the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: News and Politics (Page 2 of 13)

One Thing a Day #3 – High Finance


My grandparents were socialist-leaning Democrats who kept a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt in their hallway, next to the family photos.  My father worked in a city hospital, and received a city pension.  He bought New York City bonds, the safest bet at the time, which had the lowest interest.  We never talked about money or finance.   The business section of the Sunday newspaper was the one we always tossed aside.   “People like us” didn’t have anything to do with Wall Street or the business world.

I became an English major in college.  A film student in graduate school. A writer. A blogger. An instagram photographer. To this day, I remain a financial idiot. I don’t own any real estate or stock.  Doing my income taxes gives me anxiety.   There’s no one else to blame.  I am to blame.   I’m certainly smart enough to open a book on investing or use google to search “mutual funds.” It just never seemed like something that I should do.  Thinking too much about money was wrong.  I should rather worry about the wealth inequalities in American life than selfishly grab my share of it.

I’ve been blogging for nine years now, and I’ve met many people.  I can categorize everyone I know into two camps — those who understand the business side of life AND those who are clueless.

Most of my friends tend to lean towards the artistic side, and for many of those who don’t have a working spouse or a trust fund,  they are hurting financially. Freelance jobs have disappeared, and the publishing, film, academic, and music worlds are shrinking.  Years ago, our parents worked for the same firm for decades.   You could live a comfortable life, even if you weren’t a self-starter.  We are not as lucky.

My advice to you.   Forget BlogHer this year.  Attend a personal finance class instead.  Some of have started online courses. Others have bought real estate, renting it out to students.  The key to survival is KNOWLEDGE.  Most who make money found a mentor, or have a relative, who showed them the ropes.

We feel uncomfortable talking about money.   We say platitudes like “there is enough for everyone,” when we know this isn’t true.  There aren’t unlimited opportunities.  Luck comes from the whispers in a room, and not everyone is invited.

If times are tough for artists and writers, imagine the difficulties of the hard-working individual, stuck in a low-paying job.  We’ve heard many reports about the vast inequality of wealth in America, where the richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s total wealth.  In an article in The Atlantic, Noah Smith, an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, says that while income is important, we should not forget the importance of finance and savings.  It is through saving and investing that the wealthy STAY wealthy. He goes as far as suggesting that public schools TEACH financial education as a way to prepare students for life.

Financial education in public schools is a must. I’m not talking about teaching kids the Capital Asset Pricing Model. I mean what Bob Shiller calls “basic Suze Orman stuff.” How to make a monthly budget. What “saving” and “borrowing” mean. How wealth builds over time. How to avoid borrowing lots of money at high interest rates (e.g. credit cards and payday loans). Etc. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help a lot with this too, by preventing companies from tricking poor people into taking out high-interest debt.

I think this is a great idea, even if all this money talk seems like a foreign language to the disenfranchised.   It will demystify the concept of wealth and money.   I have two advanced degrees — and I need help with the basics of saving, borrowing, assets and mutual funds.

In addition to “nudging” middle-class and poor Americans to save more, we can help them get a better return on their assets — the second thing that has a huge effect on wealth in the long run. This means helping middle-class people invest in stocks without paying high fees. The first part of this is teaching middle-class people to avoid making frequent changes in their stock portfolios. Studies show that individual investors consistently lose money when they try to buy and sell and buy and sell, mostly because they tend to ignore trading costs. So financial education should teach people to let their stock portfolios just sit there for decades, and ignore the ups and downs.

Last year, we wanted to Occupy Wall Street, but no one had a plan for what to do with it — once it was occupied.   Perhaps a better strategy is education, so everyone can be smarter with their money.    Those with money have created the game so they always win.  Everyone else is going to be left out, unless they study up.

Typical Middle East News Story Comment Section

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Why should we prosecute the filmmaker simply for making a film, even if it is a badly produced one about Islam? Don’t we have free speech in this country? Do we want to throw the makers of South Park in prison for making fun of Mormons. The Muslims needs to grow up and not act like a bunch of babies when their prophet is mocked in a stupid movie.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

When you say “The Muslims,” David, who exactly are you referring to? Don’t you realize that accounts put active participation in the anti-film protests at between 0.001 and 0.007% of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims – a tiny fraction of those who marched for democracy in the Arab spring. Most Muslims are peace-loving and have no interest in this stupidity. The Newsweek cover story on “Muslim Rage” was pandering to the lowest common denominator. The Muslim world does not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of ONE irresponsible Israeli filmmaker, and the super-rich Jewish financiers who helped back the project.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

You should know, Ahmad, that despite your glee in pinning this on the Jews, that the filmmaker was actually an Egyptian-born Christian, and was not financed by any “super-rich” Jewish financiers. Sorry.

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Oh, so it is the fault of the Christians, David! So typical of a Jew to turn in his Christian brother as the guilty party. It has been that way since Judas pointed his finger at Jesus, the Lord, Our God.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

I so agree with you, Matt, my Christian friend. Never trust a Jew. Look at how they stole the land from the Palestinians.

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Actually, Ahmed, I am a firm supporter of the State of Israel. The Bible says that only through the Hebrews will there be a War to End All Wars, causing the End of Days and the return of our Savior, who will then destroy all who don’t believe in him.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Including the Jews, Matt?

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Oh, definitely the Jews, David. You will live in Hell forever.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

I see. Well, even though you hate the Jewish people, Matt, I respect your support of the State of Israel.

@Rivers Stillman-Thompson, Berkeley, CA

I’m an atheist, David, and I can’t understand how Jews can circumcise their sons like savages. This primitive practice should be banned.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

Actually, Rivers, Muslims also circumcise their boys and I find your views abhorent.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Right on, Ahmed. We agree on one thing. Oh, and our love of falafel.

@Rivers Stillman-Thompson, Berkeley, CA

I like falafel, also, David, but only if it is organic.

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

WTF kind of name is Rivers, Rivers? Are you a dude or a chick?

@Rivers Stillman-Thompson, Berkeley, CA

Gender has no meaning to me, Matt. Every individual contain both genders.

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

What a fruitcake! Right, Ahmad?

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

Yes, David. Definitely. 🙂

@Father Brian McMasters, Cleveland, Ohio

Hey, everyone! Are there any young boys on here?

@Matt Rallington, Waco, Texas

Father Brian, you are on the WRONG FORUM!

@David Gold, Queens, NYC

Neil, that was a really inappropriate punch line for this blog post.

@Ahmad Khan, Beirut, Lebanon

I don’t know about that, David. At least it wasn’t about Mohammed!


There was a story in the Wall Street Journal yesteday about Csanad Szegedi, a Hungarian politican with the extreme far-right Jobbik party, and known for his hate speech, who was forced to resign from his party position when it was discovered that his grandmother was Jewish.

Mr. Szegedi said his grandparents, who both survived Nazi terror in World War II, had chosen to remain silent about their Jewish heritage and he had only found out about his family’s religious background in December 2011.

Szegedi came to prominence as a founding member of the anti-Semitic Hungarian Guard, an organization that wore black uniforms similar to the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party which governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews.

Now, Szegedi is apologetic about his former anti-Semitism.

“Had I made any comments in the past years that offended the Jewish community, I ask for forgiveness,” Mr. Szegedi told Rabbi Slomo Koves, according to Nepszabadsag. “Now that I have been faced with my Jewish roots, that I do not regret at all, keeping in touch with the leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community has become especially important for me,” he said.

A few commenters viewed this news story as a postitive story of a man’s redemption and change. I find the story depressing.

Does understanding and compassion only come into play when our own identity is directly involved? Wouldn’t Szegedi have remained an anti-Semite if the information about his grandmother didn’t go public?  This incident begs the question, does our identity come from someplace within, or is it forced on us from the outside, by our heritage and birth?


(note:  the following section has 0% truth quotient)  —

A few months ago, I had lunch with my mother.

“I have something serious to discuss with you,” she said. “Do you remember your Grandma Ida?”

“Of course I do,” I said, even though she passed away when I was young.  I have fond memories of this gentle woman’s  love for “prune compote” and the way her apartment always smelled like home-made Gefilte fish.”

“Well, Grandma Ida wasn’t Jewish. She was a Navajo Indian.”

“A Navajo Indian? That’s crazy. She had a completely Eastern European accent!”

“Oh, she was just faking it to fit in with the rest of her friends in the Bronx. She was born on a reservation in New Mexico.”

I was shocked, and intrigued by this news. If my grandmother was Navajo, that made me part Navajo. And I knew absolutely nothing about my heritage.

I went to the New York Public Library to begin my journey into my new heritage. I read about my history, my food, my storytelling. I took a trip to Colorado in order to experience my land. I learned to fish and hunt, and to make beautiful traditional jewelry and clay pottery.

Yesterday, I was having breakfast. I was wearing a breechcloths made of woven yucca fiber, moccassins, and a cloak of rabbit fur, my latest attempt to embrace my identity.

“I have something serious to discuss with you,” said my mother.

“What now?” I asked.

“I wasn’t wearing my glasses on that day I read Grandma Ida’s birth certificate. She wasn’t a Navajo Indian. She was a Nairobian Tribeswoman.”

I was shocked, and intrigued. I alway wanted to be black.

“Screw the Navajos,” I yelled, as tossed my itchy rabbit fur cloak onto the floor. After breakfast, I went to the New York Public Library to research my new heritage.


Who are we? Do our identities come from within or without? And do we get trapped in our identities, receiving our cues on behavior from the groups we join, or from those in which we are excluded?

I am a straight man.  How much of my behavior is part of my DNA and how much is it cultural?

I am an American. Yay, America. Why was I rooting for America during the Olympics? Do I really care that we received more medals than China?

I am Jewish. What does that mean? I know plenty of Hindus who like bagels.

I feel it necessary to be part of something. To associate with others.   A community.   The city I live in.   Other writers.   People who like coffee.   It helps me create my own identity.

We talk about fluidity in identity, within gender.  We want each generation to have less restriction than the one before, less trapped in their gender roles.

But how far do we want to go?  We applaud little girls who throw away their Barbies and playing with trucks, but how many parents are overjoyed when their young son expresses an interest in wearing mommy’s dress?

At the London Olympics opening ceremony, viewers cried when a youth choir sang a touching rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

But in reality, do we honestly wish for this type of faceless society where there are no countries or religions?  I think we prefer many of the restrictions and rules that separation and division creates.   We want differences in men and women.   We want differences in  countries and cultures.   How would we know who we are without these differences? Twitter rankings, perhaps? Blogging niches?

I’m actually surprised that the blogging world has become so niche-oriented.   If anything, the internet could have been the world that John Lennon visualized.   The potential was there — a world where your religion and country didn’t matter.   Friendships were based on one thing alone — the quality of your cat photos!  The internet was created to be the great equalizer.  But I think we like to retreat to those who are most like ourselves.

It’s taken me several years to feel comfortable with my identity online, simply because I am not a parent, and 98% of my online friends are parentbloggers.   Every time I read a post on a parenting blog, I feel a bit as if I am an outsider, like a Jew taking at a Catholic Mass. I might find the sermon fascinating, but I’m never quite sure if the others want me to stay for coffee and cake.

Of course, parentbloggers have the opposite problem.  Their identity online is defined by their parenting.   What do they do when their kids grow up?  What do they write about?  Do they have an identity — a brand online — outside of the parenting fold?

It is all about Identity.

Are we defined by our jobs?  Our POV?  Our marital status?  Our parenting status?  What we say?   What we do? And what if our perception of self are different than how others see us?  Should we always reveal our true identity, or is it better to create a branded version of it?  And what if we start to believe our own false identity?

Identity is also political.  The outing of the Hungarian politician was based on politics.  The Republican effort to name President Obama as a Muslim during the last campaign was purely political.

In America, sexual orientation is frequently a political statement. When someone “comes out,” the person is announcing that he is not fearful of his true “identity.”   But do we have the right to force people to be authentic in their identity?  Would you go on Twitter and write “Sally Jones said in her last post she lives in Dayton, but I know she really lives in Cleveland!”  Would you confront someone who has “fake Twitter followers?”

Recently, the actress Rashida Jones had to go on Twitter to apologize for an interview in which she discussed John Travolta.

She said: “Like John Travolta? Come out! Come on. How many masseurs have to come forward? Let’s do this.”

She later said it was John Travolta’s personal life was none of her business.

We will always struggle with our concept of identity.  Yes, it is personal, but it is also public.  Think about how much data about ourselves we put out into the world.   Why does the government need to know our marital status or age?    And do these pieces of data define us?  I know they define us according to marketers.  I was completely invisible when I walked through the Expo at BlogHer, because I was not part of the demographic that the advertisers were looking for at a woman’s conference.   But should we allow marketers — or pundits — determine how we view ourselves or live our lives?  Who says a “real mom” has to breastfeed has a child, or a mature woman can’t wear a mini-skirt, or a man can’t take up knitting?  Can we create our own identities?

We will join groups and leave groups, looking to find ourselves.  John Lennon’s world will never exits.   We like our differences too much.  The best we can do is create a world where no one is afraid of differences, or their expression of them.  We should hope for a world where the differences are inclusive, not exclusive; where our identities can be fluid, without pressure from those outside or inside our community.


Yesterday, I changed my Facebook relationship status to “single.” I was slightly embarrassed by this, berating myself for my obsessive need to over share. But t occurred to me that my motivation was not simply oversharing, or need for attention.  It’s not like I haven’t written about my marriage, separation, and divorce.  No, I felt the compulsion to press the button and see words “single” written in print. Not “divorced,” but “single,” as if it was time to embrace the reality, and see myself — identify with — my new status.   My identity.

The Gay Marriage Conversation

Jason called me this morning from New York wanting to talk about Obama’s public embrace of gay marriage.

“Isn’t it great?” I asked.

“Well, sure. It it terrific. But…”

“Yeah, he should have spoke up earlier. But you know, politics as usual.”

“It’s not that. It’s just that after Hiroshi heard the speech, he turned to me and asked me to get married.  He said it was our defining moment.”

“Cool. Mazel tov.”

“Shut up. I don’t know if I’m ready to get married.”

“C’mon, Jason, you’ve been dating him for seven years now.”

“He’s really pressing me.   He’s says we have to do it for Obama. That Obama is the first gay President.  That we need to be a symbol for the gay movement.”

“So, do it!  You can hire me as your instagram wedding photographer!”

“But I’m afraid.   It’s like once you get married, everything falls apart.”

“That’s not true.”

“Look at you.”

“Don’t use my marriage as an excuse not to get married.”

“Damn it.   It’s just I always hear that when straight people get married, they stop having sex.”

“That’s a myth.   You just do it faster.  So you don’t miss the beginning of Celebrity Apprentice.”

“I love Hiroshi, but just ever since the gay marriage thing became a bit thing, all my straight friends are pissed at me.  At work, they go “So when are you getting married?” And I say, “I don’t know if we’re getting married.”  And they go, “Of course you’re getting married!” It’s like I owe them something.”

“Jason, a lot of people have been working hard so you can get legally married.”

“I understand that.”

“I don’t think you do.   Do you know how many Facebook updates I have written in support of gay marriage? How many times I clicked on “Like” when a meme was going around the Internet calling for equality?  I think you could at least show some gratitude and get married for us.”

“Get married for YOU?”

“Sometimes you need to think of others beyond yourself.”

“But marriage.  It’s so… uh, uh, straight.”

“What do you mean by that?!”

“Straight.  As in boring.  Vanilla.  Missionary position.”

“Don’t use the term “straight” like that. It’s derogatory. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you’re boring and vanilla.”

“C’mon, Neil.  You’re straight.   Have you ever ****** or *******?”


“Exactly.  If I get married, it’s going to take all the fun out of being gay. I’ll be shopping in Walmart like you did today, buying a twelve pack of toilet paper.”

“Marriage is a wonderful thing.  It is so special to commit to one person, and share that love for eternity.”

“Maybe I should tell Hiroshi that I want to move to North Carolina.  It is beautiful there.”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but within ten years, I’m sure gay marriage will be legal everywhere.  You will run out of states to escape to in fear.  Except maybe Texas.”

“Yeah?  What is Texas like in the summer?”

Like the Hunger Games

Imagine a dystopian future. Society has split into two. The wealthy live in armed fortresses that are serviced by their own schools, hospitals, and shopping malls. The poor live in the chaotic, violent OUTSIDE, and have to fend for themselves. Those living in the elite private communities, which go by pretty names such as PARADISE GARDENS, hire unemployed, low-paid contractors to protect them from the so-called OUTSIDERS. These outsiders are feared as potential enemies, destroyers of the comfortable lifestyle that the wealthy have created for themselves.

This future already exists in high crime countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa. These armed fortresses are called gated communities. In Mexico, most of the middle class lives in gated communities to protect them from violent gangs. In Saudi Arabia, Western workers live in gated communities to protect themselves from terrorist attacks.

The one question that isn’t being raised in the Travyan Martin tragedy, is why are so many of us living in these heavily secured gated communities right here in the United States? Do we live in another Mexico? Are we so afraid of the OTHER? Is our country turning into one of haves and have nots?

It is the gated community which created neighborhood watch officer George Zimmerman. We want patrols to be on the lookout for suspicious individuals who might cause trouble. We want schools that keep our kids away from danger. And in many communities in America trouble is a code word for “young black men.” And after awhile, we get so scared, we forget that sometimes young black men just take walks to buy some candy.

Sure, we can take photos of us wearing hoodies. But shouldn’t the first step in creating a better society be to step out of our gated communities and rejoining society?

Colonel Blimp

My heart is that of a dashing, adventurous, passionate young man.

My head is that of an old fogie who believes in following the rules.

Nothing explains this better than the opening scene of my favorite movie “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” written and directed in the United Kingdom in 1943 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The movie follows forty years of the life of an officer in the British army, Clive Wynne-Candy.

The film begins during the middle of the Second World War. There are training exercises going on at the British camp, pitting two teams of soldiers against each other.  Major General Wynne-Candy, now a senior officer, is the leader of one squad. He is pot-bellied formal gentleman of the British old guard.  The other squad leader is “Spud” Wilson, a brash young lieutenant.

On the day before the exercises are to begin, Wilson’s team “captures” Wynne-Candy relaxing in a Turkish bath.  Wilson has struck early, breaking all conventions.  He ignores Wynne-Candy’s protests that “War starts at midnight!”

“This is a new type of war with Hitler,” says Wilson.   Wynne-Candy’s old-fashioned gentlemanly methods are to be scorned.  He is called Colonel Blimp.

I first saw this movie at a repetory movie theater with my father.  He loved movies about the Second World War, particularly those made in Great Britain.

The themes of this film have stuck with me for years, particularly the tension between “what is right” and “what is necessary.”

I respect “Spud” Wilson and the way he plays Colonel Blimp for a fool.   He believes that the only way to defeat Hitler is to show Blimp that his ways are irrelevant.   Being a gentleman is weakness.

In my heart, “Spud” Wilson embodies how a modern man should live his life.

But my sympathies lie with old fogie Colonel Blimp.  Without him, there would be no moral center to the story.   There is something noble about being a 19th century born gentleman, even when facing your fiercest enemy.

It is not a surprise that this blog is named “Citizen of the Month.”  I was very turned on by the concept of citizenship and democracy when I was a wee lad in a public school in New York City.

This brings me to an uncomfortable conversation I had with someone online about the the growing Occupy Wall Street movement.   I’ve been reading a lot about it, and frankly find it very exciting.   People are finally getting angry about some of the inequalities of our society.   I told this woman about how I loved her passion (represented by the 100 tweets an hour on the subject she puts on my stream) for social justice.   These are citizens of American enjoying their liberty of free expression.

But when I saw her retweet something factually untrue in one of her tweets, I brought up this up.  Politely, like Colonel Blimp.

Her response:

“It doesn’t have to be all true. We have to get the word out to stop the 1%.”

I found this an odd statement, and didn’t quite jibe with my view of “truth, justice, and the American way,” as spoken by one of our country’s greatest leaders, Superman.

Superman would never LIE to defeat his enemy!

I appealed to her reason, bringing up her enemies — the wealthy conservative overlords of the far right.

“But remember how we were all going crazy when conservatives were saying that Obama wasn’t a citizen or that he was, god help us,  A MUSLIM?  They also knew it was untrue, but said it anyway just to create trouble.   Isn’t it the same thing that you are doing?  How can we criticize them if everyone does it?”

“This is different. What we believe in is financial equality, and what they believe is moronic.”

And after this discussion, I thought about my favorite movie, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and how the themes of that story are still reverberating in my head so many years later.

I’d like to be more political, but when people get too emotionally involved in any cause, or read too many Ann Rand books, they start to believe that they are above the law because only their ideas are right.   Lying and manipulation is OK, as long as it supports what you believe.

That’s a sad thought.   And as our world becomes more and more controlled by PR, Marketing, and Media firms, it seems as if this will just become the norm, if it isn’t already. Since real life is too complex for anyone to use as a sound byte, the truth becomes the least important part of any campaign.

Colonel Blimp’s gentlemen is surely dead in a world where the ends justify the means, even in conversation.

Steve Jobs, My Father, and Yom Kippur

Steve Jobs, the legendary co-founder of Apple passed away this week, and the internet exploded with admirers reflecting on how his vision impacted their lives.

Some talked about their first Mac, iPod, or iPhone, and how it transformed the way they communicated or listened to music.

Others sought meaning in Jobs’ passing, musing on death, accomplishment, originality, and vision. I poked a little fun at this hero worship on Twitter, writing:

“There is something odd seeing so many quotes about “being original” and “not living the life of others” being re-tweeted 1000x on Twitter.”

One short post about Jobs struck a nerve with me, written by a blogging friend, “Stay at Home Babe,” and titled “Why I Would Want to Die Young.”

I’ve already heard so much talk about how sad it is that Steve Jobs died at such a young age. I won’t argue with the sentiment, but it certainly got me thinking.

I don’t necessarily want to live until I’m as old as humanly possible. I don’t think I have to hang on until my hips are both replaced and I’m on a hundred medications and my brain has turned to mush.

I want to live a life worth admiring. In whatever capacity that is, for however long that is. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to find myself unexpectedly on my death bed, knowing that I didn’t do what I wanted or did less than the best I could with the time I had.


It is customary during the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for Jews to visit family members at the cemetery. My mother and I took the Long Island Railroad to visit the final resting place of my father at a Jewish cemetery in Nassau County.

It was two days before the death of Steve Jobs in California.

It was nice visiting my father on a crisp fall day. I was wearing a red sweatshirt. When I first saw my father’s tombstone I laughed, because as long-time readers of this blog might remember, I “crowdsourced” the epitaph on his stone after he passed away in 2005, until we collectively convinced my mother to include his favorite saying, “Be of Good Cheer” on the stone. My father might go down in history as the first person to have the saying on his tombstone voted upon by the Internet.

Another Jewish custom is to place a stone on the top of the tombstone; it signifies that “you were there.” I picked out two shapely and clean gray stones from the gravel road, and my mother and I placed them on top of the marble slat that marked my father’s final resting place.


I think about my father. I wonder about the dreams and goals that he had as a younger man. Did he do what he wanted? Did he do less than the best he did with the time he had on Earth?

I have no idea.

He worked as a physical therapist at a New York City hospital. He liked his job, but he complained about it during dinner time, especially about the internal politics of a city-run hospital. I think he might have preferred a cushier job at a private hospital, although he probably had more of an impact on the lives of the less-privileged by working at Queens General Hospital.

I assume that “Stay at Home Babe” was being honest in her views about dying young, but I suspect that she is in her late twenties, so she feels that she has plenty of time to accomplish everything in her iPhone scheduler. I think once you reach 35, you are pretty happy if you reached 1/3 of the goals you had in college.

Should we just kill ourselves if we don’t become multi-milionaires by 40?


It is easy to read the obituary of Steve Jobs and see it as a referendum on individuality, focus, and a life-well lived, but I think it is a mistake to think that success in life involves having a specific goal in mind and reaching it. Under that criteria, most of us end up miserable failures. The reality is that our real impact on others is not always easily noticed, or even appreciated. Not every worthwhile life is built upon achieving personal goals. We are all interrelated in so many different ways, that you can never be sure how your actions are affecting others.

On paper, my father will never match the accomplishments of Steve Jobs. Perhaps he didn’t achieve exactly what he wanted in life. But he had an impact on me. And his family. On his patients. In the way that he treated his friends and neighbors.

In social media, we speak a lot about influence. We consider someone with many followers as “influential.” But I have heard stories of strangers talking down someone on Twitter from committing suicide that night. No one remembers the names of those people. But that is real influence!

On Yom Kippur, in temple, a special prayer is added to the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah), in which the community confesses their sins. All the sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sinning. So even if you haven’t murdered anyone this year, you still say “We have murdered.”

When I was younger, I used to think this Yom Kippur tradition was bizarre and unfair, but now I appreciate the sentiment. The point is not to diminish personal responsibility, but to remind ourselves that human sins are frequently a by-product of the social bond gone sour. We are all at fault.

But this communal responsibility also has a positive side. We can all take pride when things turn out well.

Did you read Steve Jobs’ obituary? Did you come away thinking only about Steve Jobs? Read the obituary again, this time focusing on the community who helped mold him.

Steve Jobs was adopted:

Steven Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, and surrendered for adoption by his biological parents, Joanne Carole Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, a graduate student from Syria who became a political science professor. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.

Steve Jobs was mentored by a nameless neighbor:

Mr. Jobs developed an early interest in electronics. He was mentored by a neighbor, an electronics hobbyist, who built Heathkit do-it-yourself electronics projects.

Steve Wozniak’s mother brings her son and Steve Jobs together as business partners.

The spark that ignited their partnership was provided by Mr. Wozniak’s mother. Mr. Wozniak had graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, when she sent him an article from the October 1971 issue of Esquire magazine. The article, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” by Ron Rosenbaum, detailed an underground hobbyist culture of young men known as phone phreaks who were illicitly exploring the nation’s phone system.

A mysterious hacker teaches Steve Jobs his tricks.

Captain Crunch was John Draper, a former Air Force electronic technician, and finding him took several weeks. Learning that the two young hobbyists were searching for him, Mr. Draper had arranged to come to Mr. Wozniak’s Berkeley dormitory room.

An Intel executive backs Apple with $250,000.

In early 1976, he and Mr. Wozniak, using their own money, began Apple with an initial investment of $1,300; they later gained the backing of a former Intel executive, A. C. Markkula, who lent them $250,000.

Did any of these individuals achieve their own personal goals? We don’t know. But there is reason to believe that without these people crossing the paths of Steve Jobs, that he wouldn’t have achieved HIS goals. Again, we don’t know for sure, but would you now want to tell that dorky hobbyist neighbor who mentored Steve Jobs that he would have been better off dead since he didn’t achieve his goal of building a spaceship for NASA? You never know when your action can have an earth-shattering effect on another. It is quite possible that a friendly hello in a supermarket can change the life of the other person. You just don’t know.

Not everything is about YOUR goals.

My father was a loved man. He didn’t make that much money. I’m sure he wished he did better financially. He didn’t get any obituaries written about him in the newspaper. But I know he helped many people with disabilities to walk, and perhaps they went on to do great things spurred on by the care that they received from my father.

I am super-impressed by the vision of Steve Jobs and what he achieved in his short life. But I am just as impressed with someone who lives life, perhaps NOT achieving every single one of their dreams, but loves life itself, and sees it as special. Being kind to others may not get you a mention in the New York Times, but it is a quality that is as essential to the well-being of the community as an iPad. And that it something I try to remember as I live my own life. Thanks, Dad, for teaching me that lesson.

My Visit to the Bachmann’s Therapy Office

I’ve been feeling a little depressed lately, so last week, I decided to go see a therapist.  I read about a new therapy office that recently opened, and it was getting a lot of publicity, so I decided to take the bus over there for a meet-and-greet.

The waiting room was well-appointed, although the magazine selection was rather odd – Highlights for Homeschooled Christian Children, Modern Church Decor, Good Housekeeping, and issues of Playboys from 1968.

After a brief wait, I was called in, where I sat in a hard leather chair across from the therapist, a dapper young gentleman in his early thirties.  His name was Dr. Josephs. We exchanged a few pleasantries.

Now, I should tell you that at the time of this visit, I didn’t know much about this “Bachmann & Associates” clinic (read more here), other than it being a therapy office owned by presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus.  I hadn’t been listening to the news much, too busy trying to decipher the new Google+ social media app.  But it didn’t take me long to realize that this clinic had a unique method of therapy —

“So, tell me, Neil,” said the kind-faced Dr. Josephs, “What seems to be bothering you?”

“I feel out of lately.” I replied, rather sadly. “Like I’m not my true self.  I can’t motivate myself.  I just want to sit in bed all day, mope, and eat Doritos.”

“You realize that God created our eyes so we can enjoy the bodies of beautiful women.”

“Huh?  Well, uh, yeah.  I guess so.  Anyway, I’m very confused about the direction of my life…”

“I assume you like women and their bodies, no?  Like in photographs of beautiful women?”

“Wait a minute.  Have you been looking at my instagram photos?”

“I see.  Do you also like taking photos of men?”

“Sometimes.  But anyway, I like to say I am a “writer,” but what does that really mean if I don’t feel successful…”

“Perhaps your feelings of depression come from your inner self’s own disgust at your abomination with your photographs.”

“Oh man, not again. I’m not going to ask for permission every time I take every photo!”

“Have you read the Bible? The Christian Bible?”

I’ve read the Bible. But I’m not really sure what this has to do with my depression. And I’m Jewish.  Maybe that has something to do with the guilty feelings about my marriage…”

“You’re Jewish?! And you take photos of men masturbating!”

“What are you talking about? I never said I take pictures of men masturbating.  I’m talking about my marriage and the anxiety over my future…”

“But you do think about men when you masturbate? Right? Young. hunky men, with hairless chests and arms of steel?”

“Is this what they call cognitive therapy?”

“Do you find any men attractive?”

“Well, I don’t know.  I used to think Denzel Washington was attractive.  And Mel Gibson, before… you know, he turned out to be a jerk.”

“Attractive as in you would love to feel their bodies next to yours?”

“Nah.  Just that they were in good shape.  Made me want to do push-ups.”

“Have you ever slept with a black man?”

“I’ve never slept with any man.”


“OK, once in college, I shared a bed in Las Vegas with a friend because there were five of us in the room and it was disgusting because he farted all night.”

“Homosexuality is a crime against nature. You must stop being gay. You must be cured. Stop it! Stop it! Stop being gay!”

“I’m not gay!”

“Praise the Lord. My therapy worked. That will be $300. Please pay on the way out. Thank you.”

It is a week later. While the methods of therapy at this clinic were untraditional, I do feel a lot more happier, so I can definitely recommend Bachmann and Associates for all of your therapy needs.

Truth Quotient to Avoid Lawsuit:  5% (the instagram and the need for therapy)

Coming Clean

“Be careful what you put online,” my mother told me a few days ago, after “Weinergate” hit the newspapers. “Those things can come back to haunt you if you ever run for office!”

She’s probably right. Because of the large amount of salacious material on this blog, I’m now doomed to a life as an artist, where it is actually expected that I throw couches out of the windows in Hollywood hotels.

In reality, I’m pretty tame, more of a boy scout than any Mormon in Utah.   I’m not much of a drug or alcohol user, with this codeine cough medicine I took last week being one of the harder substances I’ve ever put into my body.   But considering all the hand-wringing I am seeing on Twitter about Representative Anthony Weiner’s activities online (some from individuals having real-life affairs, not virtual ones), and the fact that the only blogging lists I ever seem to get on are “Those Male Bloggers Most Likely to Email a Photo of His Penis to a Female Blogger,” I figured I might as well come clean about my past transgressions, so you can decide for yourself if you want to continue reading this blog in the future.

I have smoked pot (mostly when I was 14 years old, although rarely inhaled (honestly… I was afraid of lung cancer!)), got drunk on sake a few times (including this Thursday, after the rained-out Black Eyed Peas concert in Centeral park, after which I fell asleep on the subway coming home and almost missed my stop), made fun of an effeminate boy in junior high with my friends, calling him gay (and now I see on Facebook that he is an interior designer in Miami, so we were right!), was even meaner to a girl in high school who I liked more than she liked me (and blogged about it), sexted with a woman online while still officially legally married, but separated (and blogged about it!), got mad at a family member and spewed “F*ck You! (but used an asterick instead of the “u” even when saying it verbally), threw a container of Brewer’s Rocky Road ice cream at Sophia and missed, but stained the couch, and the most embarrassing topper — I once masturbated while watching Nigela Lawson make a veal dish on the Food Network.

Man, she was so hot on that show!

Clearly, my chances for ever running for public office get dimmer by the day.

The Weiner story is getting boring to me, especially now that he is going for “professional help,” whatever the hell that means.    It was fun while it lasted, even if his sins pale compare to those of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I don’t mind jokes at the foibles of public figures.   I made a number of jokes on Twitter about the scandal.  But I do mind when imperfect people seriously pontificate as if they ARE perfect.   And I saw plenty of that this week.

How I Felt Today

Recently, I asked a blogger why she kept on writing every day online. She said that she wrote as a personal record for her children. I like that idea. Why have I never thought about that, if not for my children, at least as a record of my own life and thoughts? My blog allows me to go back and see my frame of mind during a certain day and year.

Today, I feel like writing about the death of Osama bin Laden, not because I feel any great urge to compete with the other million voices on the same subject. I know by next week, we will have moved on to a new subject, so I wanted to engrave my thoughts on this spot, like a virtual Plymouth Rock. As a record of a time and place.

I was on Twitter at 10PM on Sunday night when I saw a friend mention that Obama was going to speak at 10:30PM. I turned on CNN and Wolf Blitzer was hyperventilating with double-speak and speculation about not speculating what the speech was going to be about.

I tweeted something about this mysterious speech and said it seemed “scary.” Initial comments from my friends also used words like “frightened” and “worried.”

Soon the rumor was spreading on Twitter that Osama bin Laden was killed. The news media played by the old media rules, and didn’t broadcast the information. You could see the frustration on their faces as Obama delayed his speech. Everyone knew the news, and CNN was trying to slip in the information through smoke signals and wild gestures.

The environment on Twitter became silly, with jokes about the networks. There was a sense of absurdity to the media disconnect. Instead of the news media behaving like authority figures — a Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw, for instance — they were like game show hosts, waiting for the big reveal behind curtain number two, faking it for the audience.

The mood certainly changed once Obama spoke eloquently to the nation. Suddenly, we realized that this was a significant moment, a closure to the years of national pain that America has felt since September 11th.

The mood online quickly splintered as crowds appeared at the White House chanting “USA! USA!” Was this a spontaneous expression of patriotism or a disgraceful display of crassness? Should we be joyous or somber?

On Facebook, my status today read: “Adding my 2 cents, like everyone else. It was a necessity that we killed Bin Laden, both politically and symbolically, and it is good that we did. But it only reminds me of the evil and the lack of concern for humanity that exists in the hearts of so many, particularly those who pervert religion and nationhood for selfishness, that I feel more sad than anything else.”

I received a direct message from someone hoping to shake me out of my lethargy.

“Imagine this is Adolph Hitler. Wouldn’t you be dancing on his grave?”

I thought about that question, and quite honestly, “No.”

I don’t see the world like a Marvel comic book. The evil, at least for me, is not only Hitler the man, but the countless others who followed his horrific beliefs and orders — the soldiers, the citizens, and the sympathizers who helped make the Nazi machine so effective.

Bin Ladin may be dead, but what he represented appealed to many, including those who willingly killed themselves on September 11th in the name of religion. Some around the world still see him as a person of holiness.

Today’s statement from Hamas:

“We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”

That makes me sad. A real victory will come when all ideologies of hate are seen as evil.

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