Friday, April 12, 2024

O.J.'s Passing Revives a Moment of National Divide

There are moments in our national history when we learn something, usually something unpleasant, about our collective selves. 


When, in 1991, Los Angeles police savagely beat Rodney King, only to be subsequently found not guilty of brutality even though the assault was captured on camera, we learned of the near invincibility to accountability of men in uniform, especially when their victims were people of color. 


Four years later, when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of brutally murdering his ex-wife and her friend, the euphoric reaction by blacks and the amazement of whites to the verdict brought to the surface the disparate beliefs in our justice system as they pertain to racial outcomes and, no less important, the impact financial resources can have on a trial’s resolution.   


Only recently, as in the case of George Floyd’s murder at the hands and knee of police, have the scales of justice begun to balance out. O.J.’s death Thursday no doubt will stir renewed debate on equality of justice plus police and prosecutorial behavior. 


Consider this: Lead L.A. prosecutor Marcia Clark and co-prosecutor Christopher Darden kept secret their romantic liaison during their work on the O.J. trial. The truth came out years after his acquittal. 


Now consider an affair’s current day template: Fulton County, GA., district attorney Fani Taifa Willis and her chosen special prosecutor Nathan Wade have admitted to an affair. The alleged criminal they have been investigating? None other than Donald Trump, past president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee. 


Oy vez mir, as my mother used to say. 


Now, I am not hypothesizing that a clandestine romance could taint the outcome of an investigation. But the optics are not pleasant to consider. Those hoping for a Trump conviction in Georgia might well castigate Willis and Wade if a not guilty verdict is tendered by a jury. Their conduct might not have risen to the level of prosecutorial misconduct but it clearly was prosecutorial impropriety 


Do you remember where you were when you heard the O.J. Simpson murder trial verdict? I do. 


I was crammed inside a standing room only, glass-fronted conference room of Lebhar-Friedman, parent company of Chain Store Age, on the sixth floor of 425 Park Avenue in Manhattan. For the mesmerizing pronouncement a television had been wheeled into the room. 


In microcosm to national trends, reaction to the not guilty verdict—not innocent, just not guilty—provided a local snapshot of a divide that has yet to lose its grip on the country. 


Almost all people of color in the room cheered. Whites shook their heads in disbelief. We—the multi-racial members of my staff—did not talk about it. Yes, whites talked with whites. We just didn’t talk about it with anyone of color. I’m not proud of that. I’d like to think 30 years later we would be more forthcoming if a similar defining event transpired. 


  

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Adventures in Flying

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


At least that’s what the old saw says. Case in point—News from Sunday that the cover of an engine of a Southwest Airlines jet came off and forced a flight to return to Denver brought back memories of a similar incident during my family’s trip to Japan 32 years ago. 


Watching the cover of the Southwest engine shred no doubt was a harrowing experience for the passengers. Our brush with a potentially similar condition was equally unsettling.


We were flying American Airlines from Dallas to Tokyo 32 years ago, I to interview executives from retail giant Ito-Yokado for our joint-venture Japanese publishing company, Gilda, Dan, 13,  and Ellie, 9, to enjoy the hospitality of our hosts.


About an hour after leaving Dallas, Dan thought he saw part of the skin of the left wing flapping away. He asked the man sitting next to him, a Navy air technician, to take a look. He confirmed Dan’s discovery. He called a stewardess who called the relief pilot who flies along on trans-Pacific flights.


Though he advised we’d be safe proceeding, he cautioned that the prudent thing to do was turn back to Dallas and transfer to another plane. It resulted in an eight hour delay, making our total travel time from New York to Tokyo a whopping 28 hours instead of the normal 18.


More Airborne Trauma: Usually, I fall asleep on a plane even before takeoff. That’s what happened when Gilda and I were returning aboard United Airlines from one of my magazine's conferences in San Francisco 31 years ago. We were sitting near the rear. In my dream I smelled something burning. It didn’t jive with the other action in the dream so I woke up about 20 minutes into the flight. Gilda also detected the odor. We alerted the stewardess who informed the pilot.


While they assured everyone there was no danger, the cabin started filling up with acrid smoke. The pilot decided to return to San Francisco, but since he had a full load of fuel for the transcontinental run, he first had to release fuel over the Pacific.


As we approached the landing, the stewardesses told everyone to assume the crash position, that once we came to a full stop we were to calmly walk to the emergency exits and slide down the evacuation chutes. Bent over with arms crossed shielding our heads, Gilda and I awkwardly held hands, thankful we were together. Nobody panicked. Young and old alike slid down the chutes with only one elderly woman slightly injuring her ankle (I’ll admit now I didn’t fully follow orders—I didn’t remove my shoes). Once safely inside the terminal, though, a gold-chained, muscled guy fainted. So much for macho appearances.


For our adventure, United gave everyone a free round-trip ticket to any domestic destination. American had offered no such compensation.



 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Israel Fighting on Two Fronts: Hamas and Media

Welcome to the world of unequal proportional responsibility. 


Hamas claims all Israelis—no matter how young or old, civilian or military—are justified targets because they empower a repressive government that denies Palestinians rights and a homeland. Terror attacks, rocket attacks, invasions, are to Hamas legitimate means of Palestinian dissent.


Israel is a legitimate country with a legitimate government. When Arab states tried to erase its existence Israel defended itself. In 1948. 1956. 1967. 1967-1970. 1973. 1971-1982. 1985-2000. 2000-2005. 2006. 2008-2009. 2012. 2014. 2021. 2023-2024 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_Israel).


Is Hamas a legitimate governing body? It won an election in 2006, but has not permitted another vote. No protests for another vote have been held in Gaza, unlike the weekly protests Israelis have held for the last year questioning the continuation of its government’s policies. 


Israel subsidizes safe rooms and community shelters for its citizens to protect them from mortar and missile attacks. Hamas siphoned off international monies intended to build infrastructure, homes and businesses in Gaza to construct an extensive tunnel network, not to shelter its citizens from Israeli aerial attacks but to shield only its members and to store weapons.


By inserting combatants among the civilian population of Gaza, Hamas guaranteed many noncombatants, including women and children, would die when Israel retaliated. 


Deaths of innocents are inevitable in any armed conflict. Israel investigates tragic mistakes, as it will for the killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers earlier this week. If warranted, those at fault will be disciplined. That’s a far cry from the failure of Hamas to investigate and discipline its fighters for atrocities perpetrated October 7 and subsequently to hostages held in Gaza. 


Nobody grieves more than Israelis about the deaths of the aid workers. It undercuts the legitimacy of Israel’s response to October 7. 


But let’s put in context the outcry against Israel, not just for the World Central Kitchen losses, but for its battle to destroy Hamas and the resulting deaths, according to Hamas, of more than 31,000 Palestinians.


Is there ever equivalency in war? On September 11, 2001, America lost 2,977 innocents. Through 2021, our retaliation in subsequent wars killed 46,319 civilians, 446 aid workers and 74 journalists in Afghanistan, and 185,831-208,964 civilians, 63 aid workers and 282 journalists in Iraq, according to the Watson Institute of Brown University (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2021/Costs%20of%20War_Direct%20War%20Deaths_9.1.21.pdf). 


In Syria’s civil war and fight against ISIS, 95,000 civilians died, as well as 224 aid workers and 75 journalists, Watson reported.


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, killed 68 civilians. To achieve victory the United States and its allies killed 550,000-800,000 Japanese civilians through bombings. More people died from the March 10, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo (105,000) than from the August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima (80,000) and Nagasaki (40,000).


In Darfur, Yemen, Somalia, Ukraine, to name just a handful of countries, civilians are dying from indiscriminate warfare with barely a ripple of public condemnation. Only Israel seems to be held to a higher standard of responsibility despite Hamas being the instigator of the conflict. 


Israel voluntarily left the Gaza Strip in 2005. Palestinians could have transformed the area into a “Dubai on the Mediterranean.” Instead, they accepted its transformation into an outpost of terrorism. 


No country could be expected to accept repetitive attacks on its population. Hamas has repeatedly violated ceasefire agreements, making calls for another cease fire ring hollow. 


There’s no dispute that the visuals of Gazans suffering are hard to bear. Absent the release of all the hostages taken by Hamas, Israel will continue its on the ground warfare even as its media battle leaves it looking like an oppressor rather than the aggrieved. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Capes Are Not Just for Super Heroes

The headline made reading the story irresistible: 


“Martin Greenfield, Tailor to Sinatra, Obama, Trump and Shaq, Dies at 95”(https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/20/fashion/martin-greenfield-dead.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare)


I was hooked not by the reference to Obama, Shaq or Trump, but by Sinatra, for it was his name that linked Martin Greenfield to my wife, Gilda. 


Among the many skills Gilda has mastered in her professional career spanning nearly 6 decades—as a waitress, office manager, newborn intensive care nurse, ICU-CCU step down unit nurse, nursery school aide, pre-and postpartum counselor, research coordinator for infectious diseases, and nurse practitioner specializing in pre- and post-spine surgery assessments—is an East Greenwich Village summer job she held while in college. 


Gilda was a seamstress in an avant-garde establishment catering to the notable and eccentric trade. Indeed, she sewed a cape for none other than Ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra. 


The cape was black. With a red lining. 


Gilda had been working as a clerical assistant at Hartz Mountain headquarters near Astor Place in Manhattan. Not able to afford a ready-to-wear wardrobe, she sewed her own outfits. One was a green dress that required button holes her home sewing machine was not equipped to make. 


She brought the nearly finished dress to a nearby East Village store, Capes for Men. Admiring the workmanship, the owner asked who made the dress. I did, said Gilda. Impressed by her skill, she offered Gilda a job on the spot. 


Capes for Men also specialized in knit dresses for women, though one of the customers Gilda observed trying on a dress was most definitely a man, she surprisingly discovered as the patron emerged from a dressing room wearing only tight red boxer underwear leaving little to the imagination of what it was hiding. Keep in mind that this revelation transpired in the mid-1960s when Gilda was in her late teens and a person’s public anatomy was not so gender fluid. 


Gilda never had the opportunity to meet Sinatra to ask him if he liked the cape. She never really was a big fan of his, anyway. Six decades later she hasn’t lost her touch around a sewing machine, though not to make apparel from scratch anymore. For the record, I sew on my own buttons when needed.  


Also, for the record, there are some fashionistas who believe a cape is reemerging as a staple of a man’s wardrobe (https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/fashion-trends/a43144450/mens-capes-trend/). 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Post Election, Do We Stay or Go?

As it does at many a gathering of upper middle class couples, the conversation eventually led to where it was a good place to escape to. 


Only this dialogue was not to plan an escape from winter, or a quick trip to the beach or ski slope, or a fashion fling to a spa or retail hot spot. 


No, this Friday evening shabbat dinner of matzoh ball soup, chicken marsala, smashed potatoes and root vegetables featured conversation among liberal, educated, well informed and connected Jews with a special interest as to where in the world could we find permanent safe refuge from an America unhinged by rising antisemitism and the very real possibility that Donald Trump could win the November election. 


Israel used to be the first response. Bibi has dashed that option. Equally guilty of closing that door were those who want to replace Netanyahu but whose egos have kept them from uniting behind one candidate. Israel teeters on the brink of undemocratic reform and a future even more oppressive for Palestinians under its control. 


Canada was a popular alternative. English is spoken. Heck, Toronto streets have been passed off as those of New York City in films and television shows. Toronto has a vibrant Jewish community. It’s colder, but not too cold. But there’s an undercurrent of conservatism gaining traction in Canada. A newly proposed bill could land you in prison for life for speech crimes. Jews are anything but demure when it comes to expressing their opinions. If passed, that new law would blow a very cold welcome greeting. 


Want some place warmer? Costa Rica might do. Sure there are gang and drug problems but they are small compared to other countries south of our border. 


For some, England had an attraction, though it too has been hit by rising antisemitism. France was definitely out. 


No one mentioned Australia or New Zealand. 


Reality set in. There is no safe haven. Come November, there is only an America PT—Post Trump or President Trump. 


If he wins in 2024, would he leave in 2029? Would he pull a Putin and stay in the White House for life? The tragedy, not just for Jews but for all of America, indeed for all of post World War II democratic liberal traditions here and abroad, is that half of our country is ignorant to Trump’s cancer, or so enthralled by it that they do not care.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

How the Times Have Changed Over 75 Years

I woke up today, March 6, a 75-year-old. As I lay in bed recalling all the good, and some bad, things that have happened to me over the years, I contemplated how different the world of today is compared to when I emerged from the womb. So many of the things we take for granted today were not present, or were in their infancy, when I was born.


Broadcast television, for example. Evening national news telecasts had not begun; there was no cable; most cities had three national networks—ABC, CBS, NBC—and, if they were large enough, a few independent stations; many communities had but one national network whose signal could be picked up by rooftop or set-top rabbit-ear antennae. 


The polio vaccine had not yet been developed. Nor had the anti-vaxx movement been formed. The triple dose MMR vaccine to ward off measles, mumps and the rubella virus was approved in 1978, the year Gilda’s and my son was born. 


Jet plane travel would not come till 1951; my first plane ride in January 1958 was on an Eastern Airlines propeller plane to Miami. I was ushered into the cockpit by a stewardess and given wings by the captain. 


The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants had not yet moved to California. They would do so in 1958. There were just eight teams in the American League, eight in the National. No New York Mets. No Tampa Bat Rays, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, Oakland Athletics, Denver Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers. 


Computers were enormous back then. Full rooms were dedicated to mainframes. Desktop computers would show up in the 1970s. Personal computers did not exist until 1974. 


Music was restricted to in-home consoles and car radios. Transistor radios tuned in in 1954. Boom boxes in 1966. The Sony Walkman in 1979. The Apple iPod in 2001.  


Telephones had rotary analog dialing systems. Most families had but one phone, if any. Handheld mobile phones became widely available in the mid 1980s.  The iPhone debuted in 2007. 


Space was still an unexplored frontier. Uri Gagarin became the first human in outer space in 1961. The first human lunar landing was in 1969. Aliens still have not been discovered. 


Pickleball started in 1965. The first Super Bowl, played in 1967, was called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The ultimate game was dubbed the Super Bowl in 1969. 


Schools used chalk and blackboards, not today’s markers and white dry-erase boards. 


There were no MRI machines. Physicians had to make do with X-rays. 


Almost everything families bought was made in America. Goods made in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were considered inferior. The only truly national chains back then were Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, JC Penney, Woolworth. There were no ubiquitous discount stores. Walmart and Target, and Kmart, began in 1962. There were no Best Buys, Crate and Barrels, T.J. Maxx, Costco. Retailing was very much localized. Department stores were landmarks of downtowns, with few if any locations outside the central city. There were no suburban shopping centers, no enclosed malls. Amazon was just the longest river in the western hemisphere, not today’s behemoth of international non-store retailing. 


Full voting rights were not universally enforced throughout the nation, a condition sadly still with us. 


Playboy had yet to appear on newsstands or be delivered through the mail. The sexual revolution did not truly take off until the pill was sanctioned by the Federal Drug Administration in 1960. 


Howard Johnson restaurants dotted the nation’s roadways which, until President Eisenhower started building the interstate highway system in the 1950s, passed right through the central business district of major and minor communities. Woolworth luncheon counters were a dominant foodservice enterprise. McDonald’s was just a single unit in San Bernadino, Calif., run by Richard and Maurice McDonald until Ray Kroc joined them in 1954 and bought them out in 1961. 


The changes in America, in the world, go on and on. Anyone born today and living to their 75th year in 2099 will have witnessed mind-boggling changes during their lifetime, as I have. Let’s hope they are all for the better.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

20 Questions for Biden and Trump

Like it or not it appears increasingly likely our top choices for president of the United States will be phlegmatic old men, both bent on burnishing their respective image as the only person who can save our republic. 


With that in mind, here are 20 questions each candidate—Joe Biden and Donald Trump—should be required to answer, without equivocation or bluster, either during a televised debate or during a vetting by the combined editorial boards of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the answers to be published by both newspapers:


What is America’s greatest international challenge?


What is America’s greatest domestic challenge?


What is America’s global role, if any?


Are there any treaties or global organizations you would pull back from or any you would like to enter or foster?


Which foreign leaders, past and present, do you admire and why?


Which of our presidents do you admire and why?


What if any censorship should public libraries have on the books and periodicals they house?


What role should the federal government have over the distribution of water among the states?


Should we change any policy in regard to federal lands, parks, monuments?


Should there be any limitations on development along coastlines threatened by flooding?


What do you believe are the root causes for illegal migration to America and how would you correct those issues?


What obligations, if any does the United States have toward Taiwan?


Are there any federal departments you would eliminate or sharply curtail their functions, institutions such as the FDA, CDC, OSHA, FBI, FTC, IRS?


Are there any new departments or services you would initiate?


Do you support the principle of separation of church and state?


What concerns do you have about the environment in America and the world and, if any, what are the best ways to mitigate them?


What is your assessment of race relations in America, and if needed, how would you improve it?


Do you support the Affordable Care Act? If not, how specifically would you guarantee health care?


Explain in detail your position on reproductive rights, the role of government, judges, doctors in determining a woman’s options during pregnancy? 


Should the Constitution be amended to require mandatory retirement at 75 of all elected federal politicians, appointed federal judges and federal/military positions requiring Senate confirmation?