Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Christmas Letter to Save the World

Dear Friends and Family:

Even when the world seems to be spiraling out of control--like now--we are called upon to carry on with our daily chores and duties.  In my family, we celebrate Christmas and New Years, so we (I) am shopping for presents and reaching out to loved ones in the spirit of good cheer.

As citizens of a great country, we should be able to do many things simultaneously.  Save the planet from overheating.  Save ourselves from terrorist plots.  Stop shooting each other.  Buy more Christmas presents.  Write and mail out holiday cards.

This post attempts to do all of these things at once. So, in no particular order...


Of course, all lives matter.  But to reject the term BLACK LIVES MATTER is a way of continuing to deny the scourge of racism and the truth of what we are seeing.  Over and over, what we now see, (thank you, Steve Jobs), insists that we recognize racism as a problem in this country that demands a remedy.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi answers the same question with regard to feminism.  Why should I say I am a feminist, rather than a humanist?

"...To choose to use the vague expression'human rights,'" Adichi says, in an interview with NPR, "is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender...The not about being human, but specifically about being a female human."


2015 marked our second summer and third winter on the farm.  We now have three horses, three dogs, and an appalling number of cats (more than 3 and fewer than 30).

Frankly, asking how many cats a person has is kind of a rude question.

Until June, we had an exchange student with us for the academic year.  He was from France, and he was with us in January during the attacks on Paris.  He was not in Paris, thankfully, for the November attacks on Paris.


First of all, let me come right out and tell you that my father, a Jewish-identified atheist, married a doctor from Kashmir in the 1980s, when he converted to Islam as a conciliatory gesture toward her family.  So, technically, my father was a Moslem, although he was never observant and inevitably lapsed into his default position of being a Jewish-identified atheist.

I remember asking my father if I was Jewish.  I never went to temple, unless it was for a funeral or a wedding.  I didn't have a bat mitzvah.  In fact, my father attended a Presbyterian church when he was a child, and kept, on his bureau, in a manly jewelry case, a small tarnished medallion in recognition of his perfect attendance at the Presbyterian Sunday school.

What did my father say?  He said, "You're Jewish enough for the SS."

The SS, of course, was the Nazi Schutzstaffel, the"protective squadron" in charge of rounding up  Jews, homosexuals, and other misfits to be sent to the concentration camps.

Moreover, in the interest of full disclosure, there is the matter of my family name, Barmack.

In the series WEST WING, (Season 4, Episode 23, I'm pretty sure), President Bartlett rattles off a list of names of suspected terrorists.  Among them, loud and clear: "Barmack."  (In the script, it is spelled Barmak.)

Family lore has it that the name Barmack comes from the once-great-and-powerful Barmakid family of Persia.  It links us to the treacherous character of Jafar, in Disney's Aladdin, and specifically to the Jafar al-Barmaki of Persian history, the inspiration for a few characters in several stories in The Arabian Nights.

Or, perhaps, the name Barmack simply connects us to the rabbi in the Ukrainian village from which we came (to New York City).   We were a Jewish family (picture Fiddler on the Roof) who booked passage to New York at the turn of the previous century--fleeing, most likely, the Russian pogroms.

To some extent, because of my name and associations, I have a personal stake in how my country decides to treat Moslems.

Jews had a personal stake in how this country decided to treat Jewish refugees attempting to escape from Nazi Germany.  In 1938, the U.S. had strict immigration quotas and visa requirements that supposedly prevented it from choosing to save the 900 or so Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany on a ship, the S.S. St. Louis.  They were all sent back to Nazi Germany and exterminated.

Which is more or less what will happen to the Syrian refugees who have to go back to Syria.

You can see the bind I'm in.  On the one hand, I am by name and affiliation a possible person of interest, should everyone in the U.S. with Islamic affiliations be required to register, or be questioned by a fortified FBI with broad discretionary privileges and little or no accountability.  .

I think it would be really nice if everyone had to be a little bit worried about what would happen to them if they could be broadly construed as having Moslem affiliations...

Because it's one thing to point a finger at a group of people with whom one has no affiliation.  It is very different if you know that your destiny may be attached to theirs in some way...

We ought to be able to empathize with one another as human beings, regardless of our differences, but  it's difficult when those differences seem profound.  And it's even harder when we are viewing them through a filter of fear.

But do try, if you can, to imagine that your late father was a Jewish-identified atheist Moslem.

Or, if that proves impossible, try to imagine that you have a surname that is to this day linked to the living memory of a notorious family in Baghdad.


I was shocked that one of the St. Bernardino terrorists was in touch with ISIS on Facebook.  I don't think ISIS should be entitled to a Facebook page.  Liberty-shmiberty.

I think social media privacy needs to be compromised in the same way that all of our privacy is compromised at the airport when we go through security.  There are people somewhere off-site scanning  pictures of us... naked...all of us bowing to authority, trying to make a flight...

I don't care if some faceless third party looks over everything I put on social media.  They should--but not just my stuff--everyone's stuff.  And they should be sensitive to the possibility of false identities and coded messages.  I know this isn't very libertarian, but we have to make compromises somewhere, and we already have a precedent at airport security, have we not?  Naked is naked.

They shouldn't comment, though, the way FB and Google does...Like, with the advertisements that  suggest that maybe you need ointment for the bags under your eyes, or yoga pants.  I hate their tacit commentary.  I wouldn't want FB surveillance making comments like that.  They should be like the people looking at the naked people--without prejudice or interest, unless we're concealing a weapon.


Shall, not should, please.

"We shall save the planet."  That means we must do it.

"We should save the planet."  That means we'll take the suggestion under advisement.

Saving the planet should be compulsory.  It shall be compulsory.


We went to Hawaii in 2015 during the kids' spring break.  Had a marvelous time.  Loved seeing  old friends.  Hope to go again before another 15 years elapse.


We wish you a healthy and joyful 2016.



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