PARKLAND SHOOTING

Another mass shooting, this time at a high school in Parkland, FL.   This is getting to be all too commonplace.  This was the third mass shooting in the last four months.  Each of these incidents was horrific, but, to me, the ones in which kids were the victims – Columbine, Sandy Hook and this one – are the worst.  Some of the kids were as young as 14.  14!  So sad to have young lives snuffed out before they have really begun.  May they all rest in peace.

Parents send their kids to school every day with two expectations: (1) they will learn something useful, and (2) they will return home safely.  I cannot think of anything more devastating to a parent than when they get “that phone call.”

As the shock begins to fade away, people want to know how and why this happened.  In what kind of a society do we live where this happens time and time again?  Who or what is to blame?  Is it the proliferation and easy availability of guns, inadequate school security, lax parental supervision and guidance, the violent movies and video games, music in which violence is espoused and lauded, weak law enforcement, political correctness run amok, the internet, or a hideous combination of some or all of the above?  Everyone has a theory, but no one really knows.

One thing you can count on – the politicians will try to use this to further their own agendas.  Gun control advocates will scream for restrictions on guns. ( Were it only that easy.)  They will advocate confiscating all the guns held in private hands, like they did in Australia years ago, or, at the very least placing severe restrictions on their purchase and ownership.  That is a naïve and overly simplistic solution and will NEVER happen, for the following reasons:

  1.  The gun lobby is too strong, and many, if not most, Americans really cherish the second amendment and won’t give an inch.
  2. Congress is too fractured to reach a consensus on ANYTHING, much less an issue as controversial as that.  Time and time again, the leadership of both political parties has demonstrated an embarrassing inability to control its fringe elements and forge a consensus.  Look at the problems they had passing a budget.  Also, they have been unable to pass an immigration policy even though the elements that have been proposed are favored by some two-thirds of voters.
  3. No one has been able to explain how Chicago, with arguably the strictest gun laws in the country is, paradoxically, one of the most violent cities.  In my opinion, a large part of that is that criminals will always find a way to obtain guns, so gun control only affects the law-abiding would-be gun owners.

I would agree that we need to do a better job of monitoring and restricting the purchase of guns, but other than that, the solution, if there is one, lies elsewhere.

CONCLUSION

I don’t have a magic answer.  People a lot smarter than me have been trying to find one with little success.  But, like everyone else, I have an opinion.  You may disagree, but I welcome your input.

  1. We need to have a rational, objective discussion of the causes and possible solutions.  No bloviating, rhetoric, or political agendas.
  2. Guns are part of the problem, but not the entire problem.  Those who say they are, are guilty of violating #1 above.
  3. Parents need to take more responsibility for raising their own kids and instilling a strong sense of right and wrong.  In what universe can some kid think it is okay to take a life?
  4. Schools need to do a better job of security, and identifying victims of bullying who might be harboring a grudge as well as “loners” and other disaffected students.
  5. Law enforcement needs to be more proactive.  For example, in the Parkland situation we have now ascertained that the FBI received a complaint about Cruz on its tip line last month and failed to follow up.  Why?  No one knows or is willing to say.
  6. Ease up on the political correctness.  Don’t be afraid to report someone who may be an African American, Hispanic or Muslim.  If you do so in good faith, no one in his right mind should criticize you if it turns out to be a false alarm.  On the other hand if you don’t and he turns out to be a shooter (e.g. San Bernardino), you will never forgive yourself.

It pains me to have to blog about these tragedies.  Let’s hope I never have to do so again.

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VALENTINE’S DAY

On Wednesday, February 14 many of us will celebrate Valentine’s Day (the “Day”).   The Day is named after St. Valentine.  We will present our loved ones with flowers, candy, jewelry and/or a romantic card.  The Day is celebrated in some form by people all over the world, but why, and who was Valentine?  What did he do to merit this recognition?  Read on and be edified.

My research disclosed that the origins of the Day are shrouded in mystery.   It is not clear what is fact and what is legend.  Apparently, it originated as a religion-oriented feast day to celebrate an early saint, or saints, named “Valentine.”  Over time, it has evolved into a Day more associated with romance than religion.

There is historical evidence that there may have been more than one martyred saint named “Valentine.”  For example, Valentine of Rome was martyred in 269 by Roman Emperor Claudius II for the crime of performing marriage ceremonies for persons who were forbidden to marry (presumably for religious reasons).  In addition, the same Claudius martyred Valentine of Terni in 273 evidently, for similar  offenses, hence, the religious origin of the Day.  Due to the factual similarities and chronological and geographic proximity of these two events, some historians believe that the two were actually one and the same.

St. Valentine has been called the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, the plague, fainting, and travel as well as lovers, engaged persons and marriage.  Busy guy.

Most historians credit the romantic aspect of the Day to Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th century English author and poet.  Chaucer is best known for The Canterbury Tales, a collection of 24 stories written over a 13-year period between 1387 and 1400.   According to author, Jack Oruch, Chaucer was the first person to associate the Day with romance and love.  In a poem entitled Parlement of Foules in 1382 in honor of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia, he wrote (in Middle English):

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day; Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

For those of you who are not scholars of Middle English it translates to

“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

By the end of the 18th century publishers were providing suggested romantic verses to persons who were unable or unwilling to compose their own (sort of a forerunner of the greeting cards with which we are all familiar).  During the 19th century the popularity of these cards increased to the point that they became mass produced.  Their popularity was aided by the invention and wide usage of the postage stamp in the 1840s, which enabled one to mail cards to distant locales.  In time, valentine cards became more elaborate.  Esther Howland, a bookstore proprietor in Worcester, MA, is credited with being the first person to mass-produce Valentine’s Day cards of embossed paper lace in 1847.  Soon, these mass-produced cards replaced handwritten notes.

In 1868 Cadbury, the British-based chocolatier, hopped on the bandwagon.  It began marketing decorated boxes of chocolates, called “Fancy Boxes” for the Day.   As we know, other candy makers soon followed suit as well as purveyors of other products, such as flowers and jewelry.  Now, with the advent of the internet, many people send their holiday greetings electronically, more efficient, but less personal.

According to the US Greeting Card Association, Americans send nearly 200 million greeting cards on the Day, and that excludes those cards exchanged personally by school children.  Many of us remember, probably with more embarrassment than fondness, exchanging valentines with elementary school classmates  The GCA estimates that when those cards are included the figure swells to over 1 billion.  In fact, collectively, teachers are the largest recipients of Valentine’s Day cards.

CONCLUSION

Alas, like all other holidays, the Day has become commercialized to the extent that its original meaning and purpose has become obscured in the mists of time.  As mentioned above, it is now celebrated all over the world, by people of all religions, not just Catholics.  After all, there are lovers everywhere.

For example,

  1.  In Latin American countries such as Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Mexico, it is known as the “day of lovers.”  Typically, people perform “acts of appreciation for their friends, romantic or not.  Brazil celebrates the day on June 12 in connection with St. Anthony’s Day (the marriage saint).  In addition to the usual exchange of gifts, single women traditionally perform rituals known as simpatias with the intention of attracting a good husband.
  2. In China the Day is called “lovers’ festival.”
  3. In India the Day did not catch on until circa 1992, when the idea was spread by American tv programs.
  4. Even Israel has joined in.  The Day is celebrated in late August in connection with the traditional holiday, Tu B’Av.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  As we know, love is universal.  So, enjoy the day.  Don’t forget your loved ones.

WINTER OLYMPICS

The Winter Olympics, officially, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, will be held on  February 9-25 in PyeongChang, South Korea.  This will be the second time SK will be the host.  The prior occasion was the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.  Technically, however, the competition will commence tonight with a preliminary round of figure-skating competition (even though the Opening Ceremonies are not until tomorrow.  Go figure.)

As has often been the case in recent Olympiads, politics has threatened to intrude on the Games.  This time, the perpetrator is North Korea.  On the plus side, the rogue regime has decided to participate.  Moreover, NK and SK have agreed to march together in the Opening Ceremonies under a (“Korean Unification Flag”) and to field a “United Korea” women’s hockey team.  It’s always nice when sports brings countries together.  On the negative side, the Games are being held in close proximity to one of the most dangerous and unpredictable nations in the world, and we will all be holding our breath until the end.

Below please find some interesting facts with respect to the Games:

  1. The initial Winter Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France as part of that year’s Summer Olympics.  Approximately, 300 athletes participated, including only 13 women.  In those pre-PC days the women were relegated to competing only in figure-skating, as they were considered to be “too delicate” for the more rigorous competitions.  Medals were awarded in only 16 events spread among five sports.  In 1925 the IOC decided to hold separate Games for the winter sports, beginning in 1928.
  2. Curiously, the final medal of those 1924 Games was not presented until 1974.  Why?  Glad you asked.  Apparently, an error was discovered in the score of one of the medalists in the ski-jump.  As a result, the fourth place finisher was elevated to third.  So, 50 years after the fact Anders Haugen received his bronze medal.
  3. Eleven year-old Norwegian Sonja Heine finished last in women’s figure-skating.  Why is that significant?  Well, Ms. Heine went on to become one of the best and most celebrated figure-skaters ever.  She won gold at the next three Olympics and appeared in some 15 movies over the next 30+ years.
  4. The Winter and Summer Games were contested the same year through 1992.  Thereafter, the IOC determined to hold them in separate years, so in order to establish the current schedule, the Winter Games were held in 1992 (with the Summer Games) but then again in 1994.
  5. The torch relay is always a big part of the Games.  As most fans know, the lit Olympic Torch is maintained continually in Athens between Games.  Prior to the Games it is transported to the host city, often in unusual and roundabout ways.  This year, its journey began on October 27, 2017.  During the 101-day sojourn the various modes of transportation included turtle ship, sailboat, marine cable car, zip-wire, steam train, marine rail bike, yacht and robot.  All in all, there were some 7,500 torch bearers (symbolizing Korea’s 75 million person population) and 2,018 “support runners,” who provided security for both the torch and the runners.
  6. There will be competitions in a record 102 events in 15 sports.  Disciplines such as mixed team alpine skiing, big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, and mass start speed-skating will be making their Olympic debuts.
  7. Athletes from 92 countries are expected to compete.  Most of them have no expectation of winning a medal.  They are just thrilled to represent their country.  The US will have the largest delegation (some 242).
  8. Russia will not be one of the 92.  The IOC banned the Russian delegation due to doping.  However, it is permitting some 170 Russian athletes, who have been able to demonstrate compliance with IOC doping standards, to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag.
  9. The official mascots are a white tiger and an Asiatic black bear.
  10. In the US the broadcast will be handled by NBC.  Due to the 14 hour time difference (in the eastern time zone) many of the events will be shown live in prime time.  However, there will still be “spoilers” on the internet.
  11. Security has been a major concern at every Olympics since 1972.  As mentioned above, this year, fears have been exacerbated due to the close proximity of the venue to North Korea.  Several countries, including US, France and Germany,  had considered not participating, but, as I write this, they all will.  In fact, VP Mike Pence plans to attend.  No doubt, the fact that NK is expected to send a delegation, including Kim’s sister, has alleviated some safety concerns.

CONCLUSION

For the most part, the Olympics and sports, in general, have tended to bring people together and provide a temporary respite from political and diplomatic tensions.  Most people just want to enjoy 16 days of friendly sports competition.  Hopefully, that will be the case here.

Let the games begin!

This year is Super Bowl LII.  It will be played in Minneapolis between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots.  Kick-off will be shortly after 6:30pm.  Anyone who watches the entire pre-game show on NBC deserves a prize.

To celebrate the occasion I have compiled a Super Bowl quiz.  As always, no peeking at the internet, and don’t ask “Alexa.”

1.  What is the official name of the stadium in which tomorrow’s SB will be played?  (a) Vikings Stadium; (b) Minnesota Dome; (c) 3-M Stadium; (d) US Bank Stadium.

2.  Who is performing at halftime?  (a) Justin Timberlake; (b) Lady Gaga; (c) Bruno Mars; (d)  Katy Perry.

3.  The losing team in the first SB was: (a) Cowboys; (b) Raiders; (c) Giants; (d) Chiefs

4. According to the USDA, Super Bowl Sunday is the “second largest food consumption day.  Which day is first?  (a) New Years Day; (b)  Thanksgiving; (c) Christmas; (d) Mothers Day

5. How many Super Bowls have been decided in overtime? (a) 0; (b) 1; (c) 2; (d) 3

6. Which franchise has won the most SBs? (a) Dallas; (b) San Francisco; (c) Pittsburg; (d) New England

7. Each of the following teams is undefeated in SBs except: (a) Jets; (b) Ravens; (c) Bucs; (d) Green Bay

8. The name “Super Bowl” was derived from: (a) College “bowl” games; (b) Fan vote; (c) Media feedback; (d) Child’s toy

9. Who is the only starting quarterback to win SBs with two different teams? (a) Bart Starr; (b) Peyton Manning; (c) Steve Young; (d) Joe Montana

10. Who was the only MVP from the losing team? (a) Chuck Howley; (b) Len Dawson; (c) Bruce Smith; (d) Icky Woods

11. How many defensive players have been MVP of a SB? (a) Two; (b) Five; (c) Eight; (d) Ten

12. If the Pats win tomorrow they will have achieved the rare, but not unique, feat of wining back-to-back SBs.  Which team has won back-to-back SBs twice? (a) Green Bay; (b) San Francisco; (c) Dallas (d) Pittsburg

13. Name the current NFL city that has neither hosted an SB nor had its team appear in one. (a)  Jacksonville; (b) Philadelphia; (c) Cleveland; (d) Indianapolis

14. Each of the following teams has not appeared in a SB, except:  (a)  Eagles; (b) Jaguars; (c) Lions; (d) Browns

15.  Who scored the first ever touchdown in a SB?  (a)  Bart Starr; (b)  Paul Hornung; (c)  Max McGee; (d) Len Dawson

16. How many times has a team played the SB in its home stadium? (a) 0; (b) 1; (c) 2; (d) 3

17. SB LII will be Bill Belichick’s eighth.  Which coach has appeared in the next highest number of SBs? (a) Vince Lombardi; (b) Tom Landry; (c) Don Shula; (d) Bud Grant

18. Who was the MVP in the first Super Bowl? (a) Paul Hornung; )b) Len Dawson; (c) Bart Starr; (d) Jerry Kramer

19. Which of the following coaches has taken more than one team to a SB?  (a) Don Shula; (b) Tom Landry; (c) Bill Belichick;  (d) Vince Lombardi

20. The 2017 SB was played in which city? (a) Dallas; (b) Houston; (c) New Jersey; (d) Los Angeles

21. Which of the below-listed quarterbacks did not win any Super Bowls. (a) Jim Plunkett; (b) Dan Marino; (c). Joe Namath; (d) Terry Bradshaw

22. After whom is the SB trophy named? (a) Pete Rozelle; (b) Paul Brown; (c) Al Davis; (d) Vince Lombardi

23. Which player has won the most SB rings? (a) Adam Vinatieri; (b) Charles Haley; (c) Terry Bradshaw; (d) Bob Lilly

24. Which half-time entertainer became (in)famous for a “wardrobe malfunction?” (a) Beyoncé; (b) Janet Jackson; (c) Madonna; (d) Lady Gaga

25. What marginal player became famous for the “helmet catch” in SBXLII (Giants vs. Pats)? (a) Plaxico Burris; (b) Randy Moss; (c) David Tyree; (d) Bob Schnelker

ANSWERS: 1. d; 2. a; 3. d; 4. b ; 5. b; 6. c; 7. d; 8. d; 9. b; 10. a (SB V); 11.d; 12. d ; 13. c, 14. a; 15. c; 16. a; 17. c (6); 18. c; 19. a; 20. b (NRG Stadium); 21. b; 22. d; 23. b (5- tied with Tom Brady); 24. b; 25. c

Enjoy this year’s game.  Although I dislike both teams, I will be rooting for the Eagles, because if they win ESPN host Dave Rothenberg (who is my favorite sports commentator) will “go nuclear” on the air for days, which will be “must listen” radio entertainment.   That said, I think the Pats will win.

Prediction: New England 31; Philadelphia 17.

STATE OF THE UNION

And, the state of the union is ……divided.  In my opinion, there is one inescapable fact that applies whether you are a liberal, a moderate or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, a Trump supporter or a Trump hater, white, black or Hispanic, young or old, male or female, or rich or poor.  This country is DIVIDED, as never before in my lifetime.

Who is to blame?  Dems?  GOP?  Obama?  Trump?  The media?  All of the above?  The answer is simple; it depends on one’s political point of view.  Watching the president’s SOU speech Tuesday night and the various rebuttals and political commentators on CNN and Fox, how could one think otherwise?

The Constitution requires the President to inform Congress on the “state of the union” annually. The time of the year is not specified, but traditionally Presidents have given the address in January or February. George Washington gave the initial one, in person, in 1790, but that is not a requirement.  In fact, during the 19th century most of them were actually delivered to Congress in handwritten form. Apparently, they were not viewed as that significant.

With the advent of radio, however, Presidents began to see an opportunity to disseminate their policies directly to the people. Hence, they were broadcast on the radio and, later, telecast on TV. Down through the years most of them have been rather mundane, however, a few of the notable announcements were:

1. President Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.
2. FDR described the famous “four freedoms” (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) in 1941.
3. LBJ outlined his War on Poverty in 1964.

In my opinion, President Trump hit a “homerun.”  First of all and most importantly, his demeanor and delivery were calm, collected, and very presidential.  There was none of the Trump bombast and bluster.  It was not his usual “stump” speech, but rather an attempt at unity and inclusion.  He made very effective use of his “guests,” such as the 12 year-old boy who places flowers on veterans’ graves, the border patrol officer who adopted an opioid-addicted baby, the family of the late Otto Warmbier, and the parents of the slain MS-13 girls.

In addition, he reiterated his major accomplishments, such as:

  1. Strong support for veterans.
  2. Sustained low unemployment, including record lows for blacks and Hispanics.
  3. Job creation, including new plants being built.
  4. A moderate justice appointed to the Supreme Court.
  5. Record-breaking stock market.
  6. Tax reform, which has already encouraged several companies to hire additional workers and pay out employee bonuses
  7. Respect for the flag.
  8. Heroism by “ordinary” Americans during natural disasters.
  9. Energy independence
  10. Elimination of needless regulations that discourage business.
  11. Proposed immigration bill, including border security and a path to citizenship for law-abiding “dreamers.”
  12. Fighting gangs and opioid addiction
  13. Fair and reciprocal trade deals.
  14. Rebuilding infrastructure.
  15. Paid family leave.
  16. Success against ISIS.
  17. Necessity to retain Guantanamo.
  18. Strong support of Israel, including recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

CONCLUSION

Even though a post-speech CNN survey disclosed that 70% of viewers approved of the SOUS and 48% had a “very positive” opinion of it, those ratings were lower than President Trump’s address to Congress last year.  As expected, politicians and political commentators adhered to their party lines.  Supporters characterized it as “unifying.”  For example, GOP Representative Peter King called it “excellent,” praising in particular the section on MS-13.  On the other hand, Dem Representative Kamala Harris was skeptical.  She denoted that, in the past, the president’s actions have not been consistent with his words.  Chuck Schumer opined that the speech “stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.”  In his rebuttal speech Joe Kennedy III made a point of reaching out to “dreamers,” telling them in both Spanish and English that “you are a part of our history.”  There were many moments when GOPers stood and applauded while the Dems sat on their hands, but that is always the case, so I wouldn’t make too much of that.  Curiously, members of the black and Hispanic caucuses refused to stand and clap even when the president cited the aforementioned unemployment numbers.  Furthermore, I found it humorous when the camera focused on Nancy Pelosi sitting stonily and looking like she was sucking on a lemon.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted a post-speech panel featuring commentary by Fred Axelrod, Gloria Borger, Rick Santorum, and Van Jones, among others.  With respect to every topic the commentators followed their respective party lines.  Similarly, on The Five Trump supporters Kimberly Guilfoyle, Jesse Waters, Greg Gutfeld and Dana Perino were positive and liberal Juan Williams was negative.

Two examples of following party lines: the Trump opponents made a case to attribute the low unemployment and high stock market to policies instituted by President Obama and, generally, put a skeptical or negative spin on the benefits of the tax reform law and proposed immigration plan.  The comments on both sides were so predictable they could have been written BEFORE the speech and mailed in.

So, to sum up, the one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that President Trump’s demeanor was presidential and devoid of his normal bluster and bombast.  Whether its substance, was unifying or divisive, however, depended on the eye of the beholder.   One thing everyone seemed to agree on was that in an election year it will be very difficult to get anything controversial through Congress as everyone will be focused on avoiding doing anything that will hurt their or their party’s election prospects.

INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY

Saturday, January 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  This date was designated IHRD by UN resolution in November, 2005 as an international memorial day on which we commemorate the heinous crimes of the Holocaust.  The Resolution not only encourages every member country to honor the memory of the victims, but also to develop educational programs regarding the Holocaust.  In addition, it outright rejects any notion of denial.  The goal is for us to remember, so, hopefully, it will never happen again.  Needless to say, compliance varies considerably from country to country.

As most of you know, the Holocaust, perpetrated by the Nazis and their supporters, was responsible for the brutal genocidal murders of some six million Jews, 200,000 Romanis (Gypsies), 250,000 mentally and physically disabled persons and 9,000 homosexuals, all of which the Nazis considered “sub-human.”  The significance of January 27 is that it was on that date in 1945 that the Russian Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious of the death camps.   Some 1.1 million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz alone.

IHRD is commemorated in many countries, including Israel, the US, England, Austria, Italy, and Germany.   Typically, these commemorations include speeches of support by politicians, solemn prayers, and participation by survivors, sometimes garbed in striped scarves.  For example, President Trump’s message included a pledge to “confront anti-Semitism… stamp out prejudice [and] condemn hatred.”  In Poland Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended a solemn ceremony commemorating the tragic Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto at which he exhorted people to “never be indifferent to the face of evil.”  Similar sentiments were expressed by dignitaries all over the world.

On this solemn occasion we should be mindful that extreme right wing/anti-Semitic  sentiment has been on the rise in many areas.  For instance:

  1. The substantial emigration of Muslims to virtually every Western European country has added to the anti-Semitic sentiment in those countries.
  2. In Germany the AfD party has made significant gains in the country’s Parliament.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed this in a recent podcast, labeling it “incomprehensible and a disgrace that no Jewish institution can exist [in Germany]without police security.” A recent Time Magazine article denoted that German Jews feel increasingly threatened by hate groups.  It has been widely reported that Jews in other countries, such as France, England and Sweden have expressed similar fears.  Emigration to Israel is on the rise.
  3. In Austria the so-called Freedom Party is actually part of the governing coalition.
  4. Holocaust revisionism is alive and well in Poland.  Many Poles are very sensitive to what they feel is an overly negative perception of their conduct toward Jews during WWII.  As I write this, the Polish legislature is considering a law that, essentially, would outlaw anything that casts blame on the Polish Nation for atrocities committed in the Holocaust.  It would mandate prison for anyone who makes any mention of “Polish complicity” in the Holocaust or makes reference to “Polish death camps.”  The proposal is expected to become law.  (Some may consider this proposed law akin to the plot of George Orwell’s novel, 1984, about a dystopian society in which the autocratic government kept revising history at its whim.)  Many people are outraged.   Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction was typical.  He said Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”  Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister for Education and Diaspora Affairs, goes further.  He said “it is a historical fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust.”  Students of history know that although there were some sympathetic, even heroic, Poles who aided Jews,  there were many more who collaborated with the Nazis or were indifferent.

CONCLUSION

Recently, BBC News has reported the remarkable discovery of an Auschwitz inmate’s journal, which provides chilling first-hand testimony of life in the camp.  Apparently, the author, a Greek Jew named Marcel Nadjari, was one of the “Sonderkommando.”  These were Jews whom the SS forced to perform certain grisly tasks, such as escorting Jews to the gas chambers, “packed in like sardines,” burn the dead bodies afterwards, collect valuables, such as hair and gold fillings, and discard the ashes into a nearby river.

Nadjari’s description of the gassings is chilling.

  1. The SS installed pipes in the gas chambers to make it look like a shower room.
  2. The SS delivered the canisters in a Red Cross vehicle.
  3. After the people entered the “shower,” they dropped in the gas.
  4. After all the victims were dead they recovered the hair, gold fillings and other valuables and transported the bodies to the ovens where they were burned.  The ashes of a typical adult weighed a mere 1.4 pounds.

As the war wound down, Nadjari figured that as a witness he would be murdered, so in November 1944 he stuffed his 13 page manuscript in a thermos, sealed it as best he could, and buried it near one of the crematoriums, hoping it would be discovered, eventually.  And, now, it has been.

Nadjari survived the war.  Eventually, he emigrated to Israel, changed his name to Leon Cohen, married and raised a family.  He died in 1989.  However, he left behind a chilling first-hand account, which provides further insights into life (and death) at Auschwitz, as well as further evidence to contradict the false narrative of the “deniers.”

As the WWII generation dies off it becomes more and more critical for succeeding generations to keep the memories alive.  The world must NEVER FORGET the Holocaust, or someday it will be doomed to repeat it.

 

 

 

IMMIGRATION COMPROMISE?

It appears to me that many of the “esteemed” members of our dysfunctional Congress have not yet ascertained that compromise is the key to getting laws passed.  Even my 10 year old grandson has figured that out.  The latest example of Congress’ ineptitude is its handling of DACAs and border security.

Most of the Dems and their various special interest groups have been vociferously advocating that the US allow the DACAs to stay.  True to form, they have been claiming that anyone who is opposed is a “racist” or a “white supremist.” (Rule #1 of the “Liberal Handbook” says if you don’t agree with me, you are a racist or a white supremist.  Rule #2 says see rule #1.)   A typical reaction to President Trump’s proposal was that of Rep. Luis Gutierrez who glossed over the DACA section and focused on the wall funding section, calling it a “ransom for Dreamers.”  On the contrary, Senator Lindsay Graham, considered a moderate on this issue, calmly denoted that neither President Obama nor President Bush had been able to resolve the DACA matter, and “I believe President Trump can.”  Furthermore, National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd dismissed those who are claiming that the bill is a “white nationalist ploy.”  They’re absolutely incorrect he stated.  He characterized the bill as a “good compromise,” adding “there’s nothing racist about securing our borders.”

According to the latest polls – e.g. ABC, Fox, Politico, etal – some 80% of Americans, including President Trump and most Republicans, are opposed to deporting the DACAs.  President Trump has proposed a bill that includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACAs.  Great, you say.  He is giving Dems what they want.  Passage should be a “slam dunk.”  But, wait.  Many of them are criticizing it because it also includes some provisions to which Dems are opposed, such as:

  1. Restricting “chain migration,”
  2. ending the visa “lottery,” and
  3. providing funds for additional border security, including the Wall.

These items are also favored by a majority of Americans and it is likely that if they are not included the bill would not pass.  To be clear, a majority of Americans favor both a path to citizenship for law-abiding DACAs AND the abovementioned border security enhancements.

So, to me and most clear-thinking Americans, including all of the above in one omnibus bill is the obvious solution.  It is the classic compromise.  I give you what you want, and you give me what I want.  Neither side is 100% happy, but we all get most of what we want.  Happens all the time.  No problem, right?

WRONG!  Pelosi, Schumer and their supporters and immigration special interest groups are not satisfied.  They want to impose their open border policies on the rest of us.  Moreover, anyone who objects is a “racist” or a “white supremist.”  As I have said before, if someone with whom you are debating calls you that, the debate is over.  They have no facts to support their position.  They are not interested in further reasoned debate.  They lose.  Incidentally, those terms have been so over-used they have become “white noise,” and they obscure legitimate acts of racism and white supremism.  Too bad.

CONCLUSION

The Dems’ stance is not being helped by all the DACA demonstrations.  The sight of illegal immigrants demonstrating demanding citizenship and other rights, closing Disneyland, shouting down members of Congress and demonstrating outside their residences is extremely poor optics.  In my opinion, these tactics will engender resentment, not support.

Also, in my opinion, like everything else the President does, this proposal is merely the opening bid in a negotiation.  Opponents, rather than complaining, should negotiate a compromise that the majority can live with.

I predict a deal will get done eventually.  The Dems will cave.  Their position is a losing one, and the cooler heads in the party know it.  After all, President Trump’s strong stance on immigration was one of the chief reasons he got elected.  Ultimately, those who have run for re-election this year will have to support the President’s bill or a similar one.

LARRY NASSAR – SERIAL SEXUAL ABUSER

Just when you thought you had seen it all regarding sexual abuse – Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Jerry Sandusky, and a myriad of teachers and clergy – we find out about Larry Nassar.  Like a game of “can you top this,” the Larry Nassar revelations have taken us to a new low of depravity.  Many people who know me well consider me to be somewhat of a wordsmith, but I confess that this case disgusts me beyond words.

Nassar is an incorrigible serial sexual predator and abuser.  Wednesday, after a 16-month trial he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing some 150 women and girls as young as six years old.  Among his victims were Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney.  Moreover, this sentence is in addition to another 60-year sentence he received recently resulting from a conviction for child pornography.

The sentencing judge, Rosemarie Aquilina, was so disgusted by the case that she called it “an honor and privilege” to pass sentence on Nassar.  In doing so, she proudly proclaimed “I just signed your death warrant.”  That was not mere hyperbole, folks.  We all know what prison inmates do to sex offenders.  It is highly unlikely that Nassar will last long in prison.

This situation strains credulity.  How could Nassar have managed to get away with these abuses for over 20 years.  Most of his victims were minors.  Didn’t the parents realize what was happening?  Wasn’t there any oversight by the US national gymnastics coaches and administrators or Michigan State University?  Apparently, not.

Nassar was born on August 16, 1963 in Farmington, MI (a suburb of Detroit).  While a student at the local high school he served as a student athletic trainer.  (In light of recent revelations one has to wonder if he abused any fellow students during that period.)  He attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1985.  In 1988, he joined the medical staff of US gymnastics.  He remained team doctor through four Olympiads.  In 1997 he commenced employment at MSU as a team physician.  Those positions gave him easy access to dozens of young girls, most of them minors.

Typically, these girls came to him seeking help when they were vulnerable and in pain.  They would be under great pressure from their coaches, parents, or even self-imposed to play through the pain lest they lose their position on the team.  Their coaches required them to see Nassar for treatment.  They were young, innocent, and vulnerable, and Nassar wielded considerable power over their careers.   In short, it was a perfect storm for abuse.  Furthermore, Nassar had an affinity for making these girls feel that what he was doing was not abuse and that complaining would be futile.

It began to unravel for Nassar when investigative reporters at the Indianapolis Star published an extensive expose in 2016.  As a result, victims began to come forward.  Before long, there was a flood of complaints, too many to ignore.

To say these stories are heartbreaking does not do them justice.  (Again, I have no words to describe the abuse adequately.)  For example:

  1. The first person to speak up publicly was former gymnast Rachael Denhollander in 2016.  She told reporters how Nassar abused her continuously when she was 15 even though her mother was right there in the examination room.  Nassar would have her mother stand at the head of the examination table where she could not see what he doing.  While giving Rachael a massage he would brazenly slip his other hand under the towel, fondle her breasts, and insert his fingers inside her anus or vagina.  He called it an examination, and she said she didn’t know any better.
  2. Kyle Stephens was neither a gymnast nor even a patient.  Her parents were friends of Nassar’s.  Her abuse commenced when she was six.  SIX!  In her words, she “had not [even] lost all her baby teeth.”  Sometimes, the abuse occurred even as both families were together socially.  At first, he exposed himself.  Eventually, he began to rub his erect penis against her.  Kyle told her parents when she was 12, but he denied it.  They did not believe her, and even made her apologize to him!  Now an adult, it was Kyle’s call to the police that led to Nassar’s arrest.   After the trial Kyle told reporters, “He forced me to grow up really fast…… It [seemed like] such a benign action until you grow up and realize it was a vile thing.”

There is no point in relating other examples.  They are all disgustingly similar, and if you wish to view or read about the lurid details you can, no doubt, find them on the internet.

It appears he got away with this for 20 some years, maybe more if one considers his activities in high school.  How did he manage it?  The girls trusted him.  After all, he was the renowned doctor.  The coaches and the Olympic administrators sent them to him.  They had to go to him if they wanted to stay on the team and compete.  Their mothers never suspected, or if their daughters said anything they weren’t taken seriously.

CONCLUSION

I believe we do not yet know the full story.  I believe it is likely the coaches and administrators at both MSU and USA gymnastics knew or suspected something was going on.  They might not have been cognizant of the extent of the abuse, but it is hard to believe they were oblivious for over 20 years.  Part of your responsibility as an administrator is adequate oversight.  Ignorance is no excuse.

As I write this, the MSU president, Lou Anna Simon, has resigned.  Moreover, the USA Olympic Committee has announced it will conduct an independent investigation to ascertain how these abuses could have continued undetected for so long.  Also, the committee’s chief executive, Scott Blackmun, has called for the resignation of all of the committee’s directors.  Well and good as far as it goes, but, sadly, too little, too late.

Given the litigious society in which we live, expect lawsuits against the university and USA Gymnastics.  Also, don’t be surprised if further allegations of abuse surface.

Those who were abused got their day in court.  They got to vent at their abuser.   Good for them.  Experts claim it is very cathartic to face down your accuser.  I have seen some of the speeches and found them very touching, particularly Gold Medal gymnast Aly Raisman’s.

Meanwhile, the lesson for parents is be hyper-vigilant.  It is a sad fact of the society in which we live that danger lurks everywhere – teachers, coaches, camp counselors and clergy.  And if your child alleges abuse, take it seriously.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – JANUARY

As long-time readers know, this has been a featured topic for several months.  According to Wikipedia, January 1, New Years Day, is the most celebrated holiday worldwide.  Many  historically-significant events have occurred on this day as well as on other dates during the month.

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.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

A plague on both their houses!

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of the dysfunctional Congress we continue to elect.  Politicians are good at only two things – getting elected and getting re-elected.  According to Gallup despite approval ratings consistently in the high teens to low twenties, over 90% of Congressmen win re-election cycle after cycle.  Why?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Perhaps, that inconsistency is at the root of the problem.

Both Dems and the GOP seem more intent on scoring political points than in settling the matter.  Neither side seems willing to negotiate.  This happens repeatedly, with few exceptions.  The latest example of this is the government shutdown.  As of Friday, midnight, all non-essential government spending and services have been suspended.  And, as I write this, all news outlets are reporting that not only is the end not in sight, but to quote CNN, “divides [are] deepening.”  Some have suggested that the GOP senate invoke the “nuclear option” (adoption by majority vote instead of 60 votes), but Senator McConnell and many other senators, both GOP and Dem, are opposed.

What, you may ask, is the burning issue that has caused this mess?  Essentially, the Senate Dems refuse to approve a budget until President Trump and the GOP agree to address the DACA issue.  Conversely, President Trump and the GOP refuse to include DACA as any part of a budget resolution.  They want to address it separately with other border issues, such e-verify, enhanced vetting, ending chain immigration, and The Wall.

Each side is convinced it is in the right.  Each side is blaming the other.  Whose fault is it?  That depends upon your party affiliation.  As I said, I blame both sides, and, in particular, the parties’ leaders, which seem incapable of leading.

This is like a bad movie that we have seen before and are being forced to watch again.  According to Standard and Poors the last shutdown in 2013, which lasted 16 days, cost the country $24 billion, or $1.5 billion per day.  Ultimately, it accomplished little.

So, how will the shutdown affect you?  In truth, unless it’s protracted, the answer is “not so much,” unless you are a member of the military, a “non-essential” federal employee, are looking to visit a national park, renew a passport, get seriously ill, or travel on an airplane.  In those cases, you will probably become collateral damage

According to ABC News:

  1.  Payments to military personnel, such as salaries, allotments and death benefits will be deferred until the shutdown has ended.  Yes, they will get their money, eventually, but in the meantime, how do they pay their bills?  Remember, many, if not most, of these families live paycheck to paycheck, and most creditors are not so forgiving.  The aforementioned death benefit is $100,000, which is paid to families of servicemen KIA.  Their families need this for funeral expenses and to defray financial hardship caused by the sudden cessation of military pay.  To me, this is morally reprehensible on its face (although, in the 2013 shutdown Congress passed a special bill to allow these death benefits to be paid).
  2. Similarly, “non-essential” federal employees are furloughed and have to deal with interruptions on their salaries.  How well would you survive if your salary were to be terminated suddenly?
  3. Most national parks, monuments and museums will remain open, at least through the weekend, then possibly close on Monday.  If you plan to visit any of these places I suggest you verify their status beforehand.
  4. Good luck if you need to renew your passport or travel in an airplane.  Many State Department and NTS employees will be furloughed, and services will be likely be severely affected.
  5. Due to furloughs many CDC services will be curtailed.  This will likely affect routine programs, such as flu shots, and pray there is not a major outbreak of some serious illness.

Guess what is not affected?  Congressmen’s salaries and benefits.  Perhaps, that is the problem.  We need to change that, but guess who would have to approve the change?  Yep, Congress.

CONCLUSION

In my view, there is plenty of blame to go around.  This should not be a difficult negotiation.  Polls show that most people, including President Trump, want to help the law-abiding DACA people, and most voters favor enhanced border security.  The outline of a deal is in place.  They just have to work out the details.  How hard could it be?

Eventually, this will get resolved, just like the other shutdowns.  As before, each party will blame the other and hope the other side loses at the polls.  Unfortunately, the biggest losers will be the American people.