Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tim Russert: A Man Who Truly Met the Press

I will miss Tim Russert because he's such a rare moderator and journalist.I can think of a few interviews when I thought he didn't play fair, square and balanced. I may not have leaped for joy over his interview with President Bush or his superfluous talk with Bill Clinton. Mostly, Tim was like a dog gnawing on a bone who kept chewing and chewing until he broke through and got to the marrow. I loved him for that.

I know Tim's deep fondness for the NFL's Buffalo Bills. He wished them to make it to the playoffs every year and was often disappointed. Forgive me, Tim, for not sticking with a football analogy but you were more of a pitcher than a quarterback.

You did not throw softballs nor did you lob in change-ups to fool the batter. You tossed a hardball pitch every time. But what I loved about you is that your goal was not to strike out the batter and humiliate him but to give the interviewee in the batter's box every opportunity to slam the ball out of the park.

You wanted your guest to speak the truth, expose their hearts and not let them dance around the incoming pitch. The ball had to be hit in the name of getting to the truth.

Did you have your favorites? Were you harder on conservatives than on liberals? Maybe . . . at times. But you rarely went soft on the softees, You made them stand up for what they believe.

Now we have a presidential election before us. What's it going to be like without Tim Russert? I'll miss your hard piercing look into the eyes of your guest that went along with the kindness that exuded from the rest of your demeanor. You had it down and I could never get enough.

If I wanted to know what McCain is made of or what Obama really believes, it was Tim Russert who was the man for the job. You'll be missed in the months leading up to the November '08 elections.

I send my thoughts and my prayers to your family . . . especially your Dad who's lost such a special son whom he can be proud of. Though I was hardly able to watch you on Meet the Press since I was off to work, I always found a way to discover that you had to say that morning.

Sunday mornings with a cup of hot coffee and a newspaper will never be the same without the aroma of Tim Russert's dogged questions to get at the truth lying deep within the heart and soul of the person you interviewed.

Thank you, Tim for some incredible years showing this world what journalism is all about.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An Identity Already Stolen

None of us would want to have our identity stolen by some devious person who takes our bank account numbers, our credit cards and social security number and wrecks havoc with our financial life. I've had a tatse of it a few years ago and spent many hours on the phone with my bank's fraud department and speaking with detectives trying to fix a mess. It was a world of pain.

A few days ago I'm tossing out my garbage. peer into the dumpster and see unopened financial documents scattered everywhere. Bank statements, Utility bills. Credit card offers. Tax assessments. Stock statements. And these envelopes are all unopened. It's an Identity thief's dream come true.

I start flipping through the letters and realize they belong to someone living close to me. My mind starts wandering: Did he just get so mad at his life that he threw his mail away? Did his roommate or girlfriend do this to him out of anger? I could not figure why anyone would deliberately throw these statements into the garbage.

At least shred them . . . ! Duh! Double duh!

I run into my apartment and grab a Trader Joe's bag and start collecting this person's valuable mail. After a while it dawns on me that if I was to delve into these private papers, I could take over his financial life. Unfortunately, I'm too nice of a person to try to get away with an Identity heist.

With everything stuffed neatly into the shopping bag, I trump up the stairs to this guy's place to return his mail. No one home. He doesn't return for three days. Now I've got this Trader Joe's bag crammed with someone's personal, financial life.

Finally, I see him arrive home; I burst through my front door calling out his name. He stops on the staircase and I tell him about the treasure I found in the dumpster. I had to clarify I am not a dumpster diver. I was trying to be a good neighbor by returning his identity to him.

Then I discovered he had already lost his identity. Barely a" thank you" came out of his mouth. He muttered something about the fact it might not have been a good idea to throw bank statements and credit card offers into a garbage container. He thought for awhile, "I could have shredded them . . ."

I leaped down the stairs with my identity still in tact, grabbed the grocery bag and tossed it up to him. I said, "I was just thinking looking out for you. I was concerned these papers could have fallen into the wrong hands and you'd be a victim of identity theft." Still no reaction. I then asked, "Have you ever been the victim of having someone else go into your financial stuff?" "No!" I responded, "I have and it's hell!"

He proceeded to walk upstairs, mumbling that now he has to shred these documents.

What is identity theft? Is it only relegated to stealing someone's financial records and then going into their accounts and helping yourself to their hard earned cash? Let's take it one step further:

Identity theft takes place when you barely care enough that someone else cares about you. It also takes place when you can't even thank someone who thought enough of you to save your butt from a major disaster.

One more thing. Identity theft has already taken place when you have no street smarts and no desire to wise up and get some before you fall victim to a lot of unsavory characters lurking in the dumpsters of our lives looking for something to steal from us: our self worth, respect or reputation.

Don't become a victim of identity theft. Know who you are as a child of God at all times and refuse to allow evil, stupidity and sheer laziness to steal that precious identity from you.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Are the Times Really Changing For Bob Dylan?

Bob Dylan was recently interviewed by the Times of London in light of the opening of his art/exhibition in London next week. At the end of the interview Times writer Alan Jackson couldn't let the American songwriter leave without asking for his take on the American political situation in the face of the November 2008 election.

Here is Dylan's response verbatim:

Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval. Poverty is demoralising. You can't expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor.

"But we've got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up...Barack Obama.

"He's redefining what a politician is, so we'll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I'm hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to."

He added: “You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future."

Both the Times of London and ABC News have taken Dylan's comments as a full endorsement of the senator from Illinois. I wonder . . . .

Was Dylan simply commenting or making observations about the political situation in the U.S.? Does this sound like a full endorsement? Knowing Dylan as I have since the early 60s, it is not unlike him to provide a cryptic response to an open ended question.

Is Obama going to make some kind of lasting change? I heard him say the word "change" twenty-nine times in his "acceptance" speech for the presidential Democratic nomination the other night. That's a start.

But saying the word "change" does not indicate any change. Bob Dylan in his song "The Times They Are A Changing" expressed more content than Obama did in his entire speech. What is Obama going to change?

Obama mentioned that "we will start taking care of the sick." Has he gone into the ERs of America where people without medical insurance or American citizenship are still taken care of and their babies are still delivered free-of-charge?

What about the fact Obama mentioned that people don't have jobs? Has anybody gotten a job in the past eight years? Of course! Will there be no jobless people if he becomes president? Sure, if he raises taxes and the hard working members of our society start paying highly increased taxes for government created jobs? But once that happens I'll be bringing home less because I am being taxed more. Obama will not bring change but higher taxes and bigger government.

Missing from his "acceptance" speech was any mention on the war on terrorism or his stance on our ally in the Middle East - Israel. Is he going to bring change by pulling the troops out of Iraq? What about the rise of terrorism if our presence is gone from Iraq? Yes, he'll bring change: Increased terrorism and more freedom for Islamic extremists.

Israel's existence is in danger. As Israel celebrates it's 60th Anniversary Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad kept up his virulent anti-Israel and antisemitic statements, likening Israel to a "dead fish" and a "stinking corpse" and calling it a "false regime" which "from the point of view of the nations in the region does not even exist." He also stated that Israel "will be wiped off the map of the world, and that "the day will come when the Muslims uproot it.

Ahmadinejad added that the elimination of Israel would benefit the entire world, since Israel caused harm to humanity at large - and especially to Europe, which was "bearing the political and economic burden of this false regime."

I did not hear Obama speak of this serious danger of the very existence of evil. I did hear his pastor Rev., Wright liken the United States supporting Israel as supporting "state sponsored terrorism." And if Obama gets any closer to the pro-Palestinian former president Jimmy Carter, he will most likely lose the Jewish vote, if he cares.

I wonder if my friend and musical hero Bob Dylan has taken into account that Barak Obama surely has the rhetoric of change but mostly what he says is vacuous and lacking substance.

I close with the words from one of Dylan's songs Political World from the album Oh Mercy, in which the artist wonders if peace is really part of the process for the politician and the world we live in. Is Obama for peace or for appeasing the anti-war segment of our society that ignores leaders like Ahmadinejad who speaks death and destruction of other nations:

"We live in a political world
Where peace is not welcome at all,
It's turned away from the door to wander some more
Or put up against the wall.

We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his,
Climb into the frame and shout God's name
But you're never sure what it is."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Stepping on a Girl's Hand

I was 22 years old. I had been back from Vietnam for a little over a year . . . living in Los Angeles, searching for God among the hallucinogenic aromas of Sunset Strip. I had tried it all . . . scientology . . . . satanology . . . zen Buddhism . . . Alan Watts . . . and anything that promised me to get in touch with the Wholly Other.

I was exhausted and run down with all these "cereal box religious experiences". It sounded like this: I am God . . .you are God . . .we are all God . . .every thing on the planet is God. I couldn't tell if I should raise my hands in worship to the heavens or look down at the sidewalk to make sure I didn't step on God in whatever form He appeared in.

I was told by some religious groups that to get holy, I had to give up just about everything. For example, Buddhism teaches all suffering is the result of our cravings and desires. So If I could stop desiring, I would stop my personal suffering.

Suddenly, i realized I wanted to suffer. I liked to suffer. To become nothing, selfless, and float into nirvana didn't touch any buttons down inside me. I didn't want to walk around in a saffron robe acting like I had no sex drive nor the tools God gave me to go to go along with it. A sexless holy man was too much like watching silent films with no picture.

I enjoyed life and religious thinking made me feel that I should not enjoy life. I should only enjoy God and people who love God and individuals who wanted to please God. I was made to feel I needed to join the "stop sinning" club. I was told to stop smoking dope, stop dropping LSD, having pre-marital engagements with women and the list went on and on. Instead, I was to read the Bible, pray, attend church and prayer meetings and then presto . . . I would find happiness.

To be honest, taking drugs sounded more exciting. Sitting in a church pew as opposed to swaying to the music of the Doors at the Whiskey didn't move me at all. I was not a church-going guy!

After all, I didn't think I was that bad of a person. It was the summer of 1969 - the Manson murders - when all this was taking place and I was nowhere near the likes of Tex Watson or Charlie Manson. I wasn't murdering, or stealing or committing adultery. I was a clean cut, long-haired, wild guy who thought he wasn't as far away from God as everyone told me I was.

Christians were starting to drive me crazy. According to them, I needed to accept Jesus and then I could be holy. But I kept arguing back that I wasn't do bad. So . . . I had a drug habit. Big deal!

I went to Vietnam . . . didn't that count for erasing some of my bad karma? I figured 2 years in the Army was not a bad trade off for getting stoned for 6-7 years of my life. I even visited Buddhist shrines in Japan and Shinto ones as well. I helped South Vietnamese people find jobs on the Army base where I worked, drove our 2 1/2 ton Army truck to orphanages and gave out food.

I even got Bar Mitzvahed at age 13. I might be closer to God than people would agree with. Why in the world did I have to "Make Room for Jesus"? Besides, I'm Jewish and I had no spare rooms in my life for another deity (as I assumed He was).

One hot summer August afternoon I went into the Mojave desert with a few friends. A guy, his wife and my date. We had taken a lot of LSD . . . probably enough to send a horse on a three month drug trip. I was dumb and stupid and took a gamble on my life.

We stopped the car out in the desert heat. I wanted to climb to the top of a ledge I fixated on. Somehow getting to the top of the summit made me feel I would be connecting with God. Yes, it was a contradiction. If I was so good and holy, what did I need God for?

As we climbed the Mojave rocks, we headed straight for the top of this elevation. I did not have hiking books or any of the rock climbing gear. We were too stoned to even think of that.

I placed my foot down on a rocky ledge to get to the next level. But when i put my foot down, I smashed the fingers of my date's hand who had used the same ledge with her hand to get a grip on the rock wall. She yelled out in excruciating pain.

I quickly lifted my foot and kept going. I didn't say I was sorry. I was on my way to the top of the mountain; I was on a spiritual high. I was holy and full of divine light. I could not stop for such mundane obstacles like pain.

When I reached the summit, I expected to see the hand of God, instead I saw the hand of my date. She was nursing the hand I stepped on. But in my drugged state I had transcended the fleshly level; I was pure spirit or pure bull shit.

What turned my life around that day? My date' hand. I think her name was Denise. I stepped on this poor girl's hand and I didn't care. The flesh was evil in my mind and pain was not real not real. All that Eastern crap. But I realized I was pure crap as well. What a selfish, insensitive person I was. All I cared about was this God of my own making but I didn't care about this girl's throbbing hand.

In that moment I saw a dark heart . . .a heart that did not care about anyone but himself. I loathed my selfish heart. Yet I still have that heart. It's not as dark. Jesus has scrubbed it down in the past 37 years. And I don't step on girl's hands anymore. I would rather hold them. And I hate breaking or wounding anyone's heart. I can barely live with myself when my darkness is exposed.

On that day the twisted, wretched selfish chamber of my heart was revealed to me. I hated what i saw. Into that empty, selfish heart I realized I did have room for Jesus. I had room for Someone with a heart greater than myself who didn't step on people's hands.

Yet everyday I still step on someone's hand metaphorically. I am still selfish. I am insensitive.

I cry when I step on people's hands. But Jesus wipes my tears and reminds me who I am without Him. He reminds me that I will never love people like He does. But I have every opportunity to ask Him to keep me from stepping on hands and to learn how to nurse the hands I damaged back to health.

Denise, wherever you are . . . . I'm sorry I stepped on your hand. But know this . . . your throbbing hand allowed the pain in my heart to throb so much that i cried out to Jesus to save me from own selfishness.