BRADY BUNCH MOM

Florence Agnes Henderson’s entertainment career lasted six decades.  This versatile performer could sing, dance and act with aplomb.  She starred on Broadway, in the movies, and on tv.  For good measure she hosted her own talk show (The Florence Henderson Show), cooking show (Who’s Cooking with Florence Henderson), appeared frequently as a substitute host and guest on many talk and reality shows (among then the Tonight Show after Jack Paar and before Johnny Carson), as a tv spokesperson for products such as Wesson Oil, Polident, and Pepsi, and performed on Dancing with the Stars.

Despite that extensive resume, however, she is best remembered for one role – her five-year stint as “Carol Brady” on the hit tv show The Brady Bunch.  “Carol” was the wise, calming character on the show (almost like Robert Young on the 1950’s show Father Knows Best)  I dare say many of you “grew up” with the show and may now watch it with your kids.

In a twist of irony that could only occur in the entertainment business, initially, Henderson was not particularly interested in pursuing the role.  As an established star on Broadway, she was reluctant to accept a role in a tv show and uproot her family.  The producers then offered the part to Shirley Jones, but after she turned it down Henderson relented.  The show, which featured a blended family with six children, was very successful. It ran for 117 episodes from 1969 – 1974.  Its greatest success, however, was in syndication.  It has been shown all over the world and, in fact, can still be found on tv.  In addition, it has spawned spin-offs, variety shows, movies, and cartoons.  It is safe to say that more people have seen Henderson as “Carol Brady” than in all of her other roles combined.

Florence was born on February 14, 1934 (Valentine’s Day, for you trivia buffs) in Dale, Indiana.  She was the youngest of ten children.  Her father was a sharecropper; her mother was a homemaker.  Basically, Florence went directly from the cradle to performing.  Her mother taught her to sing as soon as she could talk (at age 2).  By 12 years old she was singing at local stores in town.

Upon graduating high school she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC.  Within a couple of years she had landed small parts in touring companies of hit musicals.  Then in 1954 she got her big break as the lead in Fanny (creating the role as well).  She was a rousing successand she was on her way.

CONCLUSION

Henderson was married twice.  She had four children, all with her first husband, Ira Bernstein, whom she divorced.  Her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, died in 2002.  She also had five grandchildren.

Henderson passed away on November 24, 2016 at the age of 82 of heart failure.  It was unexpected.  She had been in good health.  In fact, just three days prior to her death she had attended a live taping of DWTS.

Rest in peace Florence.  We will miss you.

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THE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD

No, not that one.  This blog is not about the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which ushered in the American Revolutionary War.  It is about the pitcher who gave up what many believe to have been the most famous/infamous homerun in baseball history and how he dealt with its aftermath.  Even you non-baseball fans will appreciate this story.

Ralph Theodore Joseph Branca was born in Mt. Vernon, NY on January 6, 1926, the 15th of 17 children.  (That’s not a typo, folks.)   His Italian father was a trolley car conductor; his mother was Jewish, but Ralph was raised in the Catholic faith.

Ralph was a two-sport athlete.  He was good enough to play varsity baseball and basketball for NYU.  Then, he signed with the Dodgers as a pitcher.  Even though most baseball fans only remember him for giving up the famous/infamous homerun, he pitched in the majors for 12 seasons (1944-1956) , won 88 games, and was a three-time all-star.

In addition, he was an early and fervent supporter of Jackie Robinson’s.  For example, when the players took the field for Jackie’s first game Ralph made a point of standing next to him during the pre-game introductions as a show of solidarity. Rachel Robinson was always appreciative of Ralph’s support and would often recall that Jackie “liked and admired him as a friend, even after Ralph left the Dodgers.”  When Jackie died Ralph was one of the pallbearers at his funeral.  Unfortunately, Ralph’s career was derailed by a freak back injury sustained in Spring Training in 1952, although he played until 1956.

An integral part of this story is the fierce rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the NY Giants.  It began in the late 19th Century, and it has been the one of the most fierce rivalries in sports for over 100 years.  Think Yankees-Red Sox, Duke-North Carolina basketball, or any famous other rivalry times 10.

It was not just among the fans.  The 19th Century team owners hated each other.  The players hated each other.  There were frequent fights and “beanings,” and there have been instances in which players have refused to accept a trade from one team to the other.  For example, Jackie Robinson retired rather than accept a trade to the Giants in 1958, and Willie Mays refused a trade to the Dodgers in 1972.

Even the cities, themselves, were fierce rivals.  Brooklyn was a separate city until 1898 when it was incorporated into a borough of NYC.  Brooklyn was known as the blue collar, working class borough; Manhattan was the snooty, corporate, button-down white collar borough.  This class warfare manifested itself on the playing field.  Remember, in those days, baseball was truly the National Pastime.   Fans lived and died with their team year round.  They identified with them more than today.  Most of the players did not earn much more than the fans.  Moreover, many of the players lived in the neighborhood and worked there in the off-season.  The fans might see them in the grocery store.  Their kids might go to school with the players’ kids.  Mays often played stickball with the kids in his Harlem neighborhood.   Players and fans were intertwined.

This was the backdrop in 1951 when the Dodgers and Giants engaged in one of the most dramatic and entertaining pennant races ever.  The Dodgers had a 13 1/2 game lead over the Giants as late as August 11, and it looked as though they would win the pennant easily.  But, the Giants, led by sensational rookie, Willie Mays, got hot and caught them, forcing a three-game playoff.  They split the first two games and the Dodgers had a 4-1 lead entering the bottom of the ninth at the Polo Grounds.

The Giants rallied to make it 4-2 and had two men on base when the Dodgers went to the bullpen.  They had two relievers warming up, Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca.  The story goes that Erskine had been bouncing his signature curve ball, so the manager brought in Branca to face Bobby Thomson.  Such are the vagaries of life.  Thomson took strike one, then hit the next pitch into the left field bleachers.

There was shock and bedlam depending on which team you rooted for.  Russ Hodges, the Giants radio announcer, was shouting the “call” of his life:  “The Giants Win the Pennant!”  The Giants Win the Pennant! ” over and over.  Giants players were ecstatic.  And Ralph Branca was devastated.  He felt personally responsible for losing the game and the pennant.

Incidentally, there are four interesting, little known footnotes to this story.

  1. In that era of primitive communication there was no official recording of the game.  The only reason that a record of Hodges’ call exists at all is that a Dodgers fan, certain the Dodgers would win, recorded it because he wanted to revel in Hodges’ misery after the Giants lost.

2.  Jackie Robinson, one of the most fierce competitors ever to play, did not leave the field immediately. He stood among the celebrating players and fans watching until Thomson touched home plate.

3.  Probably one of the most relieved Giants players was the on-deck hitter, who revealed later he was “scared to death” that he would have to hit with the pennant on the line.  This was none other than Willie Mays, a rookie that year, who would go on to become, in my opinion, the best player of his time and one of the best clutch hitters ever.

4.  Years later, a story circulated that the Giants were stealing signs during the game.  This is in some dispute, but it entirely possible that Thomson knew a fastball was coming when hit the famous/infamous homer.

CONCLUSION

A lesser man would have been “broken” by that one pitch.  Instead, Ralph embraced the event and went on to lead a productive life.  In fact, it is safe to say that were it not for that one pitch, few people would have ever heard of him.  Instead, the homerun was only the tip of the iceberg of his life.

  1.  He married and raised a family.  In fact, his wife, whom he met in the parking lot after the game, was a member of the family that owned the Dodgers.  Furthermore, his daughter married a future major league ballplayer, manager and announcer named Bobby Valentine.
  2. Thomson and he became friends and often appeared together at card shows, sporting events and other baseball functions.  They made a career out of telling and retelling the story of the homerun.
  3. Ralph won audiences over with his grace and good humor.  He often said “A guy commits murder and gets pardoned after 20 years.  I didn’t get pardoned.”  Former baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called him” a true gentleman who earned universal respect in the game he loved and served so well.”
  4. Ralph became a sports commentator, best known for doing the pre-game and post-game shows for Mets’ games (alongside a “newbie” named Howard Cosell).
  5. He became an executive with Baseball Assistance Team, aka BAT, which provided financial aid to down-and-out baseball figures.

Ralph passed away on November 23.  He should be remembered, not merely as the pitcher who served up the most famous/infamous homerun in baseball history, but also as a true gentlemen and a stand-up guy.

THANKSGIVING

Today, November 24, most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a paid federal holiday. All government offices and financial markets are closed. We will gather together with family and friends, eat turkey and other traditional foods, watch football games on TV, and enjoy a day off from work.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the food, the football, and the four-day weekend.  What I don’t like is the traffic, but you can’t have everything.

Few of us will stop to think of the origins and meaning of the holiday. What is its meaning? What are its origins? Why is it celebrated at this time of the year? Read on for the answers.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated to give thanks for the year’s harvest. It has strong religious and cultural roots. Most people are aware that Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US (4th Thursday in November) and Canada (2nd Monday in October), but few of us are aware that variations of it are observed in other countries as well. In these other countries the holiday has a different meaning and purpose. For example, in Grenada it is celebrated on October 25, and it marks the date on which the US invaded the island in 1983 in response to the deposition and execution of Grenada’s then Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop. Liberia celebrates the holiday on the first Thursday of November, a tradition that was originated by freed American slaves that were transported there. In the Netherlands a Thanksgiving Day service is held on the morning of the US holiday. Its purpose is to commemorate the traditions of the Pilgrims, who resided in the city of Leiden for several years prior to their emigration to the New World. Japan celebrates a “Labor Thanksgiving Day” on November 23 to commemorate labor and production. It has its roots from the period of American occupation after WWII.

Like many of our traditions, Thanksgiving is rooted in English tradition. These date from the English Reformation in the 16th century and the reign of King Henry VIII. Apparently, the Protestant clergy had determined that events of misfortune or good fortune were attributable to God. Thus, unexpected disasters, such as droughts, floods or plagues, were followed by “Days of Fasting.” On the other hand, fortuitous events, such as a good harvest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which was largely attributable to storms off the English coast, were to be celebrated by “giving thanks” to Him.

The origin of the Canadian holiday is uncertain, but it is most commonly attributed to the English explorer Martin Frobisher. He had been exploring Northern Canada seeking the infamous and elusive Northwest Passage to Asia. He wanted to give thanks for his party having survived the numerous storms and icebergs it had encountered on the long journey from England. Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated as a statutory holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada.

Most people trace the American Thanksgiving holiday to 1621 in present-day Massachusetts (although some claim that there were earlier celebrations by the Spaniards in present-day Florida circa 1565 and in the colony of Virginia circa 1610). The Pilgrims and Puritans living there had enjoyed a bountiful harvest that year and wanted to give thanks. Their harvest had been partly attributable to assistance from Native Americans, so they invited them to share in their celebration. Records indicate that there were 90 Native Americans and 25 colonists in attendance. The actual date is uncertain, but it is believed to have been between September 21 and November 11.

Prior to 1942, Thanksgiving was not celebrated as an official national holiday. Rather, it was celebrated periodically by proclamation. For example, during the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress established days of “prayer, humiliation and thanksgiving” each year. In 1777 George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the colonists’ victory at Saratoga. Following independence, various Presidents continued the practice of issuing proclamations periodically.

In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed a national “Thanksgiving Day” to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. Historians believe that his action was prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and editor of some renown. (She wrote the popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”) The practice of annual Presidential Proclamations continued until 1939. That year, FDR broke the tradition. November had five Thursdays that year instead of the usual four. FDR figured that if the holiday were celebrated on the 4th Thursday it would provide a much-needed boost to the economy by enabling merchants to sell more goods before Christmas. (Even then, Thanksgiving was the unofficial start of the Christmas holiday shopping season.) Typically, this action precipitated a spat between the GOP and Dems in Congress. GOP congressmen viewed it as an insult to President Lincoln and continued to consider the last Thursday to be the holiday, so there were two Thanksgiving celebrations in 1939, 1940 and 1941, a “Democratic” one on the 4th Thursday and a “Republican” one on the last Thursday. The individual states split the dates (only in America!). Finally, in 1941 everyone got in sync. On December 26, 1941 FDR signed a bill into law that decreed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November, a practice that has continued to this day.

Beginning in 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey to the President. Over the years it became customary for the President to grant a “pardon” to the turkey.

CONCLUSION

Many businesses are closed on Friday as well, which has had the effect of expanding the holiday into a four-day weekend. This weekend is one of the busiest travel days of the year, as anyone who has been on the roads or at the airports during this time can attest. The Friday after the holiday is known as “Black Friday.” It is one of the busiest shopping days of the year and signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Many retail stores open early and offer sales. Some shoppers love this and camp out overnight; others deride it as a “fool’s errand.”

Saturday is known as “Small Business Saturday,” which is an attempt to encourage patronage of small businesses. The Monday after the holiday is known as “Cyber Monday,” which encourages shopping on-line. The Tuesday after is called “Giving Tuesday” to encourage donations to the needy. The holiday is a prime time for charity. Many communities have food and clothing drives to collect items for distribution to the poor.

Many cities hold parades. The NYC “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” is a longstanding tradition. Many families have attended this every year for generations. It features floats with specific themes, such as Broadway shows, cartoon characters, celebrities and high school marching bands. The last float is traditionally one of Santa Claus, which symbolizes the beginning of the Christmas season. Other examples of cities that hold parades are Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Plymouth, MA, and Houston.

Many of us watch football. High schools and colleges play traditional games against their chief rivals. The NFL has staged a football game on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1934. At first, there was only one that was hosted by the Detroit Lions. Currently, there are three. Even basketball has gotten into the act. There are college tournaments and NBA games. For non-sports fans there are a plethora of TV specials with a Thanksgiving or Christmas theme.

So, now that you are “experts” on Thanksgiving, relax and enjoy the holiday.  In particular, take a minute to give thanks that through a fortuitous twist of fate, you were born in this country.

JFK

Few people in history are so recognizable that with the mere mention of their initials one instantly knows about whom you are talking.  Such is the case with John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States.  He flashed across our lives like a comet, brilliant but brief.  He was only president for 1,000 days before he was assassinated, yet, even today, people remember him and recognize his name.

Today, November 22, marks the 53rd anniversary of his assassination.  Almost anyone over the age of 60 remembers vividly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of it. For example, I, a freshman in college, was walking to a history class. (Yes, I did attend classes, even on a Friday afternoon.)   I heard some other students talking about the President having been shot. I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly, but unfortunately, I had.

What was strange about the whole incident was the lack of reliable information. It wasn’t like today when news is known and disseminated instantaneously. Communication between New York, where, at the time, all communication was centered, and Dallas was sketchy. Even worse, Dealey Square was not close to the addresses of the network news’ Dallas offices. Reporters on the scene had to communicate by telephone, when they could find one. Often, competing reporters ended up sharing telephones. No iPads; no cell phones. Information was incomplete and contradictory. Eventually, however, we found out the horrible news. No one will ever forget the grim look on Walter Cronkite’s face as he removed his glasses, stared into the camera, and told a shocked, confused and scared nation that the President was dead. When we heard it from “Uncle Walter,” we knew it was true.

The purpose of this blog is not to relate the details of the day’s events, nor do I wish to get bogged down in the various conspiracy theories, some of which persist to this day. Many books have been written on the subject, and I can’t possibly cover these topics in a short blog. Suffice to say, it was a surreal experience. Many emotions swirled through my head – disbelief, denial, fear and uncertainty. Who did it? Why? Was it a single gunman or a conspiracy? Was it part of a larger plot?  Would we go to war?  These and other questions came to mind.

Most everyone was glued to their television sets for days while events played out – Lyndon Johnson sworn in as the 36th President of the US, Jackie standing beside him still in shock and wearing the blood and brain-stained pink suit she had been wearing in the limo, Oswald arrested, Oswald shot live on national tv while under police escort (How in the world did Jack Ruby get access to that corridor, anyway?), JKF’s funeral procession, the “riderless” horse, John Jr’s salute. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy followed soon after. It was the end of innocence.

JFK had won the Presidency by the narrowest of margins over Vice President Richard Nixon. He had received 49.7% of the popular vote to Nixon’s 49.5% and won several states by the slimmest of margins. In that relatively primitive era of communications the end result was not known until the next morning. Many people, caught up in the drama, stayed up all night to await the results. JFK was young, handsome, bright, vibrant, dynamic, scion of a famous and wealthy family, and a war hero. He and his beautiful, glamorous wife, Jackie, seemed like American royalty to many Americans. He gave us hope and optimism. In the eyes of his supporters he was the one to transform America. During his inaugural address he uttered the famous line that symbolized the great hope that he would lead us to “A New Frontier,” as his campaign had promised (“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”). Those words still resonate today.

JFK got off to a rocky start with the Bay of Pigs fiasco. But, he seemed to make up for it when he faced down the Russians and Nikita Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most of us did not realize how close we came to nuclear war, but in the end Kennedy won that round and showed he was learning on the job. His administration was dubbed “Camelot” after the description of the mythical King Arthur’s court.

Unfortunately, Kennedy made a lot of powerful enemies. Many Republicans thought he had “stolen” the election. Indeed, there had been whispers about voting irregularities, notably in Chicago, but, in the end nothing came of that – no media exposes, no court challenges. Yes, times have certainly changed.
Many conservatives thought he was too soft on communism and too aggressive on civil rights issues. He had made powerful enemies among organized crime and at the FBI and CIA, among others. Fidel Castro hated him for the Bay of Pigs attack as did many Cuban ex-Pats, who thought he had betrayed them by not intervening militarily to support the invasion when it fell apart. All in all, he had a plethora of powerful enemies with the motive, means, opportunity and funds to plan and execute a Presidential assassination and cover-up. In retrospect, one should not have been surprised.

CONCLUSION

A favorite speculation has been how American and world history would have been different had JFK not been assassinated. Would he have pulled us out of Viet Nam as has been speculated? If so, would there have been an anti-war movement in the 60’s with the attendant protests, turmoil and violence? Would MLK and RFK still have been assassinated? Would the civil rights movement have progressed differently, more peacefully? We will never know. There have been many books written about this topic, including one by Stephen King called “11/22/63” about a fictional time traveler who journeys back to 1963 to try to prevent the assassination, which makes fascinating “what if” reading.

Through it all, a cloud of conspiracy still hangs over the assassination 60 years later. Books have been written and movies produced dealing with the conspiracy theories. Did Oswald act alone? Was he tied to the KGB or the CIA? How did Ruby get close enough to kill Oswald from point-blank range? Was there anyone on the grassy knoll? Why was Ruby killed in prison? What of the roles, if any, of mobsters, like Sam Giancana, Head of the Chicago mob, and Carlos Marcello, Head of the New Orleans mob, as well as the CIA, the FBI and/or Castro? Were the Warren Commission’s findings accurate or part of a cover-up?

At this time, as we mark the passage of another anniversary of JFK’s assassination, we are reminded that these issues, and others, have still not been resolved to many Americans’ satisfaction. As time passes, it seems they probably never will be.

For you readers of a certain age, what are your memories of the assassination and its aftermath? I would like to know.

THE “FEMALE” OSKAR SCHINDLER

We are all familiar with Oskar Schindler, who was made famous by the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie Schindler’s List starring Liam Neeson.  But, I would posit that few of you have heard of Irena Sendler.  Sendler was a Polish woman whose feats arguably exceeded those of Schindler.  Read on, and be astounded.

Irena Krzyzanowska was born on February 15, 1910 in Warsaw into a middle class family.   Her father was a physician, who, unfortunately, died from typhus that he contracted while treating patients.  Sendler always credited her parents for imbuing in her a desire to help those less fortunate. From an early age she exhibited an activist bent that she maintained her entire life.   For example, she was expelled from the University of Warsaw for repeated public protesting.

She married and divorced three times, twice to the same man, Mieczyslaw Sendler.  She had three children.

During WWII Sendler joined a Polish resistance group called Zegota.  Through Zegota, she obtained a job working for the Department of Social Welfare in Warsaw, a job that afforded her the opportunity to assist Jews.  As most of us know, the Nazis were extremely motivated to exterminate Jews and devoted much of their resources to that objective, even to the detriment of their overall war effort.  Accordingly, anyone caught aiding and abetting Jews was subject to death.  This penalty extended to their family and household members as well.  Although these penalties were in effect in all Nazi-occupied territories, they were applied most vigorously in Poland.  Obviously, these extreme measures failed to deter many Good Samaritans, including Sendler.

Basically, Sendler and her group operated in the following manner:

  1.  Her job afforded her access to the Jews in the ghetto under the guise of inspecting the sanitary conditions and other pretexts.  Disease and starvation were rampant in the ghetto and presented a serious health hazard not only within the ghetto, itself (which would have hardly bothered the Nazis), but to the rest of the city as well.
  2. She managed to secure an official pass to enter the ghetto from the city’s Contagious Diseases Department.  This unfettered access enabled her and her cohorts to smuggle out babies and small children.  They would hide them in various ingenious ways – in ambulances, coffins (under dead bodies), small packages, sewer pipes, suitcases, and even in toolboxes..
  3. The children were placed in orphanages, Catholic convents or with friendly Polish families.
  4. The group kept detailed records, because their hope was to unite the children with their families after the War.  They maintained lists of the children in glass jars, which were buried in secret locations.  Unfortunately, however, in most cases they were unable to re-unite the children with their parents, because so few of the parents survived the War.

According to the eminent Deborah Dwork, Rose Professor of Holocaust History and Founding Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, MA., Sendler was the “inspiration” and “prime mover” of a  network that saved some 2,500 Jewish children, roughly double the number of Jews saved by Schindler.  Furthermore, Sendler smuggled out some 400 by herself.

Inevitably, Sendler was caught.  Even though the Gestapo beat and tortured her she refused to divulge any information.  She was sentenced to be executed, but members of Zegota rescued her at the last minute.  She continued to be an active member of the resistance for the remainder of the War.

After the War she continued her resistance efforts as a member of the Home Army (AK), an anti-communist group.   In 1948 she was arrested by the communists for anti-government activities.  After one year, she was released.  For the rest of her life she remained active in various activist and social ventures in Poland.

She died in 2008 in Warsaw at the age of 98.

CONCLUSION

We now know that Sendler was one of the most heroic figures in WWII with respect to saving Jews.  Unfortunately, for many years her extreme heroism had gone largely unrecorded and unrecognized.  One reason may have been the antipathy of the post-war Polish government towards her due to her continued ties to the anti-communist resistance following WWII.

Another may have been her modesty.  When asked why she did what she did, she simply stated “I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued …. regardless of religion and nationality.”  She also stated that the hardest part of her operation was persuading the parents to let go.  Often, they would beseech her: “Can you guarantee they will live?”   Her response: “No, but if they stay here [with the parents] I guarantee that they will die.”

There are many touching stories of Sendler babies who survived the war and have gone on to lead productive lives and raise families of their own.  One such baby was Elzbieta Ficowska.  She was only a few months old when she was secreted out of the ghetto in a workman’s toolbox.  She survived the war and is still alive today.  Her only momento of her real mother is a tiny silver spoon with her name and birthdate inscribed on it, which her biological mother had give to Irena.  She claims she had three mothers – her biological one, the one who raised her, and Irena.

Eventually, word of Irena’s exploits spread.

1.   In 1965 Yad Vashem designated her as one of the Polish Righteous among the Nations.

2.  In 1991 Israel made her an honorary citizen.

3.  In 1999 some school students wrote and produced a play based on her exploits called Life in a Jar.  The play was shown on tv with Anna Paquin portraying Irena.

4.  In 2003 Pope John Paul II sent her a letter of praise.

5.  She has won various awards, such the Order of the Smile, Humanitarian of the Year and the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award.  In addition, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three years running, 2006-2008.

6.  In addition to the above mentioned play she has had documentaries and a book written about her life.

Irena was fond of saying “the world can be better if there’s love, tolerance and humility.”  No doubt, she possessed all three in abundance.

PROTESTERS OR SORE LOSERS?

We all recognize that peaceful protest is a time-honored American tradition guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  That said, from what I have read and seen, many of the protesters have crossed the line from peaceful, respectful, legal protest to rioting, damaging property and assaulting Trump supporters.  Thus, whatever valid points they are trying to convey to the mainstream public have become obscured.

Most of the protesters appear to be millennials (ages 18-34) who are disappointed and disillusioned by the results of the election.  Fair enough, but they are coming across as nothing more than “sore losers.”   It’s like, “I played the game, I lost, but I don’t like the result.  Like a whiny five year old, “no fair.”  I want a “do-over.”  Well, there are no “do-overs” in elections.

Some college students even went so far as to tell their professors they were too distraught to take scheduled exams or even attend classes.  And, in many cases, they were excused by sympathetic professors or school administrators.  What kind of life lesson is that?  Boo hoo!  Tell me, what are they going to do when they’re out in the real world, and things don’t go their way.  They don’t get the job they want.  Their girl friend turns down their marriage proposal.  Are they going to grab a sign and demonstrate in front of their boss’s or girl friend’s home?   When I compare them to the 20-year olds who were fighting the Germans or Japanese in WWII, it’s downright embarrassing.

Statistics denote that approximately one-third of millennials did not even bother to vote, probably either from apathy, laziness or overconfidence.  In that case, I say they have no valid complaints.  By itself, one vote may not make a difference, but if millions of people all over the country all reach the same conclusion and don’t bother to vote, that becomes significant.  If one is displeased with the election result, the appropriate answer is not to sulk, not to riot, but to work within the system to try to win the next election.  Traditionally, that is what voters on the losing side have done.

Unfortunately, many of the demonstrators have been infiltrated by “professional agitators,” who, basically, have hijacked the protest.  These people are not interested in the issues at hand.  Rather, their goal is to undermine the system, create mayhem.  They continually seek out situations to exploit for their own aggrandizement.  Their goal is not to improve the system but to destroy it. We have seen a lot of this in recent years, for example, “occupy Wall Street” and Ferguson.   It would be nice if President Obama could show some leadership and tell these folks that while it is acceptable to demonstrate they should refrain from violence.

When approached by reporters many of these protesters have refused or been unable to articulate their reasons for protesting.  Others have stated that they “hate” Mr. Trump and do not want him to be president (“not my president”).  My response to them is while it is acceptable to hate the man and not want him to be president, to be fair, don’t protest what you think he may do.  Give the man a chance.  Anyone who has been paying attention would realize that since the election Mr. Trump has toned down his rhetoric considerably.  Moreover, he has repeatedly expressed his desire for “inclusion,” to be the president of all the people.  That would be a nice switch from what we have had for the past eight years.  Let’s wait and see.

CONCLUSION

First and foremost, let’s remember that Mr. Trump won the election fair and square.  He not only defeated his Democratic opponent, but he also had to overcome a biased media and the antipathy of many professional politicians in his own party.  One of the primary reasons why he did so was that there is a “silent majority” (hello, Spiro) of voters who feel disaffected, ignored and lied to by the current administration.  They want change, and they want Mr. Trump to bring it about.   The protesters, though vociferous, are in the minority.

Dems would do well to realize the extent of Trump’s mandate.  Yes, Clinton narrowly won the popular vote, but that is misleading and irrelevant.  Also, the distribution of the popular vote is telling.  Clinton’s popularity was highly concentrated in a few areas, such as California and various urban areas, for example, NYC, Philadelphia and Chicago.  Trump prevailed in most of the rest of the country and won the electoral vote, which is what counts, decisively.  Furthermore, the GOP retained control of both Houses of Congress, and 31 states have GOP governors, including 25 in which the GOP controls both houses of the state legislature as well.

The people have spoken.  Change is coming.  Deal with it.  To quote president Obama, “elections have consequences.”

 

 

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E

Robert Francis Vaughn appeared in well over 100 movies, tv and stage productions in both the US and Great Britain in an entertainment career that spanned some 60 years.  He co-starred with some of the most iconic names during that period, such as Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen and Angela Landsbury.  He portrayed US Presidents Franklyn Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Woodrow Wilson.  He won an Emmy  and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (for his portrayal of “Chester Gwynn” in The Young Philadelphians in 1959), and was also nominated for several Golden Globe, BAFTA, Laurel and Photoplay Awards.  Yet, for all of that, he is remembered primarily for one role –  his portrayal of “Napoleon Solo” in the tv series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 

U.N.C.L.E., an espionage show, ran from 1964 -1968.   Vaughn played smooth, suave, debonair Napoleon Solo, a spy modeled after James Bond.  He co-starred with a young Scottish actor named David McCallum.  Young fans may know McCallum as the medical examiner “Duckie” on NCIS.  Few people had heard of Vaughn before then, but he and the show became very popular, particularly with young fans.  It was a top-rated show for five years, and it spawned a spin-off show, a movie and considerable merchandising worldwide.

Vaughn was born in New York City on November 22, 1932.  Both of his parents were actors – his father on radio and his mother on the stage.  His parents soon divorced, and Vaughn was raised by his grandparents in Minneapolis, MN.  After high school he briefly attended college at the University of Minnesota, then moved to LA to live with his mother to pursue a career in entertainment.  It should be noted that he also continued his education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in communications from USC in 1970.

Vaughn made his screen debut in the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments.  It was not a particularly momentus role.  It was uncredited.  He appeared in the background in two scenes – as a “golden calf idolator” and in the chariot race.  One would have to look really carefully to find him.  But, I suppose you have to start somewhere.  His break-through role in Philadelphians came just three years later, and he was off.

Vaughn was a high profile political activist.  He was an early critic of the Vietnam War.  Furthermore, he was very active in the anti-war group “Another Mother for Peace” and was a co-founder of another anti-war group called “Dissenting Democrats.”  In addition, he was a strong supporter of and campaigner for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy and both JFK and RFK.

CONCLUSION

Vaughn passed away on November 11 from acute leukemia.   Rest in peace Robert.  We will miss you.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, U.N.C.L.E. stands for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement,” quite a mouthful.

VETERANS’ DAY

Today, November 11 we celebrate Veterans Day. To many people, VD is merely a day off from work or a chance to spend time with family or friends. They do not stop to reflect on the significance of the holiday, its history, and the sacrifices endured by millions of people to make it all possible. Like so many things, we tend to take it for granted.

VD originated at the conclusion of WWI, which was the most devastating war up to that time. WWI lasted from 1914 to 1918. In those pre-WWII days, it was called “The Great War.” There were 37.5 million total casualties on both sides, including 8.5 million people killed. The countries with the largest number of casualties were Germany, Russia and France. The US’s casualties were relatively light, 116,000 killed and 323,000 total casualties, because it joined the war late (1917).

Most people know that the immediate cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. However, every war has underlying causes as well. The underlying causes of WWI had been building for many years. They were:

1. The proliferation of mutual defense treaties. All of the major European powers, Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary were bound by interlocking treaties. This insured that if one of these countries were to go to war all the others would be drawn in as well.

2. Imperialism. This was nothing new. Imperialism had been an issue since the 16th century. In the early 1900s it had risen to a new level. The European powers were all vying for pieces of Africa and Asia, primarily for their raw materials.

3. Militarism. The militaries in each of these countries were aggressive, bold and influential.

4. Nationalism. Various ethnic groups, notably the Slavs in Austria, wanted independence from the imperialist countries that controlled them.

Against this background, it is easy to see how a world war could break out. All that was needed was a spark, and the abovementioned assassination provided it. The principal antagonists were Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on one side and Great Britain, France, Russia and the US on the other, although the Russians were forced to withdraw in 1917 with the advent of the Russian Revolution.

After four years of fighting, from 1914 to 1918, the combatants were finally able to agree on an armistice. It took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. Eventually, it was ratified by the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed June 25, 1919 at the Palace of Versailles. November 11 became known as Armistice Day. In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson made it official by proclamation. Armistice Day was officially changed to VD in 1954.

The “Father of Veterans Day” is a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks. It was his idea to expand Armistice Day to include all veterans, not just those of WWI, and he became the driving force to effect this change. He petitioned General Dwight Eisenhower, and he led a national celebration every year from 1947 until his death in 1985. President Reagan honored him with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 at which time he was recognized officially as “The Father of VD.”

VD should not be confused with Memorial Day. VD celebrates the service of ALL military veterans living and dead, while Memorial Day celebrates only those who died in the service of their country.

VD is celebrated in many countries. Celebrations vary. In Canada the holiday is called Remembrance Day. In Great Britain the holiday is known as Remembrance Sunday, and it is celebrated on the second Sunday of November. In both countries as well as in many European countries, the occasion is marked by a moment of silence at 11:00 am. Also, in both Canada and Great Britain some people wear poppies in their lapels as a tribute. Red poppies became a symbol of WWI after they were featured in the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.  If you are unfamiliar with the poem I urge you to google it and read it.  I am not normally a fan of poetry, but I found it very moving.

In the US we enjoy parades and other celebrations around the country. Many restaurants and other businesses offer veterans free meals or discounts on various goods and services. Additionally, there is a special ceremony in Washington, DC which features the laying of a wreath at the “Tomb of the Unknowns” at Arlington National Cemetery.

CONCLUSION

So, today, as you enjoy the day take a few minutes to recognize and show respect for the veterans who sacrificed so much in order that the rest of us could enjoy the freedoms that we sometimes take for granted.  Many of us do not realize how brutal and vicious war actually is, particularly when it comes down to hand-to-hand combat where it’s you vs. the other guy, and it’s literally kill or be killed.  So, if you encounter a veteran, thank him or her for their service. It would mean a great to him or her to be so recognized.

Also, be cognizant of the inadequate medical services we provide our veterans, especially the significant delays in receiving medical care and other benefits. It is truly a national scandal that has received scant attention in the mainstream media and one that needs to be rectified asap. Let’s hope that President-elect Donald Trump follows through on his campaign promise to rectify the situation asap.

TRUMP WINS!!

November 8, 2016.  Historians will remember that date as when Americans took back their country.  Hyperbole?  Perhaps, a little, but not much.

When the night began, the common theme was that Trump was the decided underdog.  The conventional wisdom was that even though the gap in the popular vote was only a few points, and he had momentum, the demographics of the country worked against him in the Electoral College.  He had a very narrow path to 270.  He had to win all of the states that Romney had, plus he had to win Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, all of which, according to the latest polls, were virtually even, plus he had to pick off a few states from the so-called “blue wall,” such as Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin.  The attitude of most experts was that it was, at best, a long shot.  It was just as likely that Trump could lose in an electoral landslide.  To make matters worse, early returns from Florida indicated a very high turn-out among Hispanics.

Then, as the evening progressed, the tide turned.  One by one, the dominoes began to fall, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin.  Suddenly, it was Trump who had the clear path, and Clinton who had the narrow path.  The tv analysts began to entertain the real possibility of a Trump victory.  The odds published on betting websites began to shift in favor of Trump.  The financial markets, which wanted Clinton to win, “tanked.”  The tv pictures of the scenes in the candidates’ headquarters – joy and jubilation in Trump’s, stunned shock in Clinton’s – told the story.  Finally, in the wee hours off the morning Pennsylvania put him over the top.

As is often the case, we can see things clearly in retrospect.  For example:

  1. Throughout the campaign, all the polls showed time and again that a majority of Americans, as many as 75%, did not approve of the direction in which the country was going.   A clear majority of them felt like the character in the movie, Network, who famously declared he was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”  Clearly, voters wanted “change.”
  2. The late Vice President Spiro Agnew, was right in that there is a “silent majority” in the electorate.  These are normal, everyday people, like you and me.  They don’t attend protests; they don’t appear on the news with signs spouting slogans;  they’re too busy working, earning a living, providing for their families, doing what needs to be done to survive on a daily basis.  They just want government to leave them alone, and let them live their lives as they see fit.
  3. Voters, or at least a majority of them, are not as stupid as those in the government and the media apparently believe.  In the end, they rejected the feds telling them how to act, what to eat or drink, what to do, how to live their lives.  Political correctness is running amok.  Men can use women’s rest rooms.  (Would you want your daughter to share a restroom with some creepy guy?  Really?)   The absurdity of the “common core” curricula.  The abject failure of “Obamacare.”  Excessive regulations and red tape that inhibit business development.  The list of intrusions goes on and on.
  4. For the most part, Republicans “came home” and supported Trump.
  5. A good portion of Sanders’ supporters, realizing the primary process had been “rigged” by the Clinton campaign and the Dem insiders, either supported Trump or stayed home.
  6. Voters want a real country, with real borders.  They don’t want a border that is a sieve through which drugs, criminals, terrorists and other “deplorables” can enter at will.  (If you doubt the stupidity of an open border, just take a look at France, the UK and the rest of Europe.  All of those countries have open borders, and all of them are suffering through a myriad of social and economic problems as a result.  This is not racist; it is fact.)  As Trump has said, “either you have a country, or you don’t.”
  7. We realize the existential threat that ISIS and other Muslim terrorists represent.  Not only do we want to call them what they are, we actually do want to do whatever it takes to defeat them.  We are tired of living in fear and uncertainty.  When a loved one leaves home for school, work or shopping we want to know they will return safe and sound.
  8. The level of corruption had reached its tipping point.  Clinton’s nefarious activities go back over 20 years, and I need not recount them all here.  Nothing seemed to “stick” to her, but I believe the recent actions of the FBI and Justice Department with respect to her emails and Clinton Foundation finally convinced voters that enough was enough.
  9. The pollsters and media analysts must re-assess their methodologies.  They failed miserably.  This was much worse than their failure to predict Harry Truman’s famous upset victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948, because polling is supposedly more sophisticated now.  Moreover, polling is now conducted right up to and including Election Day, including the use of “exit polls,” which was not the case in 1948.  How did they not see the truth?
  10. Perhaps, most of all, the voters did not buy into the fiction that the economy is improving.  Everybody knows a middle aged person who was laid off, cast aside by his employer, or a college graduate who is forced to wait on tables or make sandwiches at the local deli while living in his parents’ house because he cannot find a job that befits his level of education.  Workers know that their “real” wages are the same or worse than they were four years ago.
  11. This election will be analyzed and re-analyzed for years to come, but those are my initial thoughts.

CONCLUSION

Now comes the hard part for Donald Trump.  He must bring a sharply divided country together.  He must realize what President Obama did not, that he is the president of all the people, not just those who supported him.  He must tone down his rhetoric, be gracious and inclusive, not harsh and divisive.  He must develop a working relationship with Congress.  Can he do it? Time will tell, but we all better hope that he can.

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

What billy goat?  What black cat?  Steve who?  What curse?

It turns out that all it took to end the Cubs’ 108 year drought was an owner who was patient and willing to delegate control and a knowledgeable general manager who would hire the right manager and assemble a team with the talent, resourcefulness and resiliency to win.  And, this years Cubs’ team fit the bill.  Any sports fan knows that during any game bad things are likely to occur.  In baseball it could be a “cheap” hit by your opponent, you hitting an “at ’em” ball at a crucial time,  or an umpire missing a key call.  A bad team lets that destroy them; a good team will overcome.

Steve Bartman interferes with a foul pop-up?  So what, you’re still up 3-0 in the 8th inning.  Your still up in the series three games to two.  Don’t blame the fan.  Hitch up your big-boy pants and get the guy out on the next pitch?  Or, get the next batter, or the next, or the next.  Rally the next inning, or win the next day.  What did the Cubs do?  They gave up eight runs in the inning, lost the game, and then lost the next day as well.

A black cat passes by your dugout?  Is that why you blew a 9 1/2 game lead to the upstart Mets in 1969?  Really?  A tavern owner/fan who is kicked out of a World Series game because of his pet billy goat puts a curse on the team that lasts for over 70 years.  Really?  (By the way, who brings a pet goat to a baseball game anyway?)   Those Cubs teams were simply not good enough.  They lacked the talent, resourcefulness and resiliency that I’m talking about.

This Cubs team was assembled patiently through good drafting and smart trades.  Furthermore, since most of the key players are still in their prime the team should contend for many years to come.

CONCLUSION

Congratulations to the Cubs.  They had the best team over the whole season and deserved to win.  They came back from being down three games to one against a gritty Indians team and survived a classic game 7, which had innumerable twists and turns – key hits, physical and mental errors, questionable managerial strategy, and even a bad call by an umpire at a pivotal moment.  Both teams had their chances to win.

In my opinion it is on the short list of the best World Series game ever.  I put it up there along with game 7, 1960 (Pirates beating Yankees 10-9 on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer) and game 7 of the 1991 Series in which the Twins beat the Braves 1-0 in 10 innings.  You may have your own favorites.  Let me know.

Now, in one “fell swoop” the Cubs have gone from lovable, sympathetic underdogs to favorites.  It will be interesting to see how they and their fans handle it.