PARKLAND SHOOTING

Another mass shooting, this time at a high school in Parkland, FL.   This is getting to be all too commonplace.  This was the third mass shooting in the last four months.  Each of these incidents was horrific, but, to me, the ones in which kids were the victims – Columbine, Sandy Hook and this one – are the worst.  Some of the kids were as young as 14.  14!  So sad to have young lives snuffed out before they have really begun.  May they all rest in peace.

Parents send their kids to school every day with two expectations: (1) they will learn something useful, and (2) they will return home safely.  I cannot think of anything more devastating to a parent than when they get “that phone call.”

As the shock begins to fade away, people want to know how and why this happened.  In what kind of a society do we live where this happens time and time again?  Who or what is to blame?  Is it the proliferation and easy availability of guns, inadequate school security, lax parental supervision and guidance, the violent movies and video games, music in which violence is espoused and lauded, weak law enforcement, political correctness run amok, the internet, or a hideous combination of some or all of the above?  Everyone has a theory, but no one really knows.

One thing you can count on – the politicians will try to use this to further their own agendas.  Gun control advocates will scream for restrictions on guns. ( Were it only that easy.)  They will advocate confiscating all the guns held in private hands, like they did in Australia years ago, or, at the very least placing severe restrictions on their purchase and ownership.  That is a naïve and overly simplistic solution and will NEVER happen, for the following reasons:

  1.  The gun lobby is too strong, and many, if not most, Americans really cherish the second amendment and won’t give an inch.
  2. Congress is too fractured to reach a consensus on ANYTHING, much less an issue as controversial as that.  Time and time again, the leadership of both political parties has demonstrated an embarrassing inability to control its fringe elements and forge a consensus.  Look at the problems they had passing a budget.  Also, they have been unable to pass an immigration policy even though the elements that have been proposed are favored by some two-thirds of voters.
  3. No one has been able to explain how Chicago, with arguably the strictest gun laws in the country is, paradoxically, one of the most violent cities.  In my opinion, a large part of that is that criminals will always find a way to obtain guns, so gun control only affects the law-abiding would-be gun owners.

I would agree that we need to do a better job of monitoring and restricting the purchase of guns, but other than that, the solution, if there is one, lies elsewhere.

CONCLUSION

I don’t have a magic answer.  People a lot smarter than me have been trying to find one with little success.  But, like everyone else, I have an opinion.  You may disagree, but I welcome your input.

  1. We need to have a rational, objective discussion of the causes and possible solutions.  No bloviating, rhetoric, or political agendas.
  2. Guns are part of the problem, but not the entire problem.  Those who say they are, are guilty of violating #1 above.
  3. Parents need to take more responsibility for raising their own kids and instilling a strong sense of right and wrong.  In what universe can some kid think it is okay to take a life?
  4. Schools need to do a better job of security, and identifying victims of bullying who might be harboring a grudge as well as “loners” and other disaffected students.
  5. Law enforcement needs to be more proactive.  For example, in the Parkland situation we have now ascertained that the FBI received a complaint about Cruz on its tip line last month and failed to follow up.  Why?  No one knows or is willing to say.
  6. Ease up on the political correctness.  Don’t be afraid to report someone who may be an African American, Hispanic or Muslim.  If you do so in good faith, no one in his right mind should criticize you if it turns out to be a false alarm.  On the other hand if you don’t and he turns out to be a shooter (e.g. San Bernardino), you will never forgive yourself.

It pains me to have to blog about these tragedies.  Let’s hope I never have to do so again.

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VALENTINE’S DAY

On Wednesday, February 14 many of us will celebrate Valentine’s Day (the “Day”).   The Day is named after St. Valentine.  We will present our loved ones with flowers, candy, jewelry and/or a romantic card.  The Day is celebrated in some form by people all over the world, but why, and who was Valentine?  What did he do to merit this recognition?  Read on and be edified.

My research disclosed that the origins of the Day are shrouded in mystery.   It is not clear what is fact and what is legend.  Apparently, it originated as a religion-oriented feast day to celebrate an early saint, or saints, named “Valentine.”  Over time, it has evolved into a Day more associated with romance than religion.

There is historical evidence that there may have been more than one martyred saint named “Valentine.”  For example, Valentine of Rome was martyred in 269 by Roman Emperor Claudius II for the crime of performing marriage ceremonies for persons who were forbidden to marry (presumably for religious reasons).  In addition, the same Claudius martyred Valentine of Terni in 273 evidently, for similar  offenses, hence, the religious origin of the Day.  Due to the factual similarities and chronological and geographic proximity of these two events, some historians believe that the two were actually one and the same.

St. Valentine has been called the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, the plague, fainting, and travel as well as lovers, engaged persons and marriage.  Busy guy.

Most historians credit the romantic aspect of the Day to Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th century English author and poet.  Chaucer is best known for The Canterbury Tales, a collection of 24 stories written over a 13-year period between 1387 and 1400.   According to author, Jack Oruch, Chaucer was the first person to associate the Day with romance and love.  In a poem entitled Parlement of Foules in 1382 in honor of King Richard II’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia, he wrote (in Middle English):

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day; Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

For those of you who are not scholars of Middle English it translates to

“For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

By the end of the 18th century publishers were providing suggested romantic verses to persons who were unable or unwilling to compose their own (sort of a forerunner of the greeting cards with which we are all familiar).  During the 19th century the popularity of these cards increased to the point that they became mass produced.  Their popularity was aided by the invention and wide usage of the postage stamp in the 1840s, which enabled one to mail cards to distant locales.  In time, valentine cards became more elaborate.  Esther Howland, a bookstore proprietor in Worcester, MA, is credited with being the first person to mass-produce Valentine’s Day cards of embossed paper lace in 1847.  Soon, these mass-produced cards replaced handwritten notes.

In 1868 Cadbury, the British-based chocolatier, hopped on the bandwagon.  It began marketing decorated boxes of chocolates, called “Fancy Boxes” for the Day.   As we know, other candy makers soon followed suit as well as purveyors of other products, such as flowers and jewelry.  Now, with the advent of the internet, many people send their holiday greetings electronically, more efficient, but less personal.

According to the US Greeting Card Association, Americans send nearly 200 million greeting cards on the Day, and that excludes those cards exchanged personally by school children.  Many of us remember, probably with more embarrassment than fondness, exchanging valentines with elementary school classmates  The GCA estimates that when those cards are included the figure swells to over 1 billion.  In fact, collectively, teachers are the largest recipients of Valentine’s Day cards.

CONCLUSION

Alas, like all other holidays, the Day has become commercialized to the extent that its original meaning and purpose has become obscured in the mists of time.  As mentioned above, it is now celebrated all over the world, by people of all religions, not just Catholics.  After all, there are lovers everywhere.

For example,

  1.  In Latin American countries such as Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Mexico, it is known as the “day of lovers.”  Typically, people perform “acts of appreciation for their friends, romantic or not.  Brazil celebrates the day on June 12 in connection with St. Anthony’s Day (the marriage saint).  In addition to the usual exchange of gifts, single women traditionally perform rituals known as simpatias with the intention of attracting a good husband.
  2. In China the Day is called “lovers’ festival.”
  3. In India the Day did not catch on until circa 1992, when the idea was spread by American tv programs.
  4. Even Israel has joined in.  The Day is celebrated in late August in connection with the traditional holiday, Tu B’Av.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  As we know, love is universal.  So, enjoy the day.  Don’t forget your loved ones.

WINTER OLYMPICS

The Winter Olympics, officially, the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, will be held on  February 9-25 in PyeongChang, South Korea.  This will be the second time SK will be the host.  The prior occasion was the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988.  Technically, however, the competition will commence tonight with a preliminary round of figure-skating competition (even though the Opening Ceremonies are not until tomorrow.  Go figure.)

As has often been the case in recent Olympiads, politics has threatened to intrude on the Games.  This time, the perpetrator is North Korea.  On the plus side, the rogue regime has decided to participate.  Moreover, NK and SK have agreed to march together in the Opening Ceremonies under a (“Korean Unification Flag”) and to field a “United Korea” women’s hockey team.  It’s always nice when sports brings countries together.  On the negative side, the Games are being held in close proximity to one of the most dangerous and unpredictable nations in the world, and we will all be holding our breath until the end.

Below please find some interesting facts with respect to the Games:

  1. The initial Winter Games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France as part of that year’s Summer Olympics.  Approximately, 300 athletes participated, including only 13 women.  In those pre-PC days the women were relegated to competing only in figure-skating, as they were considered to be “too delicate” for the more rigorous competitions.  Medals were awarded in only 16 events spread among five sports.  In 1925 the IOC decided to hold separate Games for the winter sports, beginning in 1928.
  2. Curiously, the final medal of those 1924 Games was not presented until 1974.  Why?  Glad you asked.  Apparently, an error was discovered in the score of one of the medalists in the ski-jump.  As a result, the fourth place finisher was elevated to third.  So, 50 years after the fact Anders Haugen received his bronze medal.
  3. Eleven year-old Norwegian Sonja Heine finished last in women’s figure-skating.  Why is that significant?  Well, Ms. Heine went on to become one of the best and most celebrated figure-skaters ever.  She won gold at the next three Olympics and appeared in some 15 movies over the next 30+ years.
  4. The Winter and Summer Games were contested the same year through 1992.  Thereafter, the IOC determined to hold them in separate years, so in order to establish the current schedule, the Winter Games were held in 1992 (with the Summer Games) but then again in 1994.
  5. The torch relay is always a big part of the Games.  As most fans know, the lit Olympic Torch is maintained continually in Athens between Games.  Prior to the Games it is transported to the host city, often in unusual and roundabout ways.  This year, its journey began on October 27, 2017.  During the 101-day sojourn the various modes of transportation included turtle ship, sailboat, marine cable car, zip-wire, steam train, marine rail bike, yacht and robot.  All in all, there were some 7,500 torch bearers (symbolizing Korea’s 75 million person population) and 2,018 “support runners,” who provided security for both the torch and the runners.
  6. There will be competitions in a record 102 events in 15 sports.  Disciplines such as mixed team alpine skiing, big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, and mass start speed-skating will be making their Olympic debuts.
  7. Athletes from 92 countries are expected to compete.  Most of them have no expectation of winning a medal.  They are just thrilled to represent their country.  The US will have the largest delegation (some 242).
  8. Russia will not be one of the 92.  The IOC banned the Russian delegation due to doping.  However, it is permitting some 170 Russian athletes, who have been able to demonstrate compliance with IOC doping standards, to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag.
  9. The official mascots are a white tiger and an Asiatic black bear.
  10. In the US the broadcast will be handled by NBC.  Due to the 14 hour time difference (in the eastern time zone) many of the events will be shown live in prime time.  However, there will still be “spoilers” on the internet.
  11. Security has been a major concern at every Olympics since 1972.  As mentioned above, this year, fears have been exacerbated due to the close proximity of the venue to North Korea.  Several countries, including US, France and Germany,  had considered not participating, but, as I write this, they all will.  In fact, VP Mike Pence plans to attend.  No doubt, the fact that NK is expected to send a delegation, including Kim’s sister, has alleviated some safety concerns.

CONCLUSION

For the most part, the Olympics and sports, in general, have tended to bring people together and provide a temporary respite from political and diplomatic tensions.  Most people just want to enjoy 16 days of friendly sports competition.  Hopefully, that will be the case here.

Let the games begin!

This year is Super Bowl LII.  It will be played in Minneapolis between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots.  Kick-off will be shortly after 6:30pm.  Anyone who watches the entire pre-game show on NBC deserves a prize.

To celebrate the occasion I have compiled a Super Bowl quiz.  As always, no peeking at the internet, and don’t ask “Alexa.”

1.  What is the official name of the stadium in which tomorrow’s SB will be played?  (a) Vikings Stadium; (b) Minnesota Dome; (c) 3-M Stadium; (d) US Bank Stadium.

2.  Who is performing at halftime?  (a) Justin Timberlake; (b) Lady Gaga; (c) Bruno Mars; (d)  Katy Perry.

3.  The losing team in the first SB was: (a) Cowboys; (b) Raiders; (c) Giants; (d) Chiefs

4. According to the USDA, Super Bowl Sunday is the “second largest food consumption day.  Which day is first?  (a) New Years Day; (b)  Thanksgiving; (c) Christmas; (d) Mothers Day

5. How many Super Bowls have been decided in overtime? (a) 0; (b) 1; (c) 2; (d) 3

6. Which franchise has won the most SBs? (a) Dallas; (b) San Francisco; (c) Pittsburg; (d) New England

7. Each of the following teams is undefeated in SBs except: (a) Jets; (b) Ravens; (c) Bucs; (d) Green Bay

8. The name “Super Bowl” was derived from: (a) College “bowl” games; (b) Fan vote; (c) Media feedback; (d) Child’s toy

9. Who is the only starting quarterback to win SBs with two different teams? (a) Bart Starr; (b) Peyton Manning; (c) Steve Young; (d) Joe Montana

10. Who was the only MVP from the losing team? (a) Chuck Howley; (b) Len Dawson; (c) Bruce Smith; (d) Icky Woods

11. How many defensive players have been MVP of a SB? (a) Two; (b) Five; (c) Eight; (d) Ten

12. If the Pats win tomorrow they will have achieved the rare, but not unique, feat of wining back-to-back SBs.  Which team has won back-to-back SBs twice? (a) Green Bay; (b) San Francisco; (c) Dallas (d) Pittsburg

13. Name the current NFL city that has neither hosted an SB nor had its team appear in one. (a)  Jacksonville; (b) Philadelphia; (c) Cleveland; (d) Indianapolis

14. Each of the following teams has not appeared in a SB, except:  (a)  Eagles; (b) Jaguars; (c) Lions; (d) Browns

15.  Who scored the first ever touchdown in a SB?  (a)  Bart Starr; (b)  Paul Hornung; (c)  Max McGee; (d) Len Dawson

16. How many times has a team played the SB in its home stadium? (a) 0; (b) 1; (c) 2; (d) 3

17. SB LII will be Bill Belichick’s eighth.  Which coach has appeared in the next highest number of SBs? (a) Vince Lombardi; (b) Tom Landry; (c) Don Shula; (d) Bud Grant

18. Who was the MVP in the first Super Bowl? (a) Paul Hornung; )b) Len Dawson; (c) Bart Starr; (d) Jerry Kramer

19. Which of the following coaches has taken more than one team to a SB?  (a) Don Shula; (b) Tom Landry; (c) Bill Belichick;  (d) Vince Lombardi

20. The 2017 SB was played in which city? (a) Dallas; (b) Houston; (c) New Jersey; (d) Los Angeles

21. Which of the below-listed quarterbacks did not win any Super Bowls. (a) Jim Plunkett; (b) Dan Marino; (c). Joe Namath; (d) Terry Bradshaw

22. After whom is the SB trophy named? (a) Pete Rozelle; (b) Paul Brown; (c) Al Davis; (d) Vince Lombardi

23. Which player has won the most SB rings? (a) Adam Vinatieri; (b) Charles Haley; (c) Terry Bradshaw; (d) Bob Lilly

24. Which half-time entertainer became (in)famous for a “wardrobe malfunction?” (a) Beyoncé; (b) Janet Jackson; (c) Madonna; (d) Lady Gaga

25. What marginal player became famous for the “helmet catch” in SBXLII (Giants vs. Pats)? (a) Plaxico Burris; (b) Randy Moss; (c) David Tyree; (d) Bob Schnelker

ANSWERS: 1. d; 2. a; 3. d; 4. b ; 5. b; 6. c; 7. d; 8. d; 9. b; 10. a (SB V); 11.d; 12. d ; 13. c, 14. a; 15. c; 16. a; 17. c (6); 18. c; 19. a; 20. b (NRG Stadium); 21. b; 22. d; 23. b (5- tied with Tom Brady); 24. b; 25. c

Enjoy this year’s game.  Although I dislike both teams, I will be rooting for the Eagles, because if they win ESPN host Dave Rothenberg (who is my favorite sports commentator) will “go nuclear” on the air for days, which will be “must listen” radio entertainment.   That said, I think the Pats will win.

Prediction: New England 31; Philadelphia 17.

STATE OF THE UNION

And, the state of the union is ……divided.  In my opinion, there is one inescapable fact that applies whether you are a liberal, a moderate or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, a Trump supporter or a Trump hater, white, black or Hispanic, young or old, male or female, or rich or poor.  This country is DIVIDED, as never before in my lifetime.

Who is to blame?  Dems?  GOP?  Obama?  Trump?  The media?  All of the above?  The answer is simple; it depends on one’s political point of view.  Watching the president’s SOU speech Tuesday night and the various rebuttals and political commentators on CNN and Fox, how could one think otherwise?

The Constitution requires the President to inform Congress on the “state of the union” annually. The time of the year is not specified, but traditionally Presidents have given the address in January or February. George Washington gave the initial one, in person, in 1790, but that is not a requirement.  In fact, during the 19th century most of them were actually delivered to Congress in handwritten form. Apparently, they were not viewed as that significant.

With the advent of radio, however, Presidents began to see an opportunity to disseminate their policies directly to the people. Hence, they were broadcast on the radio and, later, telecast on TV. Down through the years most of them have been rather mundane, however, a few of the notable announcements were:

1. President Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.
2. FDR described the famous “four freedoms” (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) in 1941.
3. LBJ outlined his War on Poverty in 1964.

In my opinion, President Trump hit a “homerun.”  First of all and most importantly, his demeanor and delivery were calm, collected, and very presidential.  There was none of the Trump bombast and bluster.  It was not his usual “stump” speech, but rather an attempt at unity and inclusion.  He made very effective use of his “guests,” such as the 12 year-old boy who places flowers on veterans’ graves, the border patrol officer who adopted an opioid-addicted baby, the family of the late Otto Warmbier, and the parents of the slain MS-13 girls.

In addition, he reiterated his major accomplishments, such as:

  1. Strong support for veterans.
  2. Sustained low unemployment, including record lows for blacks and Hispanics.
  3. Job creation, including new plants being built.
  4. A moderate justice appointed to the Supreme Court.
  5. Record-breaking stock market.
  6. Tax reform, which has already encouraged several companies to hire additional workers and pay out employee bonuses
  7. Respect for the flag.
  8. Heroism by “ordinary” Americans during natural disasters.
  9. Energy independence
  10. Elimination of needless regulations that discourage business.
  11. Proposed immigration bill, including border security and a path to citizenship for law-abiding “dreamers.”
  12. Fighting gangs and opioid addiction
  13. Fair and reciprocal trade deals.
  14. Rebuilding infrastructure.
  15. Paid family leave.
  16. Success against ISIS.
  17. Necessity to retain Guantanamo.
  18. Strong support of Israel, including recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

CONCLUSION

Even though a post-speech CNN survey disclosed that 70% of viewers approved of the SOUS and 48% had a “very positive” opinion of it, those ratings were lower than President Trump’s address to Congress last year.  As expected, politicians and political commentators adhered to their party lines.  Supporters characterized it as “unifying.”  For example, GOP Representative Peter King called it “excellent,” praising in particular the section on MS-13.  On the other hand, Dem Representative Kamala Harris was skeptical.  She denoted that, in the past, the president’s actions have not been consistent with his words.  Chuck Schumer opined that the speech “stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.”  In his rebuttal speech Joe Kennedy III made a point of reaching out to “dreamers,” telling them in both Spanish and English that “you are a part of our history.”  There were many moments when GOPers stood and applauded while the Dems sat on their hands, but that is always the case, so I wouldn’t make too much of that.  Curiously, members of the black and Hispanic caucuses refused to stand and clap even when the president cited the aforementioned unemployment numbers.  Furthermore, I found it humorous when the camera focused on Nancy Pelosi sitting stonily and looking like she was sucking on a lemon.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted a post-speech panel featuring commentary by Fred Axelrod, Gloria Borger, Rick Santorum, and Van Jones, among others.  With respect to every topic the commentators followed their respective party lines.  Similarly, on The Five Trump supporters Kimberly Guilfoyle, Jesse Waters, Greg Gutfeld and Dana Perino were positive and liberal Juan Williams was negative.

Two examples of following party lines: the Trump opponents made a case to attribute the low unemployment and high stock market to policies instituted by President Obama and, generally, put a skeptical or negative spin on the benefits of the tax reform law and proposed immigration plan.  The comments on both sides were so predictable they could have been written BEFORE the speech and mailed in.

So, to sum up, the one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that President Trump’s demeanor was presidential and devoid of his normal bluster and bombast.  Whether its substance, was unifying or divisive, however, depended on the eye of the beholder.   One thing everyone seemed to agree on was that in an election year it will be very difficult to get anything controversial through Congress as everyone will be focused on avoiding doing anything that will hurt their or their party’s election prospects.