayan calendar people we’ve heard for the past year.  But tell me please, how many eleventh hour crises can one endure? When did sequestration enter your vocabulary?

Shouldn’t we insist on reasonable, well thought out solutions from our government – solutions that reflect the intelligence our country was founded upon?  Sticking our collective, complacent heads in the sand and expecting that things will just turn out “all right”  all by themselves, doesn’t exactly feel like a wise approach. Besides, my definition of “all right” may be very different than yours.

Darwin was right, we must adapt to survive, but can we please not throw the baby out with the bath water?

The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter

 

laughter1Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use.   Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.Quote from HelpGuide.org

My rule is, if it makes me laugh out loud, especially when I’m alone, I keep it and/or share it.  Hence, my offering of some allegedly true stories: 

AT&T fired their President after nine months, saying he lacked intellectual leadership. He received a $26 million severance package. Perhaps it’s not the president who was  lacking intelligence. 

Police in Oakland , CA spent two hours attempting to subdue a gunman who had barricaded himself inside his home. After firing ten tear gas canisters, officers discovered that the man was standing beside them in the police line, shouting, ‘Please come out and give yourself up.’

An Illinois man, pretending to have a gun, kidnapped a motorist and forced him to drive to two different automated teller machines, wherein the  kidnapper proceeded to withdraw money from his own bank accounts! 

A man walked into a Topeka , Kansas Kwik Stop and asked for all the money in the cash drawer. Apparently, the take was too small, so he tied up the  store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours until police showed up and grabbed him.

Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn’t control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words: ‘Give me all your money or I’ll shoot’, the man shouted, ‘That’s not what I said!’ 

A man spoke frantically into the phone: ‘My wife is pregnant and her contractions are only two minutes apart’.
‘Is this her first child?’ the doctor asked. ‘No!’ the man shouted, ‘This is her husband!’

In Modesto , CA , a man was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon.. he used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun. Unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket.  In a similar incident, a man, hoping to rob his bank, wrote the “this is a stickup” note on a deposit ticket and handed it to the teller.  Unfortunately for him, the deposit ticket he used was for his own bank account.  So it didn’t take the police long to find him.

Last summer some folks new to boating, were having a problem.  No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get their brand new 22 foot boat going. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power they applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted into a nearby marina, thinking someone there might be able to tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition. The engine ran fine, the out-drive went up and down, and the propeller was the correct size and pitch. So, one of the marina guys jumped in the water to check underneath. He came up choking on water, from his laughter:  Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the trailer! 

laughterSo go have a good laugh! 

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

valentine1

February 14 was a very big event when I was a little girl. From the G.C. Murphy Five and Ten Cent Store, our parents would help us purchase little boxes of valentine cards, each with a folding envelope.   From the box we painstakingly selected a card that exemplified each classmate (that was of course in our 7-year old minds) and on the morning of the 14th, we went to school with a burgeoning packet of cards that said I like you or Be My Valentine. That’s the equivalent of today’s text message to your BFF.  (We hadn’t yet perfected the art of being mean.)

Awaiting on the teacher’s desk was the most magnificent box, with slots on all four sides.  It was elaborately decorated with red crepe paper, strings of pearls, doilies, large red construction paper hearts, all lovingly adorned with sparkles, bits of ruffled lace and red ribbon.  Every child stuffed their valentines in the box, and we all suffered the interminable wait until afternoon recess, when the teacher handed out those horrible candy hearts with little sayings like “Sweet Heart.”  The two best students received the honor of “delivering”  all the valentines to the rest of us.  Every child, still a generation away from today’s harsh realities, received cards from each classmate and we left school that day, wrapped in the innocence that we were loved by the whole world.bemine

At home that evening, I would  ooh  and ahh over my treasure trove of cards while my big sister helped prepare the evening’s meal by putting red food coloring in everything.  We dined on roast beef, red mashed potatoes or red applesauce, red salad dressing, followed by red angel food cake – all savored in the glow of red crêpe paper draped over the lamps.   I promise you, for a second grader, it was magical day.

For many years back on the East Coast,  I had the honor of serving on a non-profit board whose mission was to provide health care and support services to the homeless and those at risk for being homeless.  The people who quietly served that board, both Directors, and Staff alike, were among the most dedicated, selfless people I have ever known.

homeless1This week, as I address about thirty silly and expensive Valentine cards to my extended family (Hallmark hit upon a good thing half a century ago)  I am thinking about the  homeless who were undoubtedly once 2nd graders who received and sent valentines.  Today I’m not sure they’ll be on anyone’s valentine list, and they won’t likely have the feeling of being much loved by the world.   But that can change.  Here in the Coachella Valley there is a wonderful organization that I’ve been working with called The Well In The Desert, whose mission provides daily nutritious hot meals, emergency food assistance, weekly supplemental food distribution, and access to community services to those affected by poverty, including the working poor, the homeless, seniors, the handicapped and others in need.

homeless3

There are more people facing homelessness and hopelessness, now more than ever, but if we all lend a helping hand, and share whatever we can, it will help.

So this is my valentine.

If you would like to make a cash donation or if you have some gently used clothing or non perishable food that you would like to donate,  please

valentine2

contact me, or go directly to the The Well In the Desert by clicking this link.   If you are a business and would be willing to donate something of value to The Well Annual Fundraising Silent Auction – Fool’s Folly on April 1, all the better.  Just reach out for me at my blog elizamoritz.wordpress.com, or e-mail me at elizabeth.harrismoritz@gmail.com and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.

Whatever you can do to help those who are truly less fortunate, it will be the best valentine you’ll ever give and I promise you, it will be waaay more magical than red food coloring.  Besides that food coloring turns your teeth really red!

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