Hurricane Harvey, which, as we all know, is currently devastating southeastern Texas and parts of Louisiana, is rapidly becoming one of the most devastating hurricanes in US history.  It made landfall in Rockport, TX, which is southeast of Houston, on Friday, August 25, as a Category 4 storm measuring 200 miles across.  Although it has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, that is very misleading.  For instance, (1)  The major source of its damage is not wind, but rain and flooding.  Meteorologists predict that parts of southeast Texas could be hit with up to 50 inches of rain before the storm blows itself out, which would be the largest amount ever recorded in Texas.  To put that in perspective, that total would exceed the average annual rainfall for the area.  (2)  Harvey is a relatively slow moving storm.  It is expected to linger in the area until Thursday, or, perhaps, even later.  (3) Some meteorologists are predicting that it could turn back to the Gulf Coast and re-energize as a hurricane again.

Meteorologists are comparing it to other notorious hurricanes.  I have seen various “notorious” lists, but according to the National Weather Channel, the worst ones in history are Galveston (1900), SE Florida/Lake Okeechobee (1928), and Katrina (2005).   More on them later.

Names were not assigned to hurricanes until 1950.  Supposedly, meteorologists felt that assigning names to hurricanes would help people remember them.  The names are taken from a list generated and maintained by the World Meteorological Organization.  The first name used was “Able.”  In 1953 human names were assigned, but only female ones.  The first human name was “Alice.”  Beginning in 1979 male names were added.

And, now back to the Big 3.  We all remember Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.  It was “only” a Category 3 storm, but that is misleading.  Categories 1-5 are assigned based on wind speed, and the main source of Katrina’s devastation was storm surge.  It produced the highest storm surge on record in the US.  The damage was exacerbated by the fact that New Orleans is below sea level, and the levees designed to protect it did not hold.  Katrina was responsible for in excess of 1,800 deaths and $100 billion of damage.  In addition, it displaced over 1 million people, many of whom have never returned.  The city, itself has not recovered completely, and, perhaps, it never will.

The Galveston storm was a Category 4 storm that killed between 8,000 and 12,000 people.  We don’t even have a good estimate.  The storm surge was up to 15 feet.  An estimated 3,500 homes and buildings were wiped out.  Remember this was in 1900 when the population density was much less than now.

The Okechobee storm was responsible for up 3,000 deaths, mostly from drowning.  The storm produced a storm surge up to 15 feet high.

By the time that Harvey has run its course it may compare to those.  Based on the huge size of the storm it has affected thousands of square miles and millions of people.  Flooding has been reported as far away as Austin and Dallas.  The tv visuals have been horrific.  We have seen homes reduced to matchsticks, people stranded on roofs in the pouring rain waiting in vain for help, and Good Samaritans using row boats, motor boats and front loaders to rescue stranded people.  To make matters worse, many areas have been hit with tornados.  The National Weather Service described the situation as “beyond anything experienced.”  Nearly 100,000 homes are without electricity in the Houston area alone.

Government assistance is already underway. President Trump, Texas Governor Abbott, Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards, and various federal agencies, such as FEMA and Homeland Security have been coordinating efforts with local mayors and other local officials to combat this historic storm.  Governor Abbott has activated and deployed Texas’ entire 3,000 person complement of National Guard troops.  FEMA reported there were over 5,000 Federal employees assisting in the area.  Members of the Border Patrol have been reassigned to the area.  Other regions may be sending volunteer police, fire and rescue workers to assist as well.  Finally, President Trump will be visiting the area as soon as security arrangements can be put into place.

Unlike other areas in the storm’s path the City of Houston did not order its residents to evacuate in advance.  Mayor Sylvester Turner has been criticized for this decision, but he has been defending it, saying at a subsequent news conference that a mass evacuation would have been a “nightmare.”  He added, “you literally cannot put 6.5 million people on the road [at once].”  As a result, substantial numbers of people have been stranded and forced to “shelter in place.”  Emergency dispatchers have been overwhelmed and response time has soared.  Many people have been desperately pleading their case on social media.  There have been reports of people seeking shelter in attics and being trapped there by rapidly rising water.  Houston Police Chief Art Acevido issued a special warning advising people not to seek shelter in the attic “unless you have an ax…to break through onto your roof.”  Tens of thousand of displaced persons have been forced to seek shelter in makeshift shelters.

Another complication is that the area is very densely populated.  Texas is the second most populous state, and Houston is the fourth largest city in the country.  Houston, itself, accounted for 3% of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2015.  Furthermore, the area is home to a substantial portion of the nation’s energy industry.  Oil and gas companies have been forced to shut down much of their production.  The economic effects are already being felt, for example, in the price of gas at the pump, and figure to get worse as time goes on.


Amid all this devastation and tragedy some good has occurred.  Once again, we see that, generally, Americans are a generous, kind-hearted people.  Despite the many issues that seem to divide us, in crises such as this, Americans pull together.   We have seen many examples of friends, neighbors and even total strangers helping each other without regard to race, religion or national origin.

Eventually, the storm will pass.  In its wake it will leave much devastation and tragedy.  It will likely take many years and much sacrifice to make us whole, but I have no doubt we will do it.



Elvis was, in my opinion, one of the most significant cultural icons of the mid-20th Century.  Love his music or not, it is hard to deny his influence on a whole generation of people – adults as well as children.  Incredibly, August 16 marked the 40th anniversary of his untimely death.

To this day, he is still commonly referred to as “The King of Rock ‘n Roll” or, simply, “The King.”  Furthermore, he was one of those rare people who is so famous that he is referred to by only his first name.   Mention “Elvis,” and everyone will know to whom you are referring.   To be sure, many other persons share that distinction, for example, Madonna, Cher, Bono, Oprah, and Liberace, to name a few, but it is a small, exclusive group.

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi.  He had a twin brother who was stillborn and buried in an unmarked grave.  After he became famous, Elvis tried to locate the grave, but despite his considerable resources he was unable to do so.

The Presley family was very poor, even for that area of rural Mississippi.  Elvis’ father, Vernon, was not very ambitious and moved from one odd job to another.  They relied on government assistance and handouts from friends and neighbors.

Young Elvis was no better than an average student, but he demonstrated a musical bent at an early age.  His mother was fond of recalling that at age two he would scramble up to the stage and attempt to sing gospel with the church choir.  At 10, he entered a singing contest, his first public appearance.  He finished fifth.  Undoubtedly, after Elvis became famous, the four children who beat him enjoyed beaucoup bragging rights.

For his next birthday, among his gifts was a guitar.  (Later, he recalled he had wanted a bicycle or a rifle instead.)   Regardless, he was interested enough to take lessons from his uncles and the local pastor.  Ironically, Elvis recalled he never wanted to sing in public.  “I was very shy about it.”

Generally, Elvis was a loner, but he would bring his guitar to school and sing during lunch and recess.   Reportedly, the other kids did not think much of him or his music.  They referred to him derisively as a “mama’s boy” and the “trashy” kid who played “hillbilly” music.  Eventually, Elvis got over his shyness.   By 12, he was performing on the radio.

When Elvis was 13 the family moved to Memphis, and coincidentally or not, Elvis began to come out of his shell.  He began to spend his free time at Memphis’ “blues scene” and wear the flashy clothes with which we are all familiar.

In 1953, 18 year-old Elvis Presley simply walked into Sun Records’ offices in Memphis seeking to purchase studio time make a record of two songs called “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”  They were to be a birthday gift to his mother.  At the time, Elvis was a truck driver who “fooled around” with music on the side.  There was no indication that he was seriously attempting to become a recording star.   Sun Records was a struggling, nondescript record label that was even having trouble paying its bills.  Not exactly a magical combination.

Nevertheless, as a result of those recordings Sun booked Elvis for a follow-up recording session, which took place in July, 1954.   Sam Phillips, Sun’s founder and owner, recalled that Elvis was “probably, the most introverted man he had ever seen,” and he was far from impressed with Elvis’ recording session.   Elvis was playing ballads, which, as we all know, was not his forte.  As the story, or, perhaps, legend, goes, Elvis and his backup players took a break, and during it they began fiddling around, doing “nothing in particular.”  Elvis was playing blues songs, but at a fast, lively pace.  Almost magically, his voice became “euphoric.”  Phillips asked them what they were doing.  They replied they “didn’t know.”  Phillips told them to “back it up and do it again.”  They did.  Two nights later, the song, “That’s All Right,” was being played on local radio stations, and Elvis and rock ‘n roll were on their way.  Tiny, nondescript, struggling Sun Records had discovered arguably the most significant and influential music talent of the mid 20th Century.  Sadly for Phillips, later that year he sold Elvis’ contract to RCA for a mere $35,000, quite possibly the worst business transaction in music history.

Elvis came along at just the right time.  In the mid 1950s American teens and pre-teens were searching for their own sound.  Other musicians, such as Chuck Berry and Sam Perkins were trying to develop that sound.  Presley filled that void.  Some contemporaries said, not unkindly, that he was a “white man playing black music.”  Whatever, it worked.  A large part of his appeal, especially to girls, was his gyrations on stage.  This was not intentional.  The genesis of that was his nervousness, especially before large crowds.  Nevertheless, the girls loved it, and their screaming in delight became part of Elvis’ appeal.  As a result of the conservative mores of the 1950’s, whenever Elvis appeared on tv, producers instructed their cameramen not to film below his waist, so as not to offend certain fans, not to mention the network censors.  This only increased the fervor of his female fans.

Elvis became a huge breakout star.  He became very popular not only among teens but their parents as well.  Over his career he produced dozens of “hit” singles and albums.  In addition, he starred in several feature length movies, was in huge demand in Las Vegas and other nightclubs, and made countless appearances on tv.

In 1958, at the height of his popularity, Elvis was inducted into the Army.  He went willingly and did not seek special treatment because of his notoriety.  His attitude was he “did not want to be treated any differently from anyone else.”  Of course, his induction, created a media circus.  When he received his honorable discharge in 1960 the train carrying him home was mobbed by fans as well.  Can you imagine if he had lived in the internet/social media age?

As successful as his professional life was, that’s how disastrous his personal life was, especially after his divorce in 1973.  He overdosed on barbiturates on two occasions.  One of those occurrences was so serious that he was in a coma for three days.  At one point, he was hospitalized due to his addiction to pethidine, a powerful and highly addictive opioid, which, in excessive doses, can cause respiratory distress or even death, especially when taken in conjunction with alcohol.  Over the next few years, he continued to tour, and his health continued to decline.  In early 1977 journalist Tony Scherman described him as a “grotesque caricature of his sleek, energetic former self.”  Due to his excessive weight and excessive doses of drugs he was barely able to drag himself through the concerts on his final tour.  He was virtually incoherent in one, and had to cancel another.  Finally, he was forced to cancel the entire remainder of the tour.  A very sad ending to a brilliant career.


As I mentioned above, Elvis died on August 16, 1977.  Out of respect, I will omit the somewhat lurid details of his death.  Suffice to say, the massive amounts of drugs he had taken for years finally caught up to him.  By one account, at the end he had some 14 different drugs in his system, many of them in “massive” quantities. Although his inner circle probably saw it coming, most of us were shocked.  He was only 42.

Thousands of fans descended on Graceland to view the open casket.  President Jimmy Carter opined that Elvis had “permanently changed the face of American popular culture.”  I should denote that, to his credit, despite his Southern upbringing and the “Jim Crow” attitudes prevalent in the 1950s, throughout his career Elvis evinced great respect for African American performers.

Elvis’ fame and notoriety have not diminished since his death.  Over the years, conspiracy buffs have insisted that Elvis faked his death, and there have been many “Elvis sightings.”  Furthermore, Elvis impersonators are everywhere, and many entertainers have built their act around it.

Elvis has been inducted into five music halls of fame – Rock ‘n Roll, Country, Gospel, Rockabilly and Memphis Music HOF.

Yes, he truly was “The King.”


Jerry Lewis was the consummate entertainer.  He was one of the most versatile and durable performers of his time.  He could sing, dance and act, and he was a successful film producer, director and screenwriter.  In addition, he was a great humanitarian.  For example, for over 40 years he hosted a Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy.  However, he was best known for his unique and zany brand of comedy.  He entertained audiences with his unique nasal, whiny voice, malleable face, and slapstick style.  Often, he would not  even have to say a word, just make a zany face or take a crazy pratfall and audiences would laugh uproariously.  In 2002 he told USA Today: ” I have taken more falls than any other 20 comedians put together.  I have taken them on everything from clay courts to cement to wood floors, coming off pianos, going out a two-story window, landing on Dean, falling into the rough.”  He entertained us for nearly 90 years.

Joseph (or, by some accounts, Jerome) Levitch was born on March 16, 1926 in Newark, NJ.  Entertainment was in his blood.  His parents were Russian Jews who were in the business.  His father, Daniel (aka Danny), was a vaudeville entertainer.  His mother, Rae, was a piano player for a radio station.  Jerry began performing as part of his parents’ act at the age of five, notably at the various Catskill Resorts – the so-called “Borscht Belt.”

To no one’s surprise, young Joey was an inveterate prankster, and he was not exactly a devoted student in school.   In fact, he dropped out in the tenth grade to pursue entertaining full time.  By fifteen he had developed his own act, which he called the “Record Act.”  He would mime lyrics from songs as they played on a phonograph.  Around this time, he changed his name to Jerry Lewis.  Supposedly, he felt Joey Lewis to be too close a resemblance to comedian Joe E. Lewis and heavyweight champion boxer, Joe Lewis.

In 1946, after a chance encounter with singer Dean Martin at a NYC night club, they teemed up to form one of the most popular and successful acts ever.  Martin was the straight man; Lewis was the zany comedian.  Unlike most other comedy acts of the time, their act did not feature any preplanned skits.  They just interacted with each other.  Audiences could not get enough of them.  They began performing in night clubs.  Then, they graduated to tv.  First, they guest-starred on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, which was one of the most popular shows on tv.  Soon after, they got their own tv show, The Martin and Lewis Show.  Next came the movies.  They signed a deal with Paramount in 1949 to make a series of films.

They made 16 movies for Paramount between 1949 and 1956, all of which were produced by the renowned Hal B. Wallis.  Over time, however, Martin’s roles in these movies began to decline in relation to Lewis’.  This caused considerable strain on their partnership.  Finally, on July 24, 1956, they split up.

Their legion of fans was very upset, and many of them begged the two to reconcile.  Not only did they not reconcile, but neither would comment on the reasons for the split.  Both Martin and Lewis went on to very successful careers as solo acts, and they would not appear together again until 1976.  They did not formally reconcile until 1980, perhaps, spurred on by the untimely death of Martin’s son, Dean Paul.

After the breakup with Martin, Lewis was unsure of what to do.  Later, he would admit: “I was unable to put one foot in front of the other with any confidence.  I was completely unnerved to be alone.”  As it happened, while Lewis was vacationing in Las Vegas, Judy Garland, who was performing at one of the casinos, became ill and could not go on.   Her manager prevailed upon Lewis to fill in.  With some trepidation, he did so, and he was a big hit singing and clowning with the audience.  That success gave him the confidence that he could succeed as a solo act.

Lewis’ career as a solo act took off.  He was a success in Vegas, on tv and in the movies.  The Sands Hotel signed him to a long term contract.  He got his own tv show on NBC.  He made additional movies.  My personal favorite was “The Nutty Professor,” in which he plays two characters, a milquetoast professor and a macho, hard-drinking lounge performer, sort of like a modern version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  He even enjoyed success as a writer and director.  As a director he is credited with inventing the “video assist,” which enables a director to view a new “take” immediately.

As previously mentioned, Lewis had always been a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy.  He was national chairman for many years.  In addition, he hosted a Labor Day telethon from 1952 – 1959 and 1966-2010 for the organization.  Over that period, he raised in excess of $2.5 billion for the cause.  Furthermore, Lewis founded a place for abused and traumatized children called Jerry’s House.

Lewis was not active politically.  He was a strong advocate of the US, in general, but did not advocate for any particular political party.  He would lament other people’s “lack of pride” in the country.  “I do not say anything negative about the president…I don’t do that.  And I don’t allow my children to do that.”  In that regard, he said that he was heeding the advice of former president John F. Kennedy who had advised him: “Don’t get into anything political.  [It] will usurp your energy.”  Lewis also felt that politics “did not belong at the Oscars.”

Lewis was married twice and had seven children – six sons (one of which was adopted) and one adopted daughter.  Even though he lived a long life, he was not a well man for much of it.  For example, for many years he was plagued by a back injury he had suffered on stage in 1965; he became addicted to the powerful painkiller, Percodan; he had two heart attacks; he contracted several serious diseases at one time or another, such as viral meningitis, prostate cancer, diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis.  The Prednisone he was taking for the latter caused him to gain considerable weight and “blew him up like a balloon.”  Through it all, he persevered and continued to perform.  Even at the time of his death he had performances scheduled.  “I do every single thing a performer can do to entertain an audience,” he said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in 1993.  “In the words of my dad, there’s only one way to be a pro: sweat.”


Lewis received dozens of honorariums and awards for movies, tv and his humanitarian activities – too many to list here.  Perhaps, the following quote from superstar director, Martin Scorsese will sum up his legacy:  “Jerry Lewis was a master.  He was a giant.  He was an innovator.  He was a great entertainer.  He was a great artist.  And he was a remarkable man.”

In a 2016 interview with Inside Edition Lewis disclosed that he was “afraid of dying as it would leave his wife and daughter alone.”  Unfortunately, we all have to die sometime.

Lewis passed away on August 20, 2017.  Rest in peace, Jerry.  You were truly one of a kind, and you will be sorely missed.


On Monday, August 21 we will be treated to a real rarity – a total solar eclipse.  Totality may be observed in the contiguous states of the US in a narrow band approximately 70 miles wide stretching from Oregon (beginning at 9:06 am PDT as a partial) through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina (ending as a partial at 4:06 EDT).

Each of these states is preparing for a substantial influx of “umbraphiles,” aka “eclipse chasers,” most of  whom are attracted by the adventure and rarity of the event, rather than the science of it.  In an attempt to accommodate these umbraphiles as well as their own citizens, each state has planned central viewing areas and celebrations, such as special NASA-sponsored presentations, festivals, entertainment and educational seminars, mostly to be held in outdoor stadiums, fair grounds and parks.   One special event will be Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s special presentation of Bonnie Tyler performing her famous 1983 hit song, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” on board one of their cruise ships as it crosses the path of totality.  In addition, various media outlets will be covering the eclipse.

The length of time for totality will vary, with the longest period being two minutes and 41.6 seconds.  Partiality may be viewed in the rest of the US as well as Canada and parts of Mexico, Central and South America, northwestern Europe and Russia.

There are four types of eclipses:

  1. Total – when the Moon completely obscures the Sun.  This only occurs briefly along a narrow track.
  2. Annular- The Sun and the Moon appear to be exactly in line with the Earth, but the Moon appears to be smaller.  In this case, the Sun will appear as a bright ring, or “annulus,” around the dark disc of the Moon.
  3. Hybrid – Shifts between a total and an annular eclipse at different points.  These are relatively rare.
  4. Partial – The Sun and Moon are not exactly in line, and therefore, the Moon only partially obscures the Sun.

The previous total solar eclipse visible across the entire contiguous US was on June 8, 1918.  The next total eclipses visible in the US will be in April 2024 and August 2045.

Briefly, a solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth obscuring (or “occulting”) part or all of the Sun. The technical term for this phenomenon is “zyzgy.”  The orbital planes of the Earth and the Moon do not match up perfectly.  The Moon’s is tilted at approximately five degrees in relation to the Earth’s.  If not, there would be a total solar eclipse every month.  In actuality, one occurs somewhere on earth about twice a year.  The reason why they seem to be so rare is that each total eclipse only occurs over a narrow band, so that one can be observed in any particular place only every 360-410 years on average.

Even though the Sun is approximately 400 times the diameter of the Moon, the Moon is approximately 400 times closer to Earth.  Thus, when viewed from Earth they appear to be the same size in the sky.  So, if the alignment of all three celestial bodies is just right, the Moon can and does obscure the entire sun, producing a total eclipse.  During totality it will get dark and only a corona around the sun will be visible.

We all have been amply warned that viewing the eclipse directly with the naked eye can cause severe retinal damage or even blindness.  It is imperative, therefore, to wear special glasses that are able to filter the sunlight safely.  Beware of using unsafe glasses or homemade devices.  Also, keep pets inside and away from windows and skylights.

Ancient people, who were very superstitious and ignorant of astronomy, feared eclipses.  To them, the sudden darkness could only mean they were incurring the wrath of the gods and, perhaps, they portended the end of the world.  There are many stories , or, perhaps, legends, around eclipses.  For example, supposedly, an ancient Chinese king beheaded two of his astronomers who had failed to predict one.  Also, in ancient Greece during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians both sides were so taken aback by an eclipse that they summarily put down their weapons and declared a truce.


Unless you are an astronomy aficionado you are probably not all that interested in all the technical jargon surrounding the science of eclipses.  Suffice to say that, for many people, eclipses constitute a seminal event in their lives.  Enjoy the experience.  It does not occur often.

But, above all else, be safe!


On August 17, 2017 the latest in a series of horrific radical Islamic terrorist attacks shocked the world in its brutality and wanton disregard for human life.  This time, the location was Las Ramblas Promenade in Barcelona, Spain.  One of the terrorists drove a van at a high rate of speed deliberately into the pedestrians strolling through the area.  As I write this, 13 people have been murdered and an additional 100 or more have been injured, many of them seriously.

By all accounts, it was a horrific scene, with victims scattered like bowling pins all over the street. ISIS wasted no time in taking credit for the attack, blathering that it was executed by “soldiers of the Islamic State….to target countries participating in the coalition to drive it from Syria and Iraq.”    Josep Luis Trapero, a senior police official of the Catalonia region, which is located in the northeastern area of Spain and includes Barcelona, advised reporters: “It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible.”

Las Ramblas is a beautiful tree-lined walkway in central Barcelona that runs between a huge plaza and the harbor.  It is a very popular destination for both locals and tourists who desire to partake of the fine shops, sight-seeing, street performers, and restaurants in the area. It is a place to “see and be seen.”   Pauline Frommer, editorial director of the world-renowned Frommer’s guidebooks calls Las Ramblas “Barcelona’s Champs Elysees or Times Square.”  It is a perfect “soft target” for a terrorist attack.

This latest attack was far from an isolated incident.  In point of fact, the number of Islamic terror attacks in Europe has been rising sharply since 2014, reaching almost epidemic proportions.   Before then, there had not been too many, the notable exceptions being the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005.  According to Europol, terror attacks in Europe attributable to radical Islamic terrorists have increased from four in 2014 to 17 in 2015 and 135 in 2016.  Murders have jumped from four in 2014 to 150 in 2015 and 135 in 2016.

There are many reasons for this frightening increase.  I believe the major ones are:

  1. A consequence of the Syrian Civil War.  Many of the countries that have been targeted were those which participated in or supported Operation Inherent Resolve (the military intervention against ISIS in Syria), for instance, Great Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.  France, alone, has suffered ten attacks between December 2014 and June 2017.  (It should be noted that even neutral countries, such as Belgium and Sweden, have been victimized.)
  2. The European Union’s open borders policy.  I have blogged on this most ill-advised policy before.  It enables terrorists to move freely throughout Europe.  Americans who oppose strong border controls in the US would be well advised to take heed.  Here is empirical evidence of the consequences of lax border controls.
  3. Lax law enforcement.  Whether the result of Islamophobia, carelessness, poor policing and security procedures, or incompetence, the result has been the same.  Law enforcement agencies are just now awakening to the terrorist problem in their midst.  For example, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has claimed that in just the three months following the Charlie Hebdo attack France foiled five additional terrorist attacks; Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, claims that UK security services have foiled 13 planned terror attacks since mid-2013; and the Prosecutor General of Russia said that his country has foiled 12 potential terrorist attacks in just the first six months of 2017.  Better late than never, I suppose.
  4. Muslim immigrants’ reluctance to assimilate.  In many European cities Muslims have remained concentrated in their own areas of these cities for many years, or even, for generations, adhering to their own customs and language, and even Sharia Law.  In Paris and London the police have acknowledged that there are areas in which even they fear to tread.  Thus, these areas have often become breeding grounds for radicalization, and counter-terrorism efforts are severely hampered.


Reactions from world leaders were typical.  Everyone expressed shock, horror, sympathy and support.  That is fine as far as it goes, but it will do nothing to resolve the problem of radical Islamic terrorism.  Even now, certain liberal politicians on both sides of the Atlantic will not even utter the phrase, “radical Islamic terrorism.”  I ask, how can one defeat it if one will not even acknowledge it?

The Times of Israel reported that following this latest terror attack Barcelona’s chief rabbi, Meir Bar-Hen, stated that “the Jewish community in Barcelona is ‘doomed,’ ” because local law enforcement refuses to “confront radical Islam.”  He went so far as to urge local Jews to emigrate to Israel.  Hyperbole?  Perhaps, but it is an indication of the unease that permeates the Barcelona Jewish community as well as other areas of Europe.  Jewish emigration from Europe to Israel has been on the rise in recent years.

Several media outlets have reported that the Spanish police have made two arrests, but the van driver remains free.  Well and good, but the best way to keep people safe is to prevent attacks beforehand.  The old expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” may be somewhat trite, but I think it is applicable to this situation.  As I have stated above, although European police agencies have demonstrated improvement in this area, they still have a long way to go.


Despite the title, this blog is NOT about communists or socialists.  Rather, the theme is people who are left-handed.  Most of you, probably did not realize that August 13 was International Left-Handers Day as designated by “Lefthanders International.”  This “day” has been observed annually since 1976.  That’s right, or rather, that’s correct.  Lefties have their own “day” and their own organization.

According to Wikipedia, between 7 – 10% of people are left-handed.  I’m not sure why there are so few.  I recall that when I was growing up parents would frequently try to convert their left-handed children to right-handed.  Sometimes it worked; sometimes it did not.  But, it often caused friction between the parent and the child, who would be resistant to the idea.  Perhaps, there is a scientific or medical reason.  Anybody out there have any ideas?

We all know people that are left-handed, but do any righties stop to think of the inconveniences they endure in their daily lives?  For example:

  1. Opening cans.  Can openers are made for righties.  I am not aware of any “left-handed” can openers.  (Actually, it sounds like a bad joke.)
  2. Writing.  This has been mitigated by the widespread use of computers, but older lefties will recall the difficulties of writing on school desks, particularly those that had the side panel arm rest.  Lefties had to write sideways or upside down.  Moreover, when writing with a fountain pen a leftie would invariably smudge the ink or get ink on his fingers and hand.
  3. Scissors.  The simple task of using a pair of scissors to cut paper would be problematic for a leftie.  Like everything else, scissors are made for righties.
  4. Shaking hands.  Some lefties find it awkward to shake hands with their “off” hand.
  5. Spiral notebooks.  These are uncomfortable for lefties, as their hand is always resting on the metal spiral.
  6. Bumping elbows.  If you’ve ever sat next to a lefty in a restaurant booth or other enclosed space you are familiar with this problem.
  7. Bowling and golf equipment.  This does not appear to be as much of a problem now, but when I was growing up it was next to impossible to find lefty golf or bowling equipment.  Consequently, I have met many lefties of my generation who were forced to learn to bowl or golf righty.
  8. Peer ridicule.  Not so much now, but when I was growing up many child lefties were subjected to teasing or ridicule by their peers because they did things differently.

On the plus side, in my experience most lefties can do many things righty, sometimes almost to the point of being ambidextrous.  Conversely, most righties do nothing lefty and have a weak, uncoordinated left hand.


Lefties take heart.  In the pc age, your life has generally been made easier.  Furthermore, there have been innumerable successful people who were lefty.  A total of eight US Presidents were lefties:  James A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry  S. Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.   In addition, there have been thousands of successful and famous lefties in other fields.  A small sampling would include entertainers, such as Don Adams, George Burns, James Caan, Matt Dillon and Sylvester Stallone; artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and LeRoy Neiman; and baseball players such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax and Ted Williams.  (In fact, left-handed baseball pitchers are very much in demand, because they are needed to get out left-handed batters, and even an average one can enjoy a long career.)

Lefties, please comment on your life experiences, either positive or negative.



Forty years ago this week one of the most notorious killers in NYC history was finally captured ending a reign of terror that had lasted for one year.  The random nature of the crimes, the bizarre nature of the perpetrator, and the intense, sensationalized news coverage by the local media captured the imagination of not only New Yorkers, but also of people around the world.

Richard David Falco was born on June 1, 1953.  His childhood was not without turmoil.  He was born out of wedlock to a Jewish mother and a married man who wanted nothing to do with him.  Shortly after birth, his mother gave him up for adoption.  The adoptive parents, Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, were a middle class Jewish couple from The Bronx who owned a hardware store.  They changed his name to David Richard Berkowitz and raised him as their own child.

Young David had, in the words of journalist John Vincent Sanders, a “troubled childhood.”  Later, neighbors and relatives would recall him as “bullying,” “spoiled,” and generally “difficult.”  Also, he exhibited an unhealthy interest in petty larceny and pyromania and was in and out of trouble frequently.   It appeared that his parents tried to help him. On at least one occasion, they retained the services of a psychotherapist to no avail.   Nevertheless, there is no indication that his actions resulted in any trouble with either his school administrators or the juvenile authorities.

When Berkowitz was 14 his life endured another upheaval.  His adoptive mother died, his father remarried, and David did not get along with his step-mother.  At 18 David joined the army.  He served without incident and was discharged honorably in 1974.

Officially, Berkowitz’s first murder occurred on July 29,1976.  In what was to become his typical fashion he approached two persons in a parked car, opened fire with a .44 caliber handgun, and killed one of the two female occupants.  According to the police, over the next year until caught he was involved in eight separate shooting incidents, which resulted in six murders and seven others wounded.

Berkowitz proved to be elusive.  He left no usable clues, and no witnesses could identify him.  DNA analysis did not exist.  In addition, he delighted in taunting and mocking the police.  At one crime scene, he left a handwritten letter addressed to an NYPD captain in which he taunted the police and belittled their fruitless efforts to capture him.  In addition, he described himself as the “Son of Sam,” claiming he was being directed by his neighbor’s possessed dog, Sam.

As I said, media coverage was intense, unrelenting and sensationalized.  In particular, the NY Post and NY Daily News had a field day.  This type of crime spree was in their wheelhouse, and they maximized coverage every day.  The public was captivated by the murders, and the Post and News wanted to sell newspapers.  In addition, many foreign publications, such as Izvestia (Russia) and Maariv (Israel) covered the story.  Berkowitz even felt the need to taunt the press.  At one point he sent a rambling, inane letter to News columnist Jimmy Breslin, which further mocked the police’s and the press’ efforts to stop him.

Ultimately, despite a yearlong intense police hunt, Berkowitz was caught due to, of all things, a parking ticket.  A local Yonkers resident was walking her dog when she noticed a police officer ticketing a car that was parked illegally.  Moments, later, after the cop had left she saw a young man walk by near the car holding a “dark object.”  The encounter unsettled her, so she hurried home.  Moments later, she heard what sounded like gun shots.  Four days later, she contacted the Yonkers police.  The police investigated every car that had been ticketed on that street that night and, eventually, tracked down Berkowitz.

As it turned out, when the police located Berkowitz’ car it had a rifle in plain sight in the back seat, which enabled the police to search it without a warrant.  The contents of the car, including ammunition, maps of the crime scenes, and another threatening letter addressed to the NYPD, constituted sufficient grounds for a warrant for his apartment.  They arrested him as he was leaving the building.  A search of the apartment yielded additional incriminating evidence, including a diary.

Author Lawrence Klausner in his novel, Son of Sam, described the following exchange between Berkowitz and the arresting officer, Detective John Falotico:

JF – “Now that I’ve got you, who have I got?

DB – “You know.”

JF – “No, I don’t.  You tell me.”

DB – “I’m Sam.”

JF – You’re Sam?  Sam who?

BD – “Sam.  David Berkowitz.”

And so, ended one of the most bizarre manhunts in NYPD history.  Berkowitz pleaded guilty to all six murders, plus an additional one committed in December 1975.  He was adjudged competent to stand trial.  He was convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.


To this day, there are those who believe that Berkowitz was part of a satanic cult and may not have acted alone.  No hard evidence, however, has ever been discovered to support this theory.

One lasting legacy attributable to Berkowitz is the so-called “Son of Sam” law.  This law was necessitated by the fact that Berkowitz stood to earn substantial amounts of money from various books and movies based on his crimes.  Briefly, it precludes a convicted perpetrator of a crime , as well as his family members, from profiting from such crime.  So, for example, the proceeds of any books, movies or any other revenues would be distributed to the victims.  New York was the first state to pass such a law, but many other states have since followed suit.

Berkowitz’ crimes had such an impact on society that even today, 40 years later, those of us who were alive then remember them well, and the moniker, “Son of Sam” remains synonymous with the label, serial killer.



On August 8 America lost a music icon, Glen Campbell.  During a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Campbell was one of those rare entertainers, who exhibited extensive versatility.  Although, initially, he achieved notoriety  as a country singer, he was able to cross over into popular music as well.  In addition, he was a successful songwriter, musician, actor, and tv host.

Glen Travis Campbell was truly a rags to riches story.  He was born in Billstown, Arkansas, a farming community in Pike County, AK.  Billstown, which is southwest of Little Rock, is, literally, in the “middle of nowhere.”  Even Campbell described it as “too small for most maps.”

To label Campbell’s family as “poor” was, actually an understatement.  He was one of 12 children.  His parents were sharecroppers.  He described his childhood rather succinctly: “We had no electricity.  Money was scarce.  A dollar in those days looked as big as a saddle blanket.”  Campbell quit school at age 14 to work.  “I picked cotton for $1.25 a hundred pounds,” he recalled.  Later, he worked in a succession of odd jobs, such as pumping gas and installing insulation.

As a musician Campbell was a natural.  He never had a formal lesson, although some of his family members played instruments and/or sang.  When he was four he received a cheap $5.00 guitar as a gift, which started him on his way.  He honed his skills primarily by listening to the radio.  At age six he was performing on local radio. Later, he performed at fairs and in church.  After his parents moved to Houston he performed in local night clubs in the area.  At 17 he moved to Albuquerque, NM, where he played in local bands and performed on an uncle’s radio show.

In 1960 he moved to LA where he made a decent living as a session musician.  For the uninitiated, a session musician, aka studio musician, is one who is retained to perform in specific recording sessions or live performances.  He is not a permanent member of a band or ensemble; rather a short-term replacement.  Normally, these musicians are highly skilled, but they rarely achieve individual fame.  Campbell was very much in demand as a session musician, playing with the likes of Bobby Darin, Ricky Nelson, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys.  He and Presley became friends, partly because of their common humble country beginnings.  “Elvis and I were brought up the same humble way,” he was fond of saying, ” picking cotton and looking at the north end of a south-bound mule.”

Campbell got his big break when he was hired as a summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers in 1968.  He was a rousing success.  Audiences loved his warm, likeable personality and singing style.  That success led to his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, which aired from 1969-1972.

The late 1960s and early 1970s was, perhaps, his period of peak popularity.  It was during this period that he managed to “cross over” into mainstream pop.  Also during this period he had a series of “hits,” such as “By the Time I get to Phoenix,” “Gentle on My Mind,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”   He became so popular that in 1968 he sold more singles than the Beatles.  1969 was a pretty good year for Campbell, too.  He won an Album of the Year Grammy and performed the Academy Award-nominated title song in True Grit.  He also co-starred with John Wayne in the critically-acclaimed movie.

After his tv show had run its course Campbell’s career continued apace.  He continued to pump out “hits,”  such as “Southern Nights,” which reached #1, “Country Boy,” and “Sunflower,” written by Neil Diamond.  Moreover, he appeared frequently on tv.  For instance, he co-starred with Robert Culp in the made-for-tv movie Strange Homecoming;  he hosted a number of tv specials, such as the American Music Awards; and he was a frequent guest onvarious tv variety and talk shows.


Campbell’s personal life was “interesting,” to say the least.  He was married four times, the first time when he was only 17 and his wife only 16, and fathered eight children, the first in 1956 and the last in 1986.  He also fought alcoholism and cocaine addiction during the 1980s.

Campbell was extremely prolific.  During his long career he released 64 albums, 82 individual “hits,” provided soundtracks for four movies, appeared in 13 movies, and won numerous Grammies and other music awards.

In 2011 Campbell disclosed he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Nevertheless, Campbell continued to perform  In 2012 he embarked on what he termed his “Goodbye Tour with three of his children joining him as part of his back-up band.

Campbell passed away on August 8, 2017 in Nashville, TN from Alzheimer’s disease.  Rest in peace, Glen.  You will be sorely missed.


This week marks the 70th anniversary of the US dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which effectively ended WWII.  The US unleashed these weapons of extreme terror and mass destruction on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1944.  These bombings are estimated to have killed in excess of 200,000 persons, including casualties as a result of the actual blasts and those who died due to side effects, most of them civilians and wounded countless more.  In addition, the physical and emotional damage to these cities and its inhabitants was incalculable.  Japan, which had stubbornly refused to surrender, finally capitulated, announcing its acceptance of the Allies’ terms of unconditional surrender on August 15.  The official signing of the surrender was on September 2 on board the USS Missouri.  Thus, the long nightmare of WWII was finally over.

The above narrative is, however, merely the short story.  There was a considerable “back story” to the bombings.  For example, how did the US happen to develop the atomic bomb?  How were the targets selected?  How were the raids carried out?  Lastly, were they justifiable?   Good questions.  Read on for the answers.

The concept of nuclear fission was discovered by two German scientists in the late 1930s.   Certain US scientists became aware of this discovery from German refugees and defectors.  The frightening idea of a nuclear weapon was now possible, in theory.  Although it remained a long way from actuality, scientists realized that whoever were to develop an effective weapon first would have a significant military advantage and would likely win the war.   Accordingly, a group of US scientists, led by Albert Einstein, petitioned the US government to develop its own nuclear capacity.  Eventually, they convinced FDR and others to do so, and the top secret Manhattan Project was launched.

The head of Project was Major General Leslie Groves.  He appointed Robert Oppenheimer to run the lab in Los Alamos, NM.  Oppenheimer had the full support of the vast resources of the US government, and by mid-1945 we had successfully tested two types of nuclear weapons – a gun-type fission weapon that utilized uranium- 235, and an implosion-type weapon that used plutonium.

The next step was the selection of the target(s).  Groves established a Target Committee to ascertain likely targets based on certain criteria: (1) larger than 3 miles, (2) of strategic importance, (3) located in a large urban area, (4) the blast would create significant and effective damage, (5) an attack would inflict significant psychological damage, and (6) it was unlikely to have been bombed before August 1945.  Based on the foregoing criteria the possible targets identified were Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kokura, Yokohama, and Niigata.  Later, Nagasaki was substituted for Kyoto.

Before the final authorization to proceed, pursuant to the Quebec Agreement of 1943 between the US and Great Britain, which precluded the use of nuclear weapons against another country without mutual consent, the US had to obtain GB’s approval.  Such approval was secured on July 4, 1945.  Colonel Paul Tibbets was selected to organize and execute the raid(s).  The plane was christened the Enola Gay (named for Tibbets’ mother).  Hiroshima, which housed a significant stockpile of military personnel and supplies, was the headquarters of the Second General Army that commanded the defense of all of southern Japan, and was also a major communications center, was selected as the primary target, with Kokura and Nagasaki as the alternates.  President signed off on the bombings, personally.

The Enola Gay took off from Tinian Island on August 6.  She had a crew of 12.  The run was successful.  By design, the bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” exploded in the air above Hiroshima, so most of its force was directed downward rather than sideways.  As we know, damage was extensive.  Casualties in the initial blast exceeded 100,000; 69% of Hiroshima’s buildings were destroyed and fires caused considerable additional damage.  Over 90% of its doctors were killed or injured and virtually all the hospitals sustained major damage, which hampered medical response severely.

Still, the Japanese did not surrender.  It was only following the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9 that they capitulated.  Some historians believe that Russia’s declaring war against Japan was a contributing factor. As stated above,  Japan announced its surrender on August 15, and the documents were signed on September 2.


The US had planned several additional bomb runs had Japan not surrendered.  The Japanese had steadfastly reiterated their refusal to surrender.  The prevailing wisdom at the time was that they would vigorously resist an invasion and would fight to the proverbial “last man.”  Allies’ casualty estimates ran as high as 1 million, with Japanese civilian casualties far exceeding that number.  Furthermore, the war would have been prolonged for months, if not years.  Still, the debate has continued to this day.  Criticisms of the bombings have cited them as immoral, racist, militarily unnecessary and tantamount to state-sponsored terrorism.

In my opinion, President Truman, who truly believed in his famous motto, “the buck stops here,” made a tough decision, but the right one.  It is important to evaluate the bombings within the context of the times.  Japan had begun the war by unleashing a vicious, dastardly, merciless surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.  Moreover, it had conducted a vicious, almost primitive war fraught with violations of the Geneva Convention, including rape, murder and torture.  Anti-Japanese feelings were rampant throughout the country, even extending to US citizens of Japanese descent.  Political correctness as we know it, did not exist.  Many people felt “war is hell,” anything goes,” and “they deserve whatever they get.”

When deciding between ending the war the way we did or with a protracted, vicious, costly invasion, I believe the overwhelming majority of Americans, then and now, would opt for the former.



Ruth Gruber has been described as a journalist, author, photographer, humanitarian, and a US government official.   True as far as it goes, but those are just convenient labels, akin to describing Muhammed Ali as a boxer.  They do not do her justice.  Gruber was one of those rare people who truly made a significant difference in other people’s lives.  Moreover, she accomplished all that without becoming a household name.  Probably, most of you have never heard of her, which kind of proves my point.

Ruth Gruber was born in Brooklyn, NY on September 30, 1911.  She was one of five children.  Her parents were Russian Jewish immigrants.  From an early age Gruber knew she wanted to be a writer.  Fortunately for her, unlike most families of that era, Gruber’s parents believed in higher education for all their children, even their daughters, and they supported her dream.  Gruber’s educational achievements were extremely rare for a female of that period.  At 15 she enrolled at NYU; at 18 she was selected for a postgraduate fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; later, she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Cologne, Germany, becoming the youngest person in the world to do so.

While in Germany she witnessed firsthand various Nazi atrocities towards Jews and other people whom the Nazis considered to be “undesirables” and “inferior.”  This horrified her and made a lasting impression.  When she returned to the US after having completed her studies she resolved to spread the word about the Nazis, and for the rest of her life she remained a strong advocate for the Jewish people and other underdogs.

In an era when women journalists, where they existed at all, were usually relegated to covering the social pages or other benign areas, Gruber became a dynamic exception.  She not only investigated and reported on many dangerous situations, she actually sought them out.  She was a fearless advocate for the underdog.  Some examples:

  1.  In 1935, while working for the NY Herald Tribune, she reported on the trials and tribulations of women living under Communism and Fascism.  As part of this assignment she flew to Siberia to report firsthand, no small undertaking at that time, becoming the foreign correspondent to do so.
  2. In 1944 the US government sent her on a secret mission to escort approximately 1,000 Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers from Italy to the US.  This was a dangerous undertaking during wartime and was to become what I consider the crowning achievement of her life.  More on this later.
  3. In 1946, while working for the NY Post, she was assigned to report on the activities of the newly-formed Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine.  The purpose of this committee was to determine the fate of the approximately 100,000 European Jewish refugees, who were ensconced in displaced persons camps.  Many, if not most, of them wanted to emigrate to Palestine, but the British, who governed the area under the League of Nations Mandate following WWI, were resisting (to placate the Arab chieftains in the area who controlled vast quantities of oil).  Eventually, this matter was handed over to the UN to resolve, and Gruber reported on that as well.
  4. In 1947 Gruber was an eye witness to the famous (or, some would say, infamous) plight of the Exodus. I could write an entire blog on this grisly matter, but no need, since most of you are cognizant of at least the gist of it from having read Leon Uris’ best selling book and/or having seen the subsequent movie.  When the British finally shipped the DPs back to Germany Gruber was the only journalist they allowed to accompany them.  Her photographs of Jewish prisoners being confined to wire cages with barbed wire on top defiantly raising a Union Jack with a hand-painted swastika on it were particularly notable.
  5. In 1978 while living in Israel for one year she wrote a powerful non-fiction book called Raquela: A Woman of Israel about an Israeli nurse, Raquela Prywes, who had worked in a British detention camp and an Israeli hospital in Beersheba.  The book won the National Jewish Book Award for 1979 for Best Book on Israel.
  6. In 1985, at the age of 74, she traveled to isolated villages in Ethiopia and described the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews in a book entitled The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews.

And, now, back to her secret wartime mission.  During WWII Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, had appointed Gruber as a Special Assistant.  One of her assignments was to escort the abovementioned Jewish refugees and wounded American soldiers back to the US.  She had to convince Ickes to let her go.  There was a real danger that she would be killed or captured, and being that she was a woman, Ickes was very reluctant.  Years later, she remembered she told him “Mr. Secretary, these refugees are going to be terrified – traumatized.  Someone needs to fly over and hold their hand.”  Ickes’ reply, you’re right.  I’m going to send you.”

Upon her arrival, the refugees were shocked to see a woman, and some were reluctant to tell her their gruesome experiences.  She recalled telling one man, “try to forget that [I am] a woman.”  Fluent in both Yiddish and German, she quickly won them over.  During the voyage, she became both a teacher (teaching English) and a nurse (treating the sick and hurt).  She became a mother figure, even earning the sobriquet “Mother Ruth.”

There was a real concern that if she were to be captured, being Jewish, things would not go so well for her.  There is a story that Gruber’s mother found out about this assignment and fearing for her daughter’s safety personally confronted Ickes about it.  Whether true or not, Ickes ended up appointing Gruber a “simulated general,” which, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, afforded her with all the protections of a general in that event.   During the voyage home Gruber interviewed many of the refugees and, of course, wrote a compelling book entitled Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 World War II Refugees and How They Came to America.  Her book became the basis for a CBS miniseries starring Natasha Richardson.

A footnote to this story is that Congress steadfastly refused to lift the quota on Jewish emigration.   Gruber lobbied extensively on their behalf.  Finally, FDR, by Executive Order, directed them to be housed on a decommissioned Army training base in Oswego, NY as the country’s “guests” for the duration of the War.  In 1946 Congress finally authorized them to apply for residency.  Gruber’s tireless lobbying of both Congressmen and President Truman, played a major role in this decision.  This was the only occasion in which the US sheltered Jewish refugees during WWII.


As you have seen, Gruber was one of the rare individuals who actually made a difference.  Not only did she directly save thousands of lives, but, as an advocate, she impacted government policy to the benefit of many more.

In her memoirs, Gruber recalled when she realized she was on the cusp of something special.  She wrote: “Standing alone on the blacked-out deck [of the Haven] I was trembling with the discovery that from this moment on my life would be forever bound with rescue and survival.”

Gruber always lamented that the US could have and should have saved countless more Jews.  I strongly agree with that assessment.   In 2007 she told a reporter from the Madison (WI) Capital Times, “I wanted to shake the country by its lapels and say, ‘How can we let this go on.  How can we let this happen?’ ”

Ruth Gruber passed away last November at the ripe old age of 105.  As I said, she was a staunch advocate for Jews and for all oppressed people everywhere.  She was one of the few people who truly made a difference.  May she rest in peace.  She will be sorely missed.