Thursday, July 30, 2015

Holocaust Stories: Angels at Two Fences

The Internet is recognized as a great information tool but, alas, also as a font of misinformation (hopefully not from this blog, though my wife and sister would say I get a lot of family history wrong. I respond that it’s my blog, history is what the blogger in the family says it is, and if they have another version they can write their own blog or send in a comment).

If you spend any time on the Internet receiving emails or logging onto Facebook or other social media sites, you undoubtedly will come across some unbelievable stories. My modus operandi when one of these tall tales pops onto my screen is to fact check them.

So it was that the other day I challenged an email carrying the Holocaust survival and love story of Herman and Roma Rosenblat. While hiding out on a farm outside Berlin, Roma was said to have thrown food every day for seven months to Herman inside the Buchenwald concentration camp. Herman ended the war in Theresienstadt and didn’t see Roma again until, amazingly, they went on a blind date in 1957 in New York City. They married shortly thereafter. Herman wrote a book about Roma, Angel at the Fence, appeared twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show and had his book optioned to become a film.

Alas, Herman admitted the story of the girl at the fence was all a hoax. The book was never published. The film was scrapped. Herman died earlier this year after more than 50 years of marriage to Roma. He was 85.

It was a story perhaps too good to be true. And yet, in my family, a similar story transpired. Distant cousins in France fled into Switzerland. The family of four was separated into three displaced person camps, the father in one, the mother and a newborn girl in another, and seven-year-old Miriam in a third.  

Miriam was able to see her mother from time to time during their three years of internment. An enduring memory for her was receiving food thrown by Swiss children over the camp fence. One of those children grew up to become her husband. 

When I first met Miriam in the summer of 1966, she and her husband, a struggling artist, lived in a garrote of an apartment in Paris. He didn’t speak any English. My French, based on two years of study in high school, was mostly limited to Ou est la bibliotheque? (where is the library?), merci (thank you), and s’il vous plaît (if you please). Our speech limitations notwithstanding, he and I ventured off to the Louvre. 

Sadly I couldn’t take advantage of his 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 the da Vinci portrait was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art). 

After my few days in Paris I never saw him again for he and Miriam could not sustain their fairy tale love story. They divorced well before I returned to Paris decades later. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Brady and Hillary Share Deleted E-Message Legacies

Tom Brady is the Hillary Clinton of the National Football League. Hillary Clinton is the Tom Brady of politics.

Regardless of what you think about them, both have stellar resumes. Millions adore them. Yet both have sizable portions of the population that abhor and despise them. Their detractors won’t believe a word they say. And they now share legacies of deep-sixing sought-after electronic messages that could implicate them, or vindicate them, in scandal. 

Politics in the United States has been steeped in conspiracy theories, probably going back at least to Aaron Burr and the unsuccessful attempt to convict the former vice president of the United States of treason in the early 1800s. There indeed was a conspiracy, a partially successful conspiracy, to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln and members of his cabinet. Never proven were innuendos that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew in advance about Japan’s plans to attack Pearl Harbor but let it proceed as a pretext to enter World War II against Japan and Germany. Nor were conspiracy theories proven for the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Richard Nixon’s Watergate conspiracy engendered numerous other “-gate” investigations, two of which involved two more Republican presidents—Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair and George W. Bush’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq hoax. Lots of investigations into Bill Clinton’s presidency produced no tangible conspiracy. Hillary’s actions before, during and after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi remain an open festering wound Republicans continue to investigate as a means to derail her presidential bid.

So what do I think about Hillary and Brady? Nothing so far has swayed my belief she is the best announced Democratic candidate. Yes, she showed hasty judgment in deleting all of her emails. But aside from fostering more conspiracy theories, many of which have been dispelled by Republican-led Congressional inquiries, Hillary’s main challenge is weathering the years-long assault on her character the GOP has waged. Such is the life of a frontrunner.  

With four Super Bowl rings, Brady, as well, is a leader. His image is now tarnished. But I will say that tinkering with equipment, as Brady is alleged to have done in Deflategate, is not unusual in almost all sports. Jerry Rice, considered the best receiver in football history, admitted to putting stickum on his gloves to aid in catching passes. Hockey goalies have been known to dress in leg pads wider than permitted, while their teammates try to bend the rules by curving their stick blades beyond the legal limit. Returning to football, linemen swab their uniforms with Vaseline so their opponents can’t grab them easily. Vaseline also was a favored tool of baseball pitchers hoping to influence the flight of a ball, while batters corked their bats to hit it further. 

Did Brady have his minions on the New England Patriots take the air out of balls used in the team’s 45-7 victory in the AFC Championship game? Who knows? What we do know is that in the second half, in driving rain, after the referees inserted properly inflated balls, Brady scorched the Indianapolis Colts with 28 points compared to scoring 17 points in the first half using under-inflated balls. 

Perhaps a better question to ask is why Brady would think he needed the supposed advantage of under-inflated balls. Probably for the same reason Nixon had the Democratic Party offices bugged in the Watergate Apartments. Because they could and they thought they could get away with it. And no matter how sure you think victory is, they think it’s never wrong to take steps to make sure of that victory. Until, that is, you’re caught. When that happens, it’s wise to remember, it’s not the crime but the coverup that trips you up. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trump: A Real Life Man of the Year?

As I do many days while eating a late breakfast after driving Gilda to work, I turn on the television. It’s a good time to catch up on the prior night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But this being a Monday, there was no Daily Show recording to view, so I channel surfed, stopping when I came across a 2006 Robin Williams film, Man of the Year. It is not a great film. Passably a good film. In the pantheon of political-based films it doesn’t rank up there with movies like The Candidate, or Wag the Dog, Bulworth, The Last Hurrah, All the King’s Men, or Gabriel over the White House.

But it’s a timely film, particularly since Donald Trump will be on the stage as one of 10 Republican hopefuls at the GOP’s first presidential debate August 6 in Cleveland, to be aired by Fox News. The movie’s debate scene alone is worth sitting through the near two-hour flick, which will be rebroadcast on HBOC at 2:35 pm Thursday, July 30.

Willams played Tom Dobbs, a TV host-comedian whose acerbic jabs at politics and politicians not only provoked laughter but also propelled him toward a spontaneous populist third party candidacy for the presidency. He generated sufficient support to garner an invitation to appear beside the Democratic and Republican nominees during the last televised debate weeks before the election.

Asked by the moderator why he chose to seek the Oval Office, Dobbs responded seriously enough: “I’ve decided to run because I’m fed up with party politics. I’m tired of the Republican Party,  I’m tired of the Democratic Party. There’s no real difference. They’re all Mr. Potato Head candidates. Basically, you’ve got a figure where here’s the operative word, “party,” because behind closed doors, phew,  I think they’re just having a real good time…the bottom line is they’ve lost track of what they are responsible for. They’re responsible to the people and not party loyalties and definitely not lobbyists. That’s why I’m running for president.”

Off stage, his staff yearned for him to be bombastic, like the comedian he is. But Dobbs remained serious until, until he couldn’t take the posturing of his opponents any longer. He reverted to form.

After riffing on security checks at airports, including body searches of old ladies, he said, “Meanwhile, at the southern borders of our country, four million illegal aliens are crossing the border with bedroom sets and night tables. 

“Let’s have real security and not the illusion of security.” 

Sound familiar?

He interrupted the other candidates with a free form rant. He vacated the sanctity of his podium and strode across the stage. Frantically, the moderator sought to restore order, admonishing, “Mr. Dobbs, please do not make a mockery of this process,” to which he replied, “Ma’am, this was a mockery a long time before I came here.”

The live audience loved it. So did much of the viewing public. In short, his performance was exactly what Republicans fear Trump’s will be next week. 

To see a clip of Dobbs at the debate click on this link: 

For a more reasoned analysis of what begat Trump and his impact on the GOP, read Timothy Egan’s commentary from The New York Times:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Letters, We've Got Letters

Letter writing is said to be a lost art. As is reading and writing cursive penmanship. 

While I was recovering from a softball game played in blazing hot and humid conditions Sunday morning, Gilda spent the early afternoon reading through a box of mostly handwritten letters from her high school and college years (late 1960s) as well as the first few years of our dating and marriage (early 1970s).

She’s always teased me I secured her hand by default—her other boyfriend, Steve, played amateur hockey and seemed to perpetually have an injury to report. Letter after letter from him detailed a dislocated right shoulder, an unspecified mishap from a “collision in a friendly neighborhood vicious hockey game. It’s imazing (sic) how a cloth sling magically changes to a wooden crutch,”  and “the usual car troubles.” When he wasn’t injured he was inflicting pain, proudly noting “the ribs of a Sutton Place doctor I broke in a hockey fight. I figure I cost him (in 1971 dollars) about $6,000 from his practice.”

I’m a lucky man, and no doubt a wise one as well to not having revealed my penchant for real and imagined ailments until after our “I do’s” were exchanged.

I’m not jealous of Gilda’s romances before me, but I did mention to her that one of the three letters she kept from Steve came but a few weeks before we got engaged; a second arrived just days later. Perhaps she had told him his cause was doomed, as he began the letter saying, “This is the price you pay for incurring my wrath. An eligible (sic) handwritten letter. Be thankful I’ve printed it.” 

It should also be noted that Steve sent his letters to Gilda’s mother’s address, a home Gilda had moved out of months earlier. 

Speaking of addresses, I think I’ve figured out why I have yet to win a big lottery prize. Often I play numbers based on addresses where I have lived, including 5 East Genesee St., Syracuse, during my year up north obtaining a master’s degree in newspaper journalism. 

Turns out I never lived at that address. The real number of my Salt City domicile was 1518. Ach, all those wasted dollars!!!

Gilda kept many of my letters from that year. Some observations:

*My handwriting was a lot neater back then. I’m lucky today to be able to decipher my scrawls a day after I jot them down, but I was able to read without difficulty what I penned 44 years ago.

*I repeatedly noted how many papers I had to write for my courses. Honestly, I remember just two, one on the effect of herd mentality in the press, illustrated by a visit to the White House and interviews with members of the press corps on the seemingly pack-journalism sameness of their reporting, and a second on Birthright, a Syracuse-based home for women with unplanned pregnancies who chose to deliver but not necessarily keep their babies. 

*Gilda and I always thought we became engaged over the 1971 Thanksgiving weekend. Reading my letters revealed our engagement occurred over the Christmas holiday. 

*People, especially our kids, make fun of my taste in music, but here’s a redeeming item from one of my 1971 letters: “I’m listening to a great record now—Carole King’s Tapestry. Buy it—you’ll never regret it. It’s GREAT!!!” (FYI, if you didn’t know, Tapestry was released in 1971.)

*I was not a sentimental or romantic letter writer. Hopefully, I’ve matured in those areas. Of course, it’s up to Gilda to deliver the verdict.

Finally, for those not familiar with the provenance of the headline to this blog post, click on this link to Perry Como, a 20th century baritone for more than 50 years whose television show my mother rarely missed:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Who Benefits from the Collaborative Economy?

Driving around Friday morning I listened to a re-aired interview Brian Lehrer of WNYC public radio did with a co-founder of Zipcar, Robin Chase, who also wrote Peers Inc: How People and Platforms Are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism. 

Chase advocated for greater freedom for companies such as Uber to operate without governmental oversight. In areas such as hiring drivers, she suggested, vetting their backgrounds was a task better suited to private companies than government. Answering one caller’s question about the lack of full time work and benefits these New Tech Age companies provide, Chase contended that large employers such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s were already staffing part-timers as a means of keeping a tight lid on benefits and wages. She argued that working for one employer full time was an outmoded form of labor, that it was better for workers to juggle several jobs and thus attain greater control over their lives. They would be cushioned against loss of income if their job with that one employer disappeared. 

Sounds reasonable, until you look behind the part-time work trend. Companies use labor scheduling software to predict appropriate staff levels weeks in advance. Workers typically are hourly wage earners. Shifts are assigned, usually with no recourse to alter them. Assuming the worker has two or more part-time jobs to earn anywhere near a living wage for his or her family, it would not be unusual to work more than a standard 40-hour week. What’s more, the worker would need a spreadsheet to manage the hours demanded by different bosses. And, should a family need or emergency arise, imagine the mayhem required to alert and assuage the conflicting interests of multiple employers.

Yes, the Collaborative Economy is making millions, even billions, for entrepreneurs like Chase. But it is transforming America and other countries into polarized societies of Haves and Have Nots. 

Zipcar is making personal transportation affordable to those who cannot or do not want to buy or lease a car. Chase should be commended for being part of that revolution. But suggesting that the life of a multi-employed worker, responsible for his or her own benefits, is better than a full-time job is irresponsible and elitist. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Parade of Thoughts on Soccer and Sanders

New York City is throwing a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan Friday for the United States women’s national soccer team, winner of the World Cup. 

It is a most deserving tribute, but Gilda worried Wednesday morning that a Friday parade during the summer might attract fewer onlookers than past parades for World Series and Super Bowl winners. To which I replied, tongue in cheek, “that’s okay, after all the parade is for women and they are already used to getting less than men get.”

Gilda smiled wryly, perhaps remembering a story from Tuesday night’s CBS News with Scott Pelley. Elaine Quijano reported, “Recently, it was revealed the women’s team will split $2 million for their victory. Germany, which won last years Men’s World Cup, was awarded $35 million.”

She continued, “This year’s figures have not been released, but four years ago the Women’s World Cup brought in almost $73 million. The 2010 Men’s World Cup in South Africa made almost $4 billion. Those players got $348 million, or 9 percent of the total revenue. The women’s team got a higher percentage with 13 percent, but the bottom line was still much less, $10 million.”

Given the disparity in revenue it is difficult to argue for parity in payouts as compensation is tied to revenue. Clearly the differential should be much lower. 

The situation is not exactly comparable to women receiving lower pay for doing the same work as a man in an organization. That reality is unacceptable. Revenue and profit for a company generally are not contingent on gender when both sexes do the same tasks. There is no 21st century justification for slighting women.

Getting back to the parade, I wonder if Mayor de Blasio tapped into some of his Italian heritage when approving the salute to the athletes. I’m referring to the practice of Roman caesars to stage elaborate games at the Coliseum to divert the populous’ attention from problems at hand. Things haven’t been going exactly Hizzoner’s way lately, so I’m just wondering if shining a little spotlight on America’s most current sweethearts wouldn’t be a nice diversion upon his return from an eight-day vacation out west.

Oy Vey: Bernie Sanders is catching up to Hillary Clinton in the polls. As much as I’d like to see the election of the first Jewish president, let’s be clear about Bernie’s chances—it ain’t gonna happen. Fugetaboutit! 

It’s a long shot, but sure, maybe Bernie can overcome the odds and displace Hillary as the Democratic Party’s nominee. Stranger things have happened, such as Eugene McCarthy’s surprisingly strong turnout in the 1968 New Hampshire presidential primary that prompted President Lyndon Baines Johnson to decide against running for a second term (Johnson, FYI, actually won 49% of the NH vote to McCarthy’s 42%, but as a sitting president his victory was considered Pyrrhic).

The dissension among Democrats that year, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, led to the disruption of the nominating convention in Chicago. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey emerged as a scarred presidential candidate. Democrats rallied around him too late to defeat Richard Nixon. 

Four years later the Democrats shot themselves in the foot again by nominating a good man, Sen. George McGovern, but a candidate too liberal for the majority of the country. Nixon won re-election in a landslide.

If Bernie does manage to wrest the nomination from Hillary or any of the other more mainstream candidates, say goodbye to any hope the Democrats will have in keeping the White House in progressive hands. Simply stated, Bernie is too far out for America’s pragmatic center. He will not only lose the presidency but Democrats will be hard pressed to maintain their seats in the Senate and House of Representatives (I’m assuming, of course, the GOP doesn’t similarly inflict damage on itself by nominating an equally far out candidate such as Rand Paul or Donald Trump). 

The upshot—under Republican control of both houses of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, say goodbye to a woman’s right to choose, to Obamacare, to Social Security as we know it, to labor protections, to any hope hourly workers will see any increase in the minimum wage, to environmental laws, to limitations on Big Business, etc., etc., and so forth. Say hello to more overseas military (ad)ventures, more pandering to the Christian Right, more attempts to restrict individual rights, particularly voting rights. The only helping hand Republicans will provide will be to those digging graves for any remaining New Deal and Great Society legislation. 

Hillary is not a perfect candidate. But she would do a lot better than Bernie in a general election, and that’s what really counts in 2016.

(For a more scientific analysis of Bernie’s flawed chances of securing the nomination, follow this link from The New York Times:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Symbol of Oppression

I can’t explain or understand why, but one of my father’s favorite shows when he was just a few years older than I am now was The Dukes of Hazzard. Friday nights after dinner, whether we were visiting my parents in Brooklyn or they were with us in White Plains, he’d watch Bo and Luke Duke do their shenanigans while riding around in the General Lee, their orange Dodge Charger with a Confederate battle flag painted on the roof. To enter and exit the car the Dukes had to climb in or out through the side windows.

Sitting next to my father during these TV times would be our son Dan, all of five years old when the series ended its six-year run. So it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to me that one day during his formative years, when Dan and I were riding around in my Chevy Vega hatchback, he asked if he could get out of the car “like the Dukes.” 

The General Lee is back in the news. After the massacre of nine Afro-American parishioners in Charleston, SC, by a white supremest who posed for pictures with the Confederate battle flag, professional golfer Bubba Watson has removed the flag from his copy of the General Lee, replacing it with an American flag.  

As a symbol of oppression, the Confederate battle flag ranks right up there with the Nazi swastika and the Communist hammer and sickle. And, if we’re going to be historically correct and objective, with the Christian cross and the crescent of Islam, both religious symbols used to subjugate and annihilate millions of non-believers down through the centuries, throughout the world. Perhaps in another posting I’ll delve deeper into the realm of religious conflagrations that continue to this day, in the case of Islam, for example, or the once daily strife in Northern Ireland, or the genocide in Bosnia. In the interim, you can look up the histories of numerous wars, invasions and mass murders done in the name of religion.

For now, let’s confine ourselves to the table talk discussion at hand, the meaning, and thus the fate, of the Confederate battle flag. Flying the flag, its supporters say, respects those who died fighting for the Confederacy, the heritage of the South, its history, its way of life. They reject any suggestion that it stands for racism, segregation and white supremacy. 

The flag went into battle, they say, in the War Between the States.

In not recognizing that conflict as The Civil War, they fail to understand and accept that the cause they so faithfully cherish was fought, and the soldiers who fell under its banner died, to preserve the right to own another human being! 

The whole foundation of the South was built on slavery. Today’s Republican electoral domination of the South is based on gerrymandered districts and restrictive voting rights laws that diminish the power of Afro-Americans. 

The Confederate battle flag has come to represent a distilled segment of disobedience, of rejection of the common good. Rebellion. A belief that majority rule does not apply if it undermines outdated, biased, principles. 

It is interesting to recall that during the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, or the resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one, to my memory, ever rallied dissenters by waving the Confederate flag. Yet, when the nation finally started to recognize and do something about inequality in the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, the Confederate battle flag reappeared across the South. 

Coincidence? Hardly. The Stars and Bars were meant to send a signal that just as Afro-Americans were not equal citizens in the Old South their status would be no different in the New South.   

Anyone who defends the public showing of the Confederate flag except in a display inside a museum just doesn’t get it. And if they haven’t after all that happened in Charleston and around the country over the last year, they probably never will.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Rescue, Triumph, Disaster and Irony

Rescue: Has this ever happened to you? You’ve set up your DVR to record a weekly TV series. All goes well until you discover, too late, that the season finale, the ultimate fadeout or cliffhanger, was not recorded. And that it will not be rebroadcast until months, months!, later.

You can ask Gilda—that’s happened to us more times than I care to recall, the last being for the 10th episode of the inaugural season of Better Call Saul, the prequel to Breaking Bad. I cannot figure out why it repeatedly happens. Why, after diligently recording nine episodes of a series, does the DVR mysteriously end its mission before the last show? Does Cablevision surreptitiously sneak into our DVR settings in the stealth of night to thwart our viewing pleasure? 

I checked the TV listings. AMC was not re-airing the finale. I checked the On Demand menu. AMC offers programs, but not Better Call Saul. I searched the Internet. No luck. Netflix advertised Better Call Saul; I couldn’t find it on its Web site. We called Netflix but the customer agent said it would be months before it would be available. So why did Netflix advertise it? She had no idea.  

We had given up hope until we our salvation stepped forward in the shape of our tech-savvy son-in-law, Donny.   He advised buying Chromecast ($35 at Costco) and then downloading Plex on our iPad ($4.95). Voilá. $40 and  hours of frustration later, courtesy of Donny’s tech expertise we were further enlightened to the development of Jimmy McGill into Saul Gooodman.

Now we can rest easy as we await Season 2.

Triumph: It would be hard to find a more glowing review of a performance by a Broadway star than the one Ellen Greene received from Ben Brantley of The New York Times for the age-defying, dazzling revival of her more than 30-year-old signature role as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, the musical about a plant (Audrey II) from outer space hungry to eat its way toward human domination ( 

Audrey is one of my favorite musical theater characters for a very simple reason—Ellie played the part in a Play Group Theatre production. Wearing a short blonde wig, short skirt, push up bra and studded, stiletto black heels, Ellie hardly looked like the young teenager she was. She spoke in the high-pitched voice Ellen Greene used. When she sang, suddenly Seymour wasn’t the only one who knew Ellie was talented beyond her 14 years. 

After the play ended its short run, I salvaged one of her shoes as a nightstand memento. It’s been there for almost 20 years. 

Audrey was the first of many leading and featured roles Ellie enjoyed in PGT productions as well as plays produced by White Plains High School, a Scarsdale summer production company and the Skidmore College theater department. 

Disaster: I can empathize with Laura Bassett, the defensewoman on England’s World Cup soccer team who accidentally kicked the winning goal into her own net in a semifinal match against Japan. During my middling career as part of the intramural soccer team of my Brooklyn College house plan, Knight House, I inadvertently headed a ball past our goalkeeper. Unlike Bassett’s miscue, mine did not alter the final outcome. We already were losing quite badly when I parked myself under a high kick, hoping to head it away from our goal line. Instead, the ball skipped off the back of my head into our net. 

Not one of my finer athletic achievements. It ranks up there with my seventh grade basketball debut. Inserted in the second half, I snagged a defensive rebound. I looked for the outlet pass. Someone called out, “Here.” I threw him the ball. He scored an easy layup. You probably guessed by now—he was on the other team. The coach quickly took me out of the game before I could do more damage.

Irony: Two decades ago, before she became a specialist on spine surgery, Gilda was an active medical expert and researcher of Lyme Disease as part of the Infectious Disease staff at Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, NY. She co-authored numerous studies on the debilitating ailment. She set up the hospital’s walk-in Lyme Clinic.

Now, 20 years later, how ironic that we were first in line at the clinic last Wednesday evening. She had been feeling significant fatigue for a few days, with a headache and a stiffness in the neck, when a large, telltale red rash, shaped like a bulls-eye, appeared under Gilda’s right shoulder. She knew immediately what it meant. To confirm the diagnosis, and rule out any of the four or five other diseases deer ticks can convey these days, a trip to her old stomping grounds was in order. 

She was greeted like a returning war hero. Veteran staffers kept stopping by her treatment room to reminisce and update. Newer personnel came to see the person who started the clinic so many years ago. Gary, the head of the department, even suggested she return to the clinic, but he readily agreed when Gilda responded, “Orthopedics pays a lot better than infectious diseases.”

A day after starting the two-week regimen of doxycycline Gilda was back to being her old self. She could just as easily have prescribed her own medication, fulfilling the admonition, “Physician, heal thyself.” But it was a worthwhile trip back in time and place to see the fruits of her labor in practice, this time from the patient’s perspective.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Christie Speechwriter Soft on English and History

I was driving back from Manhattan Tuesday when WNYC public radio broke away from The Brian Lehrer Show to broadcast New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential campaign kickoff speech. He’s a dynamic speaker. Coupled with my interest in politics, I chose to listen. 

It was a strong presentation full of broad bromides about what Christie would accomplish, not unlike any of the other announcements by Republican would-be presidents. They are long on generalities, short on specifics. They’re all (except Rand Paul) for a more muscular military ready to be deployed wherever necessary, as in Christie’s words, “And it is a strong, unequivocal, America, that will lead the world and not be afraid to tell our friends we’ll be with you no matter what. And to tell our adversaries that there are limits to your conduct and America will enforce the limits to that conduct.”

They’re also for less government regulation and a more vigorous economy, ignoring the fact that compared with what he inherited from the last Republican administration President Obama’s tenure has enjoyed a resurgence in jobs, the stock market and reduced national debt.

But I was truly amused by three parts of Christie’s monologue. First, I smiled when he discussed the need for a revised tax system. “We need a tax system that’s simplified and will put CPA’s like my dad out of business,” he told an adoring crowd in the Livingston, NJ, High School gym. But in the transcript of his speech, the wording was more than slightly different—“We need a tax system that’s simplified and won’t (my italics) put CPA’s like my dad out of business.”

Then there was the matter of Christie’s bemoaning lower education achievements. Perhaps, as Shakespeare had Cassius tell Brutus in Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” You see, I have a fondness for the proper usage of the English language. One of my pet peeves is using “I” when “me” is the correct object of a verb or preposition. Thus, when Christie said of his parents, “They raised my brother and I …” it was an assault on my eardrums. Not only did Christie not know “me” was called for, but his speechwriter(s) also showed a lack of English smarts. 

Now, some of you might be thinking I am being too much of a grammar stickler. Could be. But I, for one, want a president who speaks proper English. (As an aside, my grandniece from London, all of four years old, told my sister-in-law, “Grandma, you speak American, I speak English.” Yeah, but the rules of grammar span the Atlantic.)

Christie’s speech overreached in another arena. He properly lamented the dysfunction in Washington. “Both parties have failed our country. Both parties have stood in the corner and held their breath and waited to get their own way. And both parties have lead (sic—I can’t tell you how many time the speechwriters used “lead” when they should have written “led”) us to believe that in America, a country that was built on compromise, that somehow now compromise is a dirty word. If Washington and Adams and Jefferson believed compromise was a dirty word, we’d still be under the crown of England,” he said.

Excuse me, but if that trio, along with the rest of the Founding Fathers and patriots, had sought compromise instead of revolution, we would not have fought a war of independence from Britain, though perhaps we’d be better at speaking the Queen’s English. 

Christie was somewhat right in that compromise eight years after the war ended enabled the 13 former colonies to adapt the Articles of Confederation into a constitutional republic form of government. However, he and his conservative cohorts cleave to a static reading of the Constitution, ignoring societal changes that should imbue our interpretation of the document.

By coincidence, The New York Times reviewed a new book by Joseph J. Ellis on Monday, The Quartet, Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 (

Ascribing the successful effort of the Constitutional Convention to Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, Ellis, in the words of the reviewer, believed “what the founders did not want was to be embalmed, or to have their prescriptions taken as sacred script.” 

To support his analysis, according to the reviewer, Ellis ended his book quoting Jefferson: “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I know that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it. It deserved well of its country ...

“But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.”

During a week when the U.S. Supreme Court upended some long-held beliefs, leading some Republicans to question its continued validity, we would do well to reflect on Jefferson’s words.