Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Statisticians are unanimous—married couples live longer. It’s not surprising. As we grow older and have survived the turbulent years of childrearing and employment, we become more tolerant of the strengths and weaknesses of our partner, and we appreciate the warmth of a home and the comforts of companionship.

It puzzles me therefore, why anyone would frown upon someone’s desire to share life’s path in matrimony or even “fine” people for being married. Two foes of marriage come to mind: people against same-sex marriage, and the Federal Government.

Clearly, all unions are not alike, just as people are not alike. Some scientists fault our hormone levels—the more or the less testosterone, the stronger or weaker the attraction toward the other gender. Nature is inscrutable. We can’t decipher her motives.  Yet, why make this a reason for keeping two individuals from entering into a warm and secure relationship? 

Perhaps I’m prejudiced in their favor. My daughter’s husband was transferred to New York and they had to leave their beautiful Victorian home behind. She had spent years restoring every detail to its original splendor and was broken-hearted. However, as luck would have it, two delightful gay people, who had fallen in love with each other, fell in love with the house and rented it. The house became the festive backdrop for their marriage, which had just been made possible. 

It will take for a society to adjust to a new way of thinking. However, as our last election confirmed, people are growing more tolerant. Six states do allow same-sex marriages now, while another five states sanction a civil union. Worldwide, we find eleven countries that have legalized it. Did you know that according to the U.S. census we have 115,064 same-sex households with children in this country? Having a loving home certainly improves a child’s chances for happiness than growing up in a foster-home or an orphanage.

The second foe of marriage is the Federal Government. It quietly “fines” every married couple with a “couples” tax! A married couple pays considerably more income tax on their combined taxable income than these two individuals would if they were not married!  But why?

I hear it will be worse next year. Obama’s Affordable Care Act levies a .9% surtax on any income above $200,000 for an individual, but the exclusion for a married couple is not $400,000 as we’d expect. It is only $250,000!

The IRS justifies it with its Head of Household Rule—a married couple needs only one bed, one stove and one roof. It ignores the possibility that one bed for two may lead to needing more beds in the future, that the kitchen and roof may need to be expanded and that expenses are bound to multiply.

Did our government forget its pledge to protect and promote the Pursuit of Happiness of its citizens? Levying a marriage fine certainly looks like it.  Be this as it may, always remember that a successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person.

Until next time,

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Israel and Hamas

Alarming saber rattling, rockets and bombs! This region is spreading horrendous dread.

We do not need another calamity. I still remember World War II and the suffering it set off across Europe—it claimed so many lives; it caused such devastation!

Can we steer clear of Nostradamus’ sinister words and the biblical prophecies regarding Armageddon? If we put our minds to it, I’m sure we’ll find wiser solutions.

Of course the price is high: keeping the peace would dent much human ego and pride to which we still tenaciously cling. It would violate our ancient beliefs that land belongs solely to one people and no one else. It would restrain our desire to hate those who are different. It would reign in our emotions. It would prohibit us from killing those we do not like, and deny our age-old desire to prove that we’re better and stronger than others.

How clearly I remember one particular day after the war. My young aunt together with the entire staff of the local hospital had been taken hostage and shipped off to Russia; and so was the hospital— dismantled and shipped East, its patients left in the street, and the staff never heard from again. That same day, father watched helplessly while Communists took away his best friend. Moments later they were looking for him. He sped home and within seconds we were in the car, leaving our home—never to see it again:

“…A mile or two before the train station, we ran out of gasoline. We abandoned the car and continued on foot, mother and my little brother a few steps ahead, father and I behind, as if we were strangers. The streets were deserted. Devastation everywhere. The ruins rose into the gloomy sky like eerie phantoms. Some buildings were sheared off as with a razor blade, baring the bowels of deserted offices and homes. Paintings still dangled from the walls. Unmade beds were quiet witnesses that someone had slept in them before a shell knocked off the other half of the room. A boot balanced precariously on a ledge. 

Here and there in the rubble yellow sheets hid unburied bodies, an official precaution to warn those who were still alive of typhoid. Somewhere a dog wailed, forsaken, hungry and scared. Just like us.

At last, the station came into view, but our hope was short-lived. The platform was packed with hundreds of other pitiful refugees and fugitives, some sleeping, some crying, most of them numb with misery—waiting. No one knew if trains were still running. It was rumored that the tracks had been blown up. Hitler had given Albert Speer, his architect and minister of armament, instructions to destroy everything and burn it to the ground before the enemy approached. …” *

The war-years had been pure terror, but the years that followed, years of devastation, hunger and need were even worse and lasted much longer.

Those years made us understand the futility of war. Mankind, it seems to me, has become more tolerant and more willing to cooperate with one another. May we succeed in steering clear of letting our baser instincts carry anyone away. The final price of war is higher than the price of keeping the peace.

Have a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving,


* taken from my memoirs, “The Madman and His Mistress”

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Many years ago, Kate Mailliard asked me to give a series of talks on business ethics. I was delighted, because Ethics and Character, I felt, are the only real possessions we own— war or disaster can destroy everything else in an instant.

First I interviewed a UCLA professor of Economics. “Business Ethics?”, he laughed, “that’s an oxymoron.  There’s no such thing.” 

Next I talked to several business owners, not large corporations—they are of a different breed even though the Court designated them as personsEach of the business owners I talked with assured me that good ethics are at the very core of any successful enterprise. Without good, honest and responsible work and service no customer will return.

The professor, I later heard, did own a business once, but it went bankrupt, and he became a professor.

When I heard about The Principled Academy in San Leandro, CA, my curiosity was piqued. Over tea with Kristina Seher, the school’s co-founder and Head, my confidence in America’s future was rekindled. “Our primary concern is to build a child’s character,” she said. “We feel that each child is special and has a unique gift which needs to be discovered and encouraged. I always urge each teacher to find and showcase each student’s gift. 

“A few years ago, we had an extremely quiet girl. Her parents did not speak English; academics were difficult for her, but she had beautiful handwriting.  Her teacher entered her in the state’s Penmanship Competition, and she won it four years in a row. It changed her life. She discovered a deep joy in her accomplishment and a re-assurance of her worth, so much so that she decided to enter college this year.

“All of my teachers,” Kristina explained, “focus primarily on each child’s wellbeing and character development, and then on academics. They are urged to look for the beauty inherent in each child that may need awakening. In a safe environment, the children learn that they can make choices in life, bad ones and good ones. Most young children are quite forgiving of each other.  Beginning in middle school, however, if adults do not intervene to help them learn empathy and compassion, they begin to hold grudges, and tend to ostracize students who are in some way “different”.

“At that age, teacher involvement with each child becomes even more important and challenging. We have an autistic child, for example, who was mocked by a bright classmate. We had a private talk with the latter, who, as we suspected, had never heard of autism. We assigned him to do a research paper on autism, and an evaluation of his choice of action as a classmate. We invited his parents to participate when he presented his report, because parent-involvement is crucial in character formation. His report was a good lesson in compassion from which everyone profited.

“One of our new middle school students had struggled academically in his former school, and rather lacked in self-esteem.  One of our teachers realized that he showed a talent for acting, and encouraged him to join the Video Club.  Since then, he’s had several “starring roles” in the character education videos that this group is producing for our younger students. Nothing could have helped building the boy’s self-esteem better than knowing that he is a valuable and contributing member of the Principled Academy community.

“Frequent conversations with each child and following their progress create a culture of caring, integrity and character, as well as a memorable school experience. This is truly important because the behavior we learn early in life will carry us forward into adulthood.”

The Principled Academy strikes me as the very model environment that all our children need and deserve. It is sad to realize that many of our public school teachers today are fearful of violating the law or of getting sued when discussing the contributions of the world’s great traditions that have shaped our cultures.  Some feel even hesitant about teaching common courtesy!  These trends need reversing, unless we want to live in a world of chaos devoid of neighborly care and cooperation, where people care for nothing else but their own personal entitlement.

Thus, The Principled Academy focuses on character education; 
it looks for the uniqueness and special talent of each child;
and fosters compassion, tolerance and cooperation among its children to create a successful community.

In the words of former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, “The essence of education is to teach a person what deserves to be valued—to impart ideals as well as knowledge.” In brief, “All real education is the architecture of the soul.”

Thank you, Kristina Seher, for your grand gift to our children!