HALLOWEEN

On Tuesday, October 31, many of us will celebrate Halloween. We will dress up in costumes and attend parties. Children will go door-to-door “trick or treating.” Of course, some will use the holiday as an excuse to create mischief or even mayhem, but for most of us it will be a day of fun and games and an opportunity to gorge ourselves on candy.
But, few, if any, of us will bother to stop and think about the origins of the holiday. When and where did it begin? How did it evolve? Why do we dress up in costumes? Why do we go “trick or treating?” Glad you asked. Read on.

The origin of Halloween is a Celtic holiday dedicated to the dead. Although the Celts were interspersed in many areas of Europe, they were concentrated in what is now, England, Ireland and Scotland. The Celts divided the year into four sections, each of which was marked by a major holiday. The beginning of the winter season was November 1, which was celebrated by a festival called “Samhein,” pronounced “Sah-ween,” which means “end of summer” in old Irish. The word “Halloween” can be traced back as far as 1745. It means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening.” It is derived from a Scottish term for “All Hallows Eve,” the evening before “All Hallows Day,” aka “All Saints Day.” Over time, the word “evening” was contracted to “e’en,” thus Halloween.

The Celts were a pagan people and very superstitious. They believed that the ghosts of those who had died during the year had not yet completed their journey to the “otherworld,” and at Samhein they were able to mingle with the living. Accordingly, to placate these ghosts and other spirits the Celts offered sacrifices and lit bonfires to aid them on their journey. It has been suggested that the origin of wearing costumes was to disguise oneself from any lost soul that might be seeking vengeance on the living before moving on the next world. Some, believing that the souls of those who had died recently were still wandering in a sort of purgatory, set a place for them at dinner. Many of these ancient traditions have persisted to this day in some locales.

In 601 Pope Gregory I issued an edict, the gist of which was that missionaries were to combine Christian holidays and festivals with existing pagan holidays and festivals and, hopefully, eventually supersede them. The ultimate objective was to foster the conversion of pagans to Christianity. As a result, All Saints Day, aka All Hallows Day, was moved to November 1 to coincide with Samhein.

By the end of the 12th century other Halloween traditions had developed. For example, the clergy would ring church bells for the souls stuck in purgatory; and “criers,” dressed in black, would parade through towns reminding the citizens to remember these poor souls. In about the 15th century people began to bake “soul cakes,” which are small round cakes, a practice called “souling,” which is believed to be a forerunner of “trick or treating.” Poor people would go door-to-door and collect these cakes in exchange for saying prayers for the dead. Interestingly, Shakespeare mentioned “souling” in “The Two Gentlemen of Varona” in 1593.  Over time, celebrations of All Hallows Day began to include additional customs, such as “trick or treating,” lighting bonfires, attending costume parties, carving “jack-o’-lanterns, apple “bobbing,” and attending church services.

As mentioned above, it is believed that the practice of “trick-or-treating” was derived from “souling” or “mumming,” which is going house-to-house in disguise singing songs in exchange for food. This was believed to have originated in Scotland and Wales in the 16th century. Sometimes people would paint their faces and threaten mischief if they were not welcomed. This evolved into the customs of wearing costumes and playing pranks. Nocturnal pranksters needed illumination, hence the development of jack-o-lanterns. In England, people would fashion them out of turnips or mangel wurzels, which are large, thick roots suitable for carving. In America, pumpkins were used, because they were plentiful and better suited for carving anyway. Jack-o-lanterns are believed to frighten evil spirits. In France, people believed that the dead buried in cemeteries would rise up and participate in a wild carnival-like celebration known as the “Danse Macabre,” or “Dance of Death.”

“Trick or treating,” as such, is a relatively modern development. As I said, it is believed to have evolved from “souling” or “mumming.” The earliest mention of it in print was in 1927, and it did not become widespread until the 1930s in the US. Also, costuming has evolved. Popular fictional characters have been added to the traditional skeletons, ghosts and ghouls. Basically, now, anything goes.

CONCLUSION

At the present time, Halloween, like other holidays, has become highly commercialized. Selling costumes and other related paraphernalia has become big business. The original religious significance of the holiday has been eclipsed and forgotten by most people. Yes, some people still attend church, but many more attend parties. Many if not most people, especially children, know Halloween merely as a day to dress in costumes and go “trick or treating.” We do love our candy.

In the last few years, the “PC Police” have inserted themselves into the holiday.   Some of them have maintained that certain costumes are “racist” and should be avoided.  I think we can all agree that a Caucasian should not dress up in “blackface.”  But, the PC Police go much further.  They also disapprove of any costumes that could be perceived by anyone as mocking or derogatory.  Some examples would likely include Disney’s Moana, Aztec Indians, Tom Thumb, or Pancho Villa, which, in their minds, could be objectionable to Polynesians, Indigenous People, short people (or should I say “vertically challenged?” I have trouble keeping up with all the PC buzzwords), or Hispanics, respectively.  I say, if your five year-old loves Moana and wants to dress up like her, go for it.  Is that really being insensitive or racist?  Really?   Do the people who are marketing Moana costumes really expect to sell them only to Polynesians?  I think not!  To me, these objections are just another example of some people who want to dictate to others how to act and live.

Hopefully, after reading this blog you will have gained some knowledge of and perspective as to the origin and meaning of the holiday.  Enjoy!

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“FATS” DOMINO

If I were to ask you to name the most influential and successful rock ‘n roll stars of the 1950s you would probably say Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly or, perhaps, Chuck Berry.  Good choices.  But, I submit that Fats Domino belongs right up there with them.  According to Wikipedia he was Elvis’ chief rival during the late 1950s.  Perhaps, one reason why he has not gotten his full due was his humility and shy, uncharismatic, almost deferential, demeanor.

Some of the biggest rock ‘n roll stars of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Elvis, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, “Yellowman” (Jamaican reggae artist), and Richard Hell, (an early punk rocker) have acknowledged he was a strong influence on their careers.   For example, McCartney claimed the Beatles’ hit “Lady Madonna” was based on Fats’ style; and “Yellowman” and Hell covered many of his songs, such as “Blueberry Hill” and “I Lived My Life.”

Elvis introduced Fats at one of his concerts as “[the] gentleman [who] was a huge influence on me when I started out.”  He added, “A lot of people seem to think I started this business.  But, rock ‘n roll was here a long time before I came along.  …. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can.”  Moreover, when Elvis was introduced at one of his other concerts as “The King,” a moniker with which most people would concur, he pointed to Domino, who happened to be in the audience, and said “no, that’s the real ‘King.’ ”

Antoine Dominique Domino, Jr. was born on February 26, 1928 in New Orleans.  He was delivered at home by his grandmother, who was a midwife.  His parents were of French Creole extraction.  He was the youngest of eight children.  The family was poor, and young Antoine had to quit school in the fourth grade to work.  One of his early jobs was to help deliver ice, a backbreaking way to earn money.

Fats learned to play the piano from his brother-in-law.  At 14 he was performing in local bars.  In 1947 bandleader Billy Diamond hired him to play piano in his band for the princely sum of $3 per week.  It was Diamond who nicknamed Antoine “Fats” due, in part, to his huge appetite, but mostly because Diamond thought he bore a striking resemblance to renowned pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pinchon.

Fats signed with Imperial Records in 1949.  His first big hit was “The Fat Man,” followed up by a string of hits familiar to rock ‘n roll fans, including “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Blueberry Hill,” and “I’m Walkin’.”  During his career Fats sold over 65 million records.  He had eleven Top Ten hits, 35 records in the US Billboard Top 40, and several “gold” records (sales in excess of one million).  During the late 1950s he sold more records than any artist except Elvis.  Yet, curiously, not one of his records ever reached #1 on the Pop Charts.  (“Blueberry Hill,” perhaps, his best, topped out at #2.)

Fats was a big “crossover” star, R & B and Pop.  Also, he was one of the first stars to appeal to both whites and blacks, and his concerts were among the first to be integrated.  Consequently, on at least four occasions violence broke out, and one time Fats had to jump out of a window to escape a melee.

Fats received countless honorariums during his long career.  For example:

  1. He was among the first musicians to be inducted into The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame..
  2. President Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts.
  3. He was a recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Offbeat Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
  4. In 2004 Rolling Stone ranked him #24 in its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

CONCLUSION

Fats remained in New Orleans after retirement.  He loved the city and could often be seen tooling around in his pink Caddy.  Also, he would make frequent appearances at local events, such as the Jazz and Heritage Festival.  When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 his house was in one of the severely flooded areas, and for a time, he was missing and feared dead.  Eventually, to the great relief of his many fans, he was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

Fats passed away on October 24, 2017 at the age of 89.  He is gone, but his music will live on forever.

WORLD SERIES

The 113th World Series, aka “The Fall Classic,” will be contested between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.  It will begin tomorrow, Tuesday, October 24 in Los Angeles.   The Dodgers won 104 games during the regular season, the most of any  team, and have not been to the WS since 1988.  The Astros won 101 games and this will be the franchise’s first trip to the WS.  This will be the first matchup of two 100 win teams since 1970 (Reds-Orioles).  The Dodgers are favored, in part, because, if the series goes the distance four of the seven games will be played in LA.

Some WS facts:
1. The first modern WS was played in 1903.  It was arranged by the owners of the two league champions.  The Boston Pilgrims beat the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three to win the first world championship.

2. There was no WS in 1904 as the owner of the NL champion Giants refused to play the champion of the “upstart,” “inferior” AL.

3. Beginning in 1905 the two leagues arranged the WS, and it has been played every year since then, except for 1994 during the players’ strike.  Neither war nor earthquake has cancelled it.

4. The first night game was Game 4 of the 1971 WS in Three Rivers Stadium between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

5. In 1989 Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the site of Game 3, was damaged by a massive earthquake before the game, which shook the Bay Area.  The Series was delayed for ten days, but not cancelled.

6. From 1903 through 2002 the AL and NL alternated home field advantage.  In 2003 MLB, in what I believe to have been a misguided attempt to increase interest in the mid-season All-Star Game, decided to award home field advantage to the league that won the game.  This year MLB finally abandoned that ill-advised policy and awarded home field to the team with the best record (LA).

7.  The AL has won 64 of the previous 112 Series (57%).

8. The Yankees have made the most appearances (40) and won the most championships (27).

9.  There has been only one no-hitter in the WS.  Actually, it was a perfect game.  It was pitched by the Yankees’ Don Larsen, a journeyman pitcher, in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

10.  Unlike some other sports where the best regular season teams generally win the championship, the team with the highest regular season winning percentage has only won the WS about one-half of the time.  In fact, in the wild card era, with the extra layers of playoff series, the best regular season team often does not even reach the WS.

11.  Only one WS MVP has been a member of the losing team (more on that later).

12.  Only a handful of players have been good enough to play at the highest levels in two of the major sports, and only one has been lucky enough to play in both the WS and the Super Bowl.  Can you name him?  See answer below.

There have been many memorable WS.  All fans have their favorites.  Personally, I have seven, which I will profile below.  These were not only exciting in their own right and/or featured a memorable play, but also had some significance to the sport in addition to the game itself.  So, in chronological order:

  1. 1955 –  The Brooklyn Dodgers win their first and only WS – Despite having tremendous teams featuring various future Hall-of-Famers, every time the Dodgers played the Yankees in the WS they had lost.  A key hit here, a key error there, same result.  The Dodgers were living up to (or down to) their unofficial nickname – the “Bums.”  Year after year, the Dodger fans’ famous refrain was “Wait until next year.”  Well, this year it was the Dodgers that made the key play.  In the decisive Game 7 Sandy Amoros, an unheralded utility player who had been inserted into left field as part of a “double-switch,” made one of the most amazing catches in WS history to save the game, and the Dodgers won 2-0.  “Next year” had finally arrived, and a ten year old boy on Long Island became a Dodgers fan for life.  As one NY paper touted the next day “Who’s a Bum?!”
  2. 1960 –  Pirates Beat Yanks – This was an odd Series.  The Yankees were clearly the better team.  They outperformed the Bucs in every category.  They won their three games by a combined score of 38-3!  Bobby Richardson, the second baseman, was named MVP, the only time a player from a losing team has been so honored.  But, the Bucs won four close games and the Series.  The seventh game was, perhaps, the best of all WS games.  It doesn’t have the cache of other famous games, because it was played in the afternoon before a relatively small tv audience, rather than in prime time.  Not only was it close; it had several twists and turns and memorable plays.  Also, it was the deciding game and featured a “walk-off” homer by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski in the bottom of the 9th inning.  Ironically, Maz was a light hitter, known primarily for his fielding.  Many people believe that single homer was responsible for his getting voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Another outcome was that the Yanks fired their manager, Casey Stengel, which made him available to become the first manager of the Mets two years later.
  3. 1969 – The Mets win their first title –  On paper this was a huge mismatch.  The AL champion Orioles had won 109 games and blown through the playoffs.  They were very strong in all three areas – pitching, hitting and defense.  The Mets, though sporting the best record in the NL, were still viewed by many as lovable losers.  Indeed, they had finished ninth the previous year.  Only the most optimistic fans gave them much of a chance.  Yet, they got the key hits and made the key plays in the field.  They not only won but did so in five games.
  4. 1975 – Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk “pushed” his home run fair to win game 6. The Cincinnati Reds were considered to be the superior team.  Known as the “Big Red Machine” because of their powerful offense they had won 108 games during the regular season and had swept the Pirates in the NL playoffs.  But, Boston was a popular and exciting underdog.  The Series became memorable because of Game 6.  The Reds led three games to two and 6-3 when the “Saux” tied the game with a pinch hit three-run homer.  Then, in the bottom of the 12th Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk led off with a drive down the left field line.  Clearly, it had the distance, but would it go fair or foul.  TV replays showed Fisk standing at home plate waving his hands to the right as if to “push” the ball “fair.”  It was “fair,” winning the game.  That was a seminal WS and tv moment.  But, the Reds spoiled the Cinderella story by winning the next day 4-3.
  5. 1985 – KC wins with an “assist” from the umpire –  This was known as the I-70 or “Show-Me” Series because St Louis and KC were both in Missouri and were connected by Interstate 70.  St. Louis seemed to have the Series won.  They were ahead three games to two and 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning when disaster struck.  The first base umpire, Don Denkinger, missed an obvious call, ruling a KC runner safe when tv replays clearly showed him to be out.  But, this was before replay reviews, and the erroneous call stood.  Given the extra out KC went on to win the game and the next day as well, winning the Series.  Tough break for the Cards, but they still had their chances to win.  All they had to do was get out of the inning or win Game 7.  Champions have to be resilient.
  6. 1986 – Mets win, barely –  On paper, the NY Mets were the better team and were big favorites.  But, they lost the first two games at home.  They won Games 3 and 4 to even the Series, but proceeded to lose Game 5 and were trailing in Game 6 by 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth with two out and none on.  Then, they staged the most unlikely of rallies.  Three straight singles with two strikes on the batters and a wild pitch tied the score.  Next Mookie Wilson hit a routine ground ball to first base, which, inexplicably, rolled between first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs and under his glove.  The winning run scored, and the Mets won Game 7 as well.  WHEW!  That rally proved the old baseball adage.  “The game is not over until the last out.”  Baseball is the only sport in which the clock does not run out on the trailing team.  Regardless of the score, you get your “last licks.”  Many fans, especially Mets fans, consider that Game 6 to be the best WS ever.
  7. 2016 – “Cubs win, Cubs win!  The Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians four games to three to win their first WS since 1908, thus ending the longest championship drought in North American professional sports history.  In addition, they expunged various “jinxes, ” including the “Billy Goat jinx” and the “Bartman jinx.” Game 7 was a real thriller.  It went extra innings, and featured a rain delay in the 9th inning.  Many fans consider it to be the best WS game ever.

CONCLUSION

This series will match two franchises with a lot to prove.  The Dodgers have not won the WS since 1988, a historic drought for them.  The Astros have never won a WS.  Both teams won over 100 games this year.  Both feature strong offenses and dominant frontline pitching.  The Dodgers have an edge in the bullpen and on defense, plus the extra home game and are slight favorites.

However, no one knows what will happen, including the so-called “experts.”  Fans know that you play the game on the field, not on paper.  In a short series anything can happen.  History tells us that an unlikely hero or two will emerge to lead his team to victory.  Who will it be?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Enjoy the Series.

Full disclosure:  I “bleed Dodger Blue.”  Go Dodgers!!

Quiz answer:  Deon Sanders – 1992 WS and 1995 and 1996 Super Bowls.

THINGS THAT ANNOY ME

We all have our pet peeves – things (or people) that annoy us.  Often, our adverse reaction is extreme, over-the-top, or even irrational.  We can’t explain why a particular thing bothers us, it just does.  Why, you may be asking, is he wasting his time writing about such things?  The polite answer is I just wanted to get them “off my chest.”  The not-so-polite answer is, to paraphrase the late singer Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog, and I can write what I want to.”

So, in no particular order, below please find my list.   I am sure that some of these annoy many of you as well.

  1. Restaurants/doctors that overbook –  You enter a restaurant, and immediately see a crowd of people in the lobby.  The receptionist tells you it will be “a few minutes.”  Everyone else seems to have a reservation too.  Oh boy!  This can definitely put a damper on a pleasant evening.  What is the point of taking a reservation in the first place if you are going to make your customers wait anyway?  Do they think I’m going to sit at the bar and run up a $100 liquor bill while waiting for a table?  I don’t like going to these restaurants, but I do so for three reasons: (a) the food is really good, (b) my wife wants to go there, and (c) I want to keep my wife happy.  Nevertheless, whenever this happens I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry admonishes the restaurateur that he “knows how to make a reservation but not how to keep one.”   Doctors who overbook strike me as indifferent to their patients’ convenience.  Their attitude is “my time is more valuable than yours.”  My solution is to take the first appointment of the day whenever possible (although once I showed up for the “first  appointment” only to discover that there were two other people ahead of me who also had the “first  appointment”).
  2. Common courtesy –  Common courtesy, like “common sense,” is far from common.  I have noticed that many, if not most, people do not say “please” or “thank you” anymore.  And “your welcome” is non-existent.  In addition, some people, refuse to hold the door for you, even if you are a woman, elderly or laden with packages.
  3. Electronic devices –  Cell phones, I Phones, tablets, etc., are, possibly, the worst inventions ever.  How many times have you observed people walking in the street or through a parking lot absorbed in these devices and not paying attention?  How many times have you observed an entire family sitting in a restaurant where everyone is absorbed in his device rather than talking with each other, or even eating?  How many times have you observed drivers being more attentive to their devices than to their driving?  How many near-accidents have you had because of them?  ‘Nough said.
  4. Driving –  It’s amazing how many drivers don’t know how to drive and how many lack common courtesy to other drivers.  Driving can be hazardous, and not just on the road.  The mere act of exiting a parking space can be a dangerous experience, especially while one is backing out.  For example, people blithely walk behind you.  Other drivers will go past your space too fast.  Trucks and SUVs parked next to you create blind spots.   It can be a virtual obstacle course.  I try to park facing forward, although some parking lots expressly forbid it.  How often have you observed a driver who is texting/emailing/talking on the phone?  How many times have you seen a driver rolling through a “stop” sign, failing to ingress onto a highway properly, or driving slowly in the left lane, or the HOV lane?  I can’t decide whether those drivers are stupid, arrogant, discourteous, oblivious, or all of the above.
  5. Foreign language telephone prompts –  At the risk of being politically incorrect, let me just say that this annoys me.  After all, we are in the US.  I suspect I’m not alone in this.
  6. President Trump’s tweets –  I’m a big Trump supporter, and I understand that there are times he has to bypass the media, which he perceives as being slanted against him.  But, I think he overdoes it, and, at times, his tweets are inappropriate.
  7. Al Sharpton –  In my view, he is nothing more than a “race hustler.”  He continually shows up when he senses an opportunity to foment dissension and controversy and advance his own “brand.”  He does nothing to solve the problems minorities face, such as prejudice, poverty, inadequate education and gun violence.  More often than not, he is wrong, e.g. Tawana Brawley, Duke Lacrosse, Ferguson, MO.  Ironically, he is respected by many in the minority community, and if he wanted  he could be a positive force in race relations.
  8. Hillary Clinton –  Enough, already!  You lost.  You bear the responsibility for the loss for various reasons, which I have articulated in previous blogs.  You’re not the champion of women’s rights you pretend to be.  You’re a disingenuous phony.  Stop making lame excuses and advancing criticisms without offering meaningful solutions.   You’re hurting your own political party. Just go away!
  9. Congress –  In 1948 Harry Truman won re-election, in large part, by labelling the Congress as a “do nothing Congress.”  That is what we have now.  The Congress cannot seem to get out of its own way.  Its leadership seems incapable of forging any compromises on anything.  This has been true for several years.  I wouldn’t characterize it as the fault of either political party, as it seems to be embedded in both sides.
  10. Telephone solicitors –  I know they have a job to do, but there should be a special place in hell for these people.  The “do not call” law has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.  These people call repeatedly; they call at all hours; they block their phone numbers; and they even call on local exchanges in an attempt to deceive you into answering.  Thank God for caller ID, but they are still most annoying.

CONCLUSION

Well, there you have it.  I feel so much better for getting these peeves off my chest.  Have I missed any?  Let me know.

HOLLYWOOD SEXUAL PREDATORS

Harvey Weinstein was not the first, nor will he be the last.  As heinous, horrific and unconscionable as Weinstein’s behavior was, sad to say, it was not an isolated case in Hollywood.  Rape, sexual harassment, and the demeaning of women has been and still is an integral part of Hollywood’s culture.  It permeates the industry like a disgusting virus.

Already, there has been a steady stream of accusations.  For example, actress Carrie Stevens has alleged that producer and director Oliver Stone “groped” her at a party in the 1990s.  Even worse, actress, singer and director Rose McGowan stated she told Amazon Studios chief Roy Price that Weinstein had raped her.  According to McGowan Price “pooh poohed” it on the basis of lack of proof.  She replied, “I am the proof,” but, still, nothing was done.

If anything, the entertainment industry is a perfect storm for sexual abuse.  First of all, it glamorizes money, power and fame.  Secondly, it attracts Type A male personalities who believe that their power, fame, wealth and influence enable them to get away with anything.  Thirdly, it also attracts young, beautiful women desperately eager to achieve fame and fortune.  With the presence of these three elements why are we not surprised that sexual abuse is rampant?

Down through the years, there have been many cases of such activity.   In my opinion, for every case of which we are aware there are dozens, or perhaps hundreds, which have been ignored in the guise of “well, that the way it is in Hollywood,” or “that’s the price you pay to get ahead.”  It would take a full-length book to discuss just the major ones.  I don’t have the inclination or the “stomach” to do so.  Instead, I have selected two to illustrate my point:

  1. Roman Polanski –  Some of you younger readers may not be cognizant of him.  He has been called the “poster child” of celebrity sexual abusers.  He was a renowned movie director who had won two Oscars (for Rosemary’s Baby and The Pianist).  In 1977 he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape, sodomy, perversion and lewd and lascivious acts against a 13 year-old girl.   He and his lawyers managed to plea bargain down the charges to a much lesser charge of “engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse.”  Then, in 1978 Polanski fled to France in order to avoid prosecution.  France, which, evidently, had and still has, a more lenient view of these types of crimes, has refused to extradite Polanski. He has not set foot back in the US for 30 years, and, likely never will.
  2. Bill Cosby –  This situation parallels that of Weinstein’s in some ways.  For many years Mr. Cosby was viewed as an iconic entertainer in the movies, on tv and as a stand-up comedian.  Then, some 60 women accused him of various sexual misconduct crimes, including rape, sexual assault and sexual battery.   Some of these accusations dated back to the 1960s.  His downfall was swift and sure.

Like I said, one could write a book about these types of abuses and barely scratch the surface.

CONCLUSION

Perhaps, the most ironic aspect of the Weinstein case is how his behavior was an “open secret” among entertainers and Democratic insiders (There’s an oxymoron, if there ever was one!), and no one spoke out.  Even famous, powerful, influential female entertainment personalities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda, and politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Michele Obama, each of whom hold themselves out as strong advocates of women’s rights, turned a “blind eye.”  Recently, actress Jane Fonda, a long-time advocate for women’s rights and other activist causes, admitted in an interview that she has long been aware of the “male entitlement” culture of Hollywood, and she was “ashamed” by her silence. In addition, she admitted that a female actress friend of hers had confessed to her that she had been raped by Weinstein, but regretfully, she (Fonda)did not come forward.

Now that the proverbial “cat” is “out of the bag,” this case will likely continue to mushroom.  Don’t be surprised to see class action lawsuits against individuals and companies, such as the movie studios and even NBC.  The news network’s chief, Noah Oppenheim, allegedly “killed” the story about Weinstein that had been brought to him by NBC reporter Ronan Farrow (subsequently published by The New Yorker).   It turns out that Oppenheim had a major conflict of interest.  He is also a Hollywood screenwriter.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys like to go where the money is and in Hollywood there is plenty to go around.

In the meantime, I have a word of advice for the entertainment industry.  Quit trying to give the rest of us advice on how to live our lives.  You’re good at your “day job,” but when it comes to imparting wisdom in other areas, not so much.  Clean up your own house first.

HARVEY WEINSTEIN

Finally, an issue on which we can all agree – Republicans, Democrats, young, old, black, white, Hispanic, men and women.  We are all appalled, shocked, dismayed and scandalized (pick one) at the disgusting behavior of Harvey Weinstein towards women.  Yes, we are all those things, but are we surprised?  Really?  Rich, powerful, influential, forceful Hollywood producer versus young, vulnerable, beautiful aspiring actresses desperate to “make it.” What can possibly go wrong?

We don’t agree on much in this country.  On any given issue, one can always hear multiple opinions.  That’s the beauty of a free and open society.  In this case, however, I have not heard anyone defending Weinstein’s actions, nor do I expect I will.  That said, I think there is a broader issue, one that has largely been ignored and needs to be discussed.

Based on some of the reportage I have seen in the last few days, Weinstein’s proclivities were not exactly a secret within the industry and among those who knew him.  Apparently, he had a reputation.  The various expressions of shock by entertainers, such as George Clooney and Ben Affleck and politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and the Obamas strike me as disingenuous, to say the least.  Clooney admitted he was cognizant that Weinstein “had a tendency to ‘hit on’ young, beautiful women.”  But, he added that he “had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized.”  Affleck acknowledged “we need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters.  We must support those who come forward [and] condemn this type of behavior when we see it.”  Hillary Clinton said she was “shocked” and “appalled.”  Barack Obama said he and Michelle were “disgusted.”

Fine, as far as it goes, but, to me, comments like that ring hollow.  The entertainment business has long had a reputation as a culture that fostered and tolerated misogynistic behavior toward women, including, but not limited to, sexual abuse.  It has been the industry’s dark, dirty secret.  For example, we have all heard stories about the so-called “casting couch.”  Have you listened to the lyrics in some of these “rap” songs?  Only now, are people speaking up.

Furthermore, Weinstein was a strong supporter of the Democratic Party, and many Democratic politicians have benefitted from his largesse.  They willingly accepted his money and enjoyed his influence.  Now that he has been exposed they express shock and outrage.  To me, it is reminiscent of the scene in Casablanca when the French colonel is “shocked” to learn that there is gambling going on in Rick’s Café, whereupon he is handed his winnings for the day.

Purportedly, some politicians have sought to make amends by donating contributions they received from Weinstein to charity.  Nice stunt, but to me their only motivation is that their connection to Weinstein was disclosed, and they want to mollify their constituents, save their careers.  It is not unlike a thief who, having been caught and facing prison, offers to donate his loot to charities.

CONCLUSION

The hypocrisy of Hollywood and politicians never ceases to amaze me.  They think they are a special class of people.  They think they are better than us and know what is good for us better than we do.  For example, they lecture us on reducing carbon emissions and travel on private jets;  they lecture us on inclusivity regarding immigration yet live in gated communities with 24X7 security; and, now, they lecture us on women’s rights yet overlook the culture of misogyny in their own industry.  They continually befriend and enable Weinstein and others like him.

I repeat what I have said before.  Just because a person has a special talent in acting, singing, music or sports, it does not mean they are any smarter or better equipped to give political advice.  In fact, in my experience, it is more often the opposite case.

STOLEN CHILDREN

Recently, I came across a most disturbing story about the nefarious activities of an organization called the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the proprietor of its Memphis branch, Georgia Tann.  This story may turn your stomach, and parts of it are too incredulous to believe, but based on my research I am convinced of its veracity.

Beulah George Tann was born on July 18, 1891 in Hickory, MS into a wealthy family.  Her father was a local judge.  Ironically, one of his responsibilities was to resolve issues relating to homeless children, who were wards of the state.  Tann wanted to be a lawyer, but her father vetoed that career as being “too  masculine” for a “respectable” woman.  As a result Tann went into social work.  Eventually, she found her way to the TCHS in Memphis where she hatched her scheme.

During a roughly 25 year period from the late 1920s – 1950 the TCHS was engaged in the wholesale kidnapping of children of indigent parents and their subsequent placement for adoption with wealthy and/or influential couples who wanted a child and could afford to pay their exorbitant fees.  It is likely that, for the most part, these adoptive couples were not cognizant that the children had been kidnapped, but, on the other hand, it is possible that some of them knew or suspected but turned a “blind eye.”  Ms. Tann was aided and abetted in her elaborate scheme by a cadre of wealthy and well-connected supporters, including state legislators and Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley.  Kelley was found to have “railroaded through” hundreds of adoptions without regard to state laws.  Moreover, administrative oversight by local and state authorities was haphazard, at best.

To be sure, it is a bizarre and unbelievable tale straight out of a Charles Dickens novel that seems inconceivable in this day and age, but apparently during the above-referenced time period the laws, customs and mores with respect to adoptions were very different than they are today.  Paradoxically, the TCHS did manage to rescue many children from deplorable conditions legally and place them with loving adoptive parents.  Unfortunately, that was not always the case.

Essentially, the scheme worked as follows:

  1. The TCHS was continually on the lookout for vulnerable babies or young children, such as children of indigent or poor parents, or single mothers that were either in mental wards or prison.  Blonde, blue-eyed children were preferred.
  2. It employed a network of spotters who, for example, worked in hospitals or public aid clinics where those poor and desperate women were likely to give birth.
  3. It employed workers who due to their own desperate economic circumstances or questionable ethics were willing to go along and keep quiet about the scheme.
  4. In some cases, the women were tricked into signing over custody of their newborns.  Sometimes, the complicit doctor or nurse would tell the mother that the baby had died during childbirth.  Another version of the scheme would be to convince the mother to surrender custody “temporarily” so that the baby could receive “emergency” medical treatment.  This deception would be perpetrated soon after delivery when the mother would be most vulnerable.
  5. Other children were simply kidnapped on their way to school, or from their porches or yards by TCHS agents.
  6. The fate of thousands of these children is unknown.  Many of them simply vanished.  It is not known what happened to them definitively.  In some cases they were placed for adoption, but the placement could not be traced because the child’s name, birthdate and/or date of adoption were falsified in order to preclude their biological parents from locating them prospectively.  If the biological parents were to show up at the TCHS looking for their child they would be told the child had died in childbirth or already placed for a sealed adoption.  In other cases, the child may have died due to illness or neglect, in which case it would have been buried in an unmarked grave.  One such mass grave, containing 19 children’s remains was discovered in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
  7. Basically, any child of poor or transient parents was fair game.  Thousands of children were stolen in this manner and due process, as we know it, did not exist.
  8. TCHS blatantly advertised the availability of these children.  For example, newspaper ads of the day showed actual photos of the stolen children underscored with enticing captions, such as “Yours for the Asking” or “Want a Real, Live Christmas Present?”
  9. Tann managed to present a respectable, or even charitable, public image.  She was perceived as a hero who rescued children from desperate circumstances and placed them with loving parents of a “high type.”  At the time, the prevailing public opinion was that indigents should not have an “excessive” number of babies that they would be unable to care for.  Therefore, the ethical and moral detriments of taking them away from their biological parents were overridden by the perceived benefits of placing them with more “suitable” adoptive parents.
  10. Many of these children were placed with wealthy, loving parents who provided them with a better life (not that that made it acceptable).   Unfortunately, many others were placed in households where they were overworked, treated like servants, or even abused physically and/or sexually.
  11. Tann had influential connections.  Her scheme could not sustain itself without the support of Judge Kelley and other supporters.  Her clients included movie stars, such as Joan Crawford, June Allyson and Dick Powell and politicians such as NY Governor Herbert Lehman.  In addition, she was also a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s, who regarded her as a pioneer of and an authority on child adoptions.

CONCLUSION

Tann’s scheme finally unraveled in 1950, and the TCHS was closed.  But, it was not due to public outrage.  There was no firestorm of police inquiries, no muckraking reportage, no flurry of legal action.  There were too many powerful and influential people who had a stake in keeping a lid on the entire matter.  Instead, the Governor of Tennessee, Gordon Browning, disclosed the scheme in a press conference that focused on Tann’s profiting illegally from various adoptions she handled.  It is estimated she profited to the tune of $1 million, which is roughly equivalent to $10 million in today’s dollars. The other aspects of the matter were basically swept under the rug.

Tann did not stand trial for her crimes.  She was dying of cancer and would succumb mere days after the governor’s press conference.  Kelley was also not prosecuted for her role  in the scandal.  She died in 1955.  The authorities mounted an investigation, but it was thwarted at every turn and was eventually abandoned.  With the passage of time it became largely moot as most of the biological parents died off and the adopted children had become ensconced in their own lives.

Tann’s records, such as they remained, were finally opened to the public in 1995.  By then, it was way too late to do much good.

This tragic undertaking has been reported in various newspaper articles, as well as television exposes on both 60 Minutes (1991) and Unsolved Mysteries.  Additionally, it has been the subject of two tv movies and a best-selling novel, Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate.  I have read this book, and although, technically, it is a work of fiction it describes the scheme in heart-rending detail.

The UM piece helped one mother find her daughter.  Alma Sipple was watching the show when she recognized Tann as the woman who 44 years previously had convinced Sipple to let her take her infant daughter to a hospital for a checkup.  That had been the last Sipple had seen of Tann or her daughter.  “I let out a scream,” she said.   “That’s the woman that took Irma! My husband said I turned white.  I felt like going through the television.”   Seven months later, with the assistance of an investigator, Sipple found her long-lost daughter.  This was but one isolated happy ending out of thousands of heartbreaking stories.

HILLARY POST-ELECTION

Full disclosure.  I intensely dislike Hillary Clinton, not just politically, but also personally.  Correction, I detest her, literally, meaning I have a “deep contempt or repugnance” for her.  So, if you are a Kool-Aid-drinking Hillary fan, and I know there are many of you out there, you might not exactly enjoy this blog.  But, in my view, Hillary’s post-election behavior has been over-the-top inappropriate, divisive, and extremely harmful to this country, and I can no longer stand by idly without commenting.

To be sure, prior to the 2016 election I was not a Hillary fan.  I disagreed with her, politically.  I thought she was a below average Secretary of State and had been a pedestrian NY Senator.  In particular, I was appalled by her handling of the Benghazi fiasco.  I suppose, one could argue whether and to what degree she was responsible for the inadequate security and lack of preparedness, but her failure to accept even a modicum of responsibility, her blaming a video, and her callous lack of empathy for the victims and their families was astonishing.  (Remember the inane comment “what difference, at this point, does it matter?”)

Moreover, I  cannot think of even one country or entity with which we had a better relationship after her tenure than before.  If you can, please tell me.  But, offhand, I can think of several that were worse, such as North Korea, Iran, Russia and ISIS.  But, although I disagreed with her, politically, I did not detest her, personally.  Her earlier “misadventures” and “irregularities,” such as Whitewater and questionable commodities trading, had faded from memory.

However, her post-election actions have been extremely odd and inappropriate, if not downright unconscionable.  It appears, she cannot and will not accept the fact that she lost, fair and square.  She has outspokenly been blaming everyone else but herself – former FBI Director Comey, GOP dirty tricks, the Russians, her campaign advisors, the Electoral College, negative press, a misogynistic electorate.  She refuses to take responsibility for running a poor campaign.  (By the way, there are sound reasons why the “Founding Fathers” established the EC, and sound reasons why it is still advisable today, but that is the subject for another blog)

It was she who chose not to campaign in Wisconsin; it was she who made derogatory comments with respect to the coal industry and coal miners; it was she who made the ill-advised “basket of deplorables” comment, which offended fully one-half of the electorate; it was she who set up a private server on which she maintained classified documents in contravention of US laws and common sense and which triggered the FBI investigation; it was she who was caught utilizing a foundation for questionable, if not illegal, activities; it was she who gave the impression that the laws, rules and standards of behavior that apply to the rest of us do not apply to her; it was she who misread the mood of half of the electorate; and it was she who was simply a personally unpopular candidate.

At the beginning of the campaign her election seemed inevitable.  But, first, she had trouble defeating Bernie Sanders, a heretofore obscure Senator from Vermont, a fringe candidate, and an avowed socialist.  One could argue she only did so because of the Party nomination rules that strongly favor the insiders’ candidate over the will of the primary voters.  Then, somehow, she managed to lose an election to a GOP candidate with no political experience and the highest “negatives” of any candidate ever, that was there for the winning, and that a person like Joe Biden, limited though he may be, would likely have won.  She did it.  She did it all.  She was responsible.  She must take responsibility.  She must “own” it.

CONCLUSION

For me, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was her tasteless, opportunistic tweet regarding the mass shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday, which I discussed in my last blog.  I believe it was grossly inappropriate and divisive and showed a total lack of empathy for the victims and their loved ones.  Can you imagine her saying words to that effect as President?  Talk about leadership!

The kindest way to put it is that Hillary is a “sore loser.”  On the playground, if you lose, you get off the court and leave it to the winners.  There are no “do-overs.”  Same thing in politics.  We don’t redo elections.  Even the much-detested Richard Nixon declined to take issue with the voting “irregularities” in Chicago and other places in the 1960 Presidential election, which he lost to JFK by a whisker.  He knew the score and respected the outcome for the good of the country.

Hillary could take a lesson from Nixon.  Her refusal to take responsibility and her insistence on blaming external factors, particularly the Russian government, has been very divisive.  Incidentally, remember when Hillary made a big point about foreign heads of state preferring her over Mr. Trump?  Why then would the Russian government, or any government, interfere in his favor over her?

Several months of comprehensive investigation have disclosed only that Russian sources of indeterminate origin managed to hack the DNC server and plant negative emails about Hillary, but so what?  That’s politics, and it happens with respect to most every election.  Not one “smidgen” (Love that word.  Thanks Barack.) of evidence has been uncovered that proves Russia or anyone else tampered with the actual voting process.

Her book and book tour, where she has been reiterating the above excuses ad nauseum, is a further embarrassment.  It is also so sad to see her Kool-Aid-drinking followers lapping up her c**p.  The letter reading on Kimmel the other night was particularly over the top.  The really sad thing is that Hillary still serves as a role model for many women.  They aspire to be like her.  Oh, well.

Hillary is not the future of the Democratic party.  She is the past.  Ditto for Schumer, Pelosi, Warren, Sanders and all the other all-too-familiar faces.  The party needs new leaders or else it will reprise its last defeat.  Maybe, someone will emerge in 2018.  Maybe.

Some day the US will have a female president.  There is no reason why we shouldn’t.  I’m sure there are many qualified females.  Most of us are just not aware of them.  Maybe she is in kindergarten right now, or, perhaps , she hasn’t even been born yet.  If she is worthy on the merits, she will win.

 

 

LAS VEGAS MASS SHOOTING

Sunday night we suffered through the deadliest and most heinous mass shooting in US history.  A lone gunman, Stephen Paddock, 64, ensconced in a two-room suite in the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the “strip” in Las Vegas, shot thousands of rounds into a crowd of some 20,000 people who were attending a Jason Alden concert in the plaza below.  Paddock opened fire at 10:08 pm local time, 1:08 am Monday Eastern time, and discharged thousands of rounds, indiscriminately in about ten minutes.   At the present time, the death toll stands at 59, with some 527 more wounded, some critically.

According to multiple witnesses and tv audio the weapons used were either fully automatics or were semi-automatics that had been modified to fire like automatics.  The firing was so intense that it set off the smoke alarm in the shooter’s hotel suite, which actually enabled the police and SWAT units to locate him quickly.

Reportedly, Paddock had some 23 weapons in his suite, including assault rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, scopes and a stand to mount and steady his rifle.  He had a setup akin to a sniper’s nest.

As I write this, the investigation is ongoing, and likely, it will be some time before we have all the answers.  At the moment, there are more questions than answers.  For example:

  1. How was Paddock able to avoid detection by either the hotel staff or security system.  According to the local sheriff, he first entered the hotel on September 28 and in the intervening days prior to the shooting he went in and out of the hotel several times ferrying his equipment.  Also, he had to have made some noise setting up.
  2. Based upon current information, Paddock seems like a very unlikely perpetrator of this mass slaying.  According to his brother, Eric, Paddock was a retired accountant who lived outside of Las Vegas and spent his time gambling, principally in high-stakes poker.
  3. Eric claims to be unaware of his brother having any mental or emotional problems or drug or alcohol addictions.
  4. He was cognizant that his brother owned a couple of handguns, but he was unaware that he owned any of the sophisticated weaponry used in the shootings or found at the scene.  Fully automatic weapons made after the mid-1980s are illegal in the US.  Moreover, those produced prior to then can only be purchased under very stringent conditions.  How, then, did Paddock acquire them or convert them? “There’s absolutely no sense, no reason he did this,” Eric told a reporter.
  5. What was Paddock’s motive?  Why was he not on the FBI’s radar?
  6. As of yet, investigators have not uncovered any links to any terrorist group, although ISIS has claimed he is part of its network.
  7. How was Paddock able to accumulate the vast amount of weaponry that has been found so far.  In addition to what was recovered in the hotel, investigators have found some 19 weapons in his home, plus several pounds of ammonium nitrate, which can be made into explosives similar to that which was used in the 1995 OKC bombing.
  8. What is the role of Paddock’s girlfriend, Marylou Danley, who had been living with him and who has since fled to the Philippines.  Did she mastermind this?  Is she the link to a terror network?  Good questions with no answers yet.

CONCLUSION

We are all shocked that something of this magnitude could happen on US soil.  As I write this, DHS has advised it is not cognizant of any additional “creditable” threats, but many of us are extremely concerned nonetheless.

Now is the time for us to put aside our political and social differences and come together.  Even so, some politicians have seized on the opportunity to score cheap political points and sow fear and dissension.  For example, Hillary Clinton opportunistically tweeted an inane comment about the NRA and silencers: “Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make it easier to get.”  White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders diplomatically replied: “This isn’t a time for us to go after individuals or organizations.  I think we can have those policy discussions, but today is not that day.”   Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, was more blunt, characterizing Clinton’s tweet as “ignorant, irrelevant and exploitive.”  I’m with Ben.

President Trump spoke for us all labelling it an act of “pure evil.”  He added words of encouragement saying “our unity cannot be shattered by evil.  Our bonds cannot be broken by violence. …. It is our love [for our fellow citizens] that defines us today – and always will, forever.”  Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval called the attack a “cowardly, despicable act” and heaped praise on first responders, whose quick, brave actions saved “scores of lives.”

Tragedies such as this tend to bring out the best in Americans.  Indeed, there were many examples of people helping those in distress, even at the risk of their own lives.  For example, there was Sonny Melton, who covered his wife with his own body to protect her from flying bullets at the loss of his own life; there were first responders who bravely ran TOWARD the action to treat the wounded and distressed and help restore order to a panicky situation; there was the off-duty policeman who borrowed a weapon and stood guard over several panicked civilians until help arrived; and there were people who voluntarily transported wounded to hospitals on their own in their own vehicles.  These people and others helped selflessly and without hesitation.  They did so without regard to race, color, religion or political affiliation.  This made for a stark and welcome contrast to what we have seen during recent political demonstrations as portrayed (and, perhaps, exacerbated) by the media.

Many of our leaders have been warning of this possibility since “9/11,” and now that it has occurred we realize there could very well be additional attacks.  America is replete with extremely inviting “soft targets,” such as schools, churches, malls, and sporting events, etc.

I urge people to live their lives.  Don’t be paralyzed by fear.  Don’t “hide under your bed.”  If you do, the terrorists win.  However, use common sense, and be vigilant.