Thursday, April 21, 2022

At the End of Passover, 4 Questions About Ukraine

Passover ends Saturday evening, but four questions remain about the war in Ukraine:

Why is this war different from other conflicts around the world?

Unlike civil wars underway in countries such as Yemen, Central African Republic and Congo, Ukraine is fighting the unprovoked aggression of an outside power that desires its conquest, its territory, its resources. In that regard Ukraine is similar to Kuwait when it was invaded and taken over by Iraq. Both Iraq and Russia were led into war by autocratic despots. The only difference is that Russia really does have weapons of mass destruction including nuclear and chemical arms.

Why are Ukrainian refugees seemingly more welcome in foreign lands than refugees from conflicts in Africa, Asia and South and Central America?

It cannot be denied, racism is part of the reason Europeans and Americans are more open to Ukrainian refugees than their counterparts from Syria, Libya, Myanmar and Honduras. Apart from the color of their skin, Ukrainians also are perceived to be better educated, more skilled, more industrious. And less of a risk of bringing with them embedded terrorists or gang members.

Has anyone in the United States benefitted from our support of Ukraine?

No doubt our military industrial complex has raked in huge revenues from replenishing the stock of equipment the United States has provided Ukraine. In March President Biden signed off on a $13.6 billion emergency aid package passed by both houses of Congress. Non profit humanitarian organizations, as well, have benefitted from this tragedy.

Will the American public say “dayenu”—enough!—to the non stop aid provided to- and news about- Ukraine, just as it has tired of Covid mask requirements even as nearly 400 Covid-related deaths occur every day?

It is impossible to accurately forecast an end date but our history of fatigue with world, and even long term domestic, events is extensive. As long as American lives are not lost the public’s attention span will get progressively shorter, especially if Ukraine devolves into a pattern similar to when the USSR occupied Afghanistan and the Afghanis (the Taliban) fought a guerrilla war to force a Soviet retreat from their homeland. It took the Taliban 10 years to secure victory.

The Passover story ended with freedom for the Israelites, their maturity from slaves to a nation on a journey to a promised land. In many ways their departure from bondage in Egypt provided a template for other peoples trapped by oppression. Ukrainians are struggling to remain free and not become a nation and people dissolved by a modern day pharaoh. 


Friday, April 15, 2022

A Seder With Even More Resonance

If ever there was a religion that focused on its past it is Judaism, perhaps no more reflected than in the seder experience that will be played out Friday night in various forms in living and dining rooms the world over, not just by religiously observant Jews but by fellow tribe members who are no more conversant in ancient ritual than their gentile guests dipping parley in salt water or sandwiching bitter herbs in matzah to recall centuries of bondage Israelites endured in ancient Egypt.

Passover forever stays relevant offering a continuing counterpoint to events in generation after generation.

Perhaps the most poignant point of Passover’s relevancy to daily events of our time is the Bible’s repetitive commandment not to oppress the stranger “for you (Israel) were strangers in the land of Egypt.” 

Ukraine is foremost in many minds—as of March 16, 2022, over three million Ukrainians have fled their country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which estimates worldwide there are more than 26.6 million refugees. 

America is a magnet for people seeking a better life, a safer life, a more economically opportunistic life. Beyond attaining just and benevolent immigration and asylum policies, our nation must also address lingering issues of discrimination, discrimination historically aimed at successive newcomers whether they be Irish, Italians, Chinese, Jews, Hispanics, and, through all those waves, the continuing discrimination and violence against Blacks, the one group that did not voluntarily choose to seek a new life in America. 

Let’s also not forget that America’s original peoples continue to be deprived of the many benefits and riches of our country. 

One of the more mind-boggling stories Gilda and I heard when we toured Charleston, SC, a few years ago was the practice of colonial Jewish merchants (“merchants” being code word for slave traders) conducting their seders with their personal slaves sitting around their table as participants. How surrealistic that must have been to their slaves hearing, probably not fully comprehending, the Hebrew text recounting the Israelite slaves escaping bondage. 

Other slaves, as Sharon Braus recounted in The New York Times, were read Bible stories from a “Slave Bible” that was “carefully redacted to exclude all references to the Exodus from Egypt. Imagine a Bible with no Moses, no burning bush, no Israelites fleeing slavery, no split sea and no revelation at Sinai” (

Bible scholars ascribe the length of slavery in Egypt to 400 years. 400 years? How coincidental: The first African slaves were brought to America in 1619—400 years of repression mixed with unrealized equality. 

In Nebraska earlier this week the state legislature voted to  require schools to teach about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide. On procedural grounds, however, the lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have required teaching about “slavery, lynching and racial massacres in the United States.” At least I hope it was a procedural problem, though past attempts to legislate instruction about the treatment of Blacks also failed to pass. 

The Exodus story begins with two heroines, midwives who did not heed Pharaoh’s edict to kill any newborn baby boy. To stifle dissent, Vladimir Putin wants Russians to inform on their neighbors and even family members who question the government’s line on its “special operation” in Ukraine. 

How different is that from a new law in Texas, copied by some states, that rewards snitches who report abortion recipients and those who facilitated the procedure? 

The exodus from Egypt culminates with the might of the Egyptian empire humbled, its army on chariots, drowning in the waters of the Red Sea. 

In another sea of color, the Black Sea, the pride of the Russian fleet, the guided missile cruiser Moskva, sank Thursday. Whether it was from a missile attack by Ukrainian forces or from an accidental explosion of ammunition aboard the ship, the outcome was the same, a huge victory for a people seeking freedom from a vastly superior force. 

The seder this year will have special resonance. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

A Rented Truck Key to Solving Crime

This was before surveillance cameras became ubiquitous across America. It was 1975.

Shortly before midnight on a Saturday night, March 1, a rented Ryder truck carrying 500 pounds of dynamite and 24 55-gallon drums of gasoline parked in front of the Shelton Sponge Rubber Products Plant 4, a massive blocks-long factory complex along the Housatonic River waterfront in downtown Shelton, Conn.

Some seven miles away, to the north in Seymour, another down on its luck mill town straddling the Naugatuck River, Gilda and I were about to fall asleep when the phone rang. It was Don Anderson, my boss, my bureau chief, calling from his home in Ansonia. Having been awakened by an explosion in nearby Shelton, he asked why I was in bed while half of downtown Shelton, my beat as a reporter for The New Haven Register, was ablaze.

Back then, if you slept on a foam mattress it likely was manufactured in Shelton. B.F. Goodrich had built the 475,000 square foot factory, but as consumer bedding tastes changed Goodrich unloaded the facility to an Ohio businessman, Charles Moeller.

Moeller couldn’t turn the business around. Like King Henry II of England back in 1170 venting his frustration with Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, leading to Becket’s assassination by several of Henry’s henchmen, Moeller vented his frustration to his trusted advisor and guru, David N. Bubar.

 A Baptist minister and self-proclaimed psychic, Bubar recruited eight others to relieve Moeller of his albatross. They rented a yellow Ryder truck, packed it with explosives and gasoline, drove to Shelton, broke into the factory, tied up the night watchmen, deposited them safely in a nearby woods, and, for good measure, told them they were part of the Weather Underground.

Fire departments from roughly 20 communities battled the blaze, the largest industrial arson to that time in the United States.

It took authorities just days to track down the Ryder truck and the men who rented it. Moeller, Bubar and the perpetrators were arrested, charged and were tried for arson and related crimes. Moeller was found not guilty. Bubar and seven others were found guilty. One was acquitted.

Where the massive plant once stood a waterfront park has been erected. With construction of a more modern Route 8 through its heart Shelton has become a desirable bedroom community and light industrial site in Fairfield County.

Like Shelton I moved on, first to become The Register’s bureau chief for West Haven, Woodbridge Orange and Bethany, later to become the editor and publisher of Chain Store Age.

This tale from my past was prompted by the scary, grotesque smoke and gun attack on subway commuters in Brooklyn Tuesday morning and by the swift work of authorities to find the rented van the alleged assailant, Frank R. James, used to transport his weapons of fear, mayhem and injury. As of this posting James’ whereabouts had not been determined. 


Sunday, April 10, 2022

Afternoon Bachelorhood, Fortunate Lives, Word Play, Poem for Ukraine

Baseball season has started, as has my months-long annual entry into afternoon bachelorhood. It is just by coincidence that my pm bachelorhood overlaps my dedication to the New York Yankees, though most of their games are scheduled for nighttime viewing (I generally watch just a  few innings while cleaning the kitchen after dinner). 

No, my afternoon bachelorhood is an outgrowth of Gilda’s preoccupation with her garden. It is not unusual for her to spend six hours a day weeding, pruning, caring for vegetables, shrubs and flowers. 

Gilda’s garden is nothing to sneeze at (as the accompanying picture of a fraction of her toil reveals), though her proximity to plants and assorted greenery no doubt contributes to some of her allergies. 

As if her intensity for gardening were not sufficient to keep me lonesome, she has embarked on a two-year course of study to become a Master Gardener Volunteer under the auspices of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Westchester. I can’t really complain about that as I suggested that to her when she began her retirement three years ago. 

It’s a good thing I’ve taken up Pickleball to keep me occupied, especially once outdoor courts become available in a few weeks. My Achilles tendon injured a month ago is still sore but I’ve begun tenderly playing again with the perhaps misguided hope of not incurring further degradation. For the record, and much to Gilda’s annoyance, I wore a walking boot for just a few days. Even more annoying to her, I have not overly stretched each day as per doctor’s instructions. 

Just in case, I have not put away the walking boot. It stands in a corner on my side of our bedroom.

Word Play: You might have noticed fewer postings from me lately. A key reason is Wordle, or to be more precise, Word Guess, a Wordle knockoff that offers unlimited daily word challenges compared to Wordle’s once-a-day contest.

I usually am up at midnight when the new Wordle quiz becomes available. It takes but a few minutes to solve. My success rate is 99% of 90 games played; my best consecutive streak is 78.

My craving for word challenges not fulfilled by just one Wordle a day, I wind up logging onto Word Guess where my success rate is 98% of 275 games played (Word Guess doesn’t track streaks). 

How is all this word play limiting my writing? Many of my posts were written on my iPhone in the wee hours of the morning. Instead of putting thoughts into bytes for posts I am exercising grey matter figuring out five letter words. By the way, I do not employ a trick starter word with three or four vowels. I choose words at random, often with just one vowel. 

Gilda and I are among the fortunates. We live comfortably in good health in retirement. We enjoy each other. We share values and most interests. We have good friends.

Sure, our travel and entertainment options have been stymied by Covid. Gas costs more, as do most if not all of our daily expenditures.

But if we’ve learned anything during the last few weeks from pictures and accounts of inexcusable, unjustified, inhumane carnage in Ukraine it is that we in the United States have it easy. Even those struggling at the lower socio-economic rungs of our nation have lives more secure and full than Ukrainians now endure.

Several newscasts have shown American motorists willing to pay more at the gas pump if it will help Ukraine and the democratic West stifle Vladimir Putin’s invasion. It makes for a sympathetic sound bite. 

A CBS News/YouGov poll recently reported that 63% of Americans said they would “continue to support sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas even if U.S. gas prices go up.” Thirty-six percent said, “No.”

The true test of American mettle will come in the weeks and months ahead. How much resolve will we truly have? Long term, will we match the courage and backbone Ukrainians display to stand up to Russian aggression? Or will our consumer driven economy and entitlement mindset undermine our response?

A Facebook post from The Other 98% bears consideration:

“Instead of complaining about gas prices going up, try feeling grateful that you aren’t sitting on a concrete floor in a train terminal, holding your cat, wondering if your home and everyone you love has been blown to bits.”

Forgive me, but perhaps because of my training as a journalist or maybe it’s inherently part of my makeup, I am generally a pessimist when I appraise my fellow Americans. We have truckers threatening to barricade access to our capital over mask requirements. One wonders how residents of Kyiv or any Ukrainian community view these protests. Would any of these truckers consider swapping their so called “infringed liberties” for the dictatorship Putin has imposed in Russia and seeks to implant in Ukraine?

There is no doubt higher gas costs and higher inflation are hurting the needy far more than the upper classes. Republicans are wasting no breadth in blaming Joe Biden for these financial woes.

Of course they disavow any responsibility. But a recent Facebook post from Occupy Democrats puts the issue into context:

“I don’t like paying higher gas prices either, but it’s incredible that people will buy the Republican Party outrage on gas that’s $5 instead of $3.50 – but then excuse Republicans for keeping the minimum wage at $7.25 instead of $15, insulin at $1,200 instead of $35, and paid leave at 0 weeks instead of 12 weeks.” 

Also consider this Tweet from Brian Deese, White House director of the National Economic Council: 

“Many people don’t realize this, but because of historically strong economic growth & policy choices, the deficit last year actually fell. By $360bn. AND, Maybe even more surprising, we’re on track to see the federal deficit fall by >$1T this yr, the largest nominal decline ever.”

Pre and Post 2022 Election Forecast: Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden.

You can bet the mortgage the GOP will stress Hunter’s laptop and Joe Biden’s complicity with his son’s dubious activities. It will be the equivalent of the Hillary and Benghazi saga if Republicans take control of either chamber of Congress. Hearing after hearing after hearing. Impeachment of Joe Biden if they win the House.

With no legislative agenda to control inflation, deal with Russian aggression, fix our dilapidating infrastructure, stifle domestic terrorism, continue fighting COVID and a myriad of other pressing issues, Republicans will simply occupy their time trying to topple the president in what they will perceive is payback for how Democrats treated Donald Trump. 

And now a few words, courtesy of Chris Rey, about the slap heard round the world and its importance to America::

“The thing we all have to remember about Will Smith and Chris Rock is that Clarence Thomas’ wife tried to overthrow the U.S. government.”

Final Thoughts: A poem from Art Smith on Facebook:

Woke up warm and safe in my bed,

While someone else heard bombs over their head.

I jumped into a nice hot shower,

While someone else has lost all power.

I hugged my family, we were all together,

While others said goodbye, possibly forever.

While I fear the money that I will spend,

Others worry of losing the country they defend.

In the time it took for me to write this post,

Many have lost the things they love the most.

So, when I start to bitch and want to complain,

I will stop myself and pray for Ukraine.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

No Contest: Zelensky Merits Person of the Year Mantle

 Four months into 2021, the choice of Time magazine’s Person of the Year is a moot exercise. Hands down, barring a dramatic cure for all cancers, the unchallenged Person of the Year is Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Win or lose in the war with Russia, Zelensky has become the symbol of intrepid determination against overwhelming odds, selflessness and courage. He has become the world’s conscience.  

Historians have a practice of assigning colorful names to combat between nations. Better to remember them by, for their students too, I suppose. There are The War of the Spanish Succession, the War of the Roses, Queen Anne’s War, the War of Jenkin’s Ear and the French and Indian War, to cite a handful of examples. 

Of course, wars may be assigned different names by historians of different persuasions. Americans still can’t agree on the name of our internal combat from 1861-1865. Northerners call the battle to end slavery our Civil War. Southerners label it the War Between the States. 

What we in America and most of the planet call World War II, Russians refer to as The Great Patriotic War to honor the more than 27 million Soviet Union servicemen and civilians killed fighting Nazi Germany.

The current conflict initiated by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin against Ukraine in late February may be properly called the War of Unintended Consequences. 

As Bret Stephens recently pointed out in The New York Times, “He thought Russian-speaking Ukrainians would welcome his troops. They didn’t. He thought he’d swiftly depose Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. He hasn’t. He thought he’d divide NATO. He’s united it. He thought he had sanction-proofed his economy. He’s wrecked it. He thought the Chinese would help him out. They’re hedging their bets. He thought his modernized military would make mincemeat of Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainians are making mincemeat of his, at least on some fronts.”

Now, six weeks later, according to the, “Russia’s war effort stalls as the Red Army can’t get replacement weapons or spares for their crippled convoys...because they’re all made in Ukraine” ( 

Oh, my! Putin is guilty not just of war crimes but of failing to arrange necessary supply lines of food and materiel for his troops. We have yet to visualize how his incursion into Ukraine will end, but it is doubtful the consequences of his actions will result in what he initially intended.