Sunday, April 11, 2021

Last Tango in Halifax—England, not Canada

It being a rainy day I decided to spend a couple of hours watching the last two episodes of season four of “Last Tango in Halifax.” Gilda and I started watching “Last Tango in Halifax” after erroneously believing Halifax referred to the capital of Nova Scotia which we visited on our honeymoon 47 summers ago. 


Turned out, the Halifax in Last Tango is in Yorkshire, England, the setting for the convoluted lives of two semi-dysfunctional, extended, amalgamated families of Britons. (Friends tell me it’s similar in concept to “This Is Us,” which Gilda and I have not watched.)


So it was understandable, at least to me, that I was immediately interested in a New York Times first person commentary from last November on how Halifax, NS, residents have coped with the coronavirus pandemic. Quite well, it turns out (https://nyti.ms/2UCuWcl).


After reading the article I asked Gilda what’s the first thing to come to mind when she thinks about Halifax. I thought it would conjure up the memory of the time she erroneously entered the men’s room in a Chinese restaurant our first night in Halifax. Instead, she recalled how seasick she felt for three days driving up the eastern coast of Nova Scotia after our voyage across the Bay of Fundy from Bar Harbor, ME, to Yarmouth, NS.


Let’s start at the beginning. We wed late January 1973. As I had been working just four months for The New Haven Register, we had to defer our honeymoon until the summer. We mapped out a two week journey winding its way up north, first to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, then a six-hour ferry ride to Yarmouth, a leisurely drive up what we hoped was the scenic coast of Nova Scotia, then Halifax, followed by a quick trip through New Brunswick en route to Quebec, then homeward bound with a stop at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA (Gilda’s must see, not mine), and finally back to our apartment in Seymour, CT.


If you like lobster, as we do, Bar Harbor is the place to visit. Picturesque (at least it was 47 years ago), with every restaurant presenting the town’s signature vertical way to serve a sliced up lobster. Acadia National Park offered spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. 


Our honeymoon was off to a most enjoyable start as we drove our 1973 Chevy Vega onto the ferry to Yarmouth on a clear, crisp summer day, what appeared to be perfect sailing weather. What we hadn’t known is that the Bay of Fundy is considered by many to be among the choppiest bodies of water in the world. Something to do with it having the highest tides anywhere. Within a couple of hours of rocking side to side almost all the passengers were seasick. I was prone on a bench. Though tempted to, I did not barf. Two hours later even crew members were turning green.


After finally, thankfully, docking in Yarmouth, we drove off the ferry and headed north along the coastline. Far from being a beautiful vista, the landscape resembled what was left over from a forest fire. Scraggly trees. 


We occasionally stopped along the way, including a visit to what might have been the world’s largest outdoor model train setup. At one tourist shop we bought a lobster trap with a curved top. We turned it into a foot rest/coffee table back in Seymour. We even bought a bright red stuffed lobster toy to place inside the trap. Kitschy, for sure, but remember we were just 24 at the time and managing, scrimping really, on my $7,800 a year salary (Gilda was starting nursing school in September). 


Halifax was quaint but really provided no long term memories. On the way to Quebec we stopped at Moncton in New Brunswick to experience Magnetic Hill, a place where vehicles placed in neutral seemingly go uphill in reverse. 


Quebec lived up to expectations, its quaint cobblestoned streets, European architecture and small town squares providing an atmosphere of French living. We biked on the Plains of Abraham where in 1759 the British defeated the French. At the end of the French and Indian War the British took control of all the land from the east coast of North America to the Mississippi River.


After driving for more than 10 days it was a pleasure to relax on the balcony cafe of the Ch√Ęteau Frontenac overlooking the city while enjoying the most delicious lemonade we have ever had. 


The ride down from Quebec was punctuated by a stop in Springfield, MA, at the Basketball Hall of Fame. My only memory of that visit is of Bob Lanier’s sneakers, an astounding size 22. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Build a Wall, Boycott Coke, Religious Spin

Build the Wall, Redux: Donald Trump is probably more than slightly miffed that Joe Biden’s administration has signaled support for building part of the border wall with Mexico Trump championed in both his presidential campaigns (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/dhs-alejandro-mayorkas-border-wall-b1827535.html?amp).


But it remains unclear if Trump has learned the ultimate lesson of politics—it is not what you say or stand for, but rather, how you say it. 


Put in reverse cliche form, “Shoot the messenger, not the message.”


Trump’s bellicose, offensive messaging on everything from immigration to COVID-19 response to relations with allies stymied his ability to rally most of the nation to his causes. It also didn’t help that Trump exuded self-importance, broadcasting that he alone had the answers to any challenge facing America. 


So far, Biden has been quick to give credit to the American people, social services organizations or companies for successes. Trump personalized successes and demonized those who didn’t agree with him.  


So, at least for now, wall construction will continue. For sure Biden does not want to be confronted with any more negative stories emanating from a porous border. 


Whether voters, particularly Republicans, will assign him any credit for following through on border wall construction is uncertain. But it would be helpful to his reelection if the wall did not become an opposition rallying point in 2024. 



Boycott, Shmoycott: Oy. I don’t know what to do. 


A week ago I proudly endorsed a consumer boycott of Coca-Cola and my personal resolve to abstain from drinking Diet Coke because the company failed to use its influence to stop Republicans in its home state of Georgia from passing a repressive election law. Only after the law was signed by the Republican governor did Coke publicly voice its displeasure.


That action brought an expected diatribe from the former imbiber-in-chief. Even as he was pictured with a Diet Coke on his desk, Trump called on his supporters to boycott Coke and other companies that criticized Georgia’s new law. 


So, does my antipathy for Trump outweigh my displeasure with Coke? I guess so. I’m not happy about it, but I’ve chosen the lesser of two evils.



Spinning Religion: I’ve always associated spin doctors with politicians. But after viewing some clerical commentary about the renewal powers of Easter and Passover I believe the clergy is the equal of any political spinmeister. 


Take, for example, Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s comments to Harry Smith of NBC News aired Sunday evening. The archbishop of New York said, “This is the very time of year when we are going from the bleak nature of winter, oh my god, we’re going to more light, more life, growth, hope, my god, that’s the message of Holy Week and Easter and do we ever need it.”


For sure we need more of what this time of year can bring us. But Easter is a worldwide holiday. Since the Southern Hemisphere is embarking on autumn before a winter, how does the cardinal’s comments on nature’s transition apply? 


For sure, in most places temperatures are not as extreme as they are in Northern climes, but I still find it troubling that even in religious matters we take an American-centric view.


Weather wasn’t the only problem I had with Cardinal Dolan’s oratory. 


“We can never lose our sense of hope...as for 40 years the people of Israel didn’t,” he explained to Smith.


Does the cardinal have a different version of the Old Testament than I do? My Scriptures has the Israelites constantly questioning God and Moses. They wandered in the desert for four decades because they lacked faith and hope in God.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Memories From a Photograph of Horror

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, will begin Wednesday evening and conclude Thursday at sunset. At 10 am sirens will wail throughout the land. People will stand still. Motorists will stop their vehicles to stand beside them. The country will pause for two minutes in silent commemoration of the brutality and widespread world indifference to the annihilation of six million Jews in Europe before, during and after World War II.


Last Sunday, the Book Review section of The New York Times ran a review by Susie Linfield of Wendy Lower’s, “The Ravine: A Family, a Photograph, a Holocaust Massacre Revealed” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/16/books/review/the-ravine-holocaust-photo-wendy-lower.html?smid=url-share).


A single photograph dominated one-third of the page. It showed German and Ukrainian soldiers executing a mother holding two children as they stood above a pit into which the woman would fall. Her children would be buried alive.


Anyone familiar with the Holocaust knows this depiction is far from an isolated occurrence, Babi Yar being the most infamous of the horrific open pit massacres perpetrated in Ukraine. The picture’s commonality is what is so devastating, made all the more so not by the involvement of German soldiers but by the active presence of Ukrainian militiamen.


Ukrainians welcomed Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of their territory as many abhorred life under the Soviet Union. Significantly, far too many willingly, eagerly, participated in the murder of Jews—their neighbors—who, on top of their Jewishness, many considered affiliated with Communist Russia.


Jews had lived in Ukraine for more than half a millennia. They had been subjected to periodic pogroms not just because of their religion but also due of their occupations. Jews served as on-location representatives for distant Polish landlords. They were tax and toll collectors. Jews held the “the exclusive privilege of distilling and selling alcohol—lucrative trade that fit naturally with the business of innkeeping and small moneylending,” according to the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research (https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Ukraine).

 

As Linfield showed in an excerpt from Lower’s book, the Ukrainians “taunted the victims by name….The victims were known to them from the dentist’s office, the cobbler’s shop, the soda fountain and the collective farm.”


Lower’s penetrating history is of a massacre in Miropol, Ukraine, in October 1941. Miropol is 130 miles southwest of Kiev. Travel another 210 miles southwest to arrive in Ottynia, the shtetl of my father’s family in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Galicia (though Ottynia is now part of Ukraine, it often shifted between Austria-Hungary, Poland and Ukraine sovereignty depending on results of the most immediate war. After World War I it became part of Poland). 


As recounted in “Remembering Ottynia,” a history of the town compiled by Philip Spiegel whose parents came to America in the 1920s, “The German-Hungarian army occupied Ottynia on July 1, 1941.”


Like the scene from Miropol, Jews were taken to Szeparowce Forest where, on July 7, 1941, Ukrainians, no doubt along with German soldiers, killed 1,200 before an open pit. 


My Uncle Willy was the only member of his immediate family to escape the carnage of that day and subsequent “aktions” against the several thousand Jews who lived in Ottynia (my father had emigrated to New York in 1939). Perhaps his wife and young son, along with his sister and her child, suffered a fate similar to that of the woman in the photograph.


Willy survived the first mass killings because he happened to be away from the village that day. He would sneak back into town to see his mother until she too was murdered with the rest of the known Jewish residents in Fall 1942.


For the next two years he hid out in barns and fields as German soldiers and their Ukrainian sympathizers searched for the few who had managed to escape. 


His existence depended on an ability to stay one step ahead of the Nazis and to find Polish peasants willing to risk their lives to shield Jews. 


He moved from one hiding place to another. He remained stone silent inside a hidden chamber of a potato bin in a barn as a German soldier banged his rifle butt on the side listening for a hollow sound. To avoid other troops he jumped into an open fertilizer pit when Germans came to the barn he was hiding in. 


He joined partisans to fight, eventually being liberated by the advancing Russian army which conscripted him and sent him to Siberia for basic training. To survive, he ate grass for lack of food. 


When his unit was ready to be sent to the Western Front to fight the Germans, they mustered at the base. By Russian military custom, the commandant asked if any soldier had reason not to be sent to the battle lines. 


Willy and several other Jewish soldiers stepped forward. They told the officer they did not fear the Germans. What they feared was getting shot in the back by their fellow soldiers, many of whom were anti-Semitic Ukraines. The commandant kept them in Siberia. Willy always suspected he was sympathetic because secretly he might have been Jewish.


Could be. Some 500,000 Jews served in the Red Army during the war. Here’s a link from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, that details the participation of Jews in the armed forces of the Allies who fought Nazi Germany: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/about/07/jewish_soldiers.asp. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

An Open Letter to U.S. Senator Joseph Manchin

Dear Senator Manchin:


I respect your allegiance to Senate traditions and your concern that doing away with the filibuster rule as currently exists could lead to unintended consequences should Senate Republicans gain majority status in the future.


However, we are witnessing state after state under Republican control enact or plan to enact laws that will cripple the ability of all voters to easily cast their votes in future elections. Minority communities and the elderly, especially, will be adversely affected by these laws.


It is imperative that H.R. 1 (the For the People Act) be passed by the Senate to protect their votes. Sadly, Republican senators will not join in this patriotic endeavor. It is up to Democrats to keep our nation an example of good for the rest of the world and not be an example of how democratic ideals can be legislated away by a disenchanted, vindictive party that falsely claims voter fraud in the last election.


By agreeing to return the Senate to its founding practice of majority rule you will not be reducing your importance. Your vote will continue to be critical on all legislation that Republicans choose not to support. Experience has shown Republicans consistently have chosen party politics over country.


Without your vote to change the filibuster rule President Biden’s plans to rebuild America will be thwarted. Americans will lose their right to free and fair elections.


Your legacy as a senator of the United States, not just as a senator from West Virginia, will be determined by how you respond to the peril our legislative and electoral  processes face.


While I am not a constituent of yours I am an American citizen who looks to U.S. senators to act in the best interests of the country and not just in the narrow interests of their respective states.


I hope and implore you to recognize the challenge and your opportunity. Announce your willingness to cast your vote to change the Senate filibuster rule so America can move forward and be confident our elections will be unencumbered and open to all legal voters.


Respectfully,


Murray Forseter 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Hugging, Cuddling, Snuggling, Reading Books: Joys of a First Post Quarantine Family Visit

 It’s that first hug of a long-separated relative that jolts muscle memory.


It had been more than seven months since I wrapped my arms around any of my grandchildren and their parents. That drought of togetherness ended last Thursday afternoon. Gilda and I made our first pandemic-period overnight trip since last August so we could celebrate Passover together with Dan, Allison and their kids, Finley and Dagny, in their Massachusetts home.


As much as we cherished their closeness, though, we continued to long for contact with Ellie and her family in Omaha. We had to settle on their being part of a zoom seder Saturday night, one of the highlights being nearly six-year-old CJ chanting the “mah nishtana” four questions, with some accompaniment by three-year-old Leo and their dad, Donny. 


As much as I longed for more and more hugs, not everyone in our family is a hugger. I don’t say that critically. Just factually. I wasn’t a big hugger growing up or in adulthood, until it became common among my close male friends to hug on occasions both happy and sad. Sometimes even with a kiss on the cheeks.


Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if I lacked hugs from Gilda during the pandemic. It’s just that hugs from children and grandchildren are different. There’s simple, whimsical joy to snuggling a toddler, to cuddling up next to a single-digit youngster when reading to them in bed or on a couch. 


Finley and Dagny border on the age of hugging indifference. Finley’s 11 and a third. Dagny will be nine in July. I think they knew we wanted to hug. They more than tolerated our needs. 


For several days Gilda and I crammed in activities we were denied by quarantine. We read books with them before bedtime. We watched them play, ride their bikes. We played cards and badminton. We marveled at how tall they have grown. Finley is 5’1”; his father was six inches shorter at his age. 


Gilda cooked Friday night shabbat dinner and Saturday night’s “mandatory” seder brisket. Saturday morning Dan and I prepared French toast with the last of the pre-holiday challah.


Before we returned to White Plains I lingered in goodbye hugs with Finley, Dagny and Allison, spending even more time in Dan’s embrace. I kissed his neck. 


Monday, March 29, 2021

#BoycottGeorgia Until Repeal of New Voting Law

 #BoycottGeorgia


The Masters Tournament is scheduled to begin April 8 in Augusta, GA. But in the aftermath of repressive voting restrictions just passed by the state’s Republican led legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor, it is incumbent upon all PGA golfers to forcefully and publicly declare they will not play in a state that makes it more challenging for minorities to vote. 


Now is a moment when Tiger Woods can show he is more than an automaton athlete, that he has a social conscience. Even though he is currently injured and would not be teeing off in Augusta, he must issue a public condemnation of the new law and advocate the Masters should be moved out of state if the law is not immediately revoked. 


Similarly, professional and college baseball, basketball and football players should say they will not play in Georgia until the law is repealed. Major League Baseball’s All-Star game, scheduled to be played in Atlanta in July, should be moved (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9410511/Civil-Rights-groups-DEMAND-Masters-MLB-Star-Game-MOVED-Georgia.html). 


All athletes and entertainers regardless of color should #BoycottGeorgia. 


Though the new law makes voting by minorities more difficult, the issue is not simply a black or brown one. All Americans who cherish universal freedoms should be enraged and stimulated to resist such anti democratic rules.


Accordingly, everyday Americans should #BoycottGeorgia companies. Coca-Cola, The Home Depot, Delta Airlines, UPS, Arby’s, Chick-fil-A are some of the more prominent enterprises based in the Peach State. 


Georgia enacted the law under the guise of protecting the integrity of elections despite repeated assurances by state and federal election officials, law enforcement and courts that the 2020 election was free from fraud.


Discriminatory laws and actions generate consequences. Economic pressure can alter political decisions. 


The NFL forced Arizona to change its policy on Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances after Phoenix lost a bid to host a Super Bowl. Only after the MLK day became a paid holiday did Phoenix host a Super Bowl. The NBA moved its All-Star game from Charlotte after North Carolina enacted a controversial “bathroom bill.” The law was subsequently rescinded.


It took the NFL several years to acknowledge the legitimacy of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest against police treatment of black suspects. There can be no such delay in rejecting Georgia’s assault on voting rights (https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2021/03/29/opinions/georgia-voting-restrictions-sports-moore/index.html).


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Dealing With Tragedies At Home, Disaster Abroad

Superstitious people believe bad things come in threes. If you are so inclined, you would be well advised to stay away from anything called Evergreen in the near future.


In the early morning hours of Tuesday a fire at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley, NY, killed one elderly resident and a volunteer fire fighter. The fire destroyed the assisted living facility.


Also on Tuesday, some 6,000 miles away, the Ever Given container ship operated by the Evergreen Marine Corp. of Taiwan got wedged between both sides of the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The unprecedented mishap effectively cut off sea traffic in both directions as the location was an area where ships traverse the waterway in a single lane

(https://apnews.com/article/cargo-ship-blocks-egypt-suez-canal-5957543bb555ab31c14d56ad09f98810). 


No injuries were reported but world trade has been affected as ships have been forced to float in place awaiting the canal’s reopening. The AP reported “30 vessels waited at Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake midway on the canal, while some 40 idled in the Mediterranean near Port Said and another 30 at Suez in the Red Sea.”


Will there be a third Evergreen disaster? Depends on how superstitious you are.



GQP: Have you noticed that in the intro feed to Bill Maher’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” HBO show he has adapted the Republican Party’s Grand Old Party (GOP) nickname? 


It now appears as GQP, an homage to the party being enthralled with the conspiracy theory QAnon cadre. 



No Comedy, Just Common Sense: After the double mass murders in the last week late night television hosts shunned comedy to deliver appropriate commentary.


Seth Meyers on NBC opined that we should do away with some all too common words and phrases that are quickly voiced to categorize the tragedies. 


Given their frequency, the slaughters no longer are “unimaginable,” said Meyers. The perpetrators should not be described as “shooters.” That is a word for a hobbyist. No, they should be called “killers” or “murderers.” 


And politicians who “offer thoughts and prayers” would serve us better by taking concrete action to prevent gun violence.


Over on CBS, Stephen Colbert took issue with Sen. John Kennedy’s admittedly impure analogy to drunk driving that the Louisiana Republican said should be “combated.”


Colbert took up the comparison, saying, “Let’s regulate guns the way we regulate alcohol and driving. You’ve got to be 21. You’ve got to pass a test to have a license. You’ve got to have registration and insurance for your gun. If you move to a new state, you’ve got to do the whole damn thing over again. And you can’t go out loaded.”