Sunday, October 31, 2010


Live at The Dubliner, Copenhagen - 14 October 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Welcome the Park 51 Islamic Community Center

There's talk of tolerance and the principles, which America is built on, foundations of equality and religious freedom, etc. There are a slew of values Americans get pummeled with throughout their lives, which include goodies like god/faith (usually of a Christian nature), fiscal freedom, gun ownership, equal rights, trans fats, multiple car ownership and abstinence - just to name a few. We celebrate religious freedom except for when it comes time to vote and we resign to the fact that a candidate must be Christian. Or when we get bombarded with school and bank holidays, which are legally Christian and must otherwise request days of religious observance in all other cases regarding non-Christian holidays. The American news media with regards to the preposterous question of whether Barack Obama is a Muslim or a Christian, is on one track (Except for Cambell Brown). So what if he's a Muslim? He says he's Christian and probably is by birth. Or not. who cares? He might be an atheist, but why should it matter?

Are we not a country that separates church and state? And what is the purpose of doing that? Isn't it because we are aware that there are many faiths and one should not dominate over another. In theory of course, but clearly not in practice. Why should a citizen cover up the truth about what religion or how much faith he/she has in order to advance politically/career-wise in the US? Is that religious freedom?

We all know the history and hypocrisy of inequality in the United States, and the fact that as a whole, we have been guilty of inflicting shame on, and excluding people who are not of white, Christian descent. Jews have changed their surnames to sound "less Jewish" in order to get work, just to site one example. We forced Japanese Americans into internment camps. In recent history a large portion of southern citizens agreed that blacks should be denied voting rights. With the election of the Nation's first black president one might think that denial of civil rights is a thing of the past. Today Californians want to deny gays the right to marry. This is clearly a civil rights issue in which "morals" and "faith" interfere with people's freedom. The majority is not always in the right.

Polls show that the majority of Americans would like the Islamic Center, which is to be built 2 blocks away from ground zero of the World Trade Center attacks, to be relocated. Some fear that it will cause too much pain to victims' relatives, while other more right wing groups view it as a "victory mosque". But let's think about the meaning of religious freedom. Tolerance in this case is not only about showing our fellow citizens of the Islamic faith that we can accept their beliefs and religious practices, but it's also about having the ability to differentiate. We must realize that there are religious Muslims in varying degrees as well as secular Muslims. There are extremists as there are in every religion. Take our Pastor in Florida for example.

We must use our common sense and realize that such a community center would not be a place in which you will find Osama Bin Laden or any other person of that nature. Or perhaps Bin Laden would like to take a swim or play basketball or have access to the library where I'm sure plenty of Muslim women might enjoy a good read. Does that sound like a place an extremist would enjoy? It sounds more like a JCC. Try researching what the purpose of the Center is before making judgments. Even if it were a Mosque with devout Muslims coming to peacefully pray, that shouldn't be under higher scrutiny than an orthodox Synagogue or Church.

Some Muslims attacked Americans. Why are we then so quick to lump all Muslims together? Why should a symbol of moderate Islam like a community center remind us of a horrible terrorist attack? If white Christians blew up the World Trade Center would we ban a church from being built near ground zero?

Here's a insightful quote from a piece by Stanley Fish -

"If the bad act is committed by a member of a group you wish to demonize, attribute it to a community or a religion and not to the individual. But if the bad act is committed by someone whose profile, interests and agendas are uncomfortably close to your own, detach the malefactor from everything that is going on or is in the air (he came from nowhere) and characterize him as a one-off, non-generalizable, sui generis phenomenon." Click on the link for the whole piece.

A community center near ground zero would only exemplify the freedoms that we as a nation boast. Too many people are quick to use the word "they". They did this to us. Their people. Those people. "Those people" vary in belief and practice just as the rest of us do. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and so on all have rich, multi-layered, varying denominations and versions of their respective faiths and ways of observing. Some secular, some devout and few extreme, and to lump one idea onto a one giant group of people is simply a display of borderline behavior. I hear people say things like, "if we were in one of their countries we wouldn't be able to build a church or a synagogue." But America is not one of "their countries". And again we turn everything into either black or white. Who are "they"? Perhaps we need to clearcut the media forest, which has fed Americans with an ideology of ignorance for some time now. Catch phrase mentality adopted from corporate dogma is dangerous when it comes to understanding nuances of culture and faith.

The American nation is supposed to welcome all races and religions, and one would hope that everyone's rights are protected. To view the Center as a slap in the face to victims families is a slap in the face to one of the fundamental values of the United States - Freedom from religious persecution. Can we not attempt to remove the "grouping" mentality. Is it a case that needs more generations to forget the connection between Islam and terrorism? As an American Jew with ancestry from Europe just 2 generations removed, do I walk around feeling horrified every time I see an image of Christianity - the religion that time and again has attempted to wipe out Judaism or persecute Jews, denying equal rights, murdering and stealing? Should I view every cross as a symbol of anti Semitism? Should every statue of Christ remind me of pogroms? Should I fear all Germans, Russians, Poles and nearly every other European Christian who had a go at oppression over the course of centuries?

Or have we grown out of that silliness as Christianity has matured so. Like the terrorists who murder abortion doctors. What? Only a few of those you say? Should we be wary of every church built near a planned parenthood clinic? Or Koran burning Pastors? Or do we downplay it and say that the pastor has a tiny congregation and is not representative of all Christians/Americans. He's an extremist who spreads hatred just the same, even if in the end he did show restraint. But when a few extreme Muslims attack (not attempting to downplay the horrific scale) we are quick to generalize and exclude. And let us not forget what good old GW Bush said - "god [Jesus] is on our side" as countless people have perished. We need to remember that there are generations of Muslim Americans who deserve as much respect and equality as the rest of us. It must be a horrible feeling to be treated like a foreigner in ones own country.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Elmo centrism - Why Sesamgade disappoints me.

It started gradually in the 70s when the little red baby monster was a nobody extra. Then from the mid 80s and on, with his cute squeeze-toy voice, Elmo rose to great power.

Journey to Ernie was a great side segment. There was Oscar reading to his pet worm, Slimy, Grover and his travels, the classic Count with his daily numbers, Cookie monster and cookies, which later on were replaced with healthy carrot sticks and celery and other stars of the Pyramid. Back in the day we enjoyed the homoerotic undertones of Ernie and Bert. We witnessed a rare and beautiful friendship between a wooly elephant and a giant, nasal bird. But most of all, Sesame Street was brilliant for it’s ethnic diversity, its colorful cast ranging from monster Muppets to empathic humans, pedagogic content and skillful story telling.

In the 90s when PBS went semi for profit, the Sesame Street stars like in any other franchise became greedy for the spotlight. Elmo began making appearances crossing over into primetime. He cornered the children’s market with tickle dolls and Elmo’s World adventure toys. Ernie was Ernie. Big Bird was Big Bird. But Elmo had his own world, which expanded over time. Elmo was Elmo and friends. Elmo became a free-floating entity with a special contract, an agent, own hair and makeup team, nutritionist and Kabbalah advisor.

But seriously, while Elmo became so controversial, pissing off old school S.Street fans (including myself), the show’s integrity for the most part remained in tact. Although Ernie and Bert were seen together far less (perhaps some right wing sponsors felt they were too close for the family values sect), the show still contained elements that were true to the Workshop’s vision. The puppets interacted with the world, the stories were fun and educational and the characters were colorful and funny. Social skills and motor skills were exercised with Sesame Street, and one always walked away feeling important, smarter and entertained.

Sesamgade aired on 18 October 2009. I understand that a children’s show must be tailored to the audience of any given land. I get that Sesame Street in Denmark would not have a real stoop and perhaps not the same emphasis on inner city life, but I expected more. I expected more education, more creativity, more inclusion, more worldliness and LESS ELMO! Elmo dominated the first 12 minutes of the 25 minute show, which included a few dubbed segments that seemed to be randomly picked. It was essentially Elmo’s World with familiar guests who appeared with a cheesy border and usually against patterned wallpaper backgrounds. They performed catchy tunes, but there wasn’t a single, well thought out number or sketch that could actually teach or inspire. It was more spoon-fed, zany entertainment rather than thought provoking fun.
The following episodes were not very different.

The set is an exterior view of a typical Copenhagen style building. The interior, apart from Elmo’s world, is a typically Danish apartment with a designer lamp, untreated hard wood floors and some Ikea furniture. Elmo is the host along with his sidekick human, Sine who is attractive in a recently impregnated kind of way. Not to say that she’s pregnant, but she has the glow and fleshy perkiness of someone who is around first trimester, which in my book is always sexy. But we’re not interested in sex appeal because it is a children’s show for god sakes!!! By the end of the debut episode, Sine was falling asleep. I think it was raining on the set and there was way too much hygge (Danish coziness [more or less]) for a Sunday morning in a country that for weeks has been covered with grey and rain.

All of that said, after the first screening my daughters were laughing and singing. Elmo managed a familiar Danish song in that irresistible-to-a-child voice and Ray Bolger-esque clumsy dance style that tickled their funny bones and made them cackle. For that I credit Sesamgade – a laugh is still a laugh.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Falling and falling

Actual rainbow shot 2 days ago. The post was written a month ago.

Ouch! I think I sprained my ankle. I was coming down a grated step from my daughter's school and my foot got caught forcing my ankle to twist. I could have gone with it, but I was holding my non-school-age daughter and I didn't want to drop her. Who says my parental instincts are not sharp??

It's officially autumn gray and rainy here. It's "hyggelight" up to a point. Up until everyday feels like a shadow with actual mass that is comfortably pinning me down. That's the cozy part, and if I were a bear I would be in heaven. I could surplus my fat and just sleep while collecting my checks from the wild. But I'm not a bear.

The upside to fall here is really when it doesn't rain. Makes a huge difference. I get everywhere via bicycle and I have to wear this ridiculous rain suit that makes me look like a member of the poison control society. The up-UP side is when the sun is bright. The light is intense and enriching casting the most amazing colors onto the walls inside.

I wonder if Sasquatch (is that also used for the plural?) hibernate.

Any thoughts on Autumn?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Being activated

No. It does not mean that my owner will turn on a switch wired to my back. It means that I am being activated into the work force of Denmark. It consists of classes, tips and some headhunting all aiming to improve my CV, my job search skills and my communication and interviewing skills.

Day 1 - total confusion. I have to make a list of skills consisting of on-the-job and technical skills and personal skills. The list must be comprised of sub-categories which fall into a few main categories. It is the Karate Kid approach to job hunting. I must first sand the floor before I can punch. My previous CV gets tied to my waist and I must go through rigorous training in order to break down the elements, separate them and bring them together in a broad overview only to dissect them over and over until I have an ultra awareness of myself and what I can do on paper.

There's just one problem. I find myself jotting things down that I haven't a clue about just to expand my breadth of skills. I wrote down "project management" and "organization" as skills. The last person you want managing your project is me. I can barely manage my own shit with my innovative filing system. I Keep everything I've ever had the privilege of receiving or creating all on one desk in an abstract pile that almost can swing from the ceiling. Perhaps if I approach the paper work in a Calderesque way and have a curved wire spanning my entire house I can have papers hanging with the ability to turn and slide. That way I can see everything at all times instead of calling for a search party for every little detail I need to examine.

Day 2 - laid back. Birthday breakfast for one of the users. I pray that there is no song to sing. As I tense up when we sit down I acquire the awkward feeling that I'm attending a birthday gathering of someone I dont' know. And I don't know anyone there. Rolls, cheese, jam and coffee. No birthday song. Thank god.

Woman sitting next to me in the computer room is eating yogurt and I can hear every detail of her mouth with an audible microscope. I need to escape.

Day 3 - Lesson on communication. The instructor neglects to introduce himself. We hold practice interviews with one another. Instructor calls on me and asks how people communicate in New York - do strangers say hi, make eye contact etc. A woman from the back of the room hears New York and blurts out, "So many JEWS in New York". I turn and say "excuse me?? What was that?". She gets a look at my nose. Doesn't say anything more.

I'm finally getting the big picture. I'm getting a hang of this job search process and realize how different it is from the American style of job hunting. That's entirely for another post.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Health records

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times about all four people running for executive positions in the upcoming election providing limited health reports. In Barack Obama's case a one page letter from his personal doctor was provided stating that he is in "excellent" condition, but has holes considering his history with smoking, mother's cancer and father's drinking problem. McCain's report was given in 1200 pages, but is obscure about where his condition will lead. Joe Biden provided a report regarding his 1988 aneurysms and the fact that he recovered completely, but info is still inconclusive. And Sarah Palin has not provided anything. None of the candidates' doctors have granted interviews.

Here's my take on all the secrecy:

Barack Obama:

Theory one: Obama is the savior so there's no need to pry further. He will remain in perfect health until the end of the world. He just doesn't want to cause a stir. A blood test made public would reveal his true identity.

Theory two: Obama comes from another planet. A blood test proving him to not be human would definitely cause a stir. If McCain supporters think he's a Muslim or an Arab and they have a problem with that then finding out he's an extraterrestrial would be a holiday for them.

Theory four: Obama is from Atlantis. Checking for webbed feet and gills would surely give the right wing conservatives a field day.

Joseph Biden

Theory one: His miraculous full recovery is due to being healed by Barack Obama.

Theory two: His dad always told him - "If someone knocks you down, GET UP". So from that day on he attained powers to "get up" under the most extreme health challenges. A conclusive blood test proving his super hero status would surely cause a stir.

Theory three: He grew up in Scranton. Irrelevant yet effective.

John McCain

Theory one: McCain has made a pact with the devil. He's been granted longevity despite his ailing appearance.

Theory two: He is Frankenstein's monster.

Theory three: Un-dead.

Sarah Palin

Theory one: Palin pulled a Bree Hodge with Trig after Bristol became preggers with her first child. Doctor's records might reveal this.

Theory two: Palin is an evil sea monster.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Loud keys and thundering epiphanies

So I'm at the doctor's office yesterday when I notice a thundering and repetitive sound behind me. It's the heavy fingered typing of the receptionist. She's banging against the keys in a slow and sporadic rhythm. Hunt and peck punctuated with anger. Perhaps she has magnets in her fingertips, which are drawn like anti-gravity boots to the old, metal keys.

I'm reading Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine and with each peck to the keys I wind myself back like a typewriter ribbon to the beginning of the paragraph I've started. And then it hits me - I'm sitting in a room with sick people waiting for an ear, nose and throat doctor when I realize this is the first day in a long time that I'm not sitting at my desk at home accomplishing absolutely nothing, thoughtlessly surfing the Internet and applying for countless jobs that I don't really want. I decide I'm going to do humanitarian work.

Yes. I want to devote my life, perhaps making less money than I might by wasting away in some corporate vacuum, to using whatever creative talent I have left to helping people in need.

Then - after leaving the doctor's office....after being ill, coughing and sneezing and run down for the past 3 weeks - I feel better! Might it have to do with the oat soup I've been ingesting? Who knows. I just know that now I know where to focus my energy and where not turn for merely assuaging a rusty, old, worn out work ethic. It's time to feel life.