Saturday, September 11, 2021

20 Years Later, What Kind of Nation Are We?

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of words have been written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attack on America on September 11, 2001. As I reread my post from September 11, 2011, I was struck by how relevant it remains 10 years later (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/09/reflections-on-september-11.html).


Twenty years from that inflection point for America, and yes, the world, the calamity of 9/11 is that we are a divided nation torn apart by our inability to agree on the promise, much less the fulfillment, of what America stands for and its message to the rest of mankind.


Are we a Christian nation with prejudices against other religions, or a secular society, albeit with a dominant Christian population?


Are we a magnanimous nation open to aid democratic nations under duress and even autocratic countries humbled by natural disasters, or, as our history has repeatedly shown, are we a flawed, bigoted, imperialistic entity that chooses to engage the world only when it is in our own self-interest?


Are we color blind or racist to the core, with much of our citizenry ignorant, oblivious or indifferent to our collective history?


Are we a caring nation to our downtrodden, or has the last 90 years of social welfare legislation been an aberration?


Are we a forward thinking nation, or are we tethered and thus restrained by originalist allegiance to a document whose authors had no inkling to the advances in science, technology, medicine, industry, economics, political theory that would arise in the ensuing 230 years.   


Are we a nation consumed by conspiracy theories, or do we believe in facts; are we a nation that reveres science over alchemy?  


Are we a nation of laws and representative government, or has our noble governmental experiment reached its zenith before sliding back into the mix of countries and people dumbstruck enough to follow the rants and illusions of demagogues?


The tragedy of 9/11 is that in the ensuing 20 years America and much of the world have reverted to pre-Enlightenment tribalism. Just as the 9/11 attacks unified the country for a moment, it might take a similarly cataclysmic event to solidify our disparate nation once more. 


The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol could have been such an event. Alas, it was not. How could it when members of Congress and the Senate, who were themselves targets of the attack, disavow its evil intent? 


Just as we always remember December 7, we are told to “Never Forget” September 11. Add January 6 to the list of dates to always remember.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Reflections on a New Year and One Just Ending

Spellcheck didn’t catch the error when I first composed this blog. Instead of it being a New Year’s blog in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah which begins Monday evening, I had mistakenly inputted “New Tears blog.”


A year ago COVID kept Gilda and me from hosting a 35-person dinner on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Instead of delivering a verbal recap of the news of the past year experienced by the 10 extended families sitting around our expanded tables, I sent out an email that included the following:


“Thankfully there are no passings to report this year among our chevra [friends]. But we mourn the more than 196,000 who have succumbed to the coronavirus. We pray the pandemic will be corralled and that an effective, safe vaccine will be formulated that people the world over will enthusiastically and universally take to enable us to return to normal life and experiences in this new year 5781.”


Despite three emergency approved effective and safe vaccinations being available, in the last 12 months we were not so fortunate. The pandemic toll in America is approaching 650,000, with little prospect the misery will diminish because of virus variants and, tragically and implausibly to the intelligent mind, millions upon millions refuse to get vaccinated or wear a protective mask.


Individual deaths also intruded into our bubble. They didn’t die of COVID, but three passings darkened our lives. Our daughter-in-law’s father succumbed to a quick-acting virulent cancer. A mutual friend of many of our guests died from abdominal complications. A stroke claimed the brother-in-law of dear friends.


Births, moves to new homes, beginnings at new jobs and schools temper the sadness. But there is no dismissing the overwhelming sorrow of more than 400,000 deaths in the past year, many of them needless. And those were just the deaths in the United States. Woeldwide, deaths from COVID totalled more than 4.5 million.


As a society, America has permitted partisan politics to cloud our thinking. Too many have retreated into Dark Ages ignorance, often accompanied by vigilante attacks on the educated, on immigrants (especially Asians), on Jews, on Moslems.


The richest, most productive country in the history of mankind is a hollow shell. We have let our infrastructure decay. We have outsourced much of our manufacturing prowess and the solid jobs that underpinned the middle class. Many want to close our doors to immigrants—especially refugees— who, our history has shown, are among the most creative and industrious of our workers. The long march to equality of opportunity to vote, to learn, to work, to enjoy decent housing, to tap into quality healthcare, has been stymied by political and judicial roadblocks. 


I have no solution to this sad state of affairs. My fingers will continue to punch out mistakes that only a careful reading of my scribble (is it permissible to categorize typing on a computer or iPhone as scribble?) will detect before I hit the “publish” key.


This New Year, 5782 according to the Jewish calendar, surely will be bathed in tears. It would be dishonest to believe otherwise.


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Surviving Agnes in 1972 and Now Ida

I really like our house, except for the minuscule unfinished basement. For decades I’ve lamented its small size, thus the inability to send kids down there to play. But since we put in French drains and a dual sump pump system about 15 years ago, its dryness during even the most extreme storms has been a blessing.


As several of our neighbors dragged soiled and muddy carpets and sundries from their Ida-waterlogged basements, Gilda and I reveled in our good fortune, though we inexplicably must have had several inches of water in our garage which we did not discover until Thursday afternoon by which time the water had receded leaving only telltale watermarks.


Ida was not the first hurricane-inspired drenching we survived. After graduating with an MA in journalism in 1972, I traveled to many newspapers searching for that elusive first job. 


In late June, Gilda and I packed up my Buick Skylark for a trip to Delaware, Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania. Riding through northern Delaware we drove in and out of torrential downpours so thick that sometimes we had to stop the car under an overpass because we couldn’t see out the windshield. After each cloudburst, the sky would brighten.


We plied on, heading towards Harrisburg. It was late in the afternoon when we hit Hershey. We stopped at the Hershey Inn, but the price of a room was way too high for a not yet employed reporter. Everywhere else we looked, however, had no vacancies. 


We were about to swallow our pride and budget and go back to the Hershey Inn when we came across a motel built like an old Victorian home. It had a room, in the basement, next to a steep driveway. Though she was currently renting a basement apartment in Brooklyn, Gilda had no desire to spend the night underground, so we pushed on, fortuitously discovering the newly opened Milton Motel sitting on a slight bluff less than half a mile away. 


We took a room, ate dinner at a nearby restaurant, went to bed and slept right through Hurricane Agnes which at the time was considered to have caused the worst flooding in U.S. history.


On both sides of the Milton Motel roads were impassable beyond half a mile, and remained that way for more than a day. We weren’t too inconvenienced. We played cards. As the motel still had power, we watched some TV. And we had our choice of restaurants, a fast food hamburger joint to the right of the motel, a fried chicken place to the left. Only one thing kept us from fully enjoying the experience. Within our arc of comfort lay the Victorian-style motel, now submerged in water up to the second floor! Not being a swimmer, I shuttered to think what I would have done if water had gushed into our basement room.


In recent days, floods have killed scores of people including some in the New York area who drowned in their basements. Had it not been for Gilda’s reluctance to spend another night below grade, I, we, might not be here today, 49 years later.



Favorite Films of Challenges of Nature:


Twister


The Wizard of Oz


The Hurricane (1937)


The Good Earth


The Grapes of Wrath


The Gold Rush


The Ten Commandments


The Day After Tomorrow


Into the White


The Wind (1928)


The Perfect Storm

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

History Recalled and Constitutional Reform

No one, I suspect, is naive enough to believe our exit from Afghanistan would be met with universal appreciation free from politics. However, I would like to believe critics of Joe Biden would at least be historically accurate in their denunciations.


House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday the loss of 13 {keep that number in mind} Americans in Kabul to a suicide bomber amidst the handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan was the “biggest failure of an American government on a military stage in my lifetime.”


Funny, I thought it was mandatory that all Republicans study the history of Ronald Reagan. Apparently, if true, the lessons do not include some of his less than conservative doctrinaire actions, such as raising taxes during five years of his presidency (1982, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987) to close budget deficits. 


Or, more to the point, Reagan’s decision in 1984 to abandon a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon after 241 {yikes, 241!!!} U.S. military personnel perished in an October 1983 suicide bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut. 


McCarthy is 56 year old, meaning he was 18 when the bombing occurred, 19 when Reagan bugged out of Lebanon without ever fulfilling his vow to deal justice to the perpetrators. 


According to the Office of the Historian of the Department of State: “Reagan’s decision to withdraw the Marines remains controversial. Supporters argue that it did not make sense to sacrifice American lives and resources to help resolve a conflict where the parties involved showed little interest in working toward U.S. goals. Critics, however, claim that Reagan failed to stand firm against terrorism and demonstrated that the United States was an undependable ally.” 


Sound familiar? 


It’s true—some Americans, 100-200, didn’t make it onto airlift planes. And many Afghans who helped us over the last 20 years didn’t, either. But more than 5,000 Americans, 100,000 Afghans and 15,000 other nationalities were part of the 120,000 evacuated in an unprecedented display of logistics and airmanship over 17 days. 


The process was not pretty. It capped America’s longest war—20 years. It implemented Donald Trump’s controversial exit agreement with the Taliban. 


American memories can be short. In 1975 we cringed at the sight of South Vietnamese clinging to U.S. helicopters lifting off from our Saigon embassy after North Vietnam and the Viet Cong emerged victorious. Today, Vietnam is a key trading partner with America as well as being a counterpoint to our economic conflict with China. 


Will Afghanistan someday be a trusted partner? 


McCarthy seems not only to be a poor student of history, he also apparently wants to rewrite or bury history. Specifically, he wants to keep potentially revealing information about the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol away from the House Select Committee investigating the assault on democracy. He has threatened to punish private companies if they cooperate with the Committee (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/09/01/mccarthy-threat-companies-jan-6-select-committee/). 


Having served in Congress since 2007, McCarthy has reached, or is about to qualify for, the tenured position of elected official that should be placed on a term limit list. I haven’t really been a big proponent of term limits, which would require a constitutional amendment to enact, but I would like to see the following ratified:


“Anyone who seeks federal elective or appointive office must have spent a minimum of two years in a full-time capacity for a public-service institution either as a teacher, fireman, policeman, emergency medical technician, Peace Corp or AmeriCorps volunteer, medical professional at a public hospital, or as a member of the U.S. military.”


The requirement would not solve the problem of incompetent officials, but it would increase the pool of leaders who have given to, more than just taken from, the public trough.  

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

My A-List of School-based Movies

 Facebook has exploded with pictures of kids physically, not virtually, going back to school, or in many instances starting school for the first time.


Here’s my list of favorite movies I have seen with education as a central theme or important school scene:


To Sir with Love


Yentl


The Way We Were


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind


Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life


The Winslow Boy (1948 and 1999)


Fame


Juno


The Children’s Hour


The History Boys


Freaky Friday


The Blue Angel


13 Going on 30


Dead Poets Society


Blackboard Jungle


How Green Was My Valley


Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939)


Horse Feathers


Animal House


Back to School


The Breakfast Club


Hairspray (musical and non musical)


Fast Times at Ridgemont High


The Paper Chase


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off


Pretty in Pink


All of the Indiana Jones movies


Legally Blonde


Back to the Future


The Absent-Minded Professor


Hoosiers


Good Will Hunting


Election


Mr. Holland’s Opus


Pleasantville


Spider-man (2002)


The Last Picture Show

Monday, August 30, 2021

COVID Concern Is Sapping My Tolerance

Am I getting old, lazy or both?


Chronologically, of course I am aging. Almost 72-1/2.


Mobility-wise, it’s not a question of getting lazy. Rather, I should have written, lazier.


Bursts of energy for activities that interest me remain part of my makeup. But fewer activities seem to capture a place on my To Do list (for the record, I do not have a bucket list).


Take, for example, what had been an annual chore for the last decade or more—collecting leaves to turn into mulch for Gilda’s garden. Each fall I would roam nearby streets searching for piles of leaves before city public works trucks scooped them up. Several times each autumn I’d stuff into the back of Gilda’s Ford C-Max a dozen or so big black garbage bags full of the fallen treasure, retreat to my yard and spend hours feeding the leaves into the bowel of my electric leaf shredder/mulcher. When the motor overheated I’d plug in my second shredder.


All that activity is in my past. I cleaned out the storage shed Sunday, tested each shredder, took pictures of them and posted separate offers on Freecycle.org. Within minutes members claimed each one, disappointing other would be mulchers. The winning claimants picked them up Monday.


Lest you think I am teetering on the brink of doddering, let me assure you I am not. But I will admit to BOREDOM. The never ending COVID catastrophe has robbed me, Gilda and millions of others, of a liberating, invigorating retirement (I’ve been retired for 12 years, but Gilda hung up her stethoscope in 2019 and was just hitting her stride when the pandemic kneecapped her—our—plans. In the last 12 months we cancelled trips to Portugal, Colorado, Omaha, Switzerland, and couldn’t entertain any other ventures we might have desired). There’s just so much Netflix one can watch, or material to read. 


I’m not usually a vindictive person, but when I see or read reports about anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, especially from the ranks of healthcare and public safety professionals, I silently, okay, maybe softly say out loud, that if they get COVID they should not be permitted to burden the already stressed and stretched out hospital system. Some of the antis say they trust God will take care of them, discounting the argument that God gave humans the intelligence and means to produce vaccines and pandemic-protective masks. 


Some companies have instituted higher health insurance premiums for those who have not been vaccinated. I’m all for it. Make the surcharge high enough to sway recalcitrants to roll up their sleeves. 


As a nation we have had a rough half century. Divisions over civil rights, economic and tax policies, income inequality, immigration, reproductive rights, gender discrimination, climate change, the environment, conflicts and wars in Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea and other hot spots, distinguish political allegiances. 


But with COVID we have passed into a region previously sacrosanct to all but society’s fringe. Our universal belief in science and medicine has been shattered. 


A nation that defeated or contained the scourges of polio, measles, smallpox, diphtheria, typhoid, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases has resisted in dramatic fashion the miraculous development of COVID-19 vaccines. 


People, who for years have adhered to merchant and restaurant rules to wear shoes and shirts if they want service, vocally and forcefully have challenged mask wearing in private and public enterprises. 


No one likes wearing a mask (except maybe Batman, other superheroes, and Mexican Lucha libre wrestlers). Rather than suppressing individual freedoms, as the anti-maskers contend, wearing a mask embellishes one’s freedom, as it allows people to associate with reduced anxiety of transmitting or receiving the dangerous Delta variant.


Okay. Enough preaching for one blog from an old man. Obviously, I am not getting lazier when it comes to blogging. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

An American Tragedy in Afghanistan

The American tragedy of Afghanistan is deeper than the 12 U.S. servicemen and 60 Afghans who perished Thursday in twin suicide bombing attacks at the Kabul airport, site of a desperate evacuation drama.  


The tragedy is that after 20 years fighting religious extremists we remain unable to understand, much less quash, their ideology or devotion to indifference to the pain and suffering of their victims. 


As sad and as tragic the loss of life was for our troops, they died fulfilling their mission. Military life is inherently dangerous. We had been warned a suicide bombing was possible. It is almost impossible to thwart such an endeavor by a lone, dedicated practitioner. 


The tragedy is that even after America and our allies leave Afghanistan there will be more such atrocities, be they from ISIS or Taliban or other ideologues with a grievance against schools, women, ex-government employees, or religious sects not to their liking. 


The tragedy is that partisan politics permeates every reaction to events however positive or negative. Republican calls for Joe Biden’s resignation ring hollow from a party that dismissed multiple unconstitutional actions by Donald Trump. 


The tragedy is that another U.S. president with a domestic agenda intended to enhance the lives of millions of needy, less fortunate Americans may have his legacy tainted by an international foe. Lyndon Johnson stayed put in Vietnam, sapping his ability to fully implement his Great Society initiative. Biden sought a hasty departure from Afghanistan even as Democrats try with the slimmest of margins to enact groundbreaking civil rights and social benefit programs. 


The tragedy is that the political storm over the bombings will shift attention away from tragedies at home—COVID with its impact on health, the economy and education; devastating fires; hurricane and flood damage; drought; voting rights suppression; home foreclosures; unchecked immigration along the Southern border. 


The tragedy is that Biden will forever be blamed for Thursday’s deaths while his predecessors—Bush II, Obama, Trump—will get off lighter even though they were commanders-in-chief during an unwinnable, prolonged war that claimed the lives of some 2,300-2,500 Americans. 


According to Reuters, “Thursday’s U.S. military casualties were the first in Afghanistan since February 2020 and represented the deadliest day for American troops there in a decade.”