Sunday, February 5, 2023

Karlovy Vary Now and Then

 An offshoot of the war in Ukraine has been the antipathy bordering on anathema Czech citizens have for Russians since the invasion a year ago. It is particularly apparent in Karlovy Vary, a spa town that for centuries catered to the wealthy, particularly Russian aristocracy and well placed commissars (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/03/world/europe/czech-russia-karlovy-vary-tourists.html?smid=em-share). 


Gilda and I visited Karlovy Vary, perhaps more commonly known to Americans as Carlsbad, in January 1998. We were driven there by our host, Václav Kašpar,  the vice dean of the University of Economics, Prague, who had invited me to Prague to deliver a presentation on American retailing. 


The Czech Republic was emerging from the sphere of Soviet Union-Russian influence. Capitalism, spearheaded by retailing, was a vital area of interest. 


As we drove the approximate 80 miles west to Karlovy Vary, the greyness of winter could not obscure the reality that life under the Soviet Union’s thumb had sapped the countryside of much of its splendor, a truth that became more apparent as we entered Karlovy Vary and toured one of their spas. Perhaps Russians would accept dilapidated treatment rooms and baths, but by Western standards the spa left much to be desired.


No doubt in the decades since our visit Karlovy Vary has upgraded many of its facilities. 


Most prominent in my memory of our stay in Prague was the experience of my presentation, a speech I had given several times in other European cities and in America. Back then I used a carousel of some 140 slides to illustrate American retailing. 


The half-circle auditorium was filled. It was set up like a theater, with seats banked upward to just below the ceiling. Above the top row there was a booth for the audio-visual staff who had taken my slide carousel for projection to a screen behind where I stood on the stage. I was given a remote clicker to advance or return to a slide.


Shortly after beginning I glanced at the screen to make sure the slides were in sync with my script. They were not. They were two ahead. I pushed the return button. Nothing happened. I pushed again. Nothing happened.


Seeing my distress, the A/V staff assumed my clicker had frozen. So every time they saw me press the clicker they manually advanced the slide carousel. As I was continually trying to go backwards, they were moving the carousel forward. While I would be talking about Walmart, they would be displaying a slide about Macy’s, for example. 


I soldiered through my hour-long presentation, relieved that the consecutive translation at least let my audience hear my words. I had stopped trying to sync the slides after realizing it would never happen. 


Václav apologized for the technical mishap, presented me with a commemorative medal from the university and arranged to take Gilda and me to Karlovy Vary the next day. 


Upon our return to Prague, an added bonus was a visit to his mother’s residence. A widow, she had an apartment in the central city that reflected the grandeur that once was Prague’s. 


It had parquet floors throughout the three bedroom apartment, with high ceilings and large windows. It was furnished with dark brown bureaus and tables. 


It was an apartment certainly too large for just one occupant. Indeed, Václav, his wife and son lived with her until they opted for a more suburban home of their own. 

Saturday, February 4, 2023

For Republicans, It's Miller Time, All the Time

 Seems “It’s Miller Time,” all the time, for the GOP. 


A New York Times profile of one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s BFFs had this to say about primo lobbyist Jeff Miller: “Miller’s place at the intersection of power, money, influence and access has made him one of the most important behind-the-scenes figures in Washington” (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/03/us/politics/jeff-miller-lobbyist-kevin-mccarthy.html?smid=em-share).


Now, there’s nothing improper about Miller’s derring-do, if you accept the validity of our lobbyist culture. And there can be little doubt Miller has clout, as he numbers among his clients “Apple, Anheuser-Busch, Dow Chemical, General Electric, the Wall Street giant Blackstone, Occidental Petroleum, the drugmaker trade group PhRMA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.” 


What struck me about his access, his closeness to power in Washington, is his last name. Miller seems to be a repetitive surname among Republican consigliere. 


Take, for example, one of the more strident advisors to Donald Trump during his presidency—Stephen Miller. He was a senior advisor and director of speechwriting, as well as being a bulldog defending Trump immigration and repressive policies on newscasts and talk shows. 


Then there was Jason Miller, another Trump ex-senior advisor, this time focusing on his failed re-election campaign.


No doubt I am missing other Millers with Republican bonafides, but the one that immediately jumped to mind, considering my age, is William E. Miller, a former congressman from upstate western New York, whose conservatism so impressed Barry Goldwater that the Arizona senator chose him to be his vice presidential running mate in 1964 against President Lyndon Johnson and Hubert H. Humphrey. 


The Goldwater-Miller ticket lost badly, but it did succeed in pushing the “Southern Strategy” that has been Republican dogma since Democrats pushed through liberal voting rights and social welfare programs in the early 1960s. Seeds of the eventual success of the conservative strategy focused on white voters could be seen in the fact that in 1964 Goldwater-Miller won the following states: Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_E._Miller).


Also for geezers like me, William Miller stood out as one of the first real people to be highlighted in American Express’ wildly successful “Do you know me?” advertising campaign. Stores and restaurants might not have recognized the retired politician, but they would gladly accept his AmEx card. 


In other words, money talks. 



****************


As long as we’re on the subject of politics, Republican style, heres’ a letter to the editor of The Times submitted by Tim Shaw of Cambridge, Mass. Tim’s commentary is a response to a Times article on Trump’s chances to secure the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/26/us/politics/rnc-trump-2024-election.html?smid=em-share):


Lately there have been many reports of Donald Trump’s imminent political demise, but despite the predictions he remains a dangerous opponent and a formidable campaigner.


“His power has always come not from politicians but from ordinary people who see him as a bigger, more successful version of themselves. However inarticulate he sounds to the rest of us, the message his base hears is always clear.

“Many of his handpicked candidates lost in 2022 because of their own failings; his appeal to the MAGA base appears undimmed.


“He is a fighter, with the constitution and mentality of an alligator, striking back ferociously when attacked. He has no regard for the truth, but he has realized that millions of voters don’t either.


“Certainly none of the sorry bunch of Republicans mentioned in your article have anything like his power on the campaign trail.”


I couldn’t agree more or said it better.

Monday, January 30, 2023

50 Years of NY Times Headlines Marking Our Marriage

When Gilda and I stepped out of the Madison Jewish Center on Brooklyn’s Nostrand Avenue an hour or so after the clock chimed 12 times heralding a new day—January 29, 1973–we hugged each other ever so tightly, surely because we were now husband and wife but, equally important, the ground was covered in several inches of fresh snow, the first measurable snowfall in 320 days.  


Until this week, the end date for the longest number of days New York City went without measurable snow of at least 0.1 inches in Central Park was January 29, 1973. We newlyweds were among the first to slush our way through the first snow of the season. 


Seems our fiftieth wedding anniversary is linked to some other auspicious micro and macro happenings that day. Did you know that “CBS Sunday Morning” debuted that day? (Perhaps that’s part of the karma that makes the newscast one of our favorite TV shows.)  


On a more global level, the front page of The New York Times on January 28, 1973, our wedding day, was entirely devoted to the cease fire agreement signed by the United States, South Vietnam, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese, ending what had been America’s longest war. Concurrently, the military draft was ended, replaced by an all volunteer force. 




One of the mementos of our anniversary celebration Saturday night was a bound volume displaying the front pages of The Times for each of the last 50 January 28s. Purists might argue that the news reported those days actually transpired a day earlier, but let’s not look this gift horse in the mouth. 


Reading through the year by year front pages revealed how similar news can be. “Scores dead and thousands stranded as Midwest faces more snow” was the headline in 1978. 


A headline four years later could just as well be from a few days ago: “City will add 400 to night patrols in subway trains.”


Thomas L. Friedman was reporting from the Mideast in 1983. His front page report: “The ordeal of Lebanon goes on as three foreign armies dig in.”


Jump to 1989 for stories that evoke news of today: “Effort to ban assault rifles gains momentum,” while two headlines spoke to Afghanistan’s hold on our attention: “Bush says U.S. will seek a role in Kabul’s post-Kremlin stability,” and, “Rough road out of Kabul for Soviets.”


The Super Bowl this year is nearly two weeks away, but in 1991 The Times trumpeted, “Giants win Super Bowl with nail-biting finish.” 


Progressives have lamented Supreme Court rulings in 2013 and 2021 gutting major portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Here’s a headline from 1992: “In retreat, Supreme Court limits scope of ’65 Voting Rights Act.”


Electric cars are now in demand, but in 1994 the paper reported, “Expecting a fizzle, G.M. puts electric car to test.” Nine years later, the headline purred, “Hybrid autos quick to pass curiosity stage.”


For the first time, as noted in 1998, “First Lady {Hillary Rodham Clinton} attributes inquiry {into President Bill Clinton} to ‘right-wing conspiracy.’”


2003 was the year The Times warned, “College loans rise, swamping graduates’ dreams.”


New technology in 2010: “With its tablet {the iPad} Apple blurs line between devices.”


No resolution yet, but in 2013, “Senators offer a new blueprint for immigration.” A year later, “Backing in G.O.P. for legal status for immigrants.” 2021 update: “Immigration plan raises hope, but reality cools expectations.” 


Our wedding date comes the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2016, “Letter reveals plea for mercy by (Adolph) Eichmann,” an architect of the Final Solution. He was sentenced to death by an Israeli court. Four years later: “Auschwitz survivors warn against silence in face of new perils.”


2020 was Year 1 of Covid: “Feeble health system in China strains to combat deadly virus.”


Though this year’s front page could not make it into the bound volume, the lead headline for January 28, 2023, expresses the sadness, anger and, yes, unimaginable depravity, engulfing our nation: “Held and beaten by Memphis police as he cried, ‘Mom.’”


It has been a truly momentous 50 years.  

Friday, January 27, 2023

Fifty Years, Half a Century, and Counting

The first time I became aware of Gilda’s existence was in June 1969.


We were attending a meeting organized by the incoming president of Brooklyn College’s House Plan Association, an organization of more than 80 social clubs, each with a maximum of 35 members. House plans were similar to fraternities but, given BC was a commuter school, they did not provide residential accommodations. 


Aside from being president of Knight House, I was the editor of “Calling Card,” the HPA newspaper. Gilda was president of Russell House. She also was the first female ever elected to student government.


Meeting in the basement of a single-family home, I sat in a chair at one end of the room. Gilda sat on a high riser couch on the other side of the basement.


After the meeting she asked if I was interested in her contributing articles on student government. Sure, I replied.


Over the summer we went our separate ways, I to be a division head counselor in a summer camp outside Albany. Gilda stayed in Brooklyn. She was a seamstress in a Greenwich Village clothing store, making, among other garments, a cape for Frank Sinatra. In the Village she spotted a poster for a three-day concert in the Catskills. She bought four tickets to Woodstock which she ultimately gave to a friend who never made it to the music festival because of the massive traffic jam on Route 17.


In September I entered my senior year. Gilda was a junior. Every so often we’d meet in the Calling Card office in the basement of LaGuardia Hall, during an HPA meeting, or see each other at our respective house plan tables in the Boylan Hall cafeteria.


In early December, as we were both standing at the mailbox cubby holes in LaGuardia Hall, Gilda made her move. Invited to a pre-Christmas party at the Brooklyn Heights home of one of her political science professors, she asked me to accompany her. I agreed, but only if she would go with me to an HPA co-sponsored concert featuring Tom Paxton and Dick Gregory the week before. Being a Tom Paxton fan, Gilda quickly accepted my terms.


(A slight digression—Dick Gregory was a late replacement for Mort Sahl. Ticket prices were $2.75, $3.25 and $3.75. As editor of Calling Card my $3.75 tickets were comped. For those wondering or amazed at my knowledge of the ticket prices, I checked my bound volume of Calling Card issues, a birthday gift from Gilda in 1971.) 


Thus began our life together, formally consecrated in marriage 50 years ago, January 28, 1973. 


As my friends and family know, I’ve been the prime beneficiary of this union. I’ve had a front row seat to Gilda’s development as a wife, homemaker, mother, grandmother, nurse, nurse practitioner, and community resource. To support my contention I offer two blog postings from 2019: 


https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2019/03/a-tribute-to-gilda-on-her-70th-birthday.html


https://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2019/01/my-my-fair-lady-for-46-years.html 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A ChatGPT-Free Blog About French Class

For the record, you can be assured, or disappointed, that everything you read in my blog is written by me, not by a ChatGPT program. 


This bold new world of artificial intelligence written communication is unsettling to a traditionalist like me. As someone who labors, or at least tries to, over everything that goes out under my name, I am saddened that human endeavor is being superseded by bytes, especially when programs are supplanting schoolwork. 


Not that I was a purist when it came to taking shortcuts for completing homework assignments. In the 15 or so minutes before the start of classes of my elementary school sixth grade there was frenzied activity as classmate after classmate copied the homework assignment completed by one of our peers, the same boy each day. What made the activity frenzied was our benefactor’s almost indecipherable handwriting. 


I can also recall mining my brother’s essay for an eighth grade critique of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People.” 


And for a general science project as a high school freshman I offered the results, with pictures, of an experiment in home incubation of fertilized chicken eggs. Notice I said “offered,” not that I actually ran the experiment. No, that was the work of Marty Riss two years earlier. 


Science was never my bailiwick. It was to Marty. He became an osteopath. I became a journalist, a profession that disdains plagiarism.


My reliance on copying other students’ homework ended when I went to college and began working on one of the college newspapers. 


Gilda, on the other hand, never relied on someone else’s brain power. Except for one truly amazing deception. She was an excellent student in all subjects but had no ear for foreign languages.


She had taken three years of French in high school. She had passed the Regents exam. But she openly admits she almost immediately forgot all of her French and thought she would never need it again. 


Unbeknownst to Gilda, Brooklyn College required every student to be proficient in a second language. BC tested everyone in their chosen language to either exempt them from additional classes or assign them to an appropriate level. 


The test was multiple choice. Knowing she would place poorly, Gilda breezed through the test by simply circling A, B, C, or D in consecutive order throughout the test. Amazingly, she ranked among the highest scorers and was assigned to an advanced French literature class. 


She delayed taking the course for two years but, realizing the class was required to obtain her degree, she enrolled in it during her junior year. By then Gilda was part of Russell House, one of the school’s most desirable social organizations.  


Talking about her French class dilemma with another Russell House member Gilda found her savior, a French major. They agreed on a plan of action. 


For a two-part midterm test on Sartre, Gilda would use her multiple choice strategy for the initial section. French literature tests, however, included an essay component. For that part Gilda’s friend would create an essay, Gilda would memorize and submit it.  


Now, you’re probably thinking, how could her friend possibly know what the teacher would ask about Sartre? You’d be right. She didn’t know. But the friend reasoned that her essay would be so cogent on the writings of Sartre that the teacher would look favorably on it even if it did not exactly relate to her question. 


She was right. Gilda received a B on the full test. But she was not yet out of the woods. Complimented on her essay and knowledge of French, Gilda was asked by the teacher why she did not speak up in class. She replied she was too shy to talk in class. 


Anyone familiar with Gilda knows that is not the Gilda they know. 


For the final exam she repeated the ruse. For the class Gilda received a B. 


To this day the only things Gilda remembers from French class are Où est la bibliothèque? (Where is the library?) and “Quelle heure est-il?” (What time is it?). 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Food Edition and a Trumpian Thought

Gilda’s always trying to get me to sample new restaurants, particularly those with a Latin flavor. So I went on the Web site of her latest suggestion, a Venezuelan restaurant in Mamaroneck, and the first offering under “Starters” was “classic Hummus” encompassing warm pita, cucumber, carrots, cherry tomato. 


Gee, I had no idea Venezuela stretched all the way to the Middle East!



Zabars pastries are overrated. By me. Though not by the birds that frequent the feeders in my yard.


For hosting her and her husband for several days Gilda’s sister sent us a thank you package of Zabars goodies which included a pack of fruit filled Hamantaschen, the triangular hard dough cookies associated with the holiday of Purim. 


Multi-problems: Gilda does not like any fruit-filled pastries. I’m okay with such delicacies if they in fact are delicious. Zabars’ Hamantaschen did not meet that standard. 


They lacked “ta’am”—taste. Flavor. Neshama—Jewish soul. 


The birds, however, devoured them after I extruded the fruit from the hard pastry triangles. 


The birds in our yard are international in their tastes. They similarly have enjoyed crushed Chinese fortune cookies and always make a meal of leftover rice regardless of country of origin.


Back to Zabars. I’m partial to black and white cookies, the round confection with equal parts chocolate and vanilla icing. I tasted one from Zabars. It was like eating sawdust. 


I resisted trying the soft rugelach in the gift pack. I prefer crisp crescent-shaped rugelach. Our daughter Ellie has from time to time made them for us. 


I was about to give up on the goodies from the Upper West Side of Manhattan emporium when I cut into a chocolate babka cake. Scrumptious! My appreciation of Zabars restored, I’ve been enjoying a slice of chocolate babka for the better part of a week. 



Brown Eggs: Anyone who has gone to the supermarket during the last half year knows egg prices have cracked the hen house ceiling barrier. The price of a dozen eggs is nearing double digit dollars.


If you’ve monitored egg prices you might have noticed that the least expensive eggs often are the brown ones.


My theory is there’s a degree of prejudice involved in egg purchasing. Shoppers prefer white eggs over brown ones. So to move brown eggs off the shelf grocers sell them for less than white eggs.


You’re probably thinking I’m a little daft. That’s okay. Journalists often look at the seamier side of life with and without obvious evidence. 


I’ve been buying brown eggs for about half a year. They taste just fine.



The Trumpian: During my professional career, the start of a new year always meant the beginning of trade show season, the first one being the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 


Nowadays, CES has expanded beyond traditional products such as computers and video/audio equipment. What many news outlets concentrated on this year was the introduction of high end toilets with features including the ability to analyze a person’s health based on their deposits.


My warped mind wondered if one of the new models might have enabled the simultaneous shredding of documents without clogging the pipes. I’d call it The Trumpian.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

What Will Kevin Do Now to Make US Better?

Now that he is Speaker of the House, what are Kevin McCarthy’s plans for making America better?


Specifically, how will he curb homelessness? How will he make housing affordable to middle class and working class families? 


How will he make healthcare more accessible and affordable? 


How will he make safe, clean water available to all? How will he make the air we breathe safer and cleaner? 


How will he reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? 


How will he invest in repairing infrastructure throughout our land?


How will he represent to the world America’s commitment to freedom and human rights? 


The title Speaker of the House implies a position of leadership, of advancement of benefits, not a retreat. 


As Speaker he is a representative of a nation beyond his conservative Bakersfield, Calif., district. 


How will he respond to the majority of Americans who favor a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, including the right to choose an abortion? What action will he take in support of the majority of Americans’ belief that more gun control legislation is needed? 


Oh, I am not so naive as to believe McCarthy will do anything but try to advance the fringe agenda of far right extremists in the Republican Party. He might even be willing to shut down the government and reject an increase in the debt ceiling limit if such actions would keep the extremists from ousting him as speaker, for his ultimate allegiance is to his aggrandizement and not the integrity and standing of the United States.  


We know he will agree to investigation after investigation of alleged misdeeds by President Biden, his family and members of his administration, even if such probes have no basis in reality or possibility of improving the lives of everyday Americans. 


Perhaps he will establish a new January 6 special committee to tell the Trump version of events. Of course, that might expose Trump, Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani et al to cross examination under oath by Democrats on the committee, so I guess that idea is a non starter. 


Poor Kevin. He was handed the ceremonial speaker’s gavel but truly has little of the power of the office.    

Friday, January 6, 2023

McCarthy—Not a Good Name for a GOP Leader

Comedians and pundits are having a field day lampooning Kevin McCarthy’s quest to become second in line to the presidency. His naked obsession to be Speaker of the House of Representatives has become an exercise in futility and self-neutering.  


The American tragedy we are witnessing is much more than the story of an ambitious politician thwarted by radical forces he helped cultivate and shield from recrimination for conduct unbecoming any elected official. What makes this a national crisis is that the Constitution bestows upon the Speaker the opportunity to ascend to the White House if misfortune strikes not once but twice, to the president and vice president. 


By backtracking on his immediate condemnation of Donald Trump for fomenting the January 6 assault on the Capitol, only to kneel before the insurrectionist-in-chief two weeks later in Mar-a-Lago, McCarthy has shown himself to be a pol without scruples or backbone, someone so in pursuit of power that now he has negotiated away almost all of the prerogatives of the Speaker. That such a politician could possibly be responsible for leading our country, for negotiating with domestic and foreign leaders, is a chilling possibility to consider.


The dysfunction exhibited by House Republicans runs deeper than just McCarthy’s embarrassment. Among the more important duties of the House is the power to declare war, to pass an annual federal budget and to establish a debt ceiling so that government can operate and world financial markets would not be plunged into free-fall madness. 


Whether it is McCarthy, Stephen Scalise or any other Republican sitting in the Speaker’s chair, the future of the House during the next two years under GOP control is clear. Expect investigations of President Biden and his family, of his cabinet secretaries and executive appointments. Expect passage of any legislation, especially budget matters, to be linked to budget cuts in social welfare entitlement programs and in our support of Ukraine. 


To be honest, those were the expectations way before McCarthy’s self-immolation. Aside from basking in the memory of how pleasant and functional their rule in the House was under Nancy Pelosi, Democrats may be beneficiaries of the Republican mess. By showcasing their legislative record 2021-2022 against that of the Republicans in 2023-2024, Democrats might enjoy solid election results the next rime the House and Senate are at stake. 


But two years of McCarthy-led extremism is a hefty price to pay. 


Republican. McCarthy. Investigations of government personnel. Where have we seen that shameful combination before? Ah, yes, the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 that ultimately exposed Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy as a charlatan. What’s that old saying?, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” 


Here’s a Wikipedia summation of the dramatic 1954 hearings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Army–McCarthy_hearings