THINGS THAT ANNOY ME

We all have our pet peeves – things (or people) that annoy us.  Often, our adverse reaction is extreme, over-the-top, or even irrational.  We can’t explain why a particular thing bothers us, it just does.  Why, you may be asking, is he wasting his time writing about such things?  The polite answer is I just wanted to get them “off my chest.”  The not-so-polite answer is, to paraphrase the late singer Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog, and I can write what I want to.”

So, in no particular order, below please find my list.   I am sure that some of these annoy many of you as well.

  1. Restaurants/doctors that overbook –  You enter a restaurant, and immediately see a crowd of people in the lobby.  The receptionist tells you it will be “a few minutes.”  Everyone else seems to have a reservation too.  Oh boy!  This can definitely put a damper on a pleasant evening.  What is the point of taking a reservation in the first place if you are going to make your customers wait anyway?  Do they think I’m going to sit at the bar and run up a $100 liquor bill while waiting for a table?  I don’t like going to these restaurants, but I do so for three reasons: (a) the food is really good, (b) my wife wants to go there, and (c) I want to keep my wife happy.  Nevertheless, whenever this happens I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry admonishes the restaurateur that he “knows how to make a reservation but not how to keep one.”   Doctors who overbook strike me as indifferent to their patients’ convenience.  Their attitude is “my time is more valuable than yours.”  My solution is to take the first appointment of the day whenever possible (although once I showed up for the “first  appointment” only to discover that there were two other people ahead of me who also had the “first  appointment”).
  2. Common courtesy –  Common courtesy, like “common sense,” is far from common.  I have noticed that many, if not most, people do not say “please” or “thank you” anymore.  And “your welcome” is non-existent.  In addition, some people, refuse to hold the door for you, even if you are a woman, elderly or laden with packages.
  3. Electronic devices –  Cell phones, I Phones, tablets, etc., are, possibly, the worst inventions ever.  How many times have you observed people walking in the street or through a parking lot absorbed in these devices and not paying attention?  How many times have you observed an entire family sitting in a restaurant where everyone is absorbed in his device rather than talking with each other, or even eating?  How many times have you observed drivers being more attentive to their devices than to their driving?  How many near-accidents have you had because of them?  ‘Nough said.
  4. Driving –  It’s amazing how many drivers don’t know how to drive and how many lack common courtesy to other drivers.  Driving can be hazardous, and not just on the road.  The mere act of exiting a parking space can be a dangerous experience, especially while one is backing out.  For example, people blithely walk behind you.  Other drivers will go past your space too fast.  Trucks and SUVs parked next to you create blind spots.   It can be a virtual obstacle course.  I try to park facing forward, although some parking lots expressly forbid it.  How often have you observed driver who is texting/emailing/talking on the phone?  How many times have you seen a driver rolling through a “stop” sign, failing to ingress onto a highway properly, or driving slowly in the left lane, or the HOV lane?  I can’t decide whether those drivers are stupid, arrogant, discourteous, oblivious, or all of the above.
  5. Foreign language telephone prompts –  At the risk of being politically incorrect, let me just say that this annoys me.  After all, we are in the US.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.
  6. President Trump’s tweets –  I’m a big Trump supporter, and I understand that there are times he has to bypass the media, which he perceives as being slanted against him.  But, I think he overdoes it, and, at times, his tweets are inappropriate.
  7. Al Sharpton –  In my view, he is nothing more than a “race hustler.”  He continually shows up when he senses an opportunity to foment dissension and controversy and advance his own “brand.”  He does nothing to solve the problems minorities face, such as prejudice, poverty, inadequate education and gun violence.  More often than not he is wrong, e.g. Tawana Brawley, Duke Lacrosse, Ferguson, MO.  Ironically, he is respected by many in the minority community, and if he wanted  he could be a positive force in race relations.
  8. Hillary Clinton –  Enough, already!  You lost.  You bear the responsibility for the loss for various reasons, which I have articulated in previous blogs.  You’re not the champion of women’s rights you pretend to be.  You’re a disingenuous phony.  Stop making lame excuses and advancing criticisms without offering meaningful solutions.   You’re hurting your own political party. Just go away!
  9. Congress –  In 1948 Harry Truman won re-election, in large part, by labelling the Congress as a “do nothing Congress.”  That is what we have now.  The Congress cannot seem to get out of its own way.  Its leadership seems incapable of forging any compromises on anything.  This has been true for several years.  I wouldn’t characterize it as the fault of either political party, as it seems to be embedded in both sides.
  10. Telephone solicitors –  I know they have a job to do, but there should be a special place in hell for these people.  The “do not call” law has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.  These people call repeatedly; they call at all hours; they block their phone numbers; and they even call on local exchanges in an attempt to deceive you into answering.  Thank God for caller ID, but they are still most annoying.

CONCLUSION

Well, there you have it.  I feel so much better for getting these peeves off my chest.  Have I missed any?  Let me know.

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HOLLYWOOD SEXUAL PREDATORS

Harvey Weinstein was not the first, nor will he be the last.  As heinous, horrific and unconscionable as Weinstein’s behavior was, sad to say, it was not an isolated case in Hollywood.  Rape, sexual harassment, and the demeaning of women has been and still is an integral part of Hollywood’s culture.  It permeates the industry like a disgusting virus.

Already, there has been a steady stream of accusations.  For example, actress Carrie Stevens has alleged that producer and director Oliver Stone “groped” her at a party in the 1990s.  Even worse, actress, singer and director Rose McGowan stated she told Amazon Studios chief Roy Price that Weinstein had raped her.  According to McGowan Price “pooh poohed” it on the basis of lack of proof.  She replied, “I am the proof,” but, still, nothing was done.

If anything, the entertainment industry is a perfect storm for sexual abuse.  First of all, it glamorizes money, power and fame.  Secondly, it attracts Type A male personalities who believe that their power, fame, wealth and influence enable them to get away with anything.  Thirdly, it also attracts young, beautiful women desperately eager to achieve fame and fortune.  With the presence of these three elements why are we not surprised that sexual abuse is rampant?

Down through the years, there have been many cases of such activity.   In my opinion, for every case of which we are aware there are dozens, or perhaps hundreds, which have been ignored in the guise of “well, that the way it is in Hollywood,” or “that’s the price you pay to get ahead.”  It would take a full-length book to discuss just the major ones.  I don’t have the inclination or the “stomach” to do so.  Instead, I have selected two to illustrate my point:

  1. Roman Polanski –  Some of you younger readers may not be cognizant of him.  He has been called the “poster child” of celebrity sexual abusers.  He was a renowned movie director who had won two Oscars (for Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist).  In 1977 he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape, sodomy, perversion and lewd and lascivious acts against a 13 year-old girl.   He and his lawyers managed to plea bargain down the charges to a much lesser charge of “engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse.”  Then, in 1978 Polanski fled to France in order to avoid prosecution.  France, which, evidently, had and still has, a more lenient view of these types of crimes, has refused to extradite Polanski. He has not set foot back in the US for 30 years, and, likely never will.
  2. Bill Cosby –  This situation parallels that of Weinstein’s in some ways.  For many years Mr. Cosby was viewed as an iconic entertainer in the movies, on tv and as a stand-up comedian.  Then, some 60 women accused him of various sexual misconduct crimes, including rape, sexual assault and sexual battery.   Some of these accusations dated back to the 1960s.  His downfall was swift and sure.

Like I said, one could write a book about these types of abuses and barely scratch the surface.

CONCLUSION

Perhaps, the most ironic aspect of the Weinstein case is how his behavior was an “open secret” among entertainers and Democratic insiders (There’s an oxymoron, if there ever was one!), and no one spoke out.  Even famous, powerful, influential female entertainment personalities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda, and politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Michele Obama, each of whom hold themselves out as strong advocates of women’s rights, turned a “blind eye.”  Recently, actress Jane Fonda, a long-time advocate for women’s rights and other activist causes, admitted in an interview that she has long been aware of the “male entitlement” culture of Hollywood, and she was “ashamed” by her silence. In addition, she admitted that a female actress friend of hers had confessed to her that she had been raped by Weinstein, but regretfully, she (Fonda)did not come forward.

Now that the proverbial “cat” is “out of the bag,” this case will likely continue to mushroom.  Don’t be surprised to see class action lawsuits against individuals and companies, such as the movie studios and even NBC.  The news network’s chief, Noah Oppenheim, allegedly “killed” the story about Weinstein that had been brought to him by NBC reporter Ronan Farrow (subsequently published by The New Yorker).   It turns out that Oppenheim had a major conflict of interest.  He is also a Hollywood screenwriter.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys like to go where the money is and in Hollywood there is plenty to go around.

In the meantime, I have a word of advice for the entertainment industry.  Quit trying to give the rest of us advice on how to live our lives.  You’re good at your “day job,” but when it comes to imparting wisdom in other areas, not so much.  Clean up your own house first.

HARVEY WEINSTEIN

Finally, an issue on which we can all agree – Republicans, Democrats, young, old, black, white, Hispanic, men and women.  We are all appalled, shocked, dismayed and scandalized (pick one) at the disgusting behavior of Harvey Weinstein towards women.  Yes, we are all those things, but are we surprised?  Really?  Rich, powerful, influential, forceful Hollywood producer versus young, vulnerable, beautiful aspiring actresses desperate to “make it.” What can possibly go wrong?

We don’t agree on much in this country.  On any given issue, one can always hear multiple opinions.  That’s the beauty of a free and open society.  In this case, however, I have not heard anyone defending Weinstein’s actions, nor do I expect I will.  That said, I think there is a broader issue, one that has largely been ignored and needs to be discussed.

Based on some of the reportage I have seen in the last few days, Weinstein’s proclivities were not exactly a secret within the industry and among those who knew him.  Apparently, he had a reputation.  The various expressions of shock by entertainers, such as George Clooney and Ben Affleck and politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and the Obamas strike me as disingenuous, to say the least.  Clooney admitted he was cognizant that Weinstein “had a tendency to ‘hit on’ young, beautiful women.”  But, he added that he “had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized.”  Affleck acknowledged “we need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters.  We must support those who come forward [and] condemn this type of behavior when we see it.”  Hillary Clinton said she was “shocked” and “appalled.”  Barack Obama said he and Michelle were “disgusted.”

Fine, as far as it goes, but, to me, comments like that ring hollow.  The entertainment business has long had a reputation as a culture that fostered and tolerated misogynistic behavior toward women, including, but not limited to, sexual abuse.  It has been the industry’s dark, dirty secret.  For example, we have all heard stories about the so-called “casting couch.”  Have you listened to the lyrics in some of these “rap” songs?  Only now, are people speaking up.

Furthermore, Weinstein was a strong supporter of the Democratic Party, and many Democratic politicians have benefitted from his largesse.  They willingly accepted his money and enjoyed his influence.  Now that he has been exposed they express shock and outrage.  To me, it is reminiscent of the scene in Casablanca when the French colonel is “shocked” to learn that there is gambling going on in Rick’s Café, whereupon he is handed his winnings for the day.

Purportedly, some politicians have sought to make amends by donating contributions they received from Weinstein to charity.  Nice stunt, but to me their only motivation is that their connection to Weinstein was disclosed, and they want to mollify their constituents, save their careers.  It is not unlike a thief who, having been caught and facing prison, offers to donate his loot to charities.

CONCLUSION

The hypocrisy of Hollywood and politicians never ceases to amaze me.  They think they are a special class of people.  They think they are better than us and know what is good for us better than we do.  For example, they lecture us on reducing carbon emissions and travel on private jets;  they lecture us on inclusivity regarding immigration yet live in gated communities with 24X7 security; and, now, they lecture us on women’s rights yet overlook the culture of misogyny in their own industry.  They continually befriend and enable Weinstein and others like him.

I repeat what I have said before.  Just because a person has a special talent in acting, singing, music or sports, it does not mean they are any smarter or better equipped to give political advice.  In fact, in my experience, it is more often the opposite case.

STOLEN CHILDREN

Recently, I came across a most disturbing story about the nefarious activities of an organization called the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the proprietor of its Memphis branch, Georgia Tann.  This story may turn your stomach, and parts of it are too incredulous to believe, but based on my research I am convinced of its veracity.

Beulah George Tann was born on July 18, 1891 in Hickory, MS into a wealthy family.  Her father was a local judge.  Ironically, one of his responsibilities was to resolve issues relating to homeless children, who were wards of the state.  Tann wanted to be a lawyer, but her father vetoed that career as being “too  masculine” for a “respectable” woman.  As a result Tann went into social work.  Eventually, she found her way to the TCHS in Memphis where she hatched her scheme.

During a roughly 25 year period from the late 1920s – 1950 the TCHS was engaged in the wholesale kidnapping of children of indigent parents and their subsequent placement for adoption with wealthy and/or influential couples who wanted a child and could afford to pay their exorbitant fees.  It is likely that, for the most part, these adoptive couples were not cognizant that the children had been kidnapped, but, on the other hand, it is possible that some of them knew or suspected but turned a “blind eye.”  Ms. Tann was aided and abetted in her elaborate scheme by a cadre of wealthy and well-connected supporters, including state legislators and Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley.  Kelley was found to have “railroaded through” hundreds of adoptions without regard to state laws.  Moreover, administrative oversight by local and state authorities was haphazard, at best.

To be sure, it is a bizarre and unbelievable tale straight out of a Charles Dickens novel that seems inconceivable in this day and age, but apparently during the above-referenced time period the laws, customs and mores with respect to adoptions were very different than they are today.  Paradoxically, the TCHS did manage to rescue many children from deplorable conditions legally and place them with loving adoptive parents.  Unfortunately, that was not always the case.

Essentially, the scheme worked as follows:

  1. The TCHS was continually on the lookout for vulnerable babies or young children, such as children of indigent or poor parents, or single mothers that were either in mental wards or prison.  Blonde, blue-eyed children were preferred.
  2. It employed a network of spotters who, for example, worked in hospitals or public aid clinics where those poor and desperate women were likely to give birth.
  3. It employed workers who due to their own desperate economic circumstances or questionable ethics were willing to go along and keep quiet about the scheme.
  4. In some cases, the women were tricked into signing over custody of their newborns.  Sometimes, the complicit doctor or nurse would tell the mother that the baby had died during childbirth.  Another version of the scheme would be to convince the mother to surrender custody “temporarily” so that the baby could receive “emergency” medical treatment.  This deception would be perpetrated soon after delivery when the mother would be most vulnerable.
  5. Other children were simply kidnapped on their way to school, or from their porches or yards by TCHS agents.
  6. The fate of thousands of these children is unknown.  Many of them simply vanished.  It is not known what happened to them definitively.  In some cases they were placed for adoption, but the placement could not be traced because the child’s name, birthdate and/or date of adoption were falsified in order to preclude their biological parents from locating them prospectively.  If the biological parents were to show up at the TCHS looking for their child they would be told the child had died in childbirth or already placed for a sealed adoption.  In other cases, the child may have died due to illness or neglect, in which case it would have been buried in an unmarked grave.  One such mass grave, containing 19 children’s remains was discovered in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
  7. Basically, any child of poor or transient parents was fair game.  Thousands of children were stolen in this manner and due process, as we know it, did not exist.
  8. TCHS blatantly advertised the availability of these children.  For example, newspaper ads of the day showed actual photos of the stolen children underscored with enticing captions, such as “Yours for the Asking” or “Want a Real, Live Christmas Present?”
  9. Tann managed to present a respectable, or even charitable, public image.  She was perceived as a hero who rescued children from desperate circumstances and placed them with loving parents of a “high type.”  At the time, the prevailing public opinion was that indigents should not have an “excessive” number of babies that they would be unable to care for.  Therefore, the ethical and moral detriments of taking them away from their biological parents were overridden by the perceived benefits of placing them with more “suitable” adoptive parents.
  10. Many of these children were placed with wealthy, loving parents who provided them with a better life (not that that made it acceptable).   Unfortunately, many others were placed in households where they were overworked, treated like servants, or even abused physically and/or sexually.
  11. Tann had influential connections.  Her scheme could not sustain itself without the support of Judge Kelley and other supporters.  Her clients included movie stars, such as Joan Crawford, June Allyson and Dick Powell and politicians such as NY Governor Herbert Lehman.  In addition, she was also a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s, who regarded her as a pioneer of and an authority on child adoptions.

CONCLUSION

Tann’s scheme finally unraveled in 1950, and the TCHS was closed.  But, it was not due to public outrage.  There was no firestorm of police inquiries, no muckraking reportage, no flurry of legal action.  There were too many powerful and influential people who had a stake in keeping a lid on the entire matter.  Instead, the Governor of Tennessee, Gordon Browning, disclosed the scheme in a press conference that focused on Tann’s profiting illegally from various adoptions she handled.  It is estimated she profited to the tune of $1 million, which is roughly equivalent to $10 million in today’s dollars. The other aspects of the matter were basically swept under the rug.

Tann did not stand trial for her crimes.  She was dying of cancer and would succumb mere days after the governor’s press conference.  Kelley was also not prosecuted for her role  in the scandal.  She died in 1955.  The authorities mounted an investigation, but it was thwarted at every turn and was eventually abandoned.  With the passage of time it became largely moot as most of the biological parents died off and the adopted children had become ensconced in their own lives.

Tann’s records, such as they remained, were finally opened to the public in 1995.  By then, it was way too late to do much good.

This tragic undertaking has been reported in various newspaper articles, as well as television exposes on both 60 Minutes (1991) and Unsolved Mysteries.  Additionally, it has been the subject of two tv movies and a best-selling novel, Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate.  I have read this book, and although, technically, it is a work of fiction it describes the scheme in heart-rending detail.

The UM piece helped one mother find her daughter.  Alma Sipple was watching the show when she recognized Tann as the woman who 44 years previously had convinced Sipple to let her take her infant daughter to a hospital for a checkup.  That had been the last Sipple had seen of Tann or her daughter.  “I let out a scream,” she said.   “That’s the woman that took Irma! My husband said I turned white.  I felt like going through the television.”   Seven months later, with the assistance of an investigator, Sipple found her long-lost daughter.  This was but one isolated happy ending out of thousands of heartbreaking stories.

HILLARY POST-ELECTION

Full disclosure.  I intensely dislike Hillary Clinton, not just politically, but also personally.  Correction, I detest her, literally, meaning I have a “deep contempt or repugnance” for her.  So, if you are a Kool-Aid-drinking Hillary fan, and I know there are many of you out there, you might not exactly enjoy this blog.  But, in my view, Hillary’s post-election behavior has been over-the-top inappropriate, divisive, and extremely harmful to this country, and I can no longer stand by idly without commenting.

To be sure, prior to the 2016 election I was not a Hillary fan.  I disagreed with her, politically.  I thought she was a below average Secretary of State and had been a pedestrian NY Senator.  In particular, I was appalled by her handling of the Benghazi fiasco.  I suppose, one could argue whether and to what degree she was responsible for the inadequate security and lack of preparedness, but her failure to accept even a modicum of responsibility, her blaming a video, and her callous lack of empathy for the victims and their families was astonishing.  (Remember the inane comment “what difference, at this point, does it matter?”)

Moreover, I  cannot think of even one country or entity with which we had a better relationship after her tenure than before.  If you can, please tell me.  But, offhand, I can think of several that were worse, such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and ISIS.  But, although I disagreed with her, politically, I did not detest her, personally.  Her earlier “misadventures” and “irregularities,” such as Whitewater and questionable commodities trading, had faded from memory.

However, her post-election actions have been extremely odd and inappropriate, if not downright unconscionable.  It appears, she cannot and will not accept the fact that she lost, fair and square.  She has outspokenly been blaming everyone else but herself – former FBI Director Comey, GOP dirty tricks, the Russians, her campaign advisors, the Electoral College, negative press, a misogynistic electorate.  She refuses to take responsibility for running a poor campaign.  (By the way, there are sound reasons why the “Founding Fathers” established the EC, and sound reasons why it is still advisable today, but that is the subject for another blog)

It was she who chose not to campaign in Wisconsin; it was she who made derogatory comments with respect to the coal industry and coal miners; it was she who made the ill-advised “basket of deplorables” comment, which offended fully one-half of the electorate; it was she who set up a private server on which she maintained classified documents in contravention of US laws and common sense and which triggered the FBI investigation; it was she who was caught utilizing a foundation for questionable, if not illegal, activities; it was she who gave the impression that the laws, rules and standards of behavior that apply to the rest of us do not apply to her; it was she who misread the mood of half of the electorate; and it was she who was simply a personally unpopular candidate.

At the beginning of the campaign her election seemed inevitable.  But, first, she had trouble defeating Bernie Sanders, a heretofore obscure Senator from Vermont, a fringe candidate, and an avowed socialist.  One could argue she only did so because of the Party nomination rules that strongly favor the insiders’ candidate over the will of the primary voters.  Then, somehow, she managed to lose an election to a GOP candidate with no political experience and the highest “negatives” of any candidate ever, that was there for the winning, and that a person like Joe Biden, limited though he may be, would likely have won.  She did it.  She did it all.  She was responsible.  She must take responsibility.  She must “own” it.

CONCLUSION

For me, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was her tasteless, opportunistic tweet regarding the mass shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, which I discussed in my last blog.  I believe it was grossly inappropriate and divisive and showed a total lack of empathy for the victims and their loved ones.  Can you imagine her saying words to that effect as President?  Talk about leadership!

The kindest way to put it is that Hillary is a “sore loser.”  On the playground, if you lose, you get off the court and leave it to the winners.  There are no “do-overs.”  Same thing in politics.  We don’t redo elections.  Even the much-detested Richard Nixon declined to take issue with the voting “irregularities” in Chicago and other places in the 1960 Presidential election, which he lost to JFK by a whisker.  He knew the score and respected the outcome for the good of the country.

Hillary could take a lesson from Nixon.  Her refusal to take responsibility and her insistence on blaming external factors, particularly the Russian government, has been very divisive.  Incidentally, remember when Hillary made a big point about foreign heads of state preferring her over Mr. Trump?  Why then would the Russian government, or any government, interfere in his favor over her?

Several months of comprehensive investigation have disclosed only that Russian sources of indeterminate origin managed to hack the DNC server and plant negative emails about Hillary, but so what?  That’s politics, and it happens with respect to most every election.  Not one “smidgen” (Love that word.  Thanks Barack.) of evidence has been uncovered that proves Russia or anyone else tampered with the actual voting process.

Her book and book tour, where she has been reiterating the above excuses ad nauseum, is a further embarrassment.  It is also so sad to see her Kool-Aid-drinking followers lapping up her c**p.  The letter reading on Kimmel the other night was particularly over the top.  The really sad thing is that Hillary still serves as a role model for many women.  They aspire to be like her.  Oh, well.

Hillary is not the future of the Democratic party.  She is the past.  Ditto for Schumer, Pelosi, Warren, Sanders and all the other all-too-familiar faces.  The party needs new leaders or else it will reprise its last defeat.  Maybe, someone will emerge in 2018.  Maybe.

Some day the US will have a female president.  There is no reason why we shouldn’t.  I’m sure there are many qualified females.  Most of us are just not aware of them.  Maybe she is in kindergarten right now, or, perhaps , she hasn’t even been born yet.  If she is worthy on the merits, she will win.

 

 

LAS VEGAS MASS SHOOTING

Sunday night we suffered through the deadliest and most heinous mass shooting in US history.  A lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, 64, ensconced in a two-room suite in the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the “strip” in Las Vegas, shot thousands of rounds into a crowd of some 20,000 people who were attending a Jason Alden concert in the plaza below.  Paddock opened fire at 10:08 pm local time, 1:08 am Monday Eastern time, and discharged thousands of rounds, indiscriminately in about ten minutes.   At the present time, the death toll stands at 59, with some 527 more wounded, some critically.

According to multiple witnesses and tv audio the weapons used were either fully automatics or were semi-automatics that had been modified to fire like automatics.  The firing was so intense that it set off the smoke alarm in the shooter’s hotel suite, which actually enabled the police and SWAT units to locate him quickly.

Reportedly, Paddock had some 23 weapons in his suite, including assault rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, scopes and a stand to mount and steady his rifle.  He had a setup akin to a sniper’s nest.

As I write this, the investigation is ongoing, and likely, it will be some time before we have all the answers.  At the moment, there are more questions than answers.  For example:

  1. How was Paddock able to avoid detection by either the hotel staff or security system.  According to the local sheriff, he first entered the hotel on September 28 and in the intervening days prior to the shooting he went in and out of the hotel several times ferrying his equipment.  Also, he had to have made some noise setting up.
  2. Based upon current information, Paddock seems like a very unlikely perpetrator of this mass slaying.  According to his brother, Eric, Paddock was a retired accountant who lived outside of Las Vegas and spent his time gambling, principally in high-stakes poker.
  3. Eric claims to be unaware of his brother having any mental or emotional problems or drug or alcohol addictions.
  4. He was cognizant that his brother owned a couple of handguns, but he was unaware that he owned any of the sophisticated weaponry used in the shootings or found at the scene.  Fully automatic weapons made after the mid-1980s are illegal in the US.  Moreover, those produced prior to then can only be purchased under very stringent conditions.  How, then, did Paddock acquire them or convert them? “There’s absolutely no sense, no reason he did this,” Eric told a reporter.
  5. What was Paddock’s motive?  Why was he not on the FBI’s radar?
  6. As of yet, investigators have not uncovered any links to any terrorist group, although ISIS has claimed he is part of its network.
  7. How was Paddock able to accumulate the vast amount of weaponry that has been found so far.  In addition to what was recovered in the hotel, investigators have found some 19 weapons in his home, plus several pounds of ammonium nitrate, which can be made into explosives similar to that which was used in the 1995 OKC bombing.
  8. What is the role of Paddock’s girlfriend, Marylou Danley, who had been living with him and who has since fled to the Philippines.  Did she mastermind this?  Is she the link to a terror network?  Good questions with no answers yet.

CONCLUSION

We are all shocked that something of this magnitude could happen on US soil.  As I write this, DHS has advised it is not cognizant of any additional “creditable” threats, but many of us are extremely concerned nonetheless.

Now is the time for us to put aside our political and social differences and come together.  Even so, some politicians have seized on the opportunity to score cheap political points and sow fear and dissension.  For example, Hillary Clinton opportunistically tweeted an inane comment about the NRA and silencers: “Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make it easier to get.”  White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders diplomatically replied: “This isn’t a time for us to go after individuals or organizations.  I think we can have those policy discussions, but today is not that day.”   Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, was more blunt, characterizing Clinton’s tweet as “ignorant, irrelevant and exploitive.”  I’m with Ben.

President Trump spoke for us all labelling it an act of “pure evil.”  He added words of encouragement saying “our unity cannot be shattered by evil.  Our bonds cannot be broken by violence. …. It is our love [for our fellow citizens] that defines us today – and always will, forever.”  Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval called the attack a “cowardly, despicable act” and heaped praise on first responders, whose quick, brave actions saved “scores of lives.”

Tragedies such as this tend to bring out the best in Americans.  Indeed, there were many examples of people helping those in distress, even at the risk of their own lives.  For example, there was Sonny Melton, who covered his wife with his own body to protect her from flying bullets at the loss of his own life; there were first responders who bravely ran TOWARD the action to treat the wounded and distressed and help restore order to a panicky situation; there was the off-duty policeman who borrowed a weapon and stood guard over several panicked civilians until help arrived; and there were people who voluntarily transported wounded to hospitals on their own in their own vehicles.  These people and others helped selflessly and without hesitation.  They did so without regard to race, color, religion or political affiliation.  This made for a stark and welcome contrast to what we have seen during recent political demonstrations as portrayed (and, perhaps, exacerbated) by the media.

Many of our leaders have been warning of this possibility since “9/11,” and now that it has occurred we realize there could very well be additional attacks.  America is replete with extremely inviting “soft targets,” such as schools, churches, malls, and sporting events, etc.

I urge people to live their lives.  Don’t be paralyzed by fear.  Don’t “hide under your bed.”  If you do, the terrorists win.  However, use common sense, and be vigilant.

RAGING BULL

“Raging Bull.”  What a great nick-name for a boxer.  It conjures up an aggressive, unrelenting fighter who mauled his opponents in the ring, who would gladly take a punch (or two or three), to give a more punishing one.  Think Joe Frazier or Rocky Balboa on steroids.  Boxing observers of the 1940s through early 1950s, often commented that Jake LaMotta’s face reflected his fighting style.  One sportswriter quipped that LaMotta’s face looked as though “it had caught more fast balls than Yogi Berra’s (MLB catcher for the Yankees) mitt.”  Yes, the moniker fit the fighting style of Jake LaMotta to a tee; unfortunately, it also fit his personality to a tee.

Giacobbe (aka “Jake”) LaMotta was born on July 10, 1922 in NYC.  His father was an émigré from Messina, Italy; his mother was native born.  His family was very poor.  How poor?  Well, his father forced young Jake to fight other kids for mere pocket change as entertainment for the adults in the neighborhood.  The father would use the money to help support the family.

Jake turned pro as a middleweight in 1941 at the age of 19.  Perhaps, his primary attribute was his ability to absorb punishment.  As I said, he was more a brawler than a classic boxer.  He was one of the first boxers to employ the “bully” style of boxing.  Rather than dancing around the ring and relying primarily on quickness and boxing skills, Jake would stay as close to his opponent as possible and slug it out.  This style suited him, as Wikipedia describes him as having a “thick skull” and “one of the greatest chins in boxing history.”  In any event, in 106 career fights he was only knocked down once.  Think about that.  I don’t mean knocked out; I mean knocked down!  Considering his fighting style, that is truly remarkable.

Jake did lose occasionally.  His career record was 83-19-4 ,with 30 knockouts, including five losses to Sugar Ray Robinson in six bouts.  No shame there, as Robinson is considered by some to have been “the best fighter, pound for pound.”  Jake won the Middleweight Title on June 16, 1949.  Remember, in those days, unlike today, there was only one champion in each weight division, so that was a very noteworthy accomplishment.  Jake held the title until February 14, 1951 (St. Valentine’s Day) when he was beaten by Sugar Ray.  Jake took a great deal of punishment and lost by a TKO in what became known in boxing circles as “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (not to be confused with the mob massacre of the same name).

Following that defeat, Jake moved up to the Light Heavyweight division.  He was successful as a light heavyweight, although he suffer his lone knockdown.

After Jake retired from boxing he did not merely fade away as did most boxers.  He owned and managed bars, became an actor and, believe it or not, a stand-up comedian.  Furthermore, Jake appeared in more than a dozen films.  Perhaps the most famous one was The Hustler, the original version with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, which was a real classic.  Jake had a cameo as a bartender.  His most noteworthy tv gig was as a supporting actor (five episodes) in the comedy series Car 54 Where Are You (1961-1963).

As a fighter, although Jake was well-known within the sport, he was not a household name with the general public.  That all changed with the release of Raging Bull in 1980.  The movie starred Robert De Niro as Jake.  De Niro gave a remarkably authentic performance.  He boxed an estimated 1,000 practice rounds so that he could appear realistic as a boxer, and he even gained some 60 pounds so he could present an accurate portrayal of Jake in his retirement.  De Niro won an Oscar, and the film, itself, was an artistic, critical and box office success.  The American Film Institute ranked it as the fourth greatest film ever (behind Citizen Kane, The Godfather, and Casablanca).

The movie pulled no punches, so to speak.  Jake was portrayed as a violent and abusive husband.  He was, in fact, married six times, a further indication of his domestic shortcomings.  Jake did not dispute the way he was portrayed.  “I’m no angel,” he told the AP in a 2005 interview.  According to IMDb.com he once asked one of his former wives if the portrayal was really accurate.  “You were worse,” she supposedly said.

CONCLUSION

In his later years, Jake was active on the autograph circuit and published several books about his career and his life.  He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and Ring Magazine, the sport’s bible, ranked him #52 on its list of the Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years.

A movie sequel, named LaMotta: The Bronx Bull, starring William Forsythe, is in production.

Jake passed away on September 19, 2017 at the age of 95, a remarkable lifespan for a boxer who took as much punishment as he did.  Rest in peace, Jake.  You will be sorely missed.

 

THE SCOURGE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

The Jewish High Holidays will begin tonight, September 20, with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  For the most part, this is a joyous occasion, a time when Jews celebrate their religion and enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends.  True so far as it goes, but, unfortunately, it is also a time when Jews are normally reminded of and confronted by increased anti-Semitic incidents around the world.

Anti-Semitism is virtually as old as recorded history, itself.  Well before the birth of Christ, Jews fought with various pagan-worshipping ancient enemies, such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Philistines who lived in and around the present-day Middle East.  Jews were hated, mistrusted and persecuted, because they did not worship the sun or idols like everyone else.   Also, they resisted assimilation.  They were different, and people mistrust and hate those who are different from them.

This hatred, mistrust and persecution has continued in different forms and to different degrees throughout history.  The Romans subjugated and enslaved everyone, but they were particularly vexed by the Jews, who stubbornly clung to their particular religious, social and cultural customs and values.  During the Middle Ages, kings and queens found the Jews to be convenient scapegoats for all the ills of their respective kingdoms.  Crops failed?  Blame the Jews.  They poisoned the water.  Plague?  It was the Jews’ fault.  Failing economy?  The Jews, again.  Who killed Christ? Blame the Jews.  Who controls the banking system?  The Jews.  These rulers could have forced their Jewish citizens to leave, but they probably realized it was more advantageous to retain them as second-class citizens with restricted rights.  As long as their subjects were blaming the Jews for their sad, squalid lives, they were not going to blame them.

Some rulers, like the Spanish, forced Jews to convert or face death.  They tortured the Jews relentlessly during the period we call the “Inquisition.”  Many Jews chose death; others converted; still others pretended to convert, but continued to practice Judaism secretly (prayers as well as customs).  I believe that is why to this day it is customary for some Jews to mumble a short postscript after they recite a prayer.

Later, particularly in the late 19th century, some countries, such as Russia and Poland, engaged in pogroms against their Jewish citizens, again, for no other reason than they were different.   Jews were constantly looking over their shoulder.  There was no telling what would set off the next pogrom.  Theirs was an extremely precarious and brutal existence (think of the play “Fiddler on the Roof”), however, as always, they persevered.

The foregoing paled, however, compared to the Holocaust visited upon the Jews by the Nazis in the 1930s and early 1940s.  The Nazis wantonly exterminated some six million Jews, roughly one-third of the world’s total.  We are all too familiar with that period, and there is no need to rehash it here.  Suffice to say, it was very fortunate that the Allies won the war.

Stereotypes developed and became accepted as “fact.”  People who had never met a Jew in their lives “knew” that all Jews were “pushy, sneaky, conniving, cheap and devious.”  They “knew” that Jews killed Christian babies and drank their blood or used it to make matzoh (aka “blood libel”).  They viewed Jews, not as a religion per se, but as a biologically inferior separate race.  They “knew” they had horns.   I personally know someone whose college acquaintance asked her if she could “feel her horns.”   Some of these stereotypes have persisted to this day.  Some of them are expressed in a more subtle manner.  For example, many Jews believe, as I do, that when some people criticize Israel or Zionism, it is code for criticism of Jews.

In a recent article, Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine, cited the following four myths regarding anti-Semitism:

  1. Anti-Semitism has subsided since the Holocaust.  More likely, it has merely become more covert, bubbling just below the surface, like an inactive volcano.  In fact, currently, there is ample empirical evidence that it has been increasing, sharply in some countries.  Rosenberg cited FBI data that asserts Jews are routinely subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group even though they comprise only 2% of the US population.  Additionally, consider France, which has the largest Jewish population of any country in Europe, about 500,000.  French Jews are routinely victimized in some 50% of all racist attacks even though they only comprise 1% of the total population.  In a 2014 survey 70% of French Jews reported they were concerned about insults or harassment, and 60% expressed concern over physical attacks.  These percentages were among the highest in Europe.  Substantial numbers of French Jews have begun emigrating to Israel.  Coincidentally, or not, France has a considerable Muslim population, which has been emigrating from North Africa.   A 2013 EU survey disclosed that 40% of European Jews are afraid to identify themselves as Jewish (in Sweden the figure was a whopping 60%).  This is hard to fathom since Jews have comprised an integral part of the country economically, socially and culturally since the 18th century, and we know that Sweden was a haven for Jews during WWII.  Swedish Jews are also emigrating to Israel in record numbers.  The BBC reports that AS incidents in the UK are at “record levels.”  This sentiment was echoed by The Community Security Trust, a Jewish Charity, that disclosed that 767 AS incidents were reported to them between January and June, 2017, a 30% increase over the same period in 2016.  There are many other examples as well.
  2. Anti-Semitism is primarily attributable to the “right.”  That same EU survey disclosed that AS statements can come from the “left” as well as the “right.”  (One might view this as counterintuitive, since liberal thought is supposed to be more tolerant, but it is what it is.)  For instance, Italian and Swedish Jews have reported they perceived that more anti-Semitic sentiments came from the “left.” Apparently, anti-Semites come in all political stripes.  According to the Anti-Defamation League AS incidents in the US have increased a whopping 90 % in 2017.  Population centers with sizeable Jewish populations, such as NYC, Long Island and South Florida, which are generally liberal, have experienced the highest numbers of incidents.  Examples include personal attacks, social media attacks, and defacing property with slogans and swastikas.  ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt expressed grave concern over the sustained increase in AS incidents during the past year.  “[We] need more leaders to speak out against this cancer of hate and more action at all levels to counter AS,” he said.  On US college campuses, which are overwhelmingly liberal, AS has been well-documented.  Some examples include restriction of pro-Jewish speech, hostility of professors (again, overwhelmingly liberal), defacing property with AS slogans and swastikas, harassment, and personal attacks, both physically and through social media.
  3. Criticisms of Israel.  As I mentioned above, criticisms of Israel and Zionism are perceived, by some, me included, as “code” or “cover” for anti-Semitism, much like talk of “states’ rights” in the 1950s was perceived as “code” or “cover” for segregation.  For example, the UN’s Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more often than all other countries combined despite the fact that the infamous human rights transgressions of North Korea, Russia, Iran, and others, have been more pervasive and well-documented.  Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN, conceded that Israel “has been treated differently from other nations at the UN.”
  4. Anti-Semitism only threatens Jews.  This is, perhaps, the most insidious myth of all, because it is not obvious until it is too late.  Deprivation of human rights is a slippery slope.  Once it is condoned, or even encouraged, with respect to one group, what is to prevent it from spreading to other groups as well, until no one is safe?  Witness, the famous quote from a speech by German pastor Martin Niemoller describing Germans’ indifference to the Nazis’ purging of certain groups in the 1930s:

“First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.  Then, they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.  Then, they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Words to consider.  Remember another famous quote: “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”

CONCLUSION

As always, we can expect a spike in AS incidents during the High Holidays.  Police Departments everywhere will be on high alert.  For example, last week the NYPD convened a group of law enforcement and Jewish community leaders to review security measures.  In anticipation of violence by white supremacist and other hate groups, the NYPD announced there will be additional police assigned to Jewish neighborhoods and synagogues, and it will deploy heavily armed counterterrorism units (aka “Hercules” patrols) in certain areas.

Other communities around the world are making similar preparations.  Some synagogues are planning to hire their own security to augment the police.  Still, synagogues make a very tempting and highly visible soft target for any terrorist or hate group that wants to make a “statement,” so let’s pray for no incidents.  Prepare for the worst; hope for the best.

Enjoy the holidays.  Don’t let the terrorists and hate-mongers run your life!

GEOGRAPHY QUIZ

I have received many requests for another quiz.  With all the bad news in the world at the present time, I agree that a fun quiz would provide a welcome change of pace.  So, here it is.  As always, no peeking at the internet.

  1. The most western state in the US is (a)  Hawaii, (b) California, (c) Washington, (d) Alaska.
  2. According to Wikipedia the longest river in the world is (a) the Amazon, (b) the Nile, (c) the Mississippi, (d) the Yellow.
  3. The highest mountain peak in the US is (a) Mt. Whitney, (b) the Denali, (c) Pike’s Peak, (d) Mt. Rainier.
  4. The easternmost state in the US is (a) Maine, (b) Florida, (c) Alaska, (d) New York.
  5. The country with the SECOND-MOST area is (a) China, (b) India, (c) Brazil, (d) Canada.
  6. Which of the following cities is NOT the capital of the state in which it is located? (a) New Orleans, (b) Montgomery, (c) Boise, (d) Pierre
  7. Each of the following countries is located in the continent of Africa, EXCEPT (a) Egypt, (b) Israel, (c) Eritrea, (d) Burundi
  8. Which of the following states is NOT one of the so-called “Four Corners?” (a) Utah, (b) Colorado, (c) New Mexico, (d) Oklahoma.
  9. Which of the following countries has THREE capital cities?  (a) Honduras, (b) Tanzania, (c) South Africa, (d) Sri Lanka
  10. Which country has the largest population?  (a) China, (b) India, (c) Russia, (d) Indonesia.
  11. The Continental Divide (aka Great Divide) runs through each of the following states, EXCEPT: (a) Colorado, (b) Washington, (c) Alaska, (d) Montana.
  12. Each of these countries shares a border with only one other country, EXCEPT: (a) Portugal, (b) Denmark, (c) Indonesia, (d) Qatar
  13. The US and Canada share the longest border of any two countries – 5,525 miles.  Which of the following states does NOT border Canada? (a) Ohio, (b) Massachusetts, (c) Vermont, (d) Pennsylvania
  14. Which of the following countries is NOT located in Central America? (a) Cuba, (b) Belize, (c) Costa Rica, (d) Mexico.
  15. The southern-most state in the US is (a) Florida, (b) Hawaii, (c) Mississippi, (d) Alabama

ANSWERS:  1. (d),  2. (a) (4,345 miles),  3. (b) (20,310 feet), 4. (c),  5. (d), 6. (a), 7. (b), 8. (d), 9.  (c)  (Pretoria, Cape Town & Bloemfontein, 10. (a) (1.4 billion out of 7.4 billion), 11. (b), 12. (c), 13. (b), 14. (d), 15. (b)

Well, how did you do?  Let me know.

 

 

THE WALL

We need The Wall.  We need to build it sooner, rather than later.  I need it.  You need it.  America needs it.

Do not dismiss this as a “racist rant.”  Favoring the Wall does not mean that I hate Mexicans, Hispanics, or poor people.  That is an absurd, overly simplistic argument liberals use when they do not have any facts to support their opinions.  To me, whenever someone uses the “R” word, they have already lost the debate.  Quite simply, walls work and protect.  Consider the following few examples:

  1. The Great Wall of China, which is now a tourist attraction more than anything else, was built over a period of several hundred years beginning in the 7th century BC.  It was constructed in various sections, which, later, were joined together in what we call “The Great Wall.”  Its primary purpose was to protect the Chinese Dynasties from raids by various nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppes.  In addition, it served as a control against unwanted immigration (and emigration).
  2. The Vatican Wall was built in the 9th century, authorized by Pope Leo IV, following the sacking of the Vatican by Muslim invaders in 846.  It completely encircles and protects the Vatican City and the Leonine City.   Hence, I find it most amusing whenever the Pope criticizes President Trump and America, in general, for wanting to build a wall along its southern border.
  3. The West Bank Wall along the Green Line was constructed by Israel in the early 2000s in response to repeated incursions by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank area.  Between 2000 and 2003 when the first segment of the wall was completed some 70 terrorist attacks were executed in the area.  In contrast, between August 2003 and 2006 there were only 12.
  4. On the other hand, Europe’s borderless condition, which has facilitated unfettered access to virtually to any country on the continent, has fostered one terrorist attack after another in recent years.  (I believe that GB’s Brexit vote in June 2016 was due to these issues more so than economic issues.)

Quite simply, as these examples clearly and conclusively demonstrate, barriers work.  The empirical evidence is there for all to see if only one cares to look.

As Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might say, “Let’s look at this situation logically.”  Other than the illegals, themselves, who benefits from unfettered immigration?

1.  Terrorists, for obvious reasons.  Despite all our precautions, it is not that difficult for a determined terrorist cell to execute a successful attack, but let’s not make it any easier for them.

2.  Drug dealers and distributors, for obvious reasons.  We already have a huge drug problem in the US, including cocaine, heroin and various opioids, and it is growing worse day by day.

3.  Gangs.   Presently, it is relatively easy for gang members to gain illicit entry into the country.  These gangs engage in wanton violence, including rape and murder.  They terrorize our children in the schools.  For example, the gang, MS-13, has been so extreme that it has drawn the attention of the FBI and ICE, who, in an effort to curtail them, have conducted multiple raids. Furthermore, on Long Island they have become so problematic in some schools that the governor has authorized the deployment of state troopers for additional security.

Those are the obvious beneficiaries, but I believe there are two more groups whose motivations are more subtle and, perhaps, overlooked.

  1. The super-rich and business establishments seeking to hire cheap labor are only too happy to take advantage of the increased labor pool created by the large number of illegals.  Many of them manage to skirt around the laws requiring documentation somehow.
  2. Democratic politicians hope to benefit politically by being the champion of open borders.  They hope that some day illegals will be allowed to vote and will remember their support.  Before you scoff at this notion, be advised that some localities have already granted the right to vote to residents who are not citizens in local elections.  I expect that the next time the Democrats attain control of the presidency and the Congress this issue will become a priority.

CONCLUSION

So, those are the beneficiaries.  Who are the losers?  You, the middle class and the working class citizenry, or I should say, the rapidly disappearing middle class and working class citizenry.  It’s basic economics.  The Law of Supply and Demand holds that as the number of people available to work increases, wages decrease, that is, if one can even find a job in the first place.  And, don’t forget, illegals utilize social services, including schools, healthcare and others, which are already overtaxed in many areas.

Yes, it sounds good to support open borders.  Give all the oppressed and downtrodden people of the world a chance to better themselves.  We are a nation of immigrants.  All of us or our ancestors were once immigrants.  All true, and I support controlled, legal immigration.  But remember, actions have consequences.  Terrorists, drugs, gangs, cheap labor, low wages, etc.

Don’t be fooled by the liberal celebrities, politicians and media.  Most of them don’t live in the real world, anyway.  By the way, just once I’d like to ask one of those ivory tower liberals who spout off about open borders if they live in a gated community with 24-7 security, or if they lock their house at night.