Thursday, December 31, 2015

December 31, 2015--Happy New Year From Iran

Lost in the blather about Bill Clinton campaigning in New Hampshire and Donald TRUMP creeping up on Hillary Clinton in the national polls, is a story buried on page 4 of Tuesday's New York Times--

A Russian ship left Iran on Monday carrying almost all of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, fulfilling a major step in the nuclear deal struck last summer and, for the first time in nearly a decade, apparently leaving Iran with too little fuel to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Leave it to Rona to ask, "Is there a story about schlonging on page one?"

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December 30, 2015--Black Lives

After the shootings and judicial decisions in Baltimore, Chicago, and Cleveland, if you were a black person, would you think your life matters?

Tamir Rice

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

December 29, 2015--The "Woman's Card"

Though it is still 2015 and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have selected their nominees, from the political salvoes exchanged over the past few days between Hillary Clinton and Donald TRUMP you could have fooled me--it sounds as if they have declared themselves nominated and already launched the general election campaign.

The initial focus is on sexism.

Both are deeply experienced in that arena, but not as always assumed.

The eruption broke out last week when TRUMP said that back in 2008 Barack Obama had "schlonged" Hillary.

He probably meant that Obama defeated her handily (the connotative meaning of schlonged); she that since schlong is a Yiddish slang term for penis, he was being not just a bully but sexist.

Would he, she probably wondered, have said the same thing about Joe Biden who Obama also schlonged? In my and TRUMP's old neighborhoods, the answer is for sure.

Rising to the bait and seeing an opportunity to get under Clinton's skin (as The Donald has so successful done to Jeb Bush and John Kasich among other opponents) he in effect warned her not to play the sexism card, implying that if she did he would retaliate in kind.

Predictably, thus challenged, to show that he couldn't intimidate her as well as to raise higher the ire of the women who despise TRUMP, Hillary doubled down and continued to accuse him as having "a penchant for sexism."

At the same time she was defending her own honor, Hillary Clinton's people announced that they were about to unleash husband Bill and that he would next week take to the campaign trail in New Hampshire. There is some worry in the Clinton camp that Bernie Sanders may steal that primary and who knows where that might lead.

Seeing the unshackling of Bill Clinton to be an opportunity, TRUMP seized it. First he quoted Hillary back to herself, claiming on Twitter, all in caps, that she "HAS A PENCHANT FOR SEXISM."

And, less playful but potentially more potent, TRUMP began an assault on Bill Clinton, tweeting that he "has a terrible record of women abuse [sic]" and that by using her husband in her campaign, she is "playing the woman's card [sic again]."

This requires a little unpacking--

How does turning "women abuser" Bill loose on the campaign trail constitute playing the "woman's card"? They seem mutually exclusive, minimally contradictory.

This then brings us to Hillary Clinton's problem with young women.

When it comes to middle-age women, head-to-head in the polls against TRUMP, she gets over 80 percent of the vote, but she languishes when it comes to young women--young women who do not reflexively see sexism so commonly on ugly display.

For the younger generation of women getting schlonged, for example, is not as hurtful as it might be for their mothers' generation who needed to fight every step for their liberation. Taking feminism and liberation as a given, younger women tend to see TRUMP's utterances as only stupid while Hillary feels the need to remind them, motivate them, to think of themselves as women first, as vulnerable women, and everything else as secondary.

What she thus may be failing to notice is how these younger women, whose allegiance and votes she covets, are not that enthusiastic about seeing Bill Clinton coming to the aid (or rescue) of his unfairly put-upon wife. Ironically a wife, for whom sexism is her default mode, being shielded by someone who, in his sexual escapades while in the White House--exerting sexual power as president over a 19 year-old intern--had, as TRUMP rightly claims, that "terrible record of women abuse."

#  #  #
While on this subject, remember that less-than-felicitous phrase, "bimbo eruption," that was bantered about during Bill Clinton's first campaign and then later during his years in the Oval Office, a phrase for what his staff and advisors most worried about--that there were more Paula Joneses and Gennifer Flowers rattling around who might at any moment pop up on the front page of the National Inquirer, accusing Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. And then sure enough, up popped Monica Lewinsky.

Where are the TRUMP equivalents? There are big bucks and Gloria Allred waiting to bring their stories to the public. If there were such women wouldn't we by now have heard from them?

And wouldn't we also have heard about all the illegal Mexican immigrants mowing the fairways and greens of TRUMP's numerous golf courses? We learned about poor Mitt Romney's gardeners so, if there are any working for TRUMP, they should by now have been outed. Many mainstream reporters hate him and would love to win Pulitzer Prizes by exposing his hypocrisy.

In the meantime, I can't wait to see what mayhem Bill Clinton will soon be perpetrating. Remember South Carolina back in '08?

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Breaking News--with a margin of error of 3 percent, the latest Rasmussen Poll has Clinton and TRUMP in a statistical deadbeat with Hillary at 37 percent and Donald at 36.

Stay tuned.

"I did not have sexual relations . . ."

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Monday, December 28, 2015

December 28, 2015--Social-Desirability Bias

Over coffee at Balthazar, a friend looked around furtively, leaned close, and whispered, "You promise not to tell anyone?"

"Of course. Always. About what?"

"I can't believe I'm about to say this." She was unusually agitated.

I wondered what might be on her mind. "It's OK," I tried to assure her.

"But I think I'm going to vote for," she lowered her voice still further, "Him."

Now I knew where this was headed. It was not the first time I heard similar things from some of my most liberal friends. Including, most surprisingly, middle-age women.


"This surprises me, but . . ."

"Me too. I'm the most surprised of all. I should hate him. And in many ways I do. I'm a women, a feminist, and Hillary has the best chance to become the first female president during whatever is left of my lifetime. But . . ."

She trailed off, looking blankly across the banquette where we had so often met for breakfast.

"To balance things a bit," I said, "I know lifelong Republicans of the old, now-almost-obsolete moderate kind--the ones who voted for Javits and Eisenhower--who tell me that if he is nominated they're going to vote for Hillary. They can't stand her but hate her less than him."

"That's no comfort to me."

"So why are you thinking about abandoning Clinton?"

"I'm not thinking of it that way. So here's the thing I want to confess and ask you to not pass along to anyone we know."

"Again, I promise."

"I think he'd make a better president." She said that so softly I could barely follow her.

"I've heard this from others who one would think would be enthusiastic about Hillary."

"I don't know anyone who feels enthusiastic about her," she said, "And for the most part they're lifelong Democrats, always vote that way, and though they too don't like her that much or think she'd make a very good president--too much personal and ideological baggage--they're resigned to vote for her. Above all, to tell the truth, because she's a woman. That should be enough for me too, especially the woman part, but it isn't. Like I just confessed, I think he'd . . ."

It was as if she couldn't utter those words again.

Trying to shift the subject somewhat from what was clearly painful for her, I asked, "Did you see the piece the other day on the Internet about social-desirability bias?"

"Not really." She sighed, collapsing in her seat, but seemed pleased that I had changed the subject.

"You remember in the old days when they gathered TV ratings by asking people directly what they watched or asked their sample viewers to record their viewing habits in a diary? They still use diaries to a certain extent, but more-and-more they're doing it directly via electronic boxes attached to people's sets that automatically record what's being watched. No way too lie that way."

"I remember that. I remember being called once or twice and being interviewed."

"Well, the problem with gathering data that way was it was easy not to tell the truth. For example, Public Broadcasting always was over-represented because some people didn't want to fess up that they were really not watching Alistair Cooke but Uncle Miltie They didn't want to appear to be lowbrow."

"This is interesting--sort of--but what does it have to do with what we were talking about?"

"The same thing appears to be happening now in the political campaigns. Especially the Republican one. At the moment, he is leading in the polls with about 34 percent or so saying they support him."


"So a research organization called Morning Consult just did an interesting triple-blind experiment. They surveyed voters three ways--the traditional way by interviewing people over the phone, another sample group via interactive dialing where potential GOP voters were surveyed via an automated program, and  a statistically-equivalent group on line where those being questioned were not asked to identify or in other ways describe themselves."

"And," my friend said, "they got the Masterpiece Theater response."

"Now I'm not following you."

"The percentage of the people who plan to vote for him was higher when people were surveyed anonymously and lowest when interviewed by a live person."

"Correct. Across the board by as much as 6 percent. But he did much better among college-educated Republicans with whom it is said he is not polling well. From them he got 9 percent more confessing that they, like you, plan to vote for him."

"Wow. But I need to correct one thing--I'm not planning to do so but, in the way pollsters describe people, I'm leaning that way."


"How do they explain this disparity--between what people tell interviewers and those who respond on line?"

"They refer to it as social-desirability bias, the tendency of people to hesitate to confess unpopular views to a pollster. If, I may say so, sort of like you."

"Interesting. But it is still making me crazy that after all the stupid and offensive and bigoted things he's said, at the moment I'm even leaning . . ." She trailed off again.

"There are clearly quite a few people like you."

"As I said, I think he'll do a better job. Like with Russia. She, when Secretary of State, hit the reset button and what do we have? Cold War II. I think we need a deal maker. I hate to say this--a larger-than-life figure for our larger-than-life problems. A . . ."

"I think I understand."

"I wish I did," my friend said, shrugging and finally smiling.

"Have you talked to your therapist about this?"

"I plan to. But in the meantime do you think it's too early to move on from coffee to Jack Daniels?"

Uncle Miltie 

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Friday, December 25, 2015

December 25, 2015--Holiday

I'll celebrate anyone's holiday.

Back here Monday for a piece about social-desirability bias. Sounds boring, I know, but it isn't.

Have a merry day.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 24, 2105--Schlonged

Donald TRUMP is right, Hillary Clinton in 2008 did get schlonged by Barack Obama.

When primary season commenced, she had a huge lead in the polls over not just Barack Obama but was besting all other contenders--among them, Joe Biden, John Edwards, and Chris Dodd.

Then out of seemingly nowhere, along came Barack Obama. He won the Iowa caucuses and over time beat her and won the nomination. The rest is history.

But now we're not talking about history but about TRUMP's use of a Yiddish epithet to characterize her defeat.

In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, on East 56th Street, where in many households Yiddish was either the first or second family language--a neighborhood geographically and culturally not too distant from the goyishe one where The Donald grew up--at the end of a punchball or stickball game, parents would ask how did it go? How did you do?

If we got killed, rather than putting it that way or more formally ("We lost by a large margin"), we would say, "We got schmaltzed" (idiomatically, chicken fat or as in schmaltz herring) or more commonly, when the defeat was most painful, we would mutter, "We got schlonged."

I would say this in front of my very proper mother. Not once did she correct or admonish me though she was not loath to do so when I committed other infractions of speech or etiquette.

So, perhaps naively, I grew up never knowing the first meaning of schlong. The noun schlong (penis) rather than its verb form--schlonged (to be overwhelmingly defeated.)

And, I suspect, neither did Donald TRUMP.

I get it--TRUMP should not have used schlonged even if he didn't realize is was one of dozens of Yiddish slang words for penis. (Just as there are dozens in English and pretty much every other language.) He should be more temperate, proper, presidential.

To underscore his offensive but potentially innocent use of schlonged, check out Tuesday's headline in the Huffington Post--"Donald Trump Goes Full Schmuck, Uses Yiddish Word for Penis to Mock Hillary Clinton."

Not apparently realizing that schmuck itself is another Jewish slang word for penis.

And then there was Dana Millbank's piece in Tuesday's Washington Post. When it first appeared in the earliest edition and on line the tittle was, "Oy Vey! Donald Trump is a Putz."

Later additions had it, "Oy Vey! Enough of Trump." Tacit acknowledgment that Millbank, though Jewish, didn't realize that putz is, yes, another way of referring to the penis.

TRUMP's stupid comment was quickly taken up by Hillary Clinton and her people as evidence that TRUMP is not fit to be president. As she put it, "He can't bully his way to the presidency." Sounding like poor Jeb! who, to show his alpha maleness, has been indignantly saying that TRUMP can't "insult his way to the presidency."

In regard to Hillary's bullying comment. at an event two days ago in Iowa, with her arms around a 16 year-old girl who, without emotion much less tears, asked what Clinton will do to stop bullying.

Clinton's response was that she too has been bullied and that we should take measures to overcome it. The feeling was more whiny than forceful. Not like a potential commander-in-chief who is able to shrug off these kinds of things.

TRUMP's stupidity was distracting enough--reporters stopped talking about her TRUMP and ISIS untruths and exaggerations during Saturday's Democratic debate--that she didn't need to cite sexism or embrace victimhood.

On the other hand, Jeb! did get one thing right--TRUMP is a "jerk."

That's a better way of dealing with this kind of adolescent behavior. If TRUMP wants to be president, he should know better. He doesn't any longer live on East 56th Street.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

December 23, 2015--Shopping

Checked my list and realized I needed to do a little more shopping. So I am taking the day off to do so.

I will be back tomorrow with some words about Donald TRUMP.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December 22, 2015--"Homeland": Spoiler Alert

After the first few episodes of this season's Homeland series, until after Carrie finally jettisoned her daughter and got down to the work she was born to do--chasing and eliminating terrorists--I could barely wait for Sunday nights.

This past Sunday was the season finale, and though I thought it weak and formulaic, I still loved it.

And after it was over, I ran downstairs to go on line, to check out Homeland on Wikipedia to see if there will next year be a season six. Thankfully, there will be, because I need to know if Carrie really pulled the plug on Peter Quinn (I think she did because I can see him starring soon in a series of his own as "Brody," Damian Lewis, is doing in the soon-to-be-released Billions after being literally crucified on a Homeland episode at the end of season four) or if Saul manages to re-recruit Carrie to the CIA after she, next year, spends a few unfulfilling months with her daughter (for sure, since without that there is no possibility that Homeland can go off successfully in a new direction with Carrie transforming herself into a stay-at-home mom.) In addition, Saul looms as Homeland's ongoing most interesting character. And as amazing as she is, there is just so much of Carrie's cry-face that one can endure in a full season.

So, spoiler alert, from the recesses of my frustrated-screenwriter imagination, here are a few other plot predictions--

Quinn as suggested is Homeland history, but Saul will remain and become an even greater focus of action in season seven.

Carrie will return to the U.S. and try to live a normal life. This will be short-lived since by episode three there will be a terrorist attack on America.

Just as the overall trajectory of Homeland has followed the headlines and real news from the terrorist front--the first few seasons were set in the Middle East where the actions was and this year took Carrie and company to Europe, to Berlin, just as terroristic activities in real-time shifted to the West--from Al Qaeda to ISIS-inspired terrorism. So, next year, as our focus and fears shift more to America, so will Homeland's.

Carrie will take up life in Virginia or wherever and when there is an attack in Washington (did that in season one) or thus more likely in New York, Carrie, under pressure from Saul will agree to return to her true calling and become engaged in tracking down domestic terrorists. As a Mom, how could she say no.

Or at least that's my hope.

I've given up on Girls, Good Wife, and Younger so please, producers and writers, keep Homeland focused on tracking down evil. If we can't seem to figure out what to do in real life, I need the escape of Carrie's preternatural ability to keep us safe.

Or baring that, I'll be left with streaming Mozart On the Hudson and Master of None.

Then there are books. I'm determined to work my way through the 900 pages of City On Fire. Lots of luck. I read the first 50 pages and set it aside.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

December 21, 2015--Dampa and Baba

Dear friends, who have four beautiful grandchildren, love having them stay overnight so their parents can have some free time. For years we have heard stories about them, their creativity, the love that they share, the pleasure they bring. When I think about ideal grandparents, Barbara and John always come to mind.

Here is a note from John I received the other day--
We had Cece (7) and Ellie (5) for a sleepover last weekend. 
They always wake up way earlier than us and creep down the stairs to see if we're awake. 
Usually, the whispered question is, "Is it too early to get up?" Or maybe, "Dampa, how soon are you going to make pancakes?" Or, "I can't sleep. Can you read to me?" 
Seriously, at 5a.m.? 
This Sunday the question was, "Baba, what's your wifi password?"

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Friday, December 18, 2015

December 18, 2105--No TRUMP

I'll be putting my obsession with him aside for the day and will return here on Monday.

But I just read--and can't resist--that Vladimir Putin at his annual press conference said that he could "get along very well" with him.

Why is it that I believe Putin? This could be both a help for TRUMP (among internationally-minded voters) and a liability (among neo-isolationsists).

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

December 17, 2015--Debate Postpartum

The first hour of Tuesday's GOP debate was largely devoted to candidates speaking from their talking points and thus it was predictable and, in political theater terms, boring.

But then in the second hour things heated up and it became more entertaining. It also revealed who might turn out to be the final three and the strategies those three will likely use to claw their way into that elite group.

To forestall any suspense you might be feeling, the final three will be TRUMP, Rubio, and Jeb Bush. Yes, Jeb!.

In regard to the ultimate nominee, after the Republican convention deadlocks, expect that to be Paul Ryan. He is hovering not too far in the background, trying to act like the SPEAKER and presidential. He's even taken to delivering ex cathedra speeches in flag-bedecked settings. The beard helps. Makes him look like a Founder.

But back to the final official-candidate three. Here's how things well play out. The other night we got a sneak preview of their plans.

Attack, attack, attack.

TRUMP will continue to do what he has been doing, while hoping for at least one or two more instances of domestic terrorism to lock in his over-fearful base while attracting enough quivering semi-independents who want a strong man to make America Great Again. He will be attacking individual rivals but ramp up his attacks on Obama, Hillary, and political elites, none of whom, in his view, know how to swagger on the world stage or have the experience or competence to get anything done.

Rubio, who won the debate the other night largely by glibly showing off that he knows "stuff" while displaying that he also has cojones by attacking Ted Cruz, will continue on the same tack. Expect more and more of his campaign fire directed toward his fellow Latino, Cruz, whose paper-thin voice went up an octave when under fire. Voters will not select for president someone who sounds as if he's inhaled helium.

And then there is the formerly hapless Jeb Bush who will continue to show he has moxie (plus gravitas) by relentlessly and effectively attacking TRUMP. It worked on Tuesday (look for this to show up in a post-debate bump in the polls) so expect more of the same. If he can, as he did, get under the skin of someone as formidable as TRUMP think what he'll do when it comes to confronting really bad guys like Putin and Assad.

Forget the rest of the candidates. Carson is now fully cooked, Christie was taken down by Paul Ryan of all people--he is less than half Christie's size--who revealed him to be the Third World warrior he pretends to be.

Shoot down Russian planes over Syria? As Paul said about Christie, "If you're looking for someone to start WW III, you have your candidate." And he couldn't resist piling on by making a nasty reference to Christie's alleged involvement in closing down the GW Bridge.

No one else is even breathing much less threatening to push their way into the inner-inner circle of final-finalists.

You heard it here.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

December 16, 2015--Donald TRUMP's Doctor's Note

Not yet thought about very much in the GOP presidential nomination campaign is the issue of Donald TRUMP's age.

I just yesterday realized that if elected president, he would be the oldest person to be inaugurated for a first term. He will be 70 by next January. Ronald Reagan, about whom age was a political issue--was he too old to serve--was a year younger.

This occurred to me when TRUMP issued a note from his doctor about the supposed state of his health.

I say "supposed" since the doctor's note sounds suspiciously like one TRUMP would write about himself. Like the notes bad kids (me included) used to forge so we wouldn't have to go to school.

In typical TRUMP fashion he previewed the release of the brief, four paragraph letter (after previously promising a "full medical report") by saying that when it appears it will "show perfection."

And it did.

It claimed that after a recent "complete medical exam," it showed "only positive results." So positive, that the doctor gushed, "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual elected president."

Usually, in medical vernacular, "positive results" are bad, like when the biopsy turns out to be positive it means the patient has cancer.

But be that as it may, we learned that TRUMP's blood pressure was 110/65 and he allegedly lost 15 pounds since beginning his run for the presidency, though reporters following him say he looks plumper.

On the other hand, TRUMP in claiming he lost so much weight (even after confessing an inclination to liking high-fat foods such as bacon) may be previewing life after the campaign.

Assuming he loses the election, I can envision him out hustling The Donald Diet on QVC.

TRUMP's Doctor's Note 

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

December 15, 2015--Ladies of Forest Trace: Mt. Lebanon

We visited my mother on Sunday at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery. It was a little more than five months since her death. It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day and she was at rest amid the graves of her parents, among her bother, sisters, and their spouses, and next to my father.

Being there reminded me of earlier times at Mt. Lebanon. In truth, often happy, secure times for me when I was a young child. I wanted nothing more than, in one way or another, to be with my family.

I thought to share again something I wrote a few years ago about her final resting place, the family plot in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery--

Shuttling between cemeteries is the way I spent much of my childhood.  One was Mount Hebron, my father’s family’s place of final rest; the other, my mother’s family plot at Mount Lebanon.  Just three miles apart, in the borough of Queens.  It felt like being pressed between the pincers of two grim parentheses.
My mother’s family, the Munyas, arrived in the America in about 1912 from a shtetl town in central Poland, Tulowice.  Her father, Laibusya Munya, was a paymaster in a forest.  This was a job for Jews—they were trusted with the money but not the physical labor of cutting down trees.  That was for the goyim.  Grandpa Laibusya went into Warsaw each week to pick up zloties and brought them back to the forest to pay the men who cut down the trees and schlepped the logs to the river.  With his wife, Frimet, my eventual grandmother, he lived in a log house with his six children, including my infant mother.  When the pogroms became more frequent and bloody, he began to make plans to leave.  As with so many before him, he went first on his own to the New World, established himself as a baker on the Lower Eastside, saved money by existing on rye bread, and then sent for the rest of the family.  They settled within a community of other Polish Jews, most of whom came from the same part of the Pale of Settlement.
They moved from apartment to apartment whenever the landlord raised the rent, but once they were all huddled safely in America, they found a more permanent place to live (a rent controlled third-floor walkup in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn), a store for groceries (Beckman’s, down the block), a butcher (Fleishman’s, next to Beckman’s), a fruit store (Willy’s, across the street), and of at least equal importance, they formed a burial society—a Landsmanshaftn, or a home town association.  There was no time to waste—as my grandfather would say in Yiddish, one never knew when having a plot would come in handy.  And through the years it turned out to be as he predicted--before I was of legal age more family members resided in Mt. Lebanon than Bensonhurst.
Even before finding suitable burial sites, the members of the Landsmanshaftn elected officers—a president, vice president, secretary, and especially a treasurer.  Especially, since the treasurer was responsible for what little money there was—money to pay the cemetery the annual maintenance fee and to write checks for the “perpetual care” for the ground around and on the graves.  Also, the treasurer, because of these fiduciary responsibilities, was the only one who was compensated.  At first five dollars a year.  And thus it was a coveted honor and contested fiercely, particularly as time went by and the annual stipend was raised to $25. Real money when a dollar was still a dollar.
The Tulowice Landsmanshaftn somehow managed to strike a good deal with Mt. Lebanon in spite of great demand-side pressure: Jews were arriving in New York in such numbers during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and dying at such a rate thanks in part to the unchecked influenza, that more and more dairy farms in Queens were being converted into cemeteries and plots were gobbled up as fast as pastures could be converted into graves. 
Mt. Lebanon was established in 1919.  Perfect timing for the Tulowicians who were able to get in on the ground floor during the year of the most virulent and deadly flu epidemic.  They were able to buy a reasonably contiguous cluster of thirty or so plots in a desirable, hilly, shady corner.  It came with a pine tree and a view of the new Interboro Parkway.  As evidence of how desirable a location, Richard Tucker, the famous cantor turned Metropolitan Opera star came to occupy a nearby plot of his own as did Nathan Handworker, founder of Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island.  So the family was in good company and assured of eternal upward mobility.
Exactly what they had come to America for. The streets may not have been paved with gold, but to forever be across from the “biggest” tenor and the hot dog king showed that they had “arrived.”
On the other hand, the Zwerlings, my father’s family, claimed they came to America from Austria, not from the downscale Pale in Poland (although there are in fact no extant papers to prove this assertion).  Full of pride they boasted they were from Vienna, spoke German, and arrived well before those Eastern European shtetal Jews showed up at Ellis Island with their cardboard suitcases.  In fact, unlike the Munyas, who had the good fortune to have had an Irish immigration officer convert Munya to Mooney, the Zwerling needed no such transmutation—the German-sounding “Zwerling” was fine just as it was.  Though hardly of the Our Crowd crowd, the Zwerlings prided themselves on the fact that they were born in America, owned their own house, and didn’t understand Yiddish, much less speak it.  So when it came preparation for dying, they had a different approach than the Malones. 
The cemetery they selected and in which they bought real estate (that is how they viewed it—as a real estate transaction), Mt. Hebron, was founded by assimilated German Jews in the late 1880s.  In contrast to the other Mount, there were no burial societies, none of the carving on the tombstones were in Hebrew--everything in Mt. Hebron was ostentatiously in English--the roads weaving among the graves were wider (Mt. Hebron families had cars), there was abundant parking, the above-ground mausoleums were more elaborate and spacious, and there were even well-tended restrooms.
However, though in all other ways the Zwerlings and Mooneys lived cultural worlds apart, they did share one thing in common—an absolute obsession with illness, dying, death, and above all their final arrangements.  And no one was more obsessed with final matters than my father. 
But first I need to say more about how my mother’s family devoted themselves to their sixteenth of an acre of American soil.  First, with a name like Mooney they had to convince the Mt. Lebanon authorities and that they were in fact Jews and thus eligible to be laid to rest in ground consecrated exclusively for people of the Old Testament.   With their Irish-sounding name they were suspected of being goyim and had to show not only their Ellis Island papers but also those they brought along with them from Poland that identified them as Munyas, and thus Jews.
After successfully making that case to the Mt. Lebanon council of rabbis and being allowed to erect a tombstone with the gentile name “Mooney” chiseled on it, they then needed to consider how to care for the plot itself.  There was the “Perpetual Care” option, but neither the family nor the Landsmanschaftn as yet had the hundred dollars necessary to arrange for it.  That would come later when Uncle Jac did well enough and could afford to underwrite the tending of all thirty plots.  Even then, because of their experiences with pogroms and subsequently the Holocaust, the Mooneys were suspicious of institutions, including cemeteries (after all they too were businesses) and thus were congenitally incapable of trusting them to provide care perpetually (enough of them by then knew English sufficiently to understand how long perpetual in truth was) much less trust the cemetery owners not to run off with the hundred dollars before the clock on perpetual ran out.
Thus, during the spring and summer growing season, we went to Mt. Lebanon every Sunday.  Not to visit Grandpa and Grandma Mooney, who at the time were the only ones in permanent residence, but to care for the gravesite itself.  As the youngest and most agile that meant I was designated to crawl around among the tombstones to pull weeds and cut grass with the pinking shears my Aunt Tanna always had in her pocketbook.
Sitting on the bench to supervise, her sister, my Aunt Fay, would watch with pride as I scampered from head- to foot-stone, kvelling, “Look at him, look at how little Steveala is clipping Papa’s grass and plucking Mama’s weeds.  He has such hands.  With those hands one day he could be a surgeon, be rich,  and make everyone proud.” 
At her older sister’s words praising my skills and predicting my promising future, my mother would swell with maternal satisfaction and say to me, “When I am buried here, Steven, with the family, I know you will come to take good care of me.  And you will tell me about your own wife and your own children and grandchildren.  And about your patients and their appendectomies. Just like I talk to Mamma and Poppa.” 
Though this was more than I wanted to contemplate, any aspect of it—I was already burdened at school with spelling and the six-times table--I nodded and continued to clip away. I moved among the grass and weeds as if born to the task, wielding the pinking shears, which I was told were the only scissors in the family with enough heft to cut through thistles.  So when I had completed my pulling, chopping and cutting with those slotted shears it looked as if the grass had been Marcelled.  As a result, the Malone wavy gravesite was reputed to be the envy of the two burial societies that owned adjacent plots.
In truth I loved this first adult responsibility.  And since none of us had the wherewithal to ever get to real mountains during the hot weather, going to Mt. Lebanon was our version of a trip to the country. 
While I scooted among the tombstones, my aunts would sit on the bench and talk to their Momma and Papa, telling them about what had happened during the week.  There was a lot to report since the family apartment was the site of a constant shuffle of relatives and friends from the Camps in Europe, distant New Jersey, and even the occasional refugee on the way to Palestine.  For the latter, Aunt Tanna would collect money for their passage or to help them buy a car or icebox.  All that news was duly recounted to my grandparents at rest nearby.  But since it was in Yiddish, I could gather little of what they reported.  My ears perked up, however, and my nearly non-existent Yiddish improved, when they whispered about “That Rifka. Not quite a relative but a distant cousin of a friend of my grandparents, Rifka was someone they referred to as a nafke, which even with my limited Yiddish I knew meant tramp.  I made a mental note that when I was old enough I would make an effort to meet that Rifka.
My father’s obsession with his family’s cemetery, however, was of quite a different sort. 
Among the Zwerling, he was the only one preoccupied with the family plot.  To the others it was just that place in Queens where they might eventually have to be taken after marrying off the children and retiring to Florida.  But to him it represented a different order of reality.  Again, in the tradition of the Zwerling, it was more about real estate than visiting the departed and reporting to them life’s quotidian events. To him it was a matter of being sure there was a physical place for everyone entitled to be there.  And that the arrangement of those places, the individual gravesites, were appropriately hierarchical. 
Proximity to the family patriarch, Louis, his father, my grandfather, and mother-grandmother, Anne, was, as it should be, where the hierarchy began, with the sons and their wives and the sisters and their husbands arranged in descending tiers by birth-order and gender.  As the oldest, the first-born male of a first-born father, this meant my father would reside right below his father and mother, and so on down the Zwerling family genealogy.
An awareness of the shape of the Zwerling Family Plot would immediately see that the task my father set for himself was not so easily accomplished.  If they had been able to purchase a plot with hierarchy and primogeniture in mind, they would have bought something more in the shape of a pyramid.  But in the gridded-out reality of Mt Hebron, obtaining a family plot in this anthropological configuration was impossible.  So my father, the arranger, had to work with the rectangle that was bequeathed to him by his father, Grandfather Louis.
He spent endless hours with an outline of the full plot inscribed on a large sheet of oak tag, and within it, using an architect’s triangle and ruler, drew a series of perfectly scaled grave-shaped rectangles, in various combinations and permutations until he had it laid out as appropriately as he could, considering the restraints imposed on his grand design by the unyielding boundaries of the plot.  And when he had his plan worked out as much as possible in primogeniture order, he made a final rendering, using draftsman’s indelible ink; and at a series of family meetings with his brothers and sisters and their spouses, he got each to initial the rectangle assigned to them until all were duly filled in and signed off on.
And thus the responsibility his father bequeathed to him was done. . . . 
That is until his sister, my Aunt Madeline began to upset the scheme by marrying a series of husbands who in turn died shortly after each wedding, and, most critically, were buried, one by one by one, side-by-side in the Zwerling plot.  
By the time Husband Number Three was interred, my father began to worry.  As you by now would expect, he worried not so much about his carefully crafted plan, but, in frankness, more about his own eventual fate.  If Madeline mainatined her current pace, by the actuarial time my father would need the full services of Mt. Hebron, there would no longer be room remaining for him.
Thus, he convened an urgent Zwerling family gathering and laid out the issue squarely and frankly.  Madeline was understandably distraught, having lost her third husband, Morty, just the previous month. He had jumped off the roof of their apartment building—it was well known that she was not easy to live with. 
But in spite of Madeline’s grief, with at least the appearance of sympathy, my father was able to forge ahead and succeeded in mobilizing a majority of sibling and spouse votes to let Madeline know there were no more places at Mt. Hebron for subsequent husbands.  That is unless she was willing to relinquish her own plot.  Or, perhaps she would prefer to have my father arrange to move one or two of her husbands to a different part of the cemetery. 
Considering her options, Madeline agreed that though there would likely be more husbands (that was not open to family discussion) there would be no more places for additional deceased husbands.
That should have been the end of the story.  But again there is more.
As it turned out, there would be room for two more husbands because my father, when his time arrived, did not after all require his place in Mt. Hebron. Nor would my mother.
When a Jewish person dies, it is considered desirable that the person be buried as quickly as possible.  The dust-to-dust imperative is very strong indeed and thus the sooner the better.  As might be expected, to expedite the process, my father had arranged for a prepaid funeral. For him it was also an opportunity to shop for his own casket and arrange for the limousines and memorial service, including that there be nothing that involved a rabbi or any prayers in any language—he was an outspoken lifelong atheist.
His place next to his father’s side at Mt. Hebron awaited, but my mother had a different plan in mind—something more indelible than the ink he had used to make the oak tag diagram.
During their 60-year marriage, she had participated in dozens of discussions about Mt. Hebron.  Or, to put it more appropriately, my father’s plans for them at the Zwerling plot.  She had only hinted to my father how much she did not look forward to spending eternity with The Zwerlings.  It was an era when wives hinted at things that concerned them. She, in truth, dreaded the thought that she would not be with her parents and her real family.  She also hated the idea that she would have to spend her afterlife listening to the Zwerlings arguing, talking simultaneously at the top of their voices, literally forever. 
And so she directed the funeral director--“Let’s put him in Mt. Lebanon.” 
Fortunately there was still room.  Again, in the informal shtetl ways of the Tulowice Landsmanscahftn, without the existence of a notarized plan, she was able to get her remaining siblings to agree to find a space for him and one beside him for her. 
She did feel some guilty that this new arrangement placed him right next to his family rival, brother-in-law Harry.  They had been in a series of failed businesses together and had not only fought about money but about such things as how many spare light bulbs to have on hand—my father thought six were enough; Harry always believed in buying by the gross. She knew, as a result, that there would be family tension right there at Mt. Lebanon. About light bulbs and also who was at fault for driving customers away from their last deli. (She personally blamed my father.)
But she also knew she would be in the warm vicinity of Mamma and Papa. And, when her time came, being separated by my father from Harry, would bring her more peace than she was accustomed to in life. In any case, she assertedly thought--Who cares. Let them fight.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14, 2015--GOP Goose-Steppers

We need to calm down.

Those who are fearing that we are about to be bombed unrelentingly by ISIS need to get a grip. It's bad enough as it is and so the last thing we need is to get all hysterical and make things worse by overreacting.

Those drawn to Donald TRUMP, rallying to his bluster, believing his xenophobic proposals to suspend   the admission of Muslims to the country will keep us safe, need to take a deep breath and at least one step back.

And those of us on the progressive left also need to get control of ourselves--no matter what we think about him and his likely unconstitutional ideas, he is no Hitler.

Though that is what I'm hearing from liberal friends and reading in some hyped-up op-ed columns in the New York Times.

About the latter, on Saturday, Timothy Egan, in his piece, "Another Indecent Proposal," defamed TRUMP and his followers by labeling them crypto-nazis. With TRUMP assigned the Hitler role.

To make matters even more outrageous, the Egan piece, when it first appeared on the NY Times website, was more blatantly titled--"Goose-Steppers in the GOP."

Egan and some of my friends need to have a drink.

And while doing so, to give him his due, they need to quote TRUMP accurately. What he is saying may be bad enough on its own as not to require citation out of context.

For example, out-of-context Egan writes--
Trump's proposal--"a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering there United States"--is not just flotsam from the lunatic fringe. Well it is. But the fringe is huge.
Whereas in a campaign press release TRUMP actually said--
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what's going on.
Or as he put it more colloquially--"Until we can figure out what the hell is going on."

What TRUMP said and what Egan said he said is quite different.

We may still deplore what TRUMP is saying and implying about Muslims, but we diminish the effectiveness of our deploring by intentionally not quoting him honestly.

And we can't just ignore his charge that our "country's representatives" at the moment can't "figure out what the hell is going on."

They can't.

Homeland Security people this past weekend acknowledged that they really blew it when they reviewed the application for a visa from the Pakistani women who joined her American-born husband in perpetrating the San Bernardino massacre. For years, openly on social media, she expressed interest in joining in violent terrorist activities against the West. And though her application was reviewed three times, no one picked that up. And the rest is tragic history.

It probably would have helped if we had, sorry, taken a TRUMP-pause to figure out what was going on with this and her.

Here's a little more from the Egan op-ed--
And sure, all the little Hitlers probably don't amount to a hill of beans. But what about the 35 percent of Republican voters on the New York Times/CBS News poll, who say they're all in with the man sieg heiled by aspiring brownshirts and men in white sheets?
For me, when someone so quickly starts making Hitler analogies, I know they're out of control and are not thinking with their heads but with their fears and emotions.

Hitler was Hitler. TRUMP is TRUMP. As I said, that's bad enough.

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Friday, December 11, 2015

December 11, 2015--Social Insecurity

There was a big envelope waiting in the mail from the Social Security Administration.

Rona looked at me seemingly concerned.

"Nothing to worry about," I said, "Must be my annual benefits letter. You know, the COLA amount for next year. The cost of living adjustment. How much more I'll be getting."

"Good, since we just got our COLA for the apartment. Maintenance is going up three percent beginning in January so it would be good if the Social Security increase will offset it."

Upstairs I opened the envelope. The letter was five pages long. "Let me get to the money shot," I said, thumbing through them. "Here it is. It says, 'We review Social Security benefits each year to make sure they keep up with the cost of living.'"

"That's good," Rona said, "That's what I was waiting to hear. To see how they are making sure we keep up with the cost of living."

"You're not going to like this then," I said, avoiding eye contact.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean it looks as if I'll be receiving less come January than I am now."

"That can't be," Rona said, snatching the letter out of my hands. "How much have you been getting?"

"Let me look." I thumbed through my checkbook. "$2,200 a month."

"And in January?"

"If I'm looking in the right place, "$2,186. Fourteen dollars a month less. That comes to . . . let me see . . . $168 a year."

"This is their version of helping you keep up with inflation?"

"I seem to remember hearing something a few months ago that the Social Security people determined there is no inflation and so there will be no COLA."

"In the meantime they came up with a negative COLA--they adjusted you down?"

"Unless they made a mistake, it looks that way."

"Let me talk to them," Rona snapped. There was a service number to call. "No surprise, the recording says there's a 35 minute wait time."

"There are about 50 million seniors receiving Social Security and probably half of them right now are calling because they got versions of the same letter. I wonder how many very old folks will die on line while waiting for someone to pick up."

"You're so cynical," Rona said. "But I bet I know what happened."

"What's that?"

"The only other thing listed is the deduction for Medicare. They say come January they'll deduct $202.30 a month. I'll bet that's more than this year. Do you know how much they currently withhold?"

"Not really," I confessed. "You know I don't pay that much attention to money matters. You do it for both of us. And in fact very well," I blew Rona a kiss.

She didn't respond.

In the meantime, on hold for half an hour, we listened to Social Security Muzak.

Impressively, someone picked up at the end of exactly 35 minutes. For some reason that made me feel optimistic that there had been a mistake in my calculation. How could they send me less while saying they review my benefits each year to make sure they are keeping up with inflation?

I needed to identify myself and provide authorization for Rona to ask about my account.

After doing that, Rona asked if there was an error. There wasn't. She then inquired if the new, reduced monthly benefit was in fact less than at present. It was confirmed.

"Why would that be?" As we suspected because they increased the Medicare deduction.

"How does that help us keep up with inflation?" Rona asked with a hint of attitude. It doesn't, she heard back.

"Let me see if I have this right--you determined there's no inflation and so there was no COLA." Correct. "But at the same time you're withholding $168 a year more, which is a form of increasing our cost of living--we have to come up with that amount." Silence.

"Right?" More silence.

"No wonder everyone is going crazy about the government," Rona said, "I know it not your fault, but really? This is the kind of letter you send? To people struggling to live on Social Security?" Again no response.

The SS representative had probably been fielding calls of this kind all day. Likely mainly from people less fortunate than we for whom $168 less a year will present real problems.

"More votes for Donald TRUMP," I said. "You know, Mad As Hell. Blah, blah, blah."

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

December 10, 2015--Islamic Eschatology: "The Blessed Invasion"

About 15 years ago, at a Ford Foundation meeting where I was serving as a senior director, because our new president wanted to shift some of the foundation's emphasis to cultural grantmaking that would include funding organizations devoted to religious tolerance and interfaith projects, senior staff gathered to discuss what that meant and how we should proceed.

For me it turned out to be a life-altering experience.

One staff member who attended was a Pakistani-born and raised colleague who, after hearing the rest of us flounder for half a day, struggling with how to think about our new president's challenge, out of exasperation with us, she said--

"The problem is that all of you are liberals and liberals look back to the Enlightenment for guidance on how to think about the world and its problems. You all believe that there are rational solutions to every problem. In fact, you abjure anything that isn't rational or evidence-based. Thus you are uncomfortable with much that has to do with the power of culture, especially belief systems, religions, that are not strictly speaking rational.

"In fact, they are decidedly not rational nor fact-based. None of them are. They are about belief. Derived from that. And thus you do not know how to respond to our new CEO's mandate--that we pay more attention to the power of culture as it shapes peoples' lives, again, especially how religious beliefs affect behavior. Even, perhaps especially behavior that doesn't make sense if viewed through only an Enlightenment lens."

The room grew hushed. None of us, very much including me, knew what to think, how to respond, most important what to do.

And over the next few years of funding cultural institutions and organizations devoted to religious diversity, very little that we supported had much impact.

Retrospectively, we funded groups that were pushing against the mainstream, against orthodoxies mainly in the Middle East, orthodoxies that limited diversity of thought and practice. We supported, for example, groups that were fighting for more gender equality within powerful religious institutions. But to them, not unlike how our government's interventions in the Muslim world are meeting with such fierce resistance, the organizations we funded may have done more unintended harm than good.

From an Enlightenment perspective, which still guided the foundation's work, we thought that all we needed to do was raise social justice issues and religious leaders would quickly see the light (pun intended) and embark upon campaigns of reform.

In fact, history is showing that various forms of Western intervention--from the cultural to governmental to military--most often contribute to the problem.

Out of arrogance, ignoring history, we may have caused harm with the best of intentions.

Thus, from that, for me, fateful meeting and our largely failed grantmaking, I have become convinced that national and ethnic and tribal culture derived from religious beliefs (from the arts to language to gender relations to governance structures) are more powerful than any other social force. Economics very much included.

In fact, people in the Islamic world (and for that matter, the rest of us) are not just longing to have access to Western consumer goods, Hollywood movies, rock and roll or, as too many of us back in the day metaphorically and literally thought, MTV.

Many, perhaps most reject the blandishments of the West--things that objectively-speaking would "improve" their lives--because belief systems and cultural practices teach them otherwise.

Thus, the power of culture and religion. Something my colleagues and I never fully came to understand.

Since that time I have attempted to learn more about belief systems, especially those that are so powerful and influential that they cause people frequently to act in ways that seemingly contribute to their own disadvantage.

Looking at the world and peoples' behavior that way, What's the Matter with Kansas can be extrapolated to most of the rest of the world.

I have been particularly interested in religious orthodoxies, especially those that are guided by an apocalyptic view of the world. That believe the End is near and that it is not too soon to be prepared to welcome it.

We find strong themes of this kind in all three Religions of the Book and those of you who have been following Behind know that this has for years been an ongoing topic for me, even to the point of obsession that runs the likely risk of boring you.

But during these dangerous times, I cannot resist applauding the New York Times, which two days ago, on the front page, ran a story about prophetic Islam and how an awareness of its wide-reaching power is guiding some of out best strategic behavior as we struggle to figure out culturally careful ways to limit and hopefully defeat ISIS.

Specifically, ISIS wants the United Staes to be drawn into a ground war in northern Syria.

ISIS leader Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi called our 2003 intervention in Iraq "the Blessed Invasion." A view based on Muslim prophetic texts that state that Islam will be victorious against the West after an apocalyptic battle that will be ignited once Western armies enter the region.

Jean-Pierre Filin, author of Apocalypse in Islam, says, "This is a very powerful and emotional narrative. It gives . . . [Islamic] fighters the feeling that they are not only part of the elite, they are part of the final battle."

These texts prophesize an apocalyptic battle in the small Syrian towns of Dabiq and al-Amaq. Last year Islamic State militants beheaded American hostage Peter Kassig in Dabiq. The executioner said, "Here we are burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly awaiting the remainder of your armies to arrive."

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

December 9, 2015--Political Stand-Up

The other night I was reading with Hardball turned on in the background.

Among Chris Matthew's guests was Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post. They were trying to make sense of Donald TRUMP's call for a "pause" in allowing Muslims to enter the country until we can "figure out what the hell is going on."

Their point--as it was true for most media outlets and politicians from both parties--was that this was an outrageous example of ethnic profiling, impractical to implement, likely unconstitutional, and inconsistent with everything we stand for as Americans.

About 10 minutes into this discussion, MSNBC cut away to the World War II aircraft carrier Yorktown berthed in Charleston, SC, where Donald TRUMP was speaking before a large group of followers who had come together to hear him and take note of the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I looked up from my book. I had only seen and listened to TRUMP in snippets. The most liberal of the cable news networks was about to do something unusual--stay with him for awhile and let viewers come to their own conclusions about what he had to say. And they did so, allowing their coverage to run on and on for a full 45 minutes, uninterrupted for commentary and, more unexpectedly, for commercials.

This was TRUMP red in tooth and claw.

As it turned out, what struck me was not so much what he had to say but how. His performance, because performance it was.

I have listened to many campaign speeches, even gone in person to a number presidential candidates' rallies--all were versions of performances, but none compared to TRUMP's, which was more than anything else pure comedic entertainment. Political stand-up shtick.

First of all, if you close your eyes he sounds more like Mel Brooks than Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, both great stump performers. Also, take a look at him with his Zero Mostel hairdo.

Then there are the gestures, facial expressions, the mugging, the shrugs, the self-referential asides, the winks and nods, the bantering with individual audience members who called out or disrupted him. Like all practiced comedians he loves hecklers and has ready put-downs that serves both to silence them and rally those who are there to embrace and enjoy him.

He's not quite in Don Rickles' league when it comes to attack humor, but for a political operative he's pretty good and I found myself chuckling along with the audience. When putting down the MSNBC reporter covering the event he was at his biting, nasty best.

When scorching Chris Christie (who TRUMP claimed he was forced to do because of what the NJ governor said about his plans for traveling Muslims) he pretended to do so reluctantly.

In full shrug he said, "I have no choice. He's never attacked me before. So I have to do it." And he did with comedically savage strokes, pretending to be Christie at one of his daily breakfast meetings with his staff, improvising a dialogue among them about shutting down the George Washington Bridge for six hours. It was laugh-out-loud funny.

No, he resisted making fun of what the rotund Christie might have eaten at the breakfast. My guess is the next time he riffs about who my mother used to call Chris Crispy the breakfast menu will be up for grabs.

And then any time he referred to Jeb Bush he rested his head on his hands as if sleeping. Talking continuously about poor Jeb's lack of "energy" has served TRUMP well. He also never failed to mention use's dramatic descent in the polls. Jeb who was originally thought to be the inevitable nominee, largely as the result of TRUMP's relentless mockery, is now languishing with George Pataki in political Purgatory.

With about five minutes left in Hardball's time slot they cut back to Chris Matthews and Gene Robinson who looked as if they had aged ten years. They sat there as if stunned, uncharacteristically silent for at least half a dozen beats. They couldn't figure out how to respond, what to say. Perhaps it was also the first time for them that they had seen the full TRUMP spritz.

Between them they have nearly 100 years of experience covering politics. They exist and operate within a political paradigm where what candidates have to say about the issues is what counts. Their policy proposals and five-part programs to take on ISIS are what they're used to vetting and commenting on. But shtick about Christie at breakfast or how TRUMP makes fun of Jeb Bush are beyond Matthews' and Robinson's purview.

They aren't getting it. They aren't comfortable or familiar with what TRUMP is about and why he is doing so well in the polls.

It's not about policies stupid, it's about mobilizing anger and fear through political comedy and entertainment.

TRUMP is more like George Carlin and Bill Maher than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Jeb Bush.

When I stopped chuckling and thought about the political content of TRUMP's performance, I was as horrified as Matthews and Robinson. What he is proposing to do about Muslims is abhorrent to me. Nothing less than unAmerican. But there I was being swept along. I reminded myself of something Geraldo Rivera of all people said many months ago--"Who would you rather watch for an hour--Jeb Bush or Donald TRUMP?"

The answer is obvious.

For many months I have been writing and warning about TRUMP's appeal. One of my liberal fiends thinks I have gone over to "the other side." Well, I haven't.

Another said, "You're spending too much time in Florida." Well, I haven't been.

I am not intending to vote for him. I am simply attempting to explain his appeal and, frankly, as a political junkie, enjoy his craft.

Most of my progressive friends explain TRUMP's appeal by claiming that "Americans are stupid."

It is not wise to be thus dismissive. The American people are who they are, who they've always been. In their stupidity they somehow managed to elect Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

Unlike Matthews and Robinson we should try to figure out what is really going on out there in the country beyond the Beltway and in from both coasts. Smugly mocking our politics and TRUMP will help assure his election. We do so at our peril.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

December 8, 2015--Muslim Rapture

I have been wondering why so many people are reporting that the massacre in San Bernardino is making them feel more fearful than the events of 9/11.

The nearly 3,000 deaths by terrorists dwarfs the 14 murdered last week. And yet many are saying they are now more frightened than at that time.

I have been informally questioning people I know about this. Mainly well educated, independent-minded, intrepid people who have made their way successfully through life. Some have lived adventurously and, for the most part, the ones I have been surveying are among the politically most progressive people I know.

They tell me that it is not about the numbers. Obviously "only" 14 deaths pale by comparison to the carnage in 2001. What is emotionally occurring this time for them is the difference between the externally-driven attack on September 11th and the fact that in San Bernardino the assault was conceived and carried out by seemingly assimilated Americans.

The husband at least. And his wife, though born in Pakistan, is described as a typical suburban spouse and mother, not apparently alienated by life in the United States. Though she may turn out to be a version of the Manchurian Candidate, she and he felt to neighbors, family, and friends just like the rest of us.

So to be attacked by them brings the terrorist threat home. Makes it, if you will, homemade. Perversely almost mater of fact. Not too, too much planning or preparation was required.

And it occurred right in the neighborhood. Just down the block. Around the corner. As so to those I surveyed, this feels very different than the attack perpetrated by Al Qaeda operatives who trained for and planned an enormously complicated plot against America that culminated on that horrific day in 2001.

So the nature of this most recent assault means everyone is a threat.

Well, I have been hearing, not everyone. Not everyone is a threat.

I have been hearing that the fear and threats are not from all of our neighbors but from Muslims.

And, again, I am not being told this by supporters of Donald TRUMP who is calling for racial profiling and now forbidding all Muslims from entering the country until "we find out what the hell is going on."

 These, once more, are liberals. Otherwise tolerant people. People who pride themselves on enjoying the diversity that is America. This is from those who have spent a lifetime defending and embracing our various forms of difference.

These formerly tolerant people are even going further than TRUMP, saying that if all Muslims could suddenly and painlessly disappear, they would welcome that.

One who shared this opinion called it a Muslim Rapture--that all Muslims in the world, the billion-plus of them--would be taken right up to heaven and those of us Left Behind could go on with our lives.

After hearing this, I asked others about this and quite a few said it sounded to them like a good idea. Everyone would get what they want--Muslims an early departure to heaven while the rest of us could live on in peace.

Everyone who shared this views, of course, realized and acknowledged it is an unrealistic fantasy. But it is an expression of their fears and perceptions that they are not seeing a clear path to a solution to the problem radical Islam represents.

Most were quick to add, as if to mitigate these views, that though it embarrassed them to feel this way, they also deplore the excesses of all religions, the fanatical fringes. Especially messianic ones like millennialist Jews who are waiting for the Messiah to appear and radical Christians such as the Adventists who are eagerly looking forward to the Apocalypse. All anticipating End Times.

One even had a joke--

"What's the difference," he asked me, unsmiling, "between radical and moderate Muslims?"

Also not smiling, knowing where this might be heading, I said I didn't know.

"The radical Muslims want to kill us. The moderates want the radical Muslims to do the killing."

I groaned.

But then turning the tables on me, I was asked what I thought about the Muslim Rapture. Stammering, I said, "Please don't quote me as I won't quote you, but I am ashamed to admit--of course it's a fantasy and not a reality--but . . ."

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