You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus
—Mark Twain

Anthony Hopkins Turns 402 Years Old! February 10, 2019

Hi Everyone, Last week I wrote about the curious common denominators in my three favorite activities: riding, running, and writing. There is, however, one important difference: the future. Riding and running are of the moment. Whether I’m strapping on the helmet or lacing up the sneakers, there’s the expectation of joy – tangible, physical, sensory experience that lasts as long as the activity (with lingering sense of achievement and a few muscle aches). Writing is equally a tangible, physical, sensory experience, but it has a long-lasting virtue that goes beyond my own individual involvement. I was reminded of this aspect while reading a fascinating interview with Yngve Slyngstad, CEO of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund (the world’s largest). Explaining the three purposes for the fund’s existence, Mr. Slyngstad went through the first two (stabilize oil revenues and maintain reserve funding), but emphasized the third: Generational fund: “That’s probably the most important part. We generally believe—at least this is the construct—that there’s no one in our generation who has any specific entitlement to the revenue stream of the North Sea just because the revenue is coming in our generation. It is wealth that was there a long time before this generation existed, and it’s wealth that we should protect for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.” Admittedly, a trillion dollars is stunningly tangible, but Mr. Slyngstad’s words, I feel, also apply to creative endeavors in general and, in my case, to writing novels and screenplays. Take, for example, the longevity of stories told in the Bible and Greek mythology, or the still best-selling Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. And there is King Lear, a stage play William Shakespeare wrote in 1606, which has been performed, viewed, and read by every generation since then, most recently adapted for modern viewers in a 2018 film staring Anthony Hopkins as the title character – which in a way makes our generation’s most beloved actor 402 years old! Clearly, people love good stories and keep telling them, one generation to the next. Admittedly, reading books these days has taken a second seat to watching actors on screens, fueled by the advent of limitless video streaming of lifelike action. (At the same time, the technological revolution also created a terrific market for electronic books, which endowed the joy of reading with immediate delivery, quality...
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Arctic Blast to Thermal Whiplash – February 6, 2019

Hi Everyone, When we lived in Arizona, experiencing weather change required driving up to the beautiful White Mountains, but here in Maryland, the four distinct seasons are often interspersed with mild days that soften the blow of winter or the torridness of summer, as the case may be. The past week, however, gave us the most extreme weather swings, going overnight from an icy, sub-zero Arctic Blast to a sunny, springtime bliss. This rare Thermal Whiplash had me shuffling through powdery snow to the mailbox one day, and on the next, grinning inside my helmet as I leaned the motorcycle into a perfect curve on the way to meeting a similarly giddy friend – followed by an afternoon 5-mile jog in the woods. The joy of riding and running on a winter day made me think of how closely these activities relate to writing. First, there is forward motion through unfolding scenery, propelled by dogged perseverance. Second, all three activities require my undivided presence – physically and mentally – with total focus, concentration, and dedication to the journey and to the safe arrival at a destination (in a novel, it’s “The End.”) Third, riding and jogging bombard me with intense sensory inputs – sights, sounds, and scents, as well as the thrills of motorized acceleration and the tenacity of uphill footwork. The unique combination of stimulation and solitude (in the helmet or among the woods) produces rich creative energy that fuels new ideas for my writing – plots twists and turns, characters’ traits and motives, and snippets of razor-sharp dialogue. Speaking of writing, I’ve started the fifth book in the “Deborah Rising” series. Meanwhile, the third book is done and ready to go to press (or the e-book Cloud), and the fourth is well into the editing process. I envision a total of seven books in the series, culminating in Deborah leading her army against the Canaanite superpower of the era in a final battle for freedom that tests her mantle as the Israelite nation’s top religious, political, and military leader—a role not reached by another woman in any nation until many centuries later. Have a great week, Avi. Avraham Azrieli...
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Government of the Lawyers, by the Lawyers, for the Lawyers – by Avraham Azrieli

Government of the Lawyers, by the Lawyers, for the Lawyers By Avraham Azrieli *   (Numbers in the text correspond to sources cited in the Endnotes.) Here is an astonishing fact: One in twelve Washington D.C. residents is an active lawyer.1 Add lawyers who don’t actually live in the district but work there, and the total more than triples2 to nearly 120,000 lawyers.3 It is therefore likely that most adults working within ten miles of the White House are either lawyers or their clients – or both. (“Trump’s lawyer has hired his own lawyer in Russia probe.”4) Current news would make you think it is all President Trump’s fault. Who else but squadrons of competent lawyers could conduct, defend and manage multiple investigations by the FBI, a special prosecutor, and several congressional committees? Yet all those lawyers did not appear suddenly after the 2016 elections, but have dominated D.C. for a long time – both in and out of the government. While lawyers make up less than 0.4% of the US population, law school graduates have consistently made up over 40% of members of congress5 and about half of state governors.6 The federal government at large employs over 100,000 attorneys,7 not including the vast system of federal courts. The disproportionate abundance of lawyers and law firms in D.C. is driven in no small part by the unavoidable needs of financial and business organizations, as explained by legal recruiter Dan Binstock: “Federal regulations impact the business interests of not only those in the U.S. but internationally as well. A federal agency can have a dramatic impact on whether a business succeeds or fails. Clients feel comfortable knowing someone is at ground zero, so to speak, for regulations coming out of federal agencies.”8 Similarly, law firms that ventured beyond advising clients and into direct lobbying have found themselves feeding at an overflowing trough of riches.9 In other words, who else but lawyers could draft, negotiate, and revise countless laws and regulations? Who else could effectively educate, manipulate and lubricate the multitudes of legislators, regulators and staffers who usher laws and regulations through the lengthy gestation and intricate drafting process, leading to enactment? Who else could figure out how to interpret circular language in the maze of longwinded laws and voluminous regulations in order to gain unintended legal advantages and slip through favorable loopholes? Who else could devise creative avoidance tactics for...
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Today, Of All Days? by Avraham Azrieli

Today, Of All Days? By Avraham Azrieli (Originally published on April 24, 2017) In an Op-Ed in The Guardian titled: “The Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment,” Harvard professor Cornel West calls for a new Sanders-inspired Progressive party, and lists the top 5 issues for American progressives: “The crucial issues of a $15 minimum wage and saying no to fracking, no to TPP, no to Israeli occupation and yes to single-payer healthcare …” In other words, to save America from corporate greed and xenophobic populism, we must fight growing poverty, environmental pollution, unfair international trade, lack of healthcare and … Israel. Forget all the other painful challenges facing millions of Americans, such as mass-incarcerations, drug addiction, urban decay, failing infrastructure, immigration, veterans, etc., as well as all the dictatorial regimes rising across the globe, all the mass-killings, preventable epidemics, and deadly famines. All these problems are secondary to fighting “Israeli occupation.” Is this an example of an irrational hate of Israel, or what? Any astute student of the past 100 years’ struggle of Jews and Arabs to co-exist in the tiny strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River knows the myriads historical animosities, social complexities and religious tensions underlying Israel’s inability to reach peace with its neighbors—and the Arabs’ inability to reach peace among themselves. Whatever one’s opinion about Israel’s presence in some of the territory it won in the 1967 war, it’s clear that, if it withdraws from the West Bank (as it withdrew from the Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005), the level of violence in the Middle East will not diminish one iota. West’s choice to include this—the expulsion of Jews from land bursting with archeological remnants of ancient Jewish life—among the top 5 goals for American progressives is both laughable and scary. It’s especially jarring to hear this familiar theme (“Juden Raus!”) today of all days, on April 24, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s no wonder that progressive-minded supporters of Israel find themselves politically homeless in the U.S. It’s also no wonder that “The ‘hotbed of anti-Semitism’ isn’t a foreign country. It’s U.S. college campuses, a new report says.” (Kristine Phillips, The Washington Post, April 24, 2017) Link to West’s op-ed: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/24/democrats-delivered-one-thing-100-days-disappointment Link to Phillips’s report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/04/24/the-hotbed-of-anti-semitism-isnt-a-foreign-country-but-u-s-college-campuses-report-says/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_aof-anti-semitism-925am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.10ebcb0cb374 Direct link to this page: http://azrielibooks.com/today-days-avraham-azrieli/...
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Book Review: “Girls Like You” (2015)

“Girls Like You” by Margot Douaihy (Clemson University Press, 2015) is a collection of poetry and poetry-styled short prose. It is deceptively lighthearted, or whimsically serious—or both, and full of surprises. What at first glance appears to the reader as an interesting collection of unrelated yet uniquely perceptive observations, gradually emerges as a wholesome work of integrity. Despite the variety of styles and modulations of voice, there is a theme here, distinguished by a keen eye and a sense of humor about the serious business of living. Take, for example, the welcoming piece (an initiation for the unwary reader), with “Maidservant.” It’s not until one is halfway down the poem when ominous words hint at danger. ‘His skin tore easily as he tangled the sheets,’ yet ending with ‘How I wish I could be as pure as darkness, taking whatever it wants.’ (Disclosure: A poster of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Judith’ has looked down for over two decades from the office wall of this reviewer.) As with all good poetry collections, the fun is in searching for the gems that glow most brightly for one’s eyes, or that most clearly reveal the poet’s mindset. The title poem, “Girls Like You,” perhaps gives away the store with one-half sentence: ‘—the danger of defining nature.’ Fittingly, this work explores timely human and social issue of today, such as relationships, passions, gender choices, homosexuality, and even marriage—as in the poem “Wife” that posits: ‘Wife means your, mine. Two lives find tune, like jasmine on one vine.’ Now, think about it. The writer’s style is not only approachable, word-playful and full of descriptive richness, but the presentation also adds an occasional visual catch. Take a look at the poems “Rock” and “Neither,” which are placed on the page with an added graphic twist. It is a contemporary creation, very much of out times, as in “Text me,” which is how the previous generation would have said: “Talk to me.” To fellow writers, “Wax” would speak volumes: ‘What if we never edited, revised?’ Yes, what if. And to philosophers, “My Money” would bring a pause: ‘My money is on Sisyphus. Sure, the hill is high & rock is heavy, but look at those arms.’ Yes, look! Especially intriguing are the writer’s observations about the physical aspects of a relationship and its natural flow from beginning to last base. ‘I went first; Your lips so cold; You didn’t...
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A Merry Jewish Christmas?

And we experience it through music, because songs are the common language of all people, Jews and Christians alike, as we wish each other, in the words of Irving Berlin: “May your days be merry and bright…and may all your Christmases be white.”


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Book Review: How I Gained My Vision By Losing It – by Charles Lee Sidi (2014)

This book’s intriguing title is an ingenious pun intended. The second visible hint that this is an extraordinary book is served by its brilliant cover: The letters of the title are arranged to resemble a vision test in a doctor’s office, set against a background that appears to be a distorted vision of the side of the building. Part memoir, part inspirational, and part business wisdom, “How I Gained My Vision By Losing It” by Charles Lee Sidi makes for a rare balancing act of honesty, humility and humor, certain to bring readers to tears and laughter, sometimes simultaneously. Furthermore, this truly is a suspenseful story, an unusual quality for books of this nature, primarily because of its unique structure as two stories that move on parallel lines until both threads reach a climactic conclusion that’s both heartwarming and wise. (The unusual structure and its storytelling success should not surprise us as we learn about the author’s professional skills and talents in the fields of design and construction). The story begins in California with a health crisis that threatens to deprive the author of what remains of the vision in his eyes. Under a cloud of impending tragedy, Charles and his wife, Sarah, get in the car, and she drives through the night across the Mojave Desert from California to Arizona. That journey, and the medical drama that follows, serves as the second rail to the main story–Charles’s life. Growing up in Manchester, England, Charles was clearly a precocious boy with a good measure of hearty curiosity and a bit of naughtiness. The family backgrounds provides a wonderful picture of what it was like in England in those last few decades of the 20th century for a Jewish immigrant family with a mix of economic challenges, cultural struggles, and tightknit familial bonds. An English boarding school, as well as boundless intellectual and artistic energy, form a launching pad for a unique career that combines design and construction, earning Charles a number of national awards and honors. Then, driven by an insatiable entrepreneurial sprit (“Go west young man…), the author relocates his family across the Atlantic and the continent all the way to Arizona. Launching a custom homebuilding company shorty before the Great Recession makes for a host of new trials and tribulations, followed by a dramatic pivot to an inventive new product and the challenges of an ambitious startup,...
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