Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some Common Sense Thoughts

Fourteen years ago this week my father died. It was on December 27 by the Gregorian calendar, this past Saturday, the 9th of Tevet, by the Jewish calendar. I lit a 24-hour yahrzeit memorial candle Friday night. It lasted 30 hours. 

Saturday morning while reciting the kaddish memorial prayer, as I have done several times every year since his death, I found myself for the first time really visualizing different scenes of my father—working in his factory; sitting in his office; his back straight, left arm extended, dancing a waltz with my mother; driving his Buick; giving his first grandchild, Eric, a horsey ride on his back. I can’t explain why such memories had never been evoked before.  

Common Sense: Perhaps I’m not fully tuned into the value of this research, but a team from Tulane University, Carnegie Mellon University, the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined patterns of heat-related deaths between 1900 and 2004. Lo and behold, they discovered in the absence of air conditioning more people died from excessive heat. 

When temperatures rose above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, about 600 more premature deaths occurred annually between 1960 and 2004. Those deaths were just one-sixth as many as would have occurred under pre-1960 conditions, before air conditioning became prevalent throughout our country, they reasoned ( Now, I ask you, did we really need to spend money to figure this out?

Sure, the researchers will tell you such a study could influence the adoption of air conditioning in tropical climates as in India or Southeast Asia, but again, I ask, wouldn’t common sense have suggested that? 

Today’s Hypocrisy Award goes to ... Senate Republicans. Eight years ago John Kerry was swift-boated by Republicans when he ran for president. Now, the GOP is seemingly forgiving his alleged anti-Americanism by declaring him suitable to be the top diplomat of the United States, succeeding Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Just another example of politics being one of the sleaziest and least trustworthy professions.

Giant Fall: As bad as the NY Jets have been this football season, the despair surrounding the NY Giants after a second consecutive humiliating defeat far exceeds that felt by any Gang Green fan. It’s difficult to repeat as Super Bowl champion, so realistically few Giants fans should have expected Big Blue to win again, even after a 6-2 start. But the team’s collapse over the last two months has far exceeded even the most level-headed fan’s expectations. Even if the Giants somehow make the playoffs they don’t really deserve to be considered an elite team. 

The winner of their division will be either the Dallas Cowboys, a team I loathe, or the Washington Redskins, a team I can’t stand, and not just because it’s my brother’s team (sibling rivalry) but also because of the obnoxious song they play after each of their scores during home games. The Cowboys play the Redskins in Washington this Sunday. Push comes to shove, I’m rooting for the ‘Skins.

More on Tyranny: The other day I lambasted Grover Norquist and Wayne LaPierre for being unelected officials who have imposed a form of tyranny in our land by restraining elected officials from mustering enough votes to pass needed tax increases on the wealthy and gun control laws. 

Today’s focus is international, not the tyranny of dictators such as Assad, but rather the tyranny of close-minded religious leaders in Israel and spineless government officials who have ceded them far too much authority over everyday life in the country, in particular religious practice at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, the outer portion of the Temple grounds destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Their hidebound ideas are turning the Western Wall back into a Wailing Wall.

For those not aware, given jurisdiction over the area, the ultra-Orthodox segregate women from men at the Wall plaza. They further deny them the right to wear prayer shawls and other religious garments there. Women of the Wall, and their sympathizers, have been fighting these restrictions for decades, with the hope that a new review ordered by the prime minister will make the zone more egalitarian ( 

When Gilda and I visited the Wall in 1976, she was not shunted off to one side. She stood and prayed next to me. It is troubling that successive governments have since courted religious party votes by granting them authority to impose restrictions at historical religious sites, especially when one considers that at different parts of the Wall, near Robinson’s Arch and in the tunnel beneath the Wall (the closest point to the Holy of Holies of the Temple), women are allowed to pray without restrictions. 

Westerners often decry the reactionary practices (at least in their minds) of Islam. Judaism has advanced past lopping the hands off robbers or stoning adulterers, but the treatment of women by the ultra-Orthodox is still stuck in the Middle Ages, or earlier.