Sunday, September 27, 2009

Celebrating The Season

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of life is the duality and the contradictory ironies that somehow fail to escape my observation. Or perhaps it's mixed martial arts bouts rebroadcast on late-night secondary Showtime channels.

More than likely, I find the innate concept of the Jewish New Year to be a ultimately mixed message. On the one hand, like the Gregorian New Year, we're supposed to "celebrate" the passage of one year and the arrival of another. And yet, on the other hand, with the new year comes the responsibility of observant Jews to ask God and our friends, family and acquaintances for forgiveness for our sins, transgressions, mistakes and anything which adversely affected anyone we know and/or about whom we care.

More importantly, we are taught that we ask for health and happiness for those about whom we care for the coming year: for health, happiness, success and a sweet year. This is the significance behind apples and honey, both of which represent sweetness. There's a Jewish blessing known as the Shecheeyanu, which sanctifies something new, and this blessing is a quasi-staple of the coming year for obvious reasons. That is why many Jews also try to sample a new (non-everyday/exotic) fruit. So each year we bring in the new year with something different that is new and sweet.

I'm not sure if I buy into that new fruit concept, but unless the new fruit is durian, I won't protest this custom beyond perhaps the lift of an eyebrow.

In either case, with the perspective of an adult, I'm invoking this final stage of the celebration of the new year with family and "celebration." But the celebration will actually be optimism. The seriousness of tomorrow's observance and the significance it has, for me personally, isn't something I can necessarily convey through words. Suffice to say it's a holiday which feels like equal parts obligation, responsibility, solemnity and hope for the future. It's unlike any "celebration" I've participated in in any other aspect of my life, including graduations, milestones, or even my bar mitzvah.

Part of the forgiveness aspect -- ie asking those who we've wronged over the past year for forgiveness for said transgression -- is legit. A new year -- whether celebrated in January or sometime in September -- is a good time to reflect on the year that's past and the year that approaches. But the other aspect -- praying for health for ourselves and those we love -- is, at least for me, very significant. I'm not sure if that significance has come with age, experience, pessimism or reality -- or the verisimilitude of some or all of those things -- but it has increased power and ownership of my mind these days. And frankly, I think that's a big chunk of what this holiday should signify. Acknowledgment of the past and acceptance and optimism for the future aren't necessarily stereotypical hallmarks of Jewish existence in this country or this world, but I think that's what I feel this holiday embodies.

Whether I'm right or full of shit is, frankly, secondary. I'm sure I could assemble a room filled with scholars who could verify my opinion or spend a week ridiculing same. Regardless, part of why faith is what it is is that it -- at some point -- defies black and white factual confirmation. So I'll "celebrate" this coming new year with the optimism that I try to celebrate each day, and I'll acknowledge those mistakes I've made this past year, and I'll genuinely try to be a better person, friend, lover and human being. I can't promise I'll be any more courteous as a driver -- given yesterday's interstate expedition, I'm far too honest with respect to those who don't belong on the road -- but I do pledge to resist flipping the bird to nuns wearing coke-bottle glasses and instead pray they restrict their driving to bumper-car structures and not the nation's highways.

In essence, and in all sincerity, the duality of this soon-to-conclude holiday period doesn't so much puzzle me as it does strike me in its ironic contrast. And while that isn't the bulk of my focus, I think that's part of what I'll continually focus on -- perhaps for the rest of my life. But first and foremost, and most importantly, I'll extend my most sincere and optimistic hope for the future, for the health and happiness of those people -- family, friends, etc. -- about whom I care. And I'll give thanks for each day I wake up happy and go to bed happy, and I'll continue to try and make others around me smile whether they want to or not.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, sweet and successful new year to those reading this message near, far, here and no longer here.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Patriotism and The Damage Done

What is the definition of patriotism? Wiki defines it as the love of and/or devotion to one's country.

CNN reported on the arrest of several individuals suspected of participating in and/or plotting a terrorist attack, perhaps in the New York area, and indicated they had arrested a Denver man, Najibullah Zazi, and his father, Muhammed Wali Zazi, for these crimes. The former is 24 years old and admitted traveling to Pakistan to train with al-Qaeda operatives. In addition, he traveled from Colorado to New York in a rental car in which he brought a notebook computer containing downloaded information and handwritten notes containing directions on how to make improvised explosive devices (bombs). In his interviews with the FBI, he suggested he mistakenly downloaded these plans on the Internet. He didn't explain how this incorrectly-downloaded information was e-mailed from his account to two other individuals. Father Muhammed Wali Zazi is 53 and is accused of making false statements to the FBI.

Yet another of the arrested is an Imam in a mosque in Queens, Ahmad Wais Afzali, who, in a remarkable coincidence, very closely resembles porn star Ron Jeremy. He was arrested because he tipped off the father and son and lied to investigators on several key fronts.

The question isn't whether these people are interested in performing some sort of attack on the US. It's pretty clear they are. Why are they only -- currently -- facing 8 years in prison each?

Neither here nor there. Whether they are facing 2 days, 2 years or 2 life sentences is, in part, irrelevant. What is far more relevant is that they are naturalized legal residents; all of them are foreign-born; and all clearly have pernicious, malicious intention with respect to this nation.

On the one hand, I suggest we drop these three in a hole and forget about them for 30 or 40 years. We could easily deport all of them, but as we've witnessed with prisoners who the Israelis have been coerced into freeing, these people won't stop until their destiny -- ie martyrdom -- is achieved. Whether said martyrdom is achieved in Israel or America or Pakistan or Afghanistan, their aim is to kill Americans and other Westerners or, if at all possible, Israelis.

The more difficult question to answer is why this is happening. By this I mean why we welcome people who have every intention of destroying it. Of course, for every 1,000 people who want nothing more than to become Americans and slice off their chunk of the American Dream, there's one or two or -- who knows how many -- people who would like to destroy that pie. It's relatively mystifying how the US seems to overlook so many of these people, and since these are ongoing investigations, there's no way to determine how many of these people are under surveillance, how many of them are given a short leash to determine who they're contacting outside the nation, and what their specific plans are.

At once, it's both unsettling and irritating that this problem still continues despite the very visible and very real lessons learned -- perhaps -- on 9/11.

Inasmuch as I would love to let the FBI and the CIA run free, damning the Constitution in the process, and let slip the dogs of war, I can't completely rationalize this, given the past ineptitude of the FBI and the overzealous charges of the CIA. However, it seems fairly simple: watch every mosque in this nation -- from a distance -- and assume every mosque, from Los Angeles to New York -- shelters one or more individuals who are focused on more than their daily prayers while at these mosques. Sound unfair? Perhaps. I'm not advocating destroying mosques and/or decimating the US Muslim population. Nor am I giving the FBI license to kick down the doors of every mosque in this nation.

However, it seems to me that these individuals are -- eventually -- going to find the seam in the defense, so to speak, and fall between the cracks. I refer to these types of individuals, hiding in plain sight. Inasmuch as I respect the Constitution, can we continue to ignore the obvious warning signs in the name of absolute religious freedom? Are people whose lives mean nothing beyond their intent to commit suicide by blowing up buildings, landmarks, train stations, and -- ostensibly -- as many Americans as possible?

The 9/11 hijackers spent an inordinate amount of time living among the US population, as did these recently-arrested individuals. As their replacements become more sophisticated and continue to take advantage of our freedoms, it seems to me that the only real solution is for the US to take an increasingly proactive role in rooting them out. If they're hiding in plain sight -- mosques, prayer groups, clubs and associations -- focus on these and never relent. Those Muslims who have love and respect for the American way of life will understand and -- in the long run -- appreciate that these people who hide among them have tainted their religion, not embodied it, and those Muslims who cry most foul more than likely support the talk of jihad and its lust for blood, not peace.

Invariably, the mixed messages are more clear, and simultaneously fuzzy, with each passing day. And the more we wait, the more their numbers increase.

Put in far more simple terms, if you know you've got a roach issue and can see them scatter when the lights are turned on, the solution is relatively easy: turn the light on, keep it on, and spray in every crevice until the problem ceases.

Or until the spray runs out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Time of The Seasons

Unless you live in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood, the pinnacle of holiday-dom in this nation seems, most naturally, marked by the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, with the obvious high points being those two holidays and Christmas serving as the main trio. With the exception of Halloween and Mother's Day, these three are most likely to inspire people to spend their money on greeting and holiday cards more than any other.

Not coincidentally, this time also marks the passage from Summer and Fall into Winter, unless you live in Australia, where things "down under" are completely upside down, both literally and figuratively. Incidentally, this begs the question "Do people in Australia refer to the rest of the world as Up Over?"

But I digress.

If you're a member of the Jewish faith, you also likely celebrate -- or at least acknowledge the arrival of -- the Jewish New Year, which is an eight-day period beginning with a two-day celebration known as Rosh Hashanah and culminating in a day of fasting and reverance known as Yom Kippur, also commonly referred to as the Day of Atonement. The Jewish New Year, unlike this nation's observance of New Year's Day, is not merely a holiday from work and responsibility and a celebration of alcohol, parties and public drunkenness. In its place, it is a time for Jews to be thankful of their families and friends and look to the coming year for health, happiness and success. The general concept is that by demonstrating our forgiveness to those that have wronged us over the course of the past year, and by asking forgiveness of those we have wronged over the course of the past year, we -- and those about which we care -- will be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year and will, god willing, be with us for another year.

Invariably, during my observance of these holidays, I alternate between celebration and thoughts of the future; while another year passes, my personal observance lends itself towards wishing my family and friends a healthy, sweet, happy year, and invariably I find myself wondering why we spend so much time focusing on these wishes and prayers only once or twice each year and not more frequently. That is not to say I don't do so with regularity -- in fact, I do find myself keeping my virtual fingers crossed with respect to the health and happiness of my family and friends -- it's just that, I suppose, we shouldn't so much focus solely on these wishes so rarely but we should do so all the time. I guess, in the guise of the "simple son," that this holiday period isn't the sole time of reflection but a time of sole -- and soul -- reflection. That is, I think these days aren't meant to be the only time we absolve others -- and ourselves -- of our transgressions, but days during which that is our only focus. We shouldn't observe these days as our only opportunities to thank The Man Upstairs for what we have and wish, hope and pray for the same or better in the coming year; we should take this time to focus only on letting The Man Upstairs know that we're thankful for our lives and those of our families and friends. And even if we haven't made many inroads on things we apologized for from last year, each year is a clean slate filled with optimism, hope and positive change.

I think, among my other transgressions, my main goal is, simply, to be more thankful and appreciative of those I care about -- family, friends, etc. -- not just during these High Holy days but throughout the year, each and every day.

So on a personal note, if I've made any mistakes or wronged anyone reading these words, I apologize. And if you've done the same to me, it's already forgiven.

Here's hoping the coming year is happy, sweet, healthy, successful and memorable -- in a good way -- for us, our families, our friends and for those people about whom we care.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Built for Speed

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.
Any fool can do it...
There ain't nothing to it...
Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill...
But since we're on our way down,
We might as well enjoy the ride.

James Taylor, Secret O' Life

Not sure where the time goes, but there's seemingly so much happening these days -- in a good way -- I barely can keep track.

First, Friday wound up being a busy day. There was rain, but mostly, there was a lot of work. It was a quiet day -- few, if any, clients calling me -- but there was lots of paper and e-mail to power through. I got about 90% of what I needed done before the weekend began.

Friday night I met friends at Make, a paint-it-yourself pottery place on the West Side. Well, actually, to clarify, Make has both Upper East and Upper West locations, but the location where we meet is the on the Upper West Side. Not sure why, but that's that, and I have no issue jumping on a bus and crossing the Park. I know as a true New Yorker I shouldn't be crossing the Park, and I know I should spend my non-working, waking hours on the East Side, but the truth is it's not a big deal once a week to cross the Park and hit the West Side to hang out with friends.

Soooo...Friday night, I hit Week 2 on my current Make project, a skull covered by a Van Halen-esque fire-engine red with black and white stripes. It might be completely awful, but it's a lot of fun after another long, tiring week to kick back for a few hours and do something mindless and relaxing.

Saturday was a busy, busy 24 hours. I did some work early after waking up well before my usual time and then met friends in the early afternoon in Soho for a few errands. We hit North Face and a few other stops, including Kid Robot, the Morrison Hotel Gallery, the Apple Store, etc. It was still kinda rainy so we didn't spend much time dawdling, but there were enough people on the street -- throngs, actually -- so that we didn't feel like we were just going through the motions of running basic, boring errands.

By the time we finished up, we raced home to get ready to meet back up in midtown for a party for a friend in from out of town. The town, incidentally, is Sydney, Australia. Naomi -- aka Gnomes -- is in NYC for a week so a friend got a bunch of friends to hang out and make sure she had a blast, which she did. To elaborate, we all did. A little alcohol and a lot of fun go a long way to make for a great weekend.

But, in the immortal words of Ron Popeil, wait -- there's more.

Today, Sunday, was Grandparents Day, so I met up with my family to spend the day and hang out with my grandmother in Riverdale. The day was perfect -- no rain, and despite a bit of heat I thought we'd left behind, some humidity in the sun -- we had a blast. The facility in which she lives, the Hebrew Home, had Bowser (of Sha Na Na fame, or infamy, depending on your perspective) and his current band entertain the entire crowd of 5,000 or so people. Since there were a lot of kids and older folk in the audience, it wasn't my style -- it was a tad vanilla -- but overall the people in attendance, as well as the residents of the facility, seemed to really enjoy the day. And we got a surprise visit from NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which was a bit surreal. Being that this is campaign time, it made sense, but seeing the Mayor only 10 steps away was odd, especially given the circumstances.

Post-celebration, I hit the train and came home to catch the second half of the Giants-Redskins game. I'd missed the early NFL games, which is okay, but missing an entire Giants game -- especially the first game of the season -- would have really been irritating. Seeing the second half -- and the fact that the Giants won -- made it all worthwhile.

I think, given that tonight is the True Blood finale (as well as another episode of Entourage), I'm not quite ready for the new NFL season. But once I began watching today's second half, I was quickly reminded why I love watching NFL Football, especially the Giants.

Finally, tonight, I've got a wind-down ahead of the True Blood finale, and -- hopefully -- getting to bed after Entourage, because I've got a deadline this week and plenty of other stuff to handle in addition.

I guess it is true that time really does fly when you're having fun. I guess I just wish I had more time with which to have more fun ;-)


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Significance Of The Past Tense

Every so often we hit a speed bump in our daily lives that shakes us out of our collective busy-ness. Sometimes those speed bumps are obstacles and present us with situations that require solutions. At other times, these are things which jolt us and remind us that we're only here for a limited time.

Today being 9/11, I can't help but notice the somber awareness we as a country feel. Some of us, I'm sure, dismiss 9/11, but for the majority of Americans, I believe the acknowledgment of what today means is daunting and significant, not only in terms of politics and our existence as Americans -- no matter what city, state or even country we call home -- but as human beings.

The fact that it's raining and gloomy aside, today always seems to be a day of reflection and recollection and acknowledgment, and though I invariably find myself taken back to that morning eight years ago -- smoke pouring skyward down 3rd Avenue, watching the second tower fall on live TV among 30 or so other horrified, angry people in a doctor's waiting room -- I continue to come back to the sadness most of us feel and the empty, quiet reflection we've endured since that day.

I don't wonder when there will be peace in this world, and -- frankly -- I scoff at the notion when people suggest it's possible. But on this day, among several others, I at least acknowledge that there are times for reflection, discussion and meditation, and there are times for action, response and perseverance.

Put another way, hindsight is only 20/20 if you have the balls and the focus and the direction in which to act.