Thursday, June 10, 2021

Late Spring Musings: My Portrait, Lilibet, Boom

Ever wonder what makes the most lasting impression on a child’s mind?


For my birthday three months ago my six-year-old granddaughter CJ in Omaha, who had seen me only through FaceTime for more than a year, drew my picture with a laptop in front of me.


She captured my curly hair, but for some reason didn’t put a beard on my face. What she did include, though, was an identifying marker visible to anyone who has observed me more than casually—inside my shirt breast pocket she drew a pen!


She no doubt recalled my saying that I always have a pen with me, a habit cultivated from my earliest reporter’s days. Some people like to make notes on their smartphone, and indeed I often write blogs on my iPhone before posting them, but I prefer pen and paper for note taking (even though my handwriting is so atrocious that I often have difficulty deciphering my chicken scratch). 


CJ added a beard to my face before presenting her framed portrait to me when we visited Omaha in May. It has a position of prominence on my desk.



Speaking of grandchildren, I am intrigued by the presumption that Americans really care about the brouhaha surrounding the naming of Harry and Meghan’s newborn daughter after her grandmother and great grandmother (I know the giddy parents have official titles, but if they’re going to live in the United States they should get used to just being called Harry and Meghan). 


Lilibet Diana, or Lili as she will be called by her parents, family and friends, is in a unique historical position. I know it’s farfetched, but she could be at the same time both the British monarch and the president of the United States.


She is eighth in line eligible to ascend to the British throne. As she was born in the United States, she is eligible to be president upon attaining her 35th birthday.


The first presidential election in which she could run is in 2058. I know people are living longer these days, and the fastest growing age cohort are centenarians, but I doubt, at 109 in 2058, that I would be alive to witness this possibility. For my younger readers who will be around, remember you read about it first in my blog.



Boom: Complaints about noise on the ground associated with supersonic air travel was a key factor in its limited use across the United States. The Concorde stopped flying in 2003.


So it is hardly reassuring that a company named Boom Supersonic is trying to bring high speed flight back to our skies. It has a tentative order from United Airlines for 15 planes with the hope that supersonic air travel will start anew by the end of the decade (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/03/business/economy/united-airlines-supersonic-planes.html?referringSource=articleShare).


One wonders, however, if the corporate name, Boom, might pose an added burden on getting regulatory approval. One usually tries to avoid any mention of an objection when filing a request for approval. 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Reflections on All the News Fit to Print

The New York Times devoted a full page of its Thursday Styles section to the new cache of metal detectors. Not only does one need a designer model detector, but from the accompanying pictures in print and on The Times web site you apparently also have to dress like a super model to search fields and shores for lost objects of junk or treasure (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/31/style/metal-detectorists-ring-finders.html?smid=em-share).


It was not always a pursuit of the rich and famous, or those who aspired to such status. Back in 1976, during my time as the bureau chief of West Haven, Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge for The New Haven Register, I was required to write a Sunday feature on a topic of my choosing. 


Driving around looking for an interesting idea when I came upon a treasure hunter on the West Haven city green. He was a quirky looking dude, just a little more presentable than a homeless man might appear. He was bent over his metal detector, earphones propped atop his heads, listening for the telltale ping of metal. It was a few minutes before he realized I was standing next to him.


After identifying myself and asking if he would be willing to talk about his hobby, I proceeded to find out he had been moderately successful at this enterprise, having released from the earth many rings, a necklace and bracelet or two, plus valuable coins. His treasure was worth close to a thousand dollars, he estimated. I concluded the interview by taking his picture and recording, as was the requirement of The Register for any article, his name, age and address.


You’ve probably guessed where this story is going.


Sure enough, two days after the article appeared, I noticed in the police blotter a stolen property report. The scavenger’s house had been burglarized. Gone was his treasure trove lovingly dug up over many years. If he hadn’t already lost it, also gone were his innocence and sense of trust in his fellow man.


I have few regrets about my years as a reporter. But I do regret adhering to the newspaper’s policy of printing addresses. Sometimes, too much information is a bad thing. 



Say My Name: As a journalist I am always drawn to stories about press suppression, the incarceration of reporters and editors, and their deaths at the hands of tyrants. Last week Danny Fenster, the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, was arrested at the airport as he was about to leave the Southeast Asian country (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/29/world/asia/myanmar-prison-coup.html?smid=em-share).


I  had never heard of Danny Fenster. I might have merely skimmed the article if not for his last name—Fenster was a high school nickname I acquired after an Israeli teacher repeatedly mispronounced my name (he must have had difficulty reading my Delaney card). 


Back in 2010 a weekly notice from our temple said Matt Fenster of Riverdale was seeking bone marrow donors to treat his acute myelogenous leukemia. In the past I’d always shied away from even considering the thought of a bone marrow donation. I shuddered at even the test, though I learned it was rather benign, a simple cheek swab to determine compatibility. The actual bone marrow donation also has passed from being needle-scary to the painless routine of giving blood.


With his name as a sign of to be brave, Gilda and I drove to the testing site, only to be turned away because we were 61, one yer older than the donor age limit. We gave a donation but were bummed out we couldn’t do more. 


A year later we learned Matt Fenster passed away.



Critical Eye: As could be expected Nicholas Kristof’s criticism of Israel’s actions in the recent conflict with Hamas has attracted numerous comments plus a followup essay, “Were My Criticisms of Israel Fair?” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/02/opinion/israel-gaza-conflict.html?smid=url-share)


The short answer is, “No.” 


To reach his view that Israel overreacted to the thousands of rockets launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Kristof compared Arab violence to terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan plotted inside Pakistan, the separatist movement of ETA Basques from Spain, and the bombings by the Irish Republican Army to secure freedom from Britain in Northern Ireland. Those attacks did not induce the type of overwhelming response Israel leveled on Hamas and innocents in Gaza, he reasoned.


He suggested, “Yet, slowly, almost imperceptibly, restraint helped make a path to peace possible. Moderation dampened extremism instead of fueling it.”


Kristof is not usually so naive. All of the terror unleashed by the IRA, ETA and Pakistan is no match for what Hamas sent to Israel—4,000 rockets in less than two weeks.  All of the terror unleashed by the IRA, ETA and Pakistan never had the intention of destroying a sovereign state. Hamas wants to eliminate Israel.


Without preconditions, Israel turned Gaza over to the Palestinians in 2005. Hamas turned the strip into a rocket launching pad.


Palestinians repeatedly have rejected a two-state solution because it would mean recognizing Israel’s right to exist in secure borders. 


Until Hamas (as well as Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority) accepts Israel’s existence, Kristof and other myopic observers will have to learn that their analogies to other conflicts offer a false equivalency to the reality on the ground.   

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Year of Living Dangerously

A year of living cautiously is morphing into a year of complacency. A year of living casually. A year of living dangerously.


A semblance of pre-COVID normalcy returned to my life last Tuesday evening—the once monthly poker game resumed after a 15-month hiatus. All vaccinated, six friends played indoors at my house, without masks. Munchies were individually packaged pretzels, potato chips, popcorners. Even leftover Halloween chocolates (leftover from 2019—still good if you like chocolate). 


Over the Memorial Day weekend Gilda and I attended in-temple services for the first time in nearly a year and a half. We visited a museum, ate outdoors on the deck of a restaurant, had dinner inside friends’ homes not once, but twice.


A return, however tentative, to normalcy. For us. 


For the rest of American society, however, it seems memory of nearly 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 is no reason to be careful. Over the Memorial Day weekend, bars were packed with boisterous, unmasked patrons. Restaurants were full. Theme parks were crowded. Movie theaters played to near capacity. Stadiums and arenas were full of roaring fans. 


Despite warning from health officials that the pandemic is not over, caution has been discarded to vent a year of pent up demand for pleasure. 


2021 has become a year of living dangerously. 


Dangerous not just from virus transmission but from man’s seemingly insatiable need to harm others. Sheltering in place in 2020 had a silver lining: fewer mass shootings. 2021, on the other hand, has been awash in blood from the more than one a day mass shootings that have returned in a vengeance. Innocents have been annihilated and injured, along with anyone unfortunate enough to have been part of a grievance, legitimate or not, with a shooter. 


One would think that a nation bathed in blood would push to stem the evil tide. Rather, states controlled by Republicans have rushed to make gun possession easier. Texas, for one, approved a slew of laws which, in the words of Governor Greg Abbott, made the Lone Star state a “2nd Amendment Sanctuary State.” 


The Dallas Morning News reported, “Hotel guests could soon pack a gun in with their luggage. School marshals could carry one in the classroom. And firearm-criticizing companies could forget about doing business with Texas. (https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2021/05/30/gun-rights-in-texas-see-major-expansion-as-legislature-rejects-bills-to-address-gun-violence/).


The indecency of a return to the Wild, Wild West is being played out in less lethal actions. Long cooped up in their homes and man caves, effervescent sports fans have disparaged players, on visiting and even home teams, at a pace seemingly structured to make up for lost opportunities. 


The casual conduct of far too many makes careful planning a must for those with respect for science, their own health and that of anyone else. 


Carrying a mask at all times, wearing it when entering a store or restaurant, is still Gilda’s and my standard operating procedure. 


Pity the “poor” retail, restaurant and service industry worker who no longer feels safe because mask requirements have been relaxed in light of recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines permitting the vaccinated to go barefaced in most indoor locations. 


“The effect of the change appears to be most acute in politically mixed or conservative areas, where many people have chafed at mask requirements and vaccination rates are lower. In liberal enclaves, where public support for masking has generally been high, many customers continue to wear masks whether or not they are required.


“In mixed and conservative areas, workers said, employer policies were often the only thing standing between them and customers who were neither masked nor vaccinated. As a result, they feel far more exposed now,” The New York Times reported.


Masks and vaccinations have become part of our “normal” political discourse. How sad. 


Moreover, the historical record of our country is being whitewashed to reflect conservative doctrine. A former Republican U.S. senator says on a CNN news show, “We (meaning colonial whites) birthed as a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here,” dismissing the heritage of the hundreds of Indigenous peoples tribes living in North America, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Black slaves in the 13 colonies; a Republican congressman photographed manning the door of the House of Representatives to prevent insurgents from entering the chamber says there was no deadly riot on January 6; just weeks before the centennial of the Tulsa massacre of Blacks, the governor of Oklahoma signed into law a bill that would ban “the state’s schools from teaching about notions of racial superiority and racism.”


Oklahoma is not alone,” wrote Hannibal B. Johnson in The Times. “This bill is part of a national movement aimed at racial retrenchment, a backlash against the embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion. And this state is not alone, either, in the way this backlash threatens to prevent us from confronting and repairing the sins of the past. Though the Tulsa Race Massacre may be distinguished by its scale, American history between the end of Reconstruction and the victories of the civil rights movement is marked by bouts of mass anti-Black violence.” https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/31/opinion/tulsa-race-massacre-teaching-history.html?smid=url-share.


As a nation we have to ask ourselves, “What is normal?” Has the Trump factor so warped our senses, our sense of right and wrong, our sense of truth versus falsehood, our sense of honor? Has it become “normal” to disparage people rather than simply disagree with their ideas? Has it become “normal” to see conspiracy in every corner of our government? Will claims of unsubstantiated “election fraud” be our new “normal,” forever casting doubt on the legitimacy of elected officials?


We are living in dangerous times.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

History, Shmistory, Culture Wars Invade Education

Growing up in Brooklyn, I did not learn in primary school that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Though my elementary school years spanned from the fall of 1954 through the spring of 1962, turbulent times for the civil rights movement, I was not instructed in news of the day and its historical origins. I recall no lessons on racial equality.


I didn’t learn how Columbus and his contemporary colonizers mistreated Indigenous people in the Americas and the Caribbean. We learned a smidgeon about the social structure and the longhouses built by the Iroquois tribes in New York, but I can recall not a word about the skill and advanced technologies used by Aztecs, Mayans and Incas south of what is now the border with Mexico. Nor about the tribal organizations of Native Americans.


Former Republican senator Rick Santorum possibly was caught up in elementary school “wisdom” when he said at a conservative political event, “We birthed as a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here.” As someone who wanted to be president, Santorum should have known better, both as fact and as appropriate political speech. For his dumbfoundedness, CNN dropped him as a political commentator.


My education was Euro-centric, dominantly Anglo-centric, as if Spain’s contribution to America ended when it sold Florida to the United States in 1819. Hardly a mention of Spain’s, and later Mexico’s, series of missions in California and the Southwest. The few Spanish mentions revolved around quixotic quests—Ponce de Leon’s for the Fountain of Youth in Florida, Coronado’s for the Seven Golden Cities of Cebola in the Southwest, DeSoto’s Southeastern mission to find riches.


The Alamo was a symbol of pride, not just in Texas. We youngsters gobbled up Disney’s artificial version of events, never countenancing that Davy Crockett and the band of Texans he joined in San Antonio were what modern day onlookers would call insurrectionists trying to usurp territory recognized by our government as belonging to another country.


I’m not against building patriotism in the young through sugar-coated, perhaps incomplete, histories that build toward truth as students mature. But I am against outright deceits.


Take, for example, the just published yearbook of a junior high school in Bentonville, Ark., home town, you should know, of Walmart. For an as yet unexplained reason other than negligence (okay, maybe right wing politics had something to do with it), the school principal had to apologize for “political inaccuracies” that stated Donald Trump was not impeached “and that last year’s racial protests in the US were “Black Lives Matter riots” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/26/arkansas-junior-high-school-yearbook).


It is not enough that Lincoln JHS said students could get their money back if they purchased a yearbook. Irreversible damage to the truth has been done.


Of course, disassociating the truth from reality has been a central part of the Republican playbook since Trump glided down that escalator in 2015. During the early stages of his campaign Republicans dismissed many of his falsehoods. Since his nomination and election in 2016 it is a rare Republican who calls out his lies and those of his sycophants and enablers.


Alternate realities are cultivated little by little, small lies followed by big lies.


A teacher at Bartram Trails high school in St. John’s, Fla., near Jacksonville and St. Augustine, photoshopped pictures of 80 girls in the school yearbook because, in her opinion, they were dressed inappropriately—they hinted too much at cleavage. A digital alteration lifted their apparels’ chest line to the teacher’s comfort level. It’s a judgment call, but one that should not have been made without prior notification.


It is a small reality check that pictures no longer can be trusted. Soviet-era photo manipulation is now available to anyone with a computer.


More troubling is the dismissal by many Republicans of the 1619 Project that attempts to put into context the racial history of our country that has contributed to the disadvantages faced by Blacks and other people of color. The University of North Carolina refused to offer tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, who oversaw publication of the 1619 Project in The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/25/business/media/nikole-hannah-jones-tenure-letter.html?referringSource=articleShare).


State legislatures, often gerrymandered bodies designed to elect Republican majorities, have passed or are passing laws banning the instruction of critical race theory, even in states where a majority of voters have elected Democratic governors who support the concept.


Barring classroom discussion is reminiscent of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Tennessee tried to muzzle the teaching of human evolution. Religious fundamentalism vs. scientific theory.


In removing Liz Cheney from GOP House leadership, and in actions at state level to make voting harder for citizens and easier for GOP officials to overturn the will of the people, we are sliding away from democracy toward a future of autocracy based on lies. 


Unless our schools remain oases of truth, our future is bleak. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Legal Battles Worth Viewing

Two of my all-time favorite movies will be aired Wednesday on Turner Classic Movies—“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Inherit the Wind.” Scenes in their courtroom sequences mesmerize me by the brilliance of the dialogue and skill of the actors to dominate the screen.


Interestingly, both films deal with life in small Southern communities during the first third of the 20th century. For the most part, residents of neither community could be held up as models for what American values should be, except those displayed by the protagonists, Atticus Finch fighting racial injustice in Mockingbird, Henry Drummond battling religious fundamentalism’s crusade against science, specifically evolution versus the Bible, in Inherit the Wind.


Watch them, or record them for later viewing, if you can. In addition, here are films with legal or courtroom scenes worthy of your time and attention (send me any additions, or subtractions, you deem appropriate):


Anatomy of a Murder


Philadelphia


A Few Good Men


The Verdict


Judgement at Nuremberg


Suspect


Adam’s Rib


A Man for All Seasons


Witness for the Prosecution


12 Angry Men


Erin Brockovich


Dark Waters


Kramer vs. Kramer


My Cousin Vinny


Legally Blonde


Chicago


The Trial of the Chicago Seven


Sergeant Rutledge


Breaker Morant


Paths of Glory


A Tale of Two Cities


The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell

Friday, May 14, 2021

Spending Time on the Rails, a Tribute to Jim Mixter

Two Fridays ago Jim Mixter passed away after a brief, aggressive cancer sapped him of life just weeks after his 70th birthday. Jim was multi-dimensional, a career executive with ExxonMobil, a leader and choir member in his church, a neighborhood organizer, a bird watcher, a loving husband, father and grandfather. He was our daughter-in-law Allison’s father, granddad to Finley and Dagny. Jim also was an avid railroad man, hardly ever missing an opportunity to ride the rails across the land, rarely missing an opportunity to photograph and speak about trains. 


With that last facet of his life in mind, here are my favorite movies with trains as a central or significant plot detail. From time to time I will post other theme-based movie lists. 


If you have a favorite not on my list, let me know. My randomly listed movies apply only to films I have seen. 


3:10 to Yuma (the original starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford)


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


The Train


Trains, Planes and Automobiles


Throw Momma from the Train


Von Ryan’s Express


Strangers on a Train


The Lady Vanishes


Girl on a Train


Unstoppable 


Murder on the Orient Express (I prefer the 1974 version with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot)


North by Northwest


Union Pacific


Twentieth Century (1934 version starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard)


The General (Buster Keaton silent film)


The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (either version, though the original with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw is better)


Shanghai Express


The Narrow Margin


The Bitter Tea of General Yen


Knight Without Armor


Sliding Doors


Speed


Dr. Zhivago


The Bridge on the River Kwai

Thursday, May 13, 2021

To Combat Lies, Silence Is Not Golden, It Is an Enabler

With few exceptions throughout the land, Republican officials have turned a deaf ear to anyone speaking truth. Hiding their identities behind a voice vote, GOP members of Congress shouted their expulsion of Liz Cheney from her House Leadership position Wednesday because she refused to accept an alternate Bizarro reality, because she refused to be complicit in Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud, because she preferred a party of ideas and principles over cult membership, because she put allegiance to country and Constitution above loyalty to a flawed leader. Because she refused to remain silent. 

We can fulminate forever on the evolution of the Republican Party and the masses of voters who have hitched their futures to a false god. 


All of that doesn’t explain why, why so many are caught up in Trump mania. What does it take for a lie to take hold as “truth?” Perhaps this Facebook posting originally from Jane Crosby Swanson, and reposted by Molly Brauer, an ex-colleague, offers some insight into herd mentality:


“When I was in seventh grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all very silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like, “See how easy that was?” We were reading “Anne Frank.” I started to understand. I just thought now was a good time to share this story. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.”


With our own eyes we saw, and with our own ears we heard:


Trump praise those who attacked the Capital; 

Trump refuse to accept the validity of the 2020 election despite repeated court decisions, many from judges he appointed; 

Trump refuse to publicly warn us about the severity and danger of COVID-19 even though he received private briefings about its devastating potential;

Trump accept the word of Putin over the findings of our intelligence agencies;

Trump order the evacuation of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Biden simply delayed it by several months;

Trump impose inhumane treatment on asylum-seeking families, the separation of young children, even those less than a year old and still breastfeeding, from their parents at the southern border;

Trump repeatedly call for infrastructure investment but never propose any concrete program;

Trump verbally abuse judges and elected officials who disagreed with him;

Trump plead with election officials in Georgia to “find” enough ballots to give him victory in their state;

Trump try to coerce the president of Ukraine to find political dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter in return for releasing financial support already voted by Congress. 


For all this and more too many Americans are conveniently forgetting or, just as bad, tolerating. Too many, especially Republican politicians, are remaining silent.


It is well and good that we remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller whose searing, emotional poem is one of the last exhibits at the U.S. National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC (https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists):


“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”