Sunday, December 27, 2015

Putting a Spotlight on Reporting

Gilda and I saw Spotlight Saturday night. It’s a great movie, perhaps the best of the year. Naturally, as a former newspaper reporter, I am biased. Almost any film about journalistic achievement or chicanery—fact-based or fiction, from All the President’s Men to The Paper to Libeled Lady and Deadline USA to The Front Page and its remake as His Girl Friday—would rate four stars from me.

For those not familiar with Spotlight, the film traces the effort of an investigative unit of the same name at The Boston Globe in 2001 to piece together the child molestation and cover-up scandal within the Roman Catholic church.

Nobody gets shot. There are no sex scenes. There are no chase scenes, though reporters are seen several times scurrying around tracking down leads.

I admired the attention to detail. The almost ragamuffin attire worn by reporters and editors. The total absorption, or rather immersion, or maybe obsession, reporters undergo when nailing down a story.

Reporting can be drudgery. Thankfully, everyday news is not a Watergate break-in or a mass shooting or a plane crash. It is the approval of zoning laws that might alter the character of a neighborhood. The adoption by the Board of Education of new curriculum. The placement of traffic lights that could make a busy thoroughfare pedestrian-safe. Sewer commission meetings are boring to anyone but the families that live along the street where pipes will be laid to replace their dependence on septic tanks.

Yet there may be hidden stories behind these everyday events. Payoffs for building approvals. Or for sewer lines that make it easier to build new subdivisions. Human interest profiles of accident victims on streets unsafe at any speed.

There’s an insightful scene in Spotlight when the new editor of The Globe, Marty Baron, meets Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, the first time. Law suggests the two institutions—the church and paper—would best serve Boston by working together. To which Baron replies he believes newspapers work best if they act independently.

It is a creed I followed. I never got too close to those I wrote about or to those who supported my publication with advertising. Who knows? Perhaps my magazine didn’t garner all the advertising it could because I was too distant from those who paid our bills. Or maybe we missed uncovering some inside dope on a retailer that would have justified banner headlines? 

As I watched the Spotlight story come together I became angry, introspective and more melancholy. Angered by the gall and audacity the church and its allies exhibited toward the victims and unsuspecting parishioners. They thought themselves above the law (pun intended). I was saddened by the realization that none of the stories I did as a newspaper reporter and trade magazine editor, good as they were, had the intensity and life-altering drama Spotlight exposed. I was envious.

Good trade magazines have to tiptoe along a line that separates boosterism from constructive review. One of the first meetings I had with a CEO of a retail chain centered on a complaint over an article that questioned the retail industry’s response to the vast numbers thrown out of work by the failure of W.T. Grant. The CEO of G.C. Murphy saw Chain Store Age as an advocate for the industry. How dare we expose any warts. 

I wondered how our chief editor, John Lightfoot, would respond. He said the magazine was an objective chronicler of the good and the bad.

I agreed with John. So did the president-owner of our company. We had no rug under which we swept inefficiency or bad leadership. It didn’t matter if it was Sears or Kmart, Wal-Mart or American Apparel, or Abercrombie & Fitch. When mistakes of strategy or judgment were made Chain Store Age would not be silent.

It might not have been on the same plane as that of Spotlight at The Globe, but our editorial staff did its best to watch over the best interests of our constituency. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Was an AR-15 Under Your Tree This Morning?

Did you wake up this morning to find a shiny, black AR-15 assault rifle under your Christmas tree? Or maybe you opened the wrapping paper on a cute, cuddly Glock pistol? 

I know many of you don’t celebrate Christmas, but that’s beside the point. Ever since the San Bernardino shooting, the country has reverted to (bad) form. The inevitable has happened. Again. As after each prior mass murder shooting, calls for more gun control have been followed by a surge in gun purchases, followed by the explanation that people just want to be able to protect themselves, as if  owning a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle guarantees one’s safety. Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun is the foundation of this argument.

I’m going to take a break from writing my opinion on this issue. Instead, I’ll give you some extracurricular reading and viewing. First, an opinion piece from The New York Times. It should take you about two minutes to read.

A longer time investment is required for a two-part video courtesy of correspondent Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah:

If you’re wondering why I’m highlighting segments of The Daily Show it’s because I believe Trevor Noah has hit his stride and is more than amply filling the departed seat of Jon Stewart. Yeah, he can appear fawning, even awestruck, when celebrities come to visit. And I don’t care for the music groups he puts on stage more frequently than Stewart did. 

But his satiric takes on news of the day have won me over. Of course, lots of credit must go to the writing staff that, for the most part, is the same that served Stewart. 

A more radical change happened after Stephen Colbert left the Comedy Central time slot after The Daily Show. After first not giving The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore a chance, I’ve recently found his commentary on national and world events to be spot-on. 

As for Colbert’s Late Show on CBS, I keep wanting it to be better. Colbert, as well, seems to be too taken by his guests. Most of the time I skip his interviews. I watch for the few minutes Colbert reverts to political and social pundit, reprising the acerbic wit that made him famous. And have you noticed that he only wears blue suits? 

How, you might ask, can I watch all those shows that air from 11 pm till 12:35 am? I DVR them and try to squeeze in viewing while eating breakfast or lunch. In a few weeks I might have to add another show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. And there’s another show I will begin taping—Late Night with Seth Meyers on NBC. Meyers has ramped up his former Saturday Night Live Weekend Update shtick to a nightly pace. 

For progressive political commentary must-see shows are Real Time with Bill Maher and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, both on HBO, the former on Friday nights, the latter on Sundays.

Random Thoughts: Now that you know some of my viewing habits, here’s a tidbit of strange shopping news. While stocking up Thursday, December 24, for the weekend and a quick visit by Dan, Allison, Finley and Dagny, I patronized the Stop & Shop in the Cross County Shopping Center in Yonkers where I bought two seeded Jewish rye breads. 

One of the bread labels said it was packed on 12/24/15 at 3:25 am. I could hardly ask for anything fresher, Until, that is, I checked the second bread’s label which stated the bread was packed on 12/27/15 at 2:06 pm! Only the looong line at the customer service desk kept me from complimenting the store on its efficiency.

Memory Failure: I can’t rightly remember what grade I was in when I first read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It was either eighth grade or maybe an early high school year. It doesn’t really matter for the point I want to make, which is, I grew up in a tolerant time.

I say that because I spent the first 12 years of my education attending yeshivas, Modern Orthodox Jewish day schools with rich secular education programs. I don’t know if such schools would include A Christmas Carol in their curriculum these days. For sure, the numerous Jewish academies, many from the Hassidic community, that have sprouted up in Brooklyn in the last several decades have placed limited emphasis on secular studies. 

Too bad. A Christmas Carol is a classic.

Dickens Almost Got Me Expelled: Spoiler Alert—In the movie Creed, as the boxer Adonis Johnson Creed awaits his first American bout, he anxiously demands his boxing gloves be removed so he can settle his nervous stomach and go to the bathroom.

My IBS moment came before an English test on Dickens’ David Copperfield early on in my freshman year at Yeshivah of Flatbush. Between periods, right before the test, I raced to the bathroom. When I re-entered the room, I was accused by the teacher, Dr. Harran, of consorting with students who had just taken the test in his prior class. Accused of cheating, I was sent to the headmaster's office where I was informed the penalty could be expulsion. My parents were called in, my IBS was verified and I was permitted to take a make-up exam. 

I still suffer from IBS, but at least I don’t have to take tests any more. I do, however, sympathize with anyone who suffers any form of bathroom urgency. So I was more than empathetic to Hillary Clinton when she came back late to the podium from a break during last Saturday’s Democratic Party presidential debate.

And I was appalled at the crude comments spouted by Donald Trump. Trump is a real-life Archie Bunker, spewing bias, insults and “ter-let” talk. It might be perverse fun to hear him, as Archie made us laugh in the 1970’s and beyond in reruns, but the thought of Trump leading and representing our nation is repulsive and repugnant. 

To their credit, Jeb Bush and John Kasich have identified Trump for the bully and blowhard that he is. Too bad others who would lead the Republican Party and our country have not denounced and repudiated Trump. Their failure conveys the message that leadership without principle is more important to them than honesty, dignity and human values.   

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Jerk May Have the Law on His Side

Jeb Bush is right. Hard to believe I find myself agreeing with the wannabe president, but there I was, reading a New York Times article under the headline, “Still Assailing Donald Trump, Jeb Bush Calls Him ‘a Jerk’.

“Donald Trump is a jerk,” Mr. Bush said to applause (The Times reported from a New Hampshire town-hall-style event).

“You cannot insult your way to the presidency,” he said. “You can’t disparage women, Hispanics, disabled people. Who is he kidding? This country is far better than that. The idea that he’s actually running for president and insulting people is deeply discouraging, to be honest with you, and I think we should reject that out of hand. I hope you’ll reject it by voting for me, but a guy like that should not be the front-running candidate of our great party.”

Jeb is right. But his problem is that the GOP has morphed into a party of “no,” of “you-can’t-have-any-or-come-here-if-you-are-different,” a party of distrust, of bait-and-switch that promises benefits to middle- and working-class people but delivers benefits just to the elite. It’s become a party of exclusion, not inclusion. A party of dogma one dares not dissent from, a party of religious extremism, a party whose foreign policy is founded on the principle of “my way or bombs away,” a party repulsed by scientific discovery, a party more comfortable with the values of the Dark Ages than of the Enlightenment.

For the moment let’s not talk about the Republican Party as a whole but rather the Trump phenomenon. His appeal has confounded “experts” within and without the GOP. It might be instructive to view this clip by Jordan Klepper from a recent Daily Show with Trevor Noah. It’s an enlightening, if not frightening, piece on why everyday, normal-looking people are supporting Trump:

Also consider the consternation arch conservatives are feeling about the current Republican front-runner. Here’s part of a commentary from Charles C. W. Cooke, a staff writer at National Review:

“… if the current Republican front-runner is any indication of things to come, large swathes of the party have already abandoned their talk of ‘constitutional conservatism’ and ‘limited government’ and embraced a flat-out authoritarianism, at least as preached by ‘The Donald.’ Whatever else he might be, the idea of Trump as a paladin of civil liberties should make one howl with terrible laughter. Since he announced his candidacy, Trump has threatened to ignore those who are carping about free speech and shut down parts of the Internet; he has promised to summarily deport those who are suspected of being illegal immigrants, without due process of law; he has endorsed extensive campaign-finance regulations that fly directly in the face of the First Amendment; he has vowed to restrict the Second Amendment rights of those on the terror watch list, again without due process; he has praised Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of American citizens, suggested that natural-born Americans can be deported against their will, and proposed that American Muslims be barred from reentering the country; he has described as ‘wonderful’ a Supreme Court ruling that obliterated the ‘public use’ limitations on the invocation of eminent domain; and he has refused to rule out registering Americans on the basis of their faith. Worse still, he has responded to the criticism that these positions have generated by channeling his inner Nancy Pelosi: ‘Are you serious?’

“And yet, despite all of these transgressions, 30 percent of GOP-primary voters still list him as their top pick. This is an unmitigated disgrace.” (

Okay, so the left and right are against Trump, particularly his anti-Mexican and anti-Islam “throw them out” or “bar them from entering” stances. But what if Trump is not constitutionally blind? What if his rants are within legal, if not ethical, bounds?

Consider, if you will, the following from the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1952 US Code 8, Section 1182, Sub-Section F:

(f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President
Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. 

I’m no constitutional scholar, but it appears The Donald’s plan to restrict immigration could be within the law as long as he doesn’t define class by religion. Country of origin might be a way to define the class of alien he wants to keep out. 

That being said, Jeb is still right. Trump’s a jerk.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Leaving Brooklyn Means Crossing Time Zones

My parents set up their homestead in Brooklyn in the 1940s. They raised three children of whom I am the youngest. Aside from sojourning eight weeks at summer camp, my brother, sister and I never ventured away from Brooklyn when we were young. After we graduated from high school my brother and I attended Brooklyn College. Our sister went to an out of town school—Queens College. She commuted. That is, until she finally got her wish to expand her horizons and truly go to an out of town school. For her sophomore and junior years Lee attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She came back to Queens College for her senior year.

Even after Bernie moved to Washington, DC, Lee’s Israel experience was the first and only time any of our family lived more than a five hour car ride from Brooklyn. The nuclear family had been stretched but the protective amniotic fluid had not been pierced. We could still assemble for holidays with relative ease, as long as traffic for Bernie on the New Jersey Turnpike and for me coming south from Syracuse and then New Haven cooperated. 

But in 1973 Lee moved to Los Angeles. The outward migration of offspring had begun for the Forseter family. Fast forward to present times. Lee has three children: After a stay in New Orleans, Ari lives in Washington; Lauren and Jonathan in San Francisco. Jonathan spent several years in Singapore.

Bernie’s son Eric lives near him in a Maryland suburb. His daughter Karen followed her future husband across the pond to London.

Gilda’s and my son stayed in the Boston metro after attending college there. Boston has been Dan’s home for half his life. His family is a “short” three hour drive away. Dan and wife Allison remain New York Yankees and New York Giants fans which so far they are transmitting down to their children.

Now we get to Ellie and Donny and their daughter, Cecilia, the reason for this posting. Today they moved out of Brooklyn to Omaha.

Why Omaha? Well, Donny’s parents and one of his sisters live there. But the bottom line has to do with lifestyle and affordability. It could be Omaha or Cincinnati or Asheville or any number of smaller cities. They all offer a more affordable, more spacious environment to raise a family than do Brooklyn and many New York suburbs. Sure, Omaha lacks as full a restaurant and cultural scene. But it is not the backwater it was 10-15 years ago. 

Gilda and I will miss watching Cecilia take her first steps, speak her first words, grasp a spoonful of food to feed herself. We are envious of friends who get to enjoy these milestones firsthand, not through Facetime or Facebook.

Our situation is not uncommon. Many children of our friends and family have moved a plane-ride away. The emotional hole is made larger when grandchildren are involved, especially if they were born when their parents lived nearby. We were an hour away from Cecilia. I could come by easily to take her and Ellie to the pediatrician. Or to Costco. Or pick them up for a weekend visit to our home.

Gilda and I loved taking trips to Brooklyn to explore different neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Museum or Prospect Park, Coney Island, or Brighton Beach and end the day with a visit and dinner with Cecilia and her parents. We will still go to Brooklyn but surely not as frequently.

I hope I haven’t given the impression Cecilia is more precious to us than our other grandchildren, Finley and Dagny, that proximity promoted preference. They are all equally loved and cherished, as are their respective parents. But there was never any chance of close, frequent, non-electronic observation of Finley and Dagny growing up. Dan and Allison opted to live in the Boston metro long before they had kids. Ellie and Donny lived in Brooklyn.

Not the Brooklyn of my youth. That was, and still is, very unhip. Ellie and Donny lived in trendy Park Slope, near vibrant restaurants and cultural venues, near equally hip Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Williamsburg and Red Hook. Sure, I knew of these neighborhoods before Donny and Ellie lived in Brooklyn, even drove through them, but I never “knew” them. Never tasted them. Never observed them from the sidewalk on foot. Who now will take us to the hot restaurant only Brooklyn insiders know before The New York Times or some other outlet reveals its existence to the world?  

The move to Omaha separates Brooklyn for me and Gilda (who grew up there, as well) across the time zones of our past and present.

The move to Omaha separates our family across standard time zones. It will be harder to visit, for us and for Cecilia’s cousins. We get to see Finley and Dagny every six to eight weeks. We will try for the same frequency with visits to Omaha and return trips for holidays by Ellie’s family. 

My brother manages such a schedule with trips to and from London. He and Annette combine stays in London with side trips to parts of Europe and even Israel and recently South Africa. I guess Gilda and I will get to know the middle of the country from Mount Rushmore to the Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art in Bentonville,  AR, built by Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton. I presume I will show her Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville.

I’m not embarrassed to say I cried when I dropped off Ellie, Donny and Cecilia at LaGuardia Airport Monday morning. The fog shrouding the city made driving home alone difficult, the difficulty enhanced by the blurry vision of my moistened eyes.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Finding the Truth Behind the Numbers

The news Friday that Dow Chemical and DuPont are seeking approval to merge brought back memories of my first meeting with Leo J. Shapiro, whose expertise in social science research was instrumental in enhancing my journalism career and in making Chain Store Age unique, informative, must reading for retailers in the last two decades of the 20th century and the first 10 years of the 21st. Leo passed away in Tucson last month. He was 94.

The first time I met Leo, in 1979, in his firm’s then offices on the 37th floor of Lake Point Tower on the edge of Lake Michigan in Chicago, he observed that companies often choose a branding message in conflict with their everyday functions. 

Dow Chemical’s slogan back then was “Common Sense - Uncommon Chemistry.” DuPont’s was “Better Things for Better Living … Through Chemistry.” Yet both companies produced napalm and Agent Orange, the notorious herbicide used by the American military to defoliate much of Vietnam and consequently, tragically, causing “serious health issues—including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer—among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.”

In 1979 I had recently taken over as editor of Chain Store Age, inheriting a tradition of publishing a full-issue study in December on what we called a Great Retail Institution. The retailer we profiled always cooperated. For 1979 it was the F.W. Woolworth Corporation. 

Cooperation would not be the case for our 1980 profile—Kmart, at the time the second largest general merchandise retailer in the world with $14.8 billion in sales, behind Sears’ $16.9 billion (by comparison, Wal-Mart was a minuscule though growing chain with sales of only $1.6 billion. For 2014, Wal-Mart’s sales exceeded $473 billion; for the now combined Sears/Kmart, sales reached just $31.2 billion, of which $12.1 billion came from Kmart). 

Without Kmart’s cooperation we had to devise an alternative plan to secure information about the strengths and weaknesses of the chain. Publication director Paul Reuter spotted Leo’s name in an article in Advertising Age. It said his research firm, Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, had been following Kmart for many years. 

During that first meeting Leo explained that retailers, as do many companies, persist in doing things the same old way instead of moving on to the next wave of innovation. Sears, he opined, should have started a discount chain à la Kmart. Kmart, in turn, should have evolved into the more upscale Target or the more rural Wal-Mart. 

With Leo’s help Chain Store Age produced a publishing home run—more advertising than ever before and an editorial product recognized for its clarity and insight not only within the retail industry but also by our publishing brethren. The Kmart full-issue study was one of five finalists for a National Magazine Award, a rare achievement for a trade publication. 

Success in 1980 meant 1981’s December issue would be more challenging. Rather than profile a retailer we opted to work with Leo to produce the retail industry’s “1st Consumer Buying Intentions Study: Who, What, Where & Why They’ll Buy.” The study did not, as we expected, sell as well as the Kmart issue. 

But I almost fell off my chair when Stewart Orton, then chairman and CEO of Foley’s Department Store in Houston, in his speech accepting the Gold Medal Award of the National Retail Federation at its January 1982 annual luncheon, exhorted the thousands in attendance to read Chain Store Age’s December buying intentions study issue. 

Over the 30 years I worked with Leo and his partner, George Rosenbaum, Chain Store Age expanded the role of trade publishing. We innovated and published monthly and annual buying intentions studies as well as surveys on technology, credit trends, payment systems, loss prevention, store atmospherics, logistics and other topics never before distributed by a publication for the retail industry. Moreover, by including topical questions in their omnibus monthly national polls, Leo and George provided Chain Store Age with up to the moment insights on consumers.

“Garbage in, garbage out” is a widely held adage for anyone doing research. I always thought I knew what I wanted to study, but it was only after talking with Leo or George that I discovered what was truly worth researching. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I'm No Foodie But I Enjoy a Well-Cooked Chinese Meal

While I enjoy a well-cooked meal (I’m fortunate that Gilda often prepares gourmet-level repasts for me), I’m no foodie, so I was not surprised or too disappointed that of the 10 New York City eateries chosen as locations by comedian Aziz Ansari for his Netflix series Master of None ( and, I recognized and have frequented only one, Shun Lee Palace on East 55th Street in Manhattan. And when I say “frequented,” I mean I’ve eaten there many, many times. It truly is a savory culinary experience.

Shun Lee Palace is around the corner from my former employer’s offices when it was on Park Avenue. So many of our executives, editors and salesmen ate lunch there that we used to call the restaurant Lebhar-Friedman East. Every day at least three or four tables would be occupied by L-F’ers.

My favorite dish was Lake Tung Ting Shrimp, a delightful combination of jumbo shrimp, bamboo, water chestnuts, mushrooms, carrots and snow peas in a white creamy sauce and egg whites. Only one other Chinese restaurant that I’ve patronized has served up a comparable dish, Ocean Flavored Jumbo Shrimp, which I get at China Star, of all places a takeout joint on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains.

About 30 years ago Gilda was reading a list of the best restaurants in New York City in New York magazine. We had not eaten in any of them. Except, when she said Shun Lee Palace I chimed in that I quite often ate there. Indeed, I had lunched there that very day. She was seriously peeved I had not yet taken her there, an omission I shortly thereafter remedied.

It was customary to take the editorial staff to lunch each December. Naturally, Shun Lee was chosen for our culinary treat one year. On the appointed day, however, a meeting kept me from walking over with my staff. When I arrived, the nine editors were seated around a table. I can’t remember who was to my left, but to my right was Jil, one of our senior editors. 

As I commented how pretty the charger plate at my place setting was, quick as a lick Jil whisked it into her oversized tote handbag so, she explained, I could take it home. Before I could protest a waiter appeared, not to investigate the pilferage but rather to take our order. Back in the office Jil handed me the plate which I dutifully took home and which Gilda summarily told me she did not like and was not going to display in our home.

Shun Lee not only was among the top Chinese restaurants in the city, it also was among the priciest. When Shanghai Manor opened a few doors down we gravitated toward it. It didn’t cook Lake Tung Ting Shrimp. I had to settle for shrimp in garlic sauce, but the overall quality of the food and the lower, slightly lower, price kept us L-F’ers coming back time and again until, some 15 or more years later, the owner retired and Shanghai Manor closed. It was replaced by another Chinese restaurant, but for the last five to 10 years of my employment I never truly enjoyed another lunch of Chinese food.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fear and Shame Expunged Amid the Candlelight

The Friday New York Times ran a picture and promotional message about the lighting of the “world’s largest menorah” on Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.  I thought about going with Gilda and eight-month-old granddaughter Cecilia to the Hanukkah celebration. Why not? We were scheduled to babysit and Cecilia lives close by, perhaps a half mile from the ceremony site. So why not go?

Then I thought about San Bernadino and I was ashamed. Ashamed to think I was ready to concede my freedom to terrorists. Ashamed that I was ready to alter my way of life because crazy people perpetrate obscene, crazy, lethal acts. Ashamed because I was ready to forget that life’s end can be random even without terrorists. Walking across West 43rd street in Manhattan Saturday night I was almost struck by a car. Should I not cross streets any more? Should I let my fears, my caution, overwhelm and negate my right to assemble peacefully to worship? Or attend a concert or sports event? Or just go out to eat or shop? How different was I from those who responded to a Times request for readers to convey how their lives have changed since terror entered our daily psyche:

Cecilia saved me from having to make a decision. Her bedtime presented a conflict neatly timed to keep me indoors in a neighborhood where unlike sections of Brooklyn just miles away stray bullets piercing windows and killing innocents are not the norm.

Still I was ashamed.

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the few over the many, the victory of a separate culture over the homogenization sought by a dominant power. If there were any time to show the invincibility of that ideal, a time to visibly show the terrorists that we cannot be cowed into retreat into our safe caves, Sunday night at Grand Army Plaza would have been it.

In the end, Cecilia expunged my shame. Her afternoon nap lasted longer than normal. When she awoke we bundled her into her stroller, met up with Ellie and Donny in Prospect Heights and walked back to their Park Slope home past Grand Army Plaza with the celebration in full swing, if you can call an address from the Brooklyn borough president part of a celebration. We didn’t linger, but we were part of the hundreds gathered to commemorate freedom. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Speaking Factually and with a Little Perspective

I am no less guilty than anyone else, but I detect our collective ability to speak or write correctly—and by that I mean factually even more so than grammatically—has eroded to the point where we make casual mistakes that can shift the public dialogue. Take, for example, a comment from Monday night’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

While discussing the assault on the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs last week, Noah said, “If I had to imagine the type of person who would shoot up an abortion clinic …” 

Noah fell into the all-too-common trap of calling Planned Parenthood “an abortion clinic” instead of recognizing it as a women’s health clinic that provides reproductive health services including abortions. 

Robert L. Dear Jr.’s murder of three last week was an example of domestic terrorism, yet too few in the media have recognized it as such. 

Speaking of terrorism, and the threat thereof, is it not disingenuous of Republicans to want to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the country because they fear one or more of them may attack us while they stubbornly refuse to limit alleged security risks on the government’s No Fly List from legally obtaining firearms? They claim it would undermine Second Amendment rights even though it is far more likely those already deemed possible terrorists would kill Americans than the refugees seeking a peaceful life within our borders.

The debate on Syrian refugees has mostly focused on the quality and extensiveness of the vetting process. Here’s a link to an article written by Scott Hicks,  a longtime immigration lawyer, detailing the process:

Founding Fathers and Other Disreputables: How to explain the Donald Trump phenomena and how long it might last—The Washington Post tried in a Thursday article which contained the following illuminating paragraphs:

“Trump is a loud­-mouthed person, yes, and he does sometimes just say things to women to hurt their feelings,” an Indiana woman said during a late-October focus group of GOP primary voters conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

“But I’m going to stick with my belief saying that he’s going to try his best to get the country back the way our Founding Fathers had it at one time” ( 

The scary part of this seemingly blind support for a racist, a bigot, a dissembler, a sexist, a nativist, an ignoramus when it comes to history and other topics, is that too many Americans share those beliefs. It only validates my belief that we are a nation with too many idiots.

Let’s consider her desire to get back to the way our Founding Fathers had it at one time. Does that mean she condones slavery? That Afro-Americans are to be considered three-fifths of a person? Is she okay with the idea that women were not entitled to vote? For that matter, many white men were not eligible either—in most states you had to be a landowner to earn the right to cast a ballot. Does she favor state legislatures picking U.S. senators rather than direct elections by voters? And should we vote separately for the vice president? 

The Founding Fathers got lots of things right. But they also left out lots of stuff. Do we want to abandon our national parks, for example? Or social security? Or the protections afforded by the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Drug Administration, the FBI and other agencies that protect us from enemies within and outside our borders?

Trump is not alone in his depiction of foreigners—Syrians and Mexicans, to name two groups—as being unfit for residence within the United States. Yet, the provenance of their remarks can be traced back to the 19th century. In her book Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) during one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas senatorial campaign debates of 1858: 

“The signers of the Declaration of Independence,” said Douglas, “had no reference to negroes at all when they declared that all men are created equal. They did not mean negro, nor the savage Indians, nor the Fejee Islanders, nor any other barbarous race. They were speaking of white men. … I hold that this government was established for white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men, and none others.” 

Apparently, even a president considered one of our greatest, Woodrow Wilson, shared some of Douglas’ beliefs and prejudices. In the words of a New York Times editorial, “He was an unapologetic racist whose administration rolled back the gains that African-Americans achieved just after the Civil War, purged black workers from influential jobs and transformed the government into an instrument of white supremacy” ( Our commander-in-chief turned out to be a discriminator-in-chief. It’s no wonder Princeton University students want Wilson’s name expunged from the school he was president of before being president of the United States. 

Discrimination against Native Americans, along with disregard for a Supreme Court ruling, stained Andrew Jackson’s presidency, though it is doubtful many of his contemporaries thought so. Jackson forced the Cherokee Nation off of its land in the Southeast and relocated it in the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma. In doing so Jackson refused to uphold a ruling by the Supreme Court that “made the Indian Removal Act invalid, illegal, unconstitutional and against treaties previously made by the United States.” 

Little wonder then that advocates of placing a woman’s face on one of our currency bills favor removing Andrew Jackson’s visage from the $20 bill and not Alexander Hamilton’s from the $10 bill. It also doesn’t hurt their argument that Hamilton was the architect of our national financial system while Jackson fought against the national bank.

Speaking of nefarious characters within and without, the U.S. and the world is obsessed with ISIS, and who can blame them given the Islamic terrorist organization’s beastly activities in the name of religion, at least as its adherents see it. The barbaric actions of ISIS and other jihadists come roughly 1,400 years after Muhammad founded Islam. 

For the sake of comparison, let’s see what was happening some 1,400 years after Jesus? Oh yes, the Spanish Inquisition, which followed on the heels of various Crusades which attacked Moslems, Cathars and Jews in the Holy Land and Europe. Looks like 1,400 years is not a happy time for those who don’t scrupulously adhere to organized religions. 

(By the way, if we assume the formal Jewish religion started around the time of Moses, estimated to be around 1200 BCE, 1,400 years later would be just after the Jews twice lost rebellions against Roman rule in Judea.)