Friday, December 19, 2014

Rant #1,345: "The Interview"

I am sure that you have heard that Sony Pictures has indefinitely postponed the premiere of the film "The Interview" due to concerns that violence may ensue from its opening.

This whole thing is such a stupid mess, that I thought I would talk about it here today.

I have very, very mixed feelings about the cancellation of the opening of this film, on a lot of issues, including free speech.

But on the other hand, some things are better left alone, and maybe it's a good thing that the picture won't open for the foreseeable future, if ever.

People should be able to say what they want to say, do what they want to do, act like they want to act. Those are basically the freedoms that we enjoy in this country, and why this country is the greatest one on the planet.

But there is a line that is oftentimes crossed by us, as a society, and I think that that line might have been crossed by this movie.

In a nutshell, the movie is a satirical comedy about two broadcasters who are recruited to knock off the emperor of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, or whatever they call him, their ruler, who we all know is crazy.

He hates the United States and all the free world, but he hates us so much that he loves American basketball and has actually befriended former basketball star Dennis Rodman.

He reportedly has been quite ill lately, but he has not given up his power.

Anyway, this fictitious movie actually ends with his death.

The problem that I have here is that the people involved in the film--not just Sony, but writer/star Seth Rogen and a whole lot of other people--took for granted that the movie would not only play in, let's say, Walla Walla, Washington, but also around the world, and they have found out, in a striking way, that you cannot assume that.

This movie has served as an example of why free speech is a wonderful thing, but it can go too far.

Is it free speech when you yell "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater?

Well, this film did just that to the North Koreans. Evidently, they were so incensed by the storyline of this movie that in retaliation, they--or someone else, nobody really knows who did it — were able to hack into Sony's email accounts, and make them look awful stupid.

And what's worse, the North Korean hackers--if they even are from North Korea--said that if the movie opened as scheduled, there would be dire consequences to those who attended the film in theaters, and then they brought up 9/11.

Enough. Sony closed the film.

This is probably the first time that Hollywood has ever been told "No" by anyone.

They live in their ivory towers in Tinseltown, seemingly doing whatever they want to do without any thought on their actions.

They have people there who really live the life, let's say, and we, as a public, basically give them carte blanche to do whatever they want to do.

After all, they are "show people."

Well, here is an instance where Hollywood has been told that no, you can't do that, because it could harm many, many people.

And they bowed to the pressure.

Yes, it sets quite a bad precedent, but Sony really should examine who gave the green light to this movie--and get rid of them, period.

Why did the movie have to be about an actual world ruler?

Heck, Charlie Chaplin and even the Three Stooges have satirized various horrid rulers in the past by making them purely fictional, even if everyone knew who they were talking about.

Doesn't just about every James Bond film deal with some crazy ruler who is going to take over the world?

But these are fictional monarchs, not real ones.

Why did this film have to be about an actual ruler, someone we know is a complete nut and one in a country which not only doesn't like us, but a country that we don't yet really know or can gauge the capability of, in terms of weapons and reach?

No, this was completely irresponsible filmmaking, as far as I am concerned, and even though I am all for free speech, being a journalist myself, I am really for responsible free speech, not anything near what this film would have espoused.

I mean, the guy dies at the end. Did they really think that this would play around the world, and that North Korea would be OK with this?

I think we, as a country, would react much differently if a filmmaker from overseas would release a film about the murder of President Barack Obama. We would pretty much be outraged, I am sure we would pretty much boycott the film, but I don't think we would threaten anyone with harm about it.

But we are dealing with a country and a culture that we know very little about, and pissing them off like this was completely irresponsible.

And what came out in the emails was so embarasssing ... remember in school when we were taught that "The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword? ... well that has almost been replaced by "The Electronic Messages are Mightier Than the Sword."

Those emails also showed the complete lack of responsibility by the writers of those emails, showing how they speak out of both sides of their mouths about our President.

Did they not understand that like those nude photos of famous actresses that were posted a while back that once you put up something electronically, it is ripe for the taking by people who know how to do this?

Do they understand now?

So as you can see, I am quite conflicted about this entire incident. We don't know the extent of the hacker's reach, and we don't know what, if anything, they would have done if the movie opened.

But better not to know, not to experience any possible destruction over really what is just a plain stupid movie.

Will the movie ever see the light of day? Who knows?

If we can open diplomatic relations with Cuba after so many years, maybe years in the future, when North Korea is our friend, this movie can open and we can all laugh about what went on in 2014.

But it is not so funny at the current time, no, this purported comedy is not so funny at all.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Rant #1,344: 'Tis the Season ...

The holiday season is a wonderful way to end the year, with all the glory, the lights, and the family get togethers that we all have.

But it also brings out all the nuts, too, and I had an occasion this past Saturday to meet up with one of them--in the barber's chair.

This very odd situation happened when my son and I went to get haircuts at our local haircutting establishment. It has been around forever, and the barbers there--there are about a dozen--give you a pretty darn good haircut for $5, plus, of course, the requisite tip.

I have been going to this place for at least 20 years, and even though I don't have too much hair anymore, my son certainly does, and I trust them with his hair.

Anyway, we got there and as usual for a Saturday afternoon, there was a mob waiting to get haircuts, people of every age and every type of hair.

As usual, we told the manager, "Two, anybody," meaning we would take the next available barber. There is one woman barber in the place, and my son was directed to her, as I had to wait for someone to be free.

He had his hair cut, and since the woman didn't have anyone else waiting for her, I went over to her, sat down in the chair, and told her what I wanted, "No. 2, please clean up the back."

No sooner had I sat down, she started the conversation out like this:

"Are you Jewish?"

I kind of paused, thinking this was a strange way to begin a conversation when all I wanted was a haircut.

"Well, yes, I am," I finally replied.

As she started to cut my hair, here is how the conversation went:

"You are rich, aren't you?"

"Huh?" (dumbfounded).

'You are rich, aren't you?"

"No, I am not. Far from it."

"What is your eduacation?"

"I went to college, and I have a masters degree."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I am a writer, actually my title is associate editor."

"So then, you must be rich."

She kept on bringing up the "rich" aspect up time and time again.

Believe me, I was pretty happy I am bald, because my haircut didn't last long.

Then, when it was over, I got up, and after this conversation where she started out, "Are you Jewish?" she has the nerve to say to me, "Merry Christmas."

I then did something stupid. I paid my and my son's bill, gave her a $1 tip--what I normally do--and left.

I could kick myself. I should have alerted the manager to this, but I didn't.

Even if it wasn't overtly anti-Semitic, the woman should not have been asking me about such personal things. She was out of line, and I dropped the ball, probably because I was very tired this past weekend, with a rough week behind me.

My wife says that she "rubbed it in" with the "Merry Christmas" remark, hoping for a bigger tip, and probably starting off the entire conversation with eyes on a big tip.

But that was no reason to go on and on and on about my religion, my wealth, etc.

It was totally uncalled for.

I guess all I can say is that if it happens again, I won't be like the Jews I knock, the ones who take it and don't say anything about it.

I hate my fellow Jews for doing this, and now, I am clearly one of them, because I did it too.

Shame on me.

It may not have been blatant anti-Semitism, but the spark was certainly there, and I didn't totally extinguish it with my actions.

Shame on me!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rant #1,343: On the First Night of Hanukkah ...

No, I am not going to burst into song, substituting Hanukkah imagery into that classic Christmas song.

But we did have a nice night last evening, the first night of Hanukkah.

Although sundown--the start of the holiday--was actually at about 4:37 p.m. or so, this guy had to work, so I did not get home until around 6 p.m.

I ate--we had meatloaf, green beans, salad and yes, potato latkes from my mother--and the meal was delicious.

Not only did I have extra meatloaf--my wife makes the best tasting meatloaf on the planet--but I could have had more latkes--heck, I could have eaten the entire plateful of these things--but I held off, because I could be 400 pounds very easily.

Then it was time for the celebration.

In this neck of the woods, at about 5:40 p.m. yesterday on my way home, it started to pour, almost out of nowhere.

Happily, at least on my route, there weren't too many cars on the road, which is unusual--did many leave early for Hanukkah?--so I was able to make my way home pretty easily.

The same could not be said of my father. He was still not home when I was done eating and ready to go for the holiday, so my mother asked if we could postpone their participation until today, the second night.

I wasn't happy, but I obliged.

So it was just going to be my little family doing the celebrating last night--sans my daughter, who was probably celebrating the holiday with her mother--and we did.

My son and I lit the menorah. We said the prayer in Hebrew and then in English, and I let him mainly do the recitation. I am happy he knows the prayer in both Hebrew and English, as I do.

Anyway, we lit our menorah--yes, it is electric, not like the one in the accompanying photo--and it is very modern and nice, and the window shined with that glow that I enjoy this time of year. I am sure it looked the same way outside.

We then moved over to the presents we had for each other.

My son got a winter jacket, a video game, a computer, and in a complete surprise to him, Yankees tickets for a game on his birthday in August.

My wife got some gift cards--Dunkin' Donuts and Kohl's--and she wanted this, so I got it for her--the new Keurig 2.0 coffee maker. I am not a coffee drinker, so I have no idea why she wanted this thing, but she does love her coffee, which I guess is the best reason of all. She also received a box of her favorite coffee to use in the new machine.

Then it was my turn. My parents gave me my gift even though they weren't participating last night, and they got me the requisite clothes. My family got me a box of 1970s music trivia cards, a gift certificate to my local record store, and the Batman TV series on DVD.

Yes, the theme of this year's Hanukkah was simplicity.

Our Hanukkah celebration was pretty subdued this year, but it was fun. Tonight, my parents will be with us, so it will be another nice evening.

The eight days will go fast, and before you know it, Hanukkah 2014 will be but a memory ...

But a real nice one, one that I will cherish forever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rant #1,342: Tonight, It's Hanukkah

Tonight, at sundown, is the first night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights for the Jewish people.

My family and I are among those that will celebrate tonight.

But I have noticed in social media that Hanukkah, my holiday, and most importantly, the Jewish religion, is being negated once again this holiday season.

And apart from social media, you don't see that much celebration, either.

For whatever reason, there are scant holiday decorations this year.

My wife has told me that the menorah, probably the most visible symbol of the holiday, is thought to be a religious symbol at this point in time, so many institutions won't put one up.

Balderdash, but go tell this to our politically correct world, where we strive to include everybody in everything while pushing others' faces in the dirt.

Anyway, today I have decided to rerun a column that I wrote more than four years ago, Rant #395 on December 1, 2010.

It basically says everything I wanted to say this year, and shows that things really haven't changed too much.

I edited it a little bit to make it more current, but most of it has been left intact.

Here it is, and to all that celebrate Hanukkah, have a wonderful holiday.

"Tonight is Hanukkah.

I know that for most of our culture this means absolutely nothing, but for many of us, this holiday, which begins at sundown tonight, reflects the culmination of a year's work, and the time to party and celebrate.

Honestly, in the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah is not a major holiday. But it is a joyous and festive one, celebrating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt, during the second century BCE (before the common era). After the Jews regained control of the temple, they found that they only had one night's oil for their candelabra, their eternal light. Somehow, through some type of miracle, the oil burned for eight days, hence the celebration of Hanukkah for eight days and the use of a menorah to signify the eternal light.

It's a great family-oriented holiday, and one of my favorite ones during the year (the other of my favorites is Passover).

Now, if you don't want to read some blunt words, don't read below, because I promise you, you are going to get them.

Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. There is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush or Hanukkah tree ornaments or wreaths.

One holiday has nothing to do with the other.

And if you consider yourself Jewish, you cannot celebrate both.

Christmas is about Jesus, the messiah. Hanukkah, as my explanation provided, has nothing to do with Jesus, and the basic tenet of the Jewish religion is that the messiah has not come yet.

So once again, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas.

Don't ask me if I follow both holidays. For me, although Christmas is a wonderful holiday in an of itself, for me, it is simply a day off from work for me and many of my fellow Jews, nothing more.

And the inundation we receive from the media about Christmas this and Christmas that is, well, annoying. I know some non-Jews who believe that starting to play Christmas songs on certain radio stations starting in October or even earlier is ridiculous.

And who do we blame for this idiocy, where Hanukkah is somehow blurred into Christmas?

Well, I kind of blame many of my fellow Jews themselves.

We have so assimilated into the Christian culture of this country that many of us have forgotten our roots.

Look, I am not a religious Jew at all, but I know, and my family knows, our heritage. We are Jews. We are not Christians.

I am not saying that there is anything the least bit wrong in following other religions. But when Jews decide that they are so assimilated that they forget who they are, that kind of bothers me.

And when people--oftentimes those in my own family--send Christmas cards or Season's Greetings cards to my family this time of year, well, don't you think that is just plain lazy on their part?

I am not talking about business associates. I am talking about family members who should know better.

One year many years ago, a relative sent my family a Christmas card. I sent it right back. They figured out why I did that, and quickly sent over a Hanukkah card.

And yes, I blame Hollywood too. Hollywood is a place where Jews have always felt welcome to ply their craft, whether it be as an executive, behind the scenes person, or even in front of the camera.

Yet, Hollywood Jews kind of hide this time of year. I mean, where are the Barbra Streisands, the Neil Diamonds, the Dustin Hoffmans during this time of year? Celebrating Christmas, of course.

They are as phony as a warped sheckel.

When was the last time "Entertainment Tonight" ever asked high-profile Hollywood Jews about how they celebrate Hanukkah?

And when they ask Jews about Christmas, Jews just answer as if it were their holiday.

Well, it isn't.

That's the end of my bluntness. Have a great holiday, whatever holiday you celebrate, and I will be back tomorrow, hopefully with a nice report about how the first night of Hanukkah went.

Mazel tov!"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Rant #1,341: Santa Claus Came To Town

Guess what this Jewish guy did with his son this weekend?

I did what any Jew would have done ... Santa Claus was in town, and I took my son to meet old St. Nick himself.

In something I hadn't done since my kids were very little, I took my 19-year-old son to see Santa Claus, but there was a method to my madness.

St. Nick, in this case at least, was WWE wrestling legend Mick Foley, and the North Pole was our local record store.

Foley was there to promote his "Crazy Christmas" holiday book and record--yes, a 45 rpm record--so we and about 50 others decided that this presented the perfect opportunity to meet the hardcore wrestling legend in the flesh--with his Santa outfit on--so we leaped at the chance.

What's more, all proceeds went to charity, so it was a really worthwhile cause.

Foley came into the store as the line of people wanting to meet him grew. He took out the book--with a story written by his son, ostensibly about saving Christmas--and like any good Santa who is also a world renown wrestling personality, he also took out his teeth as he started to read.

Anyway, when he was finished with his storytelling chores, we all got to meet Santa Foley, get his autograph and take pictures with him.

It was fun, harkening back to other times I took my kids to meet Santa.

One time that I remember is when my daughter must have been about four or five years old.

She sat on Santa's lap in our local bank, and Santa said, "And what would this pretty young girl want for Christmas?"

My daughter replied, "Santa, I happen to be Jewish, and we don't celebrate Christmas, we celebrate Hanukkah--and here is what I want!"

You never saw Santa so dumbfounded in his life, and although I told my daughter to tone it down a bit, inwardly, I was kind of proud of her.

Not to blame Santa though-=-how was he to know that he had such a "rebel" sitting right on his lap?

Anyway, back to the present.

My son and I had a nice time, and afterward, we did what many Jewish families do throughout the year--we ordered Chinese takeout, brought it home, and had a nice meal with my wife.

The whole encounter with Santa was a good appetizer for our main event, the first night of Hanukkah, which begins tomorrow evening at sundown.

It should be fun!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rant #1,340: A Missed Opportunity

OK, I am going to be talking today about one of my pet peeves, so if you don't want to read on, please don't.

It is something very personal to me, and something that should be very important to my fellow Jews, but I don't think that it is.

We are in the joyous holiday season. Everyone is scurrying around, trying to get as many presents as they possibly can leading up to the big day.

My big day is probably different than yours. It isn't Christmas on December 25, it is the first night of Hanukkah, on December 16.

When you turn on network TV, all of the shows are doing their Christmas shows. Many of the Christmas shows done by classic shows are also shown, and let me tell you, some of them are real classics.

I really enjoy them.

But growing up, I was pretty much on the outside looking in.

Christmas is a wonderful holiday, even though let's face it, its religious part is not what it once was, pretty much co-opted by the need to buy, buy and buy some more.

Anyway, there were scant mentions of my holiday on network TV back then.

One of my favorite holiday episodes is from "That Girl," where Hanukkah is basically the punch line to the entire episode. If you haven't seen it, either go to YouTube or watch it on MeTV--I guarantee it will be shown this year.

But by and large, even with a large contingents of Jews in Hollywood--not just actors and actresses, but writers, directors and the like--Hanukkah has pretty much been ignored by network TV.

I remember several years ago, Fran Drescher of "The Nanny" fame fought CBS tooth and nail to have a Hanukkah-themed episode. She lost that fight, but in retaliation, carried a menorah through a holiday episode of her show.

Now we come to the present time. Network TV shows feature the "modern family" of everybody from WASPS, straights, gays, people with major psychological problems, nerds, blacks, Asians, Hispanics ... you name it, network TV has it--including Jews.

There are Jewish characters on many shows, and yes, most of the time, the characters' religion is played up as a plot device, as it often is on "The Big Bang Theory."

But ABC did something last season that was potentially monumental in my mind.

The placed a new show, "The Goldbergs," on their fall schedule.

VOILA! I said. Finally, network TV had grown up to include a real, honest to goodness Jewish family on its schedule! Kudos to them.

And then I watched the show.

Not only was it a poor ripoff of "The Wonder Years"--a show which also featured a Jewish character, best friend Paul Pfeiffer--but it may as well have been called "The Fitzpatricks," "The Anzalones," or "The Johnsons," because the family featured on the show was about as ethnic as "The Muppets" are.

No mention of Judaism here, even with an "authentic" Jew, George Segal, part of the ensemble cast.

And then, last season, I thought that perhaps things would change once they got into the holiday season, but alas, the show sidestepped the entire issue of Judaism and the holiday experience entirely.

The show is, somehow, a hit, sandwiched in among other hit comedies on ABC. So season two premiered, and still nothing.

I figured that by the holiday season, now that the show was a hit, the sitcom could venture into uncharted territory based on its success--a show about a real Jewish family (sitcom real) celebrating the holidays as any Jewish family would--not with a Christmas tree, not by drinking egg nog, but by lighting a menorah and eating potato latkes.

And last night, with their holiday episode, once again, they completely sidestepped the subject, making it more of a New Year's show than anything else.

The show was about somebody approaching the older boy for a fake modeling job, the mother getting into the act, the younger boy trying to bring his grandparents and family together, etc.

Nothing about Hanukkah. Not even in the background of the house.

No menorah, no decorations, nothing.

When the family ventured out of the house, yes, you did see Christmas decorations at the mall and at the movie theater where they saw "E.T., The Extra Terrestrial," which, as you know, was a film by the very Jewish Steven Spielberg.

But nothing about Hanukkah.


The show is a production of Adam F. Goldberg, purported to show a similar type of family that he grew up in. In fact, at the end of the show, they included some actual video of his family celebrating the New Year--not Hanukkah.

Look, even Jewish families who have a very tenuous connection with their religion at least have a menorah up and glowing during the holiday season.

But for this show, nothing.

ABC is missing the point here, missing a perfect opportunity to show that Jews are just like everyone else, but they do have their own end of the year holiday.

They are missing the point, entirely--I mean the show is called "The Goldbergs," and we're not talking about Whoopi Goldberg here.

Most importantly, they are missing an opportunity to educate. As we all know, crime against Jews and Jewish institutions are on the rise not only in the U.S., but around the world.

Just this past week, there was an incident at a Jewish institution in Brooklyn, where an assailant attacked a rabbinical student, and was shot to death by police in an episode that will never be lumped into the latest anti-cop rhetoric we are hearing.

And the assailant allegedly was yelling anti-Semitic slurs, although the incident is not being looked at as a hate crime because the person had a history of mental illness, I presume.

Entertainment is the way we relax, and it is also the way we learn about things we didn't know much about.

And yes, I do blame the entertainment industry for hiding the fact, that we are not so homogenous as they would like us to believe.

I also blame my Jewish brethren, who often want to fit in so much into the fabric of this country and the world that they readily forget who they are.

I know a lot of Jews would take me to task for that, but sorry, I have found that often the most virulent anti-Semites are the Jews themselves.

And it really pains me to say that, too.

Again, I enjoy the holiday season, enjoy all the goings on revolving around the season, but when it comes down to it, I celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Christmas is simply a day off for me, a day where my family goes to the movies and eats Chinese food.

We do not have a phony "Hanukkah bush" up in our house.

We have a menorah burning very brightly.

I had high hopes for "The Goldbergs," but they are simply sidestepping the entire situation. I don't know if ABC put pressure on them to do so, or the producers and writers on the show--who are mainly Jews--have simply decided that this will not be the show to be the groundbreaker that I feel it should be.

And that is really, really sad, because it could be a platform, in a comedic way, of helping viewers learn about something not necessarily new, not necessarily different, but something that maybe they didn't know too much about.

It might even help us understand each other a bit better, and maybe, just maybe, stem the tide of anti-Jewish sentiment that always comes up around this time of year.

All this through a mere TV show? Yes, why not? If millions watch it each weak, you start with those millions, and the feeling can spread to everyone they touch, and then spread to everyone they come in contact with, and so on and so on.

And yes, I am a bit hurt that the show doesn't do that and I have to ask, what is stopping them?

What a missed opportunity!

(I have to go for my twice-annual eye exam, so in order to prepare for this test, I am not going to be writing my column tomorrow. Please check back here on Monday. Speak to you then.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rant #1,339: Some People Should Be Ashamed of Themselves

I read about this late yesterday, and I still cannot believe that this has actually been put into place.

Columbia Law School is allowing students to request postponements of their final exams if they are suffering from what are being called the "traumatic effects" of two recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York, where police were not indicted in the deaths of two unarmed black men.

Robert E. Scott, the school's interim dean, announced this policy in an email, and according to the New York Times, a small number of students have had their exams pushed back because they have been "traumatized" by these decisions.

Scott said the law school consulted with Columbia administrators to gain approval for this policy, which he said is in accordance with the school's procedures for accommodating students who are experiencing trauma during exam periods.

Well, as far as I am concerned, Columbia University, their law school, and just about every lawyer worth his or her salt should be ashamed of themselves and their profession at this decision.

Law school is not easy, nobody said it was. It is not easy to become a lawyer, nor is it easy to become a doctor, a teacher, a writer, or a garbage man (sanitary worker in these PC times).

Why are people so traumatized that they cannot take their exams? Is it because they are out marching against the "social injustices" supposedly perpetuated by these instances, and haven't had time to study?

I am not a lawyer, but can you imagine a lawyer going into court and telling a judge that he or she was "traumatized" by something, and due to their "trauma," asked for a postponement of a trial? What would a judge say in that instance?

To me, we are coddling people who have been coddled their entire lives. Unfortunately, this generation has been given everything to them on a silver plate, seemingly, and the university is coddling to them again by allowing them to put off their exams.

The most interesting thing about this is that while the law, as it stands, supports the police in both unfortunate instances, those shirking their exams are the future lawyers of this country, the lawyers who could actually help change the laws so these incidences never happen again.

Yet they want to postpone their exams ... because they are traumatized?

More likely many of them are so tired from marching and yelling and screaming about something that they do not yet understand that they haven't had time to crack open the books and study.

I guess that is what is called being "traumatized" today.

Maybe I will use that at my place of business.

I am so "traumatized" at these events that I cannot work. I need to put off working for a few days while I get my head together.

Yes, hello unemployment line, because that is where I will be going, and most of us will be going, if we ever pulled that canard.

Again, there is a lot of shame to go around here, and it starts with Columbia University itself.

What a joke. It is time, yes it really is time, to get back to reality, don't you think?


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