By the Skin of our Teeth

By the Skin of our Teeth rather than the Skin of our Flesh
Tazria-Metzora: Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33


Howard Adelman

2. When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it become in the skin of his flesh the plague of leprosy, then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests.
3. And the priest shall look upon the plague in the skin of the flesh; and if the hair in the plague be turned white, and the appearance of the plague be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is the plague of leprosy; and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.

The skin of our flesh refers to the horrors we suffer from natural disasters, like the disease of leprosy, or man-made disasters, such as the war in Syria where the Assad regime (or Russia) yesterday bombed a children’s hospital, Al Quds, supported by Doctors Without Borders in Aleppo. Dozens of children, their visiting relatives and the hospital medical staff, including the only pediatrician left in that tragic city, Dr. Muhammad Waseem Maaz, were killed. Yesterday evening on “As It Happens” on CBC, we listened to the most moving interview that I have ever heard Carol Off conduct on the program. Dr, Abdul Aziz, a surgeon who had just returned from abroad to help in the recovery program that the cease-fire was supposed to anticipate (he had helped found the hospital) bewailed the death of his close friend as well as other associates and medical staff in addition to the patients and family killed in the inhumane attack. ‘Where is the humanitarian intervention?” he seemed to cry out. “We lost one of the best hearts in this world. He always smiled. We asked him, ‘Please just take a rest.’ He said no. He’s now 36. He’s unmarried. He said, ‘How can I marry? I would be too busy for my family. I would not be able to work for those babies who are crying every day.” In the bombing, that brave and dedicated pediatrician was killed.

Where are we? Where indeed! Where is the Responsibility for Intervention? Donald Trump is not the first in the U.S. or the West to base foreign policy on America or One’s Own Country first. After George Bush made such a mess of the American intervention in Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and after too few souls spoke out against the war including both Barack Obama and Donald Trump. But whereas Donald Trump did so based on my country first, Obama did so out of realistic caution about the potential consequences of presuming to be the policeman of the world. Justin Trudeau too has retreated from a vigorous interpretation of the Responsibility to Protect.

But, in this partial or, as in Trump’s case, total retreat from our humanitarian responsibilities, in part because the Responsibility to Protect expressed both naïve idealism and a totally unrealistic appreciation of the difficulties of engaging in a humanitarian foreign policy, we allow tyrants to destroy innocent civilians at will.

It is a disgrace! What did Dr. Aziz’s pediatrician colleague do, what did the innocent children in that Aleppo hospital do, to deserve such a horrendous fate?
We have not retreated altogether. Some of us do our bit in helping the casualties, the refugees, who have escaped that horrid war. Last evening, we listened to a replay of an interview by Mary Hynes on CBC’s “Tapestry” with Rabbi Tina Greenberg who was herself a refugee from the USSR thirty years earlier. Her congregation, Darchei Noam in Toronto, led in good part by Naomi Alboim, was inspired by their own commitments and the significance of their rabbi’s own story to ‘pay it back.’ The congregation had just welcomed the Syrian family they had sponsored.

But many, indeed most, are not so lucky. On CBC’s “As It Happens,” we listened to an interview with another Aziz, not the Syrian surgeon, Dr. Abdul Aziz, but another Abdul Aziz, a Sudanese “refugee” who has been held for three years as a virtual prisoner inside a Manus Island detention camp financed (along with bribes to government officials) by the Australian government that has turned its back completely on the plight of refugees and transported Aziz and others like him from Christmas Island to Manus. Other refugee claimants had been sent to the tiny island country of Nauru. However, the Papua Supreme Court had ruled that detention in this case was illegal. Australia refused to take the refugees. The IMO offered to transport them back to the country from which they originally fled. Papua New Guinea will be left with most of them as they apply for refugee status. The detention camp will be closed, not so much because of the ruling of the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court, but because Australia declared victory, for the arrival of more irregular arrivals had successfully been deterred by the harsh Australian policy.

But I do not want to write about the afflictions of the flesh produced by man-made disasters, and certainly not those brought about by nature, but rather about the escape from such disasters by the “skin of our teeth” rather than at the cost of our flesh. Job 19:20 reads: “My bone cleaves to my skin, and I escaped by the skin of my teeth.” (my italics) But our teeth do not have skin. What is the real meaning of the expression? It stands in such strong opposition to the horrific depictions of
“the skin of our flesh.”

Thornton Wilder wrote a play that used that expression as its title. Starring such names as Tallulah Bankhead, Montgomery Clift, Frederic March and Florence Eldridge, it won a Pulitzer Prize. Directed by the famous Elia Kazan, it was produced on Broadway in the year America entered WWII, and reproduced on the stage by many an amateur group ever since (the way I first saw it). The play is a satire of human folly and the inability of humans to escape one catastrophe after another. We never seem to learn.

In the drama, Henry Antrobus (originally called Cain) is the son of George. The hilarious musical begins with George (Adam) sending his wife Maggie, whom he refers to as Eve, a singing telegram, “Happy w’dding ann’vers’ry dear Eva.” Maggie (Eve) responds, “The earth’s getting so silly no wonder the sun turns cold.” And when the earth grows cold, when the human heart freezes up, we escape to the silly side of it all. For the tragic repetitive course of the cycle of human agony is just too hard to take. So instead of writing about and thinking about the horrors suffered by the skin of our flesh, we can read and write about the series of escapes we make by “the skin of our teeth.”

An old friend from the Operation Lifeline days in the eighties (he was a leader in the Operation Lifeline efforts in Vancouver dedicated to helping the Indochinese refugees), wrote and just published a hilarious account of the scrapes and narrow escapes he and his wife Sally experienced. They had retreated from the hurly burly of life in Vancouver. In Off the Grid (just nominated for a Stephen Leacock Award for Humour with the full title, Our Life Off the Grid: An Urban Couple Goes Feral), David describes one hilarious (and harrowing) story after another about his and Sally’s efforts to build a homestead from scratch with their own labour on the remote (and largely inhospitable) Read Island. So comedy as well as suffering can also take place on islands, even when the experiences seem to be horrific and the “heroes” of the story escape “by the skin of their teeth.”

I am not a comic writer. Horror, “the skin of our flesh,” tends to mesmerize me. But this trip has not been without its tragic-comic moments. Assuming we encounter no new ones, like Thornton Wilder’s play, our near-catastrophes also had three acts. It began when we left Vancouver Island by ferry. We departed from Nanaimo rather than the ferry from Sydney on the Saanich peninsula just north of Victoria. Our primary reason was that Nanaimo was far more accessible from Cowichan Bay than the long u-shaped trip we would have to make to catch the ferry in Sydney.

There should have been a second reason we realized after we completed the crossing. When you leave from Sydney, you land at the ugly port of Tsawwassen and then have to travel through the even uglier Vancouver suburbs of Delta and Surrey to get to the Trans-Canada Highway. When you leave from Nanaimo, the trip is ten minutes shorter and you arrive in Horseshoe Bay with direct access to the Trans-Canada Highway which ends its mainland continental crossing there. Even more importantly, you travel without a single traffic light through the beautifully exquisite North Vancouver. You thus begin your trip across Canada back home to Toronto inspired and invigorated by the beauty of British Columbia.

But it almost did not start that way. When we drive – or when I rest and sleep while my wife drives – it is much safer that way; I am responsible for navigating and making all the logistic arrangements. We arrived in plenty of time to get on the ferry. I am a very good planner if I say so myself. We parked the car tightly behind the car in front and went up on the elevator to the passenger deck to enjoy the views and the trip across to the mainland. When the announcement came over the loudspeaker to go to our cars to prepare to disembark, I suddenly recalled that I did not take note of the deck on which we had parked as we prepared to leave the passenger deck. And I wondered if there was more than one deck. Suddenly in the aisle, headed towards the stairs down to the car decks, appeared the three boys who boarded (or were they already on?) the elevator when we came up to the passenger deck.

In a panic, I asked them what deck we parked the car on. One replied with a bit of hesitation – I thought because he had been taken by surprise by my interruption, but he may just have been embarrassed by the stupidity of an elder who was so foolish as to not take note of the deck on which he had parked. “Deck Two,” he said in a sure voice. Relieved, we gathered our things and headed down to Deck Two.

What did we find? RVs. trucks. Even a bus. No cars. We ran to the other of the deck, though we were sure we had parked on that side. No luck. We raced up to Deck Three. There were lots of cars as they began to drive off. We clicked our key uselessly. There were no lights flashing that we could see. We asked a worker on the ship whom we finally found and asked where our car could be. I remember striped poles that we parked next to on the deck where we stopped. The deckhand said with bemusement, “Deck Four.” We raced up another deck looking for our car. To our relief, there sat our car – alone, well not quite alone since there was a frustrated driver sitting in a car behind ours. With huge embarrassment as my nightmarish imaginings dissipated about cars boarding the ferry to go the other way trapped us, and with my “tail between my legs,” too ashamed to look the other driver in the eye, we drove off the ferry and escaped “by the skin of our teeth.”

If it had not been the only escape! When we arrived in Osoyoos and, after we had looked at the map outside the Information Centre (it was already past the time when they were open), we opted to drive the 12 or so km up to The Burrowing Owl Estate Winery where they had both accommodation and a very well-reviewed restaurant. When we arrived and finally found the clerk in the restaurant rather than at the desk. She apologized and said that they were all full. This was late April, the off-off season for wineries. And they were full! So we asked if she knew of another spot nearby. She kindly phoned over to another guest house of a winery nearby and, seemingly luckily, they had one room from a no-show. So we went back to the car to drive over.

My wife had been wearing sun glasses. She looked for her regular glasses as sun glasses were no longer appropriate as the sun was going down. I searched the floor of the passenger side. We could not find them. She searched her side of the car, through all her purses. No glasses. They were an expensive pair and her only non-sun long distance glasses. We thought she might have left them when we were looking over the menu. We went back to the restaurant. No glasses. We phoned the other winery to cancel our tentative booking. We hypothesized two possibilities. She had put them on her lap and the glasses had fallen to the ground when she got out to look at the map at the Information Centre. The other time was about 75 km back when we had stopped to fill the car with gas and she had left the car to take advantage of the washroom.

We drove back to Osoyoos. We returned to the Information Centre and drove up to the map. There was scruffy man there with a dog. We looked all around. No glasses. We asked the man. He had not seen anything. Resigned, we decided we would have to drive back the 75 km. But I have an intelligent wife. She asked for my gas receipt. We got the name of the place where we had stopped for gas and she looked up the telephone number on her phone and called the gas station. The clerk was asked to check the washroom under the suspicion that they had been set down and inadvertently forgotten. The clerk kindly agreed to check and even more kindly came back on the phone and, with even greater compassion, expressed her regret that the glasses had not been found.

She was thanked and we hung up in despair. But with N’s usual persistence, she phoned back. Would the clerk mind going out to look around the gas pumps and check if the glasses had fallen to the ground. She was very obliging. She went out to search. She returned after a few minutes and even more regretfully and with even more empathy in her voice expressed her deep sorrow that the glasses had not been found.

In despair, we began to search in the car again. There at my feet, behind my briefcase where I has presumably already looked several times and so thoroughly earlier, there were the glasses. They had slipped down from the centre console. N was too relieved to bother pointing out my repeated practice of often never being able to see something that was right in front of my eyes. My problem is that I spend my life with my eyes peering inward at my thoughts. And I often miss the world as it passes by. But this time we escaped by the skin of our teeth.

The third experience yesterday and the day before was far more harrowing. On this trip we had not made reservations in advance at hotels or motels because we were not sure how much time we would spend on byways and tasting wines and exploring the environment. On Tuesday, we had stayed over at Regina rather than Moose Jaw and were proud we had covered such a distance. Wednesday morning, we headed for Winnipeg with hopes of getting all the way to Kenora. Proud of ourselves, we got two hours past Winnipeg to Kenora. I had a list of hotels prioritized in accordance with our set order of concerns. We arrived at the first, only to be told that the motel was full. We tried a second on the list. At the third attempt, we were told every single space in Kenora was taken. There was not a single room available in the whole city. No one could explain why, at the end of April, all motel rooms would be full. We were advised to drive on to Dryden.

We arrived in Dryden and again went to the first hotel on our preference list. Full! Not only full, but the clerk told us in deep sorrow that she had to turn away drivers with little children. She offered to let us stay in the lounge where there was plenty of coffee and drinks. It was after ten in the evening. The clerk explained that 700 workers were booked into hotels and motels and B&Bs from Kenora to Ignace as the mill was being refitted within a two week shut down. There was no chance of finding a room. We would have to go on to Thunder Bay about 4-5 hours away.

Again, with my tail between my legs, I returned to the car with the terrible news and the explanation for why there were no rooms. N asked if we should fill up the gas tank. It was down one-eighth. I assured her that it would be unnecessary as in that long distance we would be sure to find at least one gas station open. With stoical reserve, my wife set out to drive through to half – more than half the night – to Thunder Bay. By Ignace, we began to really worry. We had not seen a single gas station open. We saw two police cars parked side by side at a gas station. We asked if there was any way could use our credit card to get gas from a closed gas station. They said no, but told us there was a gas station 1.5 kilometers further. It was the only gas station open until we reached Thunder Bay and we did not have enough gas to reach Thunder Bay.

To our enormous relief, the gas station was indeed open as promised. The French-Canadian proprietor even agreed to see if she could phone around and find a room. She was unsuccessful;. We filled up and drove on, following an excellent driver who minimized the trying experience of driving in the dark on a two-lane highway with trucks with very bright lights approaching the other way. She kept her eyes on the rear red lights and followed.

At one point, the driver in front turned into a rare but darkened motel parking lot. There was no flashing sign stating, “No Vacancy.” However, it was obvious that there was no one around and the number of cars parked indicated that that the motel was full. It was about 1:30 in the morning. It turned out that the driver was heading back to southern Ontario as well. He had picked his daughter up in Victoria and was driving her home to Hanover. He too had left Saskatchewan that very morning. We resumed driving and followed him all the way to Thunder Bay right into the lot of a Best Western.

He went through the door and I followed. It was 4:00 a.m. No vacancies. There was likely no vacancy in the whole of Thunder Bay. The miner’s meeting was in town. So was a sports event and a large First Nations meeting. And the Premier of our province was in town. This pessimistic information was reaffirmed at the second motel. At the third where we both stopped, the lady behind the desk said that she had one room left (a no-show), but our lead driver could not have it because he needed a room that would take the ten pound dog of his daughter. The room remaining was a no-pet room. I was offered the remaining room.

I said that he had priority and suggested that he leave the dog in the car. He replied that his daughter would rather sleep in the car than let her pet sleep there alone. He was resigned to just driving all the way to Sault Ste Marie, another seven hours. I asked the desk clerk whether an exception could be made. Kindly, she decided to make an exception. Not only that, but she had found a business room which she could offer to me at the lower rate where we could stay. There was no other choice in any case. At 4:30 in the morning we literally crawled into bed.
Sometimes departures can be tragic. At other times, tragically comic. In a second act, we are sometimes Eyeless in Gaza. At other times we just misplace glasses and cannot see what is in front of our eyes. In the third act, there can be no room in a motel, or, really tragically, no space where we can feel and be secure in the whole world.

By the skin of our teeth! But far better than by the skin of our flesh. We are leaving Sault Ste. Marie and will be home before shabat.


Passage from British Columbia to Regina

Passage from British Columbia to Regina, Saskatchewan


Howard Adelman.

Last evening, we arrived in Regina in time to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who was in town for a meeting dealing with First Nations issues. Of course, we did not meet him. We did not have time. We had to rush to our motel room to turn on CNN and watch the results pour in on Super Tuesday in the U.S.

It was too late. All the results were in. Hillary Clinton had swept all but the smallest state, Rhode Island, and most by significant margins. Donald Trump swept all five of the Republican primaries and by even more significant margins over two rivals. They had finally presumably ganged up against him. But not really! They each agreed – or their campaign chairs did – not to campaign any further in certain states – remarkably in precisely those states where their rival and presumptive partner was pouring in all his efforts. However, neither would instruct their supporters to vote for their rival/partner in the other in the states in which they had agreed to cease campaigning.

Too little, too late! The commentators were generally correct. Donald Trump is virtually unstoppable, even though the Republican candidate would be chosen by the delegates at the convention. Even if it was a brokered convention and Trump fell a bit short of the requisite majority of delegates, even in the worst case scenario for him, Trump would have by far the largest plurality of delegates. It would be political suicide for the Republican Party to stop him. And the delegates selected know that.

For the first time in my life, I agreed with Donald Trump. He became the presumptive Republican candidate yesterday evening as he claimed. So Donald Trump was free to go back to being totally un-presidential. Hillary Clinton was a felon. In any case, she only appealed to women. And she appealed to fewer of them than he did. And he would do more for women than she would. He would make America great again. He would protect them from illegal migrants. He would protect them from a nuclear holocaust. He could do business with strong and respected leaders like Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. (It was not clear that he knew the name of the latter or could pronounce it.) Hillary would be easier to beat than any of the thirteen rivals in the Republican Party that he had defeated over the last six months. She would only get 5% of the vote if she were a male.

The usual gross hyperbole! The usual insults spread generously about! The usual plethora of libelous depictions of others! The usual admiration for strength! The real question now is whether Bernie Sanders would urge his supporters to back
Hillary and whether he would settle for a Democratic Party platform that would have to veer in the direction of his campaign. By the time we get back to Toronto by the end of the week, we might have some idea. In any case, we will bring with us the warmth of Vancouver Island.

With us, but not ahead of us. For after we traveled along Highway 3, The Crowsnest Highway through Crowsnest Pass, the fields of southern Alberta for some distance were covered with snow. We had crossed the continental divide between British Columbia and Alberta. Yesterday, I quickly described our trip after we left the Fraser Valley along the beginning of the western end of the Crowsnest Highway from Osoyoos to Cranbrook through a series of ascents descents through the Anarchist Mountains into and through the Kooteneys beginning around Grand Forks on the U.S./Canada border then past the lake named after Nancy Greene and south again at Salmo before we passed through the Kooteney Pass. Though the Kooteney Pass was spectacular, it did not prepare us for the deep valleys and the phenomenal snow-capped mountains of the Rockies proper that rose out of the ground like great mammoths. The northern passage through Lake Louise, though also spectacular, was totally gentle in comparison. But this time, we were descending quickly eastward through Fernie and Sparwood to the Alberta foothills and then the western plain.

In those foothills, we passed a startling site that neither of us had heard of ever before. It was the Frank Slide between Pincher and Fort McLeod that must have been cataclysmic at the time. The whole side of a mountain had been sheared off; the rubble of huge boulders – and I mean huge, the size of small buildings – was strewn across both sides of the highway. We learned that in 1905, the side of Turtle Mountain was severed off and, in a little over a minute, buried the new coal mining town of Frank. 90 were killed. Frank disappeared only to be memorialized by the rubble of this spectacular event. It must have destroyed a whole section of the highway and the Canadian Pacific rail line at the time. If we had been prepared, we would have stopped to visit the museum or commemorative centre that would have told us much more about this tremendous slide and its history, but we simply drove past in awe.

Since the area is also an archeological wonder and, from reading Jack London and Pierre Berton, I knew a tiny bit about the area. But I wished we had driven a bit north of Salma to Kokanee Glacier National Park, the place that became famous when Justin Trudeau’s youngest brother, Michel, was swept by an avalanche into the lake and drowned in 1998. I did know much more about the geology of the Continental Divide that forms the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta and that runs from the mountain peaks of Alaska to Chile.

The region is of importance historically as well as geologically, of course, but the attraction is mostly the spectacular geography. Twenty years before he was assassinated by Serbian nationalists to trigger WWI, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was a visitor to Arrow Lake just north of where we had driven. William Randolph Hearst, and his father thirty years earlier, had also visited the region. But there are serious disappointments as well as the inspiration from the spectacular scenery. As you descend through the mountains, Trail B.C. with its smokestack industries appears as an apparition and scar across the landscape. Trail has the largest non-ferrous smelters in the world. Industrialization had significant costs as well as benefits.
History, as I said, may be influenced by geology because of the natural beauty left behind. But the region attracts entertainers as well as important political figures.

In a memorable concert in 1988, Johnny Cash – whom we listened to on the radio yesterday – performed alongside Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Wanda Jackson. In 1991, the B.C. government tried to replicate that high note by sponsoring Joan Baez, Sarah McLachlan and even Bob Hope as performers in the region. But as famous as these performers were, they never rivaled the excitement of the 1988 concert.
Towns become famous for the strangest reasons. The day before, we passed through Fruitvale and Salmo, the region to which Japanese Canadians were forcefully and disgracefully relocated during WWII. David Suzuki grew up in the region. So did Nancy Greene mentioned above, our most famous female athlete of the twentieth century and Olympic champion skier who came from the region. Naming senators like her to follow in her footsteps in the Senate may be the way to save that institution.

Yesterday I wrote about tectonic plates. The Rockies and other ranges west were the result of the Pacific Plate rubbing against the North American plate as mountain ranges were thrust up in the process, perhaps as little as 75 million years ago. Much more recently, 10,000 to 15,000 year ago, the glaciers in the region started to retreat leaving behind the alluvial soil that formed the Okanagan Valley and the other valleys we traversed. But the juncture is still unstable and volcanic eruptions, tremendous rock slides and avalanches characterize the region. So, although the region is spectacularly beautiful, it is also very dangerous. Many of us remember 1980 when the State of Washington’s Mount St. Helen’s snow-capped dome blew off and altered the weather of the whole of our Earth for at least a year.

How tame it is then to descend to the western planes and traverse Alberta and Saskatchewan through Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw. Snow not only still covered many of the fields in southern Alberta, but small piles of dirty snow were scattered alongside the TransCanada Highway as we drove to Moose Jaw. Unlike our trip west through Canada in the Fall of 2014, the fields were mostly brown though plowing had begun, especially in the huge farms that align the highway. In parts, farm houses are few and far between. As one approaches Regina from the west, farm equipment dealer after dealer, with yards full of all types of new equipment, astride the highway on both sides.

My biggest disappointment was the sky. In September of 2014, the vast blue of the skies was truly breathtaking for a Toronto boy. But this time, the skies were totally overcast with rolls of clouds lined up in u-shaped row after row as if preparing for a tremendous military battle. However, when we passed Reed Lake and Chaplin Lake on the way to Moose Jaw, the most delightful scene was of birds, small ducklings already well past the infant stage, Canadian geese in ones and twos waltzed beside the highway, but looked forlorn as if they had lost contact with the V formations they used to fly north. Perhaps they had wintered in the West this past year and never flew south. There were herons, larger hawks than we had seen in British Columbia. I did not spot the white Cormorants that my driver did.

Shallow lakes form part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network and there are signs alongside of the road indicating the importance of this region to the migratory patterns of the birds which fly, some from South America, to their breeding grounds in the north. We were disappointed not to see large flocks, but we probably were traveling through too early in the season.

I said that I would write about our visits to the wineries, but I will not do so today. We want to be on our way early this morning to try to reach Ontario.
But I will get to it.

Passover Through Canada 2016

Passover through Canada 2016


Howard Adelman

There is a saying, “He had a face that only a mother could love.” But what if he (or she) had a face that even a mother could not love? A face that only God could love? This is how the visionary, Ezekiel, saw Israel after the hand of God had passed over the houses of Israel’s infants and the tribes escaped, but Israel felt abandoned, as a loathsome child, naked and bare, scratched and torn, living in a pit without a drop of mother’s milk or even water to quench his thirst for life. “And as for your birth on the day you were born, your navel was not cut, neither were you washed with water for cleansing, nor were you salted, nor swaddled at all…and you were cast on the open field in the loathsomeness of your body on the day you were born.” (Ezekiel 16:4-5) God commanded that, “In your blood live.” (16:7)

But what if God was not there? Would the result be, “In your blood, die.”? Would the pesach lamb be replaced by non-kosher pigs feeding off swill? Instead of a living community based on a covenantal bond, living in hope and aspiration, living in dedication to the future, where people live in order to make the lives of their progeny better than their own, what would God find when He sent His repo men to collect the souls? When there would be no innocent children to be redeemed? When, instead of cutting off the foreskin as a symbol of the covenant between father and son, between God and his children, instead of finding a doorway marked on one upper corner with the blood of the lamb and the other with the blood of the brit milah, God’s messengers found, instead of a foreskin cut off, an individual cut off, instead of lambs of peace sacrificed on the altar, only murdered pigs to be sold in order to purchase the pornography of the illusion of a beautiful life?

Instead, if God sends his messengers to this part of the earth called Canada, they would find a people blessed, a bountiful land with prosperous people, a wondrous land with beautiful people. So on this Passover we set out in two-days-time to pass through rather than over this great land to return to Toronto via byways, but mostly, via the Trans-Canada highway. This is how we will remember Passover this year. You usually receive my commentary on the weekly portion of the Torah as an amateur each Friday. This week will be different. This day will be unlike every other Friday of the year. Today I attach the commentary of a professional, of my daughter, Rachel, and you can compare it in profundity to my own scratchy efforts that you already received.

We must live, not only to spare from Death the First Born, but to save for life everyone born, even those with a face that even a mother might not be prone to love. Always better a loved child than an abandoned one.
For my Jewish friends all over, have a happy seder. For my non-Jewish friends all over, say a blessing for what you have, especially if you do not bear the scars of abandonment in your flesh.

Passover and Through British Columbia

Passover and Through British Columbia


Howard Adelman

Two days ago, we left Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island after a wonderful month’s stay. We pretended we were Israelis and observing seven days of Passover with only one seder. The pretense was valuable in another way because of the radical difference in a Canadian versus an Israeli geographic sensibility. I often say that there is more fresh water to be viewed from our cottage window on Georgian Bay than in all of Israel. But in British Columbia, at least in the part we traveled through yesterday, the fresh water is found in rushing streams over rocks and quiet but very deep lakes. It takes 2 hours to cross the narrow waist of Israel from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv. It takes two days to cross the bottom just of British Columbia – about ten times the amount of time as in Israel, and that is for just one of ten provinces.

This morning we head for Medicine Hat, Alberta, and hope we are not being too ambitious. We are about to go through the final pass through the Rocky Mountains, a generic name for what is actually five different mountain belts. The specific Rocky Mountains, along with the Mackenzie and Franklin Mountains, constitute the Foreland Belt. Going westward, there is the Omineca Belt, including the Purcell Mountains that we passed through yesterday between the Rocky Mountain Trench to the east and the Kootenay Lake to the West. Further west again are the Intermontane Belt and the West Coast Mountains. Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands belong to the fifth, the Insular Belt of mountains off the West Coast. The Rockies are literally only the most eastern belt of mountains in British Columbia. Yesterday, we traversed the Strawberry Pass and the Kootenay Pass and this morning we will go through Crowsnest Pass traveling through the actual Rocky Mountain Range to finally reach the Albertan border.

Yesterday, in the latter part of the afternoon, Strawberry Pass allowed us to travel from Grand Forks on the B.C. border with the United States, about three-quarters of the way between the Pacific Ocean and the Alberta border, to Trail, Salmo and Creston, B.C. through the Selkirk Mountain Range. We probably should have stayed over in Creston, but we pushed on through the Kootenay Pass at over 5,000 feet between Creston and Cranbrook where we eventually stayed overnight. It was a long drive since we only set out from Osoyoos at 2:00 p.m. (We were visiting wineries all morning in the lower Okanagan Valley, but more on that tomorrow.) However, it was well worth it just to see the sunset on the Selkirk Mountains with the higher snow-peaked Rockies looming behind as we managed to arrive in Cranbrook just at the end of twilight.

Yesterday afternoon’s travels were the most exciting part of our trip thus far, visually that is. I should probably save the description until the end of this blog to end on the highest note. But I am just too excited to share the experience. In any one hour (under the poetic assumption that we were seeing Canada with Israeli eyes), we probably saw more fresh water and certainly more trees than in all of Israel. In the just over 200 km. from Grand Forks to Creston, we passed creek after creek, each wider than the Jordan River, and full of rushing water racing over the stones. Sometimes they flowed east and sometimes west and sometimes they flowed upwards as the rush of water behind pushed the frothing water in front up over a hump before we encountered another stream flowing down the mountains as we went from valley to valley during the final melt of the snow on the mountains.

We often saw deer beside the road which were mostly placid and seemingly unafraid of the trucks and cars – perhaps because there were so few on the road. At one point I noted that we had been on the road for twenty minutes and had not seen another vehicle, but I was quickly corrected. There was a small truck behind us evidently which passed us very soon after when the highway widened to offer a passing lane.

The road trip yesterday culminated when, in a light rain at the end of the day, a rainbow curved up ever so slightly, only arching at the top literally in front of us on the road. As we approached this red, orange, yellow and then green and then even blue rainbow, the colours became clearer, brighter and more distinct. The contrast with the gray misty mountains in the background and the snow-capped peaks even further back with the golden crown of the final sun of the day on the crown of the most proximate mountain, was magical. The various shades of green in the fading light of the day of the different species of tree reflecting different degrees of light needed a landscape painter to capture the view. Or a great photographer like my driver. However, tired from the long day, she mistakenly deleted the day of exceptional pictures when she went to transfer and save them.

We never knew whether we were looking at Grey Mountain or Crowe Mountain, Mount Plewman or Mount Neptune, though we identified the Rossland Range as we passed that town. Sometimes the valleys between the mountains were narrow and deep and sometimes broad with alluvial plateaus and even farms. As we moved west after Creston, we entered horse and cattle country. And we were never allowed to ignore the clouds.

The colours shifted from silver grey to dark and light grey, and then even to mauve. Sometimes the clouds were streaked and at other times billowy. And when the sun was setting, it illuminated a pure patch of white cloud sitting like a puff ball on top of the place just where a very black cloud seemed to clash with purple-grey one. At one point yesterday, we saw a pure white cloud that looked like a large rectangular puffy box just sitting in the middle of the sky.

In addition to Strawberry Pass and Kootenay Pass, there was even a Blueberry Pass – at least on the map, for I never did see a sign on the road indicating when we passed through it. I did see the name of Bonanza Pass, but could not tell when we entered it and when we came out. In one trip, it is just too difficult to comprehend such a varied terrain and I should have studied much more geology before the trip.

But back to the sky and the most startling picture of all. Just near the end of yesterday’s drive as we were coming through the mountains and the sun had already set behind the mountains to our west, there was still plenty of light. We were passing a lake. Beside the dark mountain rising up from the lake on the other, western side, a blaze of red appeared, not so much over it as beside the mountain, and between it and the dull, fuzzy, even misty, grey mountain further back. The sense of mystery, the sense of wonder, was awesome. Truly awesome! – the very opposite in meaning to the oft repeated term, especially among young people. When I order halibut and chips in a restaurant in the Okanagan Valley, the waitress says, “Awesome!” Even when I order a diet coke – yes I have resumed drinking the stuff contrary to my vows to quit – she said “Awesome!

I have to tell you about yesterday morning in the Southern Okanagan Valley between Oliver and Osoyoos. A waitress saying “Awesome!” was the worst of our experiences. For, what else do travelers do on a sunny, beautiful morning, but visit wineries? We had a choice of 36 just in the very southern Okanagan alone. Given the controls of the Liquor Board of Ontario, when we go into an LCBO store we may, if we are lucky, have a choice of perhaps 4 wines from B.C.. It is a provincial disgrace. Any one winery in the Okanagan offers more choices, and there are a great wineries over many parts of B.C., including on Vancouver Island. In the Cowichan Valley alone, there seemed to be over thirty wineries and we enjoyed delicious, even exquisite meals at both the Unsworth and the Zanatta Wineries – and, of course, bought some wine.

But the Cowichan Valley, as delightful as it was, did not compare to the Okanagan with one winery after another. Of the 36 within 12 km between Osoyoos and Oliver (there are probably over 300 in the whole valley), we visited the following wineries: Road 13, Hester Creek, Tinhorn Creek, Fairview Cellars and Burrowing Owl, five out of the six we had chosen. It was already two p.m., so we passed on visiting the Young & Wyse Collection near the border with the U.S., partly because it was getting late and we had a long drive ahead, and partly because this winery was evidently started by a so-called black sheep of the family that ran Burrowing Owl and we thought we might run into similar varieties – a premise which was probably wrong, but served as a useful excuse to cut our excursions to wineries short.

First, you have to comprehend the beauty of the Okanagan Valley, with each segment of this valley stretching northward for over a hundred kilometers to beautiful Kelowna and Vernon and even beyond to Salmon Arm where one of my readers – or, at least receivers of my blog (I must not be presumptive), lives. We restricted this visit to the very southernmost part and vowed to return with friends for a week just to explore the whole valley and the many varieties of offerings. We were just a week too soon when the real opening of the winery season begins next weekend with music events, special dinners. For me, the fall would be best when all the fruit stands are open in the late summer and early Fall. For the South Okanagan offers not only barrels of wine, but baskets of wonderful fruit. And though I love wineries (more than wine since I drink very little and very seldom), I really love fruit. However, in the spring there are the wondrous display of blossoms – apple, peach, pear, apricot, plum and, of course, those I consider the most beautiful of all, cherry blossoms.

The green of the landscape as the vines have begun to show their foliage and the grass grows rich belies the fact that the area is really a desert fed and made fruitful through irrigation. The summer days are very long and very hot (it can reach thirty-five or even forty degrees), but the nights are cool. Further, the soil on the east side of the road as one heads north is sandy, whereas on the western slope you find alluvial soil. Given the different levels up the mountains on each side, the different degree of sunshine – the western slopes are covered in shadows later in the day – the different varietals, the vast array of differences in taste just due to nature within very short distances is remarkable, When one puts on top of that the various tastes and talents of the different vintners, you get the picture.

But the real story is historical and beneath the soil. The Okanagan Valley is steeped in geological time. I need not go back through the Mesozoic (dinosaurs) and certainly not the Paleozoic era, but only the Cenozoic Era of mammals. I need only pay attention to the latest epoch and period of the post Glacial Age of the last fifteen thousand years. But to understand what took place on a deeper level, it is important to comprehend plate tectonics which came into prominence when I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto and John Tuzo-Wilson was there and built on the science of cohorts and predecessors.

(The German geologist Alfred Lothar Wegener was among them and he published his seminal book, The Origins of Continents and Ocean at the beginning of WWI and introduced what was then only a theory – that of continental drift when he noted how the pattern of the eastern coast of North and South America matched up with the western contours of Africa and Europe. He put forth the theory of a vast ancient super-continent of Panges or Pangea – I can’t remember – that broke apart and the two parts drifted apart to leave the Atlantic Ocean. The theory was proven beyond any reasonable doubt by the identity of fossils found on each side as well as the matching rock formations. It took years for his theory to be accepted, perhaps because he was German and Germany was an enemy in WWI.)

By the time I was a graduate student, his theories and that of Tuzo-Wilson established plate tectonics as the governing theory explaining the behaviour of the crust of the earth and especially the plates, floating on a hot mantle below, and, floating above, the relatively thin crust. I digress, not only to show off and share my knowledge, but because it is critical to understanding the rise of the five belts of mountains in British Columbia and the creation of the Okanagan Valley.

As the great glaciers cut through and then retreated through the mountain belts, some formed by magnum rising up through the plate that extends westward to the San Andreas Fault and far eastward. As the glaciers retreated, the non-glacial deposits of sand and gravel, in the streams and valleys as well as peat were supplemented by till from the glaciers as they melted leaving behind clay, sand, pebbles, rocks and boulders, and the inner and sub-glacial deposits of the same mixture of materials resulting in eskers (deposits from holes or tunnels within the ice) and kames, the material in the fans, deltas and channels formed by the retreating glaciers leaving behind kettles, or deep depressions and holes – the kettle lakes of the Okanagan Valley.

But it is the third type of glacial deposit, the sediment within a glacial lake left behind as the shores of the lake retreated that is the most important for the richness of the soil in the Okanagan Valley. And the subsequent taste of its wines. But more on that, hopefully tomorrow. I have to get on my way if we are to get to Medicine Hat.

Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders: The Final Four Reasons – Virtue and Truth

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders

Part IV: The Final Four Reasons – Virtue and Truth


Howard Adelman

  1. Independence, Virtue, Authenticity and Commitment

When Bernie Sanders first ran for mayor in Burlington, Vermont, he campaigned on the effective slogan: return power to the people. “The goal must be to take political power away from the handful of millionaires who currently control it through Mayor [Gordon] Paquette and place that power in the hands of the working people of the city who are the vast majority of the Burlington population.” He has not changed a whit in over thirty years just as his stump speech in this campaign has remained the same almost word for word.; only the enemies are richer and more powerful. And Bernie Sanders has boasted with great pride that he has preserved his independence from these special interests.

Donald Trump has run on a similar platform, arguing that he is independent because his campaign is self-financed rather than funded by millions of $27 donations. Trump has also argued that politicians are in the pay of special interests; he should know, he claims, because he paid politicians to do his bidding. The accusations are similar, but Trump wants to take power away from those vested interests and give it to himself as the leader of a populist campaign. Bernie wants to give it to the people. Further, Bernie stands on a platform of virtue; Donald stands on a self-confessed platform of vice.

In addition to a platform of independence, in addition to a platform of virtue, Bernie has communicated to the youth of America an authenticity heretofore lacking in most politicians who come across as opportunists and power hungry. Bernie, in contrast, operates on a solid foundation of personal sincerity. Further, at 75 years, Bernie is probably the most vigorous and unstoppable campaigner in the electoral arena. So he has been running on the basis of character as well as policy and he exudes both conviction and commitment. No bespoke suits for this frumpy, indeed grumpy, politician. No speech coaches to try to hide his heavy Brooklyn accent. He is a politician who listens to and provides a megaphone for a host of grievances. He not only hyperventilates the concerns of others, but he also stretches his points to the absolute breaking point. There is no subtlety. There is no nuance. Israel practices disproportionate warfare. Wall Street practices economic warfare against the ordinary people of America. Period!

At the same time, Bernie does not practice personality politics. He shunted aside charges against Hillary Clinton’s problems with her emails. He focuses almost entirely on policy issues. He also remains immune to personal attacks and, more importantly, to disparaging comments that “he cannot win.” And he does so by winning time after time by repeatedly recognizing and appealing to the disaffected. When you combine character with commitment, faith in oneself and one’s beliefs with faith in the fundamental decency of ordinary Americans, and you do so in a social, economic and political context of gross injustice, of increasing class differences, of increased accumulation of profits by the rich and super-rich, and a political system deliberately manipulated to disenfranchise those most in need through voter suppression, the appeal goes beyond the call to the undocumented, the unemployed and the underpaid to rise up. Bernie talks to the conscience in us all, but particularly the conscience and idealism of young people. He also speaks to the insecure and stresses the source of greatest insecurity of all, particularly for young people, the drastic threats they face in the future as a result of climate change.

The economy is “rigged to make a fortunate few very well off while leaving most Americans struggling to keep up.” However, internationally, his sense of injustice is somewhat askew. While he opposes free trade deals with countries like China, which pays its workers relatively little, he also opposes the NAFTA trade deal with Canada, a trade deal under which job shifts have moved in both directions. Further, Canada is a country with a trade union movement relatively much stronger than the movement in the U.S. But the positions of unskilled workers in both countries have been weakened, not by free trade as much as by a manufacturing economy transitioning into a communications economy.

However, an analysis in terms of appeal is itself suspect. It does not matter whether the appeal comes as a result of populist “fascism” or populist “socialism.” It does not matter whether the appeal comes from the honesty, sincerity and compassion of a simple peanut farmer or the smiling sophisticated charisma of a charmer, whether JFK or Bill Clinton, or from the optimistic smiling Reagan selling the politics of positivism as a cover for negatively affecting the lives of most Americans.

The politics of personality is only a slight improvement on the politics of fear. One reason NOT to vote for Bernie is because the element of appeal ranks so significantly in his campaign.

  1. Associates

A man, or a woman, so the cliché goes, is known by the company he keeps. Just as people in ordinary life need friends and companions, politicians need associates. A politician is measured, in part, by the associates he hires and by how he disassociates from them when they prove to be disappointing. Just as friends, influence our character and conduct, so do associates of politicians. My tenth grandchild in Duncan, BC may only be 14 months old, but you can watch daily how much le learns by imitation. In that sense, if we really do remain as learners, we continue to learn by imitation all our lives. And the ones we learn from most are our friends and associates.

Like also attracts like. Affinity is but one version of magnetic attraction. To quote another cliché, birds of the same feather flock together. Anyone who has read Jerzy Kosińsky’s 1965 novel, The Painted Bird, also knows that if one of the birds of that flock is painted with a brush, he or she stands out and is quickly either killed but certainly driven out of the flock. Simone Zimmerman was hired last week by the Bernie campaign as an agent of outreach to the Jewish community, more accurately, as we shall see, as an agent of outreach to the disaffected from the Jewish community, particularly those disaffected and even enraged by the conduct of Israel.

26-year-old Simone was an ideal candidate for that position. She wrote, “No public relations trick can save Israel’s image. The problem isn’t with the hasbara [public relations]. The problem is nearly 50 years of occupation. The problem is rampant racism in Israeli society. The problem is attacks on human rights defenders by extremists and by the state. The problem is a Jewish establishment that ignores or justifies all of this.” And Simone was not just an unaffiliated Jew, but is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, had attended Jewish day school and been raised in a Conservative practicing Jewish family. She had been active in United Synagogue Youth and had visited Israel numerous times. However, in college, though she began as a committed Zionist college student who, in Berkeley, protested against BDS and attended AIPAC-sponsored meetings for Jewish youth, she became radicalized by observing the way Israel treated both its own Palestinian citizens and Palestinians under occupation.

Initially, in her transition phase to a more radical posture, she joined J-Street, the pro-Israel but critical of Israel camp. As a very bright but now disaffected young Jew, she went to Israel and studied colloquial Arabic at Hebrew University.  Though she never became a supporter of BDS, she gradually shifted to defend the right of BDS to advocate its position. In sum, she seemed to be a perfect fit for Bernie’s efforts to attract Jewish disaffected youth – and there are plenty of them. For Simone Zimmerman now belonged to a community of young Jews who saw it as their mission to bring “American Jews to do civil resistance work in solidarity with West Bank Palestinians.”

But two days after she was hired, she was “suspended.” The bird that had just joined the flock had suddenly been painted, not with the radically critical of Israel brush, but of using very colourful negative language in describing the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. She, like Bernie himself, saw American politicians, including Hillary Clinton, not only just cow towing to the Israeli leader, but as defending everything he did as right. This accusation is a blatant falsehood. But she was not suspended for her strong critique of Netanyahu, but because she had used swear words in her depiction of him. She was dismissed because of how she had painted her own feathers and not because of the substance of what she believed.

I have no objections to the Bernie camp for hiring Simone. She clearly belonged to his flock and helped us understand the flock of geese he was leading. I do object to his firing her for the trivial reason that she used much more colourful language in depicting Bibi that Bernie chose to use. But in today’s world, what is a swear word or two between friends – or associates? The reasons for hiring Simone Zimmerman were valid given Bernie’s beliefs. The reasons for dismissing or, more accurately, suspending her, are far more suspect, not simply in the injustice in the treatment of Simone, but in the totally “disproportionate” – Bernie’s word – and indeed cowardly treatment of this young, ardent and outspoken Jew for vocalizing what Bernie himself said in much more polite language.

  1. Truth and Judgement

Louis René Beres, a retired political science professor from Princeton University, in an op-ed on Bernie Sanders, quoted Karl Jaspers’ aphorism that, “Our enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing, and wants to know nothing, of truth.”  This generalization, this acute but terse observation, was applied to Bernie. And I believe correctly applied. Bernie is into hyperbole, not truth. Bernie prefers the sweeping generalization to sharp distinctions. Bernie opts for expansionist rather than succinct language. He is not a man of few words. While he claims to speak truth to power, he actually addresses power with slogans. Instead of a measured approach to whether and to what degree Israel used disproportionate force in Operation Protective Edge, his language was unmeasured. As it is when he attacks the Big Banks, Wall Street and international trade agreements. As it was when he suspended Simone Zimmerman for the lack of measure in terms of manners rather than the content in her language.

Bernie would do well to sit at the feet of Beres to appreciate the subtleties of strategic choices, the nuances of international jurisprudence and the underlying forces propelling conflict on the world stage. And whatever they are, and however much we appreciate and admire treating the Other with dignity and respect, this has only a marginal role in international affairs. Though Bernie is far better than Donald Trump, he suffers from a similar condition of ignorance of international affairs, surprising for a Senator of the United States and shocking for any candidate seeking the most powerful office in the world. I fear he would be an even worse president than Jimmy Carter in this respect.

  1. Citizenship

Donald Trump campaigned long and hard against Barack Obama for being ineligible to be president since Donald doubted that Barack Obama could prove he was born in the United States, even after he produced what every authority said was an authentic birth certificate proving that he was born in Hawaii. Then Diane Rehm of National Public Radio accused Bernie of being a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Israel.

Rehm: “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.”

Sanders: “No, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel, I’m an American. Don’t know where that question came from. I’m an American citizen. I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.”

Rehm: “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list. Forgive me if that …”

Sanders: “No, that’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet. But that is absolutely not true.”

Rehm had mistakenly and irresponsibly taken as fact a charge made on a notorious anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist site which shows the Star of David displacing the Stars and Stripes. She later apologized for that. Bernie is not and never has been a citizen of Israel even though he went there to work as a volunteer on a kibbutz as an inspired idealist when he was young.

My tenth reason for not voting for Bernie concerns citizenship, but it is definitely not because I suspect the authenticity of Bernie Sanders’ citizenship. The reason is far simpler. I am the one who is not a citizen of the U.S. Thus, I am not eligible to vote. But I am a Canadian who believes deeply in our entitlement to participate fully and vicariously in the American electoral process. So though I will not, and, more importantly, cannot vote for Bernie, I will not stop commenting.

Besides, my six children, three of whom are Americans, still need my guidance even when they do not recognize their own needs.

Reasons 5&6: The Rule of Law and Israel

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders:

Part III Reasons 5 and 6 – The Rule of Law and Israel


Howard Adelman

Thus far I have pointed to Bernie’s ill targeted criticism of the major banks, his protectionist trade policies, his weak position on gun control and, most extensively, on his incoherent policies and performance on economic immigration, deportation, family reunification, the diversity visa lobby and, most importantly, his hesitancy and modesty in dealing with Syrian refugees. I could have spent much more time on the inadequacies and incoherence of his migration policies. For example, how could he:

  • Grant amnesty to illegal aliens but vote against bills to do just that only because they include no provisions against guest workers
  • Extend asylum to victims of domestic violence but not significantly increase the intake of Syrian refugee victims of state, rebel and terrorist violence
  • Expand the grounds for refugee claims by including victims of gang violence and include the credible fear standard for making an asylum claim while not recognizing victims of a different type of gang violence and credible fear when it comes to Syrian refugees
  • How can he enlarge the room for refugee claimants who can manage to get to the United States but keep resettlement of refugees at a minimal level so that the combination results in enhanced incentives for smuggling operations and illegal entry?
  • Oppose chain migration but support expanded family reunification
  • Supposedly support the high tech business sector but oppose their ability to import necessary skills and increase the pressure to relocate overseas while denouncing the out-migration of such firms
  • Oppose the visa lottery program but defend it in a speech in November 2015 “The Diversity Visa program is an enormous and inexpensive source of goodwill, affords potential immigrants with no family ties an opportunity to join our great nation, and is particularly important to African immigrants.”

I could go on, but I want to now focus on two additional reasons and complete the reasoning tomorrow, erring of necessity on the side of brevity because the New York primary is tomorrow.

Reason Five – The Rule of Law

Other than referencing Hillary Clinton’s legal problems with her use of emails when she was Secretary of State or Bernie Sanders’ legal challenge (successful) to enfranchise 17-year-old voters in the Ohio primary who will be 18 on election day, very little has been said about the rule of law, the system of laws and regulations that are the bedrock of a constitutional democracy and that apply universally to the wealthy and the poor, those in power and those who lack power, those in positions of formal authority and the vast majority who are not. As the saying goes, in a rule of law polity, the rules apply to the rulers as well as the ruled. This is true not only in the application of the law but in its creation. While Barack Obama was extremely cautious and modest in his use of executive powers to make law, what has become clear in Bernie Sanders’ campaign is that he would rely far more on the use of executive orders to override legislators.

This is a practice that was prevalent in both Venezuela and Brazil. The reality is that strong proponents of economic justice who blame rich economic elites for a country’s problems tend to see economic justice as trumping legal justice and procedures. Further, the more economic incentives and subsidies expand, whether on behalf of corporate interests or the needy, there is an increase in bureaucratic power. Though a strong and independent creative civil service is an essential component in a modern state, something the political right is blind to, it is also the case that  bureaucrats are susceptible to being corrupted by the economic inducements of the rich and powerful, to which Bernie is legitimately ultra-sensitive in the United States, but also to those who gain political power and envision enhanced control over different segments of the economic sector as the entry to greater economic and social justice, an entry point to undermining the rule of law and enhancing the power of individuals, including the President, and groups, a susceptibility to which Bernie seems insensitive.

Perhaps even more, but certainly as much, modern states need an honest, capable and efficient administrative apparatus, which attacks on government per se undermine. That civil service, and it is a service that must both remain civil and serve the universal interests of civil society, must retain a realm of initiative and independence to ensure the polity remains immune to both economic and crusading political predators. Unfortunately, there is a built-in tension between demands for the state to build the necessary infrastructure, provide the necessary services and incentivize both economic engines and individuals, as opposed to the temptation to turn these mechanisms into convoluted traps for inaction or, on the other hand, units for dispensing patronage and favouritism. Good government needs to walk that fine line between the Scylla of sclerosis and Charybdis of indulgences. From many of Bernie’s statements, one fears that he would remove the blindfold of justice and sail the ship of state into the rocks on either side of the straights as he attempts to maneuver the ship of state through the foaming waters of an unruly social environment.

  1. Israel

I could write on a number of political areas of foreign policy, such as Libya on which I have written a number of blogs, but I have chosen Israel because it is an arena I know well. Further, I have chosen to focus specifically on the degree to which Israel fights its wars in accordance with the norms of just war, an area on which I claim some expertise.  In the contemporary period, Israel generally and just war analysis more particularly has proven to be the Achilles’ heel of the Left. Bernie is the exemplification of the propensity of even the moderate Left, and Bernie is a card-carrying member of the moderate Left, to misunderstand and misrepresent Israel, a propensity exacerbated by a right in America which serves as a cheerleader of the Likud in Israel and is almost blind and deaf to the rights of Palestinians for self-determination.

In the corrected version of his original infamous editorial board interview, Bernie said, “I do believe that Israel…has every right to destroy terrorism. But in Gaza there were 10,000 wounded civilians and 1,500 killed. Was that a disproportionate attack? The answer is it was. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel. In the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace… we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”

In the reference to the cry about the numbers, he did originally say that, “my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza,” but soon corrected that to say 10,000 civilians had been wounded. So the outcry that there were only 1,400 or 1,600 killed according to even UN or Palestinian figures is beside the point. The real issue is that he referred to all the dead as “civilians.” Israel says there were only about 700 of the total of 2,130 killed. The UN and the Palestinians double the proportion of civilians killed. The reasons are clear. Youngsters under the age of sixteen are recruited by Hamas to serve in auxiliary positions as observers, runners, etc. When they die, they are counted as civilians. So are policemen who have a military role in Gaza. And since they do not wear uniforms, many militants can also be counted as civilians.

But the controversy over figures is both a distraction and an indicator. For the real issue is whether Israel’s response to the Hamas rocket attacks was disproportionate. Bernie on this point is dogmatic. “It was.” For him it is self-evident. Since there was wide-scale destruction, including destruction of apartment buildings and even hospitals, for Bernie it follows logically that the Israeli response, however much Bernie finds such a response in itself to be legitimate, is self-evidently disproportionate.

However, in the application of rules of just war and its conduct, a military action is disproportionate if excessive force is used to achieve a military goal. A military action is disproportionate if civilians and civilian facilities are attacked indiscriminately. The issue is not the quantity of destruction, but the procedures and mechanisms for minimizing civilian destruction.

In relation to the amount of force used to achieve a legitimate military objective, if the goal was forcing Hamas to sue for peace, as the United States did with Japan towards the end of WWII, then Israel would, at the very least, have to reoccupy Gaza. If the goal was deterrence, many would argue that insufficient force was used since the objective of deterring Hamas from targeting Israel with rockets has worked only for a limited time and then the practice has been resumed. If the goal was temporary deterrence and enhancing the protection of Israeli civilians and civil life without a significant cost in the lives of Israeli soldiers, then the proportion was probably about right, though I personally would have been very hesitant to use that much force. But then I am not a military officer or a politician charged with such a responsibility. And my wariness about the use of force probably ensures that I would be unfit for such a responsibility.

The issue is not treating the Palestinian leaders or the Palestinian people with respect and dignity. I think that Israel often falls far short of that standard in treating Palestinian civilians. The issue is whether Israel applies the standards of executing a just war sufficiently to protect the civilian populations in the territories where it is engaged in lethal and legitimate warfare both in general and in particular military encounters. By any measure that is objectively applied, Israel applies the rule of law in accordance with just war doctrine with greater attention to those rules than any other state, even the United States which also has high standards. Most countries, including the peaceable Kingdom of Canada, do not assign legal officers to military units to ensure that ethical considerations enter into targeting decisions. Israel does.

Of course the IDF suffers from the same tensions between the legal ethical officials and the commanders charged with winning a military battle as in any other army, but those ethical considerations are there and they are by and large effective. Bernie’s simplistic judgement that Israel practices indiscriminate warfare against the Palestinians is a calumny. That alone makes him unworthy to be the Democratic presidential candidate when Hillary Clinton is the alternative.

So when Bernie says that, “no one will fight for that principle (a right of self-defense) more strongly than I will,” and insists that Israel, “ has the right to live in freedom, independently and in security without having to be subjected to terrorist attacks,” he is not to be believed. For his credibility depends on delivery and execution, not just rhetorical adherence to a right. Further, when he boils the failures of the peace process down to the need to treat Palestinians with dignity and respect, he proves that he is not only self-delusional and  naïve, but is also ignorant of the machinations and positions of the various sides.

Opposing Netanyahu does not entail accusing those who have dealt with him as believing that Netanyahu is always right. Championing the cause of Palestinian self-determination does not require libeling Israel and its labours while assuring everyone that you cannot be engaged in libel since you believe in Zionism and support the Jewish right to self-determination. The reality is that the rights of self-determination of both Jews and Palestinians exist within a historical, political and ethical context and that does not easily boil down to simplistic sloganeering. It is not sufficient to oppose BDS, to condemn terrorism in general and Hamas in particular, to even criticize the bias of the Goldstone Report, but without really understanding its fundamental flaws. Bernie is certainly not an anti-Israeli zealot. He is a friend of Israel, but a weak friend with too simplistic a view of the dynamics of peace and war between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders; Part II – Reason 4: Population Movements

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders

Part II – Reason 4: Population Movements


Howard Adelman

The right of people to move and to be able to find a safe and secure place to live on this globe, while, at the same time, preserving the nation-state system where the state assumes the responsibility for the safety and security of its own citizens, has been a predominant philosophical interest of my academic career. So it should be no surprise that my ear has been most highly attuned to issues of population movements for employment, immigration and refugees. The issue has not been a marquee issue for the Democrats as it has been for the Republicans; it was not raised as an issue in Thursday night’s debate in Brooklyn.

However, in the Democratic primary in Florida over a month ago, the most moving moment in any of the debates took place when a Guatemalan mother of five,  , stood up and, in Spanish, expressed her great pain (dolor), and asked both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders what they would do to reunite her and her five children with her husband who had been deported three years ago as an “illegal” alien. “I have a great pain, me and my children, because the father of my children was deported. What will you do to stop deportations and reunite families?”

If that appeal was moving, what touched the audience at least as much was the effort of the Univision reporter, Enrique Acevedo, to tenderly whisper the translation of both Hillary’s and Bernie’s responses into Lucía’s ear as the two candidates answered her question. Both candidates pledged to change America’s policies on deportation. 4.5 million U.S. citizen children live in families in which one parent is an undocumented immigrant. Over 5,000 American children live in foster care because both parents have been detained or deported. Both candidates vowed not to deport undocumented migrants who had no criminal records. The most interesting part of their answers was not their pledges to reunite divided families, but what they said in addition and how they said it.

Hillary Clinton expressed empathy. “Please know how brave I think you are coming here with your children to tell your story. This is an incredible act of courage that I’m not sure many people really understand.” Bernie erred in saying that, “your children [who were sitting in the row beside her] deserve to be with their mother.” But it was the father who had been deported. Hillary was personal; Bernie was not only formulaic, but he let us know that he was not a good listener. Much more importantly, I never heard a journalist challenge Bernie’s advocacy of economic nationalism and the protection of the jobs of American workers with his pledge not to divide the families of undocumented immigrants. Further, if the minimum wage were to be raised to $15, would this serve as a magnet for the in-migration of more undocumented aliens or would such a change deter the propensity of employers to hire undocumented immigrants because there would be more American-born citizens willing to take such jobs?

There is not a great deal of evidence for the latter, though raising the minimum wage is critical for egalitarian and social justice reforms much more than any impact on immigration. The most important impact would be on low income American women. Therefore, before we deal with the impact of raising the minimum wage on immigration, let’s deal more generally with the impact of a raise in the minimum wage that has been such a critical part of the Democratic Party platform, but particularly that of Bernie’s. According to one calculation, if the minimum wage were raised to 1968 levels, it would double to an average of $19.50 not $9.50. So as large as Bernie’s proposal is in the American egalitarian wilderness, it is still a relatively very modest proposal, but not nearly as miniscule as President Obama’s plan, facing an obstreperous Republican dominated Congress, to raise the minimum wage mandated by the federal government from $7.50 to $9. The difference between Bernie and Hillary (as well as Governor Cuomo in New York State and various Democratic mayors, like the mayor of Seattle) is that they propose to phase the increase in over 2-3 years to allow employers to adjust.

Even the increase to $9 might eliminate jobs for American workers that Bernie has pledged to protect. But the losses would be minimal. Dale Belman and Paul J. Wolfson in their comprehensive study of other studies concluded that moderate increases have “little or no effect on employment and hours.” Alan Krueger of Princeton, in comparing New Jersey’s modest minimum wage increase with Pennsylvania’s non-increase, showed that the cost of the increase is passed onto consumers. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, raising the minimum wage to $9 was expected to eliminate 100,000 jobs, but an estimated 7.6 million low-wage workers would see a boost in their weekly earnings. Raising it to $10 would lead to a reduction of 500,000 jobs, but 16.5 million low-wage workers would realize substantial income gains. The higher you go in the increase, the larger the number of Americans that benefit, and the greater the possibility that more jobs are eliminated.

That is the trade-off. I personally support that trade-off for a number of reasons, all independent of any impact on immigration. But a $15 minimum wage almost certainly would mean the elimination of a large number of jobs. For example, in Seattle the first significant casualty of the increase in the minimum wage to $15 resulted from the relocation of a camping equipment manufacturer, Cascade Designs, to Nevada, ostensibly because the minimum wage was raised to $15. However, I believe, such an increase would create possibly even more jobs by raising the monies available to low income earners for expenditures, especially because of the ripple effect of an increased minimum wage. The biggest burden would be borne by the young, mostly in the fast food industry, but, if complemented by free tertiary education tuition, this impact would be partially offset. Would raising the minimum wage affect migration patterns, my major concern?

The United States lacks an investment economic incentive for immigration, though partially offset by other mechanisms. The approximately just over a million migrants a year who receive green cards are divided into four major categories. I offer very rough averages for each category:

  1. Employment (divided roughly in half between students or individuals employed applying to adjust their status and their other family members, about 20% in each sub-category);
  2. Direct Family Reunification via family sponsorship (the majority);
  3. Diversity Lottery Migrants (55,000) (about 5%)
  4. Refugees (just over 5%).

Two of my children fell into the first category as professors at American post-secondary institutions who had their status converted under an employment-preference visa. A third received a green card from within the tiny category, not included above, of what is – believe it or not – called “extraordinary aliens.” She is an artist. So half my children are Americans, but none arrived as refugees, under the DLM program, or under the family reunification program.

Family-based green-card holders include both immediate relatives (spouses, children under 21 years-of-age, and parents of U.S. citizens), representing 44% on average of those who acquire Green Cards in category 2 above and half of the first category (about 21% of the total) who accompany those who acquire citizenship out of employment considerations. The two categories taken together take up, on average, about two-thirds of those who acquire Green Cards. This is a much higher percentage than in Canada, but it is not a major issue in general or in the differences between Hillary and Bernie.

The third category, the Green Card Diversity Visa Lottery (DVL), allows for 55,000 visas to be distributed by lottery to about 8 to 10 million applicants. (The numbers jumped by about 20% in 2014 when applications from Uzbekistan, Nigeria, and Iran increased enormously.) Applicants have to have high school completion or equivalent work experience to apply with their families and must come from countries underrepresented in the immigrant pool immigrating to the U.S. (Canada, for example, does not qualify.) The quota is divided among six geographic regions—Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and South/Central America and the Caribbean. No single country can receive more than 7% of available DVL slots in one year.

Bernie’s proposal to eliminate this class about a decade ago specified 50,000 because his proposal left out the 5,000 specifically assigned to applicants under the 1997 Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act (NACARA). Bernie voted for the Goodlatte Amendment to eliminate the diversity visa lottery (DVL). Bernie was in the Senate in the Fall of 2012 when the House of Representatives voted in favour of Texan Republican Rep. Lamar Smith’s STEM Bill to replace the DVL with openings for 55,000 highly educated workers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Why did Bernie want to eliminate this category, a political position so much in concert with Republican proposed changes to immigration? The reasons for opposing DVL include its susceptibility to fraud since applications are free and take place via internet; intermediaries can file applications on behalf of others and then collect money if that applicant is selected. Secondly, many more places are needed for the highly educated and skilled. Third, since the applicants selected do not receive intelligence checks before they are selected (though they do after), the program is viewed as more open to abuse by potential terrorists. It is not, but in 2002, the wife of an Egyptian terrorist got her visa through the DVL; her husband shot and killed two people in the LA airport.

As far as I can tell, none of these three reasons motivated Bernie to oppose DVL. In any case, the Government Accountability Office in 2007 concluded that it “found no documented evidence that DVL immigrants from these, or other, countries posed a terrorist or other threat.” However, the DVL program was designed to offer access for those people with lesser skills who were also needed to fulfill certain jobs in America. Bernie thought those jobs should be offered to Americans. Bernie also offered a fifth reason; DVL was inherently discriminatory since it was not based on favouring groups discriminated against, but on countries with low demand for immigration vises.

Bernie’s position on immigration is inconsistent. On the one hand he argues against the immigration of low-skilled workers to protect American jobs. On the other hand, he supports family reunification programs, amnesties, opposes enhanced deportation programs, insists he would close detention centres, argues for offering illegal aliens driver’s licenses and health care, and votes against bills to enhance security on the Mexican border. On the one hand, he has argued that Latin American children who sneak into the U.S. should not be “sent back.” He has insisted that, “America has always been a haven for the oppressed. Is there any group more vulnerable than children? We cannot and must not shirk the historic role of the United States as a protector of vulnerable people fleeing persecution.”

Are all irregular migrants refugees? Bernie has a bleeding heart, but not the acute rational skills to deal with inconsistencies. And he is often confused in areas which he should have mastered. In January 2016, Bernie sent a letter to President Obama asking that he end the deportation raids. Illegal aliens should be offered temporary protected status permitting them to work in the U.S. Why temporary “protected” status, a refugee category? “It is critical to acknowledge that most of this [sic] families are refugees seeking asylum and entitled to humanitarian protection and legal counsel,” Most are not refugees according to Bernie. There is no evidence that they are.

In 2013, Cuba (22 percent) was the largest source country for refugee and asylee conversions to green cards. Of 75,000 (not ten million) people who arrive in America and claim refugee status on average each year, about 60% succeed, though in some years, the numbers jump considerably and the average is about 60,000. In contrast, Canada will bring in about 50,000 Syrian refugees alone for resettlement, and the number of successful asylum claims will be about 12,000, 20% rather than the proportionate 10% of the American total. America is no longer the major refugee receiving country it once was.  Last year, the U.S. took in just over 2,000 Syrian refugees.

At the time of the ISIS attack in Paris in November of 2015 when the Liberals replaced the Conservative Party as the governing political group in Canada and the previous miserly approach to refugees was set aside, American jurisdictions, dominated by Republicans, increased the obstacles to the arrival of Syrian refugees whether in Congress or half the Governors who were Republicans. They argued that Syrian refugees pose too great a risk to national security. Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey and then still a candidate to be the Republican flag carrier in the presidential elections, vowed that his state would not take in any refugees – “not even orphans under the age of five”. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal directed the state police to “track” Syrian refugees in his state. Although Obama vowed to veto any anti-Syrian refugee legislation and condemned the anti-refugee hysteria, he did not offer a significant number of resettlement slots for Syrian refugees.

Hillary Clinton endorsed taking in Syrian refugees and argued that we cannot allow “terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and humanitarian obligations.” She stressed the need for careful vetting and the need to be vigilant in screening refugees from Syria. Bernie Sanders concurred, but went further and joined Obama in denouncing the demagoguery and fear-mongering and supported his plan to increase the Syrian refugee intake to 10,000. But Hillary went further still and proposed resettling 65,000 instead of just 10,000 Syrian refugees. This past weekend, when Pope Francis visited Lesbos and personally sponsored three Syrian refugee families, and when Bernie paid his visit to Pope Francis, Bernie said nothing about the Syrian refugees that I could find in any reports. When I listened to the number of interviews in which Bernie answered questions about refugees, he tended to use the crisis to prove he was correct on his opposition to the Iraq War, to stress the need to increase humanitarian aid, to berate the Gulf states for their failure to step up to the plate, denounced bigotry, but has not proposed increasing the refugee intake beyond 10,000. On this point he has been consistent with being an economic nationalist on immigration.

The big issue in the United States, however, has been the large number of undocumented migrants living in the United States estimated to be ten million. Both Hillary and Bernie would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in America and stop deportation of those without criminal records. Both would eliminate most detention centres. Both would make medical insurance available to the undocumented through the Affordable Care Act.

However, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the ardent pro-life Sen. Ted Cruz supporter, said in reference to Bernie Sanders that, “part of his immigration policy is something that I agree with” though, as a climate change denier and on other issues, he is totally at odds with Bernie. Bernie has argued that guest workers in the United States depress wages and take jobs that Americans would take if the wages were higher. The issue is not Bernie’s support for undocumented workers in divided families, but his ability to square the circle. On the one hand, he opposed the comprehensive immigration reform act of 2007 because, as part of the bill, 200,000 guest workers would be permitted to stay for two years on temporary visas. On the other hand, anti-immigration groups give him and F on immigration policy.

Can his various positions be reconciled? Let’s try. Raise the minimum wage to $15 making guest workers unnecessary. Treat with compassion those who are already here. Exclude new guest workers and undocumented migrants. Welcome refugees, but not too many lest that lead to lower pay to American workers. The only problem is that no perfect immigration policy is possible. Our explorations in Canada concluded, much to our surprise because we opposed guest worker programs, was that without guest workers, even if the minimum wage is increased significantly, and it is already significantly higher in Canada than in the U.S., some businesses could not survive without guest workers. We proposed replacing guest workers with refugees since, other than seasonal workers, entrants into regular employment in Canada should also be on a path to citizenship. Though clearly a humanitarian, Bernie has come nowhere near to offering such an innovative program. His main concern is American workers, not refugee protection.

If you oppose guest workers on grounds of increased competition for Canadian workers, then it follows you should oppose refugees. Bernie does not. Further, Bernie stands strongly for family reunification, but almost all studies show that if you enhance family reunification immigration programs, you either cut into current immigration allocations for economically needed immigrants, or, alternatively, you put pressure on increasing the totals permitted to enter which in turn creates even larger pressures for family reunification. Bernie’s votes on immigration are idiosyncratic as indicated by his 2005 support for an amendment to immigration law eliminating the availability of 50,000 permanent resident visas annually for people from countries with low immigration to the United States discussed above.

The reality is that there are irresolvable tensions among different magnets – the desire for needed guest workers, for immigrants with needed skills, for investor immigrants all in tension with the desire for family reunification and the need to enhance resettlement of refugees for humanitarian reasons. So, on immigration policy, you do not aspire to achieve an ideal policy since none is possible. You instead need a policy based on a number of compromises and attempts at reconciliation. Satisfying all demands, and they are legitimate, is impossible. So legislation must seek to forge a compromise quite apart from the troglodytes who populate the American Congress. Bernie’s problem is not that he is not for all the right things, but that he focuses on one issue without acknowledging the necessity of reasonable compromise. Sanders did ultimately vote for the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform legislation while still opposing guest worker programs for low-skilled workers, claiming this as a major reason for keeping workers’ wages depressed. But would he admit that the entry of refugees could create the same pressures?

My problem with Bernie is not his heart but the inconsistencies in his mind and that his economic nationalism trumps enlightened refugee resettlement policies. He is very gutsy rhetorically, but the rhetoric is not backed by practical action when it comes to refugees, among other issues.

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders – Part I

Ten Reasons Why I Will NOT vote for Bernie Sanders

Part I – The First Three Reasons


Howard Adelman

Why would I even consider voting for Bernie? After all, he was an excellent athlete – an excellent runner and basketball player – when he was in high school and at university, while I at 6”3” was a dud. On the other hand, Bernie’s father at 17 came from Slopnice in Poland in 1921; my father came with his mother from Minsk in 1919 at age six. Though I am three years older, we grew up with similar experiences of the greater world, opposing the Vietnam War, in support of the crusade for civil and political rights for Black Americans and as admirers of Sweden as the Middle Way. If discount Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, the strongest push I have we . If we discount Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, pushing me towards support of Bernie is that he is by far the strongest environmentalist running to be a candidate for the presidency of the United States, supporting renewable energy to replace the burning of fossil fuels and pushing a carbon tax. His older brother, Larry, was the Green Party candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon in the last parliamentary election. My two youngest children are very strong advocates for sound environmental policies and, more importantly, are strong advocates for Bernie Saunders in discussions with me of American politics.

In fact, that is my main motivation for writing this blog. I want to try to convince them both that they are mistaken. I might even have a tiny influence on my three oldest children who have become American citizens and enjoy the right to vote. Ari Kamen, the political director of the Working Families Party in New York City and one of the leaders in support of Bernie’s crucial campaign in the New York State primary, even managed to convince his father, a Philadelphia history teacher at a Jewish day school, to support Bernie. I want to try to reverse the process. As futile as it may seem to be in addressing idealistic millennials, almost as futile as Bernie’s campaign seemed to be at the beginning, my children need to support another candidate. The debate in Brooklyn last night makes this blog imperative.

So, here goes.

  1. Trade Policy

Bernie’s most important claim to fame is that he is anti-free trade. He has consistently opposed free trade agreements. He reminds me of the old NDP policy in Canada. When my eldest son returned from Oxford with a graduate degree in tow in economic history, before he went on to become a professor of history at Princeton, he was asked by the NDP to prepare a think-piece on free trade and, in particular, on the prospect of a North American Free Trade Agreement which Canada, Mexico and the United States were negotiating. He studied the prospect of free trade and wrote a paper concluding, as almost all studies do, that this type of trade agreement does cause job and business dislocations, but that the rules proposed governing both investment and trade generally are of net benefit to the partners in such agreements. The NDP just buried his study and went on in the 1993 election to campaign against the prospective free trade agreement.

In that election, the NDP was reduced to a rump with just nine seats, though not as devastating a rump as the Progressive Conservative Party that suffered an overwhelming defeat and emerged with only two seats. Jean Chretien emerged with a significant majority and passed the NAFTA agreement that, in virtually all studies, has proven so beneficial to Canada, even though it was a major cause for the devastation to our furniture and some other industries in which the jobs moved primarily to the southern United States. Tom  Mulcair, the current leader of the NDP, now supports free trade. However, that anti-free trade sentiment remains strong in the NDP and has been brought into the forefront of debate by Donald Trump (we signed a bad deal) and the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Bernie argued, “NAFTA may be a good deal for the people who own our corporations, but it is a bad deal for American workers, for our family farmers, and it is bad for the environment.” NAFTA has been bad for some workers. NAFTA has been bad for some businesses – largely ignored by Bernie because of his emphasis on the cause of workers in dislocated industries. In Canada, the free trade agreement may have benefited the multi-nationals, but the initiative was pressed forward by federal civil servants and supporting Conservative and Liberal governments. In the new economy, accelerated by, but not the result of, free trade, labour unions have suffered as have the protections for workers generally. Europe has shown that there is no need for free trade to be associated with the destruction of unions and the protection of workers, especially the diminution of health and safety protection.

Bernie’s most effective moment of last evening perhaps came over this issue near the beginning of the debate. The exchange with Wolf Blitzer went as follows:

BLITZER: Senator, you’ve slammed companies like General Electric and Verizon for moving jobs outside of the United States. Yesterday, the CEO of Verizon called your views contemptible and said in your home state of Vermont Verizon has invested more than $16 million and pays millions of dollars a year to local businesses. He says you are, quote, “uninformed on this issue” and disconnected from reality. Given your obvious contempt for large American corporations, how would you as president of the United States be able to effectively promote American businesses around the world?

SANDERS: Well, for a start, I would tell the gentleman who’s the CEO at Verizon to start negotiating with the Communication Workers of America. And this is — this is a perfect example, Wolf, of the kind of corporate greed which is destroying the middle class of this country. This gentleman makes $18 million a year in salary. That’s his — that’s his compensation. This gentleman is now negotiating to take away health care benefits of Verizon workers, outsource call center jobs to the Philippines, and — and trying to create a situation where workers will lose their jobs. He is not investing in the way he should in inner cities in America.

BLITZER: All right. Senator, but the question was, the question was, given your contempt for large American corporations, as president, how would you be able to promote American business around the world?

SANDERS: First of all, the word contempt is not right. There are some great businesses who treat their workers and the environment with respect. Verizon happens not to be one of them. And what we need to do is to tell this guy Immelt, who’s the head of General Electric, he doesn’t like me, well, that’s fine. He has outsourced hundreds of thousands of decent-paying jobs throughout the world… cut his workforce here substantially and in a given year, by the way, it turns out that both Verizon and General Electric, in a given year, pay nothing in federal income tax despite making billions in profits.

BLITZER: But Senator, experts say that no matter the means to bring back these jobs to the United States, prices of goods for consumers in the United States would go up, which would disproportionately impact the poor and middle class. So how do you bring back these jobs to the United States without affecting the cost of goods to America’s middle class and poor?

SANDERS: Well, for a start, we’re going to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. And number two, while it is true we may end up paying a few cents more for a hamburger in McDonald’s, at the end of the day, what this economy desperately needs is to rebuild our manufacturing sector with good-paying jobs.  We cannot continue to sustain the loss of millions of decent-paying jobs that we have seen over the last 20, 30 years, based on trade agreements of which Secretary Clinton has voted for almost every one of those. That has got to change.

Bernie is correct. Certain types of workers suffer as a result of free trade agreements. But so too do certain types of businesses, particularly small businesses, so why is this not a major consideration in Bernie’s platform if he is true to his word and does respect some businesses, including very large ones? Bernie is also correct that multinational corporations have benefited. But the partners to trade agreements also suffered job losses. The furniture manufacturing jobs moved from the Kitchener area and Quebec to Georgia. The problem is not the dislocation – which is inevitable in an agreement. The real issue is not only the net benefit, but whether economic assistance is available for protecting workers, for job retraining and for the small businesses negatively affected.

The issue should not be free trade, which helps raise the impoverished world to become wealthier, but how the dislocations are managed. Bernie Saunders is simply a Luddite when it comes to trade policy. He is not an internationalist, but an economic nationalist focused almost exclusively on the harm done to American workers. Bernie opposed NAFTA in 1993. He opposed the free trade agreement with China that resulted directly in literally hundreds of millions of Chinese workers rising out of poverty. Bernie is also dishonest about the studies. He will emphasize that the Congressional Research Service documents the loss of 700,000 jobs as a result of NAFTA while ignoring, or, at best, underplaying, how many jobs the U.S. gained. In a worst case scenario, the U.S. suffered only a tiny net loss while the three economies of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. all benefited from the rising tide of trade and investment.

Opposing free trade is an integral part of reactionary rather than progressive politics if your primary one trick pony show is to raise the minimum wage to $15, however laudable in itself, while opposing free trade agreements.

  1. Dismantling the Large Banks

Next to targeting free trade, dismantling the American mega-banks has been an integral and core part of the Bernie Sanders’ crusade.  For Bernie, unlike too many of his supporters, the banks, along with Wall Street, are not seen as under the control of the Jews. (In a campaign stop at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in New York, one of his supporters shouted out that the Jews ran Wall Street.)  But Bernie has held the big banks to blame for the 2008 economic collapse.

Bernie is correct that the top six American banks – JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley – do control 58% (approximately 9.7 trillion in assets) of America’s GDP (18.2 trillion). But there is no evidence that they were collectively the prime causes of the 2007-08 collapse. Hillary Clinton was accurate in arguing in the debate that, in the whole picture, the key culprits were AIG, a giant insurance company, the investment bank, Lehman Brothers, and mortgage companies like Countrywide.

In my own published studies of the bursting of that bubble in 2007, the big banks in Canada could not be held to be at fault because we did not have a bubble to burst and because the rules governing the banks and their liquidity requirements are much stricter. But it was Bernie, not Hillary, who supported the deregulation of swaps and derivatives that allowed the rogue operations of near-banks as well as a ream of boiler shops promoting the sale of mortgage assets using the new technology developed initially by a Canadian graduate of the University of Waterloo at the beginning of this century. Has anyone not seen the terrific 2015 movie, The Big Short, which offers bios of four different financial management firms which both profited from and warned against what was happening?

The progressive economist, Paul Krugman, who writes for The New York Times, is a far better source than I am. In an op-ed column a week ago entitled, “Sanders Over the Edge,” he joined the chorus of those who accused Sanders of going “for easy slogans over hard thinking.” “The easy slogan here is ‘Break up the big banks.’ It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?”

What about Hillary giving speeches to big banks and Wall Street at $225,000 a shot? Was she compromising herself as a political candidate? Had she sold out to the banks as a result of speaking for money as Bernie charged? When Bernie was directly asked in the debate for one instance that showed Hillary had compromised in her political positions towards the banks, and, more seriously, connected that to the money she collected for speeches, Bernie was silent. All his accusations boiled down to suspicion and perception. There was no evidence produced that Hillary, when she was a Senator or when she was Secretary of State, either took money or was influenced by Wall Street. Or even that her policies had been influenced by the large banks since she has been a candidate for president even if $15 or $150 million of her campaign funds came from Wall Street. President Obama, who had a super PAC that took Wall Street donations, signed and passed Dodd-Frank, the significant effort (more could be done) to close the barn door after the rogues from Countrywide Financial and Lehman Brothers had escaped regulation, bringing enormous disaster to themselves, their shareholders and their clients.

As Paul Krugman wrote, “pounding the table about big banks misses the point. Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer. And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.”

  1. Guns

The issue of guns in America has occupied a significant part of President Obama’s presidency and of the campaign to become the next democratic candidate for president. In the U.S., “90 people on average a day are killed or commit suicide or die in accidents from guns, 33,000 people a year,” quite aside from the large number of mass killings of innocent civilians. Hillary Clinton in the debate last night said that, “Senator Sanders voted against the Brady Bill five times. He voted for the most important NRA priority, namely giving immunity from liability to gun-makers and dealers, something that is at the root of a lot of the problems that we are facing. Then he doubled down on that in the New York Daily News interview, when asked whether he would support the Sandy Hook parents suing to try to do something to rein in the advertising of the AR-15, which is advertised to young people as being a combat weapon, killing on the battlefield. He said they didn’t deserve their day in court.” In fact, his statements in the debate contradict that last interpretation.

What was and has repeatedly been Bernie’s answer? “Back in 1988, I ran for the United States Congress one seat in the state of Vermont. I probably lost that election, which I lost by three points, because I was the only candidate running who said, you know what? We should ban assault weapons, not seen them sold or distributed in the United States of America. I’ve got a D-minus voting record from the NRA. And, in fact, because I come from a state which has virtually no gun control, I believe that I am the best qualified candidate to bring back together that consensus that is desperately needed in this country.”

I cannot follow the latter reasoning at all. If you come from a state that makes it virtually impossible to get an abortion, are you the best person to mediate between the pro-life and the pro-choice camps? And when you lose an election opposing guns and subsequently compromise on that issue and win, does this mean your position should be respected? Or does that just mean you are a typical politician that sees the need to compromise to win elections? Did it mean he had to vote against the Brady Bill requiring a waiting period and comprehensive background checks?

However, I think that the central question was asked by Wolf Blitzer. The exchange went as follows:

BLITZER: You recently said you do not think crime victims should be able to sue gun makers for damages. The daughter of the Sandy Hook Elementary School who was killed back in the 2012 mass shooting, says you owe her and families an apology. Do you?

SANDERS: What we need to do is to do everything that we can to make certain that guns do not fall into the hands of people who do not have them. [He must have misspoken while evading the question asked. Criminals that do have guns should be entitled to purchase more, but not aspiring criminals???] Now, I voted against this gun liability law because I was concerned that in rural areas all over this country, if a gun shop owner sells a weapon legally to somebody, and that person then goes out and kills somebody, I don’t believe it is appropriate that that gun shop owner who just sold a legal weapon to (sic!) be held accountable and be sued. But, what I do believe is when gun shop owners and others knowingly are selling weapons to people who should not have them — somebody walks in. They want thousands of rounds of ammunition, or they want a whole lot of guns, yes, that gun shop owner or that gun manufacturer should be held liable.

BLITZER: So, Senator, do you owe the Sandy Hook families an apology?

SANDERS: No, I don’t think I owe them an apology. They are in court today, and actually they won a preliminary decision today. They have the right to sue, and I support them and anyone else who wants the right to sue.

CLINTON: Well, I believe that the law that Senator Sanders voted for that I voted against, giving this special protection to gun manufacturers and to dealers, is an absolute abdication of responsibility on the part of those who voted for it.

Car manufactures can be sued for making cars that maim or kill when safety is compromised, but not manufacturers of lethal weapons, as long as they are sold to the “right people” and not in large quantities. Does that make sense to you? Manufacturers can make and sell lethal automatic machine guns without safety protection but, in Bernie’s policies, be generally immune from any suit as long as they are sold to the “right people” and not in large quantities. And what about the retailers? Granting the right to sue but not the grounds for a successful suit is no defence of the Sandy Hook mothers. There must be a law that at least makes it part of the responsibility of manufacturers and sellers to ensure that weapons that are produced are as safe as possible when used and, as much as feasible, are not available to those who would use weapons threatening human lives.

Part II: to be continued


With the help of Alex Zisman

Gay Talese and Voyeurism

Gay Talese and Voyeurism


Howard Adelman

An article in the 11th April issue of The New Yorker entitled, “The Voyeur’s Motel” about an American motel owner who years ago deliberately bought a small motel so he could spy on the sex lives of his guests. The article is an extract from Gay Talese’s forthcoming book with the same title and it will almost certainly be a best seller. My surprise on seeing the article was the realization that Gay Talese was not only still alive, but still active as a writer, though, if I read the current cultural news I should have known that given the recent gefluffle over what he said about women journalists. Of the three or four so-called founders of the New Journalism, although Tom Wolfe was the most famous and Jimmy Breslin the most infamous, Gay Talese was the one who I liked best ever since Cathy Breslin introduced me to his writings when I worked on The Varsity as a student.

The reasons were obvious. I then considered myself a playwright and Gay Talese had a great ear. He was able to bring to life a character even if he never interviewed them directly. Further, you not only could hear the character talk; you could hear him think. I say “him” because I believe Gay seemed almost always to write about men and belonged to an old school as an Italian from the Jersey shore, even though it was his mother’s great skills as a listener in her women’s wear store that Gay Talese absorbed from the period in which he helped her as a kid. But he also took from his father, a men’s tailor for the mafia among others, not only his love of wearing bespoke suits, but an attention to detail and quality. And when he applied both skills, he listened carefully to how his subjects spoke about themselves as well as the revelations in what they did not say in the silences and pauses and hesitations.

But most of all, he introduced the writer preoccupied with verity into journalism, a field then traditionally of amateurs for whom writing the exciting story rather than the truth had been the norm. (Read Ben Hecht.) That required surrendering the omniscience of the author and including within one’s writing self-impressions and reflections so that the writer was part of the story. I try in my own writing to bring that lesson learned from the New Journalism, though I have never developed Talese’s ear nor his patience. What writer would wait almost four decades before putting in print such a “sensational” story as a motel owner who spied on his “guests” for years and kept a diary and records of his observations? In the days of the Panama Papers, Edward Snowden and Wiki-leaks, it is very difficult to call Talese’s revelations about an inconsequential motel owner as sensational. But then Talese was the writer least concerned about notoriety and fame even when writing about Joe DiMaggio or Frank Sinatra. For him, the story of an ordinary guy could be enormously revealing about the human soul, and Talese’s concern in selection was whether the interviewee could and would be a partner in such revelations.

The irony was that his attention to detail incorporated the devices of fiction – providing a back story and context while doing, as I did with my first play, cutting out the traditional first act which was used to introduce the characters and the story line, a practice which was becoming standard. (I always claimed that the reason I did so was because, when I hitch-hiked down to New York to see plays, I never saw a first act because I snuck into the theatres during the first intermission.) The truth was that plunging into the story from the opening scene, whether in a novel, a play or a film, had become the new norm; Gay Talese was one of the pioneers. But Talese had one practice that both his mother and father introduced him to, keeping detailed notes and very orderly files on his clients and subjects. Gay Talese was the Charles Darwin of the New Journalism, except he included as much about his own responses as about the “client.” He was really a cultural anthropologist rather than a biologist. I suspect this was a main interest in his voyeur subject who had similar habits.

Most of all, Gay Talese was the writer as a voyeur of the commons and the commonplace to help understand the larger world and the historical changes underway. So it should be no surprise that near the end of his life as a writer that he would choose to write about voyeurism, for voyeurism was an essential prerequisite to being the kind of writer he was and remains. In this story of the motel owner, he is a voyeur of a voyeur. And we, the audience, the readers, are voyeurs of a voyeur examining the life of a voyeur so we learn a great deal about voyeurism. But not just any voyeur! But a voyeur who recollected and reflected on his voyeurism and kept notes as meticulous as Gay Talese himself did. The outstanding feature of Gay Talese as a voyeur is looking at the other in order to see into his own soul.

It also explains why I personally am not a good fundamental voyeur of the everyday. I lack the curiosity about detail requisite to becoming a proper voyeur as distinct from one interested only in thrills. I am sure when his book is reviewed that reviewers will repeat his titillating stories that interest me the least. Neither do the parts of the tale concerned with his subject’s clever techniques and detailed preparations grab me. I am not a lover of the detective story. Of interest to me is not that Guy Talese used shirt cardboards on which to write his brief notes, but the fact that Gay Talese as an Italian always felt himself to be an outsider, and an outsider in search of recognition, that led to his talent and writing style. But what most intrigued me were the ethical and legal quandaries with which Talese wrestled as he gathered and recorded his observations and reflections.

In my analysis, we have four levels:

1.      The perspective of the voyeur and what he or she sees;

2.      The recollections and reflections of the voyeur looking at himself;

3.      The voyeur of the voyeur;

4.      The recollections and reflections of the voyeur of the voyeur who would not only record what he heard and his impressions, but his own reflections about the moral quandary into which he, Gay Talese, had been cast in hearing what had been said, particularly when he was told about a murder that had been seen.

“I spent a few sleepless nights, asking myself whether I ought to turn Foos in. But I reasoned that it was too late to save the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Also, since I had kept the Voyeur’s secret, I felt worrisomely like a co-conspirator…” “I was the Voyeur’s pen pal, his confessor, perhaps, or an adjunct to a secret life he chose not to keep completely secret. Several times over the years, it occurred to me that I would be wise to discontinue our correspondence.”

Then there is myself, the voyeur writing, recollecting and reflecting about the voyeur of the voyeur, and then you, my readers, who look on, and hopefully recollect and reflect on what I am writing. So there is an infinite regression in voyeurism that makes the subject of Gay Talese’s article so interesting, for he is very much self-conscious of that reality. But why in his own mind and in that of Talese and in my own is voyeurism so fascinating? I insist that it is not for the vicarious pleasure of the voyeur looking at adults engaged in sex. But perhaps I protest too much. Perhaps my delight in reading Gay Talese is that it allows me to distance myself from the immediate – something Gay Talese refused to do when on a rare occasion he wrote about women, this time women in massage parlours, and insisted that he experience the performance literally first hand.

Gerald Foos, the subject of Gay Talese’s article, was perhaps even more honest than Talese, and certainly myself, for he admitted openly that he enjoyed and got a great deal of pleasure in watching others engage in sex. Further, he, very much like Talese, and vey unlike myself, was “very curious about everything and everyone I see.” I, by contrast, have a very narrow range of interests and they are not primarily driven by curiosity so much as concern. I, to the best of my recollection, have never been preoccupied with invisibility (as Foos was), though, like many adolescents, I too dreamt of dying and observing how the attendees at my funeral reacted to my death. Though I shared with both Foos and Talese what Foos called the advantage in youth of “unsupervised freedom,” and the resulting precocious freedom, perhaps I never followed in the footsteps of Foos because I never had the “rear window” experience of watching a young aunt cavort in her bedroom nude when I was a pubescent adolescent. Perhaps that is why I am more concerned with throwing things out than collecting them, for collecting was a preoccupation of both Foos and Talese, though Talese focused almost exclusively on his own observations and reflections rather than on sports cards or other paraphernalia.

As Talese wrote about Foos, “he always associated his collecting with his boyhood attraction to his aunt. He wrote, ‘The youth will confuse sexuality and the art of accumulating objects. . .  There was a direct association from his aunt being nude and his collecting.’” Talese was not only interested in the genesis of Foos’ obsessions, but with their development as well as the evolving character of his own observations. “The entries become increasingly portentous, and Foos starts to invest the omniscient Voyeur character with godlike qualities. He appears to be losing his grip on reality. But only once, while posted in the attic, did he actually speak through a vent to a person below… [The “guest” never clued into the source of the words he heard.] The journal entry ends with an existential rumination: “Foos is sinking deeper into isolation and despair. The more I read, the more convinced I became that Foos’s stilted metaphysics were his way of attempting to elevate his disturbing pastime into something of value.”

Conclusion: “I am still unable to determine what function I serve. . .  Apparently, I’m delegated the responsibility of this heavy burden to be placed upon myself—never being able to tell anyone! . . . The depression builds, but I will continue onward with my research. I’ve pondered on occasion that perhaps I don’t exist, only represent a product of the subjects’ dreams. No one would believe my accomplishments as a voyeur anyway, therefore, the dreamlike manifestation would explain my reality. Finally, I will be able to satisfy my constant yearning and uncontrollable desire to peer into other people’s lives. My voyeuristic urges will now be placed into effect on a plane higher than anyone else has contemplated.”

Even if only for self-justification, there are “higher’ levels of purpose as well as perspective on the drives and reflections on the self. There is the utility of the practice. For Gerald Foos, there are lessons to be learned from the observations, though Foos himself never shared what he observed and concluded with his clients. But he wanted to do so, to tell men, for one, to be patient in their sexual practices, to be as much or even more concerned with pleasure one gives to one’s partner as for oneself. The indifference of many if not most men to their partner’s needs and desires is perhaps what most distressed this voyeur in all his observations. This was his reflection following his first engagement in voyeurism. “Conclusion: They are not a happy couple. He is too concerned about his position and doesn’t have time for her. He is very ignorant of sexual procedure and foreplay despite his college education. This is a very undistinguished beginning for my observation laboratory. . .”

When he saw so many men piss into the sink and most men partially miss the toilet when they stood up to urinate, he even thought he could advise the makers of bathroom fixtures on the manufacture of a domestic urinal.

Further, though the primary concern was voyeurism, the observing of another person as totally other when there is seemingly no relationship, the underlying theme is partnership, partnership between the voyeur and his unknowing objects as well as the partnership between a journalist and his or her interviewee and the potential for complicity. That partnership almost becomes a betrayal when Talese joins Foos in his attic observational post and, refusing to forego his insistence on being dressed-up in public, inadvertently allows his tie to slip through the slats in the vent, thus revealing his and Foos’ presence to the resident below in the motel room. Needless to say, they were not caught.

Then there was Foos’ concern with science, with generalization, with access to material that Masters and Johnson never had in their pioneering scientific study of sex begun when I was an undergraduate. “As the years passed, he (Foos) became more preoccupied with receiving recognition for what he viewed as his pioneering research. By necessity, he existed in the shadows, running his laboratory for the study of human behaviour. He considered his work to be superior to that of the sexologists at the Kinsey Institute and the Masters and Johnson clinic. Much of the research at such places was obtained from volunteers. Because his subjects didn’t know they were being watched, they yielded more accurate and, to his mind, more valuable information.”

Finally, there is the concern with norms and values. As a result of his spying and what he sees when he spies, Foos develops into a misanthrope.

Conclusion: Thousands of unhappy, discontented people are moving to Colorado in order to fulfill that deep yearning in their soul, hoping to improve their way of life, and arrive here without any money and discover only despair. . .  Society has taught us to lie, steal, and cheat, and deception is the paramount prerequisite in man’s makeup. . .  As my observation of people approaches the fifth year, I am beginning to become pessimistic as to the direction our society is heading, and feel myself becoming more depressed as I determine the futility of it all.

And then again:

My observations indicate that the majority of vacationers spend their time in misery. They fight about money; where to visit. . .  All their aggressions somehow are immeasurably increased, and this is the time they discover they are not properly matched. Women especially have a difficult time adjusting to both the new surroundings and their husbands. Vacations produce all the anxieties within mankind to come forward during this time, and to perpetuate the worst of emotions. . . You can never really determine during their appearances in public that their private life is full of hell and unhappiness. . .  This is the “plight of the human corpus,” and I’m sure provides the answer that if the misery of mankind were revealed all together spontaneously, mass genocide might correspondently follow.

Another of the normative results was that Foos became anti-war since many of his “guests” were military personnel from the nearby base and he observed the effect of war on their personal lives.

Then there is the revelation, the great surprise – at least a hinted one. Was Foos not really just or even primarily a voyeur, but a writer of fiction? Talese never says this explicitly, but it is suggested when Talese discovers that Foos only bought his motel three years after he ostensibly recorded his first observations in his journal. And what about the murder Foos claimed to have seen? Talese could discover no record in the Denver Colorado police department or the coroner’s office of any such murder. Most importantly, is voyeurism less about objectivity than about the subjective imagination? For Talese noted that voyeurism is perhaps more about anticipating what one is going to observe than the actual observations.

There are also the conclusions about voyeurism more generally. The observations are not supported by any type of objective systematic or statistical data, though Foos did count and classify his observations of positions and male versus female orgasms. Mostly, he offers just impressions, not replicable observations. And there are no controls, no placebos. But the observations are a preoccupation with the nature of the world at present and the almost omniscient prevalence of surveillance. I very recently became aware of this when I sent some reviews in of the motels and restaurants to Trip Advisor and then was asked by email to review two motels at which I had stayed but had not written about. They knew motels in which I had rented a room even though I had told Trip Advisor nothing about those motels.

So you can consider this a review of a motel owner and a writer about him rather than the motel itself, a motel at which I never stayed, a motel which no longer exists because it has since been torn down to make way for a new development. But that is part of the character of this story. It belongs to a time which precedes modern internet, video and audio surveillance. “This conversation is being recorded to help us improve our service.” The story is a tale of nostalgia, a throwback to a time when vices were relatively innocent.


With the help of Alex Zisman

arshat Tazria: Exclusion – Leviticus 12:1-13:59

Parshat Tazria: Exclusion – Leviticus 12:1-13:59


Howard Adelman

What does the ritual of cleanliness and purification after childbirth have to do with the practice of exclusion and what does the practice of exclusion have to do with the circumcision of male children on the eighth day? Verse 2 and 3 of Leviticus ch. 12, Tazria, read: “If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” And why is a woman unclean for two weeks and not one when she has a female child? And why is her banishment from the sanctuary also doubled from 33 to 66 days when the child is a female rather than a male? Why should a woman be regarded as unclean at all after bearing a child?

What connection is there between the birth of a child and a disease like leprosy or even metaphoric leprosy, setting aside how accurate medically the symptoms of the physical condition leprosy as depicted in the text are? Why is raw flesh, of a placenta or chronic leprosy, regarded as unclean? In the case of leprosy, verse 46 of ch. 13 commands that, “He (she) shall remain unclean as long as (s)he has the disease. He (she) is unclean. He (she) shall live alone. His (her) dwelling shall be outside the camp.” What is the condition of tzaraat that commands social exclusion? On the other hand, what does it mean in modern society for a wife to stick by her husband and go into exile with him along with their children?

Yesterday, I wrote a review of the film, The Family, about a mafia family in which a minor mafia boss played by Robert De Niro is sent into exile with his wife and two teenage children in Normandy, France, under the American witness protection program because he ratted on his mafia family, not speaking ill of others without warrant, but with warrant, serving to ensure not simply his expulsion from his mafia family, but making himself a target for elimination. For the mafia Majordomo is determined on revenge. The dominant theme of the movie is exclusion, the loss of the family’s sense of belonging in their Italian community in Brooklyn, how alien De Niro is as a non-French speaker in a small town in Normandy, how the two children have to adapt to a new school and win friends, and how, to overcome the sense of strangeness of this family settling in Normandy when the FBI decides to attempt integration rather than preserving privacy and exclusion which in itself raises suspicions.

Last night we watched the first three episodes of the first season of the Emmy award-winning TV series, The Good Wife, which will end its seventh season run next month. The series also deals with exclusion as a dominant theme. This time the family is not relocated to Normandy, but is exiled from the rich suburban city of Highland Park, 26 miles north of downtown Chicago as Peter (Chris Noth) and Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) are forced to sell their opulent home to pay Peter’s legal bills after he is charged and convicted in a sex and bribery scandal when he was serving as the State’s Attorney for Cook County, which includes the City of Chicago. Alicia relocates with her two children, Zach and Grace, to an apartment, and Alicia resumes her career as a litigation attorney at the bottom rung while her husband, Peter, is sent to jail. Dislocation, alienation, the challenges of reintegration in work and society drive the drama. But the series begins with the focus of the camera on the hand-holding of Peter and Alicia as Peter marches up to deal with the shame and disgrace in the court of public opinion in response to the scandal.

Women are door mats and have been

The years those mats applaud

They keep their men from going in

With muddy feet to God.

The children have lost their friends as a result of both the scandal and the move. Alicia too is no longer “received” by her former neighbours. Even in her new job, she lives in the shadow of the scandal that is both political and personal because the sexual dalliances of her husband with prostitutes are so devastating to her. The show deliberately resonates on the Bill and Hillary Clinton scandals when Bill was President, but more specifically with the Eliot Spitzer prostitute scandal when he occupied the same position in New York State as Peter Florrick did in Illinois in the TV series. Hillary was and is a lawyer. So was Elizabeth Edwards in the John Edwards sex scandal. Sex and shame. Oh how far the mighty can fall, bringing down with them in shame and ignominy their wives and children.

The series falls into the genre of courtroom drama with a case per week in the first three episodes – a wife wrongly accused of killing her husband in the first episode, an escort who justly accuses her rich patron of rape in the second episode, and a teenager from Alicia’s old neighbourhood of Highland Park unjustly accused of manslaughter. An essential plot device in these crime and courtroom dramas is uncovering the missing clues that will lead to exoneration of the victim and just punishment for the perpetrator.

But these are just the technical devices to introduce suspense and keep the plot moving. The main interest is psychological and social. As in The Family, though Marge may not be smart in terms of education and personal career achievement, she is intelligent, independent, feisty as well as a loving mother. So is Alicia, but though Alicia is professionally trained, she runs up against her own insecurity which the street-smart Marge, who has every reason to be insecure, never does, though she is understandably in terror, mostly for her children, when the mafia hitmen come after her and her family. Alicia, though brave and determined, still wears her fall from grace on her sleeve. Marge remains a good wife. Alicia was one and we wonder whether she, like Hillary, will return to her husband’s side. Both women are cool, though Alicia is radically different from Marge in speaking clearly and with purpose where words follow thought processes rather than expressing an emotional state.

But isn’t this a real stretch from leprosy and circumcision? The link with leprosy is easier to establish. The sex offender, whether the betraying husband or the rapist or the sex offender or the pedophile, is the contemporary version of an individual deemed to have leprosy and requiring quarantine, at least until the disease is clearly in remission. Both are “diseases” of the flesh. The conditions are both seen as resulting from moral turpitude. Ostracism is the accompanying punishment. But ratting on one’s social family and allowing your sexual peccadilloes to become matters of public discussion are worse because each also brings the punishment to bear on the good wife and the good children, even if the wife and children in the comedy are not as innocent as they initially appear.

But over the long term, though I am unwilling to invest my time in the whole series to find out, I suspect subsequent episodes of The Good Wife will reveal Alicia to have as much passion as the compassion she displays, for Zach to reveal he is as clever as De Niro’s son, but in a more diagnostic and analytic way as adumbrated when he discovers the sexual scandal pictures that destroyed his father’s career were computer generated, and that the friendless younger sister, Grace, who so missed her old life will reveal as much gumption and independence as the seventeen-year-old daughter of Robert De Niro in forging a new life for herself.

But a key character in the film and the TV series is a misanthrope, the part of the FBI agent played by Tommy Lee Jones and the role of the in-house investigator in Alicia’s legal firm, Kalinda Sharma, played by Archie Punjab. We know virtually nothing personal about either character, certainly in the first three episodes of The Good Wife, even though Kalinda has a great deal of screen time. If Alicia is cool and collected, Kalinda is cold and calculating and never upset by all the shenanigans. Both are protective – Kalinda of Alicia and the FBI agent of De Niro’s character – even though both evince the view that no one is to be trusted. The most distrusting characters become the ones exhibiting the most trust. They do so in a context in which, underneath the exclusion and ostracism, underneath the diseases of the flesh of sexual dalliances and leprosy, in contexts in which both dramas are replete with dead corpses (off the screen in The Good Wife and displayed with abandon in The Family), at the root of both dramas is the question, “Who can you trust?”

Which brings us to circumcision, brit milah, and the connection with social ostracism! For the Jewish ritual of circumcision entails cutting into the flesh of a baby, cutting off a symbolic piece of the flesh of a male child’s foreskin, in practice by an experienced mohel, who may or may not be a physician, but in reality is just a proxy for the father. If a father who so loves his long longed-for son, no one more so than Abraham, is capable of cutting his eight-day-old son, and cutting him in his sexual organ, inflicting pain, however minimal, where the son will carry the badge of a Jew, in his flesh and in his psyche, for his entire life, then the message tattooed in the flesh is that no one can be completely trusted – including God in Judaism in contrast to Christianity.

Trust and distrust are two poles. The misanthrope ostensibly trusts no one. The naïve trusts anyone. But to get by in life we must learn whom to trust and whom to distrust and to what degree. When trust is betrayed, the betrayer is ostracized to some degree. At the extreme, the individual is cast entirely out of the community. A Jewish lad from his second week in existence is taught that he must never completely trust, not just anyone, but especially himself and his own penis. Look at Eliot Spitzer. Look at Bill Clinton.

But what has all of this, even granting a connection between circumcision and ostracism, have to do with a woman being unclean after delivering a child, and being doubly unclean after delivering a female rather than a male child? What is the significance of being טָמֵא, tummah, unclean which is such an obsession in the book of Leviticus? When the word is made flesh, when is the flesh made “unclean”? Contact with a corpse makes one temporarily unclean. Food, clothes, animals and things, but especially people, can be unclean.

When Leviticus 10:10 reads, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,” the general interpretation is to set up the analogy as holy:common = clean:unclean. Cleanliness is associated with holiness, with purity. The parallel is made between “holy” and “clean” and the “common” with the “unclean.” But according to the structure of the proposition, the analogy should be: holy:common = unclean:clean. It is the common, it is the ordinary, it is the behaviour according to the norms of everyday life, that is clean. It is pride, it is the viewing oneself as a god, as seeing oneself as purer than the ordinary, that is unclean. When a prosecutor sets out on the path to expunge his world of corruption, to drive the scalawags out of office, beware. Raise your antenna of distrust. For both religious and secular holy rollers are particularly suspect.

If you regard yourself as occupying an exclusive sphere immune to the temptations of desire, then pride will surely go before the fall. No one, especially one’s own father, is holy. Uncleanliness is an integral part of life. But we must guard against contamination, not the contamination of dirt, not the contamination of the ordinary, but the contamination of the obsession with one’s own purity and exclusive status. The higher we view ourselves, the greater the fall and the more appropriate the punishment and the degree of exclusion. And when we kill at will, whether as a mafia hit man, a murderer or a terrorist, when we see as our mission and vocation as taking another’s life as simply an everyday occupation, then absolute exclusion is appropriate. When we have incurable metaphoric leprosy, total isolation from society is appropriate.

If this perverse interpretation has any play, why are women in childbirth regarded as unclean, and why are they regarded as doubly unclean when the child born is a female?  Simply put, lest the mother feel holier than ever because she gave birth to a child and lest she feel doubly holy because the child born is a female, the key guarantor of reproduction. Females have twice the value of the male child (and usually have to work twice as hard to prove they are male’s equal), so the risk of conceiving oneself as holier than thou requires ritual preventive detention and social exclusion to ward off any contamination of the disease, from the germ that gives rise to the danger.

A Jewish circumcised male is given a permanent reminder that he cannot trust his penis for it has a mind of its own, especially when wedded to the holy spirit, when the male sees himself as an exemplification of the holy spirit. Females do not need to learn to distrust themselves, but they still need to learn to ward off any betrothal to the holy spirit of purity. The ritual of symbolic exclusion, of a woman regarding herself as unclean when she does give birth, and doubly so when she gives birth to a female child, exemplifies a need to be ritually and very temporarily ostracized to prevent the potential malady from becoming runaway contamination.

The upshot of the diagnosis of tzaraat, especially of an acute condition that has become chronic and incurable, is banishment, and, in the extreme, permanent banishment. A Judean king afflicted with acute tzaraat remained under house arrest for the rest of all his life in a beit hachoshit, a house of quarantine. For the rest of us, quarantine is a temporary state from which we should emerge stronger and better than ever. Thank God we are not kings – or queens!

With the help of Alex Zisman