Friday, June 29, 2018

Passings in My Profession: 5 Killed at a Newspaper, the Sale of My Employer of 32 Years


I was touched by two events Thursday, one that made national headlines, the second another example of economic realities in today’s business environment. 

Both events involved my chosen profession, journalism. 

When news broke of the fatal shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, my mind raced back 41 years. In early 1977 I turned down a job offer at the newspaper. I had left my newspaper job in New Haven in September 1976 to work as press secretary to a congressional candidate in a race both he and I knew he would lose. But the opportunity to leave The Register for “something” was too appealing to pass up. For two years management had frozen our salaries after the editorial staff voted in the Newspaper Guild. It was not easy living on $200 a week (as one of six bureau chiefs on a staff of 100 I was one of the better paid reporters. About a year later the union won a contract. Had I stayed I would have been paid about $450 a week). 

Once the congressional race ended as expected, I began searching for another newspaper job. The Gaston Gazette in Gastonia, NC, a suburb of Charlotte, offered $200 a week. After all, the editor reasoned, it was a lot cheaper to live in Gastonia than New Haven. When I demurred, he upped the offer to $250 a week and membership in a country club (I don’t think he knew I was Jewish). There was one catch, however. Instead of the two reporters he hoped to hire, for $250 a week he expected me to do the work of two staffers. Again, I resisted the call of the South.

My next possibility was a job at the Capital Gazette. Again, $200 a week. As my brother and his family lived some 50 miles away in Rockville, MD, Annapolis appealed to me. However, the state capital and home to the Naval Academy was a high priced community to live in. No way $200 a week was going to cut it.

A few weeks later I answered an ad in The New York Times from a trade publisher. I started at Lebhar-Friedman’s Nation’s Restaurant News March 14, 1977. A year later I transferred to Chain Store Age, a title that appeared on my business cards for the next 31 years. I retired in June 2009.

On Thursday, family-run Lebhar-Friedman, founded in 1925, was acquired by Chicago-based EnsembleIQ, a portfolio company of RFE Investment Partners, a private equity investor. At one time L-F had as many as 16 publications, half covering the retail industry, the rest healthcare, employing more than 500. At the time of the sale, only three books remained, Chain Store Age among them, as well as two CSA conferences, SPECS and X/SPECS dealing with store construction and facilities. The company employed fewer than 100. 

What happened? Consolidation of the retail industry at the same time more publications entered a shrinking field. These competitors were more nimble, with lower operating costs, allowing lower advertising rates. L-F always used internal funds to power growth. But an ill-timed, ill-advised acquisition into the healthcare field saddled L-F with heavy debt just when revenues toppled. The Internet sapped classified advertising while forcing investments that did not pay off. 

No need to elaborate any more causes. My bottom line: The 32 years I spent at Lebhar-Friedman as a staff editor, editor-in-chief and publisher afforded the opportunity to support my family and treat them to pleasures not experienced by many others. We travelled across the country and to distant lands. My children attended top schools. During the summer they went to camp or travel programs. Our home, I like to say, is the “house that Chain Store Age built.” 

Working on Chain Store Age from 1978 through 2009 enabled me to meet and at times befriend some of the most important retail luminaries of the last half century, including Sam Walton, Charles Lazarus and successive heads of Walmart, Sears, Kmart, JC Penney and many chains no longer around including TG&Y, Caldor, Zayre, Rose’s, Woolworth. Equally, if not more importantly, working at L-F introduced me to some great creative professionals. 

I am saddened by the loss of the Lebhar-Friedman nameplate. But I am comforted that Chain Store Age-SPECS-X/Specs will continue to provide, in the words of David Shanker, CEO of EnsembleIQ, “a comprehensive view of retail insights and information.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Fasten Your Seatbelts for Another Bruising Court Nomination Battle


There is no relief in sight. I’m not talking about the weather, which, depending on what part of the country you are in, continues to assault living creatures with floods, fires, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, mudslides, hail storms and excessive heat. 

No, I’m talking about nonstop big news events, some thrust upon us by Mother Nature, others part of the natural course of daily life, and still more by the actions, pettiness and peculiarities of Donald Trump (notice I didn’t mention principles as I do not believe he has any. And neither does he. How many remember a statement Trump made in the Oval Office to John Dickerson of CBS News last year? When pressed by Dickerson for his position on an issue, Trump demurred, saying, “I don’t stand for anything”).

It has been an eventful 18 months: Paris Climate Accords; NAFTA; Trans-Pacific Partnership; NATO; Russia Election Meddling; Neil Gorsuch; Iran Nuclear Deal; Jerusalem Embassy; Wedding Cakes for Gay Marriages; Muslim Travel Ban; Zero-Tolerance Border Policy.

Tweet after tweet on matters consequential and not. 

It will be up to late night TV talk-show hosts to get us through the coming travails.

Brace yourself for another bruising, months-long battle, the choice of a successor to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who announced his retirement Wednesday. Apart from the selection of a new member of the high court, bound to be hailed by Republicans, trashed by Democrats, the fiercest part of the confirmation debate may well be over timing—Senate Republicans will want to nominate and confirm prior to the midterm elections in November.

Democrats will be fighting to delay, delay, delay a vote. They will be using the court vacancy as another example of why citizens must register and vote in November so there can be a definitive counterbalance to the administration’s conservative tilt.  

But even if Republicans should lose their majority, newly elected senators would not take office until January, giving Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus eight additional weeks to approve Trump’s choice. 

Keep in mind that just 51 ayes, not 60, are now required to end debate on Supreme Court nominations, a McConnell legacy from the Gorsuch confirmation process.

Minority Leader Charles Schumer will be tested to try and contain the process. Doubtful he will be able to succeed any better than the Gorsuch experience. 

Kennedy’s retirement also will place greater pressure on Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both in their 80s, to do all in their power to delay leaving the bench as long as possible, at least through the 2020 inauguration of what they hope would be a Democratic president. 


Pundit Hits It: Chris Hayes of MSNBC characterized Trump’s actions thusly: He treats those fleeing ISIS as if they are ISIS, those fleeing MS-13 as though they are MS-13. 

How sad that under Trump our nation has closed its shores to refugees. Did we not learn anything from our heartless response in the 1930s and 1940s to Jews seeking asylum from Nazis and the Holocaust?


Carson Was Prescient: Trump has tweeted his displeasure with late night TV comedians, specifically Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and “that guy on CBS.” 

That guy is Stephen Colbert. Noting that Trump said they lacked the talent Johnny Carson had on The Tonight Show, Colbert Tuesday night agreed Carson had talent. And he played a January 31, 1992, Tonight Show clip proving he was a legend ahead of his time:. https://youtu.be/994SI2rT5JA (the clip is just 31 seconds long—worth the link. For those not familiar with Gennifer Flowers, she alleged having an affair with Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Radical Idea to Limit National Discord: Restrict Trump's Voice on Mainstream Media


The pain, the anguish, their overwhelming sense of loss, was not an act. Grief, despair, even more than a tinge of desired revenge, could be discerned from the amalgam of parents who lost children at the hands of undocumented immigrants, witnesses Donald Trump presented last Friday as counter evidence to the trauma of family disruptions he created by ordering a zero-tolerance border security policy that wound up forcibly separating children from parents. 

Trump hoped to win a contest of optics. His congregation of aggrieved parents lamenting their permanent loss of a child versus pictures and audio in Spanish of crying children wailing for their mothers. 

During the run-up to his election Trump trotted out a similar group of parents to buttress his claim that illegal migrants are dangerous. That they are murderers and rapists. That they are the worst elements of Latino society. 

Statistics, however, do not support his argument, unless you are willing to accept, as he did Friday from a parent, an unsubstantiated claim that 60,000 Americans have been killed by “those people” since the beginning of the century.

On the contrary, statistics from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies show violent crimes are committed by illegal immigrants at a rate lower than the number perpetrated by native-born American citizens. Crime in major cities such as New York, where many illegals live, is at or near record lows. In Germany, where more than a million refugees have received sanctuary, crime is down. Yet Trump disseminates falsehoods by saying crime is up in Germany, part of his dissembling strategy to inject fear into the populace. 

The demonization, the dehumanization of the Latino community is a crucial part of Trump’s governing and election strategies. He must inflate bogeymen to fan fear and resentment among white Americans. It seems to be working. His approval rating among rank and file Republicans is at 90% (https://nyti.ms/2MS7Edj). I’d venture to say it is even higher among Republican politicians. 

Trump’s lies become ever more outrageous. As do those from the pols who would follow his footsteps. Technology is making their obfuscations easier and more infernal as Timothy Egan displayed in The New York Times (https://nyti.ms/2MQtCNM).

It is futile to try to match outrage with Trump. Sadly, his “true believers” cannot be swayed to abandon falsehoods for truth. Their allegiance, strangely enough, is reinforced by evidence of Trump’s lies (https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/trumps-cynical-immigration-strategy-might-work-for-himagain). 

So scrubbing their brains won’t work. What should be done? Sadly, again, it must be said that effort should not be wasted on the “lost.” Triage provides the example. Put effort behind those who may be educated and informed by facts and decency. 

In Trump-world the news cycle races from outrage to unbelievable seemingly in nano seconds, nano tweets. The media, at least the media that cares about our democracy, must not let his transgressions be forgotten or supplanted by trivial pursuit of a nonsensical tweet or action. They need to stay focused on what really matters. 

The story of the day, of the last week, is Trump’s treatment of children at the border, not his wife’s jacket or his press secretary’s ouster from a restaurant. As Michelle Goldberg opined in The Times, “We have a crisis of democracy, not manners” (https://nyti.ms/2MZPUx1). Politico’s Marc Caputo and Daniel Lippman provided added perspective: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/25/liberals-attack-bondi-sanders-trump-667934.

Trump repeats, retweets, lies until they are accepted as truth by his followers. In this dastardly endeavor Fox News is complicit. Not only does it broadcast misinformation and untruths that Trump regurgitates as fact but it also chides other media outlets for failing to preempt their regular programs to air Trump campaign rally speeches (https://apnews.com/7ea133bf32394cd6aaa1b0a6040a436d).

Responsible, fact-based media must repeat and repeat his faults. They cannot allow him to gain legitimacy beyond his delusional core. 

This is a war of optics. We know on whose side Fox News is. We know MSNBC and CNN are against him. CBS, NBC, and ABC must choose dedication to truth over a warped interpretation of balanced reporting that gives equal weight to Trump’s lies. Our democracy is at stake. 

It is a radical stance from a (retired) journalist but we are navigating choppy, unchartered political waters. Evidence of national discombobulation is everywhere, at restaurants movie theaters and public gatherings. Comity has evaporated. Moreover, at this time of national agitation we cannot expect any soothing thoughts or gestures from the provocateur-in-chief.  

Democrats are divided as to the most proper way to respond. Do they follow Michelle Obama’s encouragement to “go high” when Trump and his acolytes “go low,” or do they listen to Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ call for in their face confrontation whenever and wherever Trumpsters appear in public.

My take is trading insults and belligerence would not be effective. It wouldn’t change any of Trump’s committed voters and could turn undecideds and independents into abstainers in the upcoming midterm elections and in 2020 as they would not distinguish any difference between the parties. 

A more effective countermeasure requires the cooperation of the mainstream media. Fox News has all but changed its name to Trump News. Trump and Fox News have become a circle of reactionary misinformation, demagoguery and bigotry. 

But is it ethical for the mainstream media to limit, even censor, Trump? Here’s part of Bryan W. Van Norden’s reasoning (Van Norden is a professor of philosophy at Wuhan University, Yale-NUS College and Vassar College):

“Donald Trump, first as candidate and now as president, is such a significant news story that responsible journalists must report on him. But this does not mean that he should be allowed to set the terms of the debate. Research shows that repeatedly hearing assertions increases the likelihood of belief—even when the assertions are explicitly identified as false. Consequently, when journalists repeat Trump’s repeated lies, they are actually increasing the probability that people will believe them” (https://nyti.ms/2lyyr2c).

Trump will always have Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and extreme right wing news outlets to spout his venom. There is no need to inflict the populace at large with his mean-spirited, egotistical, abusive monologues. The mainstream media should concentrate on exposing the consequences of his actions on our citizenry, those who long to become part of the American fabric, and the rest of the world that depends for leadership on a stable, liberal, democratic United States. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trump Blinks on Family Separations But It's Up to Voters to Thwart His Tyranny


Donald Trump is on the verge of blinking.

After his zero-tolerance illegal immigration policy separating children from parents provoked outrage from the general public, religious and business leaders, naturally from Democrats, and even from some Republicans who have been among his most ardent supporters, the provocateur-in-chief is said to be mulling an executive order Wednesday afternoon to rescind his inhumane, draconian dictate (https://nyti.ms/2I7wWAA).

Just a day earlier, speaking at a meeting of the National Federation of Independent Business, Trump said he wanted “the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.”

Surprise, surprise, he already had that authority! According to the “Fact Check” column of The New York Times, “Mr. Trump is (also) wrong that Central American families who enter the United States illegally cannot be removed together. Like individual adults, families with children can be placed under a process known as expedited removal—unless they seek asylum.

“Through expedited removal, immigration officials can quickly remove an unauthorized immigrant from the country without having to go through an immigration court. If the families do make a claim of credible fear and are denied, they are then placed into removal proceedings.

“As Mr. Trump said, his administration could release one or both parents with their children. But it has instead chosen to prosecute people who cross the border illegally under a new “zero tolerance” policy, leading to the separation of children from their parents” (https://nyti.ms/2llMOGE).

To read or hear from a federal public defender what the situation on the southern border with Mexico is, click on this link from NPR Morning Edition: https://www.wnyc.org/story/a-public-defender-on-immigration-cases-and-separations.

If there is any good that may come out of Trump’s abhorrent action against defenseless, scared and now scarred children, it is that it might mobilize sufficient voters to flip one or both houses of Congress in November. Perhaps crying children have awakened dormant emotions within an electorate whipsawed by Trump’s vindictive approach to government. Even as he professes to be heartbroken over the dislocation of family units he repeated unsubstantiated allegations that many of the undocumented migrants are criminals. 

The demonization of outsiders is not  confined to America. In Italy, the new Interior minister, Matteo Salvini, wants to count Roma living in Italy (Roma are also called Gypsies). It is feared he wants to expel those without valid residence permits. 

As reported in The Times, “The proposal for the census evoked distant but still-bitter memories of the racial laws against Jews and the Roma, instituted by Mussolini’s government 80 years ago” (https://nyti.ms/2MDQsZ9). The census made it easier for Nazis to seek them out for deportation to death camps during World War II.


Final, Prescient, Words: A little more than a year ago, four months into the Trump administration, my recently deceased friend George Rosenbaum, who fled Hitler’s tyranny, penned these thoughts: 

“Now, four months after his inauguration, President Trump is being compared to Fascists, the name Mussolini among others, mentioned. Although many Fascists rule for some time–Franco of Spain, a prominent example, they are generally deposed and often suffer a bitter end.

“It is unlikely that Trump will follow their example. He is a skilled showman but not an accomplished dictator. 

“Rather than being a fanatic ideologue his focus is on himself. He is profoundly victimized by his narcism. Like despots he lies, fires subordinates, divides the populace, threatens outsiders and unleashes aggression. But, he is not possessed by an overarching goal; he is only self possessed. Thus, like theatre, the show has limited time span. And like improvisation the audience catches on to the act.

“While for Trump there is no desire to leave the stage, the audience eventually wants to depart the theatre for home. Trump is inexhaustible, but the audience becomes exhausted. So, after four months, his own supporters begin to question him and his approval rating is well below the norm for newly elected presidents after a brief time in office.

“He will continue to do mischief for some time because in America a coup d’├ętat is unthinkable and assassination of an admired actor and improviser is unlikely. His emotional need makes resignation unlikely, and impeachment is a legal process that may last most of his term. Thus, what has been called a melodrama stands to continue unabated until the people speak in the next election.

“Fascist rulers stay in power by fueling control over opposition. They shut down opposing press, suppress opposing parties, arrest dissidents, silence the courts, and control the police. These leanings are also evident in Trump, but none is succeeding within the checks and balances of our system. 

“Those checks and balances stand on deeply embedded pillars. They eventually encourage honor and duty or at least jumping ship from an administration that reveals the emperors clothes.

“The hope is that this happens soon enough to limit the damage and contain its costs. While executive power and its acolytes have the capacity for substantial harm, Congress, now so out of balance, once awakened to the charade and recognizing its self interest in jeopardy, will be bulwark for sensible rule of law.

“History is unlikely to call the present tribulation of America a period of Fascism. More likely it will call it a test of the American system that at considerable cost has demonstrated the strength of that system so carefully designed by our founding fathers to protect against descent into tyranny.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Decency Does Not End at the Border


Look in any Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, Koran, Hindu holy texts, or any religious writings, and you are likely to find justification for almost any action you may desire to take. Slavery. Capital punishment. Treating women as chattel. All are condoned in various scriptures.

So it was not unusual for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to cite the Apostle Paul in his defense of Trump administration policy to separate children from their parents if the family unit tries to enter the United States illegally. 

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,”said Sessions (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/06/14/jeff-sessions-points-to-the-bible-in-defense-of-separating-immigrant-families/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8d4f916357a3)
It is futile to duel with Bible verses. Let’s remember religions set many of their guiding tenets during eras with mores far different than those of today’s western civilizations. 

Decency, on the other hand, does not require divine validation. So let’s be blunt: Trump and his minions are being indecent and cruel. They are traumatizing children, children!, perhaps for life, to win political points. 

Have they no shame? 

They are compounding their immorality by lying, by trying to lay the blame for their inexcusable actions on Democrats when they know perfectly well that under Barack Obama children were not separated from their parents (https://nyti.ms/2HS0MsV). 

The Big Lie is Trump’s usual defense, but even some of his evangelical supporters are not being duped by it this time. It is comforting to know even his own church, United Methodist, has disavowed Sessions’ use of the Bible to justify an abhorrent practice (http://theweek.com/speedreads/779547/jeff-sessions-church-slams-use-bible-defend-separating-migrant-families). 

Here’s a chilling perspective on the practice of separating children from their parents. As Sara Boboltz reported on HuffPost, families of color have been subjected to such cruelty since the 1800s (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/history-separating-families-of-color_us_5b241a78e4b0f9178a9d1866).

There is no denying the United States has a problem with illegal immigration, the severity of which is subject to honest debate (though it is difficult to imagine an honest, truthful debate from Trump’s side). But what should be obvious to anyone with a caring heart is the cruelty of taking children from their parents for no other reason than they sought a better future from the lottery of life that planted them in a country south of the United States border. 

Decency should know no boundaries. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tribute to George Rosenbaum; Hold The Nobel Peace Prize For Now But Give Trump the Chutzpah Award


I learned this week of the passing of George Rosenbaum. He was 88. When he was eight he witnessed Hitler’s troops marching through his home city, Vienna. Shortly thereafter his family emigrated to the United States. With that early experience seared into his memory, George would comment on some of my blogs, usually the political ones. 

I first met George in 1980. He was president of Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, a market research firm based in Chicago. Chain Store Age engaged George and Leo for what I thought would be a one-off project studying Kmart. Instead, for the next 29 years hardly a month passed without research from LJS appearing in my magazine.

As I wrote two and a half years ago when Leo passed away at age 94, the value of market research is dependent on how questions are structured and fielded. “Garbage in, garbage out” is a truism of the trade. George and Leo shaped my rough ideas into sharp analytical studies. 

Contributors to Advertising Age and often quoted in The Wall Street Journal and other business publication, LJS did research for many retail and health care companies. 

After I started my blog, George and Leo often would email their thoughts. When I hadn’t heard from George for several months, I did what is now an easy Google search. His death notice popped up. He passed away May 7. I called his wife Wednesday to express my condolences and appreciation for our relationship which continued beyond our work years.

Here’s a sample of George’s reactions to my blogs:

To a blog that asked, which is more of a threat to Western civilization: Islamic extremists or neo-Nazis? (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2017/11/existential-threats-jihadists-or-neo.html), George wrote: “Deaths by guns nor deaths by terror do not threaten Western liberty. The widening gap between have and have-nots caused mainly by technology makes fertile ground for despots who pledge to fix what’s wrong.  

“Bread has always pre-empted liberty. Europe has been deeded the vast number of refugees by the failed states it created after WW1 and defeat of the Ottoman Empire. 

“Pray that Israel continues to protect and support Palestine, especially if it should become a state.”

To a blog on Charlottesville and the lessons of history (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2017/08/charlottesville-and-lessons-of-history.html), George responded: “Well said…and even better written. Until now I never heard a spade being called a spade. The secession of the South was led by traitors. It was treason; it was not a matter of free choice or honor. The West Point graduate(s) and elected representatives took oaths and pledged to uphold the Union—UNITED States. To reconstruct that union, history was white washed. Hollywood contributed to the white wash. The removal of Confederate statues is a double edge sword that reminds us that the reconstruction is not complete. The unreconstructed want to hold on to what once was—embedded in their soul, to quote you. On the other hand, the many Southerners who want those monuments removed are working on behalf of reconstruction perhaps even themselves.

“I was still a child in Vienna when the American Bund rallied for Hitler, but this seems quite distant from present organized hate groups—some 1,300 in the US, according to the Southern Poverty League. It is now post WW2, post Holocaust. The western world and US have mobilized to control hate legally as well as socially to oppose it. The digital age makes us all vulnerable to the destructiveness of hatred. Society has reacted…as it is reacting to Charlottesville now. Prior history may relate but does not apply.

“Jews are a bellweather. We see them leaving France, Poland, Hungary. No American Jew is leaving because of fear; they are United citizens who entrust and are prepared to share their fate with all other Americans. 

“Surely this is unique…just as America is unique in all of history.”


Ever the market researcher, George contemplated a statistical response to Trump’s penchant for lying. Responding to my January 22, 2017, blog on Trump and the Truth: Never the Twain Shall Meet (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2017/01/trump-and-truth-never-twain-shall-meet.html), he suggested, “Autocrats are always enabled by the truths they create. And, correction is always silenced by their acolytes.  

“Truthtellers, if not removed from their jobs, are punished and pay dearly, even with their lives. Many attempts to silence Hitler failed. But, this is still the US. And, you are a flourishing truth teller, not a silent spectator. Moreover, a journalist with inbred and professional capacity for observation.  

“What is needed on behalf of America is an Autocracy Index. This is as follows:
Date   The Falsehood   The Medium   The Facts

“I believe that this could readily be funded. To date, there is already enough to create this with post inauguration material to avoid being written off as campaign rhetoric.  This could help attract financial support, establish a daily/weekly report published online by a responsible source, and even a weekly adjunct on television news, or its own show. While its beginning (the count so far) requires sweat equity, funding could reimburse daily continuity, both its management, support staff and interns.”

I will miss George’s insights, intelligence, experience and friendship.


Memo to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee: Not so fast!

While Donald Trump and his boosters tout a safer world from a denuclearized North Korea after his historic tete-a-tete with Kim Jong-un, saner, more rational observers express caution, even skepticism. As more daylight emerges from their Tuesday meeting in Singapore, it seems both sides have different interpretations of what transpired, what commitments each side made and how quickly, if ever, the Korean peninsula will be nuke free (check your preferred news outlet for details).

What you might have missed, in Trump’s euphoria and habit of hyperbole, is the reality that nothing new was contained in the photo-op signing of a joint statement. For context, read or listen to Joshua Pollack’s five minute interview on NPR (Pollack is an expert on nonproliferation and editor of The Nonproliferation Review). For those who want a quick summation here’s a pertinent Pollack quote: 


“On paper, neither side gave up anything or received anything. These are the same standing commitments that both sides have had for a while now. There’s not a lot new except, I suppose, the resumption of searching for the war dead. Having said that, the fact of this summit—the visuals, the flags, the handshakes, the smiles—all that certainly elevates Kim Jong-un internationally, enhances his credibility at home, assuming that he feels he needs that. And I think it will tend to confirm him in his mindset that testing probable hydrogen bomb and long-range ICBM is what has gotten him respect from the powers of the world, including the United States. And I don’t think he’ll be inclined to give it up” (https://www.npr.org/2018/06/12/619294287/u-s-north-korea-joint-statement-echos-past-agreements-between-the-2-countries).

Chutzpah Award: On the other hand, The Philanderer-in-Chief earned the Chutzpah Comment of the Week award by attacking Congressman Mark Sanford (R-SC) for his dalliance with an Argentinean woman while married and governor of South Carolina. 
The Trumpster endorsed Sanford’s primary challenger as retaliation for the congressman’s less than blind loyalty. Sanford lost, another indication Republican Party masses have abandoned longstanding GOP principles and are now no more objective than any cult followers.

Mixed Messages: Ft. Lee, NJ, wants to promote business in its community, but a mixed message might be part of its campaign.
A billboard on Route 46 just before the George Washington Bridge cheerfully suggests stopping in Ft. Lee for Happy Hour drinks. Are town fathers really advocating drinking and then getting back into one’s car? 







Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Behind My Restless Night an Anthropomorphic Message


I had a lousy sleep Sunday night. My left knee felt sprained. My enlarged prostate kept demanding relief every 90 minutes or so. It was stuffy in the bedroom but I couldn’t open a window because Gilda’s allergies required us to keep outside air outside. And it was too cool for the air conditioner to go on. Perhaps I was tense about having to wake up early to drive Gilda to work in Manhattan. 

All legitimate and reasonable reasons why I tossed and turned all night. It wasn’t until I sat in the dentist’s chair Monday afternoon that I discovered the real reason behind my disappointing and unrestful night. I was being subjected to another bit of torture by an inanimate object that I was retiring from service. 

Mitch the dentist was putting the finishing touches on a new bite guard to lessen the impact of my teeth grinding and Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome. In other words, a persistent clenched jaw that really hurts and erodes the enamel on molars. 

After years of service my old bite guard needed replacement. It exacted its revenge on being displaced from usefulness in a most relative way, by denying me a good night’s sleep during its last hours of duty. 

Yes, I believe in anthropomorphism, the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. I’ve been anthropomorphisized before. 

My otherwise trustworthy 1973 Chevy Vega chose to partially lose its muffler on the day I was ending our 13 year relationship by handing it over to my brother-in-law. The muffler dropped as I was about to enter the Lincoln Tunnel. I had to get out and hook it back up to the undercarriage with a wire hangar a passing motorist gave me (I now keep such a hangar in my car trunk, just in case). By the time I reached the Manhattan corner where I was to give the Vega to my brother-in-law, the car could barely travel more than half a block without stalling. Clearly, the Vega was sending a message it was unhappy our time together was over.

Here’s another example: On the last day of my employment, after 32 years of walking up Park Avenue from Grand Central Terminal, it rained. Hard. It wasn’t a surprise, so I had planned accordingly. Instead of taking a collapsible small umbrella, I toted a large umbrella given to me as a gift by the Dolphin and Swan Hotels for bringing the SPECS conference to the Disney World properties for two years. 

It was a beautiful umbrella, automatic and vented to withstand wind gusts, with a carved wooden handle on which the logos of the two hotels were etched.

As I stepped out onto the street and opened the umbrella, a wind gust blew the canopy inside out. That was not supposed to happen. As I struggled to right the umbrella, the metal shaft broke in two, leaving me the handle and about three inches of shaft. A perfect metaphor for ending my paid journalism career.

I could give other examples, but I think those two suffice to convince you inanimate objects send messages, to me at least.

One would think the new bite guard would do everything within its power to insure that Monday night’s sleep was sound and refreshing. But one would be wrong. Apparently, anthropomorphic messages are sent only at the end of useful life, not at the onset. 


Sunday, June 3, 2018

From The Americans to Wife Beaters, In Air Illness, Gaza and Roseanne, An Eventful Week


If you are a fan of The Americans, as Gilda and I are, you might wonder about the location of the last scene in the series finale Wednesday night in which we observed Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, if I might continue to use their pseudo-American names. As they stood on a bridge overlooking Moscow, with the Moscow State University looming in the background, reflecting on their children, their time in America and pondering their future back home in the Soviet Union, Gilda and I recalled the time we stood on the exact same spot nearly eight years ago. 

It wasn’t evening. Middle of the day. Part of a tour of the city included in our St. Petersburg to Moscow river boat cruise (one of the best vacation trips we ever took). The bus stopped so we could take advantage of the view but, more importantly, so we could buy souvenirs from Russian peddlers whose tables of wares spanned the width of the bridge. I bought a set of nesting dolls, two crocheted hacky sack balls, and a music box in the shape of onion-domed churches ubiquitous throughout Russia. (To read more of our trip to Russia, click on this link: http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2010/08/from-russia-with-love.html).

The main building of the university is one of seven similar skyscrapers built in Moscow during Stalin’s reign. They all feature graduated facades leading to a single spire. Until 1990 the university building was the tallest in Europe (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Sisters_(Moscow)). 


Wife Beaters? For those in the Northeast, summer temperatures will eventually be the norm, trust me. With the warm weather will come more exposure from less skin-covering clothing. 

I’m not being sexist here. I’m actually referring to the custom of men walking around in T-shirts. Specifically, what I have in mind are what Chang-rae Lee in The New Yorker called a “ribbed tank top” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/04/my-fathers-face), what Moises Velasquez-Manoff in The New York Times labelled a “wife beater” made notorious by Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (https://nyti.ms/2GQollo).

My father wore such undershirts, never without a collared shirt over them. He never hit my mother, though to be honest, being less than appropriate at all times with one’s spouse is not confined to physical abuse. 

I’m partial to V-neck undershirts. About a dozen years ago, Gilda prevailed upon me to buy some ribbed tank tops. Perhaps she thought I’d develop muscles to go with them. I didn’t. After spending about 10 years scrunched up in a closet drawer they became fodder for our charity giveaway pile. Hopefully, their new owner(s) do not hit their female companions. 


Sick in the Air: The linked article about airlines reluctant to make emergency landings for ill travelers surely gives any flier pause: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-29/airlines-count-costs-of-unplanned-landings-when-flyers-fall-ill

It reminded me of my own flight from hell as Gilda and I returned from London three years ago. Doubled over from pain in my back and groin from the outset of the eight hour flight I was an object of sympathy by the stewards. They wondered if an emergency landing in Labrador or Newfoundland should be made but nurse practitioner Gilda advised it wasn’t necessary as I was probably just suffering from my normal, though admittedly more extreme, gastrointestinal issues. She had ruled out any appendix or infection issues. 

I continued to suffer in silent but visual agony for the duration of the flight. I will never know if the pilot would have made an emergency landing. It turned out a kidney stone had chosen that particular time to make its presence known and felt. Interestingly, from the moment I later went to an emergency room I never experienced any further pain. 


More Pain From Gaza: Clashes are unabated along the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip. Here’s the latest note I received Saturday, this one from Orly, a first responder who lives in a moshav mere kilometers from the twin border with Gaza and Egypt:

“This last month was very difficult for (us), specially last week. All the first responder team are working very hard serving our community. We have unfortunately new persons traumatized, especially a lot of children who have been surprised by the first alert (that damaged the area near school). A lot of work to do to sew up the damage. Our beautiful area destroyed by fire in the fields and the forests burned. But we don’t give up and we’ll replant all what has been and even more.

“P.S.—Time is 00:55 in Israel. We have now a new rocket from Hamas and I hope this is not a new week with bombardments.”


Roseanne, We Hardly Knew Ya: Gilda and I were devoted viewers of the first Roseanne show. I remember seeing an early episode one evening in a hotel during a business trip and telling Gilda we had to watch that show. Because of her current political persuasion, we did not tune it to her reincarnation. 

I was intrigued, as I’m confident you will be, by this (long) reflection by her once close friend Michael Moore. Here it is: 

“I have known Roseanne Barr for over 25 years. I’ve known her as Roseanne Barr, Roseanne Arnold, just “Roseanne”, then back to Roseanne Barr. I’ve spent time in her home, criss-crossed the country with her to help remove George W. Bush from the White House, appeared on her shows, been there for her when she needed something, and connected her with one of my producers who did an insightful, one-of-a-kind documentary into the genius and the tragedy that is Roseanne Barr. 

“On Tuesday Roseanne posted hateful, slanderous tweets directed at four people: George Soros, Valerie Jarrett, Chelsea Clinton and me. A few hours later, she was fired by ABC. 

“For the past few years, Roseanne has been posting the craziest stuff on Twitter, like claiming Hillary was part of a child sex abuse ring being run out of a DC pizza place. She’s claimed that the Clintons have murdered people. And anyone who criticizes Benjamin Netanyahu is a “nazi.” 

“Roseanne seems to be suffering from some sort of madness. It’s more than just saying she’s a racist. She operates in the same sewer of lies, conspiracy theories and bigotry that's been rising in America for years and that has now succeeded in electing our current president. Totally nuts. 

“Here’s who’s not crazy: Donald J. Trump. 
“Trump, though he shows all the signs of being absolutely bonkers, is not insane. He’s the real deal. His racism and hate is real, it’s well thought-out, he’s the true master of manipulation, a brilliant performance artist, and an evil genius. He outsmarted a nation of liberals and Democrats and won the White House by losing the actual vote of the people. He neutered and then destroyed the Grand Old Republican Party. He knows exactly what he is doing. 
“Roseanne, on the other hand, is a person who long ago broke through and brought an authentic voice of working women and men to television via one of the greatest TV series of all time. It was groundbreaking because the TV industry had historically either ignored, ridiculed or patronized those of us who grew up in the working class. Roseanne changed that. 
“But she is also a damaged soul. Most people don’t know that she has suffered her entire life from a massive head injury she received during a serious car accident when she was a child. Her brain injuries were immense and she spent months in the hospital struggling to recover. 

“I also have no idea what it was like to grow up, as she did, as a Jewish girl in Salt Lake City. Not a tolerant state, to be sure. She told me how her parents, who owned an apartment building, were asked by the U.S. government after World War II if they would be willing to house Holocaust survivors who had come to the U.S. as refugees. Her parents took dozens in, and Roseanne’s childhood was spent with these survivors as her ‘family.’ ‘The stories they told me,’ she said, ‘were filled with unimaginable horror. I’ve always wondered what effect that had on me as a little girl.’ 

“Now, sadly, for the past few years, Roseanne has been in a downward spiral, ranting like crazy on Twitter, spreading conspiracy theories, attacking the people she used to love, supporting Trump, and being just an outright hateful and racist person. It has been a difficult decline to witness. She has repeatedly attacked me, and on Tuesday, after calling George Soros a ‘Nazi’ (he’s a Jew and a Holocaust survivor), Valerie Jarrett an offspring ‘of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes,’ and saying that Chelsea was ‘married to’ a Nazi relative of George Soros, she then retweeted a disgusting new word for me because I have spoken out against the Netanyahu government and its killing of Palestinians -- ‘#JewHater’. Nonstop insanity and sickness. 

“I guess there might be 20 million Americans (out of 320 million) who probably agree with her. She has thrown down with the lowest of the low, and who knows if she’ll ever recover from this descent into her own personal hell. 

“To close, I want to say just how great the new Roseanne show was. It was funny but brutal to watch because it showed how our system of greed has hurt millions of families like the Connors of Illinois. On the final episode last week, Roseanne was addicted to opioids because she couldn't afford the knee surgery she needed, so she suffered along in agonizing pain. Dan, her husband, in order to raise money for her surgery, decided to take a non-union job -- and Roseanne berates him for doing so and letting his union brothers and sisters down. There are a couple quick knocks on Trump, making it clear that the real Roseanne was not writing or running this show. For the past 9 weeks, the new Roseanne show has shined a powerful and necessary light on what it means to be working class in 2018. Her blended family on this new series was white and black and LGBTQ, and her generous neighbors next door were Muslims who forced her to confront her own bigotry. 

“If only her art could have helped her in her real life. 

“(Also, let me say this: There’s no reason the show has to go just because she’s gone. Over the years, TV has found ways to bring Bobby Ewing back from the dead on “Dallas”, forced us to accept the two Darrins on “Bewitched”, and found ways for hit shows to survive when their stars bolted after a year or two [David Caruso on “NYPD Blue”, Pernell Roberts on “Bonanza”]. The smart people who were writing this Roseanne series can surely find a way to let the non-bigoted portion of America’s working class [which I can tell you is the VAST majority] have their voice heard on network television. Why should it be silenced by one lost soul?)”