Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Rudy the Rebbe

We are in a rather parlous state. Nothing seems certain anymore. Why, last night Santa passed by my house without delivering either a stocking filled with coal or a new Mercedes. Obviously, even he can’t tell nowadays who’s naughty or nice. 

There is one hope for us, however. There is Rudolph Giuliani. There is a man who knows black from white, up from down, and, more importantly, Jew from Goy. “[George] Soros is hardly a Jew. I'm more of a Jew than Soros is,” Rudy proclaimed last week in an interview in New York magazine, probably just before heading off to the mall to purchase a new menorah. 

As most news articles pointed out, Giuliani was raised a Catholic. Now working on his third divorce, does Rudy offer the same certainty to the Pope about who the true Catholics might be? 

New York magazine ran a stock photograph of Rudy to accompany its interview with him.

As you can see, the once-ballyhooed “America’s Mayor” is wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap and flaunting a Yankee World Series championship ring.

Giuliani’s expertise in religious matters was as hard earned as his baseball loot. How many innings of shutout ball did he pitch?

William Butler Yeats in his poem “Among School Children” famously asked, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

About Giuliani, we need ask, “How can we know the screwball from the screwball?”

Monday, December 2, 2019

Maybe the Children Will Save Us

The Worst News Story of the Week

The students in a fifth-grade class at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah were asked to tell what they were thankful for this Thanksgiving. Most of the responses were typical of 11-year olds:
Some of the kids . . . said turkey and mashed potatoes. One girl mentioned her dog. Another student joked about not having to go to school over the holiday.*
One student, however, had a very different answer:
“I’m thankful that I’m finally going to be adopted by my two dads.”
This student, identified only by his initials, D. M., indeed had reason to be thankful, for after two failed adoptions, it seemed that he was finally going to have a family to call his own.

What D. M., and his classmates, did not anticipate was the reaction of the class’ substitute teacher:
“Why on earth would you be happy about that?”
For the next 10 minutes she lectured the 30 kids in the class about her own views, how “homosexuality is wrong” and “two men living together is a sin.” She looked at the boy, too, and told him: “That’s nothing to be thankful for.”
The news reports did not provide any further quotes from the 10-minute rant, but one can imagine that the teacher perhaps asserted that sinners would be cast down to hell to suffer eternal torments for their transgressions. 

How interesting it is that those who claim to follow a loving God are so delighted to anticipate the sufferings of their fellow creatures.


The Best News Story of the Week

The teacher was kicked out of the school.

As she was ranting against homosexuality, students asked her to stop. When she refused, three girls left the classroom and went to report the incident to the school principal. As we know from the national scene, being a whistleblower can cause one to face a backlash. Imagine, though, these girls leaving the classroom without permission. Surely there was the possibility of punishment. But the girls did what they knew they had to do. As the mother of one of the girls later said,
“I am so glad that I raised my daughter in a way where she would stand up for what’s right.”


So just maybe in this country, where hatred, bigotry, and discrimination have been given a green light by the adults in charge,** the children will save us. 


  ** "In a reversal from the Obama administration, the Trump administration has repeatedly taken the position that laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex do not cover a person discriminated against for being gay or transgender. The administration has also pushed for religious exemptions to civil rights laws, which experts say will make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals. The administration has taken particular aim at transgender people, barring them from joining the military."

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Relevance of the Irrelevant

Please excuse me as I start off this post on the irrelevant by asking an irrelevant question.
Political tensions over an intensifying impeachment inquiry reached fever pitch on Wednesday [Oct.23] as Republicans “stormed” a closed-door committee hearing on Capitol Hill disrupting a crucial deposition related to the Ukraine controversy – a day after devastating testimony from a key diplomat.
A group of Republican members of the House of Representatives, chanting “Let us in”, barged into a secure office suite in the bowels of the US capitol where Laura Cooper, a top Pentagon official who oversees Ukraine policy, was preparing to testify.(1)

Now that the impeachment hearings are in public session, how many of the storming Republicans have attended the proceedings? 


Throughout the public sessions, there have been repeated attempts by Republican committee members, Foxites, right-wing trolls, and Trump himself to divert attention from the substantive revelations by sworn witnesses by lobbing mostly irrelevant goofball observations, questions, and complaints about said witnesses. 

Probably the goofiest of the goofy was the tsk-tsking about George Kent’s water bottle:
“Fish are not this hydrated,” [Fox] network contributor Raymond Arroyo told “Ingraham Angle” host Laura Ingraham. “It was like a medical sized water silo.”(2)
The leader of the Loony Tunes brigade attempted several diversionary ploys, one of which was to attempt to undermine an expert witness on Ukraine by ranting about her service in Somalia:
In an extraordinary step, Trump attacked Yovanovitch during her testimony. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go?” he wrote on Twitter.(3) 
In another swipe at a witness, Mr. Bar Mitzvah suit elbowed his way into fashion etiquette by complaining about Lt. Col Alexander Vindman’s testifying before the impeachment panel in his military uniform:
The implication from the president and congressional Republicans is seemingly that Vindman, an Iraq War combat veteran and active duty Army officer, has used his dress uniform as a prop as part of a partisan performance. 
But Army regulations state that "when an invitation calls for business attire, the appropriate Army uniform is the service or dress uniform." The regulations further state: "All personnel will wear an Army uniform when on duty, unless granted an exception by the commander to wear civilian clothes. "
In short, Vindman has been following US military protocol, and it would be a violation of Army regulations for him to show up to congressional hearings out of uniform.(4)


But all of the above irrelevancies are molehills of diversion next to the Everest of slanderous innuendo directed at Lt. Col Vindman because he just happened to have made the mistake of choosing to be born in Ukraine instead of Amurrica. That, to the GOPers, Foxites, and other purebloods set off sirens warning of treason:
Alexander Vindman, the lieutenant colonel who testified before impeachment investigators in Congress on Tuesday, introduced himself in his prepared statement as an immigrant. For some of Donald Trump’s prominent supporters, this fact was enough to begin painting Vindman as a double agent, a traitor, or a spy. On “Fox & Friends,” perhaps Trump’s favorite program, Brian Kilmeade said, ominously, that Vindman “tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.” Fox’s Laura Ingraham suggested that Vindman was working on behalf of Ukraine from within the White House, leading her guest, John Yoo (most well known for his co-authorship of the so-called Torture Memo), to question whether these conversations amounted to “espionage.” The CNN commentator Sean Duffy, who  also expressed alarm about Vindman’s loyalties, opined that Vindman “is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense . . . We all have an affinity to our homeland where we came from. Like me, I’m sure that Vindman has that same affinity.”(5)

Vindman’s family emigrated to the US when he was three years old. He is now 44. One marvels at the idea that for 41 years, Vindman has harbored such a Rosebud longing for the national dishes of his birth land—borscht, holubtsi, and varenyky—that he would undertake treasonous acts against the country whose flag he has served under in combat.

The implication by the Trumpites that naturalized American citizens are possible traitors, fifth-columnists, or spies—by virtue of their being born outside the borders of the US—is abhorrent. 

But the horror of the implication is even worse when one considers that Alexander Vindman is Jewish. It is no stretch of the imagination to see operating here the age-old anti-Semitic trope that Jews are a rootless people with no allegiance to the country they dwell in and, thus, dangerous aliens who must at best be kept under scrutiny and at worst be imprisoned, expelled, or exterminated.


It has been my experience over the years that in a discussion or debate it is important to pay more attention to the irrelevancies that are dragged in than the actual on-point arguments. Call it: “The Relevance of the Irrelevant.” That is where the truth will be discovered. 


Monday, November 4, 2019

A New York Moment

The Department of Justice insists that sitting presidents cannot be indicted. It is for that reason that Robert S. Mueller III did not charge Donald Trump with the crime of obstruction of justice. He got very close though: 
On obstruction of justice, the report "does not conclude that the President committed a crime, [and] it also does not exonerate him". Since the special counsel's office had decided "not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment", they "did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President's conduct.”(1)                                                                                                   
In the opening minutes of the Judiciary Committee hearing, Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, asked about Trump’s multiple claims of vindication by the investigation.

“And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler asked.

“No,” Mueller replied.(2)


Donald Trump once bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”(3)

I have a few questions.


Trump does indeed shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue.

Trump supporters: Are you really OK with that?


Trump shoots Jesus in the middle of Fifth Ave.

Evangelicals: You do believe there will be a Second Coming; so why not on a sunny day on Fifth Avenue? 

Are you good with this?


Trump shoots the Pope. Or maybe, Trump shoots the Pope and the Dalai Lama.

Still cool?


Trump goes to any or all of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Fifth Ave. & 51st St.), St. Thomas (Episcopal) Church (Fifth Ave. & 53rd. St.), and the Fifth Avenue Synagogue (Fifth Ave. & 62nd St.). He unwraps an AK15 and shoots the hell out of the place(s). Blood and guts cover the floors and walls.

Way cool, right?


Trump exits his tower, grabs a baby from a passing carriage, and, with a long knife, slices it from head to toe.

Are you calling the cops?



What are the Secret Service men doing?

A—Nothing, except looking cool behind their Ray-Bans—since there’s been no danger to Trump.

B—Racing to Trump, jumping on top of him, wrenching the weapon from his hands (breaking a few fingers while doing so), smashing his face into the ground, twisting his arms behind him, and handcuffing him. (Do those dudes carry handcuffs?) Drag him along the ground to a nearby police car.

When all is said and done, can the NYPD at least issue Trump a summons for obstructing traffic?


Trump’s lawyers recently made the argument in a New York City courtroom that he couldn’t be prosecuted for any crime (not just a federal one) until he leaves office.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

For the Present


You are offered a trip back in time. To what period would you like the time machine to take you?

I suppose a bunch of would-be Athenians are tucking up their togas in anticipation of a dialogue with Socrates or a sit-down with Plato at the Academy. Meanwhile, neo-Elizabethans are dusting off their doublets as they look forward to quaffing some sack at the Mermaid tavern alongside Will Shakespeare and buddies. Dreams of Versailles float through the heads of others longing to be set down in France during the reign of Louis XIV. Still other times and climes for other folks.

However, would-be retro-travelers who who take the bait and answer the question all do so with a false assumption in the back of their minds. They believe that the time machine, besides giving them calendrical freedom, will also give them a desirable social and economic status as well. In other 
words, one cannot assume that once back in ancient Athens, one will have entree into Plato’s orbit. What if one’s role in life turns out to be that of a low-or-no-status person at the time, like a woman or a slave? 

And if your travel ticket is for Elizabethan London, you may indeed find yourself in the Mermaid tavern, but not as a patron, but as the potboy.

Come hither, Francis.
My lord?
How long hast thou to serve, Francis?
Forsooth, five years, and as much as to--
[Within] Francis!
Anon, anon, sir.
Five year! by'r lady, a long lease for the clinking
of pewter. But, Francis, darest thou be so valiant
as to play the coward with thy indenture and show it
a fair pair of heels and run from it?
O Lord, sir, I'll be sworn upon all the books in
England, I could find in my heart.
[Within] Francis!
Anon, sir.
How old art thou, Francis?
Let me see--about Michaelmas next I shall be--
[Within] Francis!
Anon, sir. Pray stay a little, my lord.
Nay, but hark you, Francis: for the sugar thou
gavest me,'twas a pennyworth, wast't not?
O Lord, I would it had been two!
I will give thee for it a thousand pound: ask me
when thou wilt, and thou shalt have it.
[Within] Francis!
Anon, anon.
Anon, Francis? No, Francis; but to-morrow, Francis;
or, Francis, o' Thursday; or indeed, Francis, when
thou wilt. But, Francis!
My lord?
Wilt thou rob this leathern jerkin, crystal-button,
not-pated, agate-ring, puke-stocking, caddis-garter,
smooth-tongue, Spanish-pouch,--
O Lord, sir, who do you mean?
Why, then, your brown bastard is your only drink;
for look you, Francis, your white canvas doublet
will sully: in Barbary, sir, it cannot come to so much.
What, sir?
[Within] Francis!
Away, you rogue! dost thou not hear them call?

Here they both call him; the drawer stands amazed, not knowing which way to go

Henry IV, Part 1


If you could live your life over, what would you change?

I have a confession to make: When I summon up remembrance of things past, I almost always stir up from the depths of my mind bad memories. Memories of my errors, crassness, rudeness, pettiness, and on and on (though I wouldn’t go as far as a friend of mine who, after many years, went to confession and told the priest, “I have broken all the commandments except “Thou shalt not kill”). 

I wish that I had been a nicer person—politer, more caring, less self-centered. But would I opt to change my past? No. I do not wish to go back to any fork in the road of life and choose the path not taken. Sure, I might have found more happy days, though I might have found more misery instead. Then again, I might not even be around to write this. 

But most important, a wish to change the past, means a wish to eliminate all that happened in the first place. And in my case it would mean that I would erase from existence my daughter and grandchildren. 

What selfishness it would be—even greater than the selfishness in my past—to deny them life in exchange for the possibility that I could have had a bit more pleasure in my life.

So, it is not out of complacency or smugness that I say, “Let the past be.” 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Families Triptych--Rockwell

Who is the most famous American painter?

Which is not the same as asking, Who is the greatest American painter?(1) I had a particular artist in mind, but I wondered what the internet would offer as an answer. A Google search of the introductory question yielded very little response. The closest any entry came (the one at the top of the search list) was from a site that churns out top 10 list after top 10 list.(2) On that list, the number one place went to Andy Warhol—which I guess can reasonably be argued—for famous he was. It seems to me, though, that the painter who for many decades of the past century would have had claim to that title was Norman Rockwell. 

My first thought when thinking about Rockwell is that there is no ambiguity in his work. His patriotic paintings—like The Four Freedoms—are straightforwardly patriotic. His comic vignettes—like the sailor whose arm is covered with the crossed-out names of previous girl friends getting the name of his latest amour tattooed below the others—are comic. Even his rare political commentary—like the portrait of the little black girl escorted by marshals on her way to integrate a school—is uncomplicatedly plain in its intent. 

Consider this painting called “Walking to Church” from 1952:

It would seem to fit in with other Rockwell religion-themed paintings—the nuclear family neatly off to church—but with a little dig (perhaps) at boozehounds as they pass a shuttered bar and grill on that Sunday.


But . . .

And this is what the whole blog is about: Another Rockwell painting—this one from 1959—entitled “Sunday Morning.”

I look at this Rockwell, and for once I see ambiguity. And I’m trying to figure out which side Rockwell is on.

Is he, as in the “Walking to Church” painting, celebrating Ozzie-and-Harrietish whitebread-eating middle-classness, all prim and proper coloring-within-the-lines? In which case, the pantomime villain is the father, still in his pajamas sprawled out in his chair with the Sunday papers messily on the floor, next to his breakfast. A slob in contrast to the oh-so-neat mother and daughters in their white gloves and son in his pants suit with bow tie and little peaked cap. And it’s maybe even worse. I suppose that the service the quartet are going to will feature an anodyne sermon, probably about good works. However, what if the minister (for I assume it’s a Protestant church they’re off to) is a Bible-thumping fire-and-brimstoner? Then those sweet churchgoers are implicitly leaving daddy behind to burn in hell.

When I first saw this painting years ago, I thought—and still think—that this painting is quite different from other Rockwells: that Rockwell has introduced ambiguity into his work, and behind that ambiguity lies satire.

When I looked, I saw the girls and the mother, with their holier-than-thou noses in the air, deliberately snubbing the father-and-husband who has spent all week working to provide for their neat little existence in their neat little suburban house and to pay for their barf-enducingly-cute little flowery hats and white gloves. The son, all quizzical, looks over to his father, as if wondering, is he my role-model? Can he fathom that the man deserves his day of rest?

To sum up:

If Rockwell is not doing what I think I see here (or is it, what I want to see here?), and is unambiguously on the side of the Bible-clutchers, then I hate this painting as much as I hate any painting.

But I hope Rockwell, like me, disdains the false piety of those who can go off to pray—with their noses in the air—without leaving a little love behind for the man sprawled in his chair.

Now, I really would like to know your opinion. Am I right to discern an underlying satire in the painting? Or, perhaps I’ve got the satire wrong, and it’s directed at a father who is failing in his duty.

So, help me out on this. There’s a space below to offer your views. I really would like to know what you think.



(1)  A question I would never ask. I believe we shouldn’t descend to the invidious practice of attempting to measure greatness, but to gratefully accept all outstanding performances. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Families Triptych--Out the Door

In March 1967, Svetlana Alliluyeva left India, where she was visiting, and a month later arrived in New York City. This was not a case of romantic tourism, but an act of personal and political freedom. And Alliluyeva was not just any traveller, but the daughter of Joseph Stalin. Refusing to return to the Soviet Union from India, Alliluyeva left behind a son and a daughter; the latter would never speak to her mother again.(1)


My grandfather carted samples of soap all over England until his retirement. I was always thinking of what it was like to be him. My mother never spoke of him, absolutely hated him, changed her name to have no association with him.
Laura Cumming(2)


Five weeks ago, the Guardian (UK) published an article entitled “‘I wish I’d told Dad how much I hated him’ – when children ditch their parents” that asked the question: “What pushes someone to cut all ties with their mother or father.”(3)

The article received 1114 reader comments. 

While not all the comments added to the litany of family boycotts, cut-offs, and back-turnings of the original articles, very many of them did. The article and comments made for very grim reading. Having myself had a moderately decent upbringing, I had to second the response of one reader, who wrote,
[I]t makes me incredibly grateful for having the parents and the upbringing which I did have, where Mum & Dad's respect for one another was glaringly obvious, and their devotion to their children paramount.
The reader went on to say, 
 [I]t makes me feel inadequate in terms of relating to those who were not so fortunate.
It what ways were the unfortunate ones unfortunate? Here are some examples:

“Mum’s first love was always men, and when I was 15 she moved to Africa for a boyfriend without telling me. . . . She has contacted me since but always asks for money. That’s why I made the decision to cut all ties with her.”
Andy hasn’t spoken to his mother for 25 years, after they stopped communicating in his early 20s. . . . He says he was never praised for his achievements, only criticised for doing things wrong. “Whatever I did, it was never good enough. If I did well at something, my dad would always have to prove he was better.” 
He later realized that his parents’ views were “snobby, sexist, bigoted and racist.”


Following decades of gaslighting and other toxic behaviours, my mother chose the day we learned my partner was going to die, imminently, to tell her what she thought of her. Unfiltered bile, abuse, lies and spin. It was both shocking and absolutely devastating. . . . I am now 16 years no contact and life is better for it. If your parent demonstrates consistently bad behaviour you are completely entitled to ditch them and not feel bad about it.

Those are just three examples. There are hundreds more tales of abuse (mental, physical, and emotional) on the Guardian’s pages. And when one considers that these are the stories related by the readers of one newspaper in one country at one point in time, one can only wonder at the amount of family misery that must exist in this world.

One is relieved that some victims of family abuse are able to escape by cutting off contact with family members, however hard that might be. 


In a “July 2019 Joint Letter from Secretaries Azar [Health and Human Services] and Pompeo [State Department] on International Partnerships,” those two Trumpian worthies urge other countries to “defend the family as the foundational unit of society vital to children thriving and leading healthy lives.”(4) Which is rich coming from a government led by a thrice-married, multiply-adulterous president.

And especially hypocritical considering the policy of forced separation of parents and children at our southern border.

At least the separations of parents and children reported in the Guardian article were voluntarily decisions of adults.