Further Thoughts on Useful Badgers and Big Yellow Taxis

One of the essays in my book Did Jesus have a Cat? is titled “A Useful Badger.”  In the essay I mention that one of my useful badgers was a professor at Cal State Long Beach, way back in the 60s, who planted the notion in my head of getting a Master’s degree in English.  I wasn’t sure if he was still alive, and if he would approve of my printing his name – after all, I didn’t have his permission.  [I think I mentioned his name on one of my blog posts, but not in the published book.]  And I recalled him as being a bit of a curmudgeon before his time and I didn’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest, to use a cliché.

But now, I want to say a few more things more about the whole notion of useful badgers.  This professor was Dr. George Betar, and I took several courses from him while I was at Cal State Long Beach, including graduate level courses while I was working on my Masters.  Many times over the years I thought about him, wondered what had happened to him – was he still alive, did he die early from poor health (he impressed me as being the type who didn’t take good care of his health)?  And while I was writing the essays that eventually found their way into the book, I wondered what he might think of my writing if he knew about the endeavor.  And then I thought about him again when the book was published.

About seven months or so after the book was published, I decided to try to track him down, or at least to see what I could learn from the internet, from some Googling and searching, since finding folks these days is much easier than in years past.  I remembered he had a son named Joseph (Joe) and I was able to find a Joe Betar in Utah who had a car business.  So I took a chance and sent Joe Betar an email, using an address I found on the dealership’s web site.  And he replied and said that yes, George Betar was his father and yes, he was still alive.  And he gave me an email address, though he wasn’t sure if it was up-to-date and still valid. Continue reading

The Ten Modern Commandments

In my book, Did Jesus have a Cat?, I wrote about the Seven Modern Deadly Sins.  So, readers won’t be surprised that the Ten Modern Commandments couldn’t be far behind.  And they would be correct.  So, with the “wisdom” garnered from life, my observations of the modern world, and considerable humility, I have developed ten new commandments.  Because sometimes you have to update your maps and your tools, to stay up with the times.  So these are the ten that I choose:

1.      Be curious.

2.      Be open-minded.

3.      Embark on a spiritual journey.

4.      Be kind, loving and compassionate to those you meet on your journey.

5.      Surround yourself with people who will challenge and support you.

6.      Always remember you are part of something greater.

7.      Constantly cultivate and improve your self-esteem.

8.      Find opportunities to serve others.

9.      Laugh, frolic and have fun regularly.

10.    Set goals and reinvent yourself several times in your lifetime.

I am not suggesting doing away with the original Ten Commandments, because that would be tampering with 2000 + years or tradition, and I’m not that bold.  But, these ten modern exhortations, or suggestions (?), can be followed in tandem with the existing ones.  The main difference is that with the original commandments you could sit passively in a chair and live a very boring life, do little and engage in life only modestly, and still be obedient to them.  And be very smug in thinking you are leading a “good life.”  However, these modern commandments require engagement, purposeful activity and active living.  I think more is required with the second set.  Also, the original set is based on a belief in God, fear of God and punishment by God for non compliance.  The modern commandments are not based on belief in a deity, though they do not preclude such a belief.  And notice the wording.  Instead of “thou shalt not” (just sit tight and don’t do anything), I use the imperative and action verbs.  And with the modern version, the penalty for non-compliance is not the wrath of God.  But non-compliance may result in a very bland, colorless life – plain vanilla, rather than delightfully flavored (like pistachio almond, or coconut mango).  And it may mean very little communion and interaction with one’s fellow homo sapiens. Continue reading

Evolving Social Mores, or Shylock Was a Prophet


I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?  Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?  If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die?  And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?  If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.    Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

If ever one needed proof that misconceptions and prejudices die hard, one needn’t look very far for verification of that fact.  Opponents of Barack Obama say they are against him, not because of his race, but because of his liberal ideas and failed economic policies.  But I wonder.  Prejudice is still alive in many forms:  against blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants, the homeless, the mentally ill.  In 2011, a homeless and mentally ill man in Orange County, CA was beaten to death by police.  I know a Jewish woman who claims that a Middle Eastern man backed away from her and would not shake her hand when he saw the Star of David hanging on a chain around her neck.  I know a lesbian couple whose cars have been vandalized while parked outside their home and this incident persuaded them to install a security camera outside their house.  Was it a “hate crime?”  When questioned, those with deep seated prejudices are unable, at times, to even articulate why they feel the way they do.  The best they can muster is “it’s just plain wrong.”

Social mores evolve.  Most of us would say this is a good thing.  Women can vote and own property.  This seems normal and just, but wasn’t always so.  Women used to marry out of financial necessity because they had no legal means or recourse to support themselves.  Now they have options.  Blacks are free, able to vote and own property and live in the same neighborhoods as whites.  Schools and universities are integrated.  Sports teams not only allow blacks, but many black athletes are highly prized and actively solicited for their skills.  Yet some forms of integration are still controversial, in some geographical areas more than others.  I visited Mississippi a few years ago, and while in Columbus touring the area around Mississippi University for Women (MUW or “the W”), learned that a local country club had closed recently.  There had been efforts to integrate the club, open to whites only.  The members objected strongly and refused to give in to pressures to integrate.  Instead, they reacted by closing the place down.  I thought at the time of the phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Continue reading

The Murky, Morphing Future of Live Theater

I recently went on line to purchase theater tickets for myself and a few friends to attend a local production of a Broadway play.  It has completed its Broadway run, and now is touring the US.  It is coming to Los Angeles soon and running for several months.  I thought this would be a great opportunity.  I go to a lot of theater productions and enjoy live theater.

When I went on line, I found that the very cheapest seats in the back of the mezzanine (the “nosebleed section”) ranged from $175.00 to $196.00 apiece.  I thought I had mis-read the price listing, so I checked again.  Yep, I had read it right the first time.

We decided not to attend.  We all agreed that it was more than we wanted to pay.  Some of my friends are retired and try to be reasonably frugal while still enjoying life.  This made me think a lot about the future of theater.  And it also made me think about a trip I took to Boston several years ago; I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast in Beacon Hill, near Boston Common.  Over breakfast, I learned from reading the Boston Globe that Edward Albee, the well-known playwright, was participating in a panel discussion at the library.  With other panelists, he would discuss the future of theater in America.  As it turned out, I was still in Boston on the day of the panel discussion and since it was free, decided to attend.  It isn’t often you get to hear a Pulitzer winner of Albee’s caliber speak.  And for free!  What a great opportunity. Continue reading