Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Thought-Provoking Christmas Message from Ben Stein

My good friend, Tom Glass, sends out some wonderful gems to those on his vast e-mail distribution lists. This is one I really appreciated receiving, and thought you might enjoy reading it, as well.

The following was written by Ben Stein and recited by him on CBS Sunday Morning


My confession:

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees.. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are: Christmas trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don't like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don't think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can't find it in the Constitution and I don't like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren't allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that's a sign that I'm getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it's not funny, it's intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham's daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her 'How could God let something like this happen?' (regarding Katrina) Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said, 'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?'

In light of recent events... terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O'Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn't want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn't spank our children when they misbehave because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem (Dr Spock's son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he's talking about. And we said OK.

Now we're asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don't know right from wrong, and why it doesn't bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with 'WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.'

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world's going to hell Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send 'jokes' through e-mail and they spread like wildfire but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?
Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on

your address list because you're not sure what they believe, or what they
will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not then just discard it... no one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don't sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,
Ben Stein

'Be who you are and say what you feel...
Because those that matter... don't mind...
And those that mind... don't matter

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire - A Response from 2 LT Rajiv Srinivasan, an Indian-born U.S. Army Officer

As soon as I left the Loew's Boston Common Theater in Boston after being mesmerized by the landwark film, "Slumdog Millionaire," one of the first things I did was to call my friend, Rajiv Srinivasan. Rajiv is home on leave from the Army and is visiting his parents, who live in Cambridge.

"Rajiv, I know that there is a blizzard raging around us here in Boston, but I want you to take your parents by the hand and go see 'Slumdog Millionaire' right now!"

I wanted to hear the reaction of one who had been born in India and is now part of the Indian diaspora living in the U.S. With Rajiv's permission, I offer his thoughts, posted to his Facebook page a few hours ago.


Lessons From a Slumdog Millionaire


Rajiv Srinivasan

Poster for Slumdog Millionaire

I am an American. I have lived here, worked here, studied here, and now I serve in my nation's defense. Yet along side my sincere and passionate loyalty to my country is a strong respect for my Indian heritage and ethnic identity. As I attempted to reconcile these two identities during my more formative years, I found that finding strength in one often resulted in becoming stronger in the other.

Yesterday, my family and I saw the independent film "Slumdog Millionaire." The movie tells the life story of a poor Muslim boy, orphaned at a young age, who eventually becomes the star of the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." The millionaire contestant, Jamal (played by Dev Patel), is skinny. He is weak, unconfident, and walks as if a stiff wind could bring him down. He sits in the hot seat looking across a rich and dynamic game show host who is doing everything he can to entertain his audience, despite the feeble creature in the spotlight.

Like any quiz show, the questions are simple and precise. When I hear such questions, I scan for the answers in my vague classroom memories left over after 17 years of formal education. I search through all the information recorded over the hours I have spent sitting in front of the television, reading books, watching movies, or digesting wikipedia. I replay the hundreds of intellectual conversations I have enjoyed with my classmates and friends in pretentious coffee shops over lattes whose names I cannot even pronounce. And of course, when I do not have the answers, I somehow have the nerve to feel empty inside.

Jamal had no recollections of coffee shops nor an education to rely on in this game show; only the painful memories of a Mumbai slum. Whether it was his mother's murder, his brother raping Jamal's destined true love, or seeing the inhumane fate of an abandoned friend, these moments were seared into Jamal's memory to be replayed over and over again. Unlike pleasant memories which tend to fade over time, painful memories only become more vivid. The intense awareness of Jamal's most scarring rites of passage gives way to factual realizations, which ironically become the answers to million-rupee questions. Jamal's unique talent in answering quiz show trivia brings new meaning to the phrase "ignorance is bliss."

Who is the American statesman on the $100 bill? Which cricketer has the most all-time centuries? Who invented the revolver? Whether one knows the answer to these trivia questions is merely a function of whether one is exposed to such random data. As the culture among the American-Indian diaspora often imposes upon its youth, "the more you study, the more you know, and the further you go." Thus, the collection of such information, in the form of a formal education, becomes the center of our lives. Jamal, on the other hand, possesses the correct answer to each question despite having not attended school--notice I say "not attended school" as opposed to saying "not having an education." Because what Jamal teaches us is that an education learned on the streets can often be just as powerful as one learned in a classroom.

I had the blessing to learn life's lessons in a safe environment afforded to me by parents who love me and a country that believes in me. But I often wonder what life would be like had I never made it to the United States. What if I lived in India? What if I were an orphan? What if I were raised in a slum? What percentage of a man's success is a result of his environment, and what percentage is a result of his inner strength and persistence? Perhaps there is something to be said for knowing that Franklin is on the $100 bill because your impoverished blind friend chastised you for giving him one; knowing that Lord Rama holds a bow and arrow in his right hand because of the massacres that Hindu extremists brought to your slum; or knowing that Samuel Colt invented the revolver because your brother pointed one at you.

This movie helped me remember that the gift of education is not limited to the educated. The most successful people and cultures I have studied, to include Indians, find greatness from the mastery of perception: the recognition of the greater implications of the events in our lives, and the use of these lessons to foster growth in our hearts, our families, our businesses, and our communities. Jamal found success and fame because of his environment, not in spite of it. He leveraged his surroundings and experiences to his favor. I am not making the argument that playing fields are level and that rich and poor have equal chances at finding success in life. My argument is that our investments in impoverished areas are futile when they are limited to basic sustenance. Food, water, clothing, and shelter will sustain life. An education may enrich life. But only the awareness and depth that can form from constant mentorship and love will elevate life. The same mentoring that has made the American-Indian diaspora such a competitive demographic in the United States is what will unearth the greatness of the millions of silenced slumdogs around the world. Although we should remember that, in India, even slumdogs express greatness by spontaneously breaking out in song and dance.

The Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire

"Slumdog Millionaire" - See This Film Now!

In the past, I have told readers of The White Rhino Report about the respect I have for the film reviews written by Ty Burr of the Boston Globe. So, when Ty reviewed this film last month and give it 4 stars out of 4, I made a mental note to see the movie at my first opportunity. That opportunity presented itself this week when, in the midst of Boston's first blizzard of the week, my friend, Rick, suggested, "Let's go see Slumdog Millionaire; I love to go to the movies during a storm. I like to see how the world outside has changed while we are wrapped up in the world of the film."

Ty Burr's review, linked below, says everything I could have said - and more, so I do not feel the need to write a review, per se. I had forgotten Mr. Burr's mention of Dickens. As we left the theater, I said to Rick, "If Dickens had been born in India, he would have written this story and created these characters - even down to the moment reminiscent of Sydney Carton in 'A Tale of Two Cities,' best remembered for the iconic line: 'It's a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It's a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.'"

So, I commend to you Ty Burr's poignant review, and I add my voice to his in urging you to see this movie. You will not regret it.



Boston Globe Review of Slumdog Millionaire

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Soldier's Christmas - A Gift from the Seidel Family

I have written in the past in The White Rhino Report about the Seidel family, whose son, Rob, gave his life in Iraq serving as a soldier in the U.S. Army. Bob, Sandy and Stephen just sent out this link to a YouTube video that gives a moving and sobering perspective on those who will not be home for Christmas this year because they have chosen the life of a soldier.

As you watch and listen, please pause and say a prayers of thank for those who have chosen to serve and to protect, and for the sacrifices that their families make.

A Soldier's Christmas

This Christmas season, may God bless the men and women serving around the world.