December 2, 2005

By James Bridge

Published December 02, 2005, issue of December 02, 2005.
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Kinky’s Candidacy Is Not Just About Politics

A November 25 letter writer, having let a yucky word push his buttons, chides the Forward for implicitly approving Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor of Texas (“Too Kinky for Texas”).

As a native New Yorker happily residing in Providence, R.I., I could have only one reason for wishing to make my home in Texas: to support the candidacy of Kinky Friedman. If I lived near his animal rescue ranch in Kerrville, I’d offer to be his secretary.

Ranch-raised, son of a professor at the University of Texas and a speech therapist, Richard F. Friedman started his first band while still a university student. This critter-loving Peace Corps veteran and guitar-playing singer who quips “A fool and his money are soon elected” and concludes interviews with “May the God of your choice bless you” is a more congenial candidate than others I have actually voted for as the lesser evil.

But I liked Kinky way back, for his song “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” — a response to antisemitism.

The November 25 letter writer would do well to see the 2001 documentary about Kinky, though he probably wouldn’t like the title, that I applauded a year or two ago at Boston’s Jewish Film Festival; it might deflate his huff. Former president Bill Clinton, who reads Kinky’s mystery novels — 14 to date, I think, and featuring a singer named Kinky Friedman — is in the film.

The offensively named band that was formed in 1971 did not outlast the ’70s. It was good enough to tour with Bob Dylan. We should give talent its due, and admit, to borrow the letter writer’s words, that a “country-western music fandom that is probably not often exposed to Jewish culture and feelings” might admire Kinky as a performer, an American, a Texan, a Jew, a provocative maverick and an all-around decent man.

Logistics are against Kinky’s entering the race: He can’t collect signatures till the last day of the 2006 primaries, and he’d reportedly have at most two months, and maybe only one, to collect some 46,000 to 50,000 valid signatures.

Doesn’t matter, though. I just love him as a candidate. As he has said, “Politics isn’t about winning, necessarily.”

Blossom Kirschenbaum

Providence, R.I.

Birthrate, Contraception Determined Family Size

Fast Forward writer Viva Hammer notes that many Jewish women over 60 have similar family sizes, in contrast to today, when Reform women tend to have fewer children, and Orthodox women more (“Blessed With Children?” November 25).

Two factors working together tended to fix family size within a specific range.

In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, there were far fewer options for contraception, and access to contraceptives was sometimes difficult. This increased the likelihood of families having more children, rather than fewer.

But one in 34 children died before their first birthday — more than four times the rate today — so a high birth rate did not necessarily translate into large families.

Steve Klein

Oak Park, Mich.

Tom Petty’s Drummer Toured With a Menorah

It is unfortunate that a November 18 review of Abigail Pogrebin’s book, “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish,” only saw fit to mention “Stars of David: Rock ’n’ Roll’s Jewish Stories” in a throwaway line, cautioning Forward readers not to confuse her new book with mine, published in 2003 (“Seeing Stars”).

Readers of my “Stars of David” would discover that when Leslie West asked drummer Corky Laing in 1969 to join his band, Mountain, Laing’s acceptance was conditional on not having to perform on Yom Kippur.

Or that Kenny Vance, a founding member of the 1960s hit-makers Jay & the Americans, became ba’al t’shuva roughly 25 years ago, davens daily and regularly attends Torah classes, sometimes with his singer-songwriter friend Peter Himmelman, who keeps kosher and does not perform on the Sabbath.

Or that drummer Stan Lynch, a co-founder of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and member of the band for 19 years, took his menorah with him on world tours and created an intensely spiritual and personal Hanukkah ritual while far away from home.

Or that Bon Jovi keyboard player David Bryan is the shofar blower at his temple on the High Holy Days.

Or that members of the Wallflowers — I know what Dylan fans are thinking — recite Kaddish and Motzi before going out on stage.

This list, and the beat, goes on.

Yes, there are plenty of people in my book who define their Jewishness in other than religious terms. But for many prominent singers, songwriters and musicians, Judaism is their spiritual rock.

Scott Benarde

Boynton Beach, Fla.

Foolish War in Iraq, Or Foolish Criticism?

Opinion writer Martin van Creveld finally has published what the rest of this nation needs to understand as soon as possible: It’s past time to get President Bush and his cronies out of the White House (“Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War,” November 25).

The damage this administration has wrought on our nation will take years, if not decades, to fix. These arrogant leaders deserve, as van Creveld suggests, nothing less than criminal charges.

I don’t trust most of the information coming from our current media. We don’t get to see much unfiltered information about the war in Iraq, unless we know where to look on the Internet.

Even then, I don’t think most of us can grasp the damage this invasion has inflicted on Iraq and the thousands of innocent people in Iraq who have had to struggle to survive in a war zone not of their making. While we often lament the death and dismemberment of our own brave soldiers, we seldom consider the losses of Iraqis. That has to change.

Cheryl Ann Miskell

Houston, Texas

Foolish is an appellation I append to the muddled logic and naked opinion masquerading as erudition in Martin van Creveld’s opinion article, and not to the war in Iraq. Costly this war has been, but not foolish.

Foolish is drawing comparisons that cannot work, and in this case, even the comic-book version of history reveals for van Creveld the wrinkles in his logic. There is hardly an analog of the Vietnam conflict with that successful operation in Iraq.

First, Saddam Hussein’s regime: We never toppled the North Vietnamese government. Second, we have established a fairly healthy democracy in Iraq. We never got there in North Vietnam. Or South Vietnam, for that matter.

Third, Vietnam was fought in jungles and rain forests. Iraq is being fought in a sandy desert. Not exactly a passing difference. Fourth, Saddam was paying $25,000 to any family whose son would strap on dynamite and nails and blow up a gathering of Jews. Where does Ho Chi Minh fit in there?

Fifth, we went into Vietnam ostensibly to halt the march of communism through Southeast Asia. We clearly picked a fight, engaging in possibly trumped-up skirmishes in their backyard, and it escalated into a nightmare of 50,000 American dead. A mistake, I won’t argue.

We went into Iraq, on the other hand, after murderous attacks on New York City and our nation’s capital, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and brought our greatest megalopolis to its knees.

And sixth, ask the soldiers in the field in Vietnam what was going on and they might have brought out a guitar and run off a couple of bars of, “One, two, three, what are we fighting for?” by good ol’ Country Joe. Ask the GIs over in Iraq now, and they’ll tell you they know exactly what they’re fighting for. They have taken the tyrants out. They are fighting the foreign fighters on the Syrian and Iranian borders. They are giving Iraqis a lightning education in self-governance.

In sum, we have lost American lives. I thank everyone of them for their sacrifice, and I vow to look out for their families whenever and wherever they may cross my path. My brother-in-law is there now, and his three young children and wife and all who know him are praying for his safe passage through his time there.

But he and his fellow service men are dishonored by foolish words. I suggest that van Creveld watch a chador-clad Iraqi woman walk over bloodstained streets to vote, with a child’s hand in hers, and drop her ballot it in the box, and then write me back and tell me this war was foolish.

James Bridge (via email)

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