NEW YEARS EVE

Tonight, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati 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 huge Waterford crystal ball, weighing some 12,000 pounds, 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.

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

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

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

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

The celebration, itself, has also evolved over the years.  Due to the world we now live in, security is tighter than the proverbial “drum.”  For example, regarding the police and “alphabet agencies,” it is “all hands on deck.”  Additionally, for security reasons, there are no food, drinks, waste baskets, toilet facilities, knapsacks, large bags and pocketbooks permitted.   Best to arrive early, and if you have to leave for any reason, good luck returning.

Times Square 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.   It is estimated that in excess of one ton of confetti will be dropped at the stroke of midnight.  Thankfully, I don’t have to clean it up.

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.”    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.

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

Enjoy yourself, but don’t become a statistic!

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DEBBIE REYNOLDS/CARRIE FISHER

Wow!  What a double tragedy!  In an extremely rare situation, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, her mother, have passed away only one day apart.

Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21, 1956 in Beverley Hills, CA.  She was the daughter of two show business icons – Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  As a child she was very shy, preferring to “hide” in books and write poetry.  In fact, her family nickname was “the bookworm.”  She made her stage debut at 15 in the Broadway revival of Irene, which starred her mother.  The show was a hit, and Carrie was on her way.  She never did complete high school.

In 1975 she made her film debut in Shampoo, starring Warren Beatty.  However, her signature role was that of Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977).  Fisher appeared in some 40 films, but she will always be remembered for her Star Wars roles, three as Princess Leia, and then two as General Leia.

In addition, Fisher was a proficient writer.  Her most famous novel, the semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, was adapted for the screen, by Fisher, and starred Meryl Streep.  Fisher also became one of the top “script doctors” in Hollywood, refining several scripts, notably Sister Act and the Wedding Singer.  According to Wikipedia, a “script doctor,” aka “script consultant,” is one who is hired to “rewrite an existing script or polish specific aspects of it,” such as dialogue, structure, pacing, and theme.  Generally, such work is uncredited, but it is much appreciated by insiders.

Fisher’s personal life was tragic, even for Hollywood.  When she was only two, her world was rocked by the very public divorce of her parents.  Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, Mike Todd, were very close personal friends of the family.  When Todd died suddenly in an airplane crash, Fisher took it upon himself to “comfort” Taylor.  Soon, they were embroiled in a messy affair, which was played out daily in the tabloids and fan magazines.  Fisher ended up leaving Reynolds for Taylor.

In addition, throughout her life she struggled with drug addiction, particularly Percodan and cocaine. In 1985 she overdosed on prescription medicine and endured electro-convulsive therapy.  In an appearance on 20/20 and an interview on the BBC she disclosed that she was bipolar.  She said the Percodan helped her “dial down” the manic phase of the affliction.  In another interview she explained that drugs “made me feel normal.  They contained me.”  Her cocaine dependency began in 1977 while filming The Empire Strikes Back.

On December 23, Fisher went into cardiac arrest while flying from London to LA.  Upon landing in LA paramedics rushed her to a hospital.  At first, she seemed to be stable, but, then, she passed away on December 27.

Debbie Reynolds was a megastar.  She was one of the few performers who could sing, dance and act.  To the public, she was generally the cute, perky “girl next door,” her normal role in the movies.  But, as was often the case in Hollywood, her private life was anything but.

Marie Frances Reynolds was born in 1932 in El Paso, TX.  When she was seven her family moved to Burbank, CA where she was raised.  At 16 she entered the Miss Burbank contest and won.  She began her career at Warner Bros., but she failed to land any meaningful roles there.  Mostly, she was employed as an errand girl.  The only significant thing that happened to her there was that studio head Jack Warner changed her name to “Debbie.”  She didn’t like it, but Warner ruled with an iron fist, so, thereafter, “Debbie” she was.

In her 60 year career Debbie performed in “hit” Broadway shows, such as “Irene,” “Debbie,” and Woman of the Year,” tv productions, such as “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” These Old Broads” (with Elizabeth Taylor, among others), and “Behind the Candelabra,” as well as dozens of movies, most notably “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

“Singin’ in the Rain,” in which she starred with Gene Kelly, was her big break.  Her role required a significant amount of dancing.  At that time, Debbie was not a very proficient dancer, but Kelly was one of the best and he spent countless hours teaching her.  The film was a smash hit.  Even now, AFI ranks it as one of the top 5 American films and the top musical.  Probably, her other two most notable movies were “Tammy and the Bachelor” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”   In “Tammy” she played the feature role and sung the ballad “Tammy,” which became the number 1 record in 1957.  “Molly Brown” landed her her only Oscar nomination.

As I said, Debbie’s personal life was not at all like her persona in the movies.  In 1955 she married recording star Eddie Fisher with whom she had two children – Carrie and Todd.  But, in 1958 as mentioned above, Fisher began a torrid affair with Elizabeth Taylor, which, even in those pre-internet, pre-social media days, was covered incessantly in the press.  The end result was that Fisher divorced her and married Taylor.  Even so, Reynolds did not appear to harbor any ill will toward Taylor.  They remained friends and even starred together in “These Old Broads.”  In an interview with the “Daily Mail” Reynolds described Taylor as “beautiful, smart, and a very sexual woman.”  She added, “I was very different – not exactly a sex kitten.”

Insiders were very cognizant of Reynolds’ philanthropic bent.  For example, in 1955 she co-founded the Thalians, a charitable organization that sought to raise awareness and provide treatment for persons suffering from mental health issues and provide assistance to wounded veterans and their families.  She acted as president and/or chairman for many decades.  Also, she sought to preserve the heritage of Hollywood.  For example, she purchased several famous movie props at auction, such as Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress,” a pair of ruby slippers used in the “Wizard of Oz,” and one of Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hats.

Along the way, she endured a couple of financial misadventures.  Her second husband, Harry Karl, had a significant gambling problem, and he lost most of her money.  Also, in 1992 she purchased the Clarion Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  It was a big loser, and Debbie had to declare bankruptcy to get out from under.

Although Debbie didn’t win that Oscar for “Molly Brown,” she did win the SAG lifetime achievement award in 2015 and followed it up with the Hersholt Humanitarian Award later that year.

CONCLUSION

Debbie and Carrie had a tumultuous, but close relationship.  They both had to deal with a plethora of personal issues in their lives, which, invariably, were played out in public for all to see.  The day after Carrie passed away Debbie suffered a massive stroke from which did not recover, or, perhaps, she did not care to.  I’m not sure if it’s scientific or not, but many people believe one can die of a “broken heart.”  The will to live is just gone.  If so, that was the case with Debbie Reynolds.  As her son, Todd, told Variety, she wanted to be with Carrie.  And so, now, she is.

OBAMA AND ISRAEL

As most of you know, I have long been a critic of President Obama’s attitude towards Israel and, by extension, towards Jews, in general.  I have published many blogs dealing with this topic.  There is no need for me to rehash them all now.  As the late Casey Stengel, former baseball player and manager, was fond of saying “you could look it up.”

The first thing one has to comprehend is that when a politician criticizes Israel, he or she is really criticizing Jews, as well, in code.  In this regard, I consider the two terms to be interchangeable.  This is not unlike Southern politicians in the 1950’s championing “states rights.”  Everyone knew they were speaking in code in support of segregation and “Jim Crow” treatment of African Americans.

Obama has exhibited his antipathy towards Israel at every chance.  For example, at every opportunity, he has cozied up to various Palestinian terror groups by making it clear that he wanted a more “even-handed” approach in the Middle East.  When Israel’s staunchest ally speaks of “even-handedness,” what is one to think?   Want more examples?  How about “dissing” Benjamin Netanyahu.  While in NY he wanted to confer with Obama at the White House regarding matters of state.  As I recall, Obama felt it more important to attend a fundraiser.  Are you serious?   A fundraiser was more important?   Obama could have easily rescheduled it.  What kind of message do you suppose that sent to the rest of the world?

In addition, we have seen Obama’s consistently conciliatory approach toward Iran, which has repeatedly vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah, among others.  Obama is probably the most anti-Israel, anti-Semitic President in my lifetime, except, perhaps, for Jimmy Carter.

All of the foregoing, pales, however, beside the US abstaining from last Friday’s UN Security Council’s vote condemning Israeli settlements on the West Bank and demanding an immediate halt to any new construction.  In the past the US had always vetoed such resolutions to express its unwavering support of Israel.  Of course, an abstention has the same effect as lack of support.

The resolution not only demands a halt but urges “vigilant follow-up,” whatever that means.  Would or could that entail detailing UN inspectors or troops to the region to monitor and/or enforce it?  Who knows.  The fact of the resolution is bad enough, but, worse, there are indications that the US urged the resolution and, perhaps, even drafted it.

All American Jews who have given Obama/Clinton their automatic support now need to acknowledge their error and rethink matters.  If you are a Jew who cares about Israel (and I realize that not all Jews do) you must be more discerning with your votes prospectively and refrain from voting Democratic automatically.  To be sure, many Dems, such as Senator Schumer, have remained staunch supporters, but many others are not, and this action may embolden them.

CONCLUSION

I am literally at a loss for words to describe adequately the sense of outrage and betrayal I feel with respect to the significance of this resolution.  I don’t want to sound extreme, but in my opinion, students of history will recognize this for what it really is.  Beneath all the rhetoric, this vote is nothing more than another demonstration of the continuing persecution of the Jewish people.

I can almost understand the mindset of other countries’ leaders and the political, economic, social, moral, and religious prejudices that lead them to support the Palestinians.  But, the US is and has been the shining light of freedom and democracy in the world, the champion of the underdog.  It has been Israel’s only consistent supporter.  Without its support, Israel could not continue to survive.  In return, Israel is and has been our only reliable ally in the region.  We need each other.

As far as the UN is concerned, the less said, the better.  It is hypocritical beyond belief.  It issues condemnations against Israel and lectures us on our race relations, but it ignores the aggression and human rights violations of other countries, such as Russia, Iran and Syria and terrorists groups such as ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah. Imagine, those countries lecturing us on human rights?

The UN has strayed from its original purpose considerably.  In some ways, it has become little than a propaganda tool.  Let’s hope the new Administration will put matters back on track.

 

 

MARION PRITCHARD – HOLOCAUST HERO

Ask yourself, are people born heroic, or do they become heroic when thrust into a situation, often by mere happenstance, that requires heroism?  I believe that, generally, the latter is the case.  Consider, for example, Marion Pritchard, who, was just a student studying to be a social worker, but during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in WWII, saved as many as 150 Jews, including many children, from annihilation.

Marion Philippina van Binsbergen was born on November 7, 1920 in Amsterdam.  Her father was a judge, who strongly opposed the Nazi ideology, and her mother was  a homemaker of English ancestry.   She was raised primarily in the Netherlands, but she attended boarding schools in England.  She credited her parents with instilling in her a powerful sense of “justice and moral resolve.”  When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940 Marion was a 19 year-old studying social work at the University of Amsterdam.

One night in 1941 she was studying at a friend’s house.  Unbeknownst to her, some of the other occupants in the house had been distributing underground mimeographed broadsheets summarizing BBC’s news reports.  The Nazis arrested everyone in the house, including Marion.   She remained in jail for six months, during which time she was tortured for information.  Eventually, she was released, but the incident left a bad taste in her mouth.

The incident that changed her life and, to some extent, the course of history, occurred on a Spring day in 1942.  While riding her bike to class she happened upon a group of Nazis who were rounding up the occupants of a home for Jewish children for deportation.  Everyone knew what that meant.  She observed some of the soldiers murdering children by “picking [them] up by an arm or a leg or by the hair” and blithely tossing them into the truck for sport.  In addition, two other women passers-by who tried to intervene were thrown into the truck and taken away with the Jews.  Years later, in an interview that was published in the book “Voices from the Holocaust,” Marion lamented “you stop [to witness the action], but you can’t believe [it is really happening].”   Marion regretted that she just “stood there” and “watched it happen,” but the incident fueled her determination to do what she could to save other Jews, particularly children, from a similar fate.

For the duration of the War she collaborated with an underground network of trusted like-minded individuals she had organized to save as many Jews as possible.  In later years, she often modestly denoted that she could not have succeeded without the assistance, both overt and covert, of this network, as, in her opinion, on only rare occasions could a single person save anyone without the support of others.  Sometimes, she operated as one piece of a chain of people who would pass Jews from one to the other until they were safe (similarly, I suppose, the Underground Railroad rescuing slaves in the US).  Other times, she would make the arrangements herself.  For example:

  1.  They obtained false identity papers.
  2.  They arranged hiding places and host families to take in the children.
  3. They purloined extra ration cards.
  4. On one occasion she passed herself off as an unwed mother, which she characterized as a “mission of disgrace” to shelter a child.
  5. Her most harrowing experience, however, was in connection with her sheltering of a man named Fred Polak, his two sons, and his infant daughter Erica in her house. They devised a system that whenever the Nazis or collaborating Dutch police came to the house the family would quickly hide under the floorboards.   They would give the infant sleeping pills to prevent her from crying.  This worked really well until one time a collaborating policeman doubled back to the house unexpectedly and caught the family.  Marion shot and killed the man.  In order to avoid detection she had an undertaker friend of hers bury the body in a casket with another corpse.  When asked if anyone ever came to investigate the collaborator’s disappearance, she replied he was “widely-loathed.  I think a lot of people were delighted” [he was missing].  Marion was uncomfortable with the incident.  In later years, she confided to an interviewer “I would do it again, under the same circumstances, … but it still bothers me.”  The Polaks remained with Marion for the duration.  Some 30 years afterwards Erica , now grown up, reconnected with Marion and expressed her gratitude for “keeping us alive through these difficult war years.”  She added, “I felt very connected to this woman whom I didn’t see for such a long time.”

Marion never discussed her underground activities with her family to avoid endangering them and the network.   “You just did not talk” [about it], she said.

CONCLUSION

After the War, Marion used her social worker background.  She worked for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in various displaced persons camps in Germany.  It was during this time that she met her future husband, Anton Pritchard.  He was a former US soldier who was running one of the camps.  They raised three sons, who gave them eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.

In 1981 Marion received the ultimate honor for a Gentile when Yad Vashem, in recognition of her activities during the War, designated her as one of the “righteous among the nations.”  Marion is one of only 26,000 to receive the honor, s0me 20% of which are from the Netherlands.  She was also a recipient of the Wallenberg Medal, which is a humanitarian award bestowed in honor of the late Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews before the Nazis caught and killed him.

In 1997 she began teaching at Clark University with the Rose professor of Holocaust History there, Deborah Dwork.   Last week, Dwork offered that many of the students were greatly influenced by Marion.  In particular, one dedicated her recently-completed dissertation on human rights violations in Rwanda to Marion.  Furthermore, Dwork offered, perhaps, the ultimate testimony, that Pritchard “continues to save lives today through her influence.”

Marion passed away on December 11 at the age of 96.  Rest in peace, Marion.  You will be missed, but your legacy will live on through your students, the people you saved, and their descendants.

ZSA ZSA

There have been very few persons who have been instantly recognizable by just their first name.  Zsa Zsa  Gabor was one of those few.  Before Paris Hilton (her grand-niece), before the Kardashians, before any of the many other celebrity wannabes who are famous just for being famous, there was Zsa Zsa.  Her modest talent as an actress was far exceeded by her celebrity, her flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle, her outsize personality and, yes, her many marriages and extra-marital affairs.  She was the original; she patented the concept.  And, she managed to accomplish it before the age of the internet, twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sari Gabor was born on February 6, 1917 in Budapest, Hungary, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Both of her parents were of Jewish ancestry.  “Zsa Zsa,” a name of old Hungarian and Hebrew origin meaning “lily: God is my oath,” was likely a pet nickname bestowed upon her by her family, and it “stuck.”  Most would agree that the unusual and glamorous moniker fit her perfectly.

She was first cousin, by marriage to California Congressman Tom Lantos.  She was the middle of three sisters.  Eva and Magda later became lesser-known celebrities in their own right.  Even though Eva had the more successful acting career (for example, a role in the hit tv show, Green Acres,)  Zsa Zsa’s fame and celebrity far out-shown hers.

Zsa Zsa was discovered in 1934 by operatic tenor Richard Tauber, and she made her debut in his operetta, The Singing Dream.  In 1936 she entered the contest for Miss Hungary, and (no surprise) she won.  Shortly thereafter, she and her family emigrated (or, maybe, fled) to the US ahead of the Nazis’ occupation during WWII.

Zsa Zsa’s acting career can probably be best described as pedestrian.  Her looks and glamor yielded her many forgettable roles in many forgettable films over some 40 years, but unless one is a film buff specializing in old films, the only one you likely have heard of is Moulin Rouge (1952).   John Huston, who directed her in that film, described her, perhaps, somewhat charitably, as a “credible” actress.

She was, however, in great demand on tv, either as a talk show or variety show guest, appearing frequently with luminaries such as Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Milton Berle, and Howard Stern.  She would appear “dressed to the nines,” in a tight, revealing dress “drenched” in jewelry, wink to the camera and carry on in her self-deprecating manner with her Hungarian accent, calling everyone “dahling.”  Fans ate it up!  In addition, she was a popular foil on some of the Dean Martin Roasts and on game shows, such as Hollywood Squares.  People would tune in to watch her and anticipate that she would say or do something outrageous.

Somehow, she found the time to write books.  She gave sage love advice in “How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man.”  Also, she penned a salacious tell-all book about her life story entitled “One Life Is Not Enough.”

She was married nine times, most famously to Conrad Hilton.  One was annulled, and seven ended in divorce.   Those many marriages only produced one child, Francesca Hilton, whom Zsa Zsa claimed was conceived as the result of Conrad’s raping her.  Describing her marital experiences, she once quipped:  “I am a marvelous housekeeper.  Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.”  Once, when asked “how many husbands have you had,” she retorted “you mean other than my own?”

CONCLUSION

In her later years, Zsa Zsa experienced some controversy and ill health.  In 1989 she was incarcerated for slapping a police officer during a routine traffic stop, aka “the slap heard ’round the world.”  She served three days in jail and paid a fine.  She is reputed to have been victimized by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to the tune of $10 million.  In 2002 she was seriously injured in a car accident and became bound to a wheelchair.  She suffered two strokes in 2005 and 2007, and in 2010 she had a hip replacement to repair a fractured hip.  Again, in 2010 she was seriously ill enough to be given last rites.  In 2011 her right leg was amputated to save her life from a serious infection.  Finally, she had been on life support for the last five years.  So, although Zsa Zsa lived to the ripe old age of 99, she had a diminished quality of life for the last 14 years.

The genius of Zsa Zsa was that she got the joke and embraced it.  She knew she had limited talent.  What she did have were her looks, her figure, her glamor, and her flamboyance, and she played them for all they were worth.  Like I said, she became famous for being famous. I don’t mean that as a “knock,” rather, a knack.

 

 

HENRY HEIMLICH

It’s not often that a single person can make a lasting contribution to society, for example, an invention that saves tens of thousands of lives.  Such was the case with Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver.  No one knows precisely how many lives the HM has saved.   Most people are cognizant of the HM and its use, but, although the HM was probably his most significant contribution, there was considerably more to his life than that.

Henry Judah Heimlich was born on February 3, 1920 in Wilmington, DE into a family of immigrant Hungarian and Russian Jews.  He graduated from Cornell in 1941, and earned his MD at the Weill Cornell Medical College in 1943.  Interestingly, during his collegiate days he served as a drum major with the Big Red Marching Band.

During WWII he served in the Navy.  For a time, he was attached to a unit of Chinese  guerrillas in the Gobi Desert and Inner Mongolia, of all places.  During this time, he observed many instances of soldiers dying from chest wounds because medics were unable to drain air and blood from the area.  This inspired him to invent, in the early 1960s a valve that could drain the chest and prevent the air and blood from flowing back in, thus enabling a collapsed lung to re-expand.  Use of this Heimlich Chest Drain Valve became standard during the War in Vietnam and in hospital emergency rooms and has saved many lives.

In 1955 he developed a course of treatment for dysphagia, the inability to swallow.  Dysphagia would condemn the patient to a lifetime of drooling and receiving nourishment through a tube implanted into his stomach, not a pleasant existence.  Dr. H figured out how to repair the damaged esophagus using a section of the patient’s stomach.  Although it was later determined that a Romanian surgeon, Dr. Gavriliu, had already been using this technique, it was Dr. H who popularized it in the US.  It has since became known as the Heimlich-Gavriliu Reversed Gastric Tube operation.

Dr. H developed his famous maneuver in 1974 while serving as Director of Surgery at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati.  According to the NY Times, at that time choking from food particles was the sixth leading cause of death in the US.  Children were particularly vulnerable.  The panicked victim, unable to breath or talk, would gesticulate wildly for assistance.  Often, onlookers would think the person was having a coronary.  It would only take four minutes for the victim to suffer irreversible brain damage due to oxygen starvation.

According to both the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association the standard remedies were either to give the victim a few sharp smacks on the back or to stick a finger down the victim’s throat to try to dislodge the object.  But, often, this would simply push the object further down the throat.  Sometimes, the Good Samaritan would be rewarded with a severely bitten finger as well.  I witnessed an incident like this at a family gathering in the early 1970s.

Dr. H had a different idea.  He felt that there would still be a small reserve of air in the victim’s stomach that could be utilized.  He advocated wrapping one’s arms around the victim from behind, making a fist over the navel and thrusting upward sharply.  If done properly, the object would pop out like a Champaign cork from a bottle.   The medical community and the media largely mocked him and his method, but he persevered.  A demonstration on Johnny Carson on the widely-viewed Tonight Show helped considerably.  Also, rescue reports by lay persons using the HM began to surface, such as that of a five-year old boy who, having seen a demonstration on tv, used the maneuver to save his friend and a restaurant owner who employed it to save a patron.

The medical community was slow to recognize the maneuver.  Many viewed Dr. H as a fraud or charlatan and derided his maneuver, but, as the evidence of saved lived mounted up it became harder and harder to ignore the HM.  Finally, 1n 1986 the AHA relented and replaced back slaps with the HM in its literature as the preferred method of treatment for choking victims.

CONCLUSION

Over the years the HM has become an iconic method for saving choking victims.  It is taught in schools, has been portrayed in movies, appears on posters in restaurants and internet educational videos, and has been embraced by most of the medical profession.  Luminaries such as Halle Berry, Ronald Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others have recounted tales of its use successfully.  Ironically, Dr. H, himself, had never used the maneuver until earlier this year when he did so to save a woman in his assisted living facility.

Dr. H was married to the former Jane Murray, a daughter of the famous dance instructor, Arthur Murray.  In addition, one of his nephews was the actor/singer Anson Williams, best known for the role of “Potsie” on the popular 1970s tv show Happy Days, which, for you younger readers, starred Ron Howard and Henry Winkler.

He was the recipient of many awards, such as the prestigious Albert Lasker Public Service Award for developing “a simple, practical, cost-free solution to a life-threatening emergency, requiring neither great strength, special equipment or elaborate training.”  He also authored several books and was a popular guest on tv where he would often demonstrate his maneuver.  As he told a reporter for Omni Magazine in 1983 “I can do more toward saving lives in three minutes on television than I could do all my life in the operating room.”

Dr. H passed away on December 17 at the age of 96.  He impacted tens of thousands of lives and will continue to do so forever.  He will be sorely missed.

 

HUNGER IN AMERICA

Hunger does not take a day off.  It does not take a vacation.  It is omnipresent.  If you are struggling to put food on the table, it a 24-7 proposition.

Thanks to modern technology, the US produces considerably more food than its population, as a whole, needs.  Indeed, it exports much of its excess food.  So, paradoxically, why do so many Americans constantly struggle to get enough food?  Why is there this sizeable disconnect?   Well, for one thing, we waste tremendous amounts of it.  Think of how much food you throw out on a daily basis.  Think how much food restaurants throw out. We order oversized portions and extra dishes and don’t finish them.  Big eyes, small stomachs. Remember, that your parents used to exhort you to “eat everything on your plate” by telling you that “people are starving in China?”  Well, add to that the fact that people are starving right here in the US.

Statistics vary from year to year and from study to study, but roughly one of seven households (that’s roughly 40 million people, folks), suffer from what the USDA euphemistically calls “food insecurity,” or the “lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members.”  Leave it to the government to come up with such a term.

When one hears about food insecurity, one conjures up visions of Appalachia or the rural South.  The fact of the matter is that studies show that food insecurity is present, to some degree, in virtually every county in the country.   Other findings (some of which may surprise you, others, not):

  1. The federal government spends some $50 billion annually on various food programs.  The largest and best known of these is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.”  That is a huge amount, but hunger has persisted at fairly consistent levels from year to year.  Why?   It is either insufficient or, more likely, a lot of it is being wasted somehow.
  2. The states with the highest incidence are Mississippi and Arkansas with 21%.  North Dakota has the lowest at 8%.
  3. The rate is substantially higher in households headed up by a single parent, male or female, a Hispanic or an African American.  There are many reasons for this, but that analysis is beyond the scope of this blog.
  4.  Obviously hunger generally goes hand-in-hand with poverty, but, according to a 2012 study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy some middle class families also suffer from food insecurity.
  5. Poor people are often unable to purchase enough food, and government programs can be insufficient, so despite the excess mentioned above, they go hungry.  For example, some 20 million school children receive free or reduced-price lunch in school, but less than half of them get breakfast at home, or, even lunch, during school vacations.  The plight of children can be illustrated further by the fact that almost one-half of the participants in SNAP are under 18.
  6. Sadly, various studies have shown that these children have a higher incidence of physical and psychological problems due to malnutrition.  They tend to get sick more often, and their illnesses linger longer.   Additionally, they do not relate as well to their peers, nor do as well academically.  In my opinion, the plight of these children is the most unfortunate aspect of this situation, as they are merely victims of the circumstances of their birth.  Moreover, they will have a considerable uphill battle to succeed in life.
  7. The elderly (over 65) have a higher incidence of food insecurity.  According to Meals on Wheels, the highest incidence is found in Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico and Texas.  This affects the elderly physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
  8. Generally, minority groups have a higher incidence that whites.
  9. Rural locales have a substantially higher incidence that urban.  This is primarily because rural areas generally have a higher incidence of poverty and also may not have as much access to food due to distance from stores and lack of transportation.  Suburban areas have the lowest incidence.
  10. Examples of other factors contributing to a family’s hunger would include loss of a job, a sudden serious illness, or the death of the primary bread winner.  A substantial number of families live paycheck to paycheck and have minimal savings, which makes them particularly vulnerable to the above situations.

Hunger in the US was an issue from the very beginning.  Back in the 17th Century the early colonists faced a constant battle to obtain enough food.  Sometimes, Native Americans helped them through the rough winters, but many settlers literally starved.  Whole colonies, failing to adapt, were abandoned.

Eventually, however, the colonists did adapt, and by the 19th Century hunger was not common.  There was a plethora of productive land relative to the sparse population.  Jobs were generally available, and people looked out for each other, ensuring that the truly needy rarely starved.  This changed radically during the Great Depression.  The high unemployment rate (up to 25% in 1932) and “dust bowl” years’ crop failures have been well-documented.

Things improved during the post-WWII years, but hunger was “rediscovered” in the 1960s.  The so-called War on Poverty/Hunger became a popular political issue, spurred on by Presidents Johnson and Nixon and Congressmen, such as Senators Robert Kennedy and Joseph S. Clark, Jr.  The government began to fund various programs, but unfortunately, little has changed in 50 years.

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, this high incidence of hunger and poverty in the midst of all this country’s riches is a national embarrassment.  It should be very disturbing to all reasonable Americans.   Incidentally, I’m talking about the truly needy here, not those who are “gaming” the system.

Equally confounding is the fact that 50 years of government programs have not alleviated the problem appreciably.  Many people feel that these programs have exhibited significant waste and inefficiency, and, logically, it is hard to argue with that point.   But, that doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and give up.  If the problem were easy to solve it would have been already.

One obvious solution would be to provide more jobs.  I’m not talking about minimum wage jobs.  In many cases, minimum wage jobs provide less money than government assistance.  I am talking about jobs in which one can earn a living wage and are located where the needy ones live.  This will not be an easy task, since many of the unemployed may not have the skills or training needed for the jobs that are available.  In any event, this cannot be accomplished overnight.  I don’t know exactly how we can accomplish it, but I fervently hope that the politicians can figure it out.

The first step to solving this or any problem is to recognize that one exists.  I think this problem could use a higher profile.  The various politicians, action groups, media outlets, and celebrities who have a big profile and influence need to focus on it.

CYBER ATTACKS AND THE ELECTION

There seems to be little doubt that the US is and has been under cyber attack by certain  foreign powers.  This seems to be one of the few issues upon which Dems and the GOP can agree.  Recently, concerns and calls for action have been issued from such varied sources as Republican Senators Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, and John McCain, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed, the FBI, the CIA and DHS.  I agree that the US has been victimized by cyber attacks for several years, and the danger is potentially existential.  Among the primary perpetrators have been China, Russia and North Korea, a rogues’ gallery if there ever was.

What I find particularly disturbing is that these cyber attacks are just becoming publicized as a major issue now.  Why has there not been any significant attention to this matter before?  In particular, why has the Obama Administration not been more proactive?  The overwhelming evidence is it has been downplaying the matter significantly, much as it has done regarding ISIS.  The question is, why?  An oversight?  Incompetence?  A desire not to ruffle feathers?  Your guess is as good as mine.

A variety of news outlets, such as the NY Times, the World Tribune and the Free Beacon, to name a few, have been denoting that the President underestimated the extent and effect of these attacks.  For example, they report that he has rejected numerous recommendations from various military, intelligence and security advisors to respond aggressively.   Rather than consider one of a wide variety of actions ranging from diplomatic initiatives to economic sanctions he has delayed taking any action or even speaking out until now.   Moreover, they add that he has even steadfastly refused to characterize them as “attacks,” preferring to employ softer descriptions, such as “vandalism,” or “penetrations.”

The Times and the Tribune have both reported that Obama, responding to the suspicions regarding the election and under pressure from Congress, has finally authorized a full and complete investigation into the possible Russian involvement in the 2016 election.  That’s fine, but as I said the problem is far more broad and has been going on for years.

I agree with the various congressmen and security and intelligence agencies who have been calling for a thorough investigation of the rash of cyber attacks.  I do not, however, think the focus of this investigation should be aimed at the 2016 Presidential election, as some have suggested.  The problem is considerably more pervasive and significant than that.  As I said, the US has been victimized by cyber attacks repeatedly in the last several years.  For example, China’s attack on the Federal Office of Personnel Management and North Korea’s attack on SONY have been well documented.  News outlets, such as the Beacon have reported that China’s attack affected some 22 million personal records of federal employees, much of it of a highly sensitive nature.

Democrats’ attempts to concentrate on Russia’s possibly influencing the election through cyber attack smack of political opportunism.  Once again, they are coming across as sore losers trying every which way to overturn the will of the people in a free and fair election.  First, it was alleged there were unspecified “irregularities” in the voting.  When that vague assertion failed to “stick,” they demanded recounts in various states.   The recounts, which have cost significant time and money, have not come close to changing the results in any state.  If anything, they have resulted in slightly more votes for Trump (e.g. some 100 votes in Wisconsin).  Next, they  blamed FBI Director Comey and his email investigation.  Now that those have failed to bear fruit they are claiming that Russia influenced the election because it wanted Trump to win.

That theory is illogical and preposterous on its face, and no reliable evidence supporting it has come to light.   Why would Putin want Trump to win?   Based upon Clinton’s record as Secretary of State and her avowed determination to continue Obama’s soft foreign policies, it is logical to conclude that, if anything, Trump would be more aggressive toward Russia.  Don’t be fooled by his criticism of NATO and its members.  I view that as merely a “negotiation” to get them to pay their fair share of expenses.  That’s how Trump operates.  Everything is a negotiation.

In my view, it is more likely that Russia’s motive in releasing emails damaging to the Dems was (1) Putin’s antipathy toward Obama/Clinton, (2) it was able to “hack” them, and/or (3) it couldn’t pass up an opportunity to disrupt the election.  Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright has supported this last supposition, opining that Putin’s objective was “to create doubt about the validity of the …election results, and make us seem hypocritical when we question the conduct of elections in other countries.”

Incidentally, isn’t it curious how the only emails released were those involving Clinton, Podesta and the DNC.  Could it be because they were connected to Clinton’s inadequately secured server and therefore, easily “hackable?”   Hmm.  You decide.  Makes one wonder, though, who else could have been “hacking” into Clinton’s server and what information they could have obtained..

CONCLUSION

As I said, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture.  We are losing the very critical cyber war.  If we don’t take prompt and decisive action these attacks will continue and intensify.  What’s next?  Our financial markets, our power grids?  We are exposed, and it is long past time to act.

 

 

JOHN GLENN – AMERICAN HERO

John Glenn was truly an American hero.  We don’t have many of these nowadays, and I am not using that designation lightly.  Most of you probably know that he was one of the seven original Mercury astronauts (Can you name the others?  See below.), and the first American to orbit the earth.  But there was considerably more to the life of John Glenn.  Read on.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was born on July 21, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio.  Glenn was in his senior year of college (at Muskingum College in New  Concord, OH) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.  He immediately left school without completing his studies to enlist in Army Air Corps, as it was then called.

Upon completion of his training he became a pilot and flew 59 combat missions in the South Pacific.  After WWII he became a flight instructor.  During the Korean Conflict he flew 63 additional combat missions.  As an illustration of the ferocity of air combat, on two occasions Glenn returned to base with over 250 bullet holes in his aircraft.  On some of those missions he was wingman for another famous pilot, who also played a little baseball – Theodore Samuel (Ted) Williams.   Glenn was the recipient of numerous medals and awards in recognition of his extraordinary service in two wars.

Later, he became a test pilot, setting the transcontinental speed record, and amassed some 9,000 hours of flying time, including some 3,000 hours in jets.  When NASA began recruiting experienced pilots for its astronaut program, Glenn was among the select few who were chosen.  One of his tasks was to help design the space capsule, itself.  In 1959 he was one of the seven that NASA selected as the first generation astronauts.  The others were Alan Shepard, who made the first flight, a suborbital mission, Scott Carpenter, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Wally Schirra, and Deke Slayton.  The group was immortalized in the Thomas Wolfe book, The Right Stuff, which was later made into a movie.  Ed Harris played Glenn.  Glenn often said the astronauts were not particularly fond of the book or the movie, but I must say I enjoyed both.

After being the backup pilot on the first two missions, Glenn was selected to man the first mission to actually orbit the earth.  He circled the globe three times in a flight that lasted five hours.  It was the height of the Cold War, and the Russians had already beaten us into space.  They had launched an unmanned satellite in 1957, (Sputnik) and later followed it up with the first manned flight.  We needed a successful flight desperately to demonstrate that we, too, could put a man into space and alleviate some of the panic at being so far behind the Russians in the space race.

I remember listening to Glenn’s flight on the radio in school.  It was very nerve-wracking.  There was no guarantee of success.  Upon his return, Glenn was hailed as a hero.   When reporters asked him if he was afraid (during the flight), he replied: “If you are talking about fear that overcomes what you are supposed to do, no.  You’ve trained very hard for those flights.”  He met with President Kennedy and over time became a personal friend of the Kennedy family.  In addition, he received the ultimate reward for heroes – a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in NYC.

In the 1970s Glenn went into politics.  He served in the US Senate representing Ohio as a Democrat for 24 years.  Not surprisingly, he became one of the Senate’s experts on nuclear weaponry and a staunch advocate of nonproliferation.  He was the principle author of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978.  In 1976 he was one of the candidates for vice president, and in 1984 he ran for the presidency, losing to Walter Mondale, who, in turn, went on to resounding defeat by Ronald Reagan.

CONCLUSION

In 1998 at the age of 77 Glenn capped off his distinguished career by returning to space as a payload specialist on the Space Shuttle.  In the process, he became the oldest person to fly in space, a record he still holds.  His mission was to document the effects of space on geriatrics, which he did.

Glenn was married to his high school sweetheart for 74 years.  He had two children and two grandchildren.  His boyhood home has been restored and is now an historic house museum and education center.  Even at home, he was a hero.

Rest in peace, John.  We will miss you.

KEITH ELLISON

As I write this, Keith Ellison is generally considered to be the frontrunner to be the next Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  Keith Ellison?!  Really!  Have the Dems taken leave of their senses?  Surely there must be a better choice.

Students of politics and history know that generally there has been a natural ebb and flow with respect to the popularity of the Republican and Democratic parties.  One year, you’re up; the next year you’re down.   Four short years ago, it was the GOP that was in disarray.  Romney, running arguably the worst Presidential campaign in my lifetime, had just lost a very winnable election to President Obama.  Furthermore, there was no obvious successor to run in 2016, and, besides, it seemed likely that Hillary Clinton would defeat whomever the GOP might nominate.  In addition, the demographics of the country were shifting in favor of the Dems.  Some overly giddy DEM-leaning political analysts were even predicting the demise of the GOP as a major party.

Well, as is usually the case, the pendulum has swung.  In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory, the GOP now controls the Presidency, both house of Congress and a large majority of state governorships and legislatures.

Now, it is the Dems who are in disarray, who desperately need to regroup under new, responsible leadership.   They need to rebuild and expand their base.  They need leadership that will unite the party, leadership that will appeal to all the disparate wings of the party, as well as independents, many of whom tend to lean toward the Dems.  They need a centrist.  With this backdrop, what are the Dems about to do?  Exactly the wrong thing.  It is likely that they will elect as their next DNC a radical leftwing anti-Semite with deep ties to the radical Muslim community who has long been a supporter of none other than Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam Party.   Apparently, Ellison has the backing of leading Dems, such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and the only thing standing in his way is the proviso that he resign his seat in the House.

Most of you probably do not know much about Keith Ellison.  He was born on August 4, 1963 in Detroit.  He was raised Roman Catholic, but at some point, he converted to Islam.  He is from a family of achievers.  He has four brothers.  One became a doctor; the others, like Keith, are attorneys.  Good for them.

Keith entered politics in 2002 when he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives as a Democrat.  He was re-elected in 2004 with 84% of the vote.  He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 2006.  As one of only two Muslims in Congress he is known as a strong and vociferous advocate of Muslim causes as well as other liberal causes, such as LGBT rights, abortion and gun control.  Some, me included, would label his political views as “extreme.”  He has publicly defended Farrakhan, stating he is not an anti-Semite.  The radical Muslim group, CAIR, has been a strong supporter and campaign contributor.  Additionally, he has a reputation for being radically anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.  For example, in 2010 he stated that US foreign policy is being “governed” by Israel.   Many see this criticism of Israel as code for anti-Semitism as well (much like in the 1950s when Southerners spoke of “states’ rights” as code for segregation).

Ellison has drawn criticism from various sources, not all of them GOP supporters.  For example, Alan Dershowitz, renowned attorney and Dem supporter, was quoted as saying “It is hard to imagine a worse candidate.  [He] represents the extreme, when the party – if it is to win again – must move to the center…”  Also, Haim Saban, a prominent Dem donor, recently speaking at the Brookings Institute’s Saban Forum, stated “If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.”  These opinions and mine and many others’ are supported by CNN, which recently published a review of his past public statements and positions.  Of course, Ellison has issued denials, but one can judge for oneself.

CONCLUSION

Reasonable people can debate the appropriateness and veracity of Ellison’s opinions and whether or not he has modified or reformed them, but that is not the point.  The point is whether or not a politician who holds and espouses those radical beliefs is the right person to be the DNC.  Can such a person be a unifier?  Should he be the “face” of the Party?  As I said above, can he appeal to all the disparate factions of the party as well as to independents, many of whom tend to lean toward the Democratic Party?

I say, no!  All that said, if the Dems want to “shoot themselves in the foot” they can be my guest.