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In the next few days, two famous women will be released from US prisons. One is a celebrity we all know and love for her acting chops, who did the right thing. Felicity Huffman was only trying to leverage her daughter’s chances at getting into a good college, and was the first parent to plead guilty in a bizarre scheme of “pay to play” in order to enhance SAT scores. It would seem Huffman has a conscience and admitted the error of her ways. The other woman, Maria Butina, is a Russian asset.

Without much fanfare, Butina will find herself in a Miami deportment center this weekend en route to Moscow.

According to the FBI, in 2015 Butina emailed a US Republican lobbyist Paul Erickson, who she reportedly dated and lived with, a project proposal called “diplomacy”. It centred around using NRA links to influence the US Republican Party’s foreign policy and their traditionally hostile stance toward Russia.”  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50180445

And we all thought Russia was just searching for Hillary’s emails and manipulating Facebook ads to influence the 2016 election. Butina is like a modern day Mata Hari – only instead of facing a firing squad for her role as a double agent during the First World War, Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to just ONE count of conspiracy. Her handler was reportedly Alexander Torshin – “…an influential former member of the Russian senate and deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank.”

One might think they were laundering money through the NRA.

Butina grew up in Siberia and loved playing with guns. Her chief concern was herself however, telling the court she regrets “…ruining my own life.” When she steps off a plane in Russia I wonder what will happen to her? Will she be a returning hero, or will she be sent back to Siberia?

I heard Martha Stewart said that Huffman looked “frumpy” in her prison garb. That immediately ticked me off, I mean really? Martha, Martha, Martha! I would think that once you’ve done time in a women’s prison you’d have a smidgen of empathy for other celebrities suffering the same fate. After all, there are no hair and make-up experts tending to you, no aestheticians or mani-pedis happening behind those walls. I will never again buy her “Living” magazine, no matter how much I think I could craft a beautiful table setting.

So a Russian operative can plot to takeover our democracy, and she gets 18 months in prison and then is deported. A Hollywood star can swindle and bribe her daughter’s way into college, and she gets released after 11 days in prison (out of a 14 day sentence). And then there’s the old news –  a lifestyle “expert” and magazine mogul got caught lying to investigators in an insider trading scandal and she served 5 months in prison followed by 5 months confined to her Connecticut estate.

Then Martha sold her empire for 355 Million US dollars in 2015 telling the media a coverup is so much worse than the original crime. Now for some odd reason she’s associated with Snoop Dog. I hope he will school her about criticizing other female felons while they are whipping up a batch of brownies. Their friendship is the one shining light in this reality show world.

We were recently toasting marshmallows for our own private HGTV episode.

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Happy October from Nashville, the home of a seemingly endless summer. Yesterday it was 101 in my car! And Happy Jewish New Year to everyone, now is the time to do a deep dive into our souls. Right up until Yom Kippur, Jews everywhere will be condensing years of therapy into this holy week, asking ourselves what we might want to change or do differently in the future. In other words, let’s make some New Year’s resolutions.

Resolved:  To worry less – Lately I’ve been worried about early onset dementia. What will Bob do if I suddenly start dialing the microwave in hopes of making a phone call? Also why am I getting dizzy every time I lay down? Maybe I shouldn’t list all my worries right now if I want to worry less.

Resolved:  To laugh more – Finding humor in the strangest places is my God-given right –  and self-deprecating humor is an Irish tradition! For instance, I was telling everyone on erev Rosh Hashana what a thrill it was to steal an olive in an Italian abbey last year, which led to stories of petty vandalism by everyone. Belly laughing ensued.

Resolved:  Never to steal again.

Resolved:  To bake more – I secretly want to be a contestant on the Great British Bake Off! The Flapper was an excellent pastry chef, and her specialties were coconut birthday cakes and banana cream pies. Therefore, in the past I’ve limited my cake skills to carrots; but I’ve always been a pastry snob, never touching a dessert at a party unless it was home made. So for my birthday I made a savory olive and ham cake. I found the recipe on a French paper towel.

Resolved:  To disconnect more from social media – and the news for that matter. I’ve been thinking lately about what we would do before everybody had their necks craned at an odd 30 degree angle. Hint – We’d talk to one another! Whenever I leave the house without my iPhone (refer back to my first “worry” resolution) I first become alarmed, and then I settle into this nice homeostasis of contentment. Nobody can find me! I am FREE to flutter about without checking Instagram or responding to another Trump joke.

Resolved:  To bloom where I’m planted – I married a gypsy. Let’s face it, Bob’s not happy unless he’s moving or planning a trip. I hear, “Where should we go next?” and I think, “Why not walk over to the Farmer’s Market.” He’s global, I’m local. I’m starting Pilates to go with my T’ai Chi but I need to work on staying present, and all that new/old/age stuff. If Ms Bean can suddenly start heading up the stairs at bedtime with us for the first time in 2 1/2 years, I can get over any fear! Right? I mean she’s older than me in dog years.

Resolved:  To try not to experience too much Schadenfreude during this whole impeachment inquiry thing –  Well, let’s face it, you had to see it coming. We are going to need a new name for this debacle, maybe not one with the suffix of “gate.” After all, Watergate was a condo complex, and “Ukrainegate” doesn’t do it justice. But my pleasure in seeing Trump’s fall, like Gulliver all tied up by his larger-than-life ego, may be supplanted by pain if Pence takes the oath of office. Still, a little Schadenfreude is good for us:

“…if you’re more science orientated… In the last 15 years, evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists have got very interested in Schadenfreude as a functional emotion – as opposed to deviant, diseased passion which is how it has been seen in the past. It makes sense that would have evolved to enjoy seeing justice done, and transgressors get their comeuppances. Studies show that seeing bad people punished even if they don’t know they’re being punished, like when we see a waiter spit in a rude customer’s soup – activates the reward centres of the brain, the dorsal straitum.”  https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/12/18/why-taking-pleasure-in-others-misfortune-can-actually-be-good-for-your-mental-health/#2b174cb46526

Republicans need to do some serious soul searching this Fall. It’s time to stop the old bait and switch mentality and stop using words like “traitor” and “civil war.” Running our country like its his own personal fiefdom is about to stop. The shofar has sounded. This “witch hunt” is over!

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Last night, amid a flurry of texts and Tweets, Bob and I were glued to the Democratic Debate. The Bride had asked us if we wanted to join their “watch party,” but I was determined to stay home and take notes. I knew adding two delightful children to that mix would completely throw me off my game. I was disappointed to see social media quickly turn snarky on Uncle Joe for his “record player” comment, and am still wondering what Bernie said to him as Castro pounded Biden again and again about “opting-in.”

While Castro was questioning his elder statesman’s memory, Bob was reminding me about the concept of “opting-out.” In case you forgot, behavioral economist Richard Thaler wrote a book about this very idea, about how to get people to do what’s right and is in their best interest! His groundbreaking book “Nudge” describes the ideas for which he won the Nobel Prize. Though not an entirely new concept, using psychology to mold public policy and marketing is new.

Prof Thaler’s central insight is that we are not the rational beings beloved of more traditional economic theory.

Given two options, we are likely to pick the wrong one even if that means making ourselves less well off.

Lack of thinking time, habit and poor decision making mean that even when presented with a factual analysis (for example on healthy eating) we are still likely to pick burger and chips.  https://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2017/10/09/the-nobel-in-economics-rewards-a-pioneer-of-nudges

Why? Because it’s our habit, it’s easy, and it tastes good. Climate change and our clogged arteries just don’t factor into a good burger! When Corey was asked if he would have all Americans adopt his Vegan diet, he said “NO” in two languages!

But if we apply Nudge theory to health care the answer is simple. Forget private vs medicare for all vs Amy Klobuchar who READ the bill; according to Thaler and Bob we enroll everybody in ONE healthcare plan! Give it a name and give people the option of “opting-out”…. and because it’s such a pain in the neck for most of us to change, the majority will stay on that plan.

My psychologist brother Dr Jim has said time and again, “There’s always that 10%!” Sure maybe 10-20% may opt-out for something better like a boutique, fancy schmantzy doctor plan, mostly people who are up around the 1-5% stratosphere. Some may just want none of this healthcare nonsense, they want to live like a hermit and prepare for the end of days. Doomsday preppers aside, this is what universal healthcare looks like in most of the G7-or even 8 countries.

My Friday morning quarterback, Dr Bob, has just told me that last night was “…Pure Posturing.” Granted his experience as an ER doctor and Director of his group, who also opened an Urgent Care and ran his own billing company for years gives him a unique “from the trenches” perspective, but when he talks the business of medicine I mostly listen! Because it’s still a “For Profit” business model – private insurers make 20% on every dollar paid for healthcare in this country, while Medicare makes 1%!!!! PLUS:

Bob insists that we are already paying for 80% of our healthcare in one form or another!

We already pay it in premiums (630Billion), out-of-pocket expenses (365B), and in state and Federal taxes (1.695Trillion) for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Military.

It’s only that 20% that businesses and unions pay that needs to be addressed, and think about it –  one political party wants to phase that into Medicare over 4 years, buy-in or buy-out or maybe even call it something else…. and the other party just wants to return to the past and forget about affordable healthcare. Think about what you would want.

Now who is the nudnik or the PAB in the room? Hint – he wasn’t on that stage last night.

This is us voting for the guy who didn’t win Nashville’s mayoral contest last night. Let’s nudge ourselves into picking a winner this time Dems!

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In the depths of a crisis, have you ever looked around and asked yourself how in the world you got there? How did Great Grandma Ada, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, end up in Nashville for instance. I am less likely to examine the minutiae of my circumstances, maybe because I was tossed about from one home to another as a child. I had to learn to ride the waves of two families. Plus, I’m not one to live in the past; but I do love to see Shakespeare performed outside, amidst the sounds of birds and trains.

This past weekend our whole family bumped into “The Tempest” outside our restaurant window! We loved it so much, we came back the next day with lawn chairs. A deposed Duke Prospero, has been tossed onto an island in a storm with only his young daughter, Miranda, some sprites of course, and a strange, savage man named Caliban. So what does he do? He whips up an even bigger storm with his magic to payback his conniving brother and his court who are now shipwrecked alongside him.

Shenanigans begin!

When Bob and I first married and moved to the Berkshires, we would regularly attend Shakespeare at the Mount in Lenox. Edith Wharton’s “cottage” garden was the setting for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” our introduction to the Bard en plein air. Of course we became enamored of this comedy of errors, where sprites and fairies rule the roost and make mockery of love and lust. Puck is a most mischievous servant and of course magic plays a central role in this play as well.

Leaping ahead from the 17th Century to today, I wonder who will be the ultimate playwright of our turbulent times? We may not have dukes and kings and queens but we do have a president who would be king. He loves opulence and the fame reality TV brings, he yearns for power and adoring crowds of red-hatted people. Kim Kardashian-West seems to be the only person who has played him recently, successfully lobbying Mr T to enact the first criminal justice reform bill in recent history.

Now Kim, a perfect medieval sprite, is studying Law – and what does Shakespeare say about lawyers? And not the one about killing all of them:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; not the soldier’s which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

Yes, lawyers can be political. Think about Gloria Allred’s daughter, the feminist lawyer, Lisa Bloom. She’s found herself in a bit of a Tempest while arguing FOR Harvey Weinstein in a memo she suggested they sully an actress’ reputation. Paint Rose McGowan to be unhinged, a “harpy” in Shakespearian terms. I’m heading over to Parnassus soon to get the new book, “She Said” by Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/08/books/review/she-said-jodi-kantor-megan-twohey.html

Maybe this is how we can frame our troubled times. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists piece together the culture of abuse and obfuscation that dominates some of our most cherished institutions. And instead of a play, we will make a film. How did we end up caging children, separating families, and drawing Alabama into Hurricane Dorian with a Sharpie? How have we managed to separate ourselves from the natural world and our allies on this forlorn island?

Magically, we landed on a lawn in a park in the city to help ease our “humorous sadness.”

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I married a man, a doctor no less, who HATES golf. I’ve tried sweet talking him out, into the open air of a country club, to hit a “birdie” or a “bogey” or anything, just to give it a try, but nope, not happening, never, ever. He would always say he sees no reason to follow a tiny ball around a vast, grass wasteland, even if driving a golf cart might be fun.

On the other hand, we now have a President who cancelled a trip to Poland, then ventured out to his branded and manicured golf course – all while Hurricane Dorian raged – to “chip” away at his “links.” On the last day of his third August in the White House, this was Mr T’s 226th day of GOLF!

What happens when an ace journalist, Susan Glasser, collects the mega data of 3 years of AUGUST Tweets from our Golfer-in-Chief? You get a compelling picture of the escalating and devolving speech process (and therefore thought process) of a presidency that resembles a hurricane, even without an enhanced Sharpie diagram!

Mr T has gone from a Category 1 to a 5 faster than a toddler can disintegrate into tears because… well, pick a reason.

Trump not only makes us believe it now but, as we approach the three-year mark of his upset victory, in 2016, his project has succeeded in such a confounding way that it seems as though Americans will now believe anything—and nothing at all. Today there are few things too extreme not to have plausibly come out of the mouth, or the Twitter feed, of the forty-fifth President. In August, Trump called himself the “Chosen One” for his confrontation with China, grinned and flashed a thumbs-up during a photo op with the family of mass-shooting victims, accused Jews who voted for Democrats of “great disloyalty,” and called the chairman of the Federal Reserve an “enemy” of the United States. He cheered the robbery of a Democratic congressman’s home and labelled various critics “nasty and wrong,” “pathetic,” “highly unstable,” “wacko,” “psycho,” and “lunatic,” among other insults. The daily stream of invective was dizzying to keep track of, and so voluminous as to almost insure that no one could, in fact, do so.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/trumps-wacky-angry-and-extreme-august-twitter

And is that the point, if he has a point? To create so much havoc, to take funds away from building schools for military personnel in order to build his border wall, to propose the next G7 happen at his Doral property? To reframe the American Dream in a thought bubble of nonsense? His helicopter summits elicit hyperbole rather than any real “Breaking News.” The number of times he has insulted a perceived adversary has multiplied threefold in the past three Augusts!

No wait, the number of direct insults from Mr T’s Twitter fingers went from 14 his first August to 52 last month! His list of humiliating monikers reads like a middle school diary: “Lunatic; “Crazy;” “Psycho;” “Pathetic;” and “Sleepy.”

The irony of listening to Democrats speak out about Climate Change while Trump, our Climate-Denier-in-Chief, played golf (as Dorian destroyed the Bahamas) was not lost on me. And the one thing the GOP picked out of CNN’s excellent environmental summit was that Bernie Sanders linked population control to Global Warming and therefore he wants less brown babies?!!

This is a real existential crisis, it is not a joke and it is NOT about straws, or plastic bags, or birth control. Our leadership must first accept science and enlist the rest of the world in its multifaceted solution if we actually want to save our planet, let alone our species.

We need a “Mulligan” I’m afraid. Or we could take a cake decorating class with our American Girl Doll?

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This was not your burn-your-bra-along-with-your-draft-card kind of weekend, then head for Canada. No.

This was the biggest single thing to hit Nashville since the advent of Country Music Awards. The NFL Draft on Broadway not only sacrificed some of our cherry trees, it drew overall 600,000 football fans across three days to the Honky Tonks, who spent well over $100M on merch, booze and housing. That’s a lot of cowboy boots!

And to round off the festivities, the Rock and Roll Marathon saw 30,000 runners sprinting up Rosa Parks Blvd, followed by Parrot Heads that evening at the Bridgestone Arena. It was a perfect storm sort of Spring awakening for this city and I was glad the Bride only worked the first night; with rain dampening the Draft, her ER shift went smoothly – one scooter injury here, one drinking injury there…

Then she and her family did what most natives and transplants alike did, they flew the coop. It was the first camping experience for the Grands and they loved it, scary stories and all.  A great way to dodge the Draft!

It wasn’t quite that simple for us because I got a severe case of the stomach flu. My daughter tells me it’s going around, which doesn’t help much. It knocked me out for 3 full days and nights, just when we were going to tackle all the boxes we’d shoved into all our closets so we could hold a Seder like Alice’s Restaurant; you know Arlo’s song, where you could get anything you want, except bread of course, there were no baguettes to be found, only matzoh.

(Here I could digress about how we used to attend Torah study in the Berkshires with Arlo Guthrie, but I won’t 🙂

My brother, Dr Jim, tells me that the Draft used to be a bunch of old, white guys sitting behind a big white curtain that would open to reveal all the new college picks in about an hour in each NFL city. Open and shut. That was back in the roaring 80s, when my brother Mike was President and General Manager of the MN Vikings. Today, from what I could gather between bouts of nausea, the Draft looks like Hasty Pudding skits put on by grown men. Guys dressed like Cardinals, or gunslingers, parading through the streets re-enacting some arcane tribal ritual. I didn’t get it.

But the team owners still charged fans 20 bucks back home, just to sit in their stadiums and watch the Nashville Draft on a jumbotron. So, you could dress up like a Patriot and stay in Foxboro, MA. Maybe I do get it.

As Passover was ending, another mass shooting was happening at a Chabad in Southern California. A research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center has this to say:

“ ‘We’ve started referring to them as the apocalyptic community, these online groupings that are marked by a sense of urgency’ about the perceived threat to white dominance.”

Lori Gilbert Kaye is the name of the woman who was shot protecting her rabbi from a nineteen year old with a gun. The rabbi insists it was a miracle that the terrorist’s gun jammed, preventing more from being slaughtered.  A border patrol agent who had recently discovered he wasn’t really Italian (a family joke) gave chase. The young killer surrendered to the police, wonder of wonder.

We can only imagine what would have happened to him if he was Black.

We can talk as much as we want about apocalyptic hate groups being radicalized online, but you cannot ignore the facts – New Zealand just banned assault rifles after 50 people were murdered in a mosque.

It’s time we Americans stopped dodging the truth. Stopped re-enacting Gunsmoke while our sons and daughters are actually martyred in places of worship, schools, theaters and malls. Our landscape has become a battlefield and our elected officials have no moral courage.

This was our Seder table, where we opened our door for Elijah.

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This week Ms Berdelle was rounding up the neighborhood so we could all tie ourselves to the cherry trees on the Cumberland River bank. But that’s another story

Cherry trees are exploding all over Nashville. There is new growth on every block; tulips coming while daffodils are going, backed by an orchestra of bird song. I can’t help but smile as I walk Ms Bean and wonder if passers-by are also euphoric over Spring, or are they just self/or/doctor/medicated? Passover and Easter are right around the corner and we are in the midst of starting over in our new home, the #PartyFarmhouse.

Like Chip and Joanna of HGTV fame, I’ve christened our urban oasis with its very own name – the Party Farmhouse is a simple, white shingle-style abode with black trim – built in the 1930s, the small side garden holds a gas fire pit and is adorned with party lights! Emptying the Pod yesterday was like Christmas morning; the Flapper’s Buddha, the French cupboard, old paintings and my ancient desk. In the midst of it all, I’d almost forgotten my hair stylist’s appointment.

There is nothing like a new do to make you feel alive and reborn, so of course I made a point of showing up because I love Chase! We always have the best conversations, and yesterday he told me that his dearly departed grandmother shared my name and my original hair color! We talked about one of his relatives who doesn’t believe in vaccinations, and I told him how I was lined up at Sacred Heart School to road test one of the very first polio vaccines. In my day, we still saw children who had been afflicted with polio in wheelchairs with wasted limbs.

Which is why I cannot abide by parents who are “anti-vaxxers.” I told Chase about the research I did on language acquisition in college at the Hartford School for the Deaf. Most of those beautiful pre-schoolers had been born to mothers who had contracted German measles during their pregnancy, also known as Rubella. There was no choice for these parents, not in the 1970s. The MMR vaccine today prevents Rubella and regular measles, aka Rubeola. Now thanks to certain communities in the US and all over Europe as well, measles is making a comeback.

“Italy and France have extended existing requirements (for school admission) with fines and restricted school attendance. And Germany is currently discussing making measles vaccine mandatory.

In New York’s Rockland County, unvaccinated children have been banned from public places for 30 days. But it is difficult to see how this could be effectively enforced and there is little evidence that mandatory vaccination is always the best approach.”   https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47800438

Whether you believe basically sentencing an unvaccinated child to house arrest for a month is constitutional, or not, this is a fine line for public health officials to cross. Most outbreaks have occurred in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities thereby fueling anti-Semitic sentiments. But combined with Christian-Right homeschoolers, many children can no longer rely on herd immunity. A community needs a rate of 95% compliance in order to benefit from herd immunity.

My biological Father was a pharmacist who believed you could contract all these communicable diseases in a hospital, when in fact the measles virus floats around in the air droplets of an infected person and on surrounding surfaces for hours. It’s highly contagious and not worth risking a child’s life over unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, no matter what religion one subscribes to.

Well, it’s back to unpacking boxes for me. Ms Berdelle’s plan almost worked, since the cherry trees were not chopped down and now have another chance at life! Let’s hope most of the trees the city of Nashville transplanted to accommodate the NFL draft (and our massive voter petition) continue to bloom! We pick up the Grands today after school and just might be installing a fairy house!

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