Robert's Random Ravings

Aging (not so) gracefully

I don’t really know what has happened.  It seems like just yesterday I was 21 years old and my whole life was in front of me.  Now I find myself north of 40 and wondering where all the time went.  I’m not saying that I haven’t enjoyed my life – I definitely have.  However it seems that I went very suddenly from being young to being middle-aged.  All of you that have been through this – you know what I am talking about.

It is often said that when you are about to die, you see your whole life flash before your eyes.  Well – living through it seems to be about the same experience.

I had some big goals that I set for myself to accomplish before I turned 35. One of those was to speak 10 languages.  I didn’t make it (though I do speak and/or understand 5 or 6).

I also wanted to travel – to see the world.  That one I have certainly made a big dent in.  I have been to 5 continents (only Africa and Antarctica remain).  I have been to 44 of the 50 states, as well as about 15 foreign countries.

I had a dream, as well, to make a living as a musician.  That is one that I am still waiting for – not that it is a realistic goal at this point.

Of course, another area in which I hoped to make an impact was in computers and technology.  That one I have done reasonably well.  My brother and I started a software company and after about 4 years, sold it to a California company. That company then hired both of us as employees.  I worked for that company for an additional 7 years, until I decided to retire at the end of 2007.

So do the dreams and goals of our youth really mean anything?  Are we a failure if we have not fulfilled them later on in life?  I don’t think so because as young people, we really don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be when we get older.  We are constantly inventing and re-inventing ourselves throughout our lives.  That’s a good thing.

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03/27/2010 Posted by | General | , , , , | 2 Comments

Flash Forward

I have become a big fan of the ABC drama “Flash Forward.”  In that show, the entire world blacks out for a little over 2 minutes, during which time most of the people have visions that turn out to be visions of events that will happen on a specific date about 6 months in the future.  As people begin to start understanding these visions and believe in their authenticity, it changes the way they act.  They start doing things to either hasten the fulfillment of those visions, or to prevent them from coming true.

Every time I watch this show I start thinking about how people would act if they knew their futures.  It is an interesting thought.  In the show, you have people that are resigned to the future they saw and feel that they have no control over their own lives – everything is pre-determined, no matter what they do.  Then you have others that don’t like what they saw and either get very upset/depressed about it or try to do things to change or prevent what they saw in their vision.

The mere act of being told what will happen in our futures causes us to act differently than we might otherwise act – thereby changing that very future.  It kind of reminds me of looking in a mirror that is placed directly opposite another mirror.  If you place yourself in the middle, looking into one mirror will show you an endless stream of mirror images of yourself looking in a mirror.  I know this all gets a little philosophical.  I personally don’t believe that we can see our futures.  We can try to predict what might happen.  Sometimes we will be correct and sometimes we won’t.  Every minute of our lives is full of decisions that change our future.

Back in the 80’s, a lot of people were getting and dying from AIDS.  The doctors did not know what to do for them.  They told their patients to prepare for death.  Then came a new class of drugs (protease inhibitors) that began to “resurrect” these people.  Suddenly they were not dying anymore.  However, they had been so sure that they were near death that they started doing crazy things since they knew that they would not live.  When they did start to survive and even thrive, they had to now deal with the consequences of those actions – consequences they never expected to be alive to face.

So “knowing” our future can be a dangerous thing.  It can make us do things that we would never otherwise do.  I prefer to live in the present and do my best to “guide” my future into the path that I think would be the best path for me.

12/20/2009 Posted by | General | , , , | Leave a comment

More bigotry in Maine

Yesterday the voters in Maine voted to repeal same sex marriage rights that had been passed by the Maine legislature. Thus it now becomes the second state to repeal same sex marriage rights.

I can’t begin to say how disappointing this is. Just like Proposition 8 in California last year, it appears that the nation is moving backwards in terms of equality for all and codified bigotry. I have no doubt that in the near future, we will look back at these days and wonder what people were thinking. But in the meantime, the general populace is continuing to demonstrate that it is mean-spirited and that prejudice is fine, as long as it is against those “fags” who are, in their opinion, acting against G-d and nature.

As a gay man who has made so many attempts to not be gay, I can assure everyone that my “nature” is gay and there is nothing that I can do to change that, even if I still wanted to. I can no more turn straight than a black person can turn white.

It always amazes me how people get so riled up about this issue – especially fundamental Christians. I have no problem with people that don’t accept homosexuality for religious reasons. They have that right. But the institution of marriage is not a religious institution. No one is trying to force churches to marry same sex couples. All we want is for the civil government to afford us the same rights that heterosexual couples have – for example, survivor benefits from Social Security – and that is just one example. There are hundreds of state and federal benefits that heterosexual marriages have that are denied to same sex couples because the government won’t allow us to marry. It is just plain wrong to not allow us to marry.

As to the contention that same-sex marriages would ruin the institution of marriage, all I can say is that my marrying the person I love has absolutely NO effect whatsoever on someone else. I am already living with him (and have been for 15 years).

America – it is time to grant equality to ALL. This is no different from when races were not allowed to inter-marry. That was an equally disgusting state of affairs and we came to our senses about that, at least, some time ago. Now we need to go the rest of the way.

11/04/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

The exploitation of our children

There is a sad state of affairs for children in many parts of the world. It is hard to believe that this could still be the case in 2009, but sadly it is.

Last Sunday, I read an article in my local paper which talked about children being denounced as witches and being beaten or killed because of it. This is happening in some so-called evangelical Christian churches in Nigeria. The article was heartbreaking. How can people be so cruel to defenseless children?

The Catholic Church has been complicit in another type of exploitation – sexual abuse of altar boys by priests. It took a long time to get the accusations out into the open. The Church did everything possible to avoid being found out – including transferring known offenders to other parishes where the priests could molest more young boys and making settlements with the families of the victims which included non-disclosure. This “scandal” has cost the Church millions of dollars and has tarnished the Church’s reputation worldwide (and deservedly so!!).

In many countries, children are forced into labor to help support their families. In other countries, children are forced into military service. When will this exploitation of the world’s young people stop?

Here in the US, our government talks about being for human rights and about spreading democracy around the globe. I would suggest that saving and protecting the world’s children should be one of our highest priorities. They are the most at risk and the least able to protect themselves.

10/25/2009 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Religion and its effect on all of us

Religion is so complicated!

By birth, I am a Jew. Both my mom and dad are Jewish, as are both of their parents (and so on and so on). When I was a young child (about 7), my parents became Christians. For a number of years, we were part of a church in the St Petersburg area (it was associated with the Church of G-d). A few years after this, we became what is called “Messianic” Jews. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah of the Jews. They celebrate Christianity, but with the Jewish aspect of the original Christians (who of course were all Jews as well). Jewish holidays were celebrated, as well as Christmas and Easter. My mom and dad are still involved with Messianic Judaism, however I am not.

So why am I telling you this? Because “Religion” (yes, with a capital R) is an important part of our identity (whether we participate in it formally or not). Both of my parents became ordained Messianic Rabbis, so my brother and I were raised in an extremely religious way (our upbringing was similar to that of a fundamental Christian). I am intimately familiar with the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. I am familiar with many streams of both Christian and Jewish thought. Where this has left me is very confused.

I mentioned that religion is an important part of our identity. Though I am no longer practicing any kind of organized religion (and have very little tolerance for it), my religious upbringing is still a part of me. Both Christianity and Judaism are monotheistic religions. They also both share a trait common with many other religious credos – the belief that their way is the one true and correct way. Christianity tends to take this to more of an extreme, though, with their belief that anyone that does not believe in Jesus Christ is doomed to eternity in hell.

Here’s where my problem comes in. A lot of these teachings were drilled into me growing up. And now, even though I no longer believe that way, I still find myself hesitating. For example, I love Asian statues, particularly Buddhas. But Buddha is a “false god” according to my upbringing. The same would apply to Ganesh and other Asian deities. So in the back of my head, I still get a little uneasy when I look at these statues.

Halloween is another example. I was taught that it is a celebration of evil spirits and Satan, and therefore should not be observed. To this day I still have trouble participating in Halloween festivities.

I wish that I could just shed all of this baggage, but it is not that easy. Even though I do not attend services of any kind, I still strongly identify as a Jew, and that still has meaning to me. But I just cannot fall in line with any belief that has at its center the idea that our way is right, your way is wrong and will lead to eternal damnation. How can that possibly be? What kind of a G-d is that?

I think the kind of fundamental Christianity that we see so much of today in the United States is the religion that I have the most trouble with. There has been an ongoing debate for some time now on whether same sex couples should be given the right to marry. Opposition to same sex marriage is almost completely on a religious basis. The Bible says….. But what does the Bible really say? I am not going to get into that discussion here, because I think it would be a waste of time. But what I do find interesting is the ability of modern Christians to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow, forget the rest, and maintain that they follow the Bible completely. The same book that is used as the basis for not allowing same sex marriage also talks about the animal sacrifices that are required on a regular basis. It prescribes “eye for an eye” justice for things such as stealing, lying and adultery. It instructs women to be outside the town for 7 days during their period of uncleanness.

I see it as all or nothing. If you say you believe and follow the Bible, it has to be the whole thing. If you do not follow every part of it, then you may as well not follow any of it – it becomes a free for all with each person deciding what to include and what to exclude.

I would love to hear from anyone that reads this post about their own experiences with religion.

09/21/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Just say no to War

At the present time, the US is fighting two major wars; one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. The rationale for both wars is pretty widely known. Afghanistan is where al-Qaeda and bin Laden trained the terrorists that took part in the 9/11 attacks. Iraq was supposedly a hot bed of al-Qaeda training as well (though this was proven to be false, with al-Qaeda not coming to Iraq until well after our invasion). It was also supposedly sitting on a store of weapons of mass destruction (also proven to be false).

This past June, the nature of our involvement in Iraq changed to such an extent that you could almost say that we are really not fighting a war there anymore. American troops left all Iraqi cities and turned over the security of these cities to the Iraqi armed forced and police.

Afghanistan is a very different story. When we first went into Afghanistan, we quickly made substantial progress towards removing the Taliban from power. 8 years later, however, the Taliban is back in control of the majority of the country. How is this possible? One of the reasons, in my opinion, is that once again, we went into the conflict without enough troops. We like to believe that war has changed and that it is run more or less like a video game, with superior air power overriding the need for troops on the ground. I think Iraq, to some extent, and Afghanistan, to a much greater extent, prove that this is just not the case. Afghanistan’s hills and mountains are full of deep caves that are virtually impenetrable from the air. So no matter what we throw at them, it is not going to work.

The real problem, again in my opinion, is that we want to fight these “limited wars.” Sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is just not sufficient. I feel that if we are willing to go to war, we should be ready and willing to use ANY AND ALL tools at your disposal. If we are not willing to do that, we should not go to war. Now believe me, I am not in any way condoning war. I don’t think we should have ever gone into Iraq and I am not sure that we should have even gone into Afghanistan. The real enemy is not any particular country. It is an ideology that seeks to destroy America and all other Western powers and impose a theocratic government based on warped interpretations of Islam and the Koran. That makes it hard to pin down and even harder to defeat. Every time we cut off a head, another one grows somewhere else.

I think that it is high time we end our involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan completely. We need to bring all of our troops home and stop wasting our resources in these areas. We should not be involved in nation building. We should be worrying about fixing our problems at home.

I recently heard a statistic: the poverty level in the US has risen to 13.2%. That’s 1 out of every 8 people. That, to me, is heart breaking. We have spent $1 trillion dollars in Iraq and Lord knows how much in Afghanistan while people at home are barely able to feed themselves. I am not saying that we should go into protectionist mode, but I still think our primary responsibility should be to our own citizens. Then after that, we can worry about problems overseas.

09/14/2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Iraq, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why is our Congress so out of touch with the lives of the rest of us?

US Capitol Building

US Capitol Building

Just in the last few weeks, they were asking the Pentagon to add a few extra planes to their budget so that they could travel in style. See, when Senators or Representatives travel, they want to travel in luxury. The same planes that we travel in, stuffed with 140 or so passengers, they want to use to shuttle around groups of ten or twelve or so. This is supposed to help with their productivity. All I see it helping is their comfort.

Nowhere in the Constitution is there a guarantee of luxury for those that serve the nation in the Senate or the House of Representatives, yet this is what they believe that they are entitled to.

Let’s take another example. We have seen a circus lately around the whole debate for health care reform. Anyone that has been paying attention lately (or has had to go to the doctor) knows that something needs to be done. Even if you have insurance, you have to jump through such hoops to get the care you need. Of course, Congress does not have to. They have great health care. So, of course, they aren’t all that concerned with reforming health care. Theirs is already fine.

The members of Congress are elected to serve us, the people. It is not the other way around. They should not be entitled to have better health care, or better access to loans from banks (at considerable discounts), or get free travel from lobbyists, or any other gifts, just because they are elected officials. All of this has to stop.

I think one of the best ways to make this stop is to finally put term limits in place on Representatives and Senators. We have term limits on the President. Most states have term limits on the governor. Why, then, do we oppose term limits on the other high offices in the land? When people get entrenched into their positions in the House or the Senate, they become more and more susceptible to corrupting influences from all sides. This has to change, and soon.

We changed Presidents last year after much talk about the low approval ratings that President Bush had. Yet the Congress has much lower ratings than President Bush had. Why are we not bringing in new blood there? I don’t care how much you like any particular politician. I challenge any and all to vote for new blood in 2010. Let’s dump the incumbents. Let’s start anew.

Are you with me??

08/18/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The people of Iran

A once proud nation

Modern Iran

Modern Iran

The modern country of Iran is the remnant of a once powerful empire – the Persian Empire. At the time of the last Shah of Iran, that empire had existed for over 2500 years.

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran has not been a particularly free country. The country has a figure head President, but the real power lies in the Supreme Commander. Since the shah was deposed in 1979, there have only been two Supreme Leaders – the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Ayatollah Khameinei. The Supreme Leader is in charge of the armed forces (the Revolutionary Guard), and governs all aspects of life in the country. He is the highest ranking political and religious figure in the country.

The Persian Empire

The Persian Empire

On June 12, 2009, an election was held to choose the President of Iran. The next morning, the government announced that the incumbent President (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) had won over two-thirds of the vote. That’s when the trouble began. One of the candidates that had been defeated began to declare his belief that the election was rigged and unfair. Then the protests began in Tehran. This is not something that you commonly see in modern Iran. The people are not free to say what they think of the government or its rulings. However, there seems to be so much emotion behind the outcome of the presidential election that the people do not seem willing to stay quiet any longer.

Here in the US, the protests were on the news night after night for several weeks. Of course, the government of Iran kicked out all of the press so that no one would be able to broadcast what was happening. So the Iranian people began to post updates on Twitter and Facebook and send videos with their cell phones. So the next step the government took was to jam the web and cell phones. They obviously do not want the rest of the world to know what’s going on.

I think we are on the verge of something historical here. I would love to see it happen. I hate to see any nation suppressed. I feel that way about Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, etc. All people should be able to live free.

I hope the leaders of Iran wake up and see that their people demand change. That they demand freedom. It doesn’t have to be Western style democracy – but I think that the Iranian people are tired of being suppressed and held down. Let’s hope that we see a major change there in the near future that will then spill over into other nations nearby (such as Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan).

G-d bless the people of Iran.

08/11/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

John McCain

john_mccain_narrowweb__300x3730

In 2000, when Senator John McCain (R, Arizona) made his first run for President of the United States, I was intrigued by him. I am most assuredly liberal leaning. But I saw in him someone who acted on principle and not on party. After some very dirty tactics on the part of Karl Rove and George W. Bush, McCain’s campaign did not go very far.

There was certainly a lot to admire about him at the time. He seemed just as willing to work with a Democrat as with a Republican (which is how it should be – when you are elected as the Senator of your state, it is to represent ALL of the people of the state, not just those that share your ideology).

The McCain-Feingold Act was a legitimate attempt (at least I believe it was) to curb the abuses that arose from all of the money being tossed around for candidates. It was a major step. Unfortunately it did not go nearly far enough (though that is more a result of the lack of will on the part of Congress as a whole).

All of this changed in the presidential campaign of 2008. John McCain was a dark horse. He did not seem to have much of a chance of becoming the Republican Party’s Nominee. The initial front runner was Rudy Giuliani. Then Fred Thompson had a bunch of steam behind him and also Mitt Romney. In fact, as most people know, McCain’s campaign was just about dead in the water. Somehow, he survived that and suddenly started surging forward in the primaries, winning enough of them that all of the other candidates finally did bow out.

I wonder what it is that got his campaign restarted. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but it sure seems like he made a deal with the devil in there somewhere. Along the way, he sacrificed any shred of honesty and integrity he had left.

Who can forget him singing in front of a camera singing “bomb bomb bomb Iran.” (Check out a video of it here.) Whether it was meant as a joke or not is beside the point. This is a candidate for President of the United States joking about an unprovoked attack on a nation with which we already have very strained relations.

Or how about when the financial world was collapsing all over the country and he remarked that fundamentally the economy was strong? Then when he realized how wrong he was about the economy and the financial health of the country and its citizens, what does he do? He decides to place his campaign on hold so that he can run back to Washington to save the country. G-d help us. And we wonder why we are in the situation we are in?

Perhaps the biggest blunder of all (and it is the gift that keeps on giving) was his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. It seems to me that he did it in his typical way (kind of like George Bush’s “I am the deciderer” days). He wanted to choose Joseph Liberman (who was never more than a step away from John McCain throughout the entire campaign – are you listening Connecticut?????) but was told he couldn’t. So they flew up to Alaska and seemingly within hours of meeting Governor Palin, he asked her to be his running mate. Sure, she gave a great speech at the Republican National Convention. But she was just saying what the people there wanted to here. Easy sell. Once the ticket left the safe confines of the RNC, things got a lot tougher.

This was a woman that would be a step away from the Presidency. And let’s not forget that John McCain is 72 years old – he would have been the oldest first term president in US history. Sure his mother is 90 something – like that matters. He has a history of all kinds of problems, including the melanomas and skin cancers. But be that as it may, since she would be in such a lofty position, it’s only reasonable that the people in the country wanted to know who she was – what her views are, why she would want to be VP, etc. And that’s when things really got bad for the McCain campaign. They basically hid her from any press for a few weeks, literally refusing any and all interviews, until the infamous interview with Katie Couric.

Sarah Palin was folksy and all that – but she was completely ignorant of the world outside of Alaska. When asked what magazines she read, her response was “all of them.” When asked about her experience with foreign policy, she pointed to Alaska’s proximity to Russia. From the start, she screamed far and wide about the liberal media and its bias. And John McCain sat by and reassured everyone that he had made the right choice.

After the election was over, there were a lot of reports about friction between McCain’s staff and Mrs. Palin. When someone is always complaining about how everyone is out to get them, I can understand that. She wanted to give a concession speech on the night of the election, but was not allowed to. This made her angry too.

Last week, she resigned as governor of Alaska saying that she can do more for the state by resigning than by fulfilling her pledge to the people of the state. And what did John McCain say about it?

McCain said he was surprised but not “shocked” by the resignation of his former runningmate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. On NBC’s Meet the Press, the Arizona Republican said Palin’s decision was consistent with his definition of leadership to resign from office mid-term.

-The Huffington Post

He actually suggested that it was the right thing to do? Does this sound like the honorable Senator John McCain we once knew? I don’t think so.

If anyone reading this lives in Arizona, I would suggest to you that it is time for some fresh blood in your delegation to the Senate. John McCain has clearly lost touch with what this country needs now. Elect someone else. For your own sake!

08/06/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , | 2 Comments

Put down your phone

I am not a technophobe. In fact, I am quite the opposite. I love electronic gadgets and computers of all sizes and shapes. And I think that the mobile phone has been a huge leap forward in terms of convenience, safety, etc. for all of us.

The problem is that many of us don’t seem to be able to figure out when to put the blasted things down. The biggest culprit in all of this is text messaging. Sure, it’s neat to be able to communicate with a number of people at the same time in short spurts of about 150 characters or less. Of course, it has ruined the spelling capabilities of a lot of people. It has also ruined the attention spans of a lot of people. We have become accustomed to our interactions taking place in these small dribs and drabs.

When you are walking down the street or in a mall (or airport, etc.) and trying to text at the same time, I guarantee you that you are not paying attention to anyone around you. The world does not exist for you alone. And I think that precious thought can wait a minute or two until you get somewhere where you can step out of people’s way and then do your texting.

Even worse is the affect on driving. Holding a cellphone to your ear while you are driving is distracting. But texting while you are driving can be disastrous. That time that you are looking at your phone instead of the road is putting you and everyone in your general area in danger.

I honestly cannot believe that cell phone use (without hands free capability) and texting while driving has not been banned in all 50 states by now. Everyone knows how dangerous it is. Who can honestly defend this dangerous habit? Is it an invasion of privacy? No more so than requiring that passengers in a car wear a seat belt. No one complains about that because we all know it keeps us safer. Let’s get real here (politicians – I am talking to you!!!!!) Whether it is on a city/county, state or federal level, we need laws that preserve our road safety by banning texting while driving.

Our society has become so selfish. This is just one more manifestation. I want to do such and such so go screw yourself if what I am doing bothers you. That is just not the way to act. Kindness, compassion and just plain awareness of the world outside your own skin is important.

So, to sum it up – “Put down the damn phone!!”

08/05/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , | 2 Comments