Tuesday, November 12, 2019

News of the Day and Tomorrow: Nikki Haley, Trees, Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Profile in Discouragement: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning. In a segment of the interview conducted by Norah O’Donnell about the impeachment inquiry, Haley said, “The biggest thing that bothers me is the American people should decide this. Why do we have a bunch of people in Congress making this decision?”

For a public figure who many are touting as a future Republican presidential candidate, the former South Carolina governor demonstrated a naive understanding of government. Haley should realize that senators and representatives are sent to Washington not just to rubber stamp their state’s voter preferences or to blithely rubber stamp or reject a president’s agenda, but also to be leaders, to exhibit profiles in courage by supporting positions that are good for the country even if they are not compatible with the narrow interests of their respective electorates or political parties. They, after all, swore an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. No such avowal is required of the general population, though newly enfranchised citizens and members of the armed services swear their allegiance to our country.

Moreover, to follow through on Haley’s premise, surveys have shown a sizable majority of Americans believe in compulsory background checks before a gun may be purchased. Similarly, other gun control measures are majority-favored. Yet Republicans continue to refrain from enacting any such proposals. 

Taken a step further, what Haley seems to be endorsing is the supreme executive, a president who really does not require any other branch of government. His or her way or the highway for anyone who disagrees with the chief executive. 

The impeachment proceedings and a Senate trial will show in startling relief just how far Republicans have subsumed their allegiance to the Constitution in favor of service to a president who has obstructed justice and encouraged foreign interference in our “free” elections. 

Later in the interview Haley acknowledged that Donald Trump’s verbal assaults on four first term congresswomen, telling them to go back to their own countries even though they are all U.S. citizens, was unbecoming from a president. But she defended his actions, saying of the representatives categorized by Trump as “the squad,” “Don’t bash America over and over again and not do something to try and fix it.” 

Huh? Has she not been keeping abreast of policy initiatives they have put forward? I don’t agree with all of their proposals but clearly they have been trying to do something to improve our country.

Tree Time: Last week a Norway Spruce from upstate New York started its travel to Manhattan for its crowning as the annual Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center. The tree will be festooned with appropriate decorations—some 50,000 lights— in time for a December 4 unveiling on live television. 

Gilda and I are “big tree” fans, and by that I mean we really like trees, especially big trees. Our favorite is a copper beech, or mostly any beech variety. 

One of our more interesting days while visiting Scotland recently was a visit to Dawyck Botanic Garden, a 65 acre garden and arboreta eight miles south of Peebles. The trees are magnificent, especially the Douglas firs. 

You might be interested to know that the majestic Douglas fir, so common in the Pacific Northwest, is named for a Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who “discovered” them during an 1824-27 expedition. He brought seeds of the Douglas fir and about 10 other conifers back to Britain.

While on the subject of trees, Normandy, France, is known for its apple trees. But the French, at least in Normandy, don’t eat the fruit. Rather, they wait until their particular specie of apple tree drops its fruit. The apples are then gathered and fermented into hard cider. As the climate in Normandy is not conducive to growing grapes for wine, cider with an alcoholic kick makes life très jolie. 

Once an Editor …: I’ve been retired for more than 10 years now from Chain Store Age but my LinkedIn page still attracts onlookers every week. Recently I’ve been inundated by one head hunter organization sending me job opportunities. I’m flattered but not interested.

Perhaps my admirers are impressed that retailers are coming around to my way of thinking, at least when it comes to one of my fervent opinions. About a dozen years ago I editorialized that the madness of Black Friday was demeaning to customers and store employees. As retailers desperately tried to corral more consumers they chose not to wait until Friday morning. Many opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself, another intrusion on family get-togethers, particularly for store personnel who had to leave hearth and home to harness hostile shoppers intent on beating anyone in their way to a desired purchase.

It’s not a tidal wave yet, but I am encouraged by the number of chain store companies that will be closed all day on Thanksgiving. Here’s a list of the retailers I am aware of: Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Ace Hardware, BJ’s, Costco, Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, Lowe’s, Marshalls, Petco, Sam’s Club, Sierra Trading Post, Stein Mart, T.J. Maxx, True Value. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Historic Moments in Berlin, a Personal Perspective

Thirty years ago today, the first cracks in the Berlin Wall appeared. Not cracks in the wall itself, but rather in the restrictions East Germans had in traveling to West Germany. Through a fortuitous, confusing and seemingly uncharacteristically incompetent set of actions by East German officials, unfettered access to and from East Berlin began 30 years ago on November 9 (for an hour by hour playback click on this link: https://mol.im/a/7666435).

Hanging on a wall in my home office is large chunk of the Berlin Wall. Another sizable portion, next to a picture of me chipping away at history, rests on the built-in wall unit of our living room. I wasn’t in Berlin November 9. I didn’t get there until February 16, 1990, a few days before the wall near the Brandenburg Gate was knocked down.

I flew in from Dusseldorf from where I had been attending EuroShop, a once every three year trade exposition devoted to store design and construction. I headed to a Woolworth store (btw, Germans for years thought Woolworth was a home grown company, not an America import), to buy a small chisel and standard-sized hammer. When I arrived at the Wall that rainy and snowy day, I discovered how pitiful my purchases were to the task at hand. I barely made a dent in the reinforced concrete.

Standing next to me was a man with a huge sledgehammer and 30-inch chisel. He was breaking off softball-size or larger chunks. He took pity on me and offered his tools. I still failed to break off pieces larger than a pebble. He pitied me once more. He gave the Wall a few choice whacks for me. I left Berlin with a bagful of souvenirs, most of which I gave away to family, friends and colleagues at work.

My memories of the Berlin Wall are tinged with personal links. November 9 is more than just the date unification of Berlin began. On that date in 1938 the Nazis began a massive pogrom against Jews under their control in Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig. Known as Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), the assaults continued into Danzig on November 12-13. My father lived in Danzig (now known as Gdansk). He would leave for America within two months. 

February 16, when I visited Berlin in 1990, marked four years since my mother died on that very same date.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Look Past 2020 To See Future of the Republic

While most political views are focused on 2020, a longer lens to 2024 and beyond may be more informative as to the future direction of our republic.

Some never-Trumpers retain a pipe dream that an alternative, such as Bill Weld, Nikki Haley or John Kasich, could wrest the Republican Party presidential nomination from the incumbent, Donald Trump. They are seeking the remnants of the soul of what was once a Grand Old Party. At one time it could be argued, and was, that working with Trump inside the White House and in Congress helped to restrain his excesses. But that argument for too long has not held water. Anyone who continues to take a federal paycheck inside the current administration or is a Republican member of either house of Congress, ostensibly as a public servant, has clearly sold his or her soul. Moreover, those who already abandoned ship should be under a patriotic obligation to reveal on the record Trump’s illegal and unpresidential acts.

Almost any Republican of stature and integrity would be better than Trump not because their domestic social and fiscal policies and international agenda would be markedly different, but rather because they would convey their positions in a more statesmanlike, mature fashion. Abortion rights still would be restricted; conservatives would be nominated for federal court appointments; Iran and North Korea would still be trouble spots; Israel would be favored over Palestinians. But their tone would be better. They would be more appealing to suburban women. They would not be a constant source of lies. A less provocative president would probably have long enough coattails to secure a GOP House and Senate. Democrats would try but mostly fail to influence legislation.

In this Age of Trump, party apparatchiks have sold their souls. At his behest, they have stacked the deck against any inside insurrection. One can hardly blame Trump for doing what comes naturally to almost all incumbents.

The lurking dilemma for the GOP and the nation is, who will win the battle for control of the party come 2024. Will the party look for a Trump protege or will it seek to revert to its traditional policy planks and level-headed leaders? The answer may depend on how much Trump loses by or how much he wins by in 2020 (assuming, of course, he doesn’t declare an emergency if he loses and refuses to accept defeat, and if he wins doesn’t try to repeal the 22nd Amendment limiting terms of office, or simply ignores it).

Trump has shown he is like a dog gnawing on a bone he will not give up. He fixates on a topic, abetted by social media that, regardless of 2020 results, will continue to carry his mean spirited, divisive missives. Win or lose he will defend his legacy to the extreme, making it difficult, but not impossible, for the rational wing of the party to appeal to mainstream Republicans.

Our democracy works best when we have robust dialogue between Democrats and Republicans, when compromise is virtuous and the public welfare is foremost in the minds and actions of our elected and appointed officials. Grifters, incompetents, party hacks, and outright liars have reduced America to a shell of its once internationally-held glory, a status held under Democratic and Republican presidents.

We could return to those halcyon days when our word was our bond, a post-Trump world, but only if enough Republicans reconnect with their souls.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Can Ghermezians' Dream Come Through Again

I was wrong.

Well, not exactly wrong. More like, overly pessimistic about the potential for the Mall of America to fulfill its dream.

Back in September 1992 I editorialized in Chain Store Age the August opening of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., was a Herculean feat that would be hard pressed to attract at least 40 million visitors a year to achieve its financial goals. At the time, 27 million people lived within a 400 mile radius of the retail and entertainment complex. It was not uncommon for Iowa farmers to travel hundreds of miles to visit the Twin Cities to shop Dayton’s, the local department store. The Mall of America with its indoor amusement park, varied dining and entertainment venues and hundreds of retail stores banked on its uniqueness to draw crowds, especially during harsh northern winters when family recreation options were limited.

Fast forward to 2019. Mall of America’s website affirms the dream has become a reality. It proudly boasts more than 40 million visitors a year.

Now, the people who dreamed up Mall of America, and before that the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—the Ghermezian family of the real estate firm Triple Five Group—have placed another big bet, aptly titled American Dream, that a huge, multi-faceted retail and entertainment complex could transform the New York metropolitan area’s spending patterns. Last week it began a months-long phased opening extravaganza of American Dream in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, in the shadow of MetLife Stadium where the New York Giants and Jets play football and concerts are held. Aside from more than 300 stores (currently not open), American Dream features a water park, ski slope, ice skating rink and an amusement park with a roller coaster (https://nyti.ms/2Nblh8v).

American Dream was not a Ghermezian dream from the outset. Originally named Xanadu, the mall was conceived by The Mills Corporation more than 15 years ago. Repeated financial setbacks stymied construction for Mills and subsequent developers. For more than a decade its semi-completed skeleton was a poster-child example of excess consumerism. The Ghermezians bought the concept in 2011.

They have invested heavily in transportation plans to bring New Yorkers the 10 miles across the Hudson River, one of the most densely traveled paths in the country, be it by bridge or tunnel. Just miles from Newark airport, shuttle buses may take travelers to the mall. Already it is common for foreigners to make excursions to Woodbury Commons, an outlet center some 60 miles north of the airport. American Dream is less than 15 miles from Newark.

Unlike the Mall of America, American Dream has a much larger population pool from which to draw visitors. Attracting the 40 million-plus customers a year the Ghermezians say are needed seems possible, even with the more varied entertainment and shopping options available in the New York metro region. But, more to the point of attaining a solid financial return, American Dream is located in Bergen County which prohibits retail sales on Sunday. It is hard to turn a profit in a location that cannot process retail transactions on one of the busiest shopping days of the week.

Bottom line—American Dream probably won’t turn into a nightmare, but I doubt it will provide contented sleep to the Ghermezians.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, The Court Should Now Hear The U.S. House of Representatives v. Donald J. Trump

The time has come to find out if we live in a constitutional republic or in an autocratic state. It is time to go directly to the Supreme Court for a decision on the House of Representatives’ powers of impeachment and whether the executive branch can withhold documents and other evidence the House deems crucial to its investigations. 

By an 8-0 vote in 1974 the Supreme Court ruled Richard Nixon had to turn over secretly recorded White House tapes that ultimately revealed criminal behavior by the president in the Watergate scandal coverup. But that was back then, when respect for the rule of law was central to our political essence, regardless of party. We did not have a president who demeaned courts and judges who disagreed with him. And we did not have a president who openly flouted the law, often doubling down on the very crime he is accused of committing. 

Today’s Supreme Court must decide if the Constitution is still relevant. If a president can stonewall due process. If the Founders’ belief in equal branches of government is an 18th century anachronism or if it remains a document a democratic republic nation can live by. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi must give up any hope of White House cooperation for surely Donald Trump has provided no reason or action to maintain that illusion. She must immediately authorize an expedited challenge to the Supreme Court to verify the House’s absolute right to obtain material relevant to its inquiries. The court must reaffirm its 1974 ruling that the claim of executive privilege has limitations when it comes to a legitimate House investigation, that no one, not even the president, is above the law. 

It is counterproductive to waste the nation’s time and patience with thrust and parry politics. The Supreme Court must be asked to accept the challenge and must rule expeditiously. 

Nancy Pelosi, it is your move!

A Red White House: To those who bicker that Democrats are trying to take over a White House they couldn’t win in 2016, let me remind them that a Trump removal would not turn the Oval Office blue. A solidly conservative Republican vice president, Mike Pence, would succeed the dumped Trump. 

In many ways Pence could prove to be more anathema to Democrats as he is more deliberate, more focused, more of an ideologue, more conservative, more religious, more schooled in the ways of governing, and less of a lightning rod than Trump. 

One of the more vexing questions confronting Americans, New Yorkers in particular, is the transformation of Rudy Giuliani from “America’s Mayor” after 9/11 into Trump’s rabid attack dog. 

So, naturally, I was drawn to a New York Times Op-Ed Tuesday with the relevant headline, “What Happened to Rudy Giuliani?”. When I looked at the byline I was more intrigued. I thought the name looked familiar, the uncommon way it spelled Frydman. Hadn’t a Ken Frydman worked on Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade newspaper, shortly after I did some 40 years ago? Sure enough, it was him. 

I checked out his online background discovering Ken not only worked for Giuliani but was actually married by him in a city hall ceremony. For decades Ken carried a picture of the ceremony in his wallet. 

Here was an intimate witness to Rudy’s transformation. So, without further ado, here are two links, the first to the Op-Ed piece, the second to a bio of Ken who has quite an accomplished resume:

What Happened to Rudy Giuliani?

Ken’s bio

Monday, October 7, 2019

A Tribute to Those Who Fought in Normandy

I have been watching war movies almost my entire 70-plus years, one of the earliest I remember being a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis romp called “At War with the Army,” set in 1944 in a stateside training camp. A sergeant, Martin is chafing at the bit to see real action overseas. As I recall it, by the end of the film he gets his wish and is part of the D-Day invasion. Being a comedy, “At War with the Army” does not relate the fate of Martin’s character. 

The beaches of Normandy, code named Utah and Omaha (for American assault), Sword, Gold and Juno (for Allied forces) are hardly sources for humor, as Gilda and I observed during our recent trip to the battlefields. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the ensuing campaign through August 30 to rid Normandy of German forces, more than 53,000 Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen died in the largest amphibian-based attack in history.

Britain and America treated their dead differently. Britain buried casualties in the soil on which they perished. 

Next of kin of U.S. dead had three options: burial of a deceased where they died, internment in Arlington Cemetery, or burial in a plot back home chosen by the family. Three times the choices were provided the next of kin. After the third time, if the remains were buried overseas, moving them would be at the expense of the next of kin. 

Today’s U.S. military treats the fallen differently. All bodies are returned to America. As Arlington is running out of room, the privilege of burial there is restricted to those awarded military honors.

More than 9,380 gravesites in rows upon rows of white crosses sprinkled with the occasional Jewish star is a solemn, beautiful sight at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. A cross or Jewish star were the only religious options. As the saying goes, “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” Nor in American military cemeteries. Nor, apparently, were there any Muslims. If dog tags were not found on a fallen serviceman the grave was marked with a cross. 

Only about 150 white Jewish stars break up the uniform look of white crosses. As many Jewish servicemen removed their dog tags prior to entering combat, it is suspected casualties among them were buried under crosses. A rabbi is painstakingly researching Jewish sounding names on crosses to determine if a change in grave marker is warranted.

The only serviceman buried in the NAC who died without service in the Normandy campaign received presidential dispensation to be laid to rest next to his brother. Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, died during World War I, on July 14, 1918. He was a pilot in the Army Air Service shot down in an aerial dogfight. His body was relocated in 1955 to a grave next to his oldest brother, Ted, a brigadier general who died of a heart attack July 12, 1944, weeks after leading the first wave of troops ashore at Utah Beach.  

Last week’s crash in Connecticut of a B-17 Flying Fortress World War II bomber coincided with my viewing a worthy HBO documentary, “The Cold Blue,” aired last D-Day. The film uses outtake footage taken by director William Wyler in 1943 for a morale-building promotional film about the Memphis Belle B-17 and its crew that flew 25 missions. 

Released last year, “The Cold Blue” was directed by Erik Nelson. It intersperses the reminiscences of flight crews (not from the Memphis Belle), now in their 90s, with film shot during missions over Germany and occupied Europe. 

Do the math—more than 70 years ago, the now elderly men were in their low 20s, or younger, when they took to the skies in planes that were not pressurized or heated. At 25,000 feet, with gunports open to the wind, temperature inside was said to be equivalent to the top of Mount Everest, in the minus 20 to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit range. Frostbite could occur within 10 minutes.

At the beginning of the war, according to the documentary, America had but a few hundred B-17s. By 1945 our wartime arsenal had manufactured 12,731. Close to 5,000 planes were lost in combat over Europe. 

The Flying Fortress was known as a durable aircraft which makes last week’s tragedy all the more sad.

Military Units: As noted at the beginning of this blog, I’ve spent many an hour watching war flicks. But I never quite understood how many soldiers comprised each unit size until Rob Dalessandro, deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, provided an overview during our recent Smithsonian Journeys trip to Normandy. So, here goes:

Squad. 12 men. Led by a sergeant.
Platoon. 50 men. Led by a lieutenant.
Company. 184 men. Led by a captain.
Battalion. 900 men. Led by a major.
Regiment. 3,200 men. Led by a colonel.
Division. 15,000 men. Led by major general.
Corps. 75,000 men. Led by lieutenant general.
Field Army. 300,000 men. Led by general.
Army Group. 600,00+ men. Led by general.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Walk in the Park Celebrating God's Creation

Second day Rosh Hashana. Most Jews I know spent Tuesday in synagogues reciting most of the same prayers they did the first day of the New Year’s holiday. Not our family.

Five years ago we decided that a walk through a park was a more intimate and visceral way to celebrate what Jews believe was God’s creation of the earth. It would be more meaningful for our grandchildren (Finley 9, Dagny 7, CJ 4 and Leo 2) and their parents.

We traveled to Ossining at 10:30 am to walk Teatown Lake Reservation’s wooded trail around a lake. The kids picked up acorns and interesting rocks. They observed the occasional caterpillar and turtle in the lake and saw what we assumed were thin tree trunks gnawed down by beaver.

When we stopped for a midway rest we discussed why communing with nature was an appropriate way to honor God’s work. One ritual of Rosh Hashana is a ceremonial casting away of one’s sins by tossing bread into water. As we were not supposed to give food to the wildlife, we instead cast stones into the lake.

At the conclusion of our simple but heartfelt ritual we blew shofar. The kids had plastic ones. Even two-year-old Leo made noise with his horn. I managed quite a few long blasts on our three foot long ram’s horn. I trumpeted several “shevarim,” bursts of three notes, but was windless when it came to “teru’ah,” the staccato nine note sequence. I did blare out a pretty good “teki’ah gedolah,” an extra long call of awakening to the faithful. 

We returned home a little after 1 pm, the same time we would have had we attended services at our temple.  

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Ostrich Should Replace Elephant as GOP Mascot

The 19th century political cartoonish Thomas Nast is credited with creating the symbol of the Republican Party, an elephant. Perhaps the mascot should be updated. I suggest it be an ostrich.

An elephant, after all, is said to have a good memory, but today’s GOP fails to remember the values that once made it great—equality of the races (under Lincoln); reverence for the environment and anti-monopolies (under Teddy Roosevelt); disdain for the military-industrial complex (Eisenhower); strategic diplomacy and environmental protections (Nixon, yes Nixon); abhorrence of deficits (Reagan); respect for foreign alliances (Bush I and II).

Under Donald Trump the Republican Party has turned its back on all of these foundational blocks. Moreover, elected congressmen and senators have metaphorically put their heads in the sand so as not to see how Trump is clearly dismantling the rule of law and our constitutional protections of checks and balances.

With the House of Representatives embarked on an impeachment probe after a whistle-blower revealed Trump seemingly pressured the president of Ukraine during a telephone conversation to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, a leading Democratic contender for the presidency, and the subsequent cashiering of the transcript of their talk to a top secret file, perhaps we need to paraphrase one of Trump’s earliest examples of abuse.

Instead of “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Hillary Clinton) emails that are missing,” let’s say the following: “America, if you’re listening, we hope you’re able to see the transcripts of Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president and other transcripts of his talks with foreign leaders that have similarly been  hidden because his staff feared they would reveal Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

Not everyone is convinced an impeachment proceeding is necessary or wise. Surely most Republicans don’t. Some worry it might turn people off, that they might feel Washington has sunk further into dysfunction. On the contrary. An impeachment investigation is the ultimate constitutional function.

This is a test of the American public. Does it want a democratic republic or an autocracy? If Trump is not held accountable for his actions, if his minions are not held accountable for their coverup attempts, we can expect him to continue to stretch the limits of presidential invulnerability. We’ve already seen the pattern being set—one day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress without clearly stating Trump was guilty of obstruction, Trump had his conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Very Next Day!!!

The time to impeach has arrived!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Of Castles, Kings, Churches and Wizards

I don’t go to church regularly. I am, after all, Jewish. But I find myself in churches, mostly Catholic ones built half a millennia or more ago, whenever I travel through Europe.  

Last week in Normandy, France, Gilda and I entered some remarkable spiritual edifices. Given their size and majesty, and the sheer engineering accomplishment of their construction, it is understandable how Medieval men and women were transfixed into believing miracles could indeed happen. A religion that started in a manger and matriculated into magnificent stone cathedrals could not be anything but authentic to illiterate serfs and even noblemen.

Consider the abbey atop Mount Saint Michel. Situated on an island with fewer than 50 current residents, the abbey took hundreds of years to build. It is not beautiful, as the Cathedral Notre Dame in nearby Bayeux is. Rather, it is an engineering marvel, rising as it does above a rocky fortress. The Bayeux Cathedral, as well, was a labor of hundreds of years, but it aligns more with the architecture and look of numerous Norman-Romanesque churches in towns and cities one can see throughout the countryside.

The Bayeux Cathedral would be worth a visit in its own right. But for years it garnered fame from a cherished historical artifact, the Bayeux Tapestry. In truth, the nearly 70 yard long creation is an embroidery, but let’s not quibble over semantics. The tapestry tells the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

Did you ever wonder why William the Conqueror invaded England? Was it merely to seize control of another country? Actually, according to the way the Normans tell it, it was to claim his rightful inheritance. You see, on his deathbed Edward the Confessor, king of England, having no sons, bequeathed his kingdom to a distant cousin, the Duke of Normandy, known then as William the Bastard for he truly was illegitimately born. William was a descendant of Rollo, a Viking warrior chief familiar, by name at least, to fans of the cable series Vikings. Rollo had become part of the French ruling class.

William believed he obtained agreement for his kingship from Harold, an English earl of Anglo-Saxon heritage. But upon Edward’s death Harold assumed the crown. To avenge the double-cross and take what he thought was rightfully his, William invaded England. Harold might well have beaten him at Hastings had he not just hurried down from killing off another invading pretender to the throne, Harald Hardrada, king of Norway, at Stamford Bridge, several hundred miles to the north of Hastings. The weary Harold and his forces were routed, Harold dying from ordinary wounds or, as legend has it, from an arrow piercing an eye as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry.

Subsequently, William was known as the conqueror. His Norman descendants ruled for hundreds of years, much to the displeasure and misfortune of the Anglo-Saxon populace, we have been told for years (thus the Robin Hood myth. Indeed, King Richard the Lionheart, a great, great grandson of William the Conqueror, spent just a few weeks in England as king, preferring his French lands).

As churches go, the structure in the town square of Sainte-Mere-Eglise has nothing to distinguish it. Except for its dramatic part in the D-Day invasion. The Allies deemed it important to seal off the town as it was located on an important road the Nazis could have used to reinforce their defensive positions. Paratroopers descended on the town in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944.

One of them, John Steele, landed on a church spire. He could not free his parachute so he wound up observing the ensuring battle for several hours, all the while pretending to be dead. He eventually was captured by the Germans, from whom he later escaped and rejoined his division. For those who have seen the movie The Longest Day, Steele was portrayed by Red Buttons.

To convey his personal story, and commemorate what the town believes is its place in history as the first community liberated in France, a parachute with a dummy dressed as a soldier is suspended from a church spire facing the town square. It’s a kitschy touch. But it is historical fiction as Steele’s parachute got caught on a spire facing a side street. That would not have made for good cinema so The Longest Day, ahem, took liberties with reality. As do the good citizens of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

The Longest Day was not the only Hollywood reference during Gilda’s and my trip. Before Normandy we spent a week in northern England and southern Scotland. Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland, is the historic location where 38 kings of Scotland were crowned sitting on a high-backed wooden chair atop the Stone of Scone (pronounced “Scoon”). It has also been used for centuries by British royalty, the last time being for Queen Elizabeth II’s investiture in 1953.

For more than 400 years Scone Palace has been the ancestral home of the Murray family, successive Earls of Mansfield since 1776. The first Earl of Mansfield, William Murray, was Lord Chief Justice of England who in 1783 issued a ruling that began the process that led to the end of slavery in Britain.

As important as that action was, Hollywood found the life of his niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, more appealing. It filmed her life story, with liberties, in Belle, released in 2013 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_(2013_film)#Plot). Dido was the daughter of an enslaved African woman in the West Indies and Captain Sir John Lindsay, a Royal Navy officer. Lindsay entrusts her to Murray and his wife to raise, as they were doing with another great-niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray. When the two cousins matured they sat for an oil portrait by David Martin. The painting is displayed at Scone Palace. 

Finally (only because this posting is already long), we visited Hogwarts Castle. Or more precisely, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England, where the 12th Duke of Northumberland and his family live from November through April, after which tourists invade en masse for the castle, first built after the Norman conquest, is more than just the manifestation of what a castle should look like. Alnwick Castle’s alter ego is that of Hogwarts, the wizardry school attended by Harry Potter.

During our visit a group of enterprising and clearly Potter-struck fans were astride broomsticks attempting to fly into a game of quidditch. Tours of the interior and exterior of the castle were fascinating. I will leave you with one amusing tidbit: The kitchen in olden times was far removed from the main dining hall. They were connected by tunnel. Servants were required to whistle the whole time they transported the food. Guess why?

It had nothing to do with safety. Rather, it was to insure none of the duke’s food was lifted off the platters and eaten along the way. Try whistling with your mouth full. Can’t be done.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Are You Proud To Be an American?

A mainstay of Republican rallies for the last three decades or longer has been the Lee Greenwood’s anthem, “God Bless the U.S.A., with its central theme of being “proud to be an American.” Which conjures up the current question, given the last two-plus years, are you proud to be an American? 

Are you proud that our president dangles foreign military aid to a beleaguered country fighting Russian-backed incursions in the hope it will actively work to uncover dirt on his political rivals? 

Are you proud that our president praises autocrats like Turkey’s Erdogen, Russia’s Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammad bin Salman, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un while trashing present and past leaders of allies like Trudeau of Canada, Engel of Germany, May of United Kingdom and Macron of France?

Are you proud that our president encourages his supporters to cry out for the incarceration of his political rivals? 

Are you proud that our president sullies members of Congress who disagree with him?

Are you proud that our president is more concerned with his weather forecasting reputation than the lives of millions coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian?

Are you proud that our president is so fixated on building a wall along our southern border that he has stripped funding for military projects that are needed to educate and train our servicemen and their families?

Are you proud that when our president speaks or tweets it is often impossible to separate fact from fiction? 

Are you proud that our president has turned his back on our country’s historic commitment of being a land of opportunity for the downtrodden from around the globe?

Are you proud that our president rejects science?

Are you proud that Russia interfered with our election without any consequences, that our president believes Vladimir Putin that Russia didn’t spook our election and rejects the findings of our own intelligence community that it did, and that our president now wants to involve Ukraine in his re-election bid in violation of federal law?

Are you proud that our president considers whistleblowers “traitors”?

Are you proud that our president has politicized the Justice Department? 

Are you proud that our president has so kowtowed Republicans that they no longer have allegiance to the Constitution but rather to him because they fear his impact on their election/re-election if they publicly disagree with him?

Are you proud that our president has put together one of the most corrupt and immoral administrations in the history of our nation? 

Lee Greenwood recorded the song in late 1983. I’m not too proud to admit I really enjoyed listening to it, so much so that I obtained a cassette of Greenwood’s album that contained it. But I find it increasingly difficult to square his patriotic gushings with the insults Trump has visited on our republic. 

I’d like to be proud again. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Answer Please, What Did You Do?

“What did you do in the war, Daddy?” is a simple but searing question children are apt to ask after their parents have lived through turbulent times. 

It began as a recruiting poster meme in Great Britain during the Great War, World War I. It retains powerful currency, for we have entered another great war, this one without bullets but with trenches dug by unwavering allegiances to politically opposite beliefs in the direction our country is taking under an unorthodox president.

What did you do, congressman and senator, while Donald Trump trampled upon the Constitution, negating the integrity of checks and balances set up to prevent authoritarian rule?

What did you do, cabinet secretary, when you weakened protections on the environment, labor conditions, international relations, alliances with allies?

What did you do, judges and justices, when executive power tried to run rampant?

What did you do, military officers, when your leadership and expertise were mocked by a draft dodger who dishonored Gold Star parents and prisoners of war?

What did you do, intelligence gatherers and analysts, when your findings were discarded and the diabolical promises of our adversaries were believed?

What did you do, scientists and educators, when science, truth and facts were dismissed as fake?

What did you do, immigration and border personnel, when the dictates of a racist autocrat superseded the universal values of family and sanctity of human life?

What did you do, American citizen, when duty called for you to register to vote and to cast your ballot? Did you accept your obligation or did you succumb to passive acceptance?

Did you stay quiet while “truth, justice and the American way” was transformed into lies, injustice and a grifter’s idyllic?

Or did you, at last, finally, rise from your miasma of loyalty to the Office of the President to demonstrate loyalty to the nation, to our ideals as a country of equals and equal opportunity?

We are in a war for the very soul of America. No superhero will materialize to save the day. Each of us will have to undertake the simple but heroic action of saying, “Enough already! Give us back our pride, our values, our integrity, our humanity, our country!”

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Rand Paul and Farmers Might Think the U.S. is a Capitalist Country, But Socialism Abounds

Making the rounds of Facebook lately is the following quote attributed to Rand Paul, Republican senator from Kentucky. Paul is a libertarian conservative. Here’s the quote: “Our Founders never intended for Americans to trust their government. Our entire Constitution was predicated on the notion that government was a necessary evil to be restrained and minimized as much as possible.”

Interesting. On the other hand, do you think the Founders considered a future with automatic rifles and machine guns? Or a future with medications that could prevent the dissemination of life-threatening contagious diseases? Or the instant communication of radio, television, cable and the Internet with their potential to undermine freedom? Or the ability to mass produce food and the need to safeguard its production and consumption? Or trains, planes and automobiles and the necessity to regulate their use? Or the depletion and pollution of clean water and air? 

Perhaps the Founders didn’t always get things right. They did, after all, sanction slavery. Rand Paul and his originalist brethren need to realize the Constitution and its amendments are templates for a governing philosophy that requires modifications based on the evolution of mankind’s technical and scientific abilities to do good and evil. 

The Constitution and amendments need to be interpreted in light of changes in reality. As the Bible is. Western society has gone beyond the literal “eye for an eye” doctrine of penalties for actions intended or not. 

So, too, must our unassailable reliance on a late 18th century document. 

A recent New Yorker article on Wisconsin farmers and their loyalty to Donald Trump contained the following from a dairy farmer: “I’m not in favor of any kind of socialism,” he said. “We’re a capitalist farm.”

As much as that farmer professed a disdain for socialism I wonder if he realizes just how much “socialism” he and his fellow sodbusters receive. Based on U.S. Dept. of Agriculture data, the Environmental Working Group computes that from 1995 through April 2019, farmers received $390.9 billion of federal subsidies. Wisconsin farmers pocketed $9.113 billion, ranking the state 16th among those accepting federal support. 

As a nation we don’t have a problem with creeping socialism in this country. Rather, we have a problem with people failing to understand how socialism—how the “means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole”—is embedded in our everyday lives. 

Social Security. Medicare. Medicaid. Food stamps. Public schools. Free and subsidized school food programs. Energy subsidies. Subsidies that pay farmers to limit what crops to plant and how much their acreage should yield. Yada, yada, yada.

We are awash in government giveaways. Some may quibble about individual handout programs. Overall, we are better for them. 

Rand Paul might think government is “a necessary evil,” but he would be wrong. His state of Kentucky, according to WalletHub, is the third most dependent on money from Washington (https://wallethub.com/edu/states-most-least-dependent-on-the-federal-government/2700/). A year ago, WalletHub estimated that for every dollar Kentucky sends to Washington, it receives $2.61. Just imagine how poorly Kentucky would fare if it didn’t receive its share of our “socialist” government.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Visit to Normandy's Past and Present

Allianz haunted me on Gilda’s and my recent trip to Normandy. Just two doors down from our headquarters hotel, the Mercure, in the picturesque seaport of Honfleur, an Allianz office sign greeted our week’s comings and goings. 

Long time readers may recall Allianz, a German financial services company, had sought to procure naming rights to the Meadowlands stadium the New York Giants and Jets were about to open in September 2008.  It was only after my letter to The New York Times pulled back the curtain on the company’s historic profile as an insurer of Nazi extermination camps, slave labor plants and concentration camps, plus its reluctance to honor life insurance policies absent a death certificate, that public outrage forced the teams to quickly abandon the $25 million proposal. Instead, the Giants and Jets play their games in MetLife Stadium (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2010/01/chain-of-one-person-events.html).

Haunting aside, our stay in Honfleur was idyllic. Cobblestoned streets in the quaint downtown, difficult to navigate, at times made one look to the ground and away from centuries old structures. Some of the buildings have outcroppings on the second and third floors, a successful Middle Ages attempt to add square footage to residences that were taxed based on their ground level frontage. 

Escaping bombardment during World War II, Honfleur boasts France’s largest wooden church with a separate bell tower. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, St. Catherine Church is beautiful inside and out with a spire that dominates the skyline. 

A tourist attraction for natives and foreigners, Honfleur restaurants specialize in seafood. Streets are lined with small shops which curiously did not stay open late as they would in American tourist venues. Perhaps mid-September is beyond the shopkeepers’ expectations for tourists willing to splurge on delectable chocolates or chic scarves and tops, or just plain kitschy souvenirs. 

As in most any French community, fresh—really fresh—baguettes and pastries attract passersby. To walk clutching a two foot long baguette makes one look instantly like a local. 

From the window of our room in the Mercure we could see the graceful Normandy Bridge, at one time the longest suspension bridge in Europe. Though rain was forecast for the full week after we departed Sunday, Gilda and I reveled in the sunny 60-70 degree temperatures with soft breezes that greeted us every day, making our explorations of the Normandy coast, including D-Day beaches, and nightly promenades exhilarating. 

We had come to Honfleur on a Smithsonian Journeys tour program with 25 others from across the States. Informed by local experts and Rob Dalessandro, deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, we learned the history of the region that spawned William the Conqueror, who prior to his invasion of England was known as William the Bastard because he was born out of wedlock. We marveled at the magnificent Bayeux Cathedral and the Bayeux tapestry (really an embroidery), some 70 yards in length that depicts the story behind William’s invasion. We traced and climbed the unimaginable construction feat of Mount Saint Michel; we learned how the area’s signature Camembert cheese and apple cider are made, and enjoyed tastings of the products. From a descendant of a member of the Resistance we heard of life under the Nazi occupation. We somberly reflected on the bravery and sacrifice of American and Allied servicemen, along with the logistical feat of D-Day during visits to Utah and Omaha beaches, the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and the symmetrical, egalitarian gravesites of more than 9,000 Americans who lost their lives on the shores of Normandy June 6, 1944, and the subsequent fighting in the region for the next 90 days 75 years ago. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Cadillac Man? No, My Father Favored Buicks

Assessing the precarious market position Cadillac finds itself in these days, The New York Times Tuesday described the General Motors car brand as once “the ultimate destination as car owners prospered and moved up from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick to demonstrate their success in life” (https://nyti.ms/2Zygmqk).

My father was a loyal Buick customer. Every five years or so he would buy another Buick. Yet he, too, succumbed for a short while to the siren call of Cadillac (actually, it was more my mother who pined for a Caddy, but more on that later).

The first car of his I remember was a green Buick, probably a 1950 model. It had an elongated, almost torpedo-like sleek shape. I have few memories of driving in it. In 1955, when shortly before I turned six, Dad bought a blue Buick Special with a white top, a four door sedan with air vents along the front fenders, a Buick trademark. As the youngest of three, I was relegated to the middle rear seat, the one over the drive shaft hump. Many an argument over leg and fanny room broke out with my brother and sister. Dad often threatened to pull over to the side of the highway and spank us if we didn’t stop bickering.

It was in that car that our parents informed us that for the summer of 1956 we would be sent to sleepaway camp for the first time instead of vacationing at Takanassee, a Catskills resort in Fleischmanns, NY. Eight weeks away from our parents. We’d be shipped off to Camp Massad Aleph where our father’s friend’s son summered. My brother Bernie, 11, sister Lee, 9, and I, 7, howled our displeasure. To no avail, and eventual pleasure. 

That car provided Lee with an enduring memory of our father that she related in her eulogy of him. She recounted how one Sunday morning when she was in fourth grade she alone had gone to our Hebrew school’s classes as Bernie was sick and I not yet old enough to be required to attend. While she sat through classes, our father went to a Men’s Club meeting.

“At 12:00 we met and walked to the car, a big Buick. At the time that we had parked, there were no other cars on the street. However, when we returned, the car was now boxed in between two cars. My dad was recovering from a (shoulder) bursitis operation and the strength in his arm was still limited. He attempted to maneuver the non-power steering wheeled car out of the spot. For what seemed an excruciating long time he struggled, groaned, cursed and finally collapsed at the wheel. I was horrified and frightened and in my childish way thought that we would never get out. It was then that he turned to me, with a strange grin on his face, and asked me to help him turn the wheel. My first response was, no. What could I do to help him free us from this impasse? He calmly showed me what I needed to do and together we moved the resistant wheel. Our hands, reaching one over the other, worked for what seemed an eternity to move the wheels and reposition the car. When it finally happened we screamed with joy and laughed and laughed. The whole way back to our home we reviewed what had happened, how we had worked together and how funny it was.”

Dad made sure the next car he bought had power steering. It was a 1961 Buick LeSabre, desert fawn in color. In other words, light tan. Bernie learned to drive on that car. In 1965 it made way for a Buick Electra 225, green with an off-white vinyl top. The car was massive, forcing our father to work magic each night he slipped it inside our narrow garage. He would hug as close as he could to the left side of the garage, then he had to slide across the front bench seat to exit the car from the passenger door. 

I was behind the wheel of that huge Electra—18 feet, 8 inches in length—the first time I drove on the highway, along the New England Thruway as my parents and I made our way up to Orange, Mass., to visit the family of Lee’s roommate the first year she studied in Israel. I remember observing the signs prohibiting trucks and buses from using the left lane. It felt safer driving in the left lane, though my father kept telling me to drive faster. 

When it was time to get a new car, Mom prevailed upon then 58-year-old Dad to trade up to a Caddy, a car more fitting his success as an independent businessman. He settled on a 1970 blue Sedan de Ville, an inch longer than the Electra. Dad seemed self-conscious driving a Cadillac in our row house Brooklyn neighborhood. He divested himself of this dubious distinction in 1975 by returning to his roots with a blue Buick Regal, much like a LeSabre. 

Within a month he talked himself into believing the car, at exactly 18 feet, was too small. So he engineered a three way deal: He would give Gilda and me the Regal, we would hand over our 1969 Buick Skylark to Lucy, one of his loyal employees, and Dad would buy a new Electra. We hated the Regal, as well. Too big for us. We ditched it for a Datsun Sentra hatchback. 

Dad had a few more cars until he stopped driving when he was 82 in 1994, explaining that in his new home near Bernie in Rockville, MD, “the roads don’t know me here.” His last car was a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. He gave it to our son Dan who had recently passed his driving test. Dan didn’t care that it was an old man’s car. It was wheels, freedom. We soon swapped it out for a more sporty Mazda 323. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Jewish Loyalty Should Not Be Questioned

Amid the never-ending fusillade of Trumpifications, it is hard to keep up with the outrage of the moment that requires comment. Perhaps most upsetting to me is the tumulter-in-chief’s assertion that Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats—in other words, any Jew who doesn’t vote for him—are dumb and guilty of disloyalty to America, to Jewish people and to Israel.

For the better part of a year several high school chums and I have engaged in email debate on Trump, Israel, which party to support, and social values in general. It has gotten so intense, at times, that one of the group no longer wants to read my blog or my responses to what I consider some of his outlandish beliefs. 

Recently another fellow theorized that secularism has become the new religion of American Jews who vote Democratic. To which the first one piled on by stating, “Their parents raised their children to be just like any American child. They (many, not all), made sure to speak English at home so the children would not talk like “greenery”. They wanted their children to assimilate into the American culture. Just like the Israelis stoke (sic) the Yemenite children from their parents, the European-born Americans removed their Judaism from their children. Since the parents worshipped FDR, who actually sold out that generation and refused to help the Jews fleeing extermination, the next generation felt they had to uphold their parents’ decision. Many of us woke up and went right; many have remained with the same mindset.

“Trump was right in what he said; the problem was HOW he said it.”

No way I could remain silent after that broadside. I started to type a response: “Secularism seems to be the reason given for Jewish support of Democrats. I guess they identify with civil rights. With labor and union rights. With voting rights. With environmental rights. Not too many Republicans favor those initiatives these days. I guess it didn’t hurt that Truman, a Democrat, recognized Israel. Maybe they didn’t like the fact Eisenhower forced Israel to give back the Sinai in 1956.”

As for blaming FDR for slamming the door on Jewish refugees, it behooves us to look to the proponents of the 1924 immigration bill that restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. The sponsors were Congressman Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed. Both were Republicans! Who fought against it? Rep. Emanuel Celler, a Democrat! 

I was about to continue when another high school buddy asked for comments about an article in Tablet magazine on American Jews and whether the Democratic Party is becoming unsalvageable (https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/289871/democratic-party-becoming-unsalvageable?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=ed6da33e59-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_08_22_04_40&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-ed6da33e59-207772409). 

Here’s what I wrote: 

It is unacceptable what some—some—Democrats are saying and the failure of leadership to strongly admonish them, including removing them from committee assignments. 

That said, a few bad apples will not destroy the Democratic party. Just as McCarthy and Goldwater and Nixon and Agnew and Bush II didnt destroy the Republican party. 

The Israel of today is not the Israel Democrats embraced. As I think about it, it increasingly resembles Republican traits—discrimination against segments of Jewish society (Ethiopians), discrimination against Israeli Arabs, forced expulsion of foreign workers, repression of Palestinians (we can argue if that is justified at least part of the time), efforts by the government (of Bibi Natanyahu) to fear monger votes based on Arab-Israeli voting, actions by Bibi to try to curtail the rule of law by reducing the power of the Supreme Court, cozying up to autocrats and despots. The list could probably be expanded but that’s enough for starters. 

So without denying that Palestinian intransigence is the reason no peace has broken out between the two groups, let’s keep in mind that the Camp David accords were signed when Carter was president. The Oslo accords when Clinton was president. Clinton again for the Camp David summit which Arafat sabotaged. The point is, Democrats have labored hard to broker a deal. 

Trump and before him Bush II unchained Sharon and then Bibi to do as they please. 

Israel today has a public relations problem. It needs to transmit to the world, daily or at least weekly, the following statistics:

*How much food is sent into Gaza assuring no one is starving. 
*How much medical supplies are provided Gaza residents. 
*How many Palestinians are treated in Israeli hospitals and doctors’ offices. 
*How many Palestinian workers from Gaza and West Bank work in Israel. 
*How many Palestinians attend universities in Israel, Gaza and West Bank. 
*Examples of the anti Jewish curriculum taught in Palestinian elementary schools and beyond. 
*How many acts of terrorism are perpetrated throughout Israel daily/weekly/monthly. 
*How many times Palestinians rejected specific peace proposals. 
*How speeches in Arabic are different than what Palestinian leaders say in other languages. 
*How Palestinian newspapers and radio/TV/internet sites portray Israel and Israelis. 
*How the standard of living and employment and education in the West Bank and Gaza compare to those in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. 

I am sure there are other statistics that would all but eliminate the impression that Israel has been a repressive ruler. To change perceptions this data must be constantly transmitted. Letting the world know about its high tech industry, its agricultural and ecological gains, its scientific and medical advances, etc., will not change the trajectory of opinion on Israel as long as it has the image of a cruel oppressor.  Congressional visits must be targeted at Palestinian actions to show that they live better than under Arab leaders and that it is not Israel that holds them back. 

The American people time and again have supported freedom fighters around the world. The challenge Israel faces is to flip the narrative that the Palestinians seek freedom and Israel doesn't.  

Congresswoman Tlaib and other Democrats are winning the pr war because Israel is losing it by failing to tell its side and because Bibi is doing all he can to stay in office including embracing actions that turn off non orthodox Jews around the world. He is drying up the reservoir of good will Israel has among tribe members. 

So, in short, Democrats don’t want to abandon Israel. They want Israel to live up to the ideals of its founders and the early pr success it had as a country of limitless possibilities for all. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Woodstock, Mona Lisa, Red Squirrels and a Jewish Lament

The closest I got to Woodstock was marrying a woman who had a ticket to the 1969 three day festival but chose not to attend. 

With three of her friends Gilda bought $18 tickets to the transcendental festival after seeing a poster in Greenwich Village near where she worked for Hartz Mountain during the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Brooklyn College. Delores, Karen and Gilda would travel upstate to Bethel, NY, in Barbara’s car as she was the only one with a driver’s license and a car. 

This was nearly a half year before I showed up on Gilda’s radar, or she on mine, so the fact that she was madly infatuated with another young man at the time was not a cause of concern to me. During the summer of 1969 I was enjoying another splendid eight weeks as a division head in a sleepaway camp, Kfar Masada, in Rensselaerville, NY. 

As fate would have it, Gilda’s longing for a date with her heartthrob came to fruition on the same weekend as the Woodstock concert. She chose amour over music, sold her ticket, and bid her friends happy times.

They never made it to Yasgur’s farm. Traffic, overwhelming traffic, kept them and tens of thousands others from reaching their destination. Her friends pulled off Route 17 and found a church to sleep in on the floor. They went home the second day of the concert. 

As you undoubtedly figured out, Gilda’s love interest failed to reciprocate. Our paths crossed, repeatedly, during the next school semester. We began dating in December 1969. Yes, 1969 was a very good year.

Mona Lisa, Mon Amour: August used to be a good time to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Parisians generally exit the city during August, leaving tourists to contend just with ... tourists. But these days there’s an abundance of tourists—the Louvre attracted a record 10.2 million gawkers last year, way more than any other museum, anywhere—meaning time spent staring at Mona Lisa’s eyes can be no more than the equivalent of a drive-by encounter, especially now that the Leonardo da Vinci portrait has been moved to temporary quarters 

I’ve gazed upon the Mona Lise several times, the first being in August 1966 when I was 17 and visiting Paris for the first time. Accompanied by my cousin’s then husband, a struggling painter who spoke no English while I, despite two years of high school instruction, knew barely enough French to ask which way to the library (“Ou est la bibliotheque”), made my way through hall after hall of the Louvre. No doubt I passed by many works by renowned masters. Sadly, I couldn’t take advantage of my companion’s expert commentary. But as I wandered around the Louvre, mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues, and, after I had walked past it, he brought me back to view the Mona Lisa. Back then she was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art. 

Red Scare: I spent more than a few minutes today, I sheepishly admit, entranced by the efforts of a grey squirrel to negotiate around a large inverted plastic funnel designed to prevent the rodent and his brethren from gaining access to the bird food I assiduously hang from trees in my side yard. Most of the time the enterprising squirrel backs away or falls to the ground without clutching the suspended cage holding the desired food. If he is successful, I shoo him away, admonishing him that the food is intended for the feathered, not the bushy tailed. 
The attempted incursion is mild compared to what is going on across the pond. Seems North American grey squirrels have taken over the British landscape and are threatening the existence of native born red squirrels, a more genteel species popularized in children’s books. The reds are about half the size of their trans-Atlantic cousins who are more aggressive food gatherers and who carry a disease the reds cannot withstand. 

It’s gotten so bad that in parts of the United Kingdom bounty hunters have been hired to kill grey squirrels. It’s a scenario a nativist like Donald Trump would embrace to safeguard against an unwanted immigrant horde (https://https://apple.news/A78Qbg70wT8-GP4bZSxE-nA).

Oy, Vey Ist Mir: If you are of a certain age and Jewish, there’s an ethnic ritual your parents practiced on you. Whenever a person of distinction, be he or she an entertainment celebrity, a scientist, a professional athlete, a politician, or any position, even a hoodlum, that brought you into the public eye, your parents would point out if they were Jewish. Younger readers may recognize what I am referring to if they are familiar with Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song that highlights members of the tribe. 

Of course, not every high profile Jew elicited pangs of pride. Mobster Meyer Lansky was no source of chest thumping, though he did make life difficult for the pro-Nazi German-American Bund before World War II. Neither was Bernie Madoff a short time ago. And Jeffrey Epstein has clouded Jewish skies of late. Oy, the shame of it all. 

I’ve seen too many episodes of Homeland to categorically discount conspiracy theories surrounding how he was able to allegedly commit suicide in a federal lockup. I’m not willing to name whom I think might be behind Epstein’s demise, but I would definitely grill all the security guards at the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. Someone(s) had to be paid off. The key, as it was in Watergate, “Follow the money.” Someone is going to start spending dollars way beyond their pay grade. It might take years before the urge to splurge surfaces, but it will. It always does.