NEW YEARS EVE

On December 31, 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 and Samoa are the first to celebrate; Hawaii is the last.

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, since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” At precisely 11:59 pm, a 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball begins its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 70-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball reaches the roof of the building, and huge lights signal the start of the New Year. The details of this “Ball Drop” have evolved over the years, especially technologically. It has become so symbolic of the celebration of New Year’s that it draws approximately one million spectators from all over the world, many of whom stand in the cold without access to food or toilet facilities for hours just to be there. The Drop has inspired similar celebrations in other cities, such as Atlanta (“Peach Drop”) and Nashville (“Music Note Drop”). 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.”  This year’s host will be Ryan Seacrest, who has succeeded the late Dick Clark.  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.
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.

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.

Enjoy yourself, but don’t become a statistic!

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BABY HATCHES

Child abandonment, though not exactly an epidemic, is more common than one might think.  It is generally defined as the practice of relinquishing one’s possession of and rights regarding an infant in an illegal manner.  The practice has been traced back at least to the Middle Ages, and it was practiced by many cultures.  It has also been called “baby dumping” and “rehoming,” among other names.  An abandoned child is commonly called a “foundling” as opposed a runaway or an orphan.

There are many reasons for abandoning a baby, such as:

  1. Poverty.
  2. Unwanted pregnancies, notably teenage pregnancies.
  3. Illness or deformities
  4. Unwanted gender.

In recent years, the latter was prevalent in some cultures, notably China, in which a family was only permitted to have one child.  For various reasons, most Chinese wanted their one child to be a male.

In the Middle Ages it was not uncommon simply to abandon an unwanted baby at the side of a road or in a near-by field or woods.  These babies would soon die from exposure, hunger or attacks by wild animals.  Another popular method of infanticide was drowning.  In 12th Century Italy, for example, infant drownings in the River Tiber became so common that Pope Innocent III decreed that a device called a “foundling wheel” be installed in hospitals and churches so that mothers would have a place to leave unwanted babies.  According to Wikipedia, the first foundling wheels were used in Italy in 1198.  Their use quickly spread.   Essentially, a foundling wheel was a cylindrical device, similar to a revolving door, that was placed at the outside wall of a church or hospital.  The mother would put the baby in the outside compartment, turn the cylinder to push the baby inside and then ring a bell to alert those inside that a baby was present.   This device was a forerunner of the “baby hatch” or “baby box” that is used today.

The baby hatch or box works in a similar manner.  A church, for example, would make a hole in one of its outside walls and install a bin.  The parent puts the baby in the bin and closes it.  An electronic signal alerts the persons inside that a baby is present.   Many modern-day boxes contain bedding, blankets, pillows, and even heat to provide comfort and protection from the elements.  The hatch is also known as a “baby box,” “post box,” “window”, “cradle”, or “window of life” in different countries.

There are a plethora of examples in the Arts in which child abandonment is at least a subplot.  For example:

  1. In literature, we have Snow White, Oedipus and, of course, Moses.
  2. The main plot of a Charlie Chaplin movie, “The Kid,” centers around the raising of an abandoned child.
  3. From the Stage, we have George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara.”
  4. From television, we have the “Flintstones” in which “Bamm-Bamm” was left on the Rubbles’ doorstep.
  5. From the comics, we have Superman.

Abandoned babies that survived were usually not treated well by society.  In some cultures they were used as slaves, indentured labor, or military conscripts.  This was common in Medieval Europe, but it also occurred in the US.  Between 1854 and 1929 over 200,000 abandoned children were transported to the western US by railroad on so-called “orphan trains.”  The families that  took possession of them grossly mistreated them, using them as servants, maids, laborers and worse.  Eventually, the practice became so widespread and scandalous that it led to the promulgation of modern-day adoption laws, notably the sealing of records.

CONCLUSION

In general, the treatment of “hatch” or “box” babies is horrifying.  The thought that one could treat innocent babies in this manner is beyond my comprehension.  I must admit that prior to researching and writing this blog I had very limited knowledge of this topic, but now, it has captivated me.

If you want to learn more about it I recommend a documentary, called “Drop Box Babies,” which is currently available on “Netflix.”   It is not something that I would normally watch, but I did so on my wife’s strong recommendation.  Without giving away too much of the plot,  It is a very powerful true story about a South Korean couple, Pastor and Mrs. Lee, that has founded a community center in Seoul called “Jusarang” or “God’s Love Community” specifically for the benefit of abandoned children.  The Lees endeavor to ensure that the babies are treated as humanely as possible under the circumstances.

Child abandonment in Seoul has doubled in the last two years and is reaching the crisis stage.  The Lees receive about one baby a day.  Nearly 400 have passed through their care.  As of the date of the movie they were personally caring for 15.

These babies are very high maintenance.  Most have severe physical, emotional and/or mental disabilities.  Others have missing appendages and other deformities.  One, in particular, will spend his short life lying on his back in a bed.

Although I strongly recommend this movie I must warn you that it is very powerful and will tug at your emotions.   If you watch it, don’t be embarrassed to cry.

DO YOU FEEL SAFE?

Do you feel safe and secure in your daily life?   If your instinctive answer is “yes, why not,” consider the following:

  1. When you drop your kids off at their school or the bus stop do you worry about their safety?
  2. When you go to the mall or the city are you hyper-aware of the presence of police or soldiers?
  3. Does their presence comfort you, or does it remind you that danger could be nearby?
  4. Are you apprehensive about travelling overseas?
  5. Have you cancelled or considered cancelling such a trip?
  6. As you walk the streets of a foreign country do you feel you “stick out” as American?  Do you feel vulnerable?
  7. Are you cognizant of unattended packages, brief cases or suitcases?

For most people, the answers to some or all of the above questions would be “yes.”  At the very least, the level of unease or concern has ratcheted up substantially in recent years.  Terrorist attacks have grown in frequency almost to the point where when one occurs it is no longer a big surprise.

For instance, how many terrorist attacks would you guess there have been just since the beginning of July?   Ten? Twenty? One hundred?  Wrong, wrong and wrong.  According to Wikipedia there have been over 200 terrorist attacks since the beginning of July!  That’s more than one per day.  Furthermore, although they have been concentrated in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, there have been three in the US (Chattanooga, Colorado Springs and San Bernardino) and one in Paris.  All of the perpetrators were Islamic Terrorist individuals or groups, except for the attack in Colorado Springs by a deranged “lone wolf” American.   Furthermore, the three on American soil were perpetrated by Americans.

The list of Islamic perpetrators reads like a “Who’s Who” of terrorists: Aba Sayyaf, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISIS, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the New People’s Army, and the Taliban.   Most of these attacks have not even received widespread news coverage.

Welcome to the “new normal.”  The question is no longer if there will be another terrorist attack, but when and where it will occur and by whom.

CONCLUSION

With respect to the upcoming Presidential election, we all have issues that are important to us – the economy, unemployment, immigration, abortion, and climate change, to name a few.   For some of us, one of these may be so paramount that it has become the “litmus test” issue, and we decide for whom to vote based solely on it.

Irrespective of the foregoing, I submit that the most important issue for all of us, by far, should be our safety and security.  The most important job of our President is to keep us safe and secure, to protect us from our enemies both foreign and domestic.  Our very way of life depends on it.  If he were to fail at that, nothing else would matter.

We all have our political preferences and, by extension, our preferred candidates.  But, I submit that in 2016 we must put political ideology aside and vote for the candidate that we feel will keep us safe and secure.   This is especially crucial in this age when many countries, some of which are controlled by unstable leaders (e.g. North Korea and Iran), possess or will soon possess nuclear capability.  Personally, I have not yet decided who that person will be, but I know who it is WILL NOT be.   It will not be Hillary Clinton.

My opinion is not based on political preference.  Rather, I ask myself, as you should, is our relationship with ANY country better today than it was seven years ago?   I cannot think of one instance where it is.  Can you?  If so, I would like to know which one(s).  If you are honest with yourself, the answer has to be “no.”

It is the Obama-Clinton regime that has gotten us into the current mess.   Clinton may try to distance herself from Obama, but make no mistake about it.  She was an integral part of this Administration’s policy development and decision-making.

  1. They have allowed ISIS and other terror groups to metastasize to the point where they are terrorizing the entire world.
  2. They have allowed Russia to regain its former power and influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
  3. They have pushed through a deal with Iran that will allow it to become a nuclear power soon.
  4. They have allowed China to hack our computer systems with impunity and pilfer top secret information.
Based on the foregoing, how can any objective, clear-thinking voter entrust their prospective well-being and that of their children and grandchildren to Hillary Clinton?   My choice would be one of the Republicans, although I have not yet decided which one.

To paraphrase a timeworn political slogan:  Do you feel safer today than you did seven years ago?   For me, the answer is a resounding “no.”   It’s past time for a change.

MOVIE QUOTES

With all the bad news in the world today, I thought we could all use a change of pace.  Therefore, below please find a quiz of famous movie quotes.   Some people complain my quizzes are too hard, so in order to make it easier for you, it is only necessary to name the movie, not the actor who said it.  Good luck, and no peeking at the internet.  This is not an “open book” quiz.

  1.  “Surely, you cannot be serious.  I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”

a.  Inside Out;  b.  Airplane;  c.  Airport;  d.  The Other Guys

2.  “Plastics”

a.  Iron Man;  b.  Big;  c.  Blues Brothers;  d.  The Graduate

3.  Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his a*s, in two weeks you’d have a diamond.”

a.  Ferris Bueller’s Day off;  b.  Anchorman;  c.  21 Jump Street; d.  Animal House

4.  “There’s no crying in baseball.”

a.  Bull Durham;  b. Major League; c. Field of Dreams; d.  A League of Their Own.

5.  “I’ll have what she’s having.”

a.  Romancing the Stone;  b. Get Hard;  c. When Harry Met Sally; d. Sleepless in Seattle

6.  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

a.  It Happened One Night;  b.  Gone with the Wind;  c.  A Fish Called Wanda;  d.  The Misfits

7.  “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

a.  The Untouchables;  b. The Godfather; c.  Public Enemy; d.  American Gangster

8.  “I coulda been a contender.”

a.  Bronx Tale; b.  Goodfellas;  c.  The French Connection;  d.  On the Waterfront

9.  “Go ahead, make my day.”

a.  Dirty Harry;  b.  Die Hard;  c.  Sudden Impact;  d.  Platoon

10.   “I’m ready for my close-up.”

a.  All about Eve; b.  Citizen Kane; c.  Sunset Boulevard;  d. Rear Window

11.  “You talkin to me?

a.  Taxi Driver; b. Scarface; c. The Professional; d. A Bronx Tale

12.  “Rosebud”

a.  The Good Earth; b.  Citizen Kane; c. Kings Row; d. Mildred Pierce

13.  “You had me at ‘hello.'”

a.  Mister Roberts; b.  Jerry Maguire;  c.  Romancing the Stone; d.  Sleepless in Seattle

14.  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

a.  The Perfect Storm; b.  Kane Mutiny; c. Jaws;  d.  Moby Dick

15.  “Round up the Usual Suspects.”

a.  Murder on the Orient Express; b.  Defiant Ones; c.  Casablanca; d. Dirty Harry

16.  “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”

a.  Duck Soup;   b.  Oh God;  c.  A Night at the Opera;  d.  Animal Crackers

17.  “Here’s Johnny!”

a.  Johnny Belinda;  b.  The Shining;  c.  The Johnny Carson Story;  d.  Halloween

18.  “Is it safe?”

a.  Marathon Man;  b.  The Hangover;  c.  The Exorcist;  d.  Young Frankenstein

19. “I’ll kill you last.”

a.  Angels with Dirty Faces;  b.  The Terminator II;  c.  Commando;  d.  Tombstone

20.  “Who’s on first?”

a.  Abbot and Costello Go to Hollywood;  b.  The Naughty Nineties;  c.  Caddyshack;  d.  The Best of Abbot and Costello

21.  “Say hello to my little friend.”

a.  A Fistful of Dollars; b.  Dirty Harry;  c.  The French Connection;  d.  Scarface

22.  “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

a.  The Godfather;  b.  The Godfather Part II;  c.  Public Enemy; d. Scarface

23.  “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

a.  The Great Gadsby;  b.  Trading Places;  c.  Moneyball;  d.  Wall Street

24.  “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

a.  Dirty Dancing;  b. The Blues Brothers;  c.  Kindergarden Cop; d.  The Maltese Falcon

25.  “Win just one for the Gipper.”

a.  The George Gipp Story;  b.  The Vince Lombardi Story;  c.

Brian’s Song;  d.  Knute Rockne All American

Answers

  1.  (b);  2. (d); 3.  a;  4. (d);  5. (c);  6.  (b);  7. (b);  8.  (d);  9.  c;  10.  (c);  11. (a);  12. (b);  13. (b);  14. (c);  15. (c);  16. (d);  17. (b);  18. (a);  19. (c);  20. (b);  21. (d);  22. (b);  23. (d);  24. (a);  25. (d)

Well, there you have it.  How did you do?  If you’re a movie buff, I imagine you got most of them correct.  Please let me know.

 

 

HOLLYWOOD BLACKLIST

It is difficult to comprehend in this time of intense, some would say excessive, “political correctness,” but there was a time in the not so distant past when many entertainers were denied employment because of their political beliefs.  I am referring to the period from the late 1940s through the 1950s.  During that time, hundreds of writers, directors and actors were “blacklisted” because of their real , or even suspected, communist sympathies.  The effect of the blacklist was that these individuals were unable to find work in the entertainment industry.

At first blush, blacklisting someone based upon their political beliefs, especially without due process, seems un-American.  After all, we are not talking about spies, just Americans who sympathized with socialist or communist policies.  Keep in mind that membership in the Communist Party was not illegal, per se.  In addition, many of these people were not hardcore communists; they had merely attended a meeting or two, or were associates of left-leaning persons, or simply believed in stronger workers’ rights.   For example, former President Ronald Reagan, whom we think of as a strong conservative, had, in his youth, explored communism and attended a few meetings, before rejecting that philosophy.

In order to understand the blacklist fully, one must examine it within the context of the times.  In the late 1940s Russia had suddenly gone from being one of our allies in WWII to our arch enemy.   Concurrently, Communism, which had been more or less acceptable during WWII, was now viewed as a scourge, replacing Fascism.   America was engaged in a “cold war” with communism all over the globe.  China, North Korea and most of Eastern Europe had recently turned or were in the process of turning communist.  Americans were tense, and afraid.   Communism was viewed as the chief threat to our very existence. Being a communist in the 1930s and early 1940s was not so bad; being one in the late 1940s was about the worst thing one could be.

In addition, remember, this was a time when the few, large, powerful studios ran Hollywood with an iron fist.  A select few studio executives, such as Jack Warner and Sam Goldwyn, could make or break an actor or writer.  Many actors, writers and other entertainers thought the existing system was unfair and needed to be changed.  Two major strikes during the 1930s had exacerbated conflicts between the studios and the entertainers.

The central government organization involved in the blacklist was The House Committee on Un-American Activities (“HUAC”).  HUAC was created in 1938 to ferret out Communist sympathizers in the US.  It established the initial Hollywood Blacklist on November 25, 1947 one day after ten writers and directors had been cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before HUAC.   The so-called Hollywood Ten – Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Larson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo –  were summarily fired by their studios.

HUAC was concerned that Communists and their sympathizers had infiltrated Hollywood and were incorporating the Communist philosophy in their screenplays.  Although the primary focus was on screenwriters, actors and directors were also targets.  Those under suspicion were called to testify before HUAC and subjected to intense, and sometimes hostile, questioning.  HUAC would demand that the witness provide names of friends and associates who were or might be communists.  Failure to do so would place the witness, himself, under suspicion, or, even worse, result in him being blacklisted.   This was your classic “witch hunt.”

Eventually, hundreds were blacklisted, many of which were household names.  These people were deprived of earning a livelihood without due process.  They suffered through defamation and harassment, particularly from the FBI.  They were ostracized by their friends and associates as well as by the public.   Some writers were able to earn a living by “ghost writing.”  Many industry insiders were aware of the practice, but it continued nonetheless (“don’t ask don’t tell”).  The practice was portrayed in the movie, “The Front” in which Woody Allen, in a serious role, plays a modestly-talented writer who “fronts” for blacklisted writers.  Some were able to clear their names and resume working.  Many of them were never able to work in the industry again.

CONCLUSION

The reputations and livelihoods of hundreds of blacklisted individuals were irreparably damaged.  The blacklist effectively ended in 1960 when Dalton Trumbo, one of the original “Ten,” with the strong support of Producer Otto Preminger and film star Kirk Douglas, received credit publicly for being the screenwriter for both “Exodus” and “Spartacus,”  two blockbuster hits.  In addition, it was disclosed that Trumbo had written the screenplays for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One,” both of which had won Oscars.

The blacklist period is ably portrayed in the movie, “Trumbo,” starring Bryan Cranston, which is currently in theatres.  The movie focuses on the experiences of Dalton Trumbo, who was probably one of the foremost screen writers of the period.

A DATE THAT HAS LIVED IN INFAMY

December 7, 1941. Mention that date to a person of a certain age and their reaction will be akin to later generations’ reaction to November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001. Most any person over the age of five on those dates remembers where he was, what he was doing and how he felt when he heard the news. Those are dates that had a profound effect on our lives both individually and collectively.

On December 6, 1941 America was still working its way out of the Great Depression, which began in 1929 with the stock market crash. Unemployment was at 9.9%, not good, but a significant improvement from the peak of 25% in 1932. Americans were not thinking about war. After all, we had just fought the “Great War,” (the “war to end wars”). Sure, there was a war waging in Europe, but we were not involved directly. We had no boots on the ground, and we had a vast ocean between us and them. Most Americans were focused on their own lives, not on world events. America was in full isolationist mode. All that was about to change suddenly, violently, tragically and irrevocably.

We all know what happened on December 7, 1941. We know that the Japanese executed a devastating surprise attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor that precipitated our involvement in WWII. Approximately, 3,500 lives were lost along with much of our Pacific Fleet and airplanes. America switched immediately from peacetime mode to wartime mode. Patriotism and nationalism abounded. The “greatest generation” was on the march. After the attack FDR called December 7 “a date that will live in infamy,” and he was right. It has.

As we all know, America recovered to win the war after four years of intense and costly fighting. Consequently, there is no need for me to rehash those events. The central theme of this blog will focus on the events that led up to the war with Japan.

Every war has its immediate cause and its underlying causes. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the immediate cause. But, what were the underlying causes? What would make Japan start a war that it had virtually no chance of winning? Glad you asked. Read on.

Many, if not most, historians maintain that the US actually provoked Japan into starting the war, although we did not intend that they devastate our naval fleet in the fashion they did. Over the course of the 1930’s we took various actions that, in reality, left Japan no choice, to wit:

1. The US was providing assistance to the Chinese who were at war with Japan. This included airplane pilots, armaments and other supplies and materials. Japan had been at war with China since the 1930’s. Its extreme brutality was exemplified by the Nanking Massacre, aka the Rape of Nanking, which began in December 1937. In a six-week period over 300,000 Chinese civilians were murdered, and there was widespread raping and looting. This shocking brutality was a portent of the Pacific War.
2. Along with the British and the Dutch the military was actively planning prospective military operations against the Japanese in the Far East to counter its aggression.
3. Japan had few natural resources of its own; it needed to import raw materials, such as coal, iron, oil, rubber and bauxite, from the US and other countries in Southeast Asia to fuel its burgeoning industries. In the late 1930’s the US began to severely limit its access to these materials by enforcing sanctions, limits and embargoes. This aided the British and the Dutch, who were concerned about Japan’s aggressive behavior in the Far East, but it provoked the Japanese.
4. Thus, one can view the attack on Pearl Harbor, not as an isolated event, but rather as the last act in a long line of connected ones.

Many historians believe that FDR provoked Japan intentionally, because he wanted to go to war against the Axis Powers, and the American people were decidedly against doing so. Before you scoff at that notion, consider that we have fought other wars following provocations that may or may not have been fabricated. For example:

1. The Spanish-American War in 1898 began when the battleship “Maine” was blown up in Havana harbor under mysterious circumstances. 75% of her crew was killed. “Remember the Maine” became the signature battle cry of that war. There is evidence that suggests that the “Maine” was not blown up by the Spanish, but may have blown up by accident or been sabotaged to provide a pretext for us to enter that war.
2. The legal basis for commencing the Vietnam War was the Gulf of Tonkin incidents of August 2 and 4, 1964. A US destroyer, the USS Maddox, exchanged fire with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf, which is off the coast of Vietnam. As a result Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized President Johnson to assist any Southeast Asian country that was being jeopardized by “communist aggression.” Johnson was only too eager to do so. It was later determined that some key facts, such as who fired first, are in dispute.
3. President Bush, 43, “sold” the Iraq War to the American people by asserting there was “proof” that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Such weapons have never been found.

So, if FDR did, in fact, goad Japan into attacking us so that we could enter the war against the Axis Powers, it would not have been the only time the US Government used that tactic. In the 1950’s the renowned historian Harry Elmer Barnes (who, ironically, later lost much of his credibility by becoming a vociferous denier of the Holocaust) published a series of essays describing the various ways in which the US Government goaded the Japanese into starting a war it could not win and manipulated American public opinion. After the war, Secretary of War Henry Stimson admitted that “we needed the Japanese to commit the first overt act.”

CONCLUSION

Most historians agree that even the Japanese leadership in the 1930’s knew it could not win a prolonged war with the US. The US was vastly superior in terms of men, material and resources, and eventually, it would wear down the Japanese. That, in fact, is precisely what happened. In 1941 the die was cast when a more militant, nationalistic government came into power headed by Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. They spent several months planning the pre-emptive strike. No doubt, they were influenced, in part, by the successful surprise attack on the Russians in 1905 led by then-Admiral Tojo during the Russo-Japanese War. Their intention was to neutralize American naval power in the Pacific so that it would be unable to block Japan’s aggression in Southeast Asia. They determined that Sunday would be the best day of the week to attack. They also weighed the advantages and disadvantages of attacking the fleet in the harbor or at sea before settling on the attack in the harbor. Although the battleships were sitting ducks in the more shallow harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz denoted later that one crucial advantage to the US was that we were able to raze several of them later.

Despite its years of provocations, the US was ill-prepared for an attack.  In addition, we had failed to confront the Japanese directly earlier when they could have been dealt with more easily. So, instead of fighting a small war in the 1930s we ended up fighting a world war just a few years later.

One could argue that there are strong parallels between then and now with respect to ISIS and other terrorist groups.  Once again, we failed to deal with the problem when it was small; once again most of the country is very reluctant to get involved in “other people’s problems;” and, in my opinion, once again we will end up fighting a much larger and more costly war as a result.  History, when ignored, does tend to repeat itself.

Ultimately, the Japanese underestimated the US. Their leaders knew we were in isolationist mode. They did not think we had the “stomach” to fight a prolonged, brutal war. Also, they knew we would be fighting the Germans and Italians as well. Furthermore, they figured that with our Pacific Fleet decimated, if not destroyed, we would be unable or unwilling to counter their aggression in the Far East. The Far East was their end game for reasons discussed above; they were not interested in attacking the US mainland.

Obviously they were wrong. They were not the first enemy to underestimate the US, and they likely will not be the last.

ROSA PARKS

Yesterday, December 1, was the 60th anniversary of the Rosa Parks bus seat incident.  Most of us are familiar with Rosa Parks and the famous incident where she refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person.  But, few of us are cognizant of the details of the rest of her life beyond that incident.  Who was Rosa Parks?  What kind of person was she?  What drove her to stand up to the bus driver and the police the way she did?  What did she do with the rest of her life?  Valid questions.  Read on for the answers.

Rosa Louise McCauley was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Her father was a carpenter, and her mother was a teacher.  They separated when Rosa was very young and she was raised on a near-by farm with her mother and her maternal grandparents.  She was primarily of African American ancestry, although one of her great-grandfathers was Caucasian (probably, a slave owner), and one of her great-grandmothers was a slave of Native American descent.

Rosa was raised in the Jim Crow era.  Essentially, “Jim Crow” laws were state and local laws that were enacted in the former Confederate states following the end of Reconstruction.  They mandated segregation of whites and blacks in all public facilities.  The origin of the term “Jim Crow,” was a song and dance routine performed by whites in “blackface” beginning in the 1830s called “Jump Jim Crow.”  The routine became very popular, and “Jim Crow” came to symbolize a derogatory term for “Negro.”  These laws were finally abolished legally by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Those of us who were not alive before the 1960s or who were raised in the North cannot fully comprehend what segregation was like.  “Separate but equal” was really “separate and inferior.”  For example, white kids rode school buses to relatively modern, well appointed schools; blacks walked to run-down schools with inferior or obsolete equipment.   The races were separated on public buses with blacks required to sit in the back and surrender seats to whites if need be.  It was a time of deep racial prejudice and deprivation towards blacks physically, economically and socially.  In particular, in later life Rosa recalled that she was beaten and bullied by white children repeatedly.  The schools she attended were woefully inferior to those of white children.  In addition, she recalled one occasion when the KKK marched right down her street as her grandfather guarded the front door of their house with a shotgun.

Rosa was a feisty child.  Often, she fought back against the bullies.  Her grandmother often admonished her against “talking ‘biggity’ to white folks.”  Once she picked up a brick and was about to throw it at a white child who had been bullying her when her grandmother stopped her.  Rosa replied “I would rather be lynched than live to be mistreated and not be allowed to say ‘I don’t like it.'”  Yes, Rosa was not the meek, quiet person that she has been portrayed as.  She believed in standing up for herself and speaking her mind.  This rebellious streak, which surprised some people,  came out clearly in her personal papers that were made public after her death.

In 1932 Rosa married Raymond Parks from Montgomery.  Parks was a barber, but, more importantly, he was a member of the NAACP and a racial activist for his time.  He convinced Rosa to finish high school, which was extremely rare for an African American in those days.  Also, she managed to register to vote, which was not so easy to do at that time.  In circa 1943 Rosa became active in the nascent civil rights movement.  She joined the NAACP and became secretary of the local Montgomery chapter.

The foregoing is the backdrop for the “bus seat incident.”  Rosa had worked all day.  Yes, she was tired physically, but no more than usually.  She worked hard and was tired every day.  More importantly, as she later wrote in her autobiography, she was not some old lady as described in some accounts of the incident.  She was only 42.  She was just tired of being bullied by whites all her life.  In plain parlance, she was “fed up.”  She had had enough.   So, she refused the bus driver’s demands to give up her seat.  He called the police who arrested her, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It should be denoted that Parks was not the first person to have refused to surrender her seat to a white person on a bus.  There had been a few others over the years, but her action galvanized the black community.  Perhaps, she was just the right person at the right time.  In any event, following her arrest, leaders in the black community organized a bus boycott, which was very effective.  One of the most prominent leaders of the boycott was a young, obscure minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, new to the area named Martin Luther King, Jr.  Thus, probably the greatest and most influential black civil rights leader ever first entered the national consciousness during the boycott precipitated by Rosa Parks.

Roughly 40,000 blacks who normally would have ridden the public buses, carpooled, took taxis provided by black-owned companies or simply walked (in some cases, as much as 20 miles or more).  The boycott lasted 381 days.  Dozens of buses stood idle, which no doubt severely impaired the bus company’s financial situation.  Finally, the boycott ended after the US Supreme Court, in a related case, not one involving Parks, ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional.

CONCLUSION

Following the “bus seat incident” Parks became a civil rights icon, but she was harassed and also suffered economically.  Both she and her husband lost their jobs.  Later, Parks moved to Detroit where she joined her brother and other relatives.  She remained active in civil rights.  Some of her later accomplishments:

  1. She assisted John Conyers, a black, win election to the Congress and became his secretary.
  2. She remained active in civil rights and women’s causes, particularly those involving rape and sexual assault.  Rosa, herself, had almost been raped when she was a youngster.
  3. She co-founded the “Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation” to aid college-bound high school seniors.  She supported the Foundation by donating her speaking fees to it.
  4. She has been the recipient of countless awards and honors.  Many streets, parks and libraries have been named after her.
  5. There was a television movie of her life starring Angela Bassett.
  6. The US Treasury is considering putting a woman’s likeness on the $10 bill.  Parks is one of the finalists for that honor.

Rosa Parks died of natural causes on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92. In her honor city officials in both Montgomery and Detroit ordered that the front seats of their city buses be covered in black ribbons until her funeral.

Rosa Parks was one of those few persons who truly made a difference.  Her legacy will live forever.

MENGELE & THE SEVEN DWARFS

The title is not intended to be humorous.  This is a very serious story about one of the most notorious Nazis ever and a family of dwarfs.  For the sake of decorum and decency, I have omitted many of the most gruesome details.  Nevertheless, parts of the story will still likely turn your stomach.

Josef Mengele, aka “The Angel of Death” of Auschwitz, was infamous for conducting medical experiments on twins for his own twisted purposes and pleasures.  However, he also conducted medical experiments on other unusual persons, such as dwarfs.

The members of the Ovitz family were Romanian Jews, who made their living as travelling entertainers and musicians.  Most, but not all of them were dwarfs.

There is some confusion as to what exactly constitutes a “dwarf,” so allow me to clarify.  Briefly, according to the advocacy group Little People of America, dwarfs are defined as adults who are 4 feet 10 inches tall or less.  The average height is four feet.  Dwarfism may be caused by either a genetic or medical condition.   There are two types of dwarfism – disproportionate and proportionate.   The former type is characterized by either an average-sized torso with shorter limbs or the opposite condition.  The latter type is characterized by a body with normal proportions, but just shortened.  A few of the many outward features of dwarfism include a large head with a prominent brow, bowed legs, and/or flat, short broad feet. Dwarfism can be caused by some 200 different medical conditions, and is evident at birth.

The patriarch of the Ovitz family, Shimson Ovitz, a dwarf, fathered ten children between 1903 and 1921 with two different wives, both of whom were of average height.  Seven of the ten children were dwarfs.  The Ovitzes were entertainers, performing throughout Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary during the 1930s and 1940s.  They sang songs and played various musical instruments.  They were very versatile, performing in Yiddish, Hungarian, Russian and German.   Shimson died in 1923.

All twelve family members were deported to Auschwitz in May, 1944 where they attracted Mengele’s attention.  Although Mengele had access to a goodly number of twins, that was probably not the case with dwarfs.  And, here was an entire family of them!  Mengele realized that such a large family of dwarfs was unique, and he coveted them for his twisted experiments.  Some of the horrendous experiments included:

  1. extracting bone marrow,
  2. pulling out hair and teeth,
  3. pouring hot and cold water into their ears,
  4. blinding them by putting chemical drops in their eyes, and
  5. in two cases, killing and boiling two dwarfs (from another family) so their bones could be extracted and exhibited in a museum.

Remember, the above experiments were being performed on little children without the benefit of anesthesia!

The Ovitz family managed to survive the war.  The Russians, who liberated the camp in January, 1945 took the Ovitzes to Russia where they were placed in a refugee camp.  Eventually, they were released.

CONCLUSION

The Ovitzes were the largest family of dwarfs ever recorded.  In addition, they were the largest family of dwarfs to be sent to Auschwitz and survive intact.

After they were released, like many refugees they went home only to find that their home had been looted and the town destroyed.  But, their harrowing story did have a happy ending.  Eventually, they emigrated to Israel, settling in Haifa.  They resumed touring and entertaining.  They became very popular and successful.  They retired in 1955 and bought a cinema.

The female dwarfs in the family were unable to have any children, probably due to their small pelvises.  Children born to the male dwarfs in the family and their average-sized wives were of normal height.  The last surviving dwarf in the family died in 2001.