Sunday, May 27, 2018

In Death Westerns Hero Clint Walker Provides Source of Reflection on American Heritage

It wouldn’t surprise me if you missed his obituary, but Clint Walker died last Monday. He was 90 (

Walker held a special place in the Forseter household from the mid-1950s to early-1960s. Tall, rugged, Adonis-shaped with a laconic, baritone voice, Walker portrayed Cheyenne Bodie in the ABC-TV series Cheyenne that aired Sunday nights (

It was among my mother’s favorite shows, not the least reason being her pleasure at ogling Walker, especially when he took off his shirt. In the small of his back Cheyenne had a scar, a divot shaped like an arrowhead.  (She also favored William Hopper who played private detective Paul Drake on the CBS-TV series Perry Mason. Hopper never took his shirt off). 

Perhaps it was a reflection of the era, but westerns made up a considerable volume of the television fare enjoyed by our family more than six decades ago. A quick list of the prime time oaters we watched included Maverick (we preferred the episodes featuring James Garner as Bret Maverick over those with Jack Kelly (Bart) or Roger Moore (Beau), The Rebel, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and Wagon Train. I never knew why, but we mostly resisted tuning into Sugarfoot, Bonanza, and Rawhide, the series that launched Clint Eastwood’s career. 

My father was a big fan of westerns. There were, of course, westerns targeted at children that I watched without him: Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Broken Arrow, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, Broken Arrow, Sky King (a “modern” western—the hero piloted a twin-engine Cessna instead of riding a horse around Arizona territory), and, my personal favorite, The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, because its main human character was a boy just a few years my elder. 

I cannot remember any episode but one, wherein the young orphan Rusty is saved from a deadly buffalo stampede by the appearance on a hill of a mystical white buffalo that caused the herd to stop its charge, but I often called out, “Yo, Rinny,” as Rusty did at least once each show to get his faithful German shepherd dog to spring into action to save the day (to be honest, I always said “Yo, Rinty,” but in researching this blog I listened to part of the first episode and heard Rusty say, “Rinny.” Ah, well, so my memory is not infallible).

These westerns were small morality plays. Aside from life lessons, the mini horse operas imparted a bit of historical context to the saga of America. Don’t dwell on their accuracy. They were no more true to facts than most Hollywood biopics or history-based films. 

Yet, they provided background to our collective national experience, with one glaring omission—rarely, if at all, did they portray the lives and contributions of Black Americans, or those of Mexican and Asian heritage, in exploring, taming and settling the Old West, unless they were shown in servile positions (Hey Boy in Have Gun Will Travel is an example). Their more meaningful achievements were not part of small screen fare ( 

Star Trek, Star Wars and their ilk, along with superhero movies that defy credulity, have replaced westerns as the genres beloved by juveniles. They’re OK, if you like computer aided graphics, but I wonder how much the younger generation has lost identification with the American experience. Has the Millennium Falcon’s speedy Kessel run replaced the cumbersome Conestoga wagon trudge along the Oregon Trail as the touchstone for intrepid treks? 

Westerns were not alone in glossing over the full reality of our multi-cultural history. Textbooks I used in elementary and high school neglected non white contributors. I cannot say what today’s textbooks include, but if the behavior of our president and many of his supporters is any indication, I would guess we still do not count Native Americans, African Americans, Mexicans, Chinese and numerous other immigrant nationalities among the heroes and shapers of America. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Covering Conflict in Context, Trump's Retreat, Traffic Lights, Russians on My Mind

Amid all the media coverage of the tragedy in Gaza, an Israeli Op-Ed contributor provided The New York Times with a chilling example of conditions under which reporters cover some war zones. 

While working for the Associated Press, Matti Friedman wrote, “Early in that war (in Gaza in 2008), I complied with Hamas censorship in the form of a threat to one of our Gaza reporters and cut a key detail from an article: that Hamas fighters were disguised as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll. The bureau chief later wrote that printing the truth after the threat to the reporter would have meant ‘jeopardizing his life.’ Nonetheless, we used that same casualty toll throughout the conflict and never mentioned the manipulation.” (

Given a choice between untruthful, misleading reporting or no on-site coverage, I would opt for the latter. Not having a reporter embedded where the action is no doubt would limit the ability to provide a full, factual, eyewitness account. But purposely leaving out details, writing untruths or misleading information, distorts reality and provides an inaccurate record that too often cannot be erased from memory by subsequent corrections.  

Facts, of course, are vital. But so is context. Times columnist Bret Stephens provided much needed context surrounding the explosive events at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip:

I don’t have any contacts with Palestinians in Gaza, but over the last eight years I have met more than 50 Israeli women who live along the border with Gaza. Several of them responded to an email I sent asking about conditions along the border.

“Here in Israel you can feel the tension and we pray for a solution that in these days seems sometime farther than ever,” Inbal wrote. 

For Shalhevet, “The media cannot fully explain the situation here for the Israeli settlements surrounding (the) Gaza Strip.

“The daily life is very complicated for both sides, though we are trying to keep our normal daily routine.”

“Strange as it may sound,” said Ofra, “life under constant pressure can be lived. Our sense of security is that the IDF (Israel Defense Force) will always protect us. 

“My young son serves in the Paratroopers Brigade and is guarding the northern border of Israel. I am very worried for his safety. 

“Life goes on, whether we like it or not. Even if we live on a barrel of gunpowder.”

Yael observed, “It is very scary and upsetting that quite a small child can burn tires. Those who sent them don’t have a happy childhood and they have no future as long as their leaders won’t talk. 

“It is very close to the village where we live. It is scary. So many fields of hay have burned, valleys of beautiful nature. Yet, we go to work. I work very close to the border; we have many soldiers around.” 

As if to underscore their sense of anguish and exasperation, Israelis profiled in a Times article the day after the assault on the border fence expressed no glee in the aftermath (

Not to be typecast as dreamers, Gazans as well expressed disillusionment with their leadership. “Nothing achieved,” said Mohammed Haider, 23 (in The Times). “People are dead. They deceived us that we would breach the fence. But that didn’t happen.”

“Our future is lost because of the Jews, and because of Hamas,” said Mahmoud Abu Omar, a 26-year-old with one arm wrapped in bandages (

I am encouraged by their forthright comments, but the cynic in me wonders if Haider and Abu Omar have been placed at risk because of their honesty. Hamas does not treat lightly those who openly criticize its rule. Will there be retribution? I doubt The Times will, or be able to, check up on their short and long term safety.

Student Safety: His first instincts usually are acceptable if not good. I believe Donald Trump does have compassion for the students and adults killed at school shootings and other mass murder sites. His first impulse is to rein in our collective Wild West mentality with its pervasive gun availability. 

But then politics takes over. He listens to the clarion call of right wing voters who might abandon him, as if they would ever vote for a Democrat, or find another Republican who could out-Trump Trump. 

So despite saying he could stand up to the gun lobby, Trump caves in. He retreats. Safe to say, Trump would not qualify for inclusion in an updated version of John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. Trump has no spine. He is the human incarnate of a political bully. He talks tough but weasels out of principled stances when confronted by right wing politics. 

And so, as it happened again in Santa Fe, Texas, we can only wonder how many days before the next school shooting in a town whose residents wonder how it possibly could have happened within their All-American community. But that’s the point—these shootings have come to define America and what it means to be a teenager in America.

Four Decades Later: After last week’s storm and tornados in New York and Connecticut, I heard a news report that all traffic lights in Southbury, Conn., were out because power had been lost. 

Forty-five years ago Gilda and I lived in Seymour, Conn., just a few miles from Southbury. We’d visit there regularly. Neither of us remember any traffic lights in Southbury. 

Russians on My Mind: With just two more episodes of The Americans before the FX series concludes its six season run, Gilda and I watch the drama with a critical eye toward recognizing local White Plains locations. 

Already this season we’ve identified several scenes filmed on Church Street, at the Bocca restaurant and in front of 55 Church Street, as well at the apartment houses at the northern end of Old Mamaroneck Road. 

Our fascination with recognizing White Plains locations began quite by chance about half a year ago. I asked an acquaintance who recently moved from a home in Gedney Farms how she was enjoying her new residence in a nearby cluster development of attached homes along North Street and Bryant Avenue. 

In telling me she liked it she related that her house served as the exterior of FBI agent Stan Beeman while the house across the street was the home of Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Interior sets of both homes are filmed in a studio. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Pneumonia Got Me Down

Missed me? It has been almost a month since my last blog post. So a little update seems more than fitting. 

In case you’re wondering, and I hope care, you might be interested to know I have spent the last two weeks succumbing to and recovering from pneumonia. Without any proof whatsoever I am convinced I was exposed to the illness by tainted equipment an ENT specialist used to explore the recesses of my nasal cavity. Three days later I started to sleep 16 to 18 hours a day, a sure sign something was amiss as I did not cough or sniffle, though I did run a slight temperature. 

The pneumonia could not have come at a more inopportune time. I was leading a group of eight Israeli women on a three-day trip to Washington and Philadelphia as part of Shalom Yisrael’s annual program of support of deserving women from tension spots in Israel. This year’s contingent came from the region adjacent to the border with Lebanon in the shadow of the Golan Heights. 

Last Tuesday I dropped them off at the Museum of African American History in Washington before going to a walk-in clinic. An X-ray confirmed the pneumonia. I finished the 10-day Doxycycline protocol this morning. Now I’m hoping for enough energy to resume softball in a senior citizen (50 and older) league White Plains is inaugurating next Thursday for eight weekly games.  

So, what else is new? Oh, yeah, it’s Nobel prize season, so let’s be upfront right away with our biases:

Barack Obama did not deserve his peace prize, not when he won it as a counterpoint to a regressive and repressive Bush II administration, nor in subsequent years when his eloquence as the leader of the free world camouflaged drone deaths, red line faults, undocumented immigrant deportations, and acts that otherwise would have disqualified his nomination. 

The Swedish academy has a habit, a bad habit, of premature advancement of peaceful achievement. Can an award presented to Yasir Arafat and his Israeli counterparts be considered legitimate? Yes, Yitzhak Rabin died in pursuit of peace. Shimon Peres valiantly tried to achieve peace, but despite living 22 years after receiving the award in 1994, never saw peace implemented. Why? Because Arafat (and his successor) continually rejected peace offers. The trio may have deserved certificates of merit—good first step, now let’s see you sustain the effort—but not a full-fledged-world-watching ceremonial award. That comes after a lifetime, okay years, of peacemaking, not a blip in your highlight reel of death, violence and assault on all things noble and civil. 

Which brings us to Donald Trump. The excitement of a possible breakthrough with North Korea is palpable. However, it is too early to crown any of his and Kim Jung Un’s initiatives as historically peacemaking. 

One book does not make a Nobel prize in literature. One summit meeting does not mean peace is breaking out all over. Will North Korea become less repressive? Will Trump become more tolerant toward the disadvantaged, including refugees and those seeking asylum, and less tolerant of dictators like Putin, Duterte, and Erdogan? 

Better Living Thru Chemistry: Did you see the report earlier this week on the classroom science experiment in a Tennessee high school that went awry and injured 17? (

During my junior year in high school a chemistry laboratory demonstration blew up. It was quite common for our Jewish day school, Yeshivah of Flatbush, to hire retired or near retirement public school teachers to provide quality secular instruction. Mr. Nash had been hired the year before to teach biology. He was a crusty old man with a raspy voice, probably close to my current age of 69, with wisps of hair on an otherwise large, balding head. With no prior experience teaching chemistry Mr. Nash embarked on his new mission with the apparent tactic of staying one textbook chapter ahead of the class. 

The experiment of the day was to observe the reaction when water is mixed with sulfuric acid. You are supposed to add the acid to the water. But Mr. Nash did the reverse. When no discernible reaction occurred, a few students suggested he add more water. 

He did, causing a most violent reaction. The glass beaker containing the sulfuric acid exploded, sending shards across the room. Several students were injured, none seriously. There was lots of smoke and a severely bruised teacher’s ego.