Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Who Knew About Monopoly's Biased Beginnings?

Who Knew?

Who knew that through six decades of playing Monopoly I was reinforcing racial stereotypes and segregation?

Who knew the board game’s rainbow colored avenues were linked to discrimination? I dare say, few knew until an article in The Atlantic claimed Monopoly properties “were based on segregated 1930s Atlantic City”: https://mol.im/a/9288387. 

Is a prejudice unknown still a prejudice? Are we now to scrutinize all playthings for their prejudicial development? Did Barbie sexualize young girls? Did Candy Land foster obesity and tooth decay. Did GI Joe glorify war. Did Ralphie’s fixation with getting a Red Ryder Air Rifle in “A Christmas Story” stoke allegiance to the National Rifle Association?

Sensibilities are being “woked.” If you drive a Jeep Cherokee you should be forewarned that the Cherokee Nation is asking Jeep to cease and desist using its ancestral tribal name to sell its SUVs (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cherokee-nation-jeep-cherokee_n_6034187fc5b673b19b6a8c7d?ncid=engmodushpmg00000006). 

No word yet on whether cowboys and descendants of armed combatants in the Roman Coliseum are complaining about Jeep Wranglers and Jeep Gladiators. 

Questioning the pedigree of products is nothing new. For decades after the horrors of Nazi persecution became well known, Jews and others disdained buying or even riding in German made cars. That prohibition was maintained even after Israel accepted Mercedes-Benz cars as part of the German government’s reparations. 

I never owned a German car, but my first car was a Ford Mustang, despite Henry Ford being one of the biggest anti-Semites our country has fostered. 

What I find most troubling with counter culture idealists is their failure to accept personal growth and development among people who they believe do not deserve reverence because at some point in their lives, usually when they were younger, they exhibited some form of prejudice, even if it was an accepted form of behavior at the time.

The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, might have his name removed from a San Francisco school because decades before the Civil War he expressed views that were not unambiguous about the equal status of Blacks. 

I do not know what Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, thought about slavery. But, knowing that the cotton gin was instrumental in the expansion of cotton producing lands in the South and thus the expansion of slavery, should we stop recognizing his achievement? 

How about the common use of the hymn “Amazing Grace?” Commonly heard during religious and secular rites (most recently played in the background Monday night as President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses honored the 500,000 victims of COVID-19 in a White House ceremony), the words were written by English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton. 

But years before he wrote the hymn Newton was a slave trader. Under “woke” mentality that would disqualify his output. 

I’m of a similar mind to Bret Stephens of The New York Times who wrote, “Woke Me When It’s Over” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/22/opinion/bon-appetit-cancel-culture.html?smid=url-share).

Friday, February 19, 2021

Similar Experiences, Different Results

You can discover lots of interesting tidbits by reading obituaries—no, I do not read them to see if my absence on the page means I am still alive, as the old joke goes.

I was particularly attracted to the recent New York Times obituary of Abraham Twerski, a 90 year old, white bearded rabbi, a descendant of several Hassidic dynasties, pictured wearing a tie. Nothing unusual there, except the tie was Snoopy-themed. Turns out Rabbi Twerski, a practicing psychiatrist and authority on addiction, had a working collaboration with Charles M. Schulz, creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip. They partnered on a series of self-help books. 

All very fascinating in their own right, but what truly drew my attention was the following paragraph from Rabbi Twerski’s childhood in Milwaukee:

“Abraham was the third of five brothers, each of whom became a rabbi but was given an advanced secular education as well, earning college and graduate degrees, something very few Hasidim strive for. He attended public schools in Milwaukee, and in second grade acted in a Christmas play. When his mother visited the school, the principal thought she was there to complain; instead, she told the principal that if her son’s Jewish upbringing was not strong enough to weather a second-grade play, it was his family that had failed him (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/06/science/abraham-j-twerski-dead-coronavirus.html?smid=url-share).

You see, one of my wife Gilda’s strongest memories of her early life in Saratoga Springs in the 1950s paralleled Rabbi Twerski’s. She, too, was given a part in a Christmas pageant. She was supposed to bow down to the baby Jesus.

From an Orthodox household, though not strictly observant herself, Gilda’s mother objected to her daughter’s submissive role. Wouldn’t be kosher for a Jewish girl. How about a part in the ensemble, just standing around, she suggested.

The teacher thought otherwise. Kneel or be gone with you. Gilda’s stage debut was thus postponed, indefinitely as far as I know. Her vivid memories of the incident include being designated as different, required to sit by herself in the auditorium as her classmates rehearsed their parts for a month. 

Saratoga was not the most welcoming of hamlets to Jews back then. During winter, children would throw snowballs packed with stones at Jewish students exiting a school bus on their way to classes at the synagogue. Rather than  ruffle feathers with the locals, the rabbi advised quickening their pace as they got off the bus. 

Antipathy toward Jews, anti-Semitism, had a long history in Saratoga. In 1877, the manager of the Grand Union Hotel, the largest hotel in the world, denied a room to a Jewish businessman because gentile customers did not like sharing the hotel with “Israelites.” The refusal, according to Wikipedia, created a “nationwide controversy. It was the first antisemitic incident of its kind in the United States to achieve widespread publicity.”

Some 67 years later, the Grand Union Hotel was bought by a syndicate of Jewish investors, Tikvah Associates, Inc., of New York City. Gilda’s father, Irving Barasch, was president of Tikvah Associates. 

Even though Irving’s family owned two hotels in Saratoga, the Empire and the Brooklyn where kosher food was served to Jewish clientele, anti-Semitism still ran strong in the village. Within months, civic pressure forced Irving and his partners to sell the Grand Union. 

Within a handful of years the Grand Union was demolished. Ironically, part of its footprint became the site of a unit of a supermarket chain, coincidentally named Grand Union. It, too, has vanished from Saratoga. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

No Tears for Limbaugh

 Was I wrong to have cheered when I heard the news Rush Limbaugh died? Will I suffer eternal damnation for exulting that one of God’s creations no longer will live-spill bile on the airwaves? 

I think not. As quoted in The New York Times obituary, Limbaugh said, “I have talent on loan from God.” Apparently, the loan came due Wednesday (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/business/media/rush-limbaugh-dead.html?smid=url-share). 

What took so long?

I’m normally more respectful of the departed, but I rank Limbaugh up there with other notable figures who made our country and world worse off for their presence. As good a performer that he was, and he was quite good, Limbaugh used his skill to make denigration and humiliation publicly acceptable. 

He spouted wild conspiracy theories. He espoused a vision of America that was unicolored in its whiteness and racist in its belief that people of any other color were inferior, not worthy of his American dream. He demeaned feminism, was much harsher toward the LGBTQ community. He rejected environmentalism and liberalism, of course. 

His broadcasting success, his ability to fashion conservative thought, spawned numerous copycats on radio, TV and the Internet. Ultimately, it begot Donald Trump, sufficient reason for me to disavow any feelings of compassion about his passing. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Not Guilty, With an Explanation

Naturally I believe Donald Trump deserved to be impeached and to be found guilty by the Senate. Of course, the latter won’t happen. 

But not because Trump did not act egregiously on January 6. It is because the House of Representatives confined its article of impeachment to just one count—inciting an insurrection. 

Words, as most people can attest, may be variably interpreted. So it follows that most Republicans see no incitement in Trump’s Stop the Steal rally speech prior to the ransacking of the Capitol by his supporters and to his many orations prior to January 6. Democrats view his words as lighting a tinder box of rebellion and carnage. 

Perhaps a guilty verdict might have been more forthcoming had the House tagged him for failure to provide timely and effective aid to the Capitol, its occupants and especially his vice president, all under attack by a mob bent on upending the constitutional process of certifying the votes of the Electoral College. 

There can be little doubt that Trump neglected his duty to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Moreover, he could have been charged with trying to undermine the integrity of the election in Georgia by pressuring the Georgia secretary of state to “find” 11,780 votes so that Trump would win the state’s electoral votes. Trump threatened the secretary of state with criminal prosecution if he did not comply with his solicitation. 

Trump deserves impeachment, conviction, removal and disqualification from holding any future elective office. But the House’s failure to specify those impeachable actions make it easy for senators to vote for acquittal.  

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Connecting the Dots Is A Bridge Too Far

 Republicans and Trump-leaning commentators are saying House impeachment managers arguing for conviction in Donald Trump’s Senate trial were “not connecting the dots” linking the former president’s inflammatory oratory to the invasion of the Capitol January 6.

Thus, convincing at least 17 Republicans to join 50 Democrats to vote guilty on the premise of that linkage is far fetched, to be brutally honest.

But that result should not be the final basis upon which Senate judgment should be rendered:

* Should Trump be held responsible for failure to promptly and forcibly demand that the mob immediately end its attack and leave the Capitol?;

* Should Trump be held responsible for failure to promptly direct deployment of military forces to quell the insurrection and protect the Capitol and its occupants?;

* Should Trump be held responsible for failure to protect his vice president, for tweeting dissatisfaction with Mike Pence during the attack even as Trump knew Pence was being targeted by a mob chanting, “Hang Pence?”;

* Should Trump be held responsible for pressuring Georgia state officials to “find” 11,780 votes, enough to give him a one vote victory in Georgia, for intimating that if they do not do his bidding they could be prosecuted for criminal activity?

Trump could and should be found guilty of violating his oath of office on any one or all of those questions.

But I am not optimistic. Too many Republican senators are in thrall, or fear, of Trump, even some who are retiring by the next election in 2022 or who recently won re-election and should have six years of freedom from fear of a primary.

So, is there an alternative to conviction? Is there an option that would keep Trump from seeking election in 2024?

Some seek relief from Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution: “No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof (emphasis added). But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Trump repeatedly gave “comfort” to the assailants. He even expressed understanding of why they invaded the Capitol. 

Yet, using Section 3 is a long shot. For more background, here’s an analysis by Robert Reinstein, Dean Emeritus and Clifford Scott Green Professor of Law Emeritus, Temple University Beasley School of Law: https://www.lawfareblog.com/expulsion-exclusion-disqualification-impeachment-pardons-how-they-fit-together.

As long as Republicans remain afraid to stand up to Trump, our country will be terrorized by him. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Half-Slips Funded My Middle Class Youth

Knowing my father was a lingerie manufacturer, my friend Linda sent along a New York Times article with a headline that to me was quite evocative: “Hey, What Ever Happened to the Half-Slip?” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/05/style/half-slip-fashion.html?smid=url-share)

I had not seen the story which I promptly devoured. Half-slips, you see, enabled my middle class upbringing, as they produced more profit than my father’s other mainstay product in the 1950s through the mid 1960s—panties. 

One of my jobs as a teenager at his factory on Broadway north of Houston Street was to assemble boxes of half-slips of assorted colors, a dozen colors to a box. On a long cutting table he would line up boxes of each color and, going left to right, instruct me to pull from each box one half-slip. Black, then red, then peach, and so on till the dozen was completed with a white half slip.

Easy enough, repetitively boring though it may be. To relieve some of the banality of my task I reasoned that once I got to the end of the line I could begin a new assortment by starting with white and making my way back to black.

My formula worked efficiently enough until Dad checked my progress. All hell broke loose as he reprimanded me for failing to follow his instructions. He wanted the white  slip to be on top, black on the bottom.

I countered that all I had to do was flip the slips upside down in the assorted box, but that did not mollify him. You couldn’t argue with him. It was his way, all the way, all the time. It was an example of why my brother nicknamed him “The Boss.” 

It was also a key reason neither my brother nor I ever considered joining him in the business.

As The Times article inferred, the fashion of wearing half-slips mostly disappeared. For the benefit of those who did not link to the article, the author opined, “They’re seen as remnants of an old-fashioned way of dressing, crushed under the spandex fist of shapewear.”

I have my own explanation—women’s lib torpedoed my father’s business. Now, before you start tarring me with woke feathers, let me assure you I support gender equality and opportunity. Bra burning in the 1960s did not affect my father’s business. The shift from skirts and dresses to pants did.

Half-slips are not worn with pants. Women old and young across the country in communities small and large, north and south, east and west, totally or partially abandoned their wardrobes in favor of dress pants and blue jeans. Stores my father sold to, companies like JCPenney, Levine’s, C.R. Anthony, Macy’s, no longer ordered half slips by the gross.

It took a few years but by the end of the 1960s my father had to retrench his enterprise. He switched to making athletic shirts. He became a sub contractor.

A proud man, he did not enjoy working for someone else. One of his “bosses” was a classmate of my sister when she attended elementary school.

He held on till the early 1980s, finally shutting down his shrunken factory after it had been forced to relocate to Brooklyn just before the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge on Flatbush Avenue. By then his once vibrant business, which at its peak employed between 35-60 sewing machine operators, cutters and packers—all Black or Latinx—had been reduced to less than a dozen workers.

My brother, sister and I grew up knowing many of them. They worked for our father and mother for decades—Eloise, sewing lace on the slips, sat at the end of the production line; Big Mary at the other end. To her right, Little Mary, the fastest Merro machine operator. 

Operator. That’s what the women running the machines were called. The operators got paid by piece work. The more tickets of each batch they collected the more they made each week. Salita affixed labels to finished garments. 

In the middle of the factory floor a cutting table stretched 10 yards or more. Ricky handled the cutting after he and James, the shipping clerk, had lifted long, heavy bolts of different colored fabric from the shelves and rolled them back and forth over the table until the rainbow stack had reached about a foot high. 

Patterns laid down atop the fabric, Ricky would precisely run the cutting machine by hand over the outlined designs. 

Keeping a watchful eye over the manufacturing process, making sure each operator had sufficient work, was Lucy, the floor foreman. 

Our mother handled payroll. Payday was Wednesday, in cash, in small manila money envelopes, the type that opened from the top.

The factory, or as our family called it, “The Place,” was a bee hive of noise with sewing machines buzzing out bursts of stitches, tall upright industrial fans beating the stagnant air, street noises filtering in through open windows, and our father screaming to be heard above the machinery. 

He was always screaming, never really in anger, just screaming as part of his perpetual motion. And yet, in the late afternoon hours, when the activity started to die down, as he’d be hunched over a Merro machine trying to coax it back into life, he’d start singing a song. No song in particular, just a melody of contentment. More often than not he’d open up the old Coca-Cola machine and pass out drinks. 

Mixed Messages with a View of Religious Practices

 The first day of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial produced mixed historical messaging from his defense lawyers and a visual illustration of religious Jewish practice.

Emulating a homespun country lawyer’s mannerisms, Philadelphia lawyer Bruce Castor, Jr. belittled the idea put forward by Democrats that the framers of the Constitution who embarked on the American Revolution would look to British law as precedent that an official could be impeached after leaving office. Castor argued that the founders of our republic sought to be free of British law and thus would would not look to the former mother country for legal foundation and precedent.

His co-counsel, David I. Schoen, on the other hand, praised English law as giving rights to those charged with a crime, rights he said had been denied to Trump. 

So what is it to be? Are we beholden to English legal precedent or adverse to it? 

To anyone not familiar with religious Jewish practice, it might have been perplexing to repeatedly see Schoen put his right hand on his head as he swigged some water from a bottle. 

An Orthodox Jew, Schoen showed his faith. Religious Jews eat or drink only if their head is covered, if not by a hat or yarmulke, then at least by one’s hand. 

He also bobbed left and right while delivering his commentary, a movement familiar to anyone who has observed services in synagogues where congregants “shuckle” while praying. 

Shuckling can be done forward and backward or side to side. You can shuckle while standing or sitting. It is thought to enhance religious fervor, but there is no added religiosity to its use.