I also had the chance to seen an outstanding Israeli film last night titled Ushpizin. It is about the holiday of Succoth, where Jews build ritual huts to live in outside of their homes to remind themselves that they are only guests in this world, and it is traditional to have guests for such an event. The story centers around an observant couple who come from a rebellious background and their prayerful desire to have a son while they are interrupted in Succoth by guests from the main characters past who have escaped from an Israeli prison. It is an excellent film and I highly recommend it. One reason I like this film so much is that it does not seek to demonize religion, rather creates an understanding of the lives of observant Jews, and it has powerful messages of forgiveness and transformation.

My Family: “As Far as Our Old Man Got” and The Death of the American Dream

Do you remember the old Billy Joel song where he said “everyone could hope to make it as far as his old man got.”

That is how most Americans have historically grown-up believing that each generation would do better than the past and that was the American Dream. In the Post WWII era the veterans of the war went to college by the millions thanks to the GI bill and entered white-collar America in the fifties and led to the suburban housing boom. Most of these GI’s came from poor or blue-collar families and far exceeded the dreams of their parents who reared them during the Great Depression.

Those GIs who didn’t go to college really didn’t sweat it that much because they came home to union skilled trade, manufacturing, transportation, and government jobs. Without a college education, and many without even a high school diploma, they were able to get jobs that allowed them to live comfortable middle-class lifestyles for their entire lives. My grandfather was one of those men; he was a marine in WWII and fought in the Pacific theatre. He only had a grade school education and was one of 14 children his mother had (several of them died during birth) and grew-up poor during the Depression years. After coming back from Vietnam he worked as a taxi driver, a laborer and at a dairy before he ended up landing good union jobs at factories as a pipefitter that lasted for the rest of his career until he had a heart attack. A man who grew-up poor to a laborer and homemaker; my grandfather was able to buy decent homes, decent cars and provide good health care to his children and had a reasonable pension and Social Security waiting on him upon retirement. He owed much of his relative success to his hard work-ethic and honesty, but a lot of it can be owed to the times he lived in and the gains of the labor movement by the time he joined the unionized workforce. Another big factor was that he got married young at the age of 21 to my grandmother, who was 18 at the time, and they worked side by side and in harmony over the years to achieve their common goals. His motto was always simple; hard work, family and patriotism. The sixties didn’t happen as far as he was concerned and he never broke free of the cultural norms that he grew-up with or attempted to expand his horizons. Going out for my grandfather is a night at the horse races and hitting the McDonalds drive-thru on the way home and picking up enough for everyone and getting home in time to watch the baseball game or the boxing matches.

Then the next generation came along. Now I don’t want to get in that many details but let’s just say that our family’s boomer generation hasn’t been as successful as the WWII generation. The three children that my grandparents had, two boys and a girl, all came of age in the 1960’s and early seventies.

My uncle went to Vietnam after graduating from high school. Unlike my grandfather who was in the Battle of Okinawa and finished the war in Japan and China in a military that was enjoying the thrills of a historic victory. Americans believed in the war on fascism and as the GI’s in Europe battled Hitler, the GI’s in Asia sought to avenge the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese. Ask any sensible Chinese, Korean or Filipino and they will tell you they thank God for the American involvement in the Pacific theatre. History will record their battles against the Japanese as just as the people of the time recognized it as just.

Vietnam is an entirely different story. America didn’t support Vietnam because any logical person knew at the time that it was an unjust war and attack on the people of Vietnam. Half of the soldiers in Vietnam didn’t agree with the war; but were too poor to get college deferments. Vietnam was a poor-mans war; and my uncle didn’t have enough money to not go so he went. The children of the elite marched in Berkeley and Manhattan while the children of the poor died and were permanently scarred in Vietnam.

Part of my uncles reasoning for wanting to go to the war (even though there really wasn’t much of a choice) was also probably the desire to do what his old man did. The dads of his buddies were all looked at as heroes and his generation wanted to be heroes too even if they didn’t have a heroic endeavor. His experience in Vietnam was poor, something he never liked to talk about. The only thing that was generally known in the family was that he flew on helicopters that picked up the wounded and dead (which is a gruesome job) and that he had fell in love with a Vietnamese girl that he was unable to take home although he desperately wanted to.

The only conversation with my uncle about the war I ever had is when I asked him if a lot of the soldiers in Vietnam used drugs, before he could answer my grandmother yelled out “no they didn’t”; but my uncle was honest and said “ Are you nuts? Almost all of the guys used drugs at one time or another.”

My uncle Jimmy never got married, never had children, never bought a house, was in constant debt, battled with addictions and died of a heart attack before the age of fifty. The American Dream never reached him.

My aunt I will not discuss that much, I guess because my writing is more male-centric because I think I have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of the male. I will say though that my aunt is divorced, in dire financial straits, has one child, and also appears not to be doing so hot in the American Dream category after being forced to enter the entry-level job market at the age of fifty in order to struggle to keep her home.

Then comes my father. I think he grew-up in an idealized vision of America and that was in his mind as he went to his youth. He soon discovered that the America he grew-up being taught to love was unraveling and he rebelled against the rebels and became somewhat of a reactionary and a life-long anti-intellectual. While millions were protesting the Vietnam War my father actually tried to volunteer for the war (but my grandmother vetoed that idea after threatening the recruiter with a baseball bat) and he passively fought on the other side of his generation during the culture wars.

With no war to go to, and without completing his college studies, my father had three children with my mother before age 22 and by 24 he was divorced and had custody of three children. He had a good union job as a crane-operator before getting laid of and then struggled for years before getting a job as an autoworker with the help of my grandfather. We had lean years before that but that good union job and benefits led to a better life for him and his children. Remarrying once more in my childhood my father became a Evangelical Christian and for several years I was raised strictly in that tradition ( and am left with a taste so bitter from the Evangelicals that I will never be able to get rid of the foul taste). Now he had good trait and bad traits as a father, but that is not the point of this story, the question is did he get as far as his old man got? Well, every home he bought he lost due to lack of payments, he is twice-divorced, had to take an early medical retirement in his fifties, and generally led an unfulfilled life in which he dealt with problems of anger and briefly with other problems and at this age he has a less than desirable relationship with his three children and grand-children (although he is trying and I cant knock him for that). However, contrast that with my grandparents who raised their children, grand-children and are now taking on the grandparent role to their great-grandchildren and are dearly loved by all. It can be safely said that my father didn’t get as far as his old man got.

The next generation came with my sisters and I. Briefly I will tell you my older twin-sisters are doing relatively well although one is having sever financial problems and is married to a guy who makes Toby Keith look like Saul Bellow.

Now to me; the male who was supposed to get as far as his old man got ( and being the son of a man who didn’t get as far as his old man, could I make the comeback for the team?). Well, I began getting in legal-trouble at age fourteen, am a high school dropout, convicted felon who spent time in federal prison, the father of a child born out of wedlock, flat-broke with literally no chance of buying a home and I cant see a union job in site. I haven’t gotten as far as my old man and he didn’t get as far as his old man.

I am poorer than the previous generations and have no health-care but am more educated (not in the traditional sense). I have traveled the world, can speak other languages, am a writer, and read and speak on topics my father and grandfather have never heard of. The places I have been and the things I have seen they can never imagine and for all practical purposes we are living on separate planets. The only thing that binds the three-generations is a love of sports. Seldom have I done anything they can relate to; besides my involvement with Democratic political campaigns which a Democratic family can understand. They were passive observers to most things; I am an active participant in life and the social, cultural and political debates of our times.

Today there is no American Dream, it is a thing of the past. Not only am I not as far as my father and grandfather but the vast majority of people I know; from black to white, educated to non-educated, and rich to poor have not made it as far finically as their fathers. What many of us share in common though is that we are worldlier than the previous generations and are more engaged in society. So we may not be doing the things that can earn us the money they made; but we are doing the things that will make us happier than they ever were. Many of our fathers, like mine, hated their jobs and dreaded going to work everyday; that is not the case with me.

This was inspired by a guy I had in my cab tonight. He told me that both of his uncles retired from the cab company that I drive for in the 1980’s and that they are both receiving $2,000 a month pensions. Today drivers get no pension, health-care or any kind of pension whatsoever. In my profession we have taken a giant step-backwards. Of course we also live in a time when people are duped into voting against their own economic interests and many workers are so brainwashed by talk-radio that they don’t even know what is good for them.

I looked back at him as a dropped him off in a working-class neighborhood in North St. Louis (Baden) and said “man, we have it worse than our fathers did, don’t you think?”

“I know we have it worse than our fathers did.” He responded.

The modern economy today is geared for the corporate benefit and the interests of the worker have to be laid aside in the era of globalization. This globalized economy will mean that many in America will have unimaginable wealth; while others will live in third-world poverty in the US and there will be nothing in between as the jobs that used to sustain a middle-class lifestyle will no longer be in America.

Muslim Observer Disgraces Itself

This is a copy of my email to the Muslim Observer in response to their front page story on Barbara Olson in the October 13th editon.

Here is my response to your disgraceful article on Barbara Olson. It is a shame that your paper has the respect it does in the Muslim community and I am embarrassed to have contributed to it in the past. May Allah guide you.

I am tired of hearing conspiracy theories from Muslims. We have real problems and in order to deal with these real problems our minds must be firmly rooted in what is real and not in some fantasy world of crazed conspiracies.

Nine Arab leaders are not secretly Jews, ten Jews in New York don’t secretly run the world, Sharon doesn’t bark orders to Bush, and there is no grand conspiracy behind 9-11. Problems in the Muslim World, and in particular the Arab World, are usually ignored and if they are dealt it is common that conspiracy theories will be proffered in order to escape the blame for the problem or the existence of a harsh reality.

Muslims sought to distance themselves from 9-11. It would have been enough to say that I am a Muslim and am opposed to 9-11 on religious and ethical grounds. Instead of dealing with the situation in this mature manner many Muslims have decided to deal with the problem in a childish and ridiculous manner by concocting out of thin air conspiracy theories.

Now I expect this from many of the rags in the Arab World whose writers don’t know the difference between serious journalism and fantasy writing.  Sadly I was wrong as I read in the latest edition of the Muslim Observer, a leading American-Muslim publication, that 9-11 victim and former conservative activist Barbara Olson was found and arrested in Italy with a small fortune. Perhaps the Muslim Observer can now join forces with Lyndon Larouche and promote his conspiracies of the British Queen and join Louis Farrakhan on the Mother Ship.

10 Years Since OJ: From OJ to Katrina

When I was growing up in the 1980’s and coming of age in the early-nineties American liberals still held true to a vision of racial equality and civil rights was a major issue in the political debate. During my high school years major-record labels signed the likes of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions and A Tribe Called Quest and film-directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton were able to get the green-light from studios on projects. People talked about race and there were discussions on race and while America was still racially divided it seemed we could still talk about race.

Well something happened along the way. In today’s America one cannot even speak about race and if you do happen to say for instance that racism is a problem in America then you will be labeled yourself as a racist. Do not speak of race is a rule today in America. Ignore it and it will go away. This is something that is not a left-right issue; liberals who are the vanguard of gentrification also refuse to speak of race publicly but quietly in the name of progressive change advocate things that are hostile to the interests of African-Americans and in their urban policies resemble something between hyper-capitalists and Stalinist land-grabbers.

Ignore race and it will go away. The conservatives who believe poverty is a moral failing and that black people are just too lazy or dysfunctional keep their comments to themselves. The lefties who say that “no, no it’s about class and not about race” as if those two things can ever be separated in America; they refuse to deal with reality and seek to immunize themselves from discussions on race by putting everything on class.

There is a consensus in White America; we will bend no more to the whims of African-Americans and their desires. There is no need to discuss it because Democrats and Republicans agree on it.

This policy of marginalization of African-Americans after the period of the civil-rights movement, in other words to say that the lives of blacks are hopeless and worthless, formulated over time but when history is written I believe that the OJ Simpson case will have a lot to do with it.

Many may be too young to remember and others may have forgotten but America was completely captivated for two-years on the case of OJ. It was on every TV station everyday and in every newspaper and every one had an opinion. A black man, a football star, an actor, a black man who was a trailblazer in white America, a friendly Negro who always surrounded himself with white people, had killed his white ex-wife and her white friend.

What, America said? We knew the Bloods and Crips and the rappers are violent; but our main man OJ, the Juice? That’s was too much for many who said to themselves if OJ can be violent then what about the UPS man? Whites overwhelmingly thought OJ was guilty and blacks cheered in the streets when OJ was acquitted by a mostly black jury. Most whites believed that the black jury gave OJ a pass because he was black and most blacks believed OJ deserved the benefit of the doubt and even if he was guilty what about the thousands of whites who had gotten off due to jury nullification?

That was ten years ago. In that period you have welfare-reform, a roll back in civil rights, massive gentrification, prisons flooded with black males. Etc., etc., etc.

White America is comfortable. The conservatives are steeped in exurbia without a black man in site. The liberals have fired their black waiters, cooks and cleaning ladies and replaced them with immigrants and liberal whites move into Bed-Stuy and systematically and ruthlessly uproot poor people and then they sit around and drink latte and talk about how liberal they are. A conservative man can still watch the NFL, NBA or boxing if he wants to see a black man but he better not see one moving in next door, young suburban white kids can still listen to Mike Jones or 50 Cent (and that gives them their image of black people) and the urban white liberal is still free to sexually experiment with black people and chalk it up as liberal street-cred. White America is content; more concerned with foreign policy than domestic policy because wealthy liberals and conservatives both want their tax-cuts. Poverty, class and race are passé; the real issues are vegetarianism, gay marriage, abortion, architecture and fighting against Wal-Mart , abortion, stem-cell research and killing Muslims on the other side of the aisle.

America was woken up from its slumber and reminded that the major issue in America is and always has been race, race, race , race and race no matter what the PC professors say who are churning out a new generation of the clueless off of college campuses.

From Katrina to OJ things stays the same. Can we talk about it yet?

The kids are playing in East St. Louis by the way and not Dafur.

Why I Love Driving a Taxi

On some days I hate driving a taxi. That is usually because the business is slow, the weather is bad and the trips are few and far between. When driving a taxi one gets to see all that society has to offer, just take last night; my trips included pick-ups from a Latino nightclub, African-American nightclub, several yuppie nightclubs, a wealthy wedding, a baseball game, a casino, college students on campus, a business trip and a run to White Castle.

Two trips that particularly stand out are a very ill older woman on a respirator who with her daughter was going to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game with her daughter. She said that she hadn’t been to a game in eight years but wanted to go one more time before Busch stadium was closed ( today is the last regular season game at Busch). She said she hoped to go to a game and to take her daughter to New York for a visit once before she died and I was able to give her some advice on her trip to NYC. It is at times like that when driving a taxi is a joy. I went on to get a very nice family from Pittsburgh whose son attends St. Louis University and they told me how they admired the St. Louis architecture and of how both cities were dealing with some of the same problems in their efforts to redevelop and the mother mentioned that possible-models should be Minneapolis and Louisville.

Nice people; but then you get a drunk guy from New Zealand who doesn’t know where the hell he wants to go and have to get him in the cab before a young thug tries to jump in the cab without paying and a drunk American from San Francisco who has more ride than he has money.

St. Louis had a busy weekend; the last regular season weekend at Busch Stadium, a Joyce Meyer convention at the convention center, Taste of St. Louis, Loop in Motion, a wide variety of live music and all that good stuff.

Of course a brother needs weekends like this when he has to hustle up on the rent money and to keep the lights on.