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 “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.

THE KILLING OF QASEM SOLEIMANI

“We will find you, [and] we will eliminate you.”  So said President Trump to Islamic terrorists.  As evidenced by the recent drone strike killing Qassim Soleimani, Mr. Trump is a man of his word.   (Note: as a bonus, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran’s PME militia, was also killed.)

Not surprisingly, reaction, for the most part, has fallen along party lines.  Dems and Trump haters are labeling the action as an “assassination,” with the implication that it was unjustified, contrary to established US foreign policy, and, perhaps, illegal.  In addition, many of them have characterized it as “senseless, shortsighted, and irresponsible.”  They are figuratively wringing their hands over what Iran may do to retaliate.  Their fear is that we have irritated the Iranian leadership unnecessarily, and they will retaliate.

Also, they worry that Iraq may kick out our troops in retaliation.  I say, fine, let them.  Our troops there have a huge target on their backs and no clear mission.  It’s time to leave anyway.

On the other hand, Trump supporters have generally applauded the action.  They view this action as a justified killing within the context of the ongoing war on terror in retaliation for the many acts of terrorism Soleimani has perpetrated over the last 20+ years.  Furthermore, they are in accord with Mr. Trump’s assertion that he is not seeking a regime change in Iran, and the action was taken not to start a war with Iran, but to prevent one.  They recognize that Iran and its allies hate America and Americans, always have, always will, regardless of what we do.

Anyone who has followed developments in the Middle East for the last 70 years knows that.  Moreover, anyone who knows their history knows that appeasing a bully has never worked.  (See Europe of the 1930s.)

At the very least, a very bad man and chief provocateur has been taken off the board.   Also, let’s remember that Soleimani was not a head of state; he was an enemy combatant, a terrorist mastermind responsible for an untold number of deaths, both Americans and non-Americans.  To me, enemy combatants and terrorist leaders are fair game.

Anyone who harbors any doubts that Soleimani’s killing was justified should research his exploits, as I did.  He was the commander of Iran’s notorious Quds Force.  As such, he was responsible for planning and orchestrating numerous terrorist attacks over the past 20+ years, which have resulted in the murdering of thousands of innocent people, including Americans.  A recent sampling of these include rocket attacks on Saudi oil facilities, oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and US consulates in Baghdad and Basra as well as terror attacks outside the region.

It can be argued that he was more powerful and dangerous than even bin Laden.  Many observers believe he was the second most powerful person in Iran and the most powerful Muslim general in the entire region.  He had a strong network of proxies at his disposal in various other countries besides Iran, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.  Moreover, he had the full support of a powerful state, Iran, at his disposal.

Apparently, Mr. Trump was relying on ample evidence supplied by US intelligence agencies that Soleimani was planning a major attack against American personnel overseas and, possibly, against America, itself.  A State Department official spokesperson described the attacks as “imminent.”  I find it ironic that the same critics who have been criticizing him for not listening to these intelligence agencies in the past are now criticizing him for doing so.  They want it both ways.

According to published reports in “The Telegraph” the Administration was aware of “clear threats” against Americans.  US national security advisor Robert O’Brien added that Soleimani had been travelling to Syria, Iraq  and other Middle East locales organizing such terrorist attacks.

Some random quotes and opinions:

  1.  Senator and Dem presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Rep Ilhan Omar, and Senator Chris Murphy were among those who  characterized the killing derisively as an “assassination.”
  2. Presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg countered that that description was “outrageous.”  Soleimani, he said, “had an awful lot of American blood on his hands,” and “the US had a ‘right’ and an ‘obligation’ to pursue [him].
  3.  Noted Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz opined that it was a “lawful, proportional, preemptive military action.”  He characterized Soleimani as a “combatant enemy who had killed and was planning to kill Americans.”
  4.  Senator Rand Paul viewed the action as an “assassination” and cautioned that “one of the unintended consequences [could] be war with Iran.”
  5. Senator Tom Cotton, who had actually served in Iraq, said Soleimani “got what he richly deserved,” and the hundreds of Americans for whose death he was responsible, got “justice.”
  6. Rep Seth Moulton, an Iraq War veteran and a harsh critic of Mr. Trump’s described Soleimani as “an enemy of the US with American blood on his hands.”

CONCLUSION

So, how will Iran respond?  Will they bluster and threaten? Will they foment “protests,” in the streets, posturing against the “imperialist Great Satan” for the benefit of the tv cameras?   Will they launch additional rocket attacks in the area?   Will they attempt terror attacks in the US and elsewhere through their various proxies?  Probably, any and all of the above.

But, it has already been doing those things, and, as noted in the “Washington Post,” maybe, just maybe, Iran’s leadership will now realize that they are better off negotiating than fighting.  Its economy is in a shambles due to the economic sanctions the US has levied.  Additionally, according to “The Telegraph” there is a faction within the country that feared Soleimani as a “loose cannon,” and is not as upset at his demise as we think.

Iran’s leadership should realize that a direct, full-fledged war against the US is not in their best interests.  Surely, their economy, their infrastructure, and their military would suffer major damage.  The US has given them the “stick;” now, maybe, it’s time for the “carrot.”

In my opinion, like any other bully they only understand and respect force.  We simply had to push back sooner or later.  Now, they realize that unlike his predecessor, President Trump is a man of his word.  No phony “red lines” here.  Deep inside, they know that we can and will hit them anytime, anywhere.  In fact, Mr. Trump has stated that he already has a slew of possible targets picked out.   We have demonstrated that we can attack them without boots on the ground, without any loss of American lives.  Let them cower in their huts, so to speak.

WORLD GEOGRAPHY QUIZ

All right.  Enough impeachment talk already. Time for a change of pace.  How about a………..quiz?!

By now, you all know the rules. No peeking at the internet. No consulting with “Alexa” or  “Siri.” Good luck.

1.  Switzerland borders each of the following countries, EXCEPT: (a) France, (b) Liechtenstein, (c) Greece, (d) Italy

2. Mt. Rushmore is located in which state? (a) North Dakota, (b) South Dakota, (c) Montana, (d) Wisconsin

3. The Amazon River borders each of the following countries, EXCEPT: (a) Peru, (b) Ecuador, (c) Brazil, (d) Argentina

4. There are 49 landlocked countries around the world (a surprisingly high number), including all off the following, EXCEPT (a) Bolivia, (b) Paraguay, (c) Serbia, (d) Croatia.

5. Pikes Peak is located in which state? (a) Colorado, (b) Kansas, (c) Arizona, (d) Nebraska.

6.  The Himalayan Mountains are located in each of the following countries, EXCEPT: (a) India, (b) China, (c) Bangladesh, (d) Afghanistan

7. The Rhine River runs through each of the following countries, EXCEPT: (a) Switzerland, (b) Italy, (c) Lichtenstein, (d) France.

8. The capital of Washington is (a) Spokane, (b) Seattle, (c) Washington City, (d) Olympia.

9. The largest country in Central America in area is (a) Nicaragua, (b) Mexico, (c) Honduras, (d) Brazil.

10. Each of the following rivers runs through Pittsburgh EXCEPT: (a) Monongahela, (b) Ohio, (c) Mississippi, (d) Allegheny.

11. Japan consists of some 6,000 islands, but only four main ones. The most northern of the four is (a) Honshu, (b) Hokkaido, (c) Kyushu, (d) Shikkou

12. Each of the following is one of the Baltic States, EXCEPT: (a) Latvia, (b) Finland, (c) Estonia, (d) Lithuania

13. The largest country in the European Union is (a) Spain, (b) Germany, (c) UK, (d) France.

14. Which of the following is NOT part of Great Britain? (a) Scotland, (b) Wales, (c) England, (d) Northern Ireland.

15. Central America consists of seven countries, including all of the following, EXCEPT (a) Mexico, (b) Costa Rica, (c) Panama, (d) Belize.

16. The Four Corners borders each of the following states, EXCEPT: (a) Arizona, (b) Colorado, (c) Nevada, (d) Utah.

17. Russia, borders the most countries, eleven, including each of the following, EXCEPT: (a) Poland, (b) Finland, (c) Latvia, (d) Turkey.

18. The largest border between two countries is (a) Russia-China, (b) Russia-Kazakhstan, (c) Argentina-Chile, (d) US-Canada?

19. The Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states, including each of the following, EXCEPT: (a) Georgia, (b) North Carolina, (c) South Carolina, (d) New York.

20. The largest country in Africa by area is (a) Egypt, (b) Sudan, (c) South Africa, (d) Algeria.

ANSWERS: 1.(c); 2.(b); 3.(d); 4.(d); 5. a); 6.(c); 7.(b); 8.(d); 9.(a); 10. (c); 11.(b); 12.(b); 13.(d); 14.(d); 15.(a); 16.(c); 17.(d); 18.(d); 19.(c); 20.(d)

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

NEW YEARS EVE

Wow, another year has gone by! That was fast. As we all know, the older we get, the more time seems to speed up.

Tonight, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment.

The Pacific island nations of Kiribati (aka Christmas Island), which is nothing more than a coral atoll in the Central Pacific, and Samoa, which is the western-most of the Samoan Islands, were already the first to celebrate; American Samoa, which includes seven tiny islands and atolls in the eastern part of the Samoan Islands, and Baker Island, which is an uninhabited atoll 3,100 km southwest of Honolulu, will be the last.

New Years Day has been celebrated on January 1 since 45 B. C. That year, Julius Caesar decreed that the Roman Calendar, under which the new year occurred in March, be replaced by the Julian calendar. It has been January 1 ever since.

Below please find a sampling of celebration customs in various countries:

1. In the US NYE is celebrated with parties with family and friends and other special events. For example, Chicago features a music show and fireworks over Lake Michigan; San Francisco features yoga parties and concerts; Atlanta boasts the (“Peach Drop”); Nashville has the (“Music Note Drop”); and New Orleans features live music, a “fleur-de-lis drop,” and parties centered around the French Quarter.”

However, by far the biggest and most significant celebration is in NYC. Since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” The “Ball Drop” has been held annually every year since, except for 1942 and 1943 when it was canceled due to the wartime blackout.

At precisely at 6:00 pm a hugh Waterford crystal ball was raised to the top of the pole at One Times Square  At 11:59 pm, a specially-designated “guest,” who has been chosen in recognition of his or her community service, will push a special “red button,” which will activate the ball. This ball, weighing some 12,000 pounds, will then begin its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 141-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball will reach the roof of the building, and huge lights will signal the start of the New Year.

The original “ball” was constructed from wood and iron and lit with 100 incandescent bulbs. Over the years, it has gone through various iterations. The current “ball” features a computerized LED lighting system.

Times Square has been the focal point of NYE celebrations in the US since 1904. That year, the first organized NYE celebration, consisting of an all-day street festival culminating in a huge fireworks display, was held there. It was reported that at midnight the celebratory noise could be heard as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, some 30 miles away.

The celebration was organized by the “New York Times” owner, Adolph Ochs, to commemorate the opening of the “Times” new headquarters located in the tiny triangle at the intersection 42nd Street, Broadway and 7th Avenue. The city renamed the area Times Square in honor of the venerable publication.

[Quiz questions: 1) What other historically significant event occurred in NYC in 1904? 2) What was Times Square’s name prior to 1904? See below for the answers. ]

Two years later the City banned the fireworks display. Ochs’ response was to replace it with the “Ball Drop.” The details of this “Ball Drop” have evolved over the years, especially technologically.

The celebration, itself, has also evolved over the years. Due to the world we now live in, security is tighter than the proverbial “drum.” For example, regarding the police and “alphabet agencies,” it is “all hands on deck.” Police will be omnipresent. Undercover officers will be imbedded in the crowd. Even drones will be used.

This year it is estimated that as many as two million people will cram into the area to witness the “Ball Drop.” Many of them will arrive early in the day in order to secure a prime viewing spot. They will be herded into viewing sections called “pens.” Nice terminology. Additionally, for security reasons, food, drinks, waste baskets, toilet facilities, knapsacks, large bags and pocketbooks, among other items, will be prohibited.

Best to arrive early, and if you have to leave for any reason, good luck returning. “Depends,” anyone?  It is estimated that in excess of one ton of confetti will be dropped at the stroke of midnight. Thankfully, I don’t have to clean it up.

Some 200 million other Americans and 1 billion persons worldwide will watch on tv and/or live streaming on their mobile devices.  TV viewers in NY will be treated  to a variety of entertainment options featuring artists such as Alanis Morissete and casts from Broadway shows, such as “Jagged Little Pill.”

Entertainment from various venues is also featured. The most famous and enduring entertainer was Guy Lombardo, who from 1928 to 1976 entertained from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV. After his death in 1977 other programs became prominent, most notably “Dick Clark’s “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” After his death, the mantle passed to Ryan Seacrest and others. Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney-character shows and fireworks.

2. In Canada the mode of celebrations vary by region. For example, in Toronto, Niagara Falls and other areas of Ontario, there are concerts, parties, fireworks and sporting events. On the other hand, in rural Quebec some people go ice fishing. Montreal features concerts and fireworks.

3. In Mexico, families decorate their homes in various colors, each of which symbolizes a particular wish for the upcoming year. For example, yellow would symbolize a wish for a better job, green, improved finances, white, improved health, and red, general improvement in lifestyle and love. At midnight, many Mexicans eat a grape with each chime of the clock and make a wish each time. Some people bake a sweet bread with a coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. Finally, some people make a list of all the bad events that occurred to them over the past year on a piece of paper and then burn the paper to symbolize a purging of all the bad luck.

4. As you might expect celebrations in England focus around Big Ben. People gather to observe fireworks and celebrate. In addition, many celebrate in pubs or at private parties.

At the stroke of midnight it is traditional to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I have always been curious as to the derivation of this song and why it is sung at New Year’s. The origin is murky, but it has generally been attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He wrote it in 1788, but it is likely that some of the words were derived from other Scottish poems and ballads. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates into English as “long, long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.” Thus, at the stroke of midnight we bid farewell to the past year and, at the same time, wish to remember the good times. In some areas the song is also sung at funerals, graduations and any other event that marks a “farewell” or “ending.” Sometimes the singers gather in a circle and hold hands.

As usual, the weather will be a significant factor. This year, weathermen are predicting temperatures in the mid 40, which is normally as good as it gets in NY in January.  We will probably not approach the record of 58 degrees (1965-66 and 1972-73).

CONCLUSION

Whatever your NYE plans may be and however you may celebrate, I urge you to be careful and drive safely and defensively. Pay particular care to watch out for the “other guy.” This is one night where too many people celebrate excessively and drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These people should not be on the road, but, nevertheless, they are, and they are dangerous both to you and themselves.  For this reason, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s long-time side-kick on the “Tonight Show” and a noted party-goer, used to refer to New Year’s Eve derisively as “amateur night.” New Year’s Day is the second most deadly holiday for drivers. (Thanksgiving is #1.) Moreover, a whopping 42% of the driving fatalities on NYD are the result of DUI.

Answers to quiz questions: 1) The city’s first subway line opened in 1904. 2) Longacre Square.

DON IMUS

He was a unique person, an enigma, if you will, a living, breathing contradiction.  He was often called the ultimate “shock jock.”  To say he was controversial was an understatement; there was much good, but also some bad; he won many professional awards, but he was fired several times for various transgressions; he adopted an African American son, but he was accused, by some, of being a racist; he offended some with his biting, irreverent and sarcastic humor (which a lot of people took the wrong way), but he raised millions for charity and inspired tremendous loyalty among people who worked with him, such as longtime sidekick, Charles McCord.  But, above all, he was entertaining.  He entertained us for nearly 50 years as a radio personality, television show host, recording artist and author.

John Donald Imus, Jr. was born on July 23, 1940 in Riverside, CA.  His family was wealthy, but I don’t think he had a particularly happy childhood.  His parents, ran a 35,000 acre ranch in Arizona.  He had a younger brother, Fred, whom many fans will remember as a frequent caller to his radio show.  His parents divorced when he was 15, and his father died shortly thereafter.

Imus always admitted he “disliked” school and was generally a “horrible adolescent.”  He attended various private schools, which he later recalled as “hideous.” Eventually, he dropped out of school and joined the Marines.

After receiving an honorable discharge Imus worked at a succession of jobs, some of which can be charitably described as “unusual,” for example:

  1.  He was a window dresser for a department store until he was fired for entertaining passersby by “performing strip teases on the window mannequins.”
  2. He and Fred moved to Hollywood where they tried, unsuccessfully, to convince radio DJs to play songs they had written.  This failure left him homeless and broke.
  3. He tried college, but dropped out and went to work as a railroad brakeman.
  4. He worked in a uranium mine, where he suffered an accident that resulted in two broken legs and a collapsed lung, which was to have a long-term effect on his health.
  5. In 1966 he enrolled in the Don Martin School of Radio and Television Arts and Sciences in Hollywood.  He was kicked out for being “uncooperative,” but he managed to secure a broadcasting license.
  6. He worked as a singer/songwriter at a nightclub with mixed results.

Finally, in 1968 he secured a job as a radio DJ for a station in Palmdale, CA.  Two things were notable about this job. (1) He developed his first, and perhaps best, on-air character, the Reverend Billy Sol Hargis.  Hargis, an “evangelist” who was a combination of a real-life preacher named Billy James Hargis and a notorious businessman named Billie Sol Estes, was an instant “hit;” and (2) Imus’ show became the number one in his time slot and earned him a “Billboard” Award for Air Personality of the Year in a medium-sized market.  This success was followed by a failure in what was to become an all-too-familiar pattern.  He moved to a station in Stockton, CA from which he was fired for saying “hell” on the air and for running an “Eldridge Cleaver look-a-like” contest.

Imus’ next notable stop was Sacramento, CA. where he was fired for pranking a local McDonalds.  He called them and ordered 1,200 burgers for “the troops.”  Next came  Cleveland, OH where he won another “Billboard” Award, this time for a major market.

Finally, in 1971 he landed in the “Big Apple” at WNBC.  Great job, but on his second day he overslept and missed the entire show.  Who does something that bone-headed?  Are you sensing a pattern here?  Once again, “bad” follows “good.”

Imus was a huge success at WNBC and its successor station, WFAN, for over 40 years – number 1 in his time slot, stand-up performances, and albums of his radio segments.  But, once again, came the enigma.  Along with his success came uncontrollable drinking.  In 1973 he missed 100 days of work for various reasons.  He became unmanageable.  Even Imus characterized himself as a “jerk.”  In 1977 WNBC “re-formatted,” and Imus got the “boot” back to Cleveland.

That exile lasted two years.  In 1979 he returned to NY on WNBC where he was paired with his loyal and long-time sidekick, Charles McCord.  Once again, however, “bad” followed “good.”  Imus was still drinking excessively, but he had also become addicted to cocaine.  Predictably, his work began to suffer.  For example, his behavior became erratic; he took to sleeping on park benches and showing up for work without shoes; and he clashed with other personalities, notably Howard Stern, who joined the station in 1982.  Their long-running feud persisted up until Imus’ death.

In 1988 NBC shifted its format once again.  Bye-bye WNBC; hello WFAN.  The “FAN,” as it was called, was a new experiment, exclusively sports talk radio, the first of its kind.  There was nothing but sports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with one exception, “Imus in the Morning.”  Imus’ morning show was the lead-in for the FAN’s entire day’s programming.  It was a big responsibility.  Many people had predicted failure, but not only has the format succeeded, it has spawned countless imitators.  Today, sports talk is omnipresent on the airwaves; countless former athletes have moved seamlessly to the medium upon the conclusion of their careers.  Love him or hate him, one must admit that Imus, by carrying the FAN through its development years, played a large part in that.

More “good” and “bad.”  “Good:”

  1.  Imus has won countless awards and was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1989.
  2. He has helped raise tens of millions of dollars for charities, such as “Tomorrow’s Children,” and the Center for the Intrepid, a Texas-based rehab facility for soldiers wounded in the Iraq War,
  3. He has visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital to boost their morale.
  4. He and his wide, Deidre, founded and operated the Imus Ranch for children with cancer.

The “bad:”

  1.  Probably, the one incident he most regretted in his long career involved the Rutgers  women’s basketball team.  Following their winning the 2007 NCAA championship Imus referred to them on the air as “nappy-headed hos.”  Moreover, he and his staff engaged in further derogatory frivolity at their expense, which I decline to repeat here.  Suffice to say, the comments precipitated a firestorm.  Imus was labeled a “racist;” others came forward to report racist comments; one of the Rutgers players filed a lawsuit; and many people wanted him fired.  Ultimately, Imus resolved the matter with a profuse apology to the players and anyone else whom he had offended and by offering a “mea culpa” on Al Sharpton’s show.
  2. He also made offensive comments against football player Adam “Pacman” Jones and Texas Congressman Joe Barton, which required further apologies.
  3. Some of his more notorious off-air comments: (a)  referring to Arabs as “ragheads, (b) Howard Stern as a “Jew bas***d, (c) black sports columnist, Bill Rhoden, as a “quota hire,” (d) using the “N” word to describe to certain African Americans, and (e) referring to Newt Gingrich as a “fat, repulsive pig.”

CONCLUSION

As I said at the outset, Imus was an enigmatic figure.  There was the “good,” and there was the “bad.”  However, there was no doubt he was supremely talented and entertaining.

Throughout his life Imus suffered from various health problems.  Some of them, such as alcoholism and cocaine addiction were self-inflicted.  Others resulted from accidents.  For example, in 2000 he fell off a horse, which resulted in severe injuries that led to chronic breathing problems, particularly at high altitudes, and according to McCord even during the shows, at times.  In 2009 Imus was diagnosed with Stage 2 prostate cancer.  His doctors advised treating it with radiation, but, on Deidre’s recommendation, he elected holistic treatments, which seem to have worked to a degree,

Finally, on December 24 he was hospitalized for the last time.  He passed away on December 27 at the age of 79.  Rest in peace Imus.  You were good and you were bad, but you were always entertaining, and you will be missed.

EXTREME BRAVERY AMID THE HORRORS OF THE HOLOCAUST

The basis for this blog was provided to me by my good friend and loyal reader, Rich, who spotted the story in the Associated Press.

As you know, the Holocaust ended 74 years ago with the Nazis’ defeat.  Yet, even now, every so often, we learn of another story of bravery that reminds us that amid the horrors of the Holocaust some ordinary citizens risked everything to help Jews.  Normally, these heroes are regular people who could have stood by and done nothing, like many others did, but, unlike those bystanders, they rose to the occasion.  The bravery they exhibited was remarkable.  All too often, we only learn of their heroics on the occasion of their death, but in this case, the heroine is receiving her recognition while she is still alive to appreciate it.

The heroine of this story is 92 year-old Melpomeni Dina.  During the war Dina was living in Veria, which is small town in northern Greece.  In 1943 that area was occupied by the Nazis, who systematically exterminated all “undesirables,” including, among others, Jews, within the space of only a few months.  According to the AP this level of brutality was one of the most extreme of the entire war, which says a lot.

The seven members of the Mordecai family were among the Jews living in Vernia.  All Jews were frantically scrambling around to avoid capture.  Some fled the area; others remained, acquired false identity cards and hid, hoping to ride out the war.

At first, the Mordecais hid in the attic of an abandoned Turkish mosque.  They remained there for the better part of one year.  During this time, they were forced to endure the sounds of their fellow Jews being rounded up and/or shot.  Eventually, the cramped, poorly-ventilated space began to affect the health of some of them, so they had to leave.  Also, around this time an informant disclosed their location to the Nazis.  Unfortunately, this was all too common for various reasons, such as a desire to curry favor with the Germans or simply hatred for the Jews.

This was when Dina and her two sisters “stepped up.”  They took the entire Mordecai family into their home.  According to the AP, at first, the entire group was cramped into the Dinas’ one-room apartment.  The Dinas had very little in the way of material goods, but they freely shared what they did have, such as food, clothing, medicine and, most importantly, shelter.   Later, they helped some of the Mordecais escape into the woods or the mountains.

Yossi Mor, now 77 but a mere infant at the time, remembers the “kindness” of the Dinas.  “They even washed our clothes.  She loved me very much.”  Sarah Yanai, 86, the oldest of the Mordecai siblings, told the AP reporter, “the risk they took upon themselves to take in an entire family knowing that it put them and everyone around them in danger” was incredible.

Incredibly, after the war ended the family was able to reunite, and emigrate to Israel where they thrived and raised the next generation.  This was miraculous in and of itself as most families that were split up did not succeed in reuniting for one reason or another.

Recently, the 40 descendants of the Mordecai family held a very special and emotional reunion with Dina, now 92.  One by one, each person embraced Dina and thanked her for rescuing the family from certain death.  As Dina greeted each one the tears flowed freely.  “Now, I can die quietly,” Dina told the AP reporter.

The number may not have been on the scale of Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg but it was a goodly amount nonetheless.  You may recall that Oskar Schindler, whose story was brought to life brilliantly by Stephen Spielberg in the 1993 Academy Award-winning movie, “Schindler’s List,”  was credited with saving some 1,000 Jews from the Nazis.  Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, was reputed to have saved some 20,000 Jews before he tragically disappeared.

Dina is one of some 27,000 non-Jews who have been designated as “Righteous Among the Nations,” which is the highest honor for non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  Sadly, of that number, only some 350 are still alive today.

CONCLUSION

The touching and emotional reunion was sponsored by the organization “Righteous Among the Nations,” which brings groups of Holocaust survivors and their rescuers together every year.  In addition, it pays a monthly stipend to the rescuers, many of whom are in dire straits and need the money.  As part of the process, a special committee carefully and thoroughly vets every case beforehand.

Some 500 persons are approved every year as new stories come to light.  Unfortunately, many of them are recognized  posthumously.  Stanley Stahl, EVP of the “Jewish Foundation for the Righteous,” observed that these reunions will “probably” soon end “because of age and frailty.”  That would be a shame, because they serve as a reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust and the bravery of those who sacrificed to do the right thing.