Monday, 22 March 2010

I Just Can't Help Myself

I promised myself I wouldn't do this. I swore an oath to myself that stated in part, if I found myself in an uncontrollable fit of commentary and unable to contain myself on the issue of some other country's health care, I would punish myself severely with meal after meal of broiled eggplant. (And many of you know how much I loathe eggplant.) I really didn't want to restate the obvious moral arguments that I had hoped would carry some sway with members of congress, but instead only seemed to be the prosaic equivalent of the proverbial red flag. No. I had decided that I had had enough of being called such filth as "Socialist Canadian" or "Fascist Canuck". (Never mind that the morons who levelled these epithets had no idea that they were speaking of opposite ends of the political spectrum, and if I were a socialist, the chances of my also adhering to a fascist doctrine would be philosophical gymnastics.) I was determined to stay the hell out of this fight that I reasonably thought was all but lost after the donkeys in the Democratic party mismanaged the campaign for Kennedy's seat. I wanted to continue living part of my winter in the Southern Home without care, obliviously purchasing out-of-country insurance coverage to protect against the pitfalls of a savings-crushing injury like a hangnail. I could console myself with the knowledge that my country is civilized. My country has universal health care. Nobody in my country ever loses their home as a result of catastrophic illness or injury. My country would never allow anybody to be turned away from a hospital because of an inability to pay, and my country would never allow women to be categorized as different from men simply because their biology is different. It isn't perfect by any stretch. There are wait times for non-critical care and funding is a never-ending headache, but there is comfort in knowing that sickness is treatable for all, no matter their bankbook. Nope! I was done. I didn't need the aggravation. And then, it happened.

The theatre of American politics in action played out live and in living colour for all to witness through the magic of the cable news nets. It was like witnessing a train wreck. I simply could not turn it off. I watched from the interesting perspective of a interested visitor and spectator, secure in the knowledge that my health care was lifelong and not under attack. I watched as representative after representative took to the microphone for their allotted 60 seconds to spout platitudes or invectives. I watched as the House Minority leader got all red-faced as he posed rhetorical question after rhetorical question, and heaped his shame upon the august body he claimed to serve. He even shouted "No we can't" several times in an obvious attempt to discredit the president and his well-known catchphrase, and at one point was admonished by the Speaker for his lack of decorum when he yelled "Hell no!" The Speaker on the other hand, was the picture of cool. That often is the case amongst the winners of a battle. She spoke of honour and character, and she spoke of my oft-spoken premise that health care is a right and not a privilege. The polarization of America was on display for all the world to see, and the players seemed absolutely oblivious to the giant spectacle in which they were participating.

In the end, the first smallest of steps was ironically taken with the passage of the biggest single piece of legislation since the New Deal. Is it going to cost? Probably. Has life changed for most Americans? Probably not. Are the insurance companies searching for bankruptcy lawyers this morning? One could only hope, but obviously not. In fact, just the opposite is true. Big insurance and Big Pharma saw their stock prices rise last Friday in anticipation of the passage of this bill. Did the world stop spinning and did the planets change their alignments? Well....? The fact is that for most Americans, they probably won't notice a thing has changed and even if they did, it won't take effect until 2014. But for some, for 32 million of you, life has changed. Your child with juvenile diabetes is now covered. Your college aged kid can stay on your health care plans a little bit longer. Your wife undergoing chemo and radiation won't find her coverage cancelled in the middle of treatment, nor will it wipe you out if, God forbid, there is a recurrence. It may be small, but it is progress. The first step is often the most difficult to take and like it or not, yesterday's step was historic.

Several years ago, Canadians were asked in a national poll to select the most influential Canadian of all-time. The list was long and varied. Not surprisingly it was littered with hockey players, (Gretzky was in the top five!) celebrities, inventors (Banting and Best were up there too!) and political figures. But the person Canadians chose as the number one all-time greatest, was a little man from Saskatchewan named Tommy Douglas. Aside from his obvious claim to fame as Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather, Mr. Douglas is well-known in my country as the father of universal health care. It was Tommy Douglas who fought for and helped achieve that which Canadians hold so dear, and we recognized that monumental achievement with great status.

Perhaps yesterday's vote will underscore that great societies begin with the health and welfare of all its peoples, and perhaps we can stop spouting bullshit like Armageddon. If just one person is saved by this legislation, if just one less person is forced into bankruptcy, if just one child gets the help that they need, hasn't duty to country been served? It is why I was willing to eat eggplant for a month.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Absurdity Continues

It is true that I haven't posted in a while. This point of fact is mostly due to a severe case of writer's block that has somewhat paralyzed me for a few weeks. It is also partly due to the fact that I simply have been unwilling to engage in some of the most disturbing current events. It would be so easy to comment extensively on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's less than hospitable behaviour towards his guests, but I deemed the argument less than worthy of my attention, and frankly I really don't have the energy to spar about it at the present time. The continually pitched battle for the conscience of the American people that is manifesting itself through the final throes of the health care and financial reform bills, has made me realize that while I am a grateful and continual visitor to this magnificent country, there is no place like home. (Please friends-don't take that as an offense. It is just that when one grows up with universal health care, a social safety net, financial regulations and a social equality for all peoples regardless of sexual orientation, it is sometimes difficult to fathom what all of the spewing and venting is about! For me it is like fighting battles that were already won decades ago.) No, I really haven't had the strength nor the inclination to enter the fray on these debates at the present time, but I reserve the right to change my mind on a whim. That said, I decided that in order to initiate the process of unblocking the prosaic juices, I would instead focus on some of the more absurd items I have come across recently.

  • ABBA has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now, while I am the farthest thing from an ABBA fan and frankly, I view their induction as something akin to listening to dogs barking Christmas carols, I cannot legitimately argue that they weren't ridiculously popular, (and still are-much to my abject horror!) huge sellers, and a global phenomenon. The absurdity in this came in the form of a tweet from Billboard magazine yesterday that wondered when some of today's stars like Lady Gaga and Beyonce might be eligible for the Hall. Oh, please. If the listening public is looking for recent artists that can reasonably be mentioned in the someday legend category, they might like to consider Pink, The Black Eyed Peas, John Mayer, (personal douchebag-amazing artist!) or Coldplay. Much of the rest is simply dross. (That is my personal shout out to St. Patrick's Day!)
  • One-time Toronto city council wunderkind and erstwhile mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone has once again found himself on the wrong side of absurdity. After getting his "hand" caught in somebody else's cookie jar other than that of his longtime live-in girlfriend, Giambrone had to withdraw from this year's mayoralty race due to the bad optics of his situation. If that weren't bad enough, the poor boy took tremendous heat for not simultaneously resigning his chairmanship of the Toronto Transit Commission and is now viewed in the press as the ultimate lame-duck. Today it was revealed that Giambrone, the transit chair, spent more than $3000.00 on taxis, with $2400.00 of that coming from his publicly funded office expenses. All this while the citizens of Toronto have graciously provided him with a free Metropass. One of these rides was for "a trip home after taping an episode of his Ride The Rocket TV show on a streetcar." What a colossal moron. Mr. Giambrone might indeed be a talented man with youth, energy and a tremendous vision for the city, but he is an inept politician. My advice would be to retire for a few years and come back to start again fresh.
  • Tums antacids have found their way onto the "banned substances" list for Pesach 5770. Apparently, according to the Chicago Rabbinical Council, the largest Orthodox council in North America, antacids require Pesach certification and Tums do not meet the requirements. Please rebbe! Not the Tums! I can't think of a time of year when I require them more. (She says tongue planted firmly in cheek!) I will not get into another discussion of absurdity and disparity of Passover eating habits, but I will point you towards my post of a year ago on the subject. Enjoy.
  • Tiger Woods is returning to competitive golf at Augusta for The Masters in three weeks time. Let the Allelujahs ring out and let those who worship at the altar of greed and celebrity begin their happy dances. Who gives a flying f@#*! Tiger is a once in a generation golfer and a pretty decent pitchman, but his return is being heralded as if Moses was returning to walk the earth. (I am a Jew. I can't abide the Second Coming!) The salaciousness of the Tiger story is truly disgusting, and the amount of ink and time wasted on this crap is appalling. Tiger Woods doesn't owe anybody anything, with the marked exception of his wife and maybe a few sponsors. He wasn't elected to office like any of the numerous scumbags that have broken the public trust, nor did he steal billions like the pirates of Wall Street. He plays golf. Pure and simple. If his wife chooses to make him sleep in a bunker for the next year, that is between her and him. Butt out, people.
  • In what I believe is the most tragically absurd story of the past two weeks, a young man jogging on the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina yesterday was struck and killed by a small private plane attempting to make an emergency landing. Apparently the man's back was to the distressed vehicle and his iPod prevented him from hearing the roar of the engines. This story made me recall the old HBO show Six Feet Under which began every episode with a death. Some were quiet and some were tragic. Some were goofy and some bordered on absurd. This poor man's death needs to serve as a reminder that we are all but visitors for a short while.
My self-imposed deadline for all Pesach ideas is rapidly approaching. If you have anything that you wish to share, it needs to find its way to me by Friday. Thanks to the Sister/Cousin who has shared a few nuggets.

Hopefully I won't be away for as long next time. If the absurdity continues, I will probably be back online this evening.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Night Sweats Have Begun in Earnest

No, this isn't a post about menopause. While those kinds of night sweats might seem preferable to the type that began last evening with gusto, this is instead about the advent of that most beloved and yet, most reviled of all Jewish holidays. I am, of course, talking about the impending arrival of Pesach. (Passover for all of you non-hebraic types!) Without even realizing the exact date on the calendar, Pesach-induced hysteria began for me yesterday when I walked into the local grocery store down here in the frigid Southern Home, and watched all of the denizens of Baycrest south madly pulling matzah meal and matzah farfel off of the shelves, as if this might be the last kugel ever ingested. Without getting into a debate about the Hebrew lunar calendar, for all of us Westerners that actually live by the Gregorian version, Pesach is indeed arriving early this year, and that fact hit me square in the eyes last night. (It didn't help that the Sister/Cousin arrived a day ago with an expressed agenda to discuss the annual family plan!)

A Pesach seder is one of the three things for which most Jews, regardless of their level of faith or observance, will find time. (A bris and bar mitzvah being the other two.) It seems to be one of those ancient customs that defines us as a people. Everybody has an opinion about seder. For some families it is all about the food, for others the family gathering, and for some it is the Judaic component that ties it all together. And while I find comfort and significance in all of these, as anybody who has EVER planned, cooked, cleaned or prepared for Pesach in any way, shape or form will tell you, it is also a SHITLOAD of work. We all have lives that are busy and complicated, and Passover is kind of like the flu; it creeps up on you slowly and then hits you square in the face before you have had time to react.

My family is no exception. We have always tried to gather as many of the extended branches together for a big, honking old-style family seder. We cook, we plan, we clean, we sing, and we have over the years, created many a family Haggadah. Some have been accepted and some have been merely tolerated, but we continue to experiment and try new things. We have had arguments over food and we have had battles over the dividing up of responsibilities, but we still manage to come together as best we can as a collective. (Other family commitments always understood!) This year will be no different with the expressed exception that the Sister/Cousin (yes-I am calling you out!!!) has asked me to re-examine the Haggadah. Without going into family politics, I have hedged. I am perfectly willing to lead the family in song and I am perfectly willing to help with whatever cooking and cleaning might be needed, but the Haggadah is a project that I am not so willing to tackle again. It is complicated and never easy, and frankly it CANNOT possibly please us all. That said, I would like to propose a possible idea, with the expressed caveat that if it doesn't work, I can abandon ship and we revert to the book used last year.

I am asking all of you-related to me or not-friend, stranger, or colleague-to send me your Passover ideas. I want the best of what you have. I want your favourite readings and I want your favourite songs. I want your recipes and I want your kid's projects from synagogue or school. I want interactive, online, printed book, and games. I want new liturgy and I want old. I want Bubby's ideas and I want the youngest at the table's. Send it all to me. Every scrap, every page, every note. I will then take what I get and what I already have and try to make something resembling a seder out of it.

If you send me readings from books, please include the title and page number. If you send me stuff from a Haggadah, I need to know which one. If you have a particular song-I need the artist and album; a website-the address. In other words, reference your stuff people. I won't use it unless I can credit. It is only appropriate.

There is a deadline for this little exercise. The first seder is on March 29th and I need time to prepare, so you all have until Friday evening March 19th. Shabbat and all. You can respond in the comments section of this blog. Facebook is also available for those in the know, as is my private email.

Take care friends. This is an exercise that matters a great deal to me. (The Husband is probably groaning out loud as he reads this! Relax Honey. I have given myself an out!) Don't hedge or hesitate. There is nothing that I will deem too off-the-wall. Time is of the essence. The night sweats will only get worse as 15 Nissan approaches.