Thursday, October 23, 2014


   If you were to stir together in some vile smelling cauldron the red-eyed terror of the northern goshawk, the ferocious backlash of the gray Russian lupine, and the single-minded hatred in the soul of the supreme bull shark, you might come within a wide fraction of approximating the conflux of ugly emotions boiling just beneath my heart yesterday afternoon, the stench from which I offer, rest assured, no apology whatsoever.
  I do not get around as much as I once did. On those occasions when I do poke my head out the door to engage some poor schleb in what passes these days for conversation, I often as not regret the decision. Still, now and then my mind harkens back to the days of my childhood, to the days when old people made a point of lying through their rotten green teeth to convince me that all men are good and angels get their wings and every Scrooge can be redeemed. I shake off that nonsense only to have those memories replaced with equal amounts of wino puke from the nihilistic influences of my twenties, back when I believed that just about any antisocial form of behavior had some merit and that life was garbage so let's all eat a big fistful. That was every bit as stupid as the Pollyanna posturing that naturally preceded it. 
   Wow. My stomach actually throbs from the anger I'm feeling right now as I recreate the repulsive experience I witnessed and played a small part of yesterday. I better skip ahead or I'll bleed an ulcer all over the keyboard and we'll never get the problem solved.
   Yesterday I accompanied a friend in a scheduled visit to a family physician. 
   That statement of fact may not sound like the type of event to warrant such a spewing of vitriol, but hang in there, people and children, because I'm about to scratch a nerve of familiarity right on the base of your spine.
   We walked inside the humble medical office, relieved to be out of the glare of the Phoenix afternoon sun, only to be greeted by the shrill wail of the opening theme cluster of that abomination that it pains me mightily to call "The Jerry Springer Show." The TV set blared the broadcast of insolence from atop a watercooler parked right next to the receptionist's desk, where it could do the most harm to the largest number. 
   This was my friend's first visit to this particular physician's office and quite foolishly I had recommended that we arrive early to fill out the reams of paperwork. The formalities in fact did await us on paper that appeared to have been created by a 1957 mimeograph prototype. My friend filled in the blanks as the studio audience watched a black chick announce to the crowd that she was a lesbian. The crowd bellowed their approval. I handed the receptionist the paperwork back on the clipboard while the lesbian shared with all concerned that her ex-girlfriend worked as a stripper. The crowd thought that was pretty fucking terrific. Jerry Springer suggested that maybe the world would like to meet the ex. The crowd chanted the host's name over and over. And that is when I went berserk.
   I turned to see that against one wall was a family of Mexican-Americans, their mouths a-drool over the prospects of what the television wrought. I marched over to the youngest of the bunch, kneeled down to about eye-level and said, "Is this the reason your people crawled through the goddamn Sonoran desert on their bellies, with aching throats and gritty eyes? To sit in this office and watch this fucking shit?!?" 
  The kid's father leaned forward, appearing somewhat alarmed. I pushed him back in his chair and carried on. "You should really be ashamed, pop! This is no way for the kids to learn the language. You think that knowing how to shout Jerree! Jerree! Jerree! is gonna help them get a good job? Holy Mother of Guadalupe, dude! This is their fucking lives, pal! And you sit here lapping up this disease like a cat licking milk off a porch step? Christ!"
   Sensing the possibility that what I actually needed to do was to assault the source, I turned back around and grabbed the TV set in both hands. And I shook it. I shook it hard. Nothing fell out. The Nazi chant of Jerree Jerree Jerree continued unabated. So I did what a man of my means would/could only do. I smashed that purveyor of pablum against the wall and laughed like a bit of a maniac as the shattered fragments fell to the floor in a kind of celestial slow motion, like snow flakes on your dead uncle's gravesite. I kicked the broken shards as the security guys arrived. I spat on the broken screen as my friend looked in fright as they carried me from the room. I swore I'd return as they rammed me head first through the door and dumped me into the parking lot.
   It is only sporting to admit at this point in the narrative that none of the things I described following the word "berserk" actually happened. Oh, I would have been filled with a beatific inner glow had things proceeded in such a classic Billy Jack manner (When confronted with about twenty white supremacists, Billy finds himself facing the leader of the town bullies and says, "You know what I'm going to do, just for the hell of it? I'm gonna take this right foot and whop you on this side of your head. And you know what? There's not gonna be a damned thing you're gonna be able to do about it." Quite clearly, this is how life is supposed to be lived and the fact that I have never really had what I consider to be my prime Billy Jack moment weighs heavy on my heart). What I did instead was to ask the receptionist if I could borrow the remote, all the better to turn down the volume. She told me she didn't know where it was. And like a fool I let that slide. I was confronted by a room full of all the imbecilic things I most resent and I backed down. God damn. I deserve the shame I feel. 
   I believe this is why some people die. They die because they forget there are no second chances. We do not get do-overs in life. I let a big one slip yesterday. I've wallowed in that shame and regret all day today. I have hammered into my head the admonition that I do not want to die and that the best way to fight against mortality is to free that part of oneself that bursts from inside your chest to announce to the rest of humanity words to the effect of "God damn you all to hell! MY life has meaning! My life has value! And I'm sick as fuck of you feeding me this horseshit when what I want is substance!"
   This kind of outrage does not excuse some twisted religious headjob who runs at cops with a hatchet. It does not permit impassioned hypocrites with airplanes to make wannabe martyrs of themselves at the expense of others. It does not make right the inexplicable pain of a young woman who steps off the top of a building into oblivion for no other purpose than to make the evening news. It does not excuse, or permit, or make right any of those things. It does, however, go a long way toward explaining them. 
   So when you and I sit around the box and the newscaster says that some wackadoo with an AR-15 blew away ten people and I say something poignant like "Probably half of them had it coming," please do not encourage that type of hermit talk. Just know that somewhere between my frustration and yours lies a keg filled with black powder with a short fuse attached. I don't know what's in that keg. Probably just smoke. But let's not find out, okay? Let's instead reinvent ourselves just a little bit more every day so that the world we inhabit does not need some deranged hero to kick ass and we can leave that kind of thing for the movies. Much better for society if we get our thrills vicariously. We wouldn't want to end up like that kid in the old rap song. "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge. I'm tryin' not to lose my head."

Sunday, October 19, 2014


   American use of the term "czar" to describe the point person on politico-social issues began on February 4, 1974. Rarely can we be so precise in tracing the etymology of a word coining. It was on that day that comic strip auteur Gary Trudeau referred to the appointment by Richard Nixon of William Simon as "Energy Czar." Let me make this perfectly clear. A cartoonist--and a damned funny one--birthed an expression that we still use to this day. The only difference between then and now is that many people today erroneously believe the word is of recent origin.
   The issue comes up, of course, because of the appointment of Ron Klain to the role of coordinator of the Obama Administration's efforts to control the infectious disease known as ebola. Perhaps you have heard of it. Klain's role will be to advise and serve as the central coordinating body, reporting to the President (rather than to Congress), who in turn, it is presumed, will be responsible to the people of the United States. It's simple crisis management. Every CEO needs an extra layer of bureaucracy between himself and the populace, even when that layer has no authority whatsoever. 
   But we in this country succeed like the winners we are when it comes to ignoring facts when a good scare is what we really want. Consider The Hill, a Washington-based journal of reaction:
Some presidents, including Barack Obama, have created czars without statutory authority backing those positions. The lack of statutory grounding means that czars exercise authority vested in other officials, which creates legal and extra-legal complications. Not to mention the absence of accountability czars have to Congress or the public because they are presidential creations and not confirmed by the Senate. Presidents have anointed czars as presidential “advisers”, thus attempting to shield these officials from testifying on the Hill, even while some of them have exercised substantial policy, spending, and regulatory powers.

   That's a point, I suppose. It's also a point that no U.S. voter elected any person who ever served in the Central Intelligence Agency (with the exception of George H.W. Bush) and yet that unelected organization did not resist the temptation to both create and implement executive strategy while we as an alleged electorate still turn out in strange droves to vote in more people who beyond all doubt will continue to do what American politicians have always done: either more or less than we should let them get away with. 
   But what about the charge that the czar (or czarina, one gathers) presents an extra layer of bureaucracy? Is that a bad thing? 
   Some level of what we call bureaucracy is essential to the functioning of any social organization comprised of three or more people. The decisive factor turns on whether the bureaucracy serves the consumers of the services or whether it serves to insulate and protect the person above the bureaucracy from the people beneath it. Let's look at a common example of a simple bureaucracy. A man loses his credit card and wishes to prevent unauthorized charges from taking place. He locates the telephone number of the card issuer. He enters a telephonic contingency maze. He is immediately met with the information that the bureaucracy has changed recently and to please listen carefully, as the call may be recorded. If the man prefers to communicate in English, he must press 1. Once this is accomplished, he hears that if he wishes to activate his missing credit card, he should press 1 again. This does not apply to him, so he continues to listen. If his card has been stolen, he is to press 2. This alert concerns him because, while the card is definitely out of his possession, he has no reason to believe someone stole it. His finger hovers over the 2 button, but his indecision allows the next message to play. If his card has been lost or destroyed, he should press 3. Sighing in relief that he exercised proper patience, he presses 3. After an ominous delay, a similar electronic voice demands that in the event that his card was destroyed, please press 1. If his card was lost, he should press 2. He presses 2. If he knows his card number, the recording advises, press 1. If he does not know his card number, he must press 2. Having committed the number to memory, along with other strange minutiae, he presses 1 and is then prompted to enter the card number followed by the pound sign. If he does not know what a pound sign is, he should press the hashtag key. If he does not know what that is, he must press the little tic tac toe button. Recognizing the sarcasm of the recording, he presses the appropriate button and receives the information that his card has been invalidated and that a new card with a new number will arrive in his mailbox with two weeks. He is further admonished to hang up because the bureaucracy has completed its task and to please have a very nice day.
   However impersonable this approach may feel, one must admit it is efficient for both the consumer and the credit card organization. That is because both parties stayed with the script. No one ad libbed and no one required something that the other party was unprepared to produce.
    Now let us consider a bureaucratic encounter where someone makes the decision to deviate from the script. It should be noted from the outset that this deviation may be reasonable or unreasonable, the value judgment typically being the purview of the people protected by the bureaucracy.
   I was standing in line at a Wells Fargo bank. I had business that I wished to transact with a teller. Any teller would do, I reckoned, and so I went in the general line. This felt appropriate since the different tellers did not appear to have their own independent lines of access. When my turn came, I approached a teller who sat placidly behind a sign that said BRENDA. I greeted her with a smile and said that I wished to cash a check drawn on the Wells Fargo bank. I had already made one mistake, as you no doubt realize. The account on which the funds were to be drawn belonged to the account holder. Wells Fargo was simply the bureaucratic layer between me and that man's money.
   BRENDA looked at the check with the level of interest a biology teacher brings to doing the ten thousandth autopsy on the ten thousandth dead frog for the ten thousandth time. "You have an account with Wells Fargo."
   While the words BRENDA spoke did not quite properly form a question, as you will no doubt observe by the punctuation indicator, I was familiar with this particular bureaucracy and in fact had been expecting it. I informed her that I was not. No, definitely not. Not indeed. Not at all. Never had been. Never would be. No, ma'am. Not I. Not me. Not this man. Heck no.
   BRENDA then said that she would appreciate it if I would show her two forms of photographic identification. Actually, what she said was, "I'll need two picture IDs, sir." I do not suppose that the reader will need me to mention that BRENDA leaned heavily on that last word, almost as if she were grinding it into the center of a deserted highway in an attempt to inflict agony onto the ancient concrete.
    I presented BRENDA with my valid driver's license. 
   She glanced at my license. Tossing it on top of the check I had also presented her, she responded that she need two picture IDs. 
   I admitted I had only the one. Were there any exceptions to the Two-Picture rule?
   There were, she admitted, moving into the contingency portion of her mental script. If I were a Wells Fargo account holder myself, for instance, then I could cash this very same check by presenting more than zero and less than two photographic identifications. 
   Oh! I said with naive optimism. And how many photo ID's would be required of me to secure the honor of becoming a Wells Fargo account holder? 
  Just one photo and one other form of ID, she replied, the latter not needing to have my pretty picture on it. 
   I explained that if one photo ID was good enough to get an account which would only require one photo ID to cash a check, we could skip the step of opening an account for me and move directly into the process of cashing the check. I further explained that since my own identification was clearly not the true issue at play, it might be assumed that the friendly Wells Fargo people were trying to coerce account "membership" by making the process of cashing a check arduous unless such a bonding had been formed. 
   She was not persuaded. I told her I wanted to speak to her manager. She invited me to have a seat while the manager was located. I told her I was going to stay right where I was so as to coerce the haste of the bank manager coming to my assistance. "Are you refusing to move? asked BRENDA.
   "I am refusing to move," I said.
   The manager came. She cashed the check. I mucked with the bureaucracy and lived to fight another day. 
    If the customer can therefore be successful when he or she improvises against the betterment of the bureaucracy, what happens, then, when the bureaucracy deviates from the script? 
   The actual result is often what you and I mean when we speak of "customer service." Here is a common example from everyday life. A woman walks into a Wal-Mart carrying a vacuum cleaner that she purchased there. The machine works just fine, as far as she knows. Her issue is that the same day she bought this very vacuum, her girlfriend bought one too and they only need the one. The women flipped a coin and our customer lost. She walks into the store pushing the machine. The "greeter" does not see her. Had the greeter observed her, he would likely have asked to see the woman's receipt, upon which he would have marked some written coding. This did not happen. This particular woman did not save her receipt anyway, so it doesn't actually matter. She waits in line at the area of the store called CUSTOMER SERVICE, a sign that implies this is the only place in the block store that provides the stuff. The clerk calls the woman and she wheels the vacuum over to the desk. "No receipt? You don't have no receipt? Oh, I don't think we can help you without a receipt. Edna, can we help this woman? She got no receipt? Huh? No? No, I'm sorry, lady, but you got no receipt so we cannot help you today. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
   Another employee steps out of the restroom just in time to recognize the customer. The restroom person works as a cashier and is was she who rang up the purchase. The customer also recognizes the cashier and without a word being exchanged between the two, the cashier whispers something to the customer service person. The service individual smiles as the cashier walks around the desk and wheels the vacuum back behind the counter. The service person rings up some numbers, opens the cash drawer and counts out the money to the customer. Yay! Satisfaction is mine, sayeth the Lord!
   It is tempting to believe that there used to be a time in this country when customer service of this sort was widespread. That belief is mostly the result of selective nostalgia. We have always required a number of deviants in our social organizations, deviants who have retained in their memories and who display in their practices that they recall the stated purpose of the bureaucracy: to provide efficient service. Sometimes we call these people whistleblowers. Sometimes we say they are gadflies. I always consider them as the only thinking people in the organization. That guy with the funny haircut leaning against the wall paging through a comic book. That girl with the strange tattoo, eyeglasses and a ponytail. That old man with the illegal smile. That crazy lady talking to herself on aisle seven. Our future, I hope, lies with those weirdos rather than with the automatons, the conformists and the nihilists. 


Tuesday, October 14, 2014


   The most interesting conversations sometimes wind their way across the tropes of human consciousness, landing at last--if ever--far from where the conversants might have earlier anticipated. 
   As those of you who write for a living recognize for yourselves, making a decent livelihood in this business does not happen for everyone who works at it. Some of you will go for a long time, batting the literary ball out of the stadium at every swing, only to find that the great cosmic umpire drags out his hideous blue pencil and undermines the project you approached with more confidence than all the others--and usually just at the precise moment when you could least endure the rejection. Yet you quite properly take solace in your successes. Some of you will no doubt wonder what it feels like to receive a royalty check, or an advance against future royalties. (Answer: It feels fantastic.) But I'd bet that most of the writers reading this will land somewhere in between, batting (to continue the metaphor, what with World Series fever in the air) approximately .333 in a good season. As a result of this Louisville Slugger Median, you may find it necessary, or at least helpful, to secure simultaneous employment in a capacity other than your preferred and chosen field as Scribe to the Great and Gloriously Unwashed Masses. 
   It is in that latter condition that I may like as not be reached most days. By most days I mean a day such as today. This very day in which we labor, friends and neighbor. (I hope you'll pardon that unfortunate rhyme. It was more or less accidental, although not without purpose. You see, I was making a sales call this afternoon when I found myself speaking in rhyme, inadvertently wowing the potential client, himself something of a salesperson, indeed, a far better one than am I.)
   Wait, wait, wait. Did I just let loose with a parenthetical admission to being in sales? 
   I did. Granted, that is not a complete job description. To salvage what is left of my diminishing hubris, I should share with you that my partner  (the long suffering roommate, Lisa Ann) and I make websites. The damned things won't jump up and sell themselves, now will they? Most assuredly not. So we have to beat the bushes and grab the tiger tails, shake, shimmy, do the pony like bony maronie and roll on our back 'cause we like it like that, just to get people to shut up long enough to pretend to consider listening to all the millions of reasons why he or she or they should do us the honor of allowing us to build him, her or them a website. 
   In any event, I was speaking to a very rapt listener, a polite and conscientious fellow named Paul. At the outset, he inquired after my health and general condition, to which I replied (as I so often do), "Sitting on a rainbow." The reason I use this response with such regularity is that (a) I have come to think of it as my own personal little conversational monogram, and (b) the sad truth is often far from what one might expect from someone saying "sitting on a rainbow," and so my secret hope is that people will intuit the irony and do me a favor by cheering me up. I am routinely disappointed in the reaction. And yet--
   This man Paul admitted that he could not recall receiving that response any time recently. I reminded him of the old Frank Sinatra song from which that line had come and he laughed as did I and the conversation was off and trotting. Within a very few minutes, I became self-conscious of the fact that I was answering all his many questions as if I were composing verse on the spot. Of course, now that I mention this, I can't remember even a solitary example to prove the point, but why would I make it up? Please just take my word, thunderbird, that the rhymes I uttered were bread and buttered far superior to the ones contained within this refrain. 
   As a result of my sudden lapse into rhythm and rhyme, Paul grew ever more intrigued and invited me to send him an invoice, one which he may respond to favorably at his leisure. This is an individual from whom I did not expect so much as the courtesy of name recognition. Yet, to be fair to him, he recognized my phone number or has saved it by my name. Either way, my previous contacts with him apparently failed to alienate him. To be even more fair, I found Paul to be quite the charming fellow and told him as much. This sort of candor and gushing is, I guarantee you, not my typical approach. But something about him brought out a cleverness in me. I feel confident that this is what people mean when they talk about inspiration. 
   Much later in the day, I encountered from within myself a far different and more unsavory type of inspiration. I will try to be kind on my description of the behavior of the pusillanimous pederast whose guile and treachery were matched only by the crookedness of her wretched soul. This fiend, whose name I will not speak, called my number and when I answered "Thank you for calling ROI, this is Phil, how may I help you," snarled into the phone (like the prehistoric reptilian gila monster that she spiritually resembles) with the tongue-twitching hiss, "Who is this?"
   I smiled and repeated my greeting. She inhaled through her mouth (a crevice which I suspect is framed by dental stalactites and stalagmites aplenty) and hissed, "What is this charge doing on my credit card?!?"
    The shrill shrew had forgotten ordering the website, had indeed forgotten that we had completed the website in record time and received high praise from her thirty days earlier, just as she had forgotten that we had taken pity on her abominable soul and had allowed her to make payment arrangements with us so that she could benefit from having a website which she--at the outset, at least--had not yet made complete compensation for, if you'll pardon my ending a clause with a preposition. She had forgotten many things in this interim, civility and propriety among those items and her unabashed shamelessness in the magnitude of her harsh and rude behavior took me somewhat aback. I stammered for a moment and handed the phone to Lisa Ann.
   One does well to watch the P's, Q's and other elements of style when dealing with Lisa Ann. But this rancid pterodactyl (capable of changing genus as well as species in a single paragraph) on our phone was not to be consoled. She breathed a fiery hatred with every frigid heartbeat and soon Lisa simply looked at me with a look that said, "Will you please bring me a glass of apple cider so that I may drown this wench in something bitter?" 
    I grabbed the phone, listened to this amoeba-brained degenerate (still changing lifeforms with each instant) and at last shouted, "Look, chicken head! The last psycho who threatened me woke up with his ankles welded together, so watch your mouth, toots!" 
   I ended up giving back half her money. 
   But I was and remain moderately pleased with my exhortation, just as I am self-satisfied with my earlier and much more humane conversation with that Paul fellow. Both were the result of what I call inspiration--this emotional spike of lightning that shoots through you, leaving you, at least for a little while, smarter and more clever than when you began.
    The final round of this kind of inspiration happened just a few minutes after my encounter with the aforementioned seven-headed triple uvula'd toad woman. I was just walking out of the convenience store with a soda and some hyper-processed snacks, when a guy about my own age smiled a painful and tired smile at me and asked if I could help him out. Coming right on the heels of the previous quarrel, my emotional wiring was not predisposed to be receptive to panhandling. Yet there was something in that man's eyes--something I probably imagined, but even a mirage is based on some interpretation of reality--that cut through all the layers of scales and hatred I'd amassed over the lifetime/two hours/whatever and I found myself asking this man to talk to me about himself. He may have thought I was nuts and he may have been correct. Doesn't matter. We stood there outside that store, sharing stupid experiences and laughing--not some kind of calculated emotional maneuvering but a very genuine and magical kind of truth--while people passed us as if we were invisible. He hugged me somewhat gently. I gave him a bit a financial assistance. I got in the vehicle and he waved as I drove off. 
   Inspiration lies face up on the plate in front of us. It suffers no garnish. It recoils at the suggestion. Here's hoping your version of inspiration tastes every bit as good.

Monday, October 6, 2014


In January 1970 the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.9%. In September 2014, it was 5.9%.

One hundred dollars in 1970 had the buying power of $603 in 2014.

In October 1976, a gallon of unleaded gasoline sold for .63 per gallon. A guy came out and pumped it for you. In October 2014, that same gallon cost 3.48. Self service rules.

In 1976 the nonfarm federal minimum wage was $2.20. Today the federal minimum wage is $7.25.

In 1970, 203 million people called the United States home. In 2014, the number was 310 million.

The 1969 Pontiac Firebird Transam cost $4,300. Today Pontiacs are not manufactured at all. 

The average height for a man in 1960 was five feet eight inches. Today that same man is five foot nine. For that extra inch of tallness, today's average man weighs 27 pounds more than he did in 1960. 

The percentage of the U.S. population in 1970 who could boast of having earned a Bachelor's Degree was ten percent. In 2014, the percentage was closer to twenty percent.

More than forty percent of all Americans read neither a book of fiction nor nonfiction in the last twelve months.

In 2014 there are 32 NFL franchise teams. After the merger of the AFL and NFL in 1970, there were 26 teams. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014


   The easiest course of action is to reject all religion. Being as that is the easiest path, I have chosen to take a different tact. Just as I used to loathe the arrogance of fundamentalist Christians who claimed everyone who exhibited tendencies they themselves were repressing (homosexuality, free love, a desire for a liberal arts education, etc) were bound to go to hell, so have I evolved to the point where cocky atheists such as Ron Reagan and Bill Maher irritate me to madness. "God is just Santa Claus for grown-ups," asserted someone, smug in his imbecility. How quaint. How glib. Oh, to be a cocksure asswipe now that Autumn has arrived. 
   Granted, the more fundamentalist of religious practitioners make rejection of God a tempting worldview. But just as it is stupid to assume that the Timothy McVeighs of the world represent the true nature of Christianity, so is it bewildering for others to conclude that the Islamic State of Levant represents the purist form of Islam. In the world I claim my part of, intolerance of any sort is the real enemy. 
   I like to select my own personal religious persuasion based on the merits. I'll pick Judaism. I've always felt persecuted by the rest of society and no other group has experienced such a lingering hatred as have the Jews. Therefore, if I'm going to embrace any particular religion, that'll be the one for me.
   Judaism traces its heritage to the covenant God made with Abraham and his lineage — that God would make them a sacred people and give them a holy land. The primary figures of Israelite culture include the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophet Moses, who received God's law at Mt. Sinai. Judaism is a tradition grounded in the religious, ethical, and social laws as they are articulated in the Torah — the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
  In 63 B. C., the Romans conquered Jerusalem, center of the Jewish homeland. First, the Romans persecuted Christians, charging them with being heretics.The Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion freely, but such tolerance did not last. The Romans ordered the Jews to worship Roman gods. Jews resisted, but division among Jews followed, one side insisting on orthodoxy, the other side (including Jesus) arguing that Jews must be willing to adapt. After the death of Christ, his followers renounced Judaism and established Christianity. You can thank me for the history lesson later.

 Having been expelled from Palestine in 72 A.D., the Jews settled in North Africa, Spain, and eastern and western Europe. For the Jewish people, life outside of Palestine was called the Diaspora. At the start of each Jewish New Year, Jews in the Diaspora would toast one another and promise, "Next year in Jerusalem." But by the fourth century, Constantine the Great declare Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Soon enough, the Christians began persecuting the Jews, referring to them as "Christ killers," based on the idea that it had been the Jews who had demanded that Pilate proceed with the execution. St. Augustine declared Jews to be the descendants of Cain. In the twelfth century, a blood libel began due to the erroneous belief that a Jew had murdered a Christian to use his blood to make matzo balls. In the fourteenth century, the Jews took the heat for the bubonic plague. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther, leader of the Protestant Reformation, demanded that Jewish synagogues be set on fire. 
   While the Nazis certainly did not launch anti-semitism, they were the most accomplished at institutionalizing its brutality and barbarism. 
   It used to drive me crazy when my supposedly enlightened parents would make a remark about "jewing somebody down" on the price paid for an item. I doubt either of them had met a Jewish person until they were approaching their eighties.
   When we look at the inhumane acts committed by adherents of different religions, the Christians and the Muslims have it all over the Jews.

  • On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page used a semiautomatic weapon to murder six people during an attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Page’s connection to the white supremacist movement was well-documented: he had been a member of the neo-Nazi rock bands End Empathy and Definite Hate.
  • On July 27, 2008, Christian Right sympathizer Jim David Adkisson walked into the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee during a children’s play and began shooting people at random. Two were killed, while seven others were injured but survived. Adkisson said he was motivated by a hatred of liberals, Democrats and gays, and he considered neocon Bernard Goldberg’s book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, his political manifesto.
  • One Christian Right terrorist with ties to the Army of God was Paul Jennings Hill, who was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 3, 2003 for the murders of abortion doctor John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett. Hill shot both of them in cold blood and expressed no remorse whatsoever; he insisted he was doing’s God’s work and has been exalted as a martyr by the Army of God.
  • February 26, 1993, six people died in the World Trade Center bombing.
  • December 24, 1994, The Armed Islamic Group of Algiers hijacked an Air France plane. Seven people died.
  • More than 3,000 died on September 11, 2001. You might have read about this.
   I'm not suggesting that acts of terrorism by Jews have never happened. They certainly have. But if one is to compare the scope of idiotic attacks on settlers on the West Bank against the Holocaust, I have to tell you the Jews come out looking pretty good.
   So before you rush out to buy tickets to the next Bill Maher festival, you might want to consider the possibility that you cannot judge a religion by its adherents. I certainly wouldn't want people to judge my agnosticism based on the snide comments of certain stand-up comedians.