I HAVE A DREAM

Tomorrow, January 15, is the birthday of, in my mind, the greatest civil rights leader in American history.  Of course, I am referring to Martin Luther King, Jr.  His birthday is a national holiday, and as is the case with many of our holidays, we celebrate it on a Monday, in this case the third one in January, rather than on the actual day. This year, it will be celebrated on Monday, January 17.

This year will mark the 54th anniversary of his untimely assassination on April 4, 1968.  Like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the assassination of President JFK on November 22, 1963 most of us will always remember where we were when we heard the horrible news.

For some people, the holiday holds no special meaning; it is just a day off from work, a day to spend with family or friends, part of a long three-day weekend.  For many of us, however, particularly those of us who were alive in the 1950s and 1960s, it is much, much more.

MLK was born on January 15, 1929.  In my opinion, he became the most prominent and influential American civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s, if not ever.  MLK was more than just a pastor.  He believed that more advancement in civil rights could be achieved by civil disobedience and non-violence than by violence.  He preached peaceful disobedience, sit-ins, marches and demonstrations, often in the face of wanton violence and cruelty by the police and others, rather than by rioting.  In this regard, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.  In turn, he inspired many others such as Nelson Mandela and the Black Civil Rights movement in South Africa.

He also recognized the power of the press to bring attention to his cause and influence public opinion. For example, as many as 70 million people around the world witnessed the police brutality inflicted on the peaceful black and white marchers in Selma, Alabama, in March of 1965, including women and children as well as men.  Those images, broadcast live on TV and radio, appalled and disgusted many people and provided an immeasurable boost to the public awareness of the injustices being visited upon blacks in the South. These events were captured dramatically and realistically in the 2014 movie, “Selma,” which featured David Oyelowo as MLK.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.

Unlike any other African American leaders before or since, he had the ability to unite, rather than divide.  Although he was criticized by some of the more militant civil rights leaders of the time, such as Stokely Carmichael, he commanded the support and respect of a large majority of blacks and many whites as well. In that regard, he was similar to Mandela.

After his death, despite the urgings of some civil rights leaders who wanted to continue MLK’s philosophy, more militant African American leaders, such as Mr. Carmichael, came into prominence. There was rioting in over 100 US cities, and a slew of violent incidents at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago in front of the national press and millions of Americans, which many believe swung the 1968 presidential election to Richard Nixon. The Civil Rights movement was changed forever.

MLK came into prominence in 1955 when he led a bus boycott, peacefully, in Montgomery, Alabama.  The boycott had been fueled by the famous Rosa Parks incident in which she had refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.  She was arrested on December 1. (Most people don’t know that earlier that year in March a similar incident had occurred, also in Montgomery, involving Claudette Colvin, a black girl who had also refused to give up her seat to a white man.  However, that case did not receive the same notoriety.  Civil rights lawyers declined to pursue it because Colvin was 15, unmarried and pregnant. They chose to wait for a case with a more favorable fact pattern, and they were proven to be right.)

Later, MLK became the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and remained so until his death. He applied his non-violence philosophy to protests in Selma, Ala., St. Augustine, FL, and the March on Washington, D. C., among others. He made it a policy never to endorse a particular political party or candidate. He believed he could be more effective if he were neutral and not beholden to anyone.  Furthermore, in his view, neither party was all bad, and neither one was perfect.  In his words, “[t]hey both have weaknesses.”

Perhaps, MLK’s signature moment occurred during the famous March on Washington in August 1963.  Ironically, MLK was not the primary organizer of the March.  That was Bayard Rustin, a colleague.  The primary purpose of the March was to dramatize the plight of blacks in the South.  Civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins, NAACP, Whitney Young, National Urban League, A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, John Lewis, SNCC, James Farmer CORE, and MLK, wanted to bring awareness of these issues right to the seat of the Federal government.  More than 250,000 people of all ethnicities and colors attended.  MLK was one of several speakers, and he only spoke for 17 minutes.  But, his “I Have a Dream” speech became one of the most famous speeches ever.  The March, in general, and MLK’s speech, in particular, are credited with bringing civil rights to the political forefront and facilitating the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Some little-known facts about MLK:

1. His birth name was Michael King, Jr., after his father.  In 1931 his father changed his own name to Martin Luther King, after the German theologian, Martin Luther, whom he admired.  At the same time, he changed his son’s name.

2. In 1958 MLK was stabbed in the chest after a speech by a woman who had been stalking him, and he nearly died.

3. The FBI began tapping MLK’s telephone as early as 1963.  Robert Kennedy, who was Attorney General at the time and who is viewed as a staunch supporter of civil rights, in general, and MLK, in particular, authorized the tapping.

4. MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 at the age of 35, the youngest age ever at the time.

5. MLK won a Grammy Award in 1971, posthumously.  It should be noted that he won it, not because he displayed a great singing voice, but for a “Spoken Word Album,” “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.”  In addition, he won countless other awards and was awarded some 50 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities.

6. Even though MLK was one of the great public speakers of his time, inexplicably, he got a “C” in a public speaking course at the seminary.  (Kind of like a baseball scout saying Babe Ruth can hit “a little bit.”)

7. MLK is one of three individuals and the only native-born American to have a holiday named after him.  In case you’re wondering, the others are George Washington (born in the COLONY of Virginia), and Christopher Columbus.

Some MLK quotes to ponder:

1. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
2. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
3. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
4. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
5. “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”
6. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

CONCLUSION

Today, there is much division among African Americans as well as their leaders.  Some are moderate and want to work within the system; others are more militant.  Many of the leaders have their own agendas and look for any excuse to foment distrust and discord.  If you doubt me, just randomly turn on CNN or MSNBC and listen to some of the news coverage. The coverage and commentary of some of the guest commentators (and a few of the news anchors as well) are subjective and divisive. I believe that these “race hustlers,” and we all know who they are, do more harm than good, but that is a subject for another blog.

In my opinion, we have made much progress in the area of civil rights.  For example, we have elected an African American president (twice) and vice president; an African American sits on the Supreme Court; and African Americans hold and have held positions of prominence in every field of endeavor, including business, entertainment, sports, and the military.  But, still, it is a work in progress.  We can do more.

One can speculate whether and to what extent MLK’s assassination changed the course of history.  In my opinion, had MLK lived, the Civil Rights Movement would have been considerably different over the last 50 years, more peaceful and less divisive, with better results.  Furthermore, his assassination had a significant impact, not only on the history of the civil rights movement, but also on the overall history of the country, itself.  I hope and believe that eventually a moderate leader will emerge and bridge the gap as MLK did half a century ago.

Finally, I firmly believe that MLK would have been appalled by the violent, arbitrary and senseless rioting and sharp uptick in crime of the past few years that was instigated, aided, and abetted by BLM, ANTIFA, many Dem political leaders and much of the media.  I find this to be senseless and ironic since most of the victims are themselves poor minorities. How is that helping the civil rights movement?  That is not what MLK stood for.  Furthermore, in my view, he would not have been an exponent of the extreme “cancel culture,” “critical race theory,” and “political correctness” movements that many see as dividing the country today. .

So, as you enjoy the holiday in whatever manner you choose, I ask you to reflect for a moment on where we are as a nation regarding civil rights, where we want to go and how we get there.

SIDNEY POITIER

He was renowned as a superb actor and director. More than that, he was a pioneer for persons of color in the entertainment business. Over a 71 year career he played many ground-breaking roles in many ground-breaking movies and won numerous awards. In fact, as you will see below, one might say that, especially early in his career, he was the go-to actor of color for those types of roles in those types, of movies.

Sidney L. Poitier was born on February 20, 1927 in Miami, FL. At the time, his entire extended family was living in the Bahamas. His parents were tomato farmers on Cat Island, which is located in the central Bahamas. Through happenstance, they were in Miami on business when Sidney was born unexpectedly two months prematurely. So, literally through an accident of birth, he was an American citizen. At that time, medicine was not as advanced as it is now. Therefore, many, if not most, babies born prematurely did not survive, and for a while it was doubtful that Sidney would. He remained in the Miami hospital for three months, until he was healthy enough to go home.

He was the youngest of seven children. The origin of the family surname is interesting. According to family legend an ancestral branch of the Poitiers were runaway slaves who fled from Haiti to Cat Island. There they joined a “maroon” community. Such communities were not uncommon in the region. The name was used to describe runaway slaves who had fled to remote Bahamian islands and established independent communities. Often, they intermarried with indigenous peoples. The name is derived from the Spanish word, “cimarron,” which means “fierce” or “unruly.” There was a white planter on Cat Island named Charles Leonard Poitier,” so he was likely the source of the family name.

When Sidney was 10 the family moved to Nassau. He lived there until the age of 15 when he was sent to live in Miami with a brother. At age 16 he moved to New York. He held down a series of menial jobs, such as dishwasher, until 1943 when he lied about his age and enlisted in the Army. He was assigned to work with psychiatric patients, but he became disenchanted with how the Army treated them. Consequently, he faked mental illness and managed to obtain a Section VIII discharge.

Back in NY Sidney determined to be an actor. In order to hone his craft he joined the American Negro Theatre. Like most every other aspiring entertainer he struggled for a while. At that time, due to stereotyping, producers expected Black actors to be able to sing and dance. Sidney was “tone deaf,” and could do neither, which hindered his career for a while.

Sidney’s first break came in 1950. Darryl Zanuck cast him in the movie No Way Out as a doctor who treats a Caucasian bigot (played by another up-and-comer named Richard Widmark). After a series of nondescript roles he got another big break in 1955 as a troubled teen in Blackboard Jungle starring Glen Ford. (At the time Poitier, at 28, was a bit old for the role, but he pulled it off.) Ironically, in 1967 in one of his most successful and memorable roles he would play a teacher of incorrigible children in To Sir with Love.

In my view, in Poitier’s long and storied career the following roles and productions stand out:

  1. The aforementioned Blackboard Jungle and To Sir with Love, which highlighted the racial and social struggles of poor, troubled, disadvantaged teens living in London to find their place in the world. I thought it was cool that Poitier’s roles in the two movies were mirror-images of each other.
  2. The Defiant Ones in which two escaped prisoners, a Caucasian (Tony Curtis) who hated Blacks and a Black (Poitier) who hated Caucasians, were chained to each other and had to work in concert to survive. This was a really controversial topic for 1958 when the movie was released. The movie was a critical and commercial success and earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for both stars. Poitier became the first Black male actor to be so recognized.
  3. In 1959 Poitier starred with Ruby Dee on Broadway in the groundbreaking play, Raisin in the Sun. The play depicted how Blacks lived, which was a revelation to the predominantly white Broadway audiences. Director Lloyd Richards observed that Raisin was the “first play to which large numbers of Black people were drawn.” In 1961 Poitier starred in the film adaptation and earned a Golden Globe nomination.
  4. In the words of the Frank Sinatra “hit” song 1967 was a “very good year” for Poitier. At that time he was the lone actor of African descent who was being cast in leading roles in the movies. He starred in, not one, not two, but three commercially and critically successful movies – the aforementioned To Sir with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and In the Heat of the Night. In Dinner Poitier played a Black man in a relationship with a white woman, a very touchy subject in 1967. In 1967 interracial marriages were still illegal in many Southern states. At the time, film critic, Roger Ebert praised Poitier’s depiction of Dr. Prentice as “noble, rich, intelligent, handsome, and ethical.” In Heat Poitier played a Black policeman from Philadelphia who helps solve a murder while dealing the racial prejudices of the deep South, including a racist cop played by Rod Steiger. Due to the rousing success of these three movies in 1967 Poitier was the number one box office draw. It was the commercial peak of his career.

CONCLUSION

In addition to his acting career Poitier was a successful director and author. His most successful film as a director was the comedy Stir Crazy starring Richard Prior and Gene Wilder. For many years Crazy was the highest-grossing film to have been directed by a person of African descent.

As I said, Sidney ‘s enduring legacy is that he broke barriers. In many of his movies he played roles that had been considered taboo for Black actors. He was drawn to roles that dealt with race and social justice. These were often controversial, but movie audiences accepted him in those roles. He played his roles with grace and dignity.

He was the first AA to be nominated for an Oscar and to win an Oscar. In fact, his whole career was marked by a series of “firsts.” He was an inspiration to and a trail blazer for the legion of other actors of color who would follow in his footsteps, such as Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Will Smith, among many others. When Denzel won the award for Best Actor he paid special tribute to Sidney saying “I’ll always be chasing you, Sidney. I’ll always be following in your footsteps. There is nothing I would rather do, sir.” I think that says it all, but if you want more, how about these samples of the many testimonials that poured in following Sidney’s passing:

  1. Chester Cooper – Bahamas Deputy Prime Minister – “We have lost an icon, a hero, a mentor, a fighter, a national treasure.”
  2. Joe Biden called him a “once in a generation actor and advocate whose work carried so much dignity power and grace that it changed the world on and off the big screen.”

He won many awards including Oscars, Golden Globes and a Grammy, too many to list them all here. In 1974 he was “knighted” by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1999 he was ranked #23 on the American Film Institute’s list of “100 Years…100 Stars.” In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Poitier’s personal life did not exactly measure up to his professional one. He was married twice and had six children. However, during his first marriage he carried on a nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll.

Sidney Poitier passed away on January 6, 2022. Rest in peace, Sidney. You entertained us for 71 years with grace and dignity, and you were an inspiration to those of your race who will follow in your huge footsteps.

BETTY WHITE

She was often referred to as “The First Lady of Television” and the “First Lady of Game Shows.” She was best known for her comedic acting, but, in actuality, she did everything as you will see below. As columnist Johnny Oleksinski wrote in Newsday, “It is impossible to name a more beloved celebrity than Betty White. … [She exhibited] “a rare cross-generational appeal.” I would like to echo those sentiments and add that I never heard a derogatory comment or story about Betty White, which is very rare in the entertainment field.

She was one of the pioneers of television. She debuted in 1939 before there even was tv, officially, and she entertained us for more than eight decades, longer than any other performer in history. She won eight Emmys in various categories, three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and, for good measure, a Grammy. In addition, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is in the Television Hall of Fame. Not bad for someone who was told by studio executives and talent scouts that she “was not photogenic enough” to be on tv.

Betty Marion White was born on January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, IL. Her father was a lighting company executive, and her mother was a homemaker. She had no siblings. In case you’re wondering “Betty” was her legal name. It was not short for “Elizabeth” or any other name.

The family moved to LA when Betty was a youngster. She attended Beverly Hills High School, graduating in 1939. As a youngster, she developed a strong interest in wildlife, and she determined to be a forest ranger. Alas, she was denied because no women were allowed. She then turned to the entertainment business. If not for that rejection how different things could have been.

Due to the extraordinary length and variety of Betty’s entertainment career I will only present the highlights:

  1. In 1939 at the age of 17 she starred in a high school graduation play that she had written, and a month out of high school she appeared in her first tv production titled The Merry Widow. This was months before tv was to be formally introduced to the public as a brand new entertainment medium at the World’s Fair in NY, and the tv industry did not even exist, officially.
  2. During WWII Betty volunteered with the American Women’s Voluntary Services. One of her assignments was to drive a PX truck carrying military supplies. It was during this time that she met her first husband, Dick Barker, an Army Air Force pilot. After the war ended Barker wanted to return to his native rural Ohio where he owned and managed a chicken farm. Can you imagine Betty as a small-town chicken farmer? Needless to say, she rejected that idea, they soon divorced and Betty returned to the bright lights of Hollywood.
  3. After being rejected for tv as not being sufficiently photogenic Betty turned to radio. Like all aspiring entertainers she took whatever she could get. Among her jobs were reading commercials, playing bit parts and even providing “crowd noises.”
  4. Betty’s first substantial role in 1949 was as co-host on the daytime talk show Hollywood on Television. Later, she became the host.
  5. In 1954, while hosting her own daily talk/variety show, which she had also produced and over which she had full creative control, she made history. Firstly, she hired a female director. Secondly, she featured an African American tap dancer, Arthur Duncan. This became problematic when the show went national. Some Southern affiliates objected to Duncan and threatened to boycott the show unless he was removed. In a lesson that could be applied to today’s “cancel culture” Betty refused to cave in to their racist demands. She famously told the affiliates: “I’m sorry. Live with it.” Furthermore, she expanded Duncan’s role on the show.
  6. In the 1950s Betty met Lucille Ball. They bonded over a common interest – women competing and succeeding in the male-dominated tv business of the day and became lifelong friends
  7. Beginning in the 1960s Betty became a staple on network game shows and talk shows. She appeared frequently on all the familiar and successful shows of the era, including, among others, The Tonight Show with both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line, Match Game, and most significantly Password. It was on the latter show that she met the love of her life, Allen Ludden. They married and stayed together until his death in 1981.
  8. NBC offered her the anchor spot on the Today Show. She declined because she did not want to move to NY where the show was to be produced. Eventually, NBC hired Barbara Walters.
  9. Beginning in 1973 Betty’s career took a significant leap when she began appearing on the Mary Tyler Show as the “man-hungry” Sue Ann Nivens, a character Betty described as “icky sweet.” It became one of her signature rolls. The show was immensely popular, and it introduced Betty to a new audience. During this time she continued to guest-star on various comedy and variety shows and tv movies and miniseries.
  10. In 1983 Betty broke new ground once again by becoming the first female to win a Daytime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Game Show Host for the show Just Men.
  11. In 1985 Betty landed the second signature roll of her career starring with Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty and Rue McClanahan in the Golden Girls. GG was very popular, but Betty had a rather strained relationship with Arthur. Betty lamented that Arthur “was not that fond of me” an understatement. But being professionals, the two performers worked through it.
  12. In 2009 Betty’s career took another turn when she began appearing in Snickers bar commercials. Pleasant, friendly Betty appeared with irascible, tough guy Abe Vigoda. The tag line was “you’re not you when you’re hungry.” Mean Vigoda would take a bite of a Snickers and morph into pleasant Betty.
  13. In 2010 the USDA Forest Service made Betty an honorary forest ranger. This was a nice gesture, “righting” a 70+ years’ “wrong.”
  14. In 2012 Betty won a Grammy not for singing but for the “spoken word” recording of her book, If You Ask Me.
  15. In addition to her career interests Betty was a big supporter of LGBT rights and animal welfare. She opined that “there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones.” Her attitude was “mind your own business, take care of your own affairs and don’t worry about other people so much.” Good advice that one can apply to today’s “woke” crowd.

CONCLUSION

Betty passed away peacefully on December 31. at her home in the Brentwood section of LA. As I write this no cause of death had been disclosed. Close friend Jeff Witjas told the media she had “no diagnosed illness.”

Tributes poured in. President Biden described her as a “lovely lady and “a cultural icon who will be sorely missed.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Former First Lady Michelle Obama added “she broke barriers, defied expectations, served her country, and pushed us all to laugh.”

A massive celebration titled “Betty White: 100 Years Young – A Birthday Celebration” had been planned in celebration of her 100th birthday on January 17. Numerous “A-Listers,” such as Ryan Reynolds, Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, and Jimmy Kimmel are scheduled to participate. Despite Betty’s untimely death the event’s organizers have stated the “show will go on.” I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

NEW YEAR’S EVE 2021

Wow, another year has gone by! That was fast. As we all know, the older we get, the more time seems to speed up.

Tonight, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment.

The Pacific island nations of Kiribati (aka Christmas Island), which is nothing more than a coral atoll in the Central Pacific, and Samoa, which is the western-most of the Samoan Islands, will be the first to celebrate; American Samoa, which includes seven tiny islands and atolls in the eastern part of the Samoan Islands, and Baker Island, which is an uninhabited atoll some 3,100 km southwest of Honolulu, will be the last.

New Year’s Day has been celebrated on January 1 since 45 B. C. That year, Julius Caesar decreed that the Roman Calendar, under which the new year occurred in March, be replaced by the Julian calendar. It has been celebrated on January 1 ever since.

Last year’s muted celebrations were supposed to be unique, a one-off, if you will. Around the world NYE celebrations were scaled back to prevent or mitigate the danger from the pandemic. Our leaders assured us that by NYE 2021 the coronavirus would be under control, and the traditional NYE celebrations would resume. Alas, that is definitely not the case. We are about to complete the second year of the pandemic; it is most certainly NOT under control; and, with few exceptions, NYE celebrations are most certainly NOT back to normal. Moreover, it is very possible that they never will be again. Generally, Americans are being advised to avoid large parties and stay at home, if possible.

Based on multiple news sources, such as The Guardian, the NYT, Reuters, CNN, NBC News, and Fox News, among others, below please find a selection of planned NYE celebrations:

  1. The world famous Times Square “Ball Drop” will take place, but it will be scaled down considerably. Attendance will be limited to 15,000 persons, a fraction of the normal amount of revelers. Every year many of us look forward to celebrating NYE and the raucous scene at TS has been an integral part of this celebration. All over the world people view it on tv. It is estimated that some 200 million Americans and approximately 1 billion persons worldwide will watch it on tv and/or live streaming on their mobile devices.  To many of them it symbolizes NYE. In 2021 the scaled-down version will seem eerie, but it will be an improvement over 2020 when no spectators were permitted. The last two years, normal has been replaced by strange and unique, a so-called “new normal.” One group of people who will probably be pleased by the lack of crowds will be the sanitation workers who are tasked with the job of cleaning up the approximately one ton of trash left behind by the celebrants. Please seen below for more details on this celebration.
  2. NYC incoming mayor, Eric Adams, has cancelled the traditional inauguration party.
  3. Outgoing mayor, Bill De Blasio, has adroitly reversed his field regarding NYE celebrations. Back in November he had invited everyone to “come on down [to NYC to celebrate].” Now, he has announced that the city will be scaling back its official NYE party and will require attendees to be fully vaccinated and wear masks.
  4. As I write this, Illinois governor Jay Pritzker has not cancelled or scaled down Chicago’s traditional fireworks show, however, he cautioned Chicagoans that attend a party to maintain social distancing and wear a mask. If they are unable to do so, he warned, they should “leave.”
  5. San Francisco has cancelled its fireworks show.
  6. Atlanta has cancelled its traditional Peach Drop.
  7. On the other hand, Seattle and Las Vegas have not cancelled scheduled fireworks shows at the Space Needle and on the Strip, respectively. LV officials denote that the entire city is one big celebration, which, I suppose, is true.
  8. In Europe, which is being ravaged by Omicron, events in London, Paris and Berlin have been cancelled.
  9. WHO director Tedros Ghebreyesus urged people to be “cautious,” declaring that “an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled.”
  10. In China, with the Olympics scheduled to commence on February 20, officials are being very cautious. Multiple events have been cancelled in many cities. Travel is being restricted. Also, some cities, such as Xi’an, have been in lockdown mode for weeks. It remains to be seen whether or not the Olympics will go on as scheduled.
  11. In Hong Kong authorities have urged people to avoid NYE events and parties. The annual fireworks display has been cancelled, but as I write this, an open air concert is still scheduled to go on.
  12. In Taiwan, which for some reason is reported to be “virtually COVID-free,” events have not been cancelled.
  13. In South Korea a 9:00 pm curfew has been imposed on restaurants, and gatherings will be limited to four fully-vaccinated persons.
  14. India has imposed curfews and other restrictions on celebrations, particularly in densely-populated areas.
  15. Australia is the outlier. The annual fireworks show in Sydney harbor has not been cancelled. Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged people to “enjoy the evening.” This is curious since the area around Sydney is in the midst of a serious COVID outbreak. Also, it was just last year that Sydney residents were warned to avoid “midnight hugs and kisses” and were required to show a special permit just to enter the Central Business District.

So, what do we do tonight?

Normally we are treated to live entertainment from various venues around the world. I’m not sure what will be available this year. Some of you may recall, with nostalgia, the most famous and enduring NYE entertainer of them all, Guy Lombardo. From 1928 until his death in 1977 he entertained us from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV.

Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney-character shows and fireworks. They will be open and will likely present an array of entertainment and fireworks.

TV will present a plethora of entertainment options ranging from live entertainment to old movies. My personal favorite is “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” hosted by Ryan Seacrest, which will be televised for the 50th consecutive year. Entertainment from various venues will likely be featured. If none of those offerings “floats your boat” you can escape with the Honeymooners marathon, featuring Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph, which is offered every year but never gets stale.

As mentioned above, the biggest and most significant celebration is in NYC. Since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” The “Ball Drop” has been held annually every year since, except for 1942 and 1943 when it was canceled due to the wartime blackout. As I said, this year it will be held in a scaled-down version.

At precisely at 6:00 pm a huge Waterford crystal ball will be raised to the top of the pole at One Times Square  At 11:59 pm, the ball will be activated by the push of a special button. The original “ball” was constructed from wood and iron and lit with 100 incandescent bulbs. Over the years, it has gone through various iterations. The current iteration is a geodesic sphere. It is 12 feet in diameter and weighs 11,875 pounds. It contains 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. This triangular design enables it to support extremely heavy loads. The ball will be illuminated by 32,256 light-emitting diodes (aka LEDs) of various colors – red, white, blue and green. It will look gorgeous on tv. It will begin its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 141-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball will reach the roof of the building, and huge lights will signal the start of the New Year.

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

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

Quiz questions:

1) What other historically significant event occurred in NYC in 1904?

2) What was Times Square’s name prior to 1904? See below for the answers.

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

At the stroke of midnight it is traditional to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I have always been curious as to the derivation of this song and why it is sung at New Year’s. The origin is murky, but it has generally been attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He wrote it in 1788, but it is likely that some of the words were derived from other older Scottish poems and ballads. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates into English as “long, long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.” Thus, at the stroke of midnight we bid farewell to the past year and, at the same time, wish to remember the good times. In some areas the song is also sung at funerals, graduations and any other event that marks a “farewell” or “ending.” Sometimes the singers gather in a circle and hold hands.

CONCLUSION

Whatever your NYE plans may be and however you may celebrate, I urge you to be careful and drive safely and defensively. Pay particular care to watch out for the “other guy.” This is one night where too many people celebrate excessively and drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These people should not be on the road, but, nevertheless, they are, and they are dangerous both to you and themselves.  For this reason, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s long-time side-kick on the Tonight Show and a noted party-goer, used to refer to New Year’s Eve derisively as “amateur night.” New Year’s Day is the second most deadly holiday for drivers. (Thanksgiving is #1.) Moreover, a whopping 42% of the driving fatalities on NYD are the result of DUI.

Additionally, pay attention to the COVID protocols. By now, we are all familiar with them. Have fun; enjoy yourself; but be smart and stay safe.

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

LIVING WITH COVID

Virtually everyone seems to have his or her own opinion with respect to how to live with COVID. Take the vaccines; don’t take the vaccines. Get “boosted.” Don’t get “boosted.” Wear a mask; don’t wear a mask. Isolate yourself from family, friends and social activities, or not. The following is strictly my opinion unless stated otherwise. Please feel free to agree or disagree , but unless I fell into a time warp last night and woke up this morning in Soviet Russia circa 1930 we all still have the right, as Americans living in a free society, to express our opinion. To paraphrase the late singer, Lesley Gore, this is my blog, and I can write what I want to.

We have been living with COVID for the past two years or so, and it has shown no signs of going away. Instead, it has done what viruses do, namely mutate. Already, we have experienced several mutations. Some, like the D strain have been deadly. Others, like Omicron, have been more highly transmissible, but so far have been milder.

COVID cases have been accelerating, and the consensus among medical professionals is that the trend will continue into 2022, if not accelerate further. Citing data culled from the CDC and Johns Hopkins University CNN has reported that yesterday the US hit a seven-day average of in excess of 265,000 new COVID cases, which was considerably more than the previous record of 252,000. CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner opines that we could easily hit half a million cases per day as soon as next week. According to the CDC hospitalizations of children averaged approximately 300 per day for the week ended December 26. New York City was particularly hard-hit. Cases and positive test rates have been surging, and pediatric hospitalizations there increased five-fold compared to the most recent three-week period.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health predicted that fully vaccinated and boosted individuals will generally not get as sick as nonvaccinated ones, which has normally been the case. For some reason, CNN reports that only one-third of fully vaccinated persons have been boosted. I’m not sure why. According to Worldometer the overall average fatality rate is approximately 1 1/2%

In my view, this virus will be with us, in some form, for a long, long time, if not permanently. It will continue to mutate periodically. We’d best get used to that fact and learn to live with it. We all have choices to make. We can either cower in fear or we can “strap on our big-boy pants” and live our lives as best we can.

We can either get fully vaxed and boosted or not. I believe that decision is a personal choice. According to the scientific data I have seen those who have done so are safer than those who haven’t. They are less likely to contract the virus, and when they do they generally get a milder case and are less likely to require hospitalization and die from it. That said, I recognize that some people have medical, religious and/or personal concerns about getting vaccinated and choose not to do so, and I respect that.

Those of us who are vaxed and boosted should respect that choice and not vilify those who have chosen not to do so for whatever reason. As I said, they have made their personal choice for whatever reason(s). On the other hand, those who have not should not expect the rest of us to suffer through the arbitrary and draconian mandates that our political leaders have foisted upon us to protect them. I could recap them, but I won’t waste your time and mine. They’ve been all over the news for two years, and most of you are cognizant of them. These measures have not only infringed on our personal liberties, they have also had a deleterious effect on our livelihoods. Many people have lost their businesses and their jobs, calamities from which they probably will never recover.

They keep telling us that these mandates are necessary to protect us. Perhaps, that is true in some cases, but their primary purpose is to exert political, economic and social power over our lives. Why do I say that? Simple. As I have pointed out in previous blogs and you have seen in the news there have been many instances of those in power ignoring their own mandates. Their credo has been “rules for thee, but not for me.” Furthermore, the Administration continues to support an open southern border policy, which permits illegal migrants who may or may not have been vaxed and may or may not be sick, to cross with impunity. Once they’re here they have been scattered all over the country spreading the disease. That is the most inane policy I have ever seen and makes absolutely no sense, except for political gain.

Don’t listen to the bloviating talking heads on tv. Most of them do not know any more than you. Many of them know less. Events have proven them wrong much of the time. In particular, take anything you hear from “Lord” Fauci with a grain of salt, a big grain of salt if there is such a thing. Despite his impressive credentials he had been proven wrong much of the time, and I believe he has a personal political agenda. If you need guidance and advice consult with your personal physician who would be most familiar with your situation and in the best position to advise you.

CONCLUSION

As I said above, I am convinced that COVID will remain part of our lives for a long, long time, if not permanently. In many respects, it will be like the flu. There will be a new strain periodically that will require another booster. The overwhelming majority of us will get sick occasionally, some more seriously than others, but few of us will die. Most of those who do die will have underlying medical or health issues. Like the flu, we will have the choice to get “vaxed” or not. There is no reason to live in irrational fear and “hide under your bed,” so to speak.

With respect to social gatherings such as New Years Eve celebrations “Lord” Fauci has decreed that “small gatherings of fully vaccinated people will be safe, but people should avoid large parties where they don’t know the vaccination status of all guests.” That makes sense to me.

Furthermore, medical professionals have been cautioning that not all masks provide equal protection. Make-shift masks, such as kerchiefs, provide limited protection and actually can be detrimental as they provide a false sense of security; surgical masks are better; but the best and safest are the N95 or KF94 masks.

So, in summary, I recommend that you try to live your life but safely and prudently. Respect COVID, but don’t fear it. At this point, we know how to recognize it and how to treat it.

Finally, remember, although we have different opinions on many issues at the end of the day we are all Americans. Don’t let this issue, or any issue for that matter, divide us.

BOXING DAY

Sunday, December 26, many countries, notably the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, will celebrate a holiday known as Boxing Day.  Many of those who are unfamiliar with this traditional holiday erroneously assume it is associated with pugilism. That is not the case.

In most countries that celebrate it BD is considered a secular holiday, however, some countries celebrate a religious holiday on December 26.  For example, Germany, The Netherlands and Poland, celebrate the day as a “Second Christmas Day.”  In the Catalonia region of Spain the day is celebrated as “St. Stephen’s Day.”

BD’s origins are murky.  There are various theories.  Based on my research it appears that the holiday can be traced at least to medieval England where it was customary for the aristocracy to allow their servants to spend the day after Christmas with their families.  After all, the servants were obligated to serve their masters on Christmas Day rather than spend the holiday with their families.  Each servant would receive a “box” containing food, clothing, and/or other gifts to bring home to his or her family.

Over time, this practice was extended to tradesmen and others who performed services for the aristocrats.  Perhaps, this was a forerunner to the present-day custom in many parts of the US of giving Christmas gifts to various persons who perform services for us on a regular basis, such as mail carriers, doormen, manicurists, and hairstylists.

The earliest mention of the term “Christmas box” was in Samuel Pepys’ diary in 1663. (Pepys was a member of Parliament during the 17th century who was famous for keeping a diary.)  Others believe the day’s roots go back to Roman times when it was customary to place a metal box, aka the Alms Box, outside the church during the “Feast of St. Stephen” to collect donations for the poor.

BD celebrations vary from country to country.  For instance:

1. In the UK it is a bank holiday.  If it falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, like this year, it is celebrated on the following Monday.
2. In Ireland it is celebrated on December 26, regardless of which day of the week it falls on, as St. Stephens Day.
3. In Australia it is a federal holiday.  In the state of South Australia it is celebrated as “Proclamation Day,” which commemorates the establishment of South Australia as a British province in 1834.  Supposedly, the proclamation was promulgated at “The Old Gum Tree” in what is presently the suburb of Glenelg North in SA.  Originally, December 28 was designated as PD, but, at some point, it was changed to the first business day after Christmas (probably to accommodate those who wanted to create an extended holiday period).
4. In Canada and New Zealand BD is celebrated as a statutory holiday; that is, it is celebrated on December 26 regardless of the day of the week.
5. In Nigeria BD is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday for workers and students.  If it falls on Saturday or Sunday, it is observed on the following Monday.
6. In some countries, notably Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand BD is a huge shopping day, akin to “Black Friday” in the US.  Retailers have extended hours and hold sales.  Shoppers line up early just like on “Black Friday.” Much like in the US, retailers have expanded the Christmas shopping season in order to generate additional revenue. Some retailers in those countries have expanded the period of observation to “Boxing Week.”  This custom will be muted this year due to restrictions that some governments have promulgated due to the resurgence of COVID.
7. In addition, normally all of the aforementioned countries hold a variety of sporting events to mark the day (soccer, rugby, cricket, horse racing, ice hockey, even boxing), but, again, this year there may be some restrictions.

CONCLUSION

Like many holidays, the original significance of BD has been lost, and it has become commercialized excessively.  Such is the way of the modern world.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, this year BD plans and festivities have been severely muted as many of the aforementioned countries have promulgated restrictions due to the resurgence of the coronavirus.  Hopefully, things will return to normal in 2022.

For most Americans, December 26 is merely a day to extend the Christmas holiday and, in some cases, to “recuperate” from it.  This year, with Christmas being on a Saturday, many people will create a long weekend/minivacation.  Others will remain in their homes as they have for much of the year.  However you choose to spend the day I hope you enjoy it.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – DECEMBER

Many historically-significant events have occurred during the month of December. Below please find what I consider the most significant:

12/1/1955 – Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, AL for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man. This action precipitated a year-long bus boycott and many other protests against segregation led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, among others, and was what many consider the seminal event for the civil rights movement.
12/2/1804 – Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France by Pope Pius VII.
12/2/1823 – President James Monroe articulated the “Monroe Doctrine,” which, essentially, forbad any further colonization of the Western Hemisphere by any European power, and which became a key element of the US’s foreign policy prospectively.
12/2/1954 – The Senate condemned Senator Joseph McCarthy for misconduct, effectively ending his irresponsible communist witch-hunt.
12/3/1967 – Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa.
12/6/1492 – Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “New World,” landing at the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
12/6/1865 – The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, which abolished slavery.
12/6/1973 – Gerald Ford was sworn in as vice president replacing Spiro Agnew who had been forced to resign following his pleading “no contest” to charges of income tax evasion.
12/7/1787 – Delaware became the first state to ratify the US constitution.
12/7/1941 – Japan perpetrated a surprise attack of the US naval base at Pearl Harbor destroying the US Pacific Fleet and precipitating the US’s entry into WWII. FDR called it a “date that will live in infamy,” and it has.
12/10/1896 – Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel died. In his will he stipulated that a committee of the Norwegian Parliament award from his estate annual prizes (valued at approximately $1 million) for Peace, Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature and Economics.
12/11/1901 – Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first transatlantic radio signal.
12/11/1936 – King Edward VIII abdicated the English throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
12/13/1642 – Dutch navigator Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand.
12/14/1799 – George Washington died at Mt. Vernon.
12/14/1911 – Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole.
12/15/1791 – Virginia became the 11th state to ratify the Bill of Rights making it an official part of the Constitution. (Ratification of an amendment to the Constitution requires 75% of the states, and Vermont had become the 14th state. The three holdouts were Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia, which did not ratify it until 1939.)
12/15/1961 – Notorious Nazi SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann was sentenced to death in Jerusalem for his role in the Holocaust during WWII.
12/16/1773 – A group of Bostonians, disguised as Indians, boarded British ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped 300+ containers of tea overboard as a protest to what they viewed as an unjust tax on the product. This became known as the Boston Tea Party and was a part of the chain of events that culminated in the American Revolutionary War.
12/17/1903 – The Wright Brothers – Wilbur and Orville – made the first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, NC.
12/19/1946 – War broke out in what was then called French-Indochina. Eventually, the French were ousted, and the US got drawn into war in Vietnam, which did not end well for us.
12/20/1860 – South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Over the next few months ten other states followed, and the Civil War ensued.
12/21/1846 – Dr. Robert Liston was the first surgeon to use anesthesia (in a leg amputation in London).
12/21/1945 – General George Patton, aka “Old Blood and Guts,” died from injuries suffered in a car accident in Germany. Some historians have postulated that the accident was intentional, but this has never been proven.
12/23/1947 – The transistor was invented at Bell Laboratories.
12/25 – Christmas Day when Christians commemorate the birth of Christ.
12/25/1776 – George Washington led a small contingent of Colonial troops across the Delaware River from Valley Forge, PA to Trenton, NJ in the dead of night, where they surprised and defeated a substantially larger contingent of Hessian mercenaries. This daring and famous victory provided a major boost to the flagging revolutionary war effort.
12/26 – Boxing Day is celebrated in the UK, Canada, and various other countries that, formerly, were part of the British Empire. It has nothing to do with pugilism. Most likely, it has evolved from the 18th Century English custom of giving a “Christmas box” containing gifts, such as food or clothes, to servants and tradesmen as a reward for good service throughout the year.
12/26 – 1/1 – Kwanza, an African – American holiday established in 1966, is observed. It celebrates family unity and a bountiful harvest. The word means “first fruit” in Swahili.
12/29/1890 – The US cavalry massacred in excess of 200 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee, SD., which became a symbol of the white man’s brutality to Native Americans.
12/31/1781 – The Bank of New York became the first bank to receive a federal charter. It commenced business on January 7, 1782 in Philadelphia.
12/31/1879 – Inventor Thomas Edison first demonstrated the incandescent lamp (light bulb) at his lab in NJ.
12/31 – New Year’s Eve is celebrated throughout the world.

Birthdays – Charles Stuart, American portrait painter (of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among others), 12/3/1755; Joseph Conrad, Polish novelist, 12/3/1857; Martin Van Buren, 8th President, 12/5/1782; General George Armstrong Custer, 12/5/1839; Walt Disney; 12/5/1901; Ira Gershwin (wrote several hit songs for “Broadway” shows), 12/6/1896; Eli Whitney (cotton gin), 12/8/1765; Clarence Birdseye (invented process for freezing foods), 12/9/1886; Emily Dickenson (poet), 12/10/1830; Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey (invented Dewey decimal system used to categorize books in libraries), 12/10/1851; NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia,12/11/1882; John Jay (first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), 12/12/1745; General James Doolittle (led audacious bombing raid on Tokyo during WWII), 12/14/1896; Alexandre Eifel (Eifel Tower), 12/15/1832; Ludwig van Beethoven (composer), 12/16/1770; George Santayana (philosopher) (“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”), 12/16/1863; Wily Brandt (Chancellor of West Germany), 12/18/1913; Harvey Firestone (Firestone Tire and Rubber), 12/20/1868; Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvli, aka Josef Stalin, 12/21/1879; Claudia Alta Taylor, aka “Lady Bird Johnson,” 12/22/1912; Japanese WWII Emperor Hirohito, 12/23/1901; Christopher “Kit” Carson, frontiersman, 12/24/1809; Howard Hughes, 12/24/1905; Isaac Newton (theory of gravity), 12/25/1642; Clara Barton (nurse who founded American Red Cross), 12/25/1821; Humphrey Bogart, 12/25/1899; Mao Tse Tung, 12/26/1893; Louis Pasteur (pasteurization process), 12/27/1822; (Thomas) Woodrow Wilson, 28th President, 12/28/1856; Andrew Johnson (17th president, first to be impeached), 12/29/1808; Pablo Casals (cellist), 12/28/1876; Rudyard Kipling (poet, wrote Jungle Book), 12/30/1865; Hideki Tojo (Japanese WWII Prime Minister), 12/30/1884; General George C. Marshall (Army Chief of Staff, WWII), 12/31/1880.

COVID-19 VIRUS, OMICRON STRAIN UPDATE

As I write this, the Omicron Variant is spreading like wildfire, and many people are nervous. Some are even on the verge of panicking. Most of the COVID-related news is dire. As I wrote in my last blog, the first case of Omicron in the US was detected on December 1, and in just 20 days the CDC is reporting that it has become the most dominant strain in the country. 20 days!

Some salient points regarding Omicron courtesy of the CDC (unless otherwise indicated):

  1. The Omicron variant now accounts for some 73% of new COVID cases.
  2. The White House and multiple news sources are predicting that we are in for a “hard winter.”
  3. According to the the World Health Organization Omicron cases are now doubling every 1 1/2 to three days.
  4. The US is trying to ramp up testing, but there is a shortage of testing kits. In many areas those seeking to be tested have been subjected to long lines of more than two hours.
  5. Currently, about 1.8 million vaccine doses are being administered daily.
  6. According to Johns Hopkins University the US is averaging about 127,000 new cases per day, which is a substantial increase over the 70,000 average as recently as November. Currently, the US is averaging about 1,300 COVID deaths per day, which is a 12% increase in just one month.
  7. Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst, reported that Omicron is “as contagious as measles, and that’s about the most contagious virus that we’ve seen.”
  8. Currently, across the country over 69,000 persons are hospitalized with COVID, and many hospitals are at their limits. According to the Department of Health and Human Services this is 40% higher than just one month ago. Across the country, beds in intensive care units are 78% full. In addition, some hospitals are facing a shortage of qualified medical support staff due to mandatory terminations resulting from vaccination mandates.
  9. Unvaccinated persons are 10 times more likely to contract the virus and 20 times more likely to die from it. Health professionals and political leaders are urging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.
  10. Appearing on Face the Nation this past Sunday Dr. Frances Collins, the outgoing director of the National Institute of Health, strongly urged people who have not gotten “boosted” to do so asap. About 61% of the population is fully vaccinated, and about 1/3 of them have been “boosted.”
  11. Some universities, notably Princeton, NYU and Cornell, have re-instituted remote learning.
  12. Some Broadway shows, such as Hamilton, have begun to cancel performances.
  13. The NFL and the NBA are being forced to deal with postponements due to a high incidence of positive test results among players.

CONCLUSION

Amid all this gloom and doom Americans need reassurance from their leaders. As I said, many are anxious and afraid. Some are on the verge of panic. After two years we seem to be no better off than we were at the outset. To them, the high degree of contagion with the Omicron strain is producing visions of the so-called “Black Death” plague of the 14th century. At this time, they desperately need their elected leaders to demonstrate a positive outlook, encouragement and provide assurances that we will get through this.

Instead, President Biden’s speech today preached gloom and doom. He came across as defensive. He reiterated what some media outlets have predicted as a long, hard winter. We wanted optimism, and he gave us pessimism.

He took no responsibility for not being prepared for the Omicron COVID surge, the shortage of testing kits, and the shortage of hospital staff, which we know is attributable, in large part, to his ill-advised vaccine mandates. He attacked the unvaccinated as somehow “unamerican.” He blamed them for all of the above bad developments and lectured them that it was their “patriotic duty” to get vaccinated.

He failed to even mention certain positives, such as:

  1. Worldometer, which tracks such things, has reported the overall fatality rate in the US to be about 1 1/2%. And, those statistics are likely inflated by the early period when we didn’t know how to treat the virus.
  2. Although Omicron has been shown to be highly transmissible the death rate has been much lower than that from the other strains. In other words, so far many people are getting sick and being hospitalized but relatively few are dying. This key fact has been underreported by the media as well. Most have been getting a mild case of flu-like symptoms and are recovering quickly, especially if they are fully vaccinated. Some medical professionals have maintained that following such recovery one’s body could be left with a residue of antibodies that would provide protection prospectively.
  3. The vaccinated have a death rate of a fraction of 1%. No deaths are “acceptable”, but that compares favorably with the death rate from the flu.
  4. There are a variety of treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies and drugs such as Remdesivir, which have been successful when applied early.

In times of stress and anxiety we need to rely on our leaders to provide strength, positivity, reassurance and inspiration. We need to be united, not divided. We need to be told that although things look bad now, if we pull together we will get through this. Think of FDR’s “fireside chats” during the Great Depression or his famous speech after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Think of Bush 43’s inspirational speeches after the “9/11” attack. We needed Biden to provide that today. Instead what we got was gloom and doom, and a failure of leadership. He seemed to be more focused on deflecting blame than solving the problem. I was not surprised. Were you?

THE COVID-19 OMICRON VARIANT

The new COVID Omicron Variant has much of the world in a panic. Just when we thought we had a handle on COVID up pops a new variant.

According to multiple reports, what is scary about Omicron is its high level of transmissibility. It was only identified as a new variant in late November, and it has been spreading twice as fast as the Delta variant. In the US the first documented case appeared in CA on December 1, and already it has spread to some 30 states. Early data has been incomplete and, at times contradictory. For example, the CDC has reported that approximately 3% of COVID cases are of the Omicron strain. However, Jeremy Luban, a virus expert at the U Mass Chan Medical School puts the number at 15%. In any case, the Delta variant is still the predominant strain extant.

Dr. Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease expert at Mass General Hospital, has reported that the variant has been spreading “faster than than the most pessimistic predictions among medical experts.” He added, “it seems to be happening every place at once.”

AOL News reported that during the past week there were an average of 118,000 new infections per day. According to Lemieux hospitals and medical staff, which were already stressed by high amount of Delta cases, are being overwhelmed.

The only saving grace is that so far Omicron appears to be less lethal than Delta. However, medical experts caution that it is still early. It is not clear whether that is due to the strain, itself, or because so many people have already been vaccinated. According to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC “more than 200 million” Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID. Moreover, some 60% of seniors, the most vulnerable group, are triple-vaccinated. Most medical experts, including Drs. Walensky and Anthony Fauci, agree that vaccines have been providing “some protection” against the new variant. This opinion is supported by anecdotal evidence.

CONCLUSION

In my opinion, we are going to have to learn to live with this virus for many years, if not permanently. I predict that every so often a new strain will come along. This sounds scary, and maybe it is to some people. But, in my view, this scenario is not much different than the seasonal flu, which we have learned to live with. Students of history know that, prior to the advent of antibiotics the flu was a very deadly disease with a much higher fatality rate than that of COVID. Entire families would often catch it from each other and die within weeks of each other. Not to be morbid, but one can see the sad, poignant record of this on tombstones in old cemeteries.. There was no prevention, no cure. You either caught it or you didn’t, often purely by chance. You either died from it or your body fought it off and you recovered. Often, the result was arbitrary, without rhyme or reason.

Personally, I see no need to panic. As I said, the evidence has shown that those who are fully vaccinated, follow the recommended medical protocols, and are in generally good health should live their lives without fear. Even if you get COVID the fatality rate has been roughly 2%, and that includes the unvaccinated and at-risk groups. At this point, the medical community knows a lot more about treatment than it did when the pandemic started. Plus, many therapeutic options are now available that have been effective against the disease.

Some medical experts have been advocating to pump the brakes on Christmas holiday gatherings. Furthermore, many people are still afraid to travel. Some people have not visited family or friends, eaten in restaurants, gone for routine medical tests or treatments, or attended sporting events or the theatre in two years. In my view, that is no way to live. Don’t listen to the bloviating, know-nothing “experts” on tv. Many of them don’t know any more than you do.

In addition, many of them don’t even follow their own rules. We have seen several examples of politicians and other prominent people, eating in restaurants without wearing a mask or adhering to social distancing protocols. It’s “rules for thee, but not for me.” Furthermore, would someone please explain to me why our leaders impose draconian restrictions on us and then turn around and let hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated illegal migrants enter the US without being tested or vaccinated? On what planet does that make any sense?

The hell with that! Aren’t you sick and tired of being told what to do by people who are dumber and have less common sense than you do? I am. This is America. Sometimes, our leaders seem to forget that and need to be reminded of that fact. I say, unless, you have a debilitating underlying medical condition or a compromised immune system get out and live your life. If you have any doubts consult your doctor.

BOB DOLE

In all likelihood, many of you have never heard of Bob Dole, or if you have, you have only a vague notion of his accomplishments. In point of fact, Dole, who passed away last week at the age of 98, led a very interesting, accomplished, productive and fulfilling life. Read on and be edified.

Robert Joseph Dole was born on July 22, 1923 in Russell, KS. His father ran a small creamery; his mother was a homemaker. Dole graduated Russell High School in 1941. He was a star athlete, excelling in football, track and basketball. He was particularly outstanding in basketball, so much so that Phog Allen, the legendary Kansas University basketball coach, recruited him to play for the team (Unless you are a rabid college basketball fan you probably never heard of Phog Allen. He played under the legendary James Naismith, who literally invented the game, and he won 746 games in his coaching career. Do you know the derivation of his unusual nickname? See below.)

Dole also played on the KU track and football teams. One of his teammates on the football team was Bud Adams who later made a fortune in oil and became the owner of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans franchise.

Okay, enough trivia. In 1942 Dole enlisted in the US Army. While fighting near Bologna, Italy he suffered a very serious injury that nearly killed him. A German shell struck him in the upper back and right arm. It shattered his collarbone and part of his spine. In Dole’s words, “I lay face down in the dirt. I could not see or move my arms. I thought they were missing.” Dole nearly died then and there. All his mates could do was give him massive amounts of morphine, which they did, get him to a hospital asap, and hope for the best. Dole was paralyzed from the neck down, suffered blood clots, a severe infection and a 109 degree fever. Massive amounts of penicillin did not help. Finally, the doctors gave him streptomycin, which was an experimental drug at the time. That worked, but then Dole had to undergo seven surgeries and an extended period of physical therapy. Finally, he had to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of his condition. Eventually, he came to realize he had to “focus … on what [he] had left and what [he] could do with it rather than complaining [of] what had been lost.” Ultimately, he recovered, but he suffered from a lack of mobility in his right arm, which required him to learn to write with his left hand, and numbness in his left arm.

After his recovery and discharge Dole completed his education and then practiced law in the Russell area. In 1950 he commenced his political career by winning election to the Kansas House of Representatives. In 1969 he entered the US Senate where he served for some 30 years. Though a Republican from a conservative state he generally exhibited a moderate voting record. For example, he co-authored a bill with the liberal George McGovern to make food stamps more accessible. In 1982 the NY Times described him as “changing from ‘hard-line conservative’ to ‘mainstream Republicanism.’ “

Dole ran for a spot on the national ticket several times during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 1976 he was the GOP nominee for vp under Gerald Ford. In 1980 and 1988 he ran for the GOP presidential nomination and lost to Ronald Reagan and Bush 41, respectively. He finally won the nomination in 1994, but he lost to Bill Clinton, largely due to a booming economy. Quiz question #2 : Who was Dole’s running mate? See below.

Dole enjoyed a long, varied and fruitful post-political career For instance, he became a tv spokesman for products such as Viagra, Visa, and Pepsi. He appeared on tv shows such as Larry King Live and 60 Minutes. He played himself on Saturday Night Live and Suddenly Susan. He became a registered lobbyist. He wrote several books including a humorous one in which he ranked several presidents according to their sense of humor.

CONCLUSION

Dole was awarded numerous medals and awards including the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Presidential Citizens Medal. In addition, he was the recipient of several honorary degrees.

Dole was married twice. His first wife was Phyllis Holden whom he met at a VA hospital where he was recuperating from his wartime injuries. They had one daughter. They divorced in 1972. He married his second wife, Elizabeth, in 1975. Elizabeth was a prominent politician in her own right. She served as a US Senator from North Carolina and held various offices in the Nixon, Reagan and Bush 41 Administrations. They did not have any children.

In his later years Dole suffered through various health issues. For example, he had surgery for prostate cancer in 1991. He had a hip replacement, an abdominal aortic aneurysm, an elevated heart rate, knee surgery, pneumonia, and low blood pressure. Finally, in February 2021 he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which ultimately killed him.

Dole passed away on December 5, 2021 at the ripe old age of 98. Rest in peace, Bob. You led a long, productive life. Your courage and determination in overcoming various physical, emotional and health issues was an inspiration to us all. You will be sorely missed.

Quiz # 1 answer: It was due to his booming “fog-horn” voice.

Quiz #2 answer: Jack Kemp