Thursday, September 22, 2022

Thoughts for a New Year

I’m 73 years old.


I often ponder how much longer I will live. As I look forward to my grandson Finley’s bar mitzvah in November, I wonder, will I be around to celebrate all of the bar and bat mitzvahs of my three other grandchildren, the youngest of which is five?


Will I see them through college? Marriage? Children of their own?


Given my relative good health and medical science advances, optimistic musings are not beyond the realm of possibility.


But there’s a darker question that shrouds my vision of the future. Will my children and grandchildren enjoy the liberties and opportunities I did, not just because climate change and finite natural resources may put a limit on civilization, but also because political repression has come back in vogue, as highlighted by the Supreme Court ruling negating abortion rights while raising the specter that other rights thought safeguarded in the Constitution could be found not present in a conservative originalist interpretation of our founding document.


If any of my grandchildren choose to marry a non Caucasian could they be barred from doing as their heart desires? If any grow up to be LGBTQ, could they be denied the right to marry another LGBTQ person? Or have consensual relations with them?


Will they face restrictive housing laws?


Going forward young American women and girls will have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.


It seems too many men, and surprisingly women for that matter, want females to be compliant. They seem to long for the time when women, including married women, could not possess their own credit cards, hold jobs thought to be the province of men, were meant to be homemakers and baby factories. Medical information and decisions were filtered through their husbands. 


Ever since the passage of Social Security in the 1930s by New Deal Democrats, Republicans have wanted to abolish it on constitutional grounds. Same with the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. It is not unreasonable conjecture and resultant worry that with a now firm grasp on the Supreme Court the GOP will try to fulfill its long term opposition to programs that benefit tens of millions, especially those who especially need government support during their most vulnerable years and medical engagements.


For those who view history with their hearts, minds and eyes open there are lessons to be learned from previous instances when rights obtained were retracted.


Rights for black Americans earned through a bloody Civil War victory were taken away by Jim Crow laws throughout the South after Reconstruction was dismantled. Legislation, including landmark laws such as the GI Bill of Rights after World War II, included provisions specifically excluding minorities from enjoying the same benefits as whites.


If you’ve been watching the PBS documentary by Ken Burns on the Holocaust and the American response you’ve seen our country’s countless instances of racist and xenophobic treatment of immigrants, Native Americans and the “different.” Their treatment belies the commonly quoted sentiment that America was a land of equal opportunity for all.


And so I wonder about our collective future. Dark forces are at work here and abroad. It is not democracy that is on the rise around the globe. Repressive regimes with sham elections are on the march. Until a scant few years ago it was inconceivable that almost half our country would not believe in the legitimacy of a presidential election. 


In the next two weeks during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services a central prayer recited several times, the U-Netaneh Tokef, will include a litany of futures we may encounter over the next year. Some good. Some bad. Riches or destitution. Peace, war, natural disasters. 


“Who will be at peace and who will be troubled;

Who will be serene and who will be disturbed.”


When the prayer was composed by an unknown author during the Middle Ages in Europe, the life of the “different”—the Jew—was an uncertain one. Eighty years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism remains vibrant. Perhaps even growing. 


Repression. Climate change. Climate change denial. War. Book bannings. Economic distress. Crime. Immigration. Education. Health care. Energy. Housing. All, and more, divisive issues.


As the Jewish New Year of 5783 begins Sunday evening, these are issues that trouble and disturb people of all and no faiths. I have no magic path to peace and serenity. At least for me, I find some comfort in communicating my angst without shame or regret. 


To all I wish a healthy, happy and sweet New Year. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Hollywood on the Passing of a Leader

Queen Elizabeth II has been laid to rest. The official coronation of a new sovereign, Charles III, will be held after an appropriate period. The spectacle will be elaborate.


Hollywood has been transfixed by the passing of leaders within all forms of hierarchy—government, industry, military, religion.


Herewith my list of favorite movies to which the passing of a leader is central:


Stalin Is Dead


The man who shot liberty valence


Goodbye Mr. Chips (Robert Donat 1939)


Lawrence of Arabia


Citizen Kane


All the King’s Men


Doctor Zhivago


Gandhi


The King and I


The Great Ziegfeld


Saving Private Ryan


Braveheart


Spartacus


Gladiator


Executive Suite


The Last Hurrah


El Cid


The Messenger: the Story of Joan of Arc


Becket


The Prince and the Pauper

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

WWTD: What Would Trump Do

Billions upon billions of dollars. $54 billion, including $20.6 billion in military assistance. That’s what America has committed to Ukraine for its defensive war with Russia (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/05/20/upshot/ukraine-us-aid-size.html?smid=url-share).


(Keep in mind, we don’t send actual dollars to Ukraine. For military equipment, for example, we send those dollars to our military industrial complex here in the United States to produce weapons needed by Ukraine. War supported by our government is a bonanza to suppliers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.)


Based on Ukraine’s recent successes against Russia the investment seems to be paying off. It’s way too early for any consideration of a victory lap for Ukraine or for its prominent benefactor, President Biden (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/13/opinion/ukraine-war-biden.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare).


It is fair to wonder, however, what would Donald Trump have done, or would do, if he were again commander in chief? Would he cut the chord of support? Would he regurgitate Putin’s claim that Ukraine is a bastion of neo-Nazis needing to be exterminated?


If Trump puppets win control of one or both chambers of Congress will they act to stop the flow of armaments and essentials to Ukraine?


Americans have a soft spot for underdogs, so I would hope we favor Ukraine for the long term, regardless of our politics.  



Paper Trail: Paper-gate, Mar-a-Lago-gate or whatever the name of the moment is for the investigation of Trump’s cache of classified documents is at a momentary standstill. Except for lingering doubts that all of the documents Trump took with him to Florida have been uncovered. 


There’s increasing speculation Trump might have transported boxes of documents to his Bedminster, NJ, country club. Here’s a recent Twitter post from Jeff Tiedrich showing boxes being loaded on a private jet three days after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) sought the return of missing material from Trump back on May 6, 2021: https://twitter.com/itsJeffTiedrich/status/1568610619959513088?s=20&t=VmRSvnybsfQlmTuLwAzX7w.


A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, but a video is so much better, especially if it is a Jimmy Kimmel parody (sorry, but as my tech skills are limited, you’ll have to wait until 5:33 of the YouTube monologue for the 1:05 minute clip of Box-gate)https://youtu.be/eL2fGiJzr6Q .  

Monday, September 12, 2022

Charles III To Sit Upon a Stone


One of the more quaint customs to be witnessed with the investiture of Charles III as king of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the rest of the British Commonwealth will be his sitting on a weathered high-backed wooden chair atop a formidable piece of rock known as the Stone of Scone (pronounced Scoon).


Last used for Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, the stone has a history associated with the division and then unity of the British Isles under a single monarch. 


Until nearly 1,000 years ago the Stone of Scone rested on the grounds of what is now known as Scone Palace near Perth, the one-time capital of Scotland.  Perth is 45 miles north of Edinburgh, the current capital. For the golfers among you, it is 34 miles west of St. Andrews. 


Scone is the historic location where 38 kings of Scotland were crowned sitting on the Stone of Scone. Until 1296, when English King Edward I imprinted his subjugation of the Scots by taking the stone to London’s Westminster Abbey. It remained there except for just a scant few months, to be used for coronation ceremonies, until its formal return to Scotland, to Edinburgh Castle, in 1996. For Charles’ coronation the stone will be transported back to London (https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/26/the-coronation-chair-and-stone-of-scone/).


Gilda and I visited Scone Palace in 2019 and saw facsimiles of the famous stone and throne chair. Fore more than 400 years the the location has been the ancestral home of the Murray family, successive Earls of Mansfield since 1776. The palace was built from 1803-1812.


The first Earl of Mansfield, William Murray, was Lord Chief Justice of England. In 1783 he issued a ruling that began the process that led to the end of slavery in Britain.


As important as that action was, Hollywood found the life of his niece, Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, more appealing. It filmed her life story, with liberties, in Belle, released in 2013 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_(2013_film)#Plot). 


Dido was the daughter of an enslaved African woman in the West Indies and Captain Sir John Lindsay, a Royal Navy officer. Lindsay entrusted her to Murray and his wife to raise, as they were doing with another great-niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray. When the two cousins matured they sat for an oil portrait by David Martin. The painting is displayed at Scone Palace. 



Speaking of portraits, just days after Joe Biden was elected, I wrote that one of his first orders of business should be the formal unveiling of the portraits of President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama to be hung in the White House, a  ceremony Obama’s successor failed to honor, no surprise given his boorish behavior. Well, it’s taken almost two years but the slight has been cleansed. 



Cricket, Anyone? One of the more optimistic forecasts my eyes passed over recently was a prediction that cricket would “explode” in popularity in America (https://mol.im/a/11182649).


Gimmeabreak! While I know the British, as well as the Pakistanis, Indians and other countries influenced by English colonialism favor the sport, it is far too tame and longwinded for American tastes (https://www.topendsports.com/world/lists/popular-sport/sports/cricket.htm). 


Cricket is even more sleep-inducing than soccer. Yes, Cricket has more scoring than soccer, baseball, hockey, basketball and football combined, but I cannot conceive the average American will become a fan beyond those who immigrated here from countries where cricket is a passion. 


Friday, September 9, 2022

Recognizing Celluloid Kings and Queens

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, time to consider my choices of the best films I’ve seen with monarchs and sovereigns as central or essential characters:


The Queen


The Favourite


The Prisoner of Zenda


Kismet (musical and non musical)


The King and I


The Scarlett Empress


The Rise of Catherine the Great


The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex


The Curse of the Golden Flower


The Prince and the Pauper


The Last Emperor


The Sea Hawk


The Madness of King George


Marie Antoinette (1938 and 2012)


Queen Christina


Mary of Scotland


Mary Queen of Scots


Elizabeth: The Golden Age


Victoria & Abdul


Elizabeth


The King’s Speech


A Man for All Seasons


Beckett


Julius Caesar


Cleopatra


Rasputin and the Empress


Nicholas and Alexandra


The Ten Commandments


Land of the Pharaohs


The Princess Bride


The Adventures of Robin Hood


The Crusades


A Lion in Winter


The Vikings



Eerie Coincidences: As I’ve related in the past, my dearest friend Dave Banks was a source of British royal intelligence, a worthwhile attribute for any tabloid journalist, as he was. Dave passed away last February in northern England where he and his wife Gemma lived in the quaint village of Crookham just miles south of the Scottish border.


Because he was a larger than life presence on Fleet Street, Gemma and their children Tash and Tim organized a commemorative gathering for London-based journalists who could not attend Dave’s funeral in Northumberland. It was held in St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London, at 11:30 on September 8.


Dare I say it, how deliciously ironic that Queen Elizabeth died hours later.


When I related that coincidence to Gemma, she responded, “Especially as I was born the day she came to the throne.” 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Celebrating an 80th Anniversary


Eighty years ago this day, September 6, 1942, Sylvia Margarite Gerson married Kopel Fuersetzer. The first of two of her three sisters to marry, my mother was 25. My father, six years older. They lived together for 53 years. Sylvia died in 1996. Kopel passed in 1998. 


They knew each other a scant six weeks before taking their vows. Two of those weeks they were apart, Sylvia on vacation. It was a pattern of separate vacations including trips by each to Israel, Europe, Japan, California and Florida that often played out during their married life as they worked together in a family business that could not sustain keeping their factory closed long enough to accommodate joint pursuits of pleasure.


Two months after their marriage, Kopel was drafted into the U.S. Army. He never saw combat. He received a medical discharge eight months later. 


With his return to New York, the couple began their life together in earnest. One of the first orders of business was a name change. Through several iterations Fuersetzer evolved to Frost (my brother Bernie’s initial last name), then Forsetzer (my sister Lee’s birth name), then Forseter (my family name at birth). 


My parents provided their children a fulfilling life in our attached row house home in Brooklyn. We had few desires not realized. We went to private Jewish schools. We spent summers in the mountains, first at a resort hotel, then in eight week sleepaway summer camps. We went to Broadway shows and operas. For themselves, Kopel bought a new car, usually a Buick, every five years. Sylvia received jewelry for special occasions and had charge cards at several department stores. A dishwasher was installed in the kitchen, as well as air conditioners built into the brick facade instead of hanging out our windows. They employed a full-time housekeeper/cook.


Sylvia and Kopel were not the idyllic couple one often reads about in posts from children or views on 1950s situation comedies. They were real people. They argued. They were strong-willed. They were opinionated. They had faults—Sylvia smoked to excess; Kopel rarely entertained someone else’s original thought as a better way to do anything.


But the home and work environments they crafted for their children to grow up in were petrie dishes for a well-rounded successful life.


They instilled in us a commitment to social values of equality, charity, along with individual and collective responsibility for the welfare of others not as fortunate. They role-modeled financial prudence. We were not treated as privileged. We worked when needed in their factory, or in our uncle or aunt’s retail stores. Each week we rotated household tasks including shopping, vacuuming and cleaning the kitchen. 


We learned leadership practices through their examples of respect for their employees and customers, how to inspire support for community goals, how to build trust through shared experience.


Their home was always open to friends, ours and theirs, and relatives. They taught us to be gracious hosts, never imposing a limit on how many could enter 1810 Avenue W. We absorbed many lessons around nightly full-family three course dinners.


They demanded a return on their investment—excellence in school, part-time work while in college. 


Perhaps their greatest gift was planting a sense of adventure and independence to ultimately pursue our personal and professional desires. We bravely traveled independently, domestically and internationally. We chose occupations foreign to the business model they undertook. We moved away, sometimes far away, from Brooklyn. 


In the coming months, Bernie and Annette will celebrate their 53rd year of marriage; Gilda and I will hit 50 years; for Lee and David it will be 46 years. Our parents might not have been perfect, but they set a template worthy of devotion.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Time to Take the Offensive v. the Offensive

Do I think Donald Trump and too many of his supporters, particularly elected officials pushing the belief that the 2020 election was illegitimate and that Trump won, are a threat to democracy? Damn right I do.


President Biden on Friday might have walked back some of his right-on assessment delivered Thursday night in a speech outlining the threat to our form of government by hordes of Republicans, some of whom are candidates for election in November. But anyone who has witnessed how Trump mangles allegiance to our laws, norms and protocols, and how GOP officials have sought to overturn 2020 and reduce opportunities for minorities to vote and otherwise live life to the fullest, cannot plausibly argue with his original assessment.


If Biden and his advisors are guilty of any political faux pas it is in waiting too long to take the offensive against Trumpism’s offensive behavior. Speeches are fine for describing the broad outline of the danger before us. But for massive impact I favor repeated airing of the comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denouncing Trump for inciting the riotous insurrection in the Capitol January 6, 2021. 


McCarthy, especially, has shamefully backtracked on his of-the-moment reaction to the assault. He clearly was honestly reflecting on the danger he and his colleagues were in as their workplace was invaded by Trump’s orcs. His all-consuming lust for power to become speaker of the House, third in line to the presidency, has led him to kneel at Trump’s feet to kiss his ring and forget reality. 


Biden’s critical warning that extremist Republicans are a threat to our democratic republic is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” characterization of Trumpsters in 2016. You know what? She was right!


“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people, refuse to accept the results of a free election,” Biden intoned.


To be a successful senator, and Biden claims to have been one, you have to be a good vote counter among your peers. In the days of bipartisanship, that meant figuring out how many senators from the opposition party would support your bill. Those days are long gone, though Biden clings to the past far too often.


Republicans attacked Biden’s speech for defaming the 74 million who voted for Trump. Yes, Biden is correct in now acknowledging they are not all out to burn down the system. 


But let’s be clear: Trump’s 74 million is 9 percent less than the 81 million voters—Democrats, Independents and Republicans—who chose Biden. Biden must play up to and energize those voters and not worry about offending the deplorables. 


Don’t expect many Trumpian Republicans except their political elite—in other words, those talking heads who want to be asked to pontificate on Fox News and other conservative media—to have viewed, much less be positively influenced, by the president’s speech on the fragility of our form of government.


It is time for Biden to abandon his hope to be a unifier. One doesn’t enter a battle hoping for a draw. 


For the sake of our country, during the next 68 days Biden must sharpen his laser to focus on challenging the “coalition of the democratic” (small “d”) to vote November 8 for candidates who respect the rule of law, personal choice in lifestyle and reproduction, and adherence to the Constitution.

 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Road Rage and Other Travel Stories

Idiot. Crazy. Asshole, the latter designation reserved for drivers who not just violate good driving norms but whose actions also imperil or just physically undermine my safe transit.


Perhaps you’ve seen the comic strip where kids tell their mother they learn more vocabulary when riding with their father. They’re exposed to words that would make a sailor blush is the way their father’s language would have been described in more genteel times.


Hardly a day goes by without another incident of road rage being reported. On Sunday the White Plains Daily Voice reported, “A Hudson Valley man was nabbed for alleged road rage after allegedly pulling a gun on another driver he had been tailgating.”


It is painfully obvious that civility has departed normal discourse and interaction among sizable segments of our society. It happens on the road between strangers and on streets between rival gangs.


Can I attribute it to Donald Trump? For sure, at least partly. Recall that during his rallies he would incite his faithful to manhandle any protesters. And, during debates with other Republicans, rather than score points on policy he would deprecate their physical characteristics. And he stalked Hillary Clinton during one of their debates.


When your leader opens the door to confrontation is it any wonder that the masses follow?


Now, I’m not so naive to exempt Democrats from boorish behavior, though I fervently believe those Dems that practice uncivil behavior are a small cadre of the party.


Republicans, no doubt, would quickly point to riots in Portland and elsewhere but without citing the cause, that usually being a problematic police killing of an unarmed black person for an incident, such as a broken car tail light, that usually would not result in a white person being stopped.


Those demonstrations were the direct result of years, decades, centuries of institutional abuse, not one-on-one interactions between individuals.


Road rage, on the other hand, seems to be just an outgrowth of depreciating respect for others. Sad times, indeed.



Uncivil Arizona: The height of uncivil behavior is still being played out in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Defying tradition, Trump and his minions have refused to acknowledge defeat.


If you’re interested in a deep look at how Republicans do not accept the reality of the last near two years, spend a few minutes reading an article from The Guardian profiling the Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives who refused to cave in to Trump’s entreaties and threats to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona (https://amp.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/20/rusty-bowers-interview-trump-arizona-republicans).



On the Road Again: Just back from a 600 mile roundtrip to Rockville, MD, made tolerably pleasurable by listening to different Sirius stations on the car radio.


I was intrigued by one of Sirius’ promos that lauded the construction of our interstate highway system (IHS) as mankind’s greatest public works project in history. That’s according to historians, said Sirius, which added a pitch for its entertainment network as a must-have traveling companion.


Yes, America has benefitted from our linked highways north and south, east and west. But I wonder, in context of tools and equipment available, as well as technical knowledge of their times and the financial and manpower resources that could be tapped, whether the aqueducts built by ancient Rome, or the roads spanning the Incan empire, or the Great Wall of China might surpass the IHS in greatness.


Perhaps the historians Sirius cited referred only to America’s public works. In that case, a good argument could be made for the construction of the Erie Canal (I’d have added the transcontinental railroad but that was a private endeavor).


What’s your opinion?



Road Kill: On May 24, with my three year lease on a Toyota Camry coming due in mid August, Gilda and I signed up for a 2022 plug-in hybrid Ford Escape. We knew about construction delays and a shortage of chips, but we felt good about the prospects of coinciding giving up the Camry with the delivery of the Escape.


Ha! Every two weeks or so a new email from Ford advises building our car would be delayed. The latest date given is September 19. It takes about a day to build a car, but then six weeks or so for it to be delivered to a dealership.


Ah, the delivery. Last week when talking with our Ford salesman he informed I had to choose a different dealership for delivery because his was closing down at the end of August. 


At least we had a vehicle identification number, he said. Customers who had not received a VIN would have to start the whole buying process over with, no doubt, a higher price tag now that they were back in the market.


What really galled me is that our salesman who worked hard for our business will not receive commission for the sale. Some stranger at the new dealership will have a bonanza dropped in his or her lap.



A Final Road Rage Note: Click on the link for a piquant take on the type of drivers one sees on the road: https://www.facebook.com/564562817313029/photos/a.564745477294763/1510200936082541/?type=3.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Trump Exemplifies Chutzpah

Donald Trump’s lawsuit against the FBI for conducting a court authorized search of Mar-a-Lago for documents including top secret material he illegally took from the White House evokes the classic definition of chutzpah—a man accused of killing his parents pleads for leniency because he is an orphan. 


Trump is a master deflector, raising distractions to prolong proceedings until his interlocutors give up, get removed or give in.  


I sense he has met his match in Merrit Garland. Denied his chance to be a Supreme Court justice for life by Trump’s 2016 pre-election Republican enablers, Garland’s role as attorney general gives him the power of payback.  


The wheels of justice turn very slowly but I believe Garland will not wither.  



Opinion Disconnect: Americans have a habit of saying one thing while behaving exactly opposite, especially when it comes to responding to public opinion surveys. 


Thus, while many vocally deplored Trump before the 2016 election, in the privacy of the voting booth they chose him over Hillary Clinton. 


A new study by Populace found “a tendency for people of all demographics to succumb to social pressures to have the ‘right’ opinion when it comes to hot-button issues like abortion, mask wearing, and discussing gender identity in schools, despite their true feelings.” (https://dailyvoice.com/new-york/chappaqua/lifestyle/americans-self-silencing-in-record-numbers-new-study-reveals-heres-what-it-means/840942/)


It means another long election night as polls of voters are not to be fully believed until all ballots are counted. 



Cross Wyoming off a list of states I would consider living in if I were ever to contemplate relocation from New York. And by New York I mean the part that is liberal and progressive. The beauty of upstate notwithstanding I do not think I could live in a regressive environment. 


So, no to Wyoming. Despite my love of western movies, I am not a horseman. Nor do I own a gun, much less ever shot one. I’d be in awe of Wyoming’s beauty, but repulsed by opposition to laws and efforts to protect the environment which, admittedly, might limit an individual’s ability to fully exploit the land even if he or she owned it. 


 Wyoming exemplifies all that is foul with today’s Republican Party. By any normal standard Liz Cheney is an exemplary Republican. But her correct assessment that Trump lost the 2020 election and has fostered an anti-democratic movement of election deniers has made her persona non grata to GOP members who swear an allegiance to a self-styled autocrat rather than the Constitution. 


Because of her conservative views I wouldn’t support Cheney for any public office, but I am in awe of her courage and decorum in facing down Trump and his ignorant, gullible, delusional masses. 


As she properly said during one of the January 6 hearings, “In our country, we don’t swear an oath to an individual, or a political party. We take our oath to defend the United States Constitution. And that oath must mean something. Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”