Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tossing and Turning When Gilda's Away

My wife left me last Tuesday. 

Oh, it is not what you think. 

With Donny staying in New York for business, Gilda accompanied Ellie, CJ and Leo back to Omaha. She will be coming home today.  

Being able to help care for our grandchildren is one of the benefits she is reaping in retirement, the freedom to travel on her own schedule, for pleasure or to help out. 

I’m not embarrassed to admit I have had a hard time sleeping when she’s not lying next to me. During my career I often traveled days at a time. Frequently five days a month away from home. 

As publisher and editor I could assign others to travel with me. Ostensibly to help train or support a staffer, it camouflaged a perq of my office to keep me from being alone on the road. It worked during the daytime and through a good dinner but when my hotel room door closed behind me I could not escape the loneliness of being away from home, from Gilda. 

Her trip to Omaha brought the experience back, but in reverse. In my hotel room after dinner I would turn on the TV. I’d be exhausted but unable to fall into deep sleep. I’d set the TV timer only to be awakened from light slumber when it clicked off around 12:30. I couldn’t control the air quality in the room. The room would be stuffy. The pillows were not to my liking. I’d stumble across to the bathroom once or twice. I’d turn the TV back on and for hours watch a bad movie or some silly sitcoms. 

My TV options are better now. I can scroll through hundreds of cable stations with scores of movies. The first night Gilda was gone I watched a West Coast Yankees game and two episodes of Veep before finally closing my eyes for several hours. 

When Gilda’s home we usually go to sleep around 11:30. I wake up around 8. This past week sleep has not come till nearly 2 and has not lasted past 7:30. This blog, for example, was written about 1:30 am, a half hour after I woke up from sleep initiated at the start of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. I woke up at 7:07.

For all my complaints, the truth is I believe a partner’s independent short-term travel is healthy for any relationship. Time away allows both partners to more fully appreciate each other. To recharge the excitement of being together. 

I could never have sustained the life of a traveling salesman or similar profession that required extended overnight travel most weeks of the year. 

As much as I “suffered” through this past week, my experience is not comparable to what Gilda went through when I traveled. She was left to care for our children, to feed and, when they were younger, clothe them. To make sure they went off safely to school and back. For most of those years she also had a full-time job. And if it snowed—it always seemed to snow when I was away during the winter—she had to shovel the driveway. No, my seven nights tossing and turning cannot be compared to her years of underappreciated dedication.

There’s no guarantee my sleep tonight will be better with Gilda lying next to me. But hearing her breathing, being able to reach out and touch her arm in the middle of the night, relying on her body heat instead of the heated mattress pad to warm our bed, signals a return to normalcy. To a contentment appreciated for sure by anyone in a lifetime partner relationship. 

Her plane is scheduled to land at Newark airport at 4:30 pm. I’ll be there. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

My Letter in The Times Lights the Way

It took more than two weeks, but The New York Times finally published my letter to the editor, online Sunday and in Monday’s printed edition. 

Back on April 12 two of Thomas Edison’s great-grandsons opined in The Times that “the Department of Energy now wants to roll back new efficiency standards (for light bulbs) signed into law by President George W. Bush and updated, as required, during the Obama administration” (https://nyti.ms/2VDXgtT).

The proposed withdrawal is another example of Donald Trump’s demonic compulsion to eliminate any vestige of progressive action by his predecessors, especially if it smacks of any environmental benefit to reduce the impact of climate change.  

The Edison progeny advocated public and congressional opposition to any plan by the Energy Department to narrow the scope of energy saving standards. 

It was in that context that I sent my letter to The Times. With slight editing to my original submission, The Times ran the following:

“We cannot rely on the Trump administration to do the right thing when it comes to enforcing light bulb energy standards. Instead, private enterprise must lead the way.

“Large chain stores—Walmart, Target, Kmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, Costco and Ace Hardware, as well as Amazon—should exert their public service commitment by not buying or stocking less energy efficient incandescent light bulbs.
“Retailers can shine a positive light on the future direction of our country.”

Naturally, not everyone is on board with any plan that would deny consumers the opportunity to buy cheaper 100-watt incandescent bulbs compared to more expensive L.E.D.s. In response to a friend who brought up the issue after seeing my letter, I wrote back, 

“Yes, it will cost more and the poor would be disproportionately hurt. But just as we have required seat belts in cars at a higher cost, just as we require food safety inspections that raise the price of food, just as we have tolls on roads that make travel costlier, there are some mandates that are put in place for the common good. Call it totalitarianism. Or socialism. Or saving the planet for our grandchildren. Doing nothing is not an option for long term survival.”

Here’s how the Edisons put it: “Few actions can reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet as cheaply and easily as replacing energy-wasting bulbs with highly efficient ones. The group (the Natural Resources Defense Council) estimates that if every household in the United States replaced just one old bulb with an L.E.D., the country’s overall electric bill would be cut by more than $5 billion in 10 years, and two million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution would be avoided. 

“The savings are so big because the average American household has around 40 lighting sockets, and many still employ energy-wasting bulbs. We need efficiency standards to spur more innovation and ensure that our store shelves carry new bulbs reflecting the latest technology.

“Regrettably, special interests have reared their heads once again. Big bulb manufacturers supported by the Energy Department prefer to take the cheap, inefficient and environmentally harmful path for short-term profits. They would sacrifice our common good for their selfish greed.”

This was not my first letter published in The Times. Eleven years ago, when Allianz was reported by The Times to be near to securing the naming rights to the then new Meadowlands stadium where the New York Giants and Jets would play, I revealed the link between the company and its history of insuring Nazi death camps. To its credit Allianz already had disclosed on its website its association with the Nazi regime. But The Times article merely identified Allianz as a German financial services company (no doubt that is how the company identifies itself in press releases).

After my letter was published The Times followed up with a major story entitled “Naming Rights and Historic Wrongs.” Less than a week after my letter appeared, after intense public rejection of the Allianz overture, Allianz abandoned its bid. Only then did MetLife step in to secure the naming rights (https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2010/01/chain-of-one-person-events.html).

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Don McGhan: Patriot or Trump Enabler?

In the pantheon of American patriots who sacrificed position to preserve the republic and avoid a constitutional crisis, how would you rank former White House counsel Don McGahn?  

Is he worthy of adulation for thwarting the worst impulses of a petty president? Should we laud him for ignoring the rants of Donald Trump, the commands of a megalomaniac, the wanton dictates of a wannabe autocrat? For surely on more than one occasion, according to his own testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller, McGhan saved Trump’s presidency by not executing his orders. 

So where do you stand on McGhan? Patriot or enabler of tyranny for keeping Trump in the White House?

Before you respond, here’s a thought to muddle your thinking: Along with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, McGhan is responsible for a decades’ long turn to the right in our federal judiciary. He managed the selections and confirmations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and dozens of lower court judges appointed for life. 

Now what do you say? Is McGhan to be praised or reviled? Trump has him tops on his most current “s— list” because he has revealed the nakedness of Trump’s intellect and disdain for the Constitution. He spilled the beans—on the record—on the dysfunction in the Oval Office. He corroborated previously reported stories, based on sources, that Trump’s aides ignored his directives and assiduously worked to keep him from violating the law or corroding the government. 

Naturally, the denier-in-chief rejected the idea that anyone stifled his impulses, but testimony under oath to the contrary is difficult to rebut, especially since it came from several officials.

Yet, there are those judges McGhan put on the bench. Would America be better off if McGhan had resigned rather than helped Trump stay in office? 

Probably not. Because Mike Pence as a replacement president would have nominated those same judges, if not more conservative jurists. Liberal values were screwed no matter who served as president or counsel to the president as long as Republicans held a majority in the Senate. 

Ideology aside, it may be argued McGhan acted in the best interests of the nation. He forestalled a constitutional crisis. It will be interesting to observe how he reacts and responds to the subpoena Congress just extended to him. 

Attorney General William Barr, on the other hand, has openly displayed his bias. Rather than be the people’s attorney, Barr has shown himself to be Trump’s best defense lawyer. His repeated use of Trump’s catch-phrase “no collusion” was an open acknowledgment that he was conspiring with Trump to undermine the findings of the Mueller report. 

Collusion is not a legal term to be used in the context of the Mueller probe. Mueller found insufficient evidence to say there was a conspiracy with Russia to sway the election. He did not make a judgment on the question of obstruction of justice. Barr did, saying no obstruction occurred. But Mueller’s report provided numerous instances where Trump interfered with the investigation or its legitimacy. 

An unbiased attorney general would have let Congress decide the matter. He would not have pre-judged the question. Unlike McGhan, Barr added fuel to the fire of possible impeachment and constitutional crisis. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Aglow in Sadness From Notre-Dame's Flames

A little more than a week ago I watched, for the umpteenth time, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, the classic 1939 film adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel starring Charles Laughton. It is a great movie.

The first time I saw the film I must have been no more than 10 years old. I watched it with my mother, probably as one of the Million Dollar Movies that played each night for a full week on WOR-TV Channel 9 in New York during the 1950s. From that time, indelibly imprinted in my mind was the scene wherein the hunchback bellringer Quasimodo pours molten lead through gargoyles on the roof of the cathedral onto Parisian beggars and riffraff attacking Notre-Dame. 

For years I thought the mob was trying to free the Gypsy maiden Esmeralda from his grasp. He had saved her from the gallows, invoking “sanctuary” inside the church.  

The mob actually was trying to shield Esmeralda from a threatened royal revocation of sanctuary safety. Deaf, Quasimodo had no way of knowing the mob was not attacking him. 

To my young eyes and ears, the spectacle was all that mattered. The hunchback saved the girl. 

Hugo’s book is far different from its various movie iterations. Look it up on Wikipedia if you’re interested in knowing the differences. One thing is a constant—Notre-Dame commands the screen. 

I climbed to the top of the cathedral during my first trip to Paris in August 1966. I arrived at the base of Notre-Dame just before closing time. New visitors were not allowed entry through the main entrance that day anymore. Being a bold teenager of 17, I decided that up the down staircase was good enough for me. I raced up one of the towers, the right one if memory serves me correctly. The climb is 387 stairs. It took about 10 minutes. 

A few steps short of the top a young man descending said something to me I could not understand. Having just spent six weeks in Israel, I reflexively responded, “Mah?,” Hebrew for “what?”. He laughed and answered me in Hebrew that the viewing area was closing and being cleared of tourists. I rushed ahead and managed a short but thrilling view of Paris from above.

I’ve returned with Gilda to Paris several times. Notre-Dame has been one of our memorable stops.

Paris without Notre-Dame in its glory would be like visiting London without seeing Big Ben or Westminster Abbey, Rome without St. Peter’s Basilica or the Coliseum, Jerusalem without the Western Wall or the Dome of the Rock. 

Begun in 1163, the Gothic cathedral was completed in 1345 at a cost impossible to fathom.

Will Notre-Dame be restored? Would the French government sustain such an expense for an expected lengthy restoration? 

If there is a model of hope for a resurrection of the edifice it can be found at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Built by Tsar Peter the Great on the shore of the Baltic Sea in the early part of the 18th century, Peterhof’s elaborate gardens, fountains and buildings were largely ravaged by the invading German army in 1941. Restoration began at the end of World War II and lasted through decades. Gilda and I can attest to its beauty. 

In Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia (“holy family”) Church is slated for completion in 2026. Construction began in 1882, but did not take on its current design until Antoni Gaudi took over as architectural director in 1884. Gaudi died in 1926 with only 20% of the project complete. Gilda liked it when we saw it about 15 yers ago. I didn't warm to it.

These days the French are not a particularly religious people. But the importance of Notre-Dame transcends beliefs. When the shock of the blaze is reduced to embers, a burning desire to rekindle national pride will fuel a revival of the grande dame of Paris.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sharing Voices in a Chorus

On the eve of the 10th day from Wednesday, April 10, Jews the world over will sit down to a seder commemorating the exodus from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. It has become a festival of nationhood, a symbol of freedom from oppression and bondage, a reminder that they should treat the strangers among them with dignity and fairness because, as it is written in Deuteronomy 10:18-19, God “befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

How far we Americans—Jews and non Jews—have come from this biblical ideal. 

Days after celebrating Purim, the holiday that rejoices in the foiling of Haman’s plot to annihilate all Jews inside the Persian empire because they were different, and days before the Passover holiday when Jews became refugees seeking a new life, the Trump administration has vigorously renewed its attack on legal asylum seekers. 

Trump has claimed there is no room in the United States for all the asylum seekers. He made that argument before a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas (on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, of all days). Of course, his facts were wrong (https://nyti.ms/2UpZ1hF).

Reportedly, the purge of officials at the Department of Homeland Security in favor of those who would implement a more repressive immigration policy has been championed by Stephen Miller, himself a great grandson of a Jewish refugee fleeing pogroms in Belarus. How shameful. Miller is a modern day Torquemada, whose medieval family converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Torquemada became a priest and led the Spanish Inquisition against Moslems and Jews who converted but were suspected of less than complete adherence to Catholic practices.

Facebook and Twitter are enlightening sources. Here’s a post from Jackie Calmes. Above a picture of Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis in 1939, Calmes wrote, “Never thought an audience of Jews would cheer words like Trump’s in NV on Sat against asylum, labeling migrants fleeing violence as threats & saying US is ‘full.’”

Under the picture, a link to an article in Smithsonian Magazine recounting the State Department’s long history of anti-Semitism. The headline: “The U.S. Government Turned Away Thousands of Jewish Refugees, Fearing That They Were Nazi Spies” (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/us-government-turned-away-thousands-jewish-refugees-fearing-they-were-nazi-spies-180957324/#V6QqrCfvfc4Ktrpo.03).

Lee Clark on Twitter wrote, “Trump went to Las Vegas and in front of the Jewish people used the same analogy against the South Americans that the country used against the Jews in 1939, the country was full and could not take in any more refugees. Refusing to let the Jew in sending them away Hitler killed all of them. The same thing Trump is doing to the South Americans.”

Words matter. Why is it that when Trump talks about Puerto Ricans or Jewish Americans it sounds like he does not consider them to be American citizens. Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he referred to Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu as “your prime minister,” suggesting that the Jews he was speaking to were not American citizens but rather Israelis, that their loyalty was, at the very least, divided.

The case is being made by some Jews that it is in their best interest to abandon the Democratic Party in favor of Republicans. It’s called “Jexodus”  https://nyti.ms/2Yc2yhO. 

I’m not buying it. I’m not turning my back on millennia of Jewish ideals, like support for human rights, equality, equality of opportunity, support for education, civil rights, community, respect for scientific knowledge.  

The noted astrophysicist Carl Sagan, in his 1995 book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,”  forecast the type of existence we find ourselves in today. Here’s a Twitter post of Sagan’s thoughts from his book from Dan Kaminsky via a Bret Thorn retweet:

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

We deserve a leader who would help us reverse the decline, yes, to make us great again, not by dividing us into competitive camps but by uniting us toward a common goal. 

Instead, we are faced with the reality of another Sagan quote from his book: “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Biden Drawing Lots of Advice on Running

Joe Biden is getting a lot of free advice lately*. Run; Don’t run. Apologize; Just say you’re sorry, I won’t do it again (hopefully, that is, given that being touchy-feely is hardwired into his DNA). 

Perhaps the best thing to come out of Biden’s #MeToo moment has been the mocking he has endured from Donald Trump and his depraved supporters. Of all people, the misogynist- and philanderer-in-chief should be silent on matters related to violating a woman’s space. On this issue alone, any woman who would opt for The Donald over Uncle Joe, even Creepy Uncle Joe, is beyond redemption, is lost to any Democrat hoping to kick the miscreant out of the White House. 

The Biden contretemps over his pressing-the-flesh form of retail politics has spotlighted the evolution of electoral choices for the whole country, most especially for Democrats. 

Republicans seem content to look beyond most any candidate’s past and even current indiscretions. Hard right policies are more important to them than a strong moral character. Examples abound, including Roy Moore of Alabama and Steve King of Iowa. Let’s also not forget Brett Kavanaugh.

No one has implied Biden had dark thoughts when he invaded the privacy of women and men during his long public career. But by turning his actions of decades ago, or even of yesterday, into an immutable character flaw, those advocating his withdrawal from any consideration of the presidency have transformed the selection of a nominee into a beauty contest rather than a competition of ideas and principles. Young voters, in particular, should care more about the values a leader encompasses and the future he or she projects for them, our country and the world than on a series of unintentionally inappropriate touches. 

Biden has a lot of political baggage he must defend, from how he handled Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings to his advocacy of tough criminal laws that disproportionately affected people of color. He should not expect the nomination to be handed to him on a silver platter.

But he should not be disqualified because his service record spans generational changes. Good leaders evolve their thinking, their actions. 

Everyone wanting to be president, including Trump, claims they will work for “all” Americans, that they want to work across party lines. Biden is one of the few, if only, who has that experience. 

He should be given the chance to be compared against those who believe they have a more meaningful vision to unite the country. More importantly, whomever is chosen as the Democratic standard bearer needs to convince voters he or she can defeat Trump.

*For those who may have missed some of the free advice Biden is receiving, here are several links: