IF THE DEMOCRATS WIN

If you have been paying attention during this presidential election cycle you have reason to be gravely concerned over the future of America. I know most politicians lie, obfuscate and exaggerate to rile up their base. I have often said that pols only do two things well: get elected and get re-elected.

All that said, let’s review what the Dem presidential candidates have been saying they will do if elected. I will stipulate that not all of the candidates have spoken out in favor of all of the below listed items, but most of them have spoken out in favor of most of them. I am not making this up. You can find these statements easily with a little research. Just a few years ago, most of these policies would have been considered as wild ravings by the fringe far left. Now, they seem to be mainstream Dem ideology and accepted by a large portion of the voters. Think about that as you read on.

When you put the list together it can be frightening. Do they really believe in all these things? Will they really move forward on all of them? I don’t know. I hope not, but let’s take them at their word for a minute. Do you really want to live in the America they envision? Would any clear thinking person want to?

Some of these appear, at least to me, to be so radical as to be unrealistic, if not idiotic; others of them sound good, but they are not practical and would bankrupt the country; still others are a combination of the two. I will leave it to you to evaluate them for yourself.

I repeat, each of these has been espoused by some or all of the candidates, and most of them have received widespread support from much, if not most, of the mainstream media. I have written blogs on most of these proposals before, so I will just give a brief description.

1. Open/drastically relaxed borders. Supposedly, this is about helping the oppressed and persecuted, and there is some of that, but I believe it is more about economic and political power.

2. Free Medicare for all, including illegal aliens. Sounds magnanimous. Why not help those who most need it? However, common sense tells you it would bankrupt the country, particularly in conjunction with open borders. The proponents of this plan are being deliberately vague on details. For instance, no one knows how much it would cost, although the Urban Institute and Commonwealth Fund estimates approximately 32 trillion (that’s with a “T” folks) over ten years. Also, this plan would force you to switch from your current healthcare plan (Remember former President Obama’s disingenuous boast that “if you like your healthcare plan you can keep it?”). Moreover, keep in mind many doctors refuse to treat Medicare patients, so what would the impact on the medical profession be?

3. Tax increases/wealth tax. This would be needed to pay for all the social programs. Unfortunately, there are not enough rich people to pay for these programs, so this would affect the middle class as well (although most of the candidates have been dancing around this). Wealth tax has been tried in other countries and abandoned, for various reasons.

4. Reparations. How would it be determined who pays whom? For example, would someone whose ancestors did not arrive until the 20th century have to pay? Would an AA whose ancestors immigrated after slavery ended be entitled to any reparations? Not practical.

5. Forgiving student loans. This would be easily abused by both students and colleges. Need to establish limits and criteria or else those who did not attend college or did attend a sensibly-priced college would be paying for the long-term student who attended a high-priced college, studied impractical courses and/or failed to earn a degree.

6. Prisoners/teenagers voting. Ridiculous on its face. Convicted criminals should continue to forfeit their right to vote. Few teenagers have the maturity and life experience to make rational voting decisions. Furthermore, most of them know little about politics and care less.

7. Guns. They want to chip away at the 2nd amendment. This is a very complicated issue that merits a separate blog to do it justice. I am in favor of some sort of universal background check, but not outright bans. I don’t believe they work anyway, as evidenced by the high crime rate in Chicago, which has among the strictest gun laws in the country. A case in point would be the State of California, which just passed nine separate gun laws designed to restrict the ownership and use of guns, even for hunting.

8. Guaranteed jobs/stipend for all. This is pure communism.

9. Green New Deal. This is supposed to combat the climate change “crisis.” Even if one believes in climate change, this is one of the most idiotic policies I have ever heard. Small wonder, since one of its primary proponents is the intellectually-challenged AOC. (With a straight face AOC characterized climate change as so serious it was “our generation’s WWII.” Really? I think she needs to be educated on WWII, among other things.)

This policy is based on a false premise, that unless we institute radical corrective action to the environment immediately the world will end in seven years, or is it ten years, or is it 15 years. I can’t keep up. Some of the things we are told must be banned include, fossil fuels, internal combustion engines (so, no flying or driving, for instance), beef (due to cow farts), oil drilling, factory farming, and coal, oil and gas heating. Welcome back to the 19th century. Also, virtually every building in the country would have to be re-conformed to comply with GND standards. The cost is estimated to be several trillion dollars per year, and would take several years to complete. No one really knows, but according to GND supporters the world will have ended by then, so I suppose it will be moot. Also, we should restrict the number of children we have or eliminate having them entirely. Sound like something you could support?

CONCLUSION

The foregoing are just some of what we can expect if the Dems win. In a nutshell, it would be the “great giveaway” with vague or no plans of who is going to pay for all this largesse and how.

I know about half of the country hates President Trump on a visceral, personal level. Fair enough. They choose to ignore, downplay or twist his accomplishments. That is their right. But, if you strip away all the partisan rhetoric and bloviations life at the moment is pretty damn good for most people. Most people are, in fact, better off than they were four years ago.

On the other hand, think of the ramifications of these policies. Obviously, they will fundamentally change America. Will it be for the better or not? I would say most assuredly not, but I leave it to you to decide. That is what really makes America great. The voters get to decide in free elections. Just remember you will have to live with the consequences of your vote. It is true that “you get the government you deserve.”

THE RAGMAN’S SON

Last week we lost a Hollywood icon.  Many people believe he was, in fact, one of the last members of Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” (Generally considered to be from 1915-1963 the GA was characterized by glamorous movie stars and the few dominant studios, such as Warner Brothers and MGM, that controlled them and the industry as a whole.)

From unbelievably humble beginnings, he became one of the most famous and successful entertainers of his generation.  He achieved fame primarily as an actor, but he was also a successful writer, director and producer.  His life was truly an example of what one can achieve in America with hard work, determination, talent, and, yes, a dash of good fortune.

Issur Danielovitch was born on December 9, 1916 in Amsterdam, a small city in upstate NY near Kingston, the only son (along with six daughters) of poor Jewish immigrants from present-day Belarus.  The family changed its surname to “Demsky,” after an uncle who had previously adopted the name.  Such Americanization of names was very common among immigrants who wanted a fresh start in their newly adopted country.  So, Issur Danielovitch became Izzy Demsky.  Izzy changed his name, legally, to Kirk Douglas just prior to entering the Navy.

In his 1988 autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son,” which I have read and strongly recommend, Kirk described what a “ragman” did thusly: “buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes.”  To characterize the Demsky family as “poor” was an understatement.  According to Kirk, “even … in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung of the ladder.  And I was the ragman’s son.”  It is truly amazing to me how a person with such dire beginnings could rise to the level that Kirk did.  Read on and, hopefully, you will appreciate the level of his determination to succeed.

Growing up, Kirk worked at a succession of mostly menial jobs, anything to earn a few dollars for the family.  A few examples were, selling snacks to mill workers in town, delivering newspapers, gardener, janitor, busboy, waiter, and wrestling in a carnival. There were too many to list all of them here, but you get the idea.  According to his Wiki bio Kirk worked at some 40 jobs before he became an actor.  In his words, he considered his home life to be so “stifling” that it “lit a fire under [him].”  He was “dying to get out.”

Kirk would do any job to earn a few dollars.  Legend has it he even spent a night in jail just to have a place to sleep.  I suppose in his desperation “three ‘hots’ and a cot” sounded not so bad.

Supposedly, Kirk decided he wanted to be an actor from the age of five.  In high school he acted in several  plays.  Following graduation in 1934 he didn’t have any money for college, so, after talking his way into the dean’s office at St. Lawrence University for an interview, he somehow wrangled a student loan, which he supplemented with some of his many part time jobs.

After graduation in 1939 he managed to obtain a scholarship to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC.   While there, he met two aspiring actresses who would have a significant impact on his life: (1) Diana Dill, who would become his first wife and the mother of Michael Douglas, and (2) Betty Jean Perske.  Who was Betty Jean Perske?  Perhaps, you know her as Lauren Bacall.  Bacall, who was eight years his junior, later wrote she had a huge crush on Kirk, but he was not interested in her as she was “clearly too young [for him].”

Kirk joined the Navy in 1941 where he served as communications officer aboard ship.  He was medically discharged in 1944 due to an injury whereupon he returned to NY to resume his acting career.

Initially, he was focused on becoming stage actor.  However, the aforementioned Lauren Bacall recommended him to Hal Wallis who, as it happened, was looking for a fresh face for his film, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.”  He got the part.  Ironically, his film character, was a weak insecure, alcoholic who was dominated by his strong, ruthless wife (played by Barbara Stanwyck).  That was to be the last time he played a weak character.  As we all know, he made his career playing strong, heroic, tough characters.

Kirk appeared in some 90 movies in a career that spanned over 60 years.  Though known, primarily for his acting he was an extremely versatile entertainer.  He was also a producer and a director.  Furthermore, he appeared on tv and on the stage many times, and he wrote ten books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Kirk’s breakthrough role was in “Champion” where he played a tough, selfish boxer.  According to film historian Ray Didlinger Kirk “absolutely nailed” the part.  Moreover, “Variety” described the movie as “a stark, realistic study  of the boxing rackets.”  The movie earned six AA nominations, including Kirk as Best Actor.  Its success convinced Kirk he should specialize in “strong” roles, prospectively.

Furthermore, he became more aggressive in his personal life.  He was determined to take firmer control of his career.  For example, he broke his studio contract and formed his own producing company, Byrna Productions, which was named after his mother.

As a producer, Douglas had a tough reputation.  He worked hard and he expected his actors to do so as well.  He was intense and direct, which likely offended some actors, but that was Kirk.

Kirk’s peak period was the 1950s and 1960s.  During this time he churned out one success after another.  He continued to play strong, independent, tough characters and utilize his rugged good looks highlighted by his signature dimple.

There were many memorable movies, too many to list them all, but some of the most famous of these films included “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952), (another AA nomination), “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954) (featuring an underwater wrestling match with a giant squid), “Lust for Life” (1956), (in which he played the famous painter, Vincent Van Gogh), “Paths of Glory” (1957), “The Vikings” (1958), “Spartacus” (1960) (perhaps his signature performance, and featuring the signature line “I am Spartacus.”), and “Lonely Are the Brave” (1962).  During this time he appeared with many of the leading actors and actresses of the era, again, too many to mention here.  In addition, he appeared on tv many times.

“Spartacus” was significant in another way.  As many of you know the 1950s was famous, or perhaps, infamous, for the Hollywood blacklist.  One of the blacklisted writers, Dalton Trumbo, was the screenwriter for the movie.  Kirk insisted that Trumbo be given full on-screen credit.  Although it was an open secret that blacklisted writers were actually writing movies under other names it was not acknowledged, publicly.  Kirk’s action was a big no-no, but given his status as a megastar he felt he could get away with it, and he did.  Some claim that that effectively “broke” the blacklist (although there is some difference of opinion).

A significant event occurred on the set of The Vikings.”  Kirk’s co-stars were Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who also happened to be the parent of Jamie Lee Curtis, who was around 10 years old.  As Jamie Lee told it, one day while riding her tricycle she pedaled it into a pool.  Kirk dove in and rescued her from drowning making him a real-life hero in addition to a cinematic one.

CONCLUSION

During his long career Kirk received dozens of awards.  Some of the highlights included an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, three AA nominations, the Presidential Medal of Achievement, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Moreover, he is designated #17 on the American Film Institute’s list of “greatest male screen legends.”

He was married to his second wife, Anne, for 65 years, very rare in Hollywood where marriages are often measured in months, not years.  They met in Paris while Kirk was filming “Lust for Life.” Anne had been born in Germany as Hannelore Marx, and her family had emigrated to Belgium prior to WWII to escape the Nazis.  One reason why the marriage lasted so long was that Anne chose to overlook his frequent affairs.  Her attitude was that “as a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage.”

Kirk’s final public appearance was as a presenter at the 2018 Golden Globes” with his daughter-in-law, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Douglas attributed his good health, vitality, boundless energy, and longevity in large part to his tough childhood and early life pre-acting.  Additionally, there was a large measure of luck.  In 1991 he narrowly escaped death when a helicopter in which he was riding collided with a small plane.  In 1996 he suffered a stroke, which impaired his ability to speak (which he recovered after several months of therapy).

He often credited his mother, Bryna, for his aggressive nature and for developing the philosophy of “gambling on yourself.”  In “The Ragman’s Son” he characterized himself as a “son of a bitch,” adding “I’m probably the most disliked actor in Hollywood, and I feel pretty good about it, because that’s me.  I was born aggressive, and I guess I’ll die aggressive.”  Frequent co-star, Burt Lancaster, once commented “Kirk would be the first to tell you that he is a very difficult man.  And I would be the second.”

Kirk and Anne were very philanthropic.  They donated to many non-profit causes, such as medical facilities, schools, an Alzheimer’s treatment facility, and various playgrounds in the US and Jerusalem.

Kirk died at his home in Beverley Hills on February 5, 2020 of “natural causes.”  Rest in peace Kirk.  Your life and career epitomized the American “rags to riches” dream, and was an inspiration to us all.  You will be sorely missed.

ACADEMY AWARDS

“He looks just like my Uncle Oscar!”  So said Margaret Herrick, the Executive Secretary of the Academy in 1931 when she first laid eyes on the famous statuette.  Fortuitously, columnist Sidney Skolsky was within earshot.  He memorialized the comment by including it in his byline, and the moniker “stuck.”

To be sure, that sourcing is not universally accepted.  For example, according to one of Bette Davis’ biographies, she named the statuette after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson.  However, the Herrick story sounds like the more plausible one, so I am going with it.  In any event, the Academy adopted the name officially in 1939.

The Academy Awards, aka the “Oscars,” is hosted annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winners of AAs are selected by the Academy’s membership.  It is the oldest and most prestigious of the awards. This year’s awards, the 92nd, will be presented on Sunday, February 9 at the Dolby Theatre in LA.  The awards have been televised since 1953.  ABC has televised them since 1960.

For the second straight year there will be no host.  Why?  Well, despite declining ratings, the powers that be at ABC have determined that last year’s “hostless” format was such a success they have decided to continue the practice.

Personally, I preferred having a celebrity host.  In my view, the best ones were Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal, each of which hosted several times.  To me, they added humor and spice to the proceedings.  In my view, the Awards have fallen victim to the “new normal.”  Cutting edge humor is out; dull and boring is in.  God forbid the host should offend anyone or anything.  You may recall that last year Kevin Hart was supposed to be the host, but he ran afoul of the twitter PC Police, and he got the “boot.” Yes, his tweets were somewhat controversial, but they were several years old, and he did apologize.  But, that was not good enough for the PC Police, so he had to go. Welcome to modern, progressive America, where one is penalized for what he did or said years ago. Best to monitor your kids’ tweets and Facebook entries verrrry carefully.

The “In Memoriam” segment was introduced in 1993.  It is one of my favorite segments.  It is always very poignant, and I expect this year will be no exception.

For me, the biggest drawback to the show is its length and pace. It’s supposed to be three hours, but good luck with that. The 2002 show was the worst, lasting 4 hours and 23 minutes, but who’s counting.  DVR, anyone?

Some little-known facts about the AAs:

1. The initial AAs were presented in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel before an audience of approximately 270 persons. This year, by contrast, it is anticipated that the awards will be televised and streamed live to some 30 million people in some 225 countries around the globe.  Impressive numbers?  Perhaps, but the estimated audience pales beside the 57 million who viewed the awards in 1998.  As has been customary, they will be preceded by a elaborate ceremony, which will feature celebrities parading before their fans, the media, and a television audience on the “Red Carpet.” Some people actually prefer the “Red Carpet” to the show, itself.

2. In 1929 the award winners, 15 in all, were disclosed to the media three months ahead of time.  For a few years, beginning in 1930, the winners were disclosed the night before.  Since 1941, however, the identities of the winners have been sealed in envelopes and guarded like the proverbial “crown jewels” until they are disclosed, with much fanfare, at the ceremony.

3. Since 1950 the ownership of the statuettes has not been unencumbered. Legally, neither the winners nor their heirs are free to sell them on the open market without first offering them back to the Academy for $1.  Although they are gold plated and only cost about $500 each to manufacture, their value on the open market would be substantial.  For example, a few years ago, a pre-1950 statuette sold via on-line auction for $861,542.

4. The voting membership of the academy is not very diverse.  It is overwhelmingly Caucasian, male, and elderly.  More on that later.

5. In order to be eligible for the Best Picture Award, a film must be a minimum of 40 minutes long, must have opened in LA County by December 31 of the previous year, and must have played there for seven consecutive days.

6. Other than Best Picture, only the members of each branch vote for the nominees in that category. For example, only directors nominate candidates for Best Director.  The entire membership votes for the winners, as well as for Best Picture.

7. For many years, the awards were presented in late March or early April. Beginning in 2004, however, they were moved up to late February or early March.  Now, they are presented in early February.  The reasons for this were (1) to shorten the intense lobbying and advertising campaigns of the Oscar season, which had become excessive,  (2) to avoid competing with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in mid and late March, which has grown very popular, (3) to avoid conflicting with the major religious holidays of Easter and Passover, and (4) to take maximum advantage of February being a “sweeps” month.

8. From time to time, some critics have accused the Academy of bias, for example:
a. Favoritism toward romantic dramas, historical epics, family melodramas, and historical biographies (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Chariots of Fire,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” and “Annie Hall”) at the expense of action films or sports films. Often, these so-called “Oscar-bait” movies have won at the expense of more popular and enduring films such as “Star Wars,” “Goodfellas,” “Hoosiers” and “Raging Bull.” I have long felt that there has, at times, been a disconnect between the preferences of the Academy voters and the general audience.  For example, this year’s favorite, “The Joker,” grossed about $334,000, far behind “Avengers’ Endgame” at $858,000.
b. Sentiment has, sometimes, led to awards for popular entertainers or those who have been denied in the past. Also, some awards have been given more for a distinguished career than for the most recent individual performance.  One notable example was John Wayne winning for his performance in “True Grit” in 1969.  Wayne had been one of the most popular performers for three decades, but he had never won an Oscar.
c. Every so often, charges of racial bias have plagued the Academy.  For example, a few years ago, some critics decried the absence of nominations such as “Straight ‘Outta’ Compton” for Best Picture and Will Smith for Best Actor in “Concussion.”

This year some have criticized the “lack of diversity” among the nominees.  The noted best-selling author, Stephen King, who has strong liberal credentials, was nevertheless roundly criticized for defending the slate of  nominees as quality over diversity.

These aforementioned critics have cited the composition of the voting membership, as noted above, as being the primary cause. I’m not so sure. Through the years there have occasionally been curious snubs, such as Eddie Murphy being passed over (in favor of Alan Arkin) for his superb performance in “Dreamgirls.”  I did not see “Compton,” so I can’t comment on that.  Smith’s performance was worthy of a nomination (although, which nominee would he have replaced?).  However, I don’t believe those omissions are cause for protests and boycotts. I agree with King.  Furthermore, I am definitely not in favor of a quota for nominations of minorities and women as has been suggested.  As long as the nominations and Oscar voting are subjective, there will always be some that are overlooked. Our society is too PC as it is. Part of life is dealing with disappointments.

9. I recall a few puzzling choices for Best Picture in past years, cases in which the winning picture was soon forgotten and an also-ran or two became a classic or at least substantially more popular or memorable. For example:
a. 1977 – “Annie Hall” beat “Star Wars.” Unless you’re a big Woody Allen fan chances are you don’t remember “Annie Hall.”  “Star Wars” was a mega-hit and spawned several sequels as well as ancillaries such as toys and games.
b. 1941 – “How Green Was My Valley” beat “Citizen Kane.” “Valley” has been long forgotten, and “Kane” is on many “short lists” of the best movies ever.
c. 1990 – “Dances with Wolves” beat “Goodfellas.” I saw “Dances.” It was a nice movie, but “Goodfellas” is a classic gangster film with an all-star cast (DeNiro, Pesce, Liotta) and is on tv frequently.
d. 1940 – “Rebecca” beat “The Grapes of Wrath,” a powerful drama about the Depression-era California migrant workers starring Henry Fonda, among others.
e. 1998- “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan.” “Shakespeare” was soon forgotten (and, perhaps, Harvey Weinstein exerted some undue influence on the voting) and is now no more than the answer to a trivia question, whereas “Ryan” was a classic WWII movie with an all-star cast headed by Tom Hanks and Matt Damon).  Who can ever forget the classic D-Day landing scene?
f. 1946 – “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which few recall and is never on tv, beat “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is a Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart and which is on tv annually.

I could go on.  In fact, I could write an entire blog on just this sub-topic, but you get the idea.

A brief quiz, call it a “quizette:”

1. Who has won the most Academy Awards?
2. Only three movies have swept the much coveted awards for best picture, director, writer, best actor and best actress. Can you name them?
3. Who was the youngest actor/actress to win?
4. Who was the oldest?
5. Three movies hold the record for most Oscars with 11.  Can you name them?

6. Which actor/actress has won the most AAs?  Has the most nominations?

7. Can you name the Best Picture winners for the last two years?

See answers below.

CONCLUSION

I know you are all anxiously awaiting my predictions, so here they are:

Best Picture – “Joker”
Best Actor – Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”
Best Actress – Renee Zellweger – “Judy”
Supporting Actor – Al Pacino – “The Irishman”
Supporting Actress – Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”

What are yours?

Enjoy the awards show as well as the “Red Carpet,” although I strongly recommend using a DVR to get through the many “dead spots.”

Quizette answers:

1. Walt Disney – 22
2. “It Happened One Night” (1935); “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1976); “Silence of the Lambs” (1992).
3. Tatum O’Neal (10) in “Paper Moon”
4. Jessica Tandy (81) in “Driving Miss Daisy”
5. “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” (2003)

6. Most acting Oscars – Katherine Hepburn – 4; most nominations – Jack Nicholson – 12

7.  2018 – “The Shape of Water”; 2019 – “Green Book”

SUPER BOWL QUIZ

Super Bowl LIV, (54 for those of you who don’t read Roman numerals), will take place tomorrow, Sunday, February 2, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.  The SB is an annual extravaganza.  Many non-football fans watch the game, often at special SB parties.  This year, the contestants will be the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers.   At this time, I think it would be appropriate to test your SB knowledge with a little quiz.

By now, you know the drill.  No peeking at the internet, and no asking “Alexa” or “Siri.”  Good luck.

  1. Counting this one, how many SBs will the Miami area have hosted? (a) 2, (b) 4 (c) 6, (d) 8.
  2. The halftime show headline entertainers will be Jennifer Lopez and? (a)  Jay Z, (b)  Selena Gomez, (c) Ariana Grande, (d) Shakira.
  3. The face value of tickets range from $950 to $5,000, although if you want to buy a ticket on the open market expect to pay significantly more.  What was the top price for tickets to SB I? (a) $10, (b) $12), (c) $100, (d) $1,000.
  4.  Which is the only current NFL team that has neither hosted nor appeared in a SB? (a) Browns, (b) Jags, (c) Panthers, (d) Lions
  5.  How many sitting presidents have attended a SB? (a) 0, (b) 1, (c) 2, (d) 5
  6.  Who was the only player from the losing team to win a SB MVP? (a) Tom Brady, (b) Roger Staubach, (c) Len Dawson, (d) Chuck Howley
  7.  The 49ers have won five SBs.  If they win Sunday they will tie which team for the most wins?  (a) Colts, (b) Bills, (c) Steelers, (d) Cowboys
  8.  Who is the only starting QB to win a SB with two different teams? (a) Peyton Manning, (b) Bret Favre, (c) Joe Montana, (d) Jim Kelly
  9.  According to the US Department of Agriculture SB Sunday is the US’s second highest food consumption day.  Which day is first? (a) Mother’s Day, (b) Thanksgiving, (c) Christmas, (d) New Years.
  10.  Who scored the first SB touchdown? (a) Boyd Dowler, (b) Paul Hornung, (c) Otis Taylor, (d) Max McGee.
  11.  What player has won the most SB MVPs (a) Eli Manning, (b) Joe Montana, (c) Tom Brady, (d) Terry Bradshaw
  12.  Who was the only QB to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same game? (a) Tom Brady, (b) Steve Young, (c) Nick Foles, (d) Fran Tarkenton
  13.  Who made the famous “helmet catch?” (a) Mario Manningham, (b) Randy Moss, (c) David Tyree, (d) Plaxico Burress
  14.  Which team made four consecutive appearances in the SB? (a) Bills, (b) Patriots, (c) Cowboys, (d) Steelers
  15.  Which team has appeared in the most SBs without suffering a loss? (a) Jets, (b) Ravens, (c) Chiefs, (d) Dolphins
  16.  Each of the following teams has not appeared in a SB, EXCEPT (a) Bengals, (b) Lions, (c) Texans, (d) Jags
  17. The 49ers current SB winning streak is how many games. (a) 2, (b) 3, (c) 4, (d) 5?
  18.  How many teams have played in a SB in their own stadium? (a) 0, (b) 1, (c) 2, (d) 4.
  19.  Who won the only SB decided by one point? (a) Cowboys, (b) Giants, (c) Patriots, (d) Rams.
  20. The 49ers have won five SBs in six appearances.  To whom did they lose? (a) Ravens, (b) Patriots, (c) Giants, (d) Steelers).

ANSWERS

  1. (c); 2. (d) (Are we rooting for a wardrobe malfunction?); 3. (b) (And they did not sell out.); 4. (a); 5. (a); 6. d; 7. (c); 8. (a); 9. (b); 10. (d) (He had not expected to play, had partied extensively the night before, and was hungover during the game.); 11. (c); 12. (c); 13. (c); 14. (a); 15. (d); 16. a; 17.  (d); 18.  (a); 19. (b) (20-19 over the Bills.); 20.  (a)

Well, there you have it.  How did you do?

Enjoy the game.

My prediction –  SF 38 – KC 34

 

KOBE BRYANT

He was affectionally called the “black mamba.”  The moniker really fit him, both talent-wise and with respect to the manner of his play.

Wikipedia describes the mamba as a “fast moving, venomous snake.”  It can be found in gray, brown and, of course, black.  It is fearless, aggressive, and if it were to bite you, chances are it would be “sayonara.”  In my view, that was an apt metaphor for Kobe’s style of play.  Kobe often said he chose the name due to his desire to mimic the snake’s “ability to strike with 99% accuracy at maximum speed in rapid succession.”

In addition to his exceptional talent, he was fearless, aggressive, and had a penchant for taking and making the last shot, the one that would decide the game.   Most star players say they want to take the last shot, but few of them can handle the pressure.  Kobe thrived on pressure.  The bigger the moment, the better he played.   Moreover, he drove his teammates to play their best, maybe, even to exceed what they thought was their best.  He did it by both example and exhortation.  No one outworked him, and no one escaped his criticism if he perceived they weren’t giving their best.

To be sure, this rubbed some teammates the wrong way, at first, but they soon realized that all Kobe wanted to do was to win, and if he won, they won.  According to sportswriter, Mark Heisler, “circa 2004-20007 Kobe was the most alienated superstar the NBA had ever seen.”  Strong words.  I believe that as he matured and won his championships he became more accepted.  Phil Jackson, his long-time coach, observed that earlier in his career Kobe would often tell his teammates just “give me the damn ball.”  Later on, he made an effort to “embrace the team and his teammates.”

Kobe Bean Bryant was born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, PA., the youngest of three children and the only son.  His father was former NBA player, Joe (“Jellybean”) Bryant.  What was the derivation of his unusual name?  Supposedly, “Kobe” was derived from the famous Japanese meat, Kobe beef, which his parents had seen on a restaurant menu; “Bean is a shortened version of his father’s nickname. When Kobe was six his father retired from the NBA and continued his playing career in Italy, as many players did at the time.  The elder Bryant played in Italy for several years.  Kobe enjoyed living in Italy and became fluent in Italian.  His grandfather would mail him videos of his favorite team, the Lakers, which he would watch incessantly.  Kobe would hone his game by playing in US summer leagues.

By the time Kobe was ready to enter high school the family had moved back to Philadelphia.  Kobe attended Lower Merion HS, where he enjoyed a spectacular career.  (1) He started for the varsity as a freshman, a real rarity; (2) during his junior year, he averaged 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists; and (3) as a senior he was named to various All-American teams and attracted the interest of all the big-name colleges.  His coach praised not only his ability (“a complete player who dominates”) but also his work ethic.  He also became a celebrity when he attended his Senior Prom with recording star, Brandi.

He could have attended virtually any college he wanted, but, instead, he chose to go directly to the NBA.  At the time, the NBA did not prohibit this, but it was very unusual for high schoolers to do so, and even more unusual for them to succeed.  However, Kevin Garnett had just done so the previous year, and Kobe probably figured “if he could do it so could I.”  Kobe became only the sixth player, and the first guard, to do so.

The Lakers wanted him, and he wanted them.  They were picking too far down to draft him directly, but GM Jerry West engineered a draft-day deal with the Charlotte Hornets to get him.

Kobe’s 20 year NBA career had its ups and downs, although the “ups” far exceeded the “downs.”  He debuted in the 1996-97 season.  As a rookie he came off the bench and played part-time, but his skills were very obvious.  Some observers even compared him to a young Michael Jordan.  High praise, indeed.

Some of the plusses of his career:

  1.  In 1999 he and Shaquille O’Neal won the first of three consecutive NBA championships as a tandem.
  2. After Shaq left, Kobe won two additional titles as the undisputed leader. (Shaq also won another one in Miami with Dwayne Wade.)
  3. Kobe is generally considered to be one of the best and most versatile players in NBA history.  For example, none other than NBA commissioner Adam Silver has characterized him “one of the greatest players in the history of our game;”  the “NY Times” said he had “one of the most decorated careers in the history of the sport”; and “Reuters”  called him “arguably the best player of his generation.”  Most observers of the sport would place him in the top ten all-time.
  4. He is considered to be one of the best  “closers” in the history of the NBA.  As I said above, he wanted the last shot; he wanted the pressure of holding the game in his hands.  For ten straight years ending in 2012 a survey of general managers named him as the player they would most like to see take a clutch shot with “the game on the line.”
  5. He won two Olympic Gold medals (2008 and 2012).
  6. He was an 18-time All-Star, the second most.  Do you know who ranks first?  See below.
  7. He was a four-time All-Star MVP, tied for the most with?  See below.
  8. As further evidence of his versatility as a player: (1) for his career he averaged 25  points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game; (2) he was the first player in NBA history to score over 30,000 points, and hand out over 6,000 assists; and he was selected to the NBA All-Defensive team 12 times, trailing only??  See below.

Some of the negatives:

  1. Following the three titles, he and Shaq became unable to co-exist.  Both were supremely talented, but headstrong, players.  It appeared neither wanted to share the glory, accolades and spotlight with the other.  One had to go, and the Lakers chose to keep Kobe.  Many observers blamed Kobe for forcing the Lakers’ management to trade Shaq.  Maybe, maybe not, but the episode remained a black mark on Kobe’s career.  As noted above, it was not until later in his career that Kobe warmed to his teammates.
  2. By 2007 the Lakers had parted ways with Jerry West.  According to ESPN Kobe demanded to be traded if they did not rehire West.  They did.  Kobe admitted he wanted West back, but denied he had demanded a trade if they did not rehire him.
  3. Throughout his career Kobe was plagued by various injuries to his knees, legs Achilles, feet, back, and, probably the most serious, a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.  These were likely at least partially a result of how much he demanded of his body and how hard he played.  He was such a competitor that after he injured the rotator cuff he insisted on returning to the game whereupon he finished it playing lefthanded.

4.  Undoubtedly, the biggest stain on his career was the rape allegation in 2003.                         Briefly, while in Colorado for knee surgery a 19 year-old employee of the hotel in               which Kobe was staying accused him of sexual assault.  Kobe said the sex was                     consensual.  A true he-said, she-said.  Ultimately the criminal case was thrown out             when the woman declined to testify.  However, subsequently, she sued Kobe in civil           court.  The case was settled for an undisclosed amount, but rightly or wrongly, most           people are inclined to believe he was guilty.

CONCLUSION

Kobe’s personal life was not without controversy (in addition to the above alleged rape).  He met his wife, Vanessa, when he was 21 and she was 17 and a high school student.   His parents didn’t approve and did not attend their wedding, nor did his sisters, his agent or his teammates.  Supposedly, his parents objected to his young age and the fact that Vanessa was not African American.  Their estrangement lasted until Kobe and Vanessa’s first daughter was born (over two years).

Kobe and his wife were engaged in extensive charity work including the “Kobe and Vanessa Brant Family Foundation,” “After School All-Stars,” and the “Kobe Bryant China Fund,” among many others.  At the time of his untimely death Kobe was an international superstar recognized and beloved all over the world.

By now, you all know the tragic story.  On January 26, 2020 Kobe, his 13 year-old daughter, Gianna, six friends, including Gianna’s teammates and parents, and the pilot were killed in a helicopter crash.  The helicopter had taken off on an ill-advised flight to a team basketball practice despite intense fog, which one witness described “as thick as milk.”  The fog was so thick that even police helicopters were grounded.  For whatever reason the helicopter failed to gain sufficient altitude and crashed into a mountain in Calabasas, CA.  A true tragedy.  Luckily, Kobe and Vanessa had a pact never to fly together in a helicopter, so at least Vanessa and their other daughters have survived.

Many people, when first informed of the crash, found it unbelievable.  It was only hours later that it began to sink in for most people.  Tributes have been pouring in from fans and well-wishers.  Yet, as I write this several days later many people have not yet fully processed this tragedy.  It took me a few days before I could bear to research and write it.

Feel free to send me your thoughts and memories of Kobe.

Rest in peace Kobe and Gianna (and the others as well).  You were taken from us far too soon and will be sorely missed.

Quiz answers:

  1.  Kareem Abdul Jabbar (19)
  2.  Bob Pettit
  3. Tim Duncan (15)

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMPEACHMENT TRIAL DRONES ON…. AND ON… AND ON

Raise your hand if you’ve had enough.  Raise your hand if you’re sick and tired of this banal and specious process.  Raise your hand if you are truly glued to your TV day after day.  Raise your hand if you wish they would just get on with this, get to the vote already. The tv ratings are low.  People would rather watch their daytime “soaps.”

The more one watches the Dems’ drivel, the more one realizes there is no case,  There never has been.  It’s like listening to a broken record.  Their latest point is that Mr. Trump is a “tool” of Russia.  How absurd is that?  Absolutely no evidence has been presented to support that claim.  If anyone was in the Russians’ pocket it was the Clintons.  It was Bill who was getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for a speech.  It was the Clinton foundation that received millions of dollars in “donations.”  Miraculously, both of these dried up after she lost.  And let’s not forget the bogus and discredited Trump dossier that Clinton’s campaign cooked up with Russian collusion.

Mr. Trump has committed no impeachable offense.  There has been no evidence that he obstructed anyone or anything, nor that he withheld foreign aid to pressure the Ukraine into investigating Hunter Biden.  On the other hand, there is video of Joe Biden bragging how he coerced Ukraine’s former president into firing the former investigator who was investigating Hunter.  Neither the Dems nor the mainstream media seem to be the least bit interested in that.

Indeed, Mr. Trump’s only “crime” was winning the 2016 election, which was supposed to go to Hillary Clinton.  He wasn’t supposed to win.  The mainstream media told us so.  All the “experts” told us so.  The polls told us so.  In their eyes, the fact that he did win had to be the result of some underhanded and nefarious actions by someone.  Who? Aha!  It had to have been the Russians, the Dems favorite boogeyman.  Forget the fact that after three years no concrete proof has come to light to support that assertion.  What else could it have been.  It couldn’t have been that the majority of American voters simply preferred Trump to Clinton?  Could it?

Let’s just hold the vote already, give Mr. Trump his acquittal, which is obvious and inevitable, and move on with the business of the country, to the real issues people care about.  Be honest with yourself.   Wouldn’t you rather that the Congress deal with the economy, infrastructure, border security, the opioid epidemic, terrorism, healthcare, income inequality, student loan debt, and other real matters.

The only ones who don’t “get it” are the esteemed members of the mainstream media.  If you can bear to watch CNN or MSNBC you will be astounded by their praise of Adam Schiff and the other Dem impeachment managers.  You will be wondering what they are watching.  It’s certainly not what the rest of us are.  According to them, their speeches were “brilliant,” “masterful,” and “virtuoso.”  “Puleeease!”  Are they really that dumb, or do they think we are?

CONCLUSION

As time goes on, it has become more and more obvious that the Dems’ real endgame is to damage Mr. Trump enough to win the 2020 election.  I and many others have been saying this from the beginning.  They have come to realize that they cannot win it fairly, especially with the current cast of characters vying for the nomination, so they are getting desperate.

Their biggest nightmare is that Sanders either wins the nomination or wins enough delegates to block anyone else from a majority.  It could happen.  Well, there is always “you know who” waiting in the wings hoping for a brokered convention.  A Clinton-Trump rematch.  Wouldn’t that be “sweet.”  The only thing worse than losing once is losing twice.

THE “BRITISH SCHINDLER”

Even 70+years after the Holocaust, we are continually discovering the exploits of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, who exhibited remarkable bravery and ingenuity to rescue Jews from the clutches of the Nazis before and during WWII.  Sadly, in many cases, these exploits have only become known posthumously.  Such is the case of Nicholas Winton, a Briton who orchestrated the rescue of 669 children on the eve of WWII.  I know that amount is significantly fewer than the tens of thousands rescued by Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, or even the 1,200 that Oscar Schindler rescued, but it is still a significant number.  Moreover, like many other heroes, Winton was living a comfortable, risk-free life; he didn’t have to do what he did.  He did it because he felt strongly it was simply the right thing to do.

Nicholas George Wertheim was born on May 19, 1909 in Hampstead, London.  He was the middle child between an older sister and a younger brother.  His parents were German Jews who had emigrated from Germany in 1907.  Once in England they converted to Christianity and changed the family name to Winton.  This was not uncommon as many immigrants changed their name and or religion in an effort to “fit in.”

Nicholas’ family was wealthy.  They lived in a 20-room mansion in West Hampstead, a relatively affluent area of London.  As a youth, Winton was an outstanding fencer.  In fact, he was good enough to make the British national team in 1938.  He had hopes of making the 1940 Olympic team, but, as we know, those Games were cancelled due to WWII.  Later in life, he established the Winton Cup, a prestigious competition in the sport.

Winton became a rescuer quite by accident.  In December 1938 he was a successful stockbroker based in London.  He was planning to go to Switzerland over Christmas on a skiing holiday, but on a whim, which would change not only his life but also world history,  he decided to visit a friend, Martin Blake, in Czechoslovakia.   Blake was working on behalf of an agency of the British government to assist refugees trying to flee the Sudetenland, which had been recently annexed by Germany.  In extending the invitation to visit, Blake had advised Winton, “don’t bother to bring your skis.”

I’m not sure what Winton expected to find in Czechoslovakia, but I think it’s safe to say he was appalled and shocked by the situation.  The German pogroms of the 1930’s, including the infamous “Kristallnacht,” had created vast refugee camps in which people were living in inhumane conditions – severe shortages of food, water, shelter and medicine.  Starvation and disease were rampant.  Relief agencies were trying to arrange transport to other countries like England, the US, and other “safe” countries, however, there were significant roadblocks, administrative, political and others.

Upon arrival, Winton quickly forgot about skiing, fencing, stockbroking and anything else.  He threw himself into the problem at hand.  He established an organization called Kindertransport to aid the children.  His first “office” was a dining room table in his hotel room.  The British government had agreed to grant refuge to children age 17 or younger provided that (1) they had a place to stay and (2) paid a fee of 50 pounds for an eventual return to their home country.  (As I said, other countries had their own restrictions, some of which were quite onerous.  There were various reasons for this, but I believe the two primary ones were anti-Semitism and a severe underestimation of the Nazis’ plan for the extermination of the Jews.)

At first, the relief agencies were focusing on refugees from Germany and Austria.  There was no infrastructure in place for Czechs.  Winton created one from scratch.  It required diligence, ingenuity, a mountain of paperwork and a lot of money.   The route to England was circuitous and fraught with danger.  It involved travel by truck, train and boat through various neutral countries, such as Belgium, Holland and the Netherlands.  It required the cooperation of various officials along the way, usually through bribes.  Any misstep along the way would have resulted in the return to Germany and probable death.

He even created backchannels with and paid bribes to Gestapo agents to guarantee safe passage.  One notable “ally” was Karl Bomelburg, the chief Gestapo agent in the area, aka “the criminal rat” (a play on his title, “kriminalrat).”  In addition, his organization frequently had to forge various documents, such as entry permits and transit papers.  Basically, Winton and his organization did whatever it took to achieve the goal of safe passage to England.

Ultimately, Winton was able to place 669 children in homes in Great Britain.  Survivors have related the gut-wrenching scenes at the moment in which the children were actually separated from their parents.  Tears flowed freely.  Most of the children didn’t understand why they were being separated and were distraught.  So were the parents, but deep down they realized they were likely saving their children’s lives.  Most of these parents perished in the camps, and after the war ended most of these children were orphans.

Sadly, of all the other governments Winton contacted only Sweden was willing to help.  Winton was ready to transport thousands more, but Germany closed all borders on September 1, 1939 when it invaded Poland.  On that date, a trainload of 250 persons was set to depart from Prague, but  they never made it.  According to Winton, the train simply “disappeared.”  According to Wikipedia only two of the 250 survived the war.  (The NY Times reported that none did.  Tragic either way. )

Many of the children who did survive the war ended up remaining in England.  Others returned to Czechoslovakia or emigrated to Israel, the US or other countries.   But, wherever they ended up they remained truly grateful to Winton.  They dubbed themselves “Winton’s Children.”

CONCLUSION

During and after the war, Winton continued to engage in relief work for various agencies.  He married and raised a family.  Like most people, he never liked to discuss his exploits during the war.  They went unnoticed and unrecognized until 1988 when his wife accidently found a scrapbook in the attic.  It contained a veritable treasure trove of information including detailed records of the names of the children and their parents, various travel documents, and the families with which the children were placed.  She was stunned.  She asked Nicholas about it.  In a typical display of modesty, he pooh-poohed its significance.  “I didn’t think for one moment they would be of any interest to anyone so long after it happened.”  Her incredulous reply: “You can’t throw those papers away.  They are children’s lives.”

Luckily, she prevailed.  She sent the scrapbook to Elisabeth Maxwell, who was not only a noted Holocaust researcher but also the wife of media magnate Robert Maxwell.  Soon, the secret was out.

Winton was the recipient of numerous honors (including knighthood), too many to mention here.  In recogntion of his accomplishments the British media nicknamed him the “British Schindler,” a high honor indeed.  Furthermore, he and his exploits have been the subject of several films.

As a final tribute, on September 1, 2009 on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the war a final “Winton Train” departed Prague for London where it met Winton.  It followed the original Kindertransport route.  On board were several “Winton Children” and their descendants.  A nice reunion and a fitting tribute.

Nicholas Winton passed away on July 1, 2015 at the remarkable age of 106.  Rest in peace, Nicholas.  You were a remarkable person.  Your memory will live on forever through the descendants of your “children.”

CNN’S “SHAMEFUL” PERFORMANCE AS DEBATE MODERATOR

“Villainous and shameful.”  That characterization of CNN’s performance as moderator for the latest debate among the candidates for the Democratic nomination for president was written, not by President Trump, not by Fox News, and not by a random conservative-leaning political pundit, but by “Rolling Stone.”  The focus was on the question of whether or not Bernie Sanders had said to Elizabeth Warren that a woman could not win a presidential election.  RS, as most of you know, is a far left publication, so the foregoing analysis carries some significance.  Why did the RS reporter say that?  Read on.

Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the debate.  I find them unwatchable.  The candidates don’t discuss the issues in any meaningful way, nor do they differentiate themselves on policy; they spend most of their time attacking President Trump, which I understand, but, after a while, it gets old.  Furthermore, the poor ratings indicate I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Be that as it may, I, like most of you, have seen and heard the salient points of the Sanders-Warren disagreement, which was the primary takeaway from the debate, on multiple news outlets.  To me, there are two key elements to it:

  1.  Did Sanders say it, and
  2. the manner in which CNN’s debate moderator, Abby Phillip, framed the question about it to Sanders and Warren.

As we know, debate moderators have one main job – to be impartial.  Read how Phillip framed the questions to Sanders and Warren, and you tell me whether or not she was impartial.

To Sanders:  “CNN reported yesterday – and [both] Senator Sanders [and] Senator Warren confirmed in a statement – that in 2018 you told her you did not believe that a woman could win the election. Why did you say that?”  This is like the silly and humorous question: “When did you stop beating your wife?”  Obviously, the question was highly prejudicial as Sanders has vehemently denied saying it and there is no definitive evidence he did so.  Phillip should have said: “Did you say that?”  As if that weren’t enough, Phillip compounded her error by asking Warren: “What did you think when Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?”

As support for his strong denial, Sanders pointed out that he had actually urged Warren to run as early as 2016.  In addition, there is a published video in which he stated the opposite, namely, that a woman COULD become president.

According to RS, CNN reporter M. L. Lee broke the story on the evening before the debate.  Supposedly, it was based on “the accounts of four people, two [of which] Warren spoke with directly and two [others who were] familiar with the meeting.”  The trouble is that only Sanders and Warren were in the meeting.  Therefore, it is apparent that all four individuals had the same source – Warren.  CNN is famous (or rather notorious) for this kind of “circular reporting” and innuendos by “anonymous sources,” which never seem to be verified.  (For example, see reports of WMD during the Bush 43 administration and “Russiagate” over the past three years, among many others.)

So, what we have is a basic he said-she said.  Whom should we believe?   Sanders, despite many of his cockamamie political beliefs, strikes me as fairly honest (for a politician).  What you see is what you get.  Warren, on the other hand, has been caught in several disingenuous statements and outright lies.  For example, she has falsely claimed Native American heritage, and she falsely claimed she was fired from a teaching job because she was pregnant.  Moreover, she has tried to hide the fact that her “Medicare for all” plan would necessitate a tax increase on the middle class as well as on the wealthy.

Even the “NY Times” was critical of the name calling and animosity.  Reporters Reid Epstein, Sydney Ember and Alexander Burns said each called the other a “liar,” and opined that the incident has “cast doubt” on whether the two can “unite the Dem Party’s liberal wing.”

Due to the foregoing, absent definitive proof to the contrary, I would have to believe Sanders.  I don’t think it will matter anyway.  Sanders has his hardcore plurality of supporters who will support him to the end, and Warren’s candidacy is fading under the weight of her questionable character.  The latest Real Clear polls report Warren running fourth in New Hampshire, not a good sign as it is a neighboring state to her home state of Massachusetts, and tied for third in Iowa.  Moreover, her funding is drying up.  Sanders is ahead of her in both states and has been raising significant amounts of money.

CONCLUSION

The larger point, in my view, is that it appears that the wealthy and influential Dem Party insiders and major donors, who strongly oppose Sanders’ socialist philosophies and policies, are growing fearful that he could actually win the nomination, and they are attempting to damage him to prevent it.  Many of Sanders’ supporters were convinced their man was denied the nomination unfairly in 2016, and they fear a reprise in 2020.  They were right then, and they’re probably right now.  In 2016 many of them stayed home or voted for Trump or a third party candidate, such as Jill Stein.  They may do the same in 2020.

CNN, living up to its reputation as a virtual extension of the Dem Party, is on board with the plan.  For example, in addition to Phillip, the biased moderator, listen to Van Jones: “There was a banana peel sent out there for Bernie to step on….  I think [he] stepped on it…. [Warren] knocked that moment out of the park.”  For similar comments by other CNN commentators tune into the channel at random any time any day.  There is a feeling in some quarters that CNN’s commentators get their marching orders from Jeff Zucker daily.  If so, this would be an example.

It is also a perfect example of “fake news” for which the liberal media is well known.  No wonder the public hates and mistrusts the media.

It will be very interesting to see how this story develops.  Will the candidates mend their fences and focus on their real enemy, President Trump?  Or, is it a portent of further conflicts as the campaign moves to the primaries phase and the pressure ratchets up?

Here’s a novel idea for the Dems.  How about focusing on the issues that really matter to voters, such as the economy, jobs, infrastructure, healthcare, border security and foreign affairs.  Instead of wasting your time and our money trying to remove Mr. Trump via impeachment, which will never happen, try to do it the tried and true way, by winning an election.

 

I HAVE A DREAM

Today, January 15, is the birthday of, in my mind, the greatest civil rights leader in American history.  Of course, I am referring to Martin Luther King, Jr.  As is the case with many of our holidays, we celebrate it on a Monday, the third one in January, rather than on the actual day. This year, it will be celebrated on January 20.

This year will mark the 52nd anniversary of his untimely assassination on April 4, 1968.  Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the assassination of President JFK on November 22, 1963 most  of us will always remember where we were when we heard the horrible news.

For some people, the holiday holds no special meaning; it is just a day off from work, a day to spend with family or friends, part of a long three-day weekend.  For many of us, however, particularly those of us who were alive in the 1950s and 1960s, it is much, much more.

MLK was born on January 15, 1929.  In my opinion, he became the most prominent and influential American civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s, if not ever.  MLK was more than just a pastor.  He believed that more could be achieved by civil disobedience and non-violence than by violence.  He preached peaceful disobedience, sit-ins, marches and demonstrations, often in the face of wanton violence and cruelty by the police and others, rather than by rioting.  In this regard, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.  In turn, he inspired many others such as Nelson Mandela and the Black Civil Rights movement in South Africa.

He also recognized the power of the press to bring attention to his cause and influence public opinion. For example, as many as 70 million people around the world witnessed the police brutality inflicted on the peaceful black and white marchers in Selma, Alabama, in March of 1965, including women and children as well as men.  Those images, broadcast live on TV and radio, appalled and disgusted many people and provided an immeasurable boost to the public awareness of the injustices being visited upon blacks in the South. These events were captured dramatically and realistically in the 2014 movie, “Selma,” which featured David Oyelowo as MLK.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.

Unlike any other African American leaders before or since, he had the ability to unite, rather than divide.  Although he was criticized by some of the more militant civil rights leaders of the time, such as Stokely Carmichael, he commanded the support and respect of a large majority of blacks and many whites as well. In that regard, he was similar to Mandela.

After his death, despite the urgings of some civil rights leaders who wanted to continue MLK’s philosophy, more militant African American leaders, such as Mr. Carmichael, came into prominence. There was rioting in over 100 US cities, and a slew of violent incidents at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago in front of the national press and millions of Americans, which many believe swung the 1968 presidential election  to Richard Nixon.  The Civil Rights movement was changed forever.

MLK came into prominence in 1955 when he led a bus boycott, peacefully, in Montgomery, Alabama.  The boycott had been fueled by the famous Rosa Parks incident in which she had refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.  She was arrested on December 1. (Most people don’t know that earlier that year in March a similar incident had occurred, also in Montgomery, involving Claudette Colvin, a black girl who had also refused to give up her seat to a white man.  However, that case did not receive the same notoriety.  Civil rights lawyers declined to pursue it because Colvin was 15, unmarried and pregnant. They chose to wait for a case with a more favorable fact pattern, and they were proven to be right.)

Later, MLK became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and remained so until his death. He applied his non-violence philosophy to protests in Selma, Ala., St. Augustine, FL, and the March on Washington, D. C., among others. He made it a policy never to endorse a particular political party or candidate. He believed he could be more effective if he were neutral and not beholden to anyone.  Furthermore, in his view, neither party was all bad, and neither one was perfect.  In his words, “[t]hey both have weaknesses.”

Perhaps, MLK’s signature moment occurred during the famous March on Washington in August 1963.  Ironically, MLK was not the primary organizer of the March.  That was Bayard Rustin, a colleague.  The primary purpose of the March was to dramatize the plight of blacks in the South.  Civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins, NAACP, Whitney Young, National Urban League, A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, John Lewis, SNCC, James Farmer CORE, and MLK, wanted to bring awareness of these issues right to the seat of the Federal government.  More than 250,000 people of all ethnicities and colors attended.  MLK was one of several speakers, and he only spoke for 17 minutes.  But, his “I Have a Dream” speech became one of the most famous speeches ever.  The March, in general, and MLK’s speech, in particular, are credited with bringing civil rights to the political forefront and facilitating the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Some little-known facts about MLK:

1. His birth name was Michael King, Jr., after his father.  In 1931 his father changed his own name to Martin Luther King, after the German theologian, Martin Luther, whom he admired.  At the same time, he changed his son’s name.

2. In 1958 MLK was stabbed in the chest after a speech by a woman who had been stalking him, and he nearly died.

3. The FBI began tapping MLK’s telephone as early as 1963.  Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General at the time and who is viewed as a staunch supporter of civil rights, in general, and MLK, in particular, authorized the tapping.

4. MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35, the youngest age ever at the time.

5. MLK won a Grammy Award in 1971, posthumously.  It should be noted that he won it, not because he displayed a great singing voice, but for a “Spoken Word Album,” “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”  In addition, he won countless other awards and was awarded some 50 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities.

6. The US Treasury has announced that it will be redesigning the $5 bill.  It will still feature Abraham Lincoln on the obverse, or front, side, but the reverse, or back, side will feature depictions of events that have occurred at the Lincoln Memorial, including MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

7. Even though MLK was one of the great public speakers of his time, inexplicably, he got a “C” in a public speaking course at the seminary.  (Kind of like a baseball scout saying Babe Ruth can hit “a little bit.”)

8. MLK is one of three individuals and the only native-born American to have a holiday named after him.  In case you’re wondering, the others are George Washington (born in the COLONY of Virginia), and Christopher Columbus.

Some MLK quotes to ponder:

1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
2. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
3. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
4. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
5. “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
6. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

CONCLUSION

Today, there is much division among African Americans as well as their leaders.  Some are moderate and want to work within the system; others are more militant.  Many of the leaders have their own agendas and look for any excuse to foment distrust and discord.  I believe that these “race hustlers,” and we all know who they are, do more harm than good, but that is a subject for another blog.

In my opinion, we have made much progress in the area of civil rights.          For example, we have elected an African American president (twice); an African American sits on the Supreme Court; and African Americans hold and have held positions of prominence in every field of endeavor, including business, entertainment, sports, and the military.  But, still, it is a work in progress.  We can do more.

One can speculate whether and to what extent MLK’s assassination changed the course of history.  In my opinion, had MLK lived, the Civil Rights Movement would have been considerably different over the last 50 years, more peaceful and less divisive, with better results.  Furthermore, his assassination had a significant impact, not only on the history of the civil rights movement, but also on the overall history of the country, itself.  I hope and believe that eventually a moderate leader will emerge and bridge the gap as MLK did half a century ago.

So, as you enjoy the holiday in whatever manner you choose, I ask you to reflect for a moment on where we are as a nation regarding civil rights, where we want to go and how we get there.

AUSTRALIA WILDFIRES

By now, most of us are all too familiar with the story.  We have read the news accounts and seen the horrific pictures.  The destruction is on a magnitude so great that the mind cannot wrap itself around it.  It is so extensive that it is difficult even to ascertain and comprehend reliable estimates.  Most of the damage has been concentrated in the southeast portion of the country in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.  That includes some of the most heavily populated areas and the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Vox News has estimated that at least 25 persons have been killed and some 2,000 homes have been destroyed.  Moreover, the smoke from the fires represents a considerable health hazard.  For example, Vox reported that in nearby Sydney breathing the smoke is equivalent to smoking 37 cigarettes.

Vox has estimated that up to 15.6 million acres of bushland have been destroyed and one billion animals killed.  Those are unfathomable numbers.   For example, to put it in some perspective, 15.6 million acres exceeds the area of the entire state of West Virginia!  Can you imagine an entire state being destroyed by wildfires in less than four months?  Can you imagine ONE BILLION animals killed?

As horrific as that is, it may very well be an underestimation of the damage to the area affected.  There is no accurate way to measure the long-term damage to the area’s ecosystem resulting from the destruction of insects and other microscopic creatures, which, ecologists say play a vital role.  Moreover, many of the organisms that managed to escape the fire will eventually perish due to the destruction of their natural environment and/or other organisms upon which they rely for food, shelter and water.

Furthermore, Australia is home to some of the world’s most unique creatures, many of which, such as kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas, are not found anywhere else.  If these species were to be wiped out by these fires they would become extinct, which would be a tragedy in and of itself.  Some of these animals are familiar to us, such as kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, and various other marsupials (basically, animals that are only partially developed when born and thus are carried in their mother’s pouch until they are fully developed).  However, there are dozens of others, which few people outside of Australia are aware of, but whose continued existence is just as vital,  For example, are you familiar with or have you even heard of the potoroo or the frilled-neck lizard?  Probably not.  You might find it worthwhile to “google” them, as I did, and educate yourself.

So, what caused these devastating fires?  Could they recur, or is this year a “one-off?”   Good questions,.  Read on for the answers.

Based on news reports from various sources, such as Vox News and CBS, among others, it appears that the wildfires resulted from a “perfect storm” of negative factors, such as:

  1. Hot, dry weather.  High temperatures, dry weather and brisk winds are typical in Australia during the summer, but this year those conditions have been very extreme.  Australia has been in the midst of its hottest and driest year on record.  Triple digit temperatures have not been uncommon in many parts of the country, including the areas most afflicted.  Also, human activity, such as carelessness and arson, or natural occurrences, such as lightning have played a role.
  2.  Changing weather patterns.  Some have blamed climate change even though, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the country’s average temperature has only increased one degree Celsius over the past 100 years.  I know climate change is a very controversial and contentious topic.  I decline to debate it here.  You can decide its effect on these fires for yourself.  The ABM also reported that although rainfall has increased in the north, it has decreased in the southeast where the fires are concentrated.  In addition, Australia has been in a three-year drought.  Even the annual monsoons have played a role.  They commenced later than usual in 2019, which resulted in the accumulation of more heat in some parts of the country.
  3.  The fire season.  It is becoming longer and more dangerous.   We all know that the ecosystem depends on fires, to some extent.  Fires enable many organisms to clear decay, germinate and recycle nutrients.  But, the extreme weather has led to more and more extreme fires.

Furthermore, there  are various long-term consequences of these wildfires.

  1.  Australia’s biodiversity.  I have already touched on this, but I believe it bears further discussion.  Due to its isolation Australia has evolved into one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world.  Ecologists estimate that there are some 250 species of mammals that are unique to Australia.   Its ecosystem is fragile.  Maru Saunders, an ecologist at the University of New England in Australia has opined that the forests contain “hundreds of different species that rely on each other.  And if you lose one, it is like [losing] a link in a chain, you then lose the others that it is connected to.”   As an example, Saunders cites insects.  Although they’re largely invisible (out of sight, out of mind) she considers them to be “absolutely critical” to the functioning of an ecosystem.” They build ecosystems from the ground up.  They decompose decaying matter, aerate the soil and pollinate the plants, which, in turn, helps to develop and nurture the forests.
  2.  The smoke.  The smoke from the fires constitutes a serious health hazard in and of itself.  It is an irritant that exacerbates respiratory illnesses and heart problems.  According to the EPA it contains very fine particles that can lodge in one’s lungs or bloodstream.  It can lead to burning eyes, runny noses, bronchitis, and a myriad of other heart, lung and respiratory diseases.  If you think the effects of the smoke will be limited to Australia, think again.  The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that the smoke from these fires has begun to circumnavigate the globe.  Already, prevailing winds have pushed it as far as South America.
  3.   Mental health.  According to Vox studies have found that following a major disaster the survivors normally exhibit a 5% to 15% increase in the incidence of mental health problems.  This is brought on by the stress of loss of property, pets and, most importantly, loss of life of loved ones.  This is very insidious, because, as we know, often these conditions are not recognized and treated in a timely fashion.

CONCLUSION

So, what can we do, other than the obvious of extinguishing the fires?  In the short term, there have been reports of assistance from firefighters and persons with emergency response training from other countries, and Australia’s national government is providing assistance.  Donations to wildlife and relief charities are also helpful.

But, long term solutions  are also needed to prevent a recurrence of this level of devastation.  Otherwise, I fear we will be facing the same situation again and again.  In the meantime, I, like most of you, will be following the situation carefully and praying for a prompt and positive resolution.

I am not an expert in ecology or the environment by any means, but I hope that experts are working on the problem  I would welcome any suggestions from you, the reader.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – JANUARY

As long-time readers know, this has been a featured topic.

According to Wikipedia, January 1, New Years Day, is the most celebrated holiday worldwide. Many historically-significant events have occurred on this date as well as on other dates during the month. Please see below.

1/1/1502 – Portuguese explorers, led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral, landed in present-day Brazil. They named the location Rio de Janeiro (River of January).

1/1/1660 – Samuel Pepys commenced his famous diary, which was to become a definitive chronicle of life in late 17th century London. Famous events described in it include The Great Plague of 1664-1665, which wiped out roughly one-fourth of London’s population, and the Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed much of the city.

1/1/1776 – George Washington unveiled the first national flag, aka the Grand Union Flag.

1/1/1863 – President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the Confederacy.

1/1/1892 – Ellis Island opened. Over 20 million immigrants were processed there between 1892 and 1954 when it closed.

1/1/1901 – The British Commonwealth of Australia was founded.

1/1/1959 – Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba.

1/1/1999 – The currency, the Euro, was born.

1/3/1924 – Howard Carter, British Egyptologist, discovered the burial site of Egyptian King Tut.

1/3/1959 – Alaska became the 49th state of the US.

1/7/1714 – British inventor, Henry Mill, received a patent for the typewriter.

1/8/1815 – The Battle of New Orleans, which many historians consider among the most significant in US history, commenced. The outnumbered and outgunned Americans, under the command of Andrew Jackson, defeated the British.

1/10/1863 – The first underground railroad, appropriately called “The Underground,” commenced operation in London.

1/10/1920 – The League of Nations was born. It was doomed to failure because the US never joined.

1/10/1946 – The first meeting of the United Nations took place in London.

1/11/1964 – The US Surgeon General issued the controversial report stating that smoking cigarettes may be hazardous to one’s health.

1/12/1932 – Hattie Caraway of Arkansas became the first female US Senator, filling the remainder of her late husband’s term.

1/15/1870 – The first use of a donkey to symbolize the Democratic Party appeared as a cartoon in Harpers Weekly.

1/19/1966 – Indira Gandhi became the first female Prime Minister of India. Later, she was assassinated by one of her own bodyguards.

1/19/1983 – Klaus Barbie, aka the “Butcher of Lyon,” was arrested in Bolivia. Eventually, he was extradited to France. He was tried and convicted of war crimes and died in prison.

1/21/1793 – Following the French Revolution King Louis XVI was guillotined.

1/22/1901 – England’s Queen Victoria died after a 64-year reign, the longest in British history at the time.

1/22/1973 – Abortion became legal in the US.

1/24/1965 – Winston Churchill, arguably England’s greatest prime minister ever, died.

1/24/1972 – A WWII Japanese soldier, who had been hiding on Guam not realizing the War was long since over, was discovered.

1/27/1945 – The Russian Army liberated Auschwitz.

1/27/1973 – Representatives of the US and North Vietnam signed a treaty ending the Vietnamese War.

1/28/1935 – Iceland became the first country to legalize abortion.

1/28/1986 – The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, who was slated to be the first “ordinary” citizen in space.

1/29/1919 – Prohibition was ratified. The unintended consequence of this ill-advised constitutional amendment was the substantial growth of organized crime, which was only too happy to provide illegal alcoholic beverages to a thirsty populace. The amendment was repealed on December 5, 1933.

1/31/1943 – The German Army surrendered at Stalingrad in what was generally considered to be the turning point in the European Theatre of WWII.

Birthdays: Paul Revere, 1/1/1735; Betsy Ross, 1/1/1752; Louis Braille, invented the reading system for blind people, 1/4/1809; Joan of Arc, 1/6/1412; Millard Fillmore, 13th President, 1/7/1800; Elvis Presley, 1/8/1935; Richard Nixon, 37th President, 1/9/1913; Alexander Hamilton, 1/11/1755; John Hancock, 1/12/1737; Benedict Arnold, 1/14/1741; Albert Schweitzer, 1/14/1875; Martin Luther King, 1/15/1929; Andre Michelin, pioneered the use of pneumatic tires on cars, 1/16/1853; Benjamin Franklyn, 1/17/1706; Muhammad Ali, 1/17/1942; Robert E. Lee, 1/19/1807; Edgar Allen Poe,1/19/1809; Ethan Allen, 1/21/1738; Douglas MacArthur, 1/26/1880; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1/27/1756; William McKinley, 25th President, 1/29/1843; Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President, 1/30/1882; Jackie Robinson, 1/31/1919.