22 November 2017

A THANKSGIVING GIFT

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I experienced something nice.  The other day I wrote that my wallet was stolen in Times Square. I took the necessary precautionary steps, and resigned myself to its loss, as there is no point in agonizing over things you cannot change. But I just received a package containing my wallet, virtually intact, minus the credit cards, (which have all been canceled and replaced anyway), Even the cash was included. The very decent individual who sent it wrote that it was found on a street in Brooklyn. I am ever so thankful, not so much because the wallet was returned,  as because it is a pleasure to learn that there are still good people in this world.

Something similar happened to me some years ago, when leaving a Hawaiian resort. We left our things in what was supposed to be a secure storage room, while we went for a last swim. When I returned the wallet was missing, apparently lifted by an employee. When I got back home, I shortly thereafter received a phone call from someone staying in the same rooms at the resort, who said he found my wallet in the suite. Apparently the employee who had taken it got nervous after I complained and the heat was on, and made it reappear. He said he was sending it back to me, and refused any reimbursement, saying “I would hope that someone else would do the same for me.” Truer words were never spoken. 


For all the bad things we constantly hear about, we tend to forget that not everyone is a thief and  that they are greatly outnumbered by good people. This has restored my faith in others, in basic human decency, and I am indeed thankful for that. I am thankful for all the people who always rush to help others, be it an emergency or simply assisting strangers in the city. So this Thanksgiving I will be thinking about all the fine people that are still are around; people who will do the right thing even if no one is looking. It is something to ponder, always keep in mind, and  pass on to others. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

10 November 2017

ROBBED IN TIMES SQUARE

Last night my wallet was lifted in Times Square. It’s mostly my fault because I’m a lifelong New Yorker and should have known better. We were leaving a Broadway theater and I stopped to buy something on the street, showing my wallet. Since we were about to get in a cab I simply shoved it into my coat pocket, instead of where it usually rests- a front side pants pocket that is nearly impossible to breach. Unfortunately the coat pocket was wide open and that area is always very crowded so you are very likely to inadvertently bump into someone and not think twice about it. I didn’t even realize it was gone until I got home and was trying to pay for the cab.

You usually hear about pickpockets in major European cities, but not very often here, although an area like Times Square is full of clueless tourists, making it an ideal spot for thieves. Whoever did it made a good score because it was a Gucci wallet with $400-$500 in cash, several credit cards, driver’s license, and since I’m old enough for Medicare a card with my Social Security number. So I immediately had to contact all the credit card companies affected to cancel and replace them, as well as my bank and medical cards. That was not as easy as it was supposed to be, and in some cases and I wound up screaming at the phone all night. Then there was the Driver’s license, which proved to be a major hassle, requiring me to go file a police report today and get a form, before I could go to the NY State Motor Vehicle Department.  

I don’t think I’ve been in a police station since I was a kid, when the cops took me and some high school friends inside and beat the crap out of us, but we deserved it. In those days we used to hang out at an ice cream parlor in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and the police precinct was right across the street. For the police it was a cushy assignment since the crime rate in the area was very low so they had little to do. As a result they were constantly harassing us for simply hanging out. Back then once assigned there,  they became embedded in the neighborhood, and became ever more nasty and corrupt (but I must emphasize not today; it was a different world). Then they had a sort of ceremony called “changing of the guard,” where the cops would line up in formation in their uniforms, sort of like the military. We were really fed up with loitering harassment, endless j-walking tickets, etc. so I concoct a scheme one day to bombard the formation with eggs. Most of them missed, but they managed to catch us and haul us into the precinct and exact painful retribution.

Both places are long gone now, but some fifty years later, when I walked into another precinct where I live now, not all that much was different. For routine matters they still operated at two speeds- slow and reverse. You are sent to a room staffed by a police academy cadet and some aides, are give a long form to fill out, and then have to wait for them to complete other paperwork and after an inordinate amount of time are given a form to take to the DMV.  I had to list all the missing items and check a box for stolen or lost, so I check the former, but was told that since it wasn’t absolutely certain that they were stolen, I  had to make changes and check “lost.” Now I understand why the city’s crime statistics are still so low; if something is only lost then there is no crime to report, so now the figures begin to make sense. 

Then I still had to put a freeze on my account with all the credit bureaus, and a few other things. The moral of the story is: 1. Don’t carry anything in your wallet unless you absolutely need it at the moment, 2. Men should always keep their wallets in the front pants pocket and never in an open coat pocket, 3. Have a list of all your card numbers ready, 4. Be vigilant when you go somewhere like Times Square.



22 October 2017

BAD NEWS


There is a bigger problem with the media today than the bias that often distorts stories. It is not “fake news” either. It is rather, no news. There is a paucity of real news everywhere and far too much goes unreported or is very briefly summarized. Cable news gives us mostly talking heads expressing opinions and not much in the way of real news. Broadcast news isn’t much better these days to the extent that there are too few stories that are selected in a rather arbitrary way, while hiding the fact that they have seriously cut back on correspondents covering various subjects or parts of the world. On cable “news” you see few correspondents reporting actual stories. Newspapers, and news magazines, even the “serious” ones aren’t much better, again with fewer correspondents now covering things regularly. News sites online aren’t all that informative either, especially to the extent that they are simply extensions of the television and publishing companies. 

A recent search I attempted clearly illustrates how shallow all of this is. The other day Vladimir Putin made what seemed to be some important statements, and from the news summaries my curiosity was engaged. But that’s all I could find, anywhere- summaries. I wanted to see more of the substance of what he said but could not find it anywhere from any “news” organization despite fairly extensive Internet searching. But the search engines are part of the problem because if the information was out there they weren’t showing it and what you usually get nowadays is top listings that re mostly paid followed by more that are basically off-topic. I find this happening time after time. Just try this with almost any other story. The idea that we are now able to easily obtain more serious information online is false. What one gets is the usual repetitive nonsense. 

 What we actually have now is mostly a repetitive echo chamber. In other words one source comes up with a story, say, the New York Times or Washington Post, and it is picked up by everyone else and repeated. This creates the illusion that they are actually covering the story from multiple points when in fact they are mostly repeating and uncritically passing on the same story. It is not just a herd mentality, but lazy, superficial reporting, Furthermore things that might really matter are often subsumed by nonsensical, superficial stories. Just think about what stories dominate the news every single day. Barring some sort of natural disaster the news contains a lot of trivia when not devolving into entertainment stories. As a result we are getting dumbed down news provided by dumbed down reporters and commentators. 


It gets worse. What we now get is more “entertainment news” instead of real, hard news. The entertainment news is ubiquitous, with each having its own entertainment program. In the recent past this did not exist at all and there were basically only gossip columns in this area, but now it supersedes everything. We get a huge amount of attention devoted to dopey “celebrities” that in reality are of no consequence in the larger scheme of things, and who are getting far more attention than they deserve. The media that now show unprecedented hostility to Donald Trump are largely themselves responsible for producing his presidency in the first place. Thus for all the information the we are supposedly being overwhelmed with, the truth is that we are less informed than ever. 

19 October 2017

GETTING BUSHED

George W. Bush made a statement today that no doubt will be widely praised in the liberal media as courageous and realistic for “breaking his silence” snd coming forward to broadly criticize the Trump era; never mind that he has a good deal of responsibility for creating it in the first place, as well as for the election of Democrat Barack Obama.  His presidency was an overall failure and a disaster for conservatives and Republicans who supported him, who only managed to recover because his successor was hardly any better. There is simply no way around this. Giving credit where it is due, he did acquit himself well in the wake of the 9/11 attack, but it was downhill from there. He is also a likable guy, of the sort you could easily share a beer with, he was honest, and has a lovely wife. But that’s about it. 
The “divisions” he essentially lays on Trump in fact became ossified during his presidency, starting with his failure to unify the country when he had the opportunity and did little to move it forward. The fact that his successor only made this worse does not relieve him of his own responsibility. His foreign policy was disastrous, and cost us dearly, in terms of treasure, and lives lost while aggressively pursuing an ill-advised policy of nation-building and promoting democratic freedom all over the world, whether feasible or not. Those of us who supported him at the time simply can no longer ignore the fact that he misled us, took us into an unnecessary war, and in its wake left the Middle East in chaos. As much as one might argue that his successor let all that effort go to waste, and made it worse due his distaste for the war in Iraq, the fact remains that it was Bush who started it all. It may be painful for some to admit this, but by any objective standard the conclusion is unavoidable. 

He managed to alienate an entire generation of young people from his party, while also causing it to lose control of congress by his policy failures. When together they had an opportunity to get things done with a reform conservative agenda they completely squandered it and accomplished nothing.  Instead he greatly increased the scope and power of the federal government, while claiming the opposite. Domestically he was a lot like Richard Nixon; using conservative rhetoric to gain support while actually pursuing generally liberal policies. When he did do anything that was somewhat associated with the right, it was something idiotic, like cutting off birth control assistance for poor countries. He ran up the deficit with nothing to show for it, precipitated a recession, and presided over an unnecessary financial crisis. While much of the cause of the latter can be attributed to the policies of his predecessor, particularly in mortgage finance, his administration did nothing to stem the growth of the problem or introduce any fiscal discipline,. 

Overall then, he not only accomplished very little, but was actually counterproductive in many areas. As the epitome of establishment Republicans and followed by two lackluster candidates from the same mold, the base of the party ultimately became so frustrated that when the opportunity arose they gravitated to the most anti-establishment candidate to come along, namely Donald Trump. They were so tired of being Bushwhacked they nominated the most improbable candidate to ever arise, and one who otherwise would never have been chosen. It was a total loss of confidence in the establishment along with a desire to avoid another Bush-style presidency that led to this. I am not suggesting anything about the wisdom of any of these choices but simply trying to describe how we wound up where we are today, thanks in so many ways to George Bush. For him to now decry what he himself had a major role in precipitating is simply disingenuous to say the least. 

HISTORICAL TRUTH & HISTORICAL LIBEL

One of the most irritating phenomena in contemporary entertainment is how exceptionally good production values are combined with thoroughly juvenile, idiotic, inaccurate, and historically ignorant screenplays. It is true there has always been “poetic license” to fabricate things presumably in the interests of some “larger truth.” However it becomes problematic when it is distorted to the point of creating an outright lie, because producers can count on the widespread historical illiteracy of contemporary audiences. Some examples:

The film Titanic depicts its subject very well but has a thoroughly ridiculous storyline. Worse, it mixes in some people who really existed and sullies their reputations. Most egregiously, in the film, the First Officer, William Murdock, is shown shooting passengers before shooting himself. Nothing of the sort ever happened and in fact the real man heroically went down with the ship. To libel his memory in this way is simply outrageous and there is no possible justification for it.

In Gangs of New York, which grossly distorts history in an otherwise good production, Horace Greeley, editor of the NY Tribune is shown collaborating with Tammany Hall figures; the complete opposite of what the man actually stood for. One of the most egregious cases occurs in an obscure film titled Hoodlum, wherein a character says they have to pay off Tom Dewey, which is preposterous. Thomas Dewey was in fact an excellent prosecutor, Governor of New York, and a two-time presidential nominee who was known to be incorruptible. To slander him in this way is inexcusable, but few now remember the truth. There are many more examples, but the point is that there is too often a gross dereliction of responsibility and decency, made all the worse by  purporting to be telling a true story. Even dead people deserve to be treated fairly.

However, it is more prevalent to find a great job being done depicting the background with an over-the-top portrayal of real characters, doing things that never happened,  accompanied by people that never existed. This happens a lot in fiction, but it matters when it goes beyond trivial matters and portrays things of consequence in a totally misleading fashion, A good example is current series about Renaissance characters, such as The Medici, and The Borgias.  The former is somewhat better, but the latter is totally warped by a completely fabricated screenplay. The real Borgias have a grossly exaggerated reputation for evil, even in 19th century novels, but this show uses that as a starting point along with rumors and innuendo from their enemies as a basis for an endless series of awful events that go much further, are completely made up, and devoid of any historical foundation. Anyone who thinks this is history is being played. (This is the Showtime series; the other Borgias series on Netflix is much better). But the most preposterous show being currently aired is Marco Polo, which has virtually nothing to do with the real Marco. The producers of this series have clearly never even bothered to read Marco Polo’s journals, which actually contain enough interesting material for drama, but none of it appears here. They simply have taken a real figure and period and then run off into a kung-foolery universe.

It is possible to do a credible job with historical situations, when carefully produced, as in the History Channel’s Vikings series which uses some historical, some mythological and some fictional characters in a way that, while sometimes fanciful, nevertheless does not seriously deviate from overall spirit of the source material. Real figures can also be faithfully portrayed successfully, such as in the HBO series John Adams, (although an old PBS series titled The Adams Chronicles was even more accurate). Rome, on that network was also not bad, if you ignore the excesses. But apart from these, the best are from the BBC or PBS. Unfortunately the excellence of the UK productions does not extend to continental Europe, which has gone Hollywood with previously mentioned shows. 

Even the greatest have done both. Shakespeare was surprisingly accurate in some of his dramas based in ancient Rome, since he largely relied on Plutarch as his source, and it is actually his depictions that largely inform people today about these characters. However, when it came to more recent characters from British experience, Shakespeare wrote in a way that frequently glorified the Tudor version of history. Further back even Virgil did this in the Aeneid, a second-rate epic that grossly flatters Augustus, and which Virgil himself actually wanted destroyed, At least in those days it was excusable in order to keep one’s head. However in an age when far more people get their information from movies and TV and sadly far fewer people read, entertainment producers have at least some responsibility to tell the truth. 


29 August 2017

THE FALSE NARRATIVE

The media has created a false myth regarding President Trump and the recent events in Virginia. Two weeks after the fact, the obsession has continued as “Charlottesville” has become a code word for associating the president with the most virulent forms of racism, and the left has been delighted to run with it ever since.  But even if you loathe Trump it ought to be evident that the coverage has been atrocious and the level of unfairness has been breathtaking. This has been used to relentlessly club him for things he didn’t say based on assumptions that have no basis in reality. Fairness and objectivity are essential if we are to receive and process information accurately before forming opinions. It has been completely missing here and has little to do with Trump and everything to do with the truth. 

The thing that has everyone rattled is the Nazis, thanks to the inordinate amount of attention on a group that represents no one, has no power or influence, and who are primarily useful as a tool for the left for fundraising and otherwise pushing goals that have little public support. The reality is that if you gathered all of the Nazis in this country you couldn’t fill a closet, and various hate groups combined have but a few thousand members nationwide even according to left-leaning sources. 

When Trump said there were “good people” and violence on “both sides” the media knew damn well he was referring to opponents of removing monuments, not the “Nazis” and the KKK. They nevertheless ran with the story they wanted to believe, and even though he subsequently denounced both groups, as well as, justifiably, the violent left-wing radical 
Antifa, the media ignored the latter and along with the left spread the lie that Trump was a sympathizer and “racist” himself. To link a president who has Orthodox Jewish grandchildren with the Nazis is beyond ridiculous. Otherwise, he didn’t denounce them strongly enough, yet nothing he could possibly say would satisfy these critics, who simply want to justify their preconceived prejudices. 

What is going on is a chance for people who have a grievance with Trump for other reasons to pile on, i.e.. especially Republicans piously condemning him, never mind that they in fact are supporting the left-narrative and delusion that there is widespread racism in America today. For what we really are seeing is a spate of violence from left, and unprecedented lawlessness in attacking statues as well as free speech. These are the same people who have blocked mainstream conservatives from even speaking on campus, and violently attacking police, yet little of this is being shown. It is also clear that most of the perpetrators are white radicals, not black people, who have more important things to worry about. 

Never mind that a solid majority of Americans of all backgrounds oppose removing confederate monuments and the President’s remarks reflected their views, as they have largely been able to see through all the unfairness and outright propaganda of the media. It has become evident as this lunacy spreads beyond confederate monuments to include even Lincoln, Columbus, and Joan of Arc! What is really happening is nothing short of an attempt by a small minority of self-hating white left-wing extremists to destroy the US, and for that matter western civilization in general. For these people object not only to the confederate flag but the American flag as well. Yet the political establishment, taking its cues from the media, has largely been silent on this. They have even further confronted spineless CEO’s and public officials with a false choice, based on a lie, of either condemning Trump or being pilloried themselves merely for associating with the administration, and most have folded given the power of the media to shape the perception of reality. 

The media has been guilty of ideological malfeasance in creating the Charlottesville myth, which nevertheless has rattled mostly the establishment elites, rather than the public. Yet while some may selectively process information to confirm their prejudices, most people are fair-minded and see through all the hysteria, so all this has done is to further delegitimize these institutions. The point here is not to absolve Trump but to point to the fact that the truth has been the biggest casualty in this whole affair. 



19 August 2017

ROBERT E. LEE AND SOUTHERN MONUMENTS


During his lifetime and through most of subsequent American history, Robert E. Lee was universally admired in both the north and the south.  To understand why we need to look at the whole historical record. In the formative years of the 19th century, only decades after independence most people still identified primarily with their states and communities rather than the US as a whole. Indeed when Lee attended West Point it was then customary for cadets to swear allegiance to their home state, not the USA (which did not occur until the Civil War). When the Civil War broke out there was no more distinguished soldier in America than Lee, and and so it was natural that he be called upon to lead the Union army by President Lincoln. Lee was conflicted and refused, not because he favored secession or slavery but because he could not bring himself to attack his beloved home state of Virginia. 

True he did subsequently take command of Confederate forces and wound up on the wrong side of history, but that is not the end of the story as ignorant people would have you believe. It is what he did at the end of the war and after that secured his place among great Americans. First, Lee surrendered gracefully and called on his forces to lay down their arms and second, spent the rest of his life devoted to reconciliation. That is why he was universally admired. You cannot judge a man solely on one part rather than whole of his life.

A lesser man might have refused to surrender, or at the very least called for continued resistance and guerrilla warfare, which could have resulted in years more of continued bloodshed and instability. But Lee instead devoted himself to peaceful reconciliation. Lee then stood not as a symbol of southern resistance and intransigence, but of reunion. He backed the wrong cause, but then made amends and a substantial contribution to strengthening his country. Through all the subsequent years no one questioned honoring Lee, at least until historical amnesia, ignorance, and political malice arose in recent times. Lee is simply the wrong figure to attack or displace in American history, never mind Virginia history. For politicians in Virginia to now turn on Lee is nothing less than obscene, given all that Lee gave and sacrificed for the state. It also flies in the face of the sentiment of a solid majority in this country. 

Now I’m from Brooklyn and don’t have any particular stake in this controversy. I did have an aunt that once owned the Robert E. Lee hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, but there is a closer connection of sorts right here in Brooklyn. When I was growing up I belonged to a Boy Scout troop based at an Episcopal church across the street from Fort Hamilton army base. It was a wonderful storybook community and was largely where my American identity was formed.  It was widely known as the “church of the generals,” one of whom was Robert E. Lee, who once planted a tree there in the 1840s, and to which plaque dedicated to Lee was attached and remained until yesterday, when the rump of what is left of the Episcopal diocese decided to remove it. Never mind that the church is now closed because the they could not maintain the parish, not least because of their political radicalism. This was once a thriving congregation, but in the 1960s the priest decided it was his moral duty to actively and loudly oppose the Viet Nam war, thereby splitting the congregation, which over time dwindled. The Boy Scouts left, and the Episcopal church imploded into irrelevancy as it became more interested on progressive politics than Christianity. The removal of Lee’s plaque from a shuttered church that is now for sale is just a sad coda to this idiocy. 


This is all happening without any significant support among a majority of Americans of all races, and is largely a project of loathsome left-wing white radicals. Is there any more breathtaking hypocrisy than the Pelosi Democrats now clamoring to remove statues, erected by their own party, that they never once uttered a peep about during the years they had the power to do so and through the entire Obama presidency? Nevertheless there may be some monuments to less noble figures in the South that might be questionable, but the historical record shows that Robert E. Lee is not one of them.