Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Shades of Dr. Max

Dr. Max Rafferty

Dr. Max Rafferty

Way back in 1968, California had a real barn-burner of a senate election pitting Democrat Alan Cranston (the former state Comptroller) versus Republican Dr. Max Rafferty (that’s him in the photo), the then state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Max was such a “far right reactionary” that many California Democrats actually changed their voter registration to Republican for the sole purpose of voting for the incumbent, the much-admired and respected liberal Republican Thomas Kuchel. Despite the influx of new Republican primary voters, Dr. Max defeated Senator Kuchel, and then went on to lose the general election to Cranston by more than 340,000 votes. (Of course, a vast majority of the Democrats who had re-registered as Republicans, returned to the fold for the general election.)

Defeated for reelection to his state education post two years later, Dr. Max moved to Alabama, where he took a job as Chancellor of Troy State University. Upon learning of Rafferty’s planned move, the beloved San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen wrote “In leaving California and moving to Alabama, Dr. Max is raising the IQ of both states simultaneously.” (Dr. Max would continue living in Alabama, and actually became a surrogate for George Wallace. On June 13, 1982, Dr. Max died when his car plunged off an earthen dam into a pond near Troy. He was 65.

This now half-century old memory fought its way back to my frontal lobes while I was in the process of reading various Tweets and Facebook postings from ardent “pro-life” (or rather, “pro-birth”) supporters of the nation’s newest and cruelest total abortion ban - the one just signed into law by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. Many of these Tweets and postings were aglow with the joy of knowing that as of this coming November, physicians who conduct abortions in Alabama could be sentenced to 99 years in prison, and women undergoing abortions could be held legally liable for their actions. And, as a result, many of these Tweeters were now half-seriously considering moving to Alabama, where “morality is back in style." I responded to several of them that in leaving their home states and moving to the land of Ivey, they would - like Dr. Max - be raising the IQ of two states simultaneously. Not knowing the historic context behind my tweets, they were, to say the least, perplexed. Now, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and other states are in competition with one another to pass their own pro-birth, anti-woman bans ASAP.

Truth to tell, for many of these state legislatures, rushing to pass regressive anti-abortion ”fetal heartbeat” legislation, the reason for turning back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days hasn’t got all that much to do with religion or morality. Rather, it has lots to do with putting a powerful emotional wedge issue squarely on the 2020 ballot. To their way of thinking, this issue will help 45’s reelection bid. But already, there are signs that Republicans themselves - including the POTUS himself - are becoming political contortionists; pols who, while seeking to convince their base that they are still adamantly pro-birth, are also attempting to distance themselves from the cruelest, most testosterone-driven aspects of the newest pieces of legislation.

One might think Alabama legislators and their base would be more concerned about paying attention to the state of their state than whether or not women and their physicians are going to be enjoined and even imprisoned for making decisions about their bodies and lives. If the Republican politicians and citizens of Alabama were really, truly concerned about life - rather than merely birth - they would be appalled at what is going on in the Yellowhammer State. For in poll after poll, Alabama rates dead last - or close to it - in just about every economic and social category. According to recent state rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Alabama is:

  • 50th in education;

  • 46th in health care;

  • 45th in economy;

  • 45th in opportunity and

  • 45th in crime and corrections.

  • Alabama’s overall rating among the 50 states is 49 . . . Louisiana - another state spending the lion’s share of its legislative time on banning abortions - comes in dead last, while on the other end of the scale:

  • Washington is number 1. New Hampshire number 2, and Minnesota number 3.

In passing their worst-in-the-nation anti-abortion bill, Alabama’s Republican legislators and Republican governor are clearly doing everything in their power to ensure continued support from their party’s (read: Trump’s) political base. This is unbelievably myopic. In order to go beyond maintaining their base - let alone expanding it - they are going to need to attract more suburban women and educated urbanites. With passage of this bill - and all the attendant negative press and their increasingly riven party - they are going to lose even more potential voters. If the myopic pols, in turn, say “All we need to do is repeatedly warn our constituents about all the pre-born lives that will be destroyed if we are not reelected, and how we are truly doing God’s will” - they are going to find themselves in even worse shape. For, as bad as education, job growth, farming, infrastructure and healthcare are in Alabama (and Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia and Ohio) right now, things are going to get even worse. How so? Economic boycotting by individuals and corporations who otherwise might visit, build, hold conventions or invest in these hyper pro-birth states. This will give more rational candidates the ability to engage in issues of even greater day-to-day concern.

In last week’s post (“The Death of Biodiversity”) we mentioned the many conservative politicians who refuse to join the growing legions of folks who see climate change as an issue of paramount importance. Their rationale? The “I’m not a scientist” excuse. Why is it that the vast majority of politicians who use this tactic act like board-certified OB-GYNs when it comes to abortion? Why is it that those who argue adamantly against any and all gun safety measures (“It’s an encroachment on personal liberty!”) have no problem with government involvement in - and regulation of - a woman’s right to choose? Could it be that they are too dense to recognize radical inconsistency? Or are there simply more campaign dollars to be had from the likes of pro-gun and anti-abortion PACS than teachers’ unions, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women?  

I bet even a Luddite like Dr. Max would have known the answer.

536 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

The Death of Biodiversity

Extinction.jpg

Just this past week, the United Nations issued a sweeping 1,500-page report detailing how humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscape so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, this report is, without question, the most exhaustive - and deeply chilling - look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers this decline creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published later this year. And yet, in the same week we joined in on approving the UN biodiversity report, U.S representatives pressured the Arctic Council to issue a short joint statement that excluded any mention of climate change whatsoever.

In covering the Arctic Council’s summary communiqué, the New York Times reported: “It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organisation made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region’s fragile environment. According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States’ insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects. The omission is especially notable because scientists have warned that the Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average because of rising greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The illogic of signing on to the U.N. report - which begins with “The main message of our report is that transformative change is urgently needed. There are no other options” - while virtually in the same breath grossly narrowing the focus of the Arctic Council’s summary conclusion, is emblematic of an Administration that does not know its gluteus maximus from its rectus femoris.

Getting back to last Monday’s U.N. report, the 145-plus scientists/authors who contributed to the massive report say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestationoverfishingbush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species. Their report - the full version of which will be published in late Summer/early Fall - also contains innumerable approaches and projects which must be undertaken by every nation on earth if humanity expects to ever reverse the all but certain death of biodiversity. Make no mistake about it: a planet bereft of millions upon millions of arable acres; of species of trees, plants, quadrupeds, birds, bees, butterflies, fish, mammals and insects is a planet which one day will no longer be able to sustain human life. And when we pass the “point of no return,” it won’t matter how rich, powerful or famous anyone is: a billionaire can drown, starve or broil just as easily and with equal certainty as a poor, backward illiterate.

What possible reason (or reasons) could any cult, country, or corporation have for turning a blind, unbelieving or hostile eye towards the overwhelming evidence of science when it comes to drastic climate change and the ensuing death of biodiversity? Several thoughts come to mind:

  • Many religious fundamentalists and creationists really, truly believe with every fiber of their being that anything and everything which occurs in this life and on this planet is part of God’s plan - whether we understand it or not. Among these, one will find folks who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old; that dinosaurs and homo sapiens were contemporaneous; and that the death of various species has nothing to do with human action, but, once again, with Divine Will. To my way of thinking - and with all due respect, one simply cannot love God and and ignore the earth. Then too, there are those who have lapped up the Kool Aid and simply believe that scientists are all part of the “fake news” conspiracy.

  • Within the realm of politics, many oppose the findings of science not because they are intellectual pygmies, but rather because they fear the so-called “New World Order,” a cabal, working in secret as well as through official-­seeming, above-­ground means, seeking to establish an all-powerful, possibly Luciferian, one-world government. The very thought of signing on to such international pacts as the United Nations-backed Paris Agreement on global warming - to their way of thinking - merely opens the doors to other countries or international bodies telling us what we may or may not do. While this may well be a sop to a more America-central version of foreign policy, it may also an obedient response to those who fund reelection campaigns and fear losing market share.

  • One also suspects that opposition to the conclusions of science has little - if anything - to do with either religious scruples or political philosophy, but rather the bottom line. Let’s face it: in order to stem the tide of gross climate change and the incipient shrinkage of biodiversity, corporations will have to spend trillions of dollars. Retooling industry - moving from nonrenewable sources of energy to solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of energy - is not cheap. Success cannot be measured in terms of fiscal quarters or years; rather, success can take decades, if not more. Unfortunately, corporations are far, far more concerned with the next quarter than the next generation. The same goes for government: keeping taxes low today makes reelection a greater possibility tomorrow. The senator or representative who votes to raise taxes for the sake of tomorrow is going to run afoul of those who provide the majority of campaign dollars.

Research shows that every day, we use - and then toss out - over 500 million plastic straws here in America, most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life.  In response to this obscenity, many cities, towns and counties here in Florida passed local ordinances banning their use in restaurants and fast-food joints. In response to an avalanche of lobbying by cash-wielding representatives of the plastics industry (who contribute tons of $$$ to politicians) the Republican-led Florida legislature caved and passed by a vote of 24-15, HB 771, which would have barred any local government from adopting or enforcing a ban on plastic straws until July 2024. Their reasoning?

  • That banning single-use plastic straws is beyond the scope of municipal governments, and

  • That there is yet insufficient proof that all the trash emanating from these millions upon millions of straws is harmful to marine life . . . that a thorough-going study by a committee of the legislature must first investigate the situation . . . which many legislatures declared “bogus.”

  • During floor debate, one legislator actually said ‘Straws make up a tiny portion of America's plastic litter, which in turn makes up a tiny portion (about 1 percent) of global plastic pollution. Banning them will have approximately zero impact on the world's oceans.

I’m happy to report that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - a conservative Republican who is a stalwart Trump supporter - vetoed the measure. Good for you Governor!

OK, banning single-use plastic straws isn’t going to solve the worst of all possible crises . . . which we may dub geo necrosis (the death of the world). But hey, a journey of a billion miles does begin with a couple of steps.

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is, perhaps, the greatest pro-environmental text in all Human history. For in very first chapter of the first book of that mighty tome, one finds God’s very first commandment. If one will thumb their way to Genesis 1:28, one will find:

. פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ

(Pronounced p’ru ur’vu umel’uh et ha-aretz v’khib-shuha; u’rdu beeg-daht ha-ya u’va-ofe ha-shamyim, u’khol khayah ha-romeset ahl ha-aretz)

Translated from the original Hebrew, God’s very first commandment states: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all the beasts which walk the earth.” It all seems pretty straightforward . . . with one exception. That is the Hebrew term וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ (v’khib-shua), normally translated as “conquer it.” Sorry, but without access to commentary, people have long mistranslated what God expects of us with regards to the Earth and all its gifts. No, it does not mean “conquer,” which has long given humanity license to do whatever they bloody well please with the world and its wonders - and with Co’s Divine imprimatur. But digging into commentary, one learns that v’khib-shuha means something far more akin to act as “protectors” than as “conquerors.”

To oh so many of you who contort and pervert the original meaning of this, the very first commandment, I say “If you really, truly want to do God’s will and fulfill Co’s (“His/Her”) word, protect and mentor the earth and its many, many creatures. Come to grips with the fact that In order to safeguard a healthy planet, we need to shift from a sole focus on chasing economic growth and doing what is best for corporations to doing what is best for all that which God has created. And if it costs hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars, Euros, Yen, Rubles and Shekels, so what? Saving the world God created; rescuing the creatures co created . . . these acts can also create an awful lot of new employment. Saving the earth; protecting as much biodiversity as we can - it’s as religious an act and can be imagined.

While it is crystal clear that ‘45 and a majority of his acolytes are more interested in cutting taxes, overturning Roe v., Wade and propping up the Second Amendment than in saving the bees, butterflies and the biosphere, the 20-odd Democratic candidates for POTUS are all deeply concerned. To get a sense of where they stand and what they propose, check out what the various candidates propose. It might just give you a modicum of hope.

Remember: This planet is our one and only home. We have no other choice; we must care for it.

541 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

Why Do So Many Brits Dislike '45?

Trump and Queen Elizabeth.jpg

Rarely - if ever - in the fifteen years this blog has been up and running, have I reposted content from another writer. I hope you won’t mind if I break that longstanding tradition this week, and run a piece written by a British journalist named Nate White. For I find in what follows a wonderfully satiric - yet deeply on-the-mark - description of the POTUS. I hope you will agree it’s a marvelous retort as to why so many British citizens (and people from many other countries ,are appalled by what’s happening in America. (And yes, there are a few words in the following essay that I myself generally do not use . . .)

Question:  Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?

A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority — perhaps a third — of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that:
* Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are.
* You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.

On behalf of Nate White, this is Kurt Franklin Stone

The Celestial Cigar Box

The Celestial Cigar Box

The Celestial Cigar Box

This week let’s take a sorely needed break from politics, the only endeavor in which “stupidity is not a handicap’” (Napoleon Bonaparte). In its stead, let’s spend a bit of time wrestling with experiences which defy empirical explanation and comprehension - that which Hamlet put best when he told his peer and friend “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet: 1.5. 167-68.) The genesis for this essay is a chat I had the other day with a friend over a cuppa tea. First, my friend shared with me an experience she had had with her diseased sister . . . on the anniversary of her passing. This in turn brought to mind a long forgotten - and deeply inexplicable - experience I had had nearly 45 years ago. (I shall share this experience below.) As we chatted and chattered on, an idea began to blossom: that this might make a great topic for a book. By the time I got home, I had decided that I would start writing, emailing and otherwise communicating with people I know or have interviewed from various walks of life - politics, academia, the film/television industry and medicine, to name but a few - and ask them if they would be interested in sharing their “More things under heaven and earth” experiences with me. By the time I unlocked the door and was greeted by my wife Annie and our dog Fred (Astaire Stone), I even knew what the title would be: The Celestial Cigar Box. This rather bizarre title will become more understandable once you’ve read the following tale . . . a tale which not only defied empirical explanation, but forever changed my life.

BTW: If, in reading my tale you find yourself remembering something that happened to you and wish to share, please email me.  Perhaps you may find yourself appearing in my (hopefully) next book.

And away we go . . .

It was early Fall 1976. I had taken a year’s leave of absence from rabbinic school and found a great job working in the Governor’s Office in California. Governor Jerry Brown, then age 38 and still sporting a full head of hair, was nearing the midway point of his first 4-year term and dating singer Linda Ronstadt, I had a position in the governor’s Office of Planning and Research, whose main responsibility was creating the boss’s visionary plans for the future of the planet . . . everything from colonizing outer space to suing big business in the ‘name’ of endangered Redwood trees. I was assigned to write and edit a book entitled As Their Land Is, which those of us around the water cooler subtitled The Theology of Ecology. It was a great job in which I got to put my passion for writing to use in the name of environmental ethics . . . something which few - if any - were doing in government back in the latter seventies. My immediate boss, by the way, was the multi-talented Bill Press who, at age 79 is still writing great books, hosting a daily progressive radio talk show, and blogging for the Huffington Post .

I was happy as could be . . . but beginning to wonder whether or not I would ever complete the final three years of my rabbinic education . . . which would require my leaving California and moving to Cincinnati, Ohio. Then two things happened almost simultaneously:

  • First, the Office of the Governor offered me a new contract at a higher salary and that which every political staff person craves: an office with a window.

  • Second, I was contacted by the Office of the Dean at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, wanting to know what date they could expect me back at school, and whether I would be willing to take a biweekly student pulpit in a place called McGehee, Arkansas, approximately 100 miles southeast of Little Rock.

Talk about a dilemma! Which way to turn? In my indecision, I paid a visit to a very wise friend and laid out the situation. “How,” I asked at the end of my tale of woe, “How can I ever know which is the right decision?” Thinking while stroking his beard, my friend finally said: “There is a correct answer, but damned if I know what it is. However, keep your eyes and ears open . . . and a sign will come that will open your eyes, clear your mind and make the decision obvious . . .”

I left and went back to Sacramento, wondering what in the world he was talking about.

About a week later, I left my office and headed back to the house I was renting about a mile from the State Capitol. Parking my car in the driveway, I climbed the four steps to the front porch and reached above the front door lintel, where I kept my house key. Standing on my tiptoes, I grasped the key. Suddenly, the phone in the living room began ringing; I just knew that it was the Office of the Dean calling from Cincinnati wanting to know what I had decided. At just that moment, the key dropped out of my hand . . . and disappeared. I mean disappeared. It could not have landed on the wooden porch, for I heard no sound of clanging metal on wood. It could not have blown by a sudden gust of wind onto the flower bed below, because it was a breathless day. It could not have landed in a cuff of my trousers, for the pants were without cuffs.

And all the while, the phone kept ringing.

There was only one thing to do: somehow enter through the window to the right of the porch, which led to my bedroom. If only the window were unlocked. Jumping off the porch, I went to the front window and pushed on the bottom of the window sash. Eureka! It was unlocked. Shinnying up the tiny opening I managed to get my shoulders through and then start wiggling the window open. It quickly dawned on me that if a police car came cruising by (and the local police station was less than a block away) it would look like a break-in . . . a tuchus sticking out of a window wriggling its way into a house.

And the phone kept ringing . . . it sounded louder and louder.

Landing with a resounding PLOP on the carpet-less wooden floor, I uttered a silent prayer of thanks that no police cruiser had passed the house while I was doing my breaking-and-entering act. Rolling over onto my feet, I made it to the phone in less than 2 seconds, hoping and praying that it would not stop ringing before I could pick it up. Eureka again! I picked it up and heard a voice on the other end: “Is this Kurt Stone?”

“Yes, indeed it is,” I said with great anticipation. “And I presume that this is the Office of Dean in Cincinnati?”

“Yes, it is . . . how did you know?”

“Just a lucky guess,” I said. And then, without pausing for a breath, I continued “On what date will classes be beginning? When do they want me to start doing services in McGehee?” Mind you, all this was said as if it had been scripted. I had made my decision without a moment’s hesitation.

But how did I know which way to go? Was the lost key “the sign” my wise friend had foretold? And while I was at it, what in the world had happened to the key? I went out and spend 15-20 minutes looking for it . . . before realizing that I would never find it. It was irretrievably lost.

The next day I went to visit my friend and told him all that had occurred . . . the dropped key, the ringing telephone, the open window and my knowing precisely what to do. All the while, he was smiling a peculiarly seraphic smile . . .

“But what happened to the key?” I finally asked.

“Oh, you’ll get that back someday . . . it’s being stored for you in your celestial cigar box.”

Kurt And Clinton.jpg

“My celestial what?” I asked, having no idea what I was hearing.

“Your celestial cigar box,” he said, his eyes shining with delight. “You see, everyone goes through these sorts of things . . . these inexplicable experiences which contain answers and insights. Most people have no idea of what they are seeing, feeling or experiencing. They are too closed off. The sign, the answer is right in front of them, but they are painfully ignorant of what is before them . . . It just makes no sense.”

“But you - you were open to a mystery . . . to something which defied logic. And it contained an answer you needed. Someday, after you’ve gone through this life, you will, hopefully, reach the world to come, and there, you will be handed your cigar box . . . and in that box will be the key that unlocked a far, far more important door than the one for the front door to the house on State Street.”

And you know something? He was more profoundly correct than even he knew. For in early Fall, 1977, I arrived in McGehee, Arkansas to meet my new congregants. One of them, knowing that I had just come from working with Governor Brown (who was, among other things, a graduate of Yale Law), told me I just had to meet a young couple who were coming to town . . . and that they were both graduates of Yale, and that he was running for state Attorney General. Turns out they were named Clinton . . .and he won his election , , , and a few more after that. (That’s a picture of us above . . . 40 years after we first met)

Although I am certainly in no hurry to see what’s in my celestial cigar box, It’s so incredibly heartening to know that Shakespeare was correct: that indeed, “There are more things . . . in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

If you are of a mind - and get a chance - please let me know if you have ever experienced a “celestial cigar box” moment. You just might make it into my next book.

556 days to go until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 


The Ashes and Embers of Notre-Dame de Paris

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How truly sad, ironic and chilling that just days before Easter, La cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Paris, the haunting 850-year old Gothic masterpiece should be swept by a colossal fire. Predictably, responses have been widely diverse. In addition to the tears shed, Psalms intoned, and vast sums already donated for its reconstruction, many of the cyber-cretins who inhabit their modern version of the Asylum of Charenton have proclaimed that it was a conspiracy - an act of Muslim terror. Just as predictably, the so-called “Yellow Jackets” have begun protesting that the donated restoration funds (already in excess of $1 billion) can and should be spent for aiding the hungry, the homeless and the grossly impoverished of France. The ashes and embers of Notre-Dame have brought people the world over together; so too, these same ashes and embers have torn people both up and apart.

Without question, Notre-Dame de Paris is the most famous of all Gothic Cathedrals of the Middle Ages and is, for its size, antiquity and architectural interest. It was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, which were themselves predated by a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to Jupiter. The cathedral was initiated by Maurice de Sully, bishop of Paris, who, in about 1160 conceived the idea of converting into a single building, on a larger scale, the ruins of the two earlier basilicas. The foundation stone was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163, and the high altar was consecrated in 1189. The choir, the western façade, and the nave were completed by 1250, and porches, chapels, and other embellishments were added over the next 100 years.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

This is not the first time Notre-Dame has been severely damaged. After the French Revolution it was rescued from possible destruction by Napoleon, who crowned himself emperor of the French in the cathedral in 1804. Notre-Dame underwent major restorations  in the mid-19th century. And the popularity of Victor Hugo’s 1831 historical novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (originally titled Notre-Dame de Paris , which takes place in the cathedral, was said to have inspired the renovations.  (n.b. As of this morning, Hugo’s classic novel is now the #1 best seller on Amazon.com.)

One of the things which has always fascinated me about Notre-Dame is how long it took to be built: nearly 250 years. Imagine that! The people who went to work on the first days of construction - more than 1,000 carpenters, masons, metalsmiths and other laborers knew that they wouldn’t live long enough to see it through to completion. Nor would their children or grandchildren. And yet they persisted, going to work six days a week. Today, no one has that kind of patience; no one takes the long view. A skyscraper must be completed in the wink of an eye; and, without all the architectural brilliance of Notre-Dame de Paris.

In terms of lapsed time, Notre-Dame actually took a fairly short time from foundation stone to completion. Consider, if you will that:

  • The Great Wall of China, the longest man-made structure in the world, took more than 2,000 years to build, cost more than 400,000 lives and has yet to be completed. According to legend, every one of those 400,000 deceased slaves were buried within the wall.

  • No one truly knows how long it took to build the Kufu (Cheops) pyramids at Giza in Egypt. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus  estimated that it took 30 years. This makes no sense whatsoever. Consider that the Great Pyramid consists of 2,300,000 blocks in the largest pyramid,. The average weight of each block was around 6 tons. If Giza truly took 30 years to build, that would be putting in 210 2 1/2 ton blocks a day!, 365 days a year . . . presuming you had nearly a million slaves at work. (For those who assume that these were the Hebrew slaves mentioned in the Biblical Book of Exodus, you’re getting your history from Cecil B. de Mille; the pyramids were already completed before the first Hebrew - Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rebecca - entered Egypt.)

  • Two other Wonders of the World - Petra and Stonehenge (above) - not only took more than 500 years to construct; no one really knows how they were built, considering what tools were yet to invented. Indeed, human ingenuity is truly remarkable.

One of the things which has long attracted me to the study of history and human accomplishment is just how small and relatively insignificant it makes me feel. The wonders created by people throughout the ages frequently defy understanding; how they built, wrote, created and generally brought so much awe-inspiring artistry into the world is to make one mute and dumbfounded. But beyond their urge and ability to create such wonderments, I find their patience, their innate ability to take the long view, all the more compelling. Shakespeare, Michelangelo, the architects and master builders of Cheops and Notre-Dame de Paris, not to mention Petra, Angkor Wat and the Moai Statues on Easter Island Chichen Itza, and Machu Picchu, all understood the value of taking the long, long view.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Of course, none of those involved in creating the timeless classics of the world lived under the shadow of fear; fear that the world could be destroyed by the lethal mayhem of missiles, the pushing of “the button,” or a mostly man-made ecological apocalypse. Without that fear, the giants of the ages were free to build, create and even legislate for the eons . . . not just for tomorrow.

Sadly, we now live in an era where our leaders are far, far more concerned about their todays, apparently forgetting - or not giving a fig - about our collective tomorrows. We hogtie future generations with the overwhelming debt created today, all the while engaging in cacophonous argumentation about our planet’s future - argumentation which blocks out the sound of the ticking clock. Few seem to grasp that having greater riches today cannot save our future progeny or planet from the bill which will eventually come due.

Perhaps - just perhaps - out of the ashes and embers of Notre Dame de Paris we can learn a lesson about working together; about taking a long view which ultimately can help us win the future. I have no doubt that the cathedral which has stood for eight-and-a-half centuries will eventually be shored up and reconstructed.

This is both good and great. One need not be a Catholic to stand in awe of this masterwork.

The question is; can we find the strength and wisdom to take the long, long view which the cathedral so wondrously symbolizes?

562 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 


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Laughter: The Only Medicine?

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Let’s face it: the level of civic anger and despair - not to mention the consequent imbibing of Gamay Beaujolais and other tasty varietals - is at an all-time high. Patience, propriety and political maturity have become as rare as a winning season for the Miami Marlins. What were once low-decibel disagreements between friends, colleagues or acquaintances have morphed into cacophonous, often friendship-busting battles. Families have to think twice about who will or will not be invited to Thanksgiving dinner - or next week’s Passover Seder - lest a rancorous dust-up occur. Simply stated, in far too many cases, partisan politics have driven a wedge between far too many people. Our levels of pique and personal enmity have soared to stratospheric heights; we have forgotten how to laugh - at ourselves and at others.

I have long been of the opinion that one important mark of a successful person is that while co (my pronoun for her/she) tends to be quite serious about what they do, they don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously. A bit of self-directed humor - the ability to laugh at oneself - can be a good thing. Those who laugh at - and make fun of - others but go bananas when others laugh at - or make fun of - them are - in my experience - people afflicted with terribly thin skin, as well as an admixture of low self-esteem, egotism and overarching narcissism. When it’s a run-of-the-mill person that’s afflicted with this “thin-skin-mixed-with-egotism-low-self-esteem-and-narcissism syndrome” there is little harm that he or she will tear down society. When it’s the most powerful person on the planet who’s so afflicted, we’re all in danger.

Unlike just about anyone who’s ever been in the public eye, ‘45 greatly prefers that people be angry with him, rather than laughing at him. To him, it’s a mark of achievement to infuriate women, minorities and assorted college-educated progressives. Unlike just about any other “leader” we’ve ever encountered, our anger is something he revels in. What he cannot and will not abide is for people to laugh at or ridicule him. That’s why he never attends the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (often referred to as WHCD or “NerdProm”). The last one he attended was in 2011 - 5 years before he ran for POTUS. You may remember how infuriated he became when then-President Obama skewered “The Donald” saying, among other things, ”No one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than The Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?” (n.b. The 2011 WHCD took place just days after Mr. Obama released his long-form birth certificate - a document Mr. Trump then claimed did not exist. )

Yes, ‘45 simply hates it when people laugh at or ridicule him. And when they do, he fires back, both guns blazing. How many times has he threatened and insulted” Saturday Night Live” for portraying him as a malevolent, clueless clown?  Seeing a humorous - though accurate - reflection of himself is something ‘45 just can’t stomach.  It tears at his self-image - one of vast wealth, brilliant achievement and utter decisiveness. But ‘45, like any vainglorious narcissist, cannot tolerate looking in a mirror that reflects his true ugliness.

That’s why he hates it when anyone laughs at him.  He thinks people should be afraid of him, angry at him, in awe of him and in love with him. It gives him power when anyone gets outraged.  He wants that attention along with the adoration.  But he cannot stand being a joke or a failure, and he will go to great lengths including obstructing justice to maintain his self-image.

We are all familiar with the various nasty nicknames he’s pinned on those who run against or disagree with him: “Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” “Crying Chuck” and “Pencil Neck [Adam] Schiff” to name but a few. In ‘45’s case, he’s not laughing at them; rather, he’s in full-scale attack mode. And woe betide anyone who actually tries to employ facts to back up their case against him - or to use his own words to show up the wizard behind the curtain. It’s at that point Sir Donald of Orange will haul out the “Fake News!” claim.

There are already far, far more nicknames the public has created for our ‘45th POTUS than ‘45 has created for his enemies. There is actually a website devoted to the more than 400 nicknames people both great and small have affixed to the man who would be tyrant. Some of my favorites are:

  • America’s Black Mole: Given by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.

  • Barbarian at the Debate: Given by Charles M. Blow.

  • Groper-in-Chief: Given by Nicholas Kristof.

  • Riptide of Regression: Given by Dan Rather.,

  • Dimwit Don : by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Kurt Eichenwald, and

  • Cadet Bone Spurs by an anonymous blogger who goes by the handle “Eagle of Freedom”

Want to get past the anger and distress while brandishing little more than a verbal whoopee cushion? Perhaps the best thing will be laughter and ridicule; two things which the POTUS hates the most. True, if enough people would join in on the laughter and ridicule, it might force him to respond with acts of madness. But who knows? Perhaps if he acts with even greater madness, people on his side of the aisle will gird their loins, hitch up their trousers and finally, finally stand up to him, shouting out ENOUGH ALREADY . . . SIT!!

If you’ve got a new nickname for “Don the Con,” please send it along and we’ll add it to the list.

For after all, in the long run, laughter could very well be the best - if not only - medicine of all.

How’s about Mrs. Putin?

569 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Is Bibi "Your Prime Minister?"

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This past Saturday evening, on his way back from an event at the California-Mexico border, ‘45 made a brief stop in Las Vegas, where he spoke at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Throughout the crowd one could see many men - and a few women as well - wearing red kippot (yarmulkes) emblazoned with “Trump” in white. This isn’t a dig; truth to tell, I’ve owned a L.A. Dodger kippa for more years than I can count. ‘45 began his nearly hour-long speech with a dig at Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came under fire earlier this year for comments appearing to accuse American Jews of dual loyalty to Israel, spurring the president to claim last month that Democrats “hate” Jews.” (Gee, I’m a Democrat, as are my mom and sister, my wife and kids, as well as our machatunim (Hebrew for “our children’s spouses’ parents”) and none - so far as I am aware - can be accused of hating Jews.)

In going after Rep. Omar, ‘45 mockingly “thanked her” by adding “Oh, I forgot. She doesn’t like Israel, I forgot, I’m sorry. No, she doesn’t like Israel, does she? Please, I apologize.” Predictably, this got a roar of laughter and a prolonged bit of clapping from the assembled crowd of adoring acolytes. He then seemed to confuse the Republican group with US Jews in general when he asked how they could have supported his predecessor Barack Obama. “How the hell did you support President Obama?” he asked the audience. “How did you do it?” he asked, to which several of the attendees yelled back “we didn’t.”

The president got the crowd going by reminding them that in keeping his campaign pledge to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and developing such a strong relationship with Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu, he had proven himself to be the “best friend Israel ever had in the White House.” He then went off the rails when he proclaimed “I stood with your prime minister at the White House to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” and then, speaking of the Democrats added “If implemented, the Democrats' radical agenda would destroy our economy, cripple our country, and very well could leave Israel out there all by yourselves. Can't do that." [Emphasis added]

Whether or not ‘45 was engaging in misstatement by referring to Bibi as “your prime minister,” he was unknowingly agreeing with both Rep. Omar and every Neo-Nazi in the Land of the Free - that American Jews are guilty of “dual loyalty.” It didn’t take long for Trump’s inanity to be called out on Twitter by the head of the American Jewish Committee, who Tweeted Mr. President, the Prime Minister of Israel is the leader of his [or her] country, not ours. Statements to the contrary, from staunch friends or harsh critics, feed bigotry'; by the head of the Anti-Defamation League :Mr. President, words matter. As with all elected officials, it's critical for you to avoid language that leads people to believe Jews aren’t loyal Americans.; and by Rep. Eliot Engel, the Jewish chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: I somehow doubt the president would say 'Your Taoiseach' to a roomful of Irish-Americans." ) (n.b. Taoiseach - pronounced Tea-schock - is Irish for “Prime Minister”).

It just so happens that today, April 9, 2019, the Israelis go to the polls to elect another government. Because they have a parliamentary form of government, voters cast ballots not for candidates, but rather for parties. As such, it can take several weeks to figure out who won, who lost, and who will be the next P.M. Most of the intervening time is spent not in counting votes, but rather in the political chess moves required to put a coalition together. In other words, Israeli voters aren’t choosing between Bibi Netanyanu and former Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz but rather between Likud (Netanyahu’s party, which itself is a coalition) and Kachol Lavan (“Blue and White”), Gantz’s party which includes both Labor, Meretz (“vigor”), which is both leftist and green and the centrist Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) parties.

So if, as ‘45 says, Benyamin Netanyahu is “our” prime minister, does that mean he would be the overwhelming choice of American Jews . . . if we were voting?

Highly, highly unlikely.

In an opinion piece published yesterday in Haaretz, writer Jonathan S. Tobin noted that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics are right to argue that the cheers he always gets at AIPAC conferences shouldn’t mislead us. If American Jews could vote in Israel’s election, most of them wouldn’t think of casting a ballot for the Likud or its allies.” Bibi has his fans on the American Jewish right as well as within the Orthodox community. But there is no question that among the overwhelming majority of those U.S. Jews who identify as liberals, as well as with those who are affiliated with the non-Orthodox denominations or consider themselves unaffiliated ("Jews of no religion"), the prime minister and the right wing and religious parties that back him have precious little support. For a large majority of American Jews, Netanyahu - like every Likudnik P.M. since Menachem Begin was elected in 1977 - has always been considered out of touch with the liberal sensibilities of the majority of Democrat-voting American Jews. The unabashed Jewish nationalism of Begin and his successors has never gone down well among Americans who conform to writer Cynthia Ozick’s quip that "universalism is the parochialism of the Jews."

Then too, Netanyahu’s openly antagonistic relationship with former President Barack Obama and his close friendship with Donald Trump puts him at odds with American Jews, who loyally supported the former and despise the latter - exactly the opposite of Israeli opinion about the two American leaders. This is perhaps best born out by how American Jews responded to ‘45 calling Netanyahu “your Prime Minister.” People who attended the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas applauded the statement with great gusto; a clear majority of the American Jewish public was deeply shocked and troubled at what sounded like the age-old canard about “dual loyalty.” When such a charge - made either tacitly or directly - comes out of the mouth of a person like Rep. Omar, it is the height of Antisemitism; when coming from the mouth of the President of the United States, it is a laudable truism.

I just don’t get it.

Benjamin Netanyahu is not my Prime Minister. My country has no P.M. It is Israel, which I love, admire and support (והוא יכול להתמודד עם מימין לשמאל או משמאל לימין) despite whatever disagreements I may have with its current administration - that is the country with a Prime Minister.

Shame on you Mr. President. Whether knowingly or not, you have sent out a message which is both dangerous and impolitic . . . and all for the sake of your political future.

575 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Maybe yes and maybe know. Over the years I’ve read articles claiming that it was Benjamin Franklin . . . or Mark Twain . . . or writer Rita Mae Brown in her 1984 novel Sudden Death who was the creator of record. Regardless of who birthed the truism one must admit that it is both clever and spot-on. Seeing as major league baseball is back in season (Hallelujah!) we can give the following example of Einstein’s “razor”: the general manager of a team which came in dead last in the previous 3 seasons opens the next season with precisely the same roster yet expects to make it to the World Series. This is, of course, utter insanity.

Another prime example - this from the world of politics - would be ‘45’s decision to launch yet another full-scale assault on the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) the day after declaring himself totally exonerated by the Mueller investigation. (n.b. until the full report is turned over to Congress and the public, ‘45 is jumping the gun; A.G. Barr’s 4 page Cliff Notes version of the Special Counsel’s 400+ page report obviously doesn’t say much of anything. It’s akin to summarizing Dostoevsky’s massive Crime and Punishment in a single sentence: A super broke college dropout becomes convinced that the universe is telling him to kill a pawnbroker because that’s what great men do — which he does, but eventually confesses to at the urging of an extremely Christian prostitute.)

‘45’s renewed interest in healthcare comes on the heels of his administration’s announcement this past week that it supported a conservative judge’s December ruling to wipe out Obamacare completely, based on a technicality involving the individual mandate, which Sir Donald of Orange already has eliminated. “If the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that is far better than Obamacare,” POTUS said Wednesday, a day after declaring that “the Republican Party will soon be known as the party of healthcare.” Why in the world he has once again returned the total dismemberment of Obamacare to center stage (without having the faintest idea what he’s going to replace it with) is anyone’s guess. Several possible answers come to mind:

  • Perhaps it’s because the man is utterly obsessed with uprooting and destroying every vestige of his predecessor’s record.

  • Perhaps it’s because he is nuttier than a fruitcake or that when it comes to retail politics, the man is stunningly tone deaf.

  • Perhaps he is catering to his base - the only folks left in American society who can feed his ego . . . the men, women and children wearing those red “MAGA” hats and endlessly shouting out “LOCK HER/HIM/THEM UP!!” If this is the case, it would mean that in his self-deluded state he believes that so long as he can hold on to their votes, he can easily be reelected.

  • Perhaps he’s once again proving to himself and the world what he claimed on January 23, 2016: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

  • Perhaps by reviving the “Obamacare is evil and therefore must go” meme, he is revealing a central focus of his 2020 campaign: that all Democrats are Socialists intent on nothing less than the total destruction of America.

What ‘45 and his cabal don’t seem to understand is that a majority of the American public supports the ACA, especially provisions which debar health insurance companies from charging higher rates to those with preexisting conditions and permits younger Americans to continue being covered by their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26. Nor do they seem to grasp that the single-most important issue which caused them to lose the House this past November was healthcare. Why the president, his advisers and Department of Justice would once again pick a fight they just lost is beyond reason. So far, leading Republicans on Capitol Hill have shown little desire to make themselves into - in the president’s words - “The party of healthcare.”

“We’re coming up with plans,” Trump said ambiguously this past Wednesday, just as he’s been saying for years. Yet neither he nor any other Republican has come up with a viable healthcare plan that would cover as many people as Obamacare or offer people as much protection. That’s not fake news. That’s just a fact. And here’s another fact: if Obamacare goes, at least 20 million Americans will once again be without health insurance. Out of necessity, they will have to go to emergency rooms to receive care . . . and this is the most costly form of healthcare ever devised.

POTUS has appointed and anointed 3 senators (John Barrasso (R-WY), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Rick Scott (R-FL)—to come up with a plan. (It should be noted that former FL governor Scott refused to permit a single federal dollar to enter his state to help expand Medicaid and, as the one-time CEO of Columbia/HCA, the hospital company was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud.) One wonders what sort of proposal they’re going to come up with. For many Republican congressional leaders, they’ve urged the White House to come up with their own proposal . . . and not rely upon the Republican-led senate. In other words, GOP legislators are scared to death about having to defend “Trumpcare” in 2020.

Living as we do in a world and a time where political conspiracies are as commonplace as a beer at a ballgame, permit me to spin one myself. What if ‘45’s mega-wealthy “friends” and supporters have simply become fed up with him and convinced him that destroying Obamacare from stem to stern (or from brain to big toe) is the best way of assuring overwhelming victory in 2020. They know how stupid he is; they understand both his naivete and his narcissism; they cannot afford to be identified with him . . . he is simply not one of them. So what to do? Convince him to take over leadership of a cause which stands the best chance of putting him out of their misery.

There is some evidence to support the theory of billionaires turning their backs on ‘45 so that he won’t be reelected. Already this year, we’ve seen the Koch brothers - Charles & David - publicly announce that they will neither support nor spend a single dime on ‘45’s reelection. Instead, they will be putting their time, energy and vast financial resources (and those of their contributing network) behind those who advocate for establishing permanent legal status for “Dreamers” (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children), as well as on gubernatorial and congressional races, prioritizing issues including poverty and drug addiction. 

And so, at least on the political surface - and for whatever reason - the president has given the Democrats a remarkable gift . . . just so long as they remain reasonably unified, coalesce around a candidate who can win, and keep their eyes on the prize. Even with this remarkable “gift that keeps on giving,” the Democrats do have a historic tendency to shoot themselves in the foot.

Stand tall, act wisely and please, please . . . remember how much is at stake. A gift box left unopened is a more than sad. Several gift boxes left unopened is . . . in the words of Einstein, (or Franklin or Twain or Rita Mae Brown) insanity.

583 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


Some Lies Never Die

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It seems that not a day goes by without someone – be it a student, friend, congregant or reader - sending me an email with a link to some long, long article, asking me to please read and distill it, and then explain how best to respond to the person who sent it to them. Sorry to say, I don’t respond to each and every request; there just aren’t enough hours in my day. What I do tell them is that no amount of facts or understanding are going to change their friends’ minds or beliefs; and that unless my correspondents are terribly fond of concussions (from beating their head against the wall), don’t even try.

In most every case, the link they send me leads to a website specializing in conspiracy - against Muslims, liberals, and Jews. Oh how I wish these conspiratorialists could be less long-winded! Their screeds frequently go over 5,000 words. (By comparison, the average length of my essays rarely exceeds 1,250 words.) There are plenty of people who fervently believe that Anti-Gentilism Causes Antisemitism; that the Muslims are getting ever closer to taking over both Europe and the United States; that Leftist American Jews are all anti-Israel; and that the Holocaust is a hoax. Then too, over a third of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax, over half believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that the migrant caravan from Central America was financed by billionaire George Soros and thus a conspiracy on the part of Jews. And this little list doesn’t even include those who truly believe that the world is being destroyed/taken over by the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group or the House of Rothschild . . .

So what, pray tell, are the psychological factors which drive the popularity and omnipresence of conspiracy theories, no matter how idiotic, counter-intuitive or ahistorical they may be? How do these factors explain important events as secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups? What are the psychological consequences of adopting these theories?  Current research seems to provide answers to the first question - about how these factors explain important events as secret plots - more thoroughly than the second. Writing in the journal Current Directions on Psychological Sciences, professors Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka of the University of Kent note that “Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment), and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group).“ Reading through their exhaustive research, they find little to indicate that conspiracy belief fulfills people motivations. For many people, conspiracy belief may be more appealing than satisfying. In other words, no matter what churlish conspiracy they believe in doesn’t turn a chaotic, fearful world into some placid Garden of Eden.

One of the reasons why certain lies never die is that the followers of conspiracy have endowed the malevolent enemies they’ve uncovered with such diabolic powers as to be virtually unconquerable. “Hey, it’s not for lack of trying . . . those Jews (or Muslims or international bankers or whatever) are just too damn Herculean to be defeated or destroyed.” In other words, it’s the war against “evil- not the victory over it - that matters the most.

So much for the “true believers.”  What of the purveyors?  When one looks into the media superstars of conspiracy – people like Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Ann Coulter and Pam Geller - one has to wonder if they truly believe the bilge they spew, or have merely found an easy, gullible customer base who are more than willing to buy their books, DVDs, paraphernalia or (in the case of Alex Jones) water filtration systems, personal protective gear and health and wellness products - to name but three. Even P.T. Barnum would be envious.

There is, of course, nothing new about people believing in conspiracies. During the time of the “Black Death,” (c. 1250-1500) millions of European Catholics firmly believed that it was caused by throngs of Jews who poisoned water supplies throughout the continent. Proof? Why hardly any Jews died of the Plague. (n.b. It turns out that one of the primary reason that Jews were relatively unaffected was the religious law commanding Jews to wash their hands prior to eating.) Eerily, fast forwarding to 2018, and the accusation is back in the news, not from a Middle Eastern country indoctrinated to hate the Jews, as one would expect, but by a Daily Mail British columnist who wrote on June 26, 2018: “ In an unequivocal breach of international law, Israeli settlers have taken much of the best agricultural land, while depriving the Palestinians of water supplies and, according to a number of respectable sources — and I have witnessed this for myself — burning their olive groves and poisoning their wells.”

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery first published by the early 20th century Czarist Russians and given world-wide fame by the American auto magnate Henry Ford, has been given yet another shot at life via the Internet. This lethal conspiracy has been “classed up” during the current administration. When ‘45 and his administration run an attack ad against George Soros, former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein (all 3 of whom are Jewish) conspiracy believers listen. When POTUS rants and raves about international bankers and the global elite, everyone on the radical right sees that as being about the Jews. Thing is, the president himself may well not harbor anti-Semitic animosities. Yet when he sprinkles anti-Semitic codewords into his speeches, his perceived support amplifies and normalizes messages the internet had already boosted to an unprecedented volume.

Some lies simply never die.

One of the newest - and weirdest - conspiracy theories goes by the name “QAnon.” QAnon details a supposed secret plot by an alleged "deep state" against U.S. President ‘45 and his supporters. The conspiracy theory, mainly popularized by supporters of President Trump under the names The Storm and The Great Awakening, has been widely characterized as "baseless", "unhinged" and "evidence-free". Its proponents have been called "a deranged conspiracy cult" and "some of the Internet's most outré Trump fans". And yet, there is hardly a single Trump rally at which one won’t see tens, if not dozens, of people holding large sings in the shape of the letter “Q." This is the conspiracy which began to take place in a suburban Washington pizza parlor which was believed to be the headquarters of a child sex ring (“Pizzagate”). Without going into overwhelming detail, “QAnon” believers of this bizarre theory assert that it provides 45’s most fervent supporters a way to explain away any scandal or slip-up the president may face. Even typos on the president’s Twitter account are viewed as “proofs,” or nods to followers that he is in on the conspiracy.

According to one of the leading prophets of QAnon, “All of Trump’s mishaps on the world stage, his detractors in the media, his various scandals can all be effectively be framed within the Qanon lore as attacks that are coordinated against him because he’s ever closer to taking down a global conspiracy committing the most atrocious crimes that could be imagined, like Satanic child sex trafficking, and blood sacrifice”

Before one laughs oneself silly just remember this:

These are the same people who believe that George Soros is an agent of Satan, that Rep. Adam Schiff has been specifically trained to take down ‘45 at the behest of globalists, and that G-d sent ‘45 to be the savior of Israel.

Some lies simply never die.

591 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Catastrophe In Christchurch

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What can one say about the grizzly, incomprehensible catastrophe in Christchurch that has not already been said? What words can be added that might alleviate the shock and pain, the anger and disbelief that are now pervading the hearts and souls of a vast majority of people on the planet? I for one am, as they say, “up to here” with all those proclaiming that their “thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones.” It’s not, of course that there’s anything wrong in thinking about the 4-dozen plus men, women and children who were hideously and heartlessly gunned down by a deranged, self-styled “eco-fascist,” or in saying Kaddish - the Jewish prayer for the dead. No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in this. In my book, one can say Kaddish for anyone, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew, Jane, Buddhist or Sikh. I know that for some of my coreligionists, to say Kaddish for non-Jews - and especially for Muslims is a shanda - a bit off heresy. But truth to tell, the Kaddish, despite being universally known as “the Jewish prayer for the dead,” does not - with one exception, Kaddish d'Ithadata [קדיש דאתחדתא which is said at an open grave - does not say word one about death or dying. Rather, the essence of the other 4 forms of Kaddish is marvelously universal, expressing the profound hope that “May G-d, who makes peace in the universe, grant peace to us, to all of co’s* nation, Israel, and indeed, to all those seeking peace, and let us say Amen.” (*co’s is my gender-neutral possessive pronoun for the Divine, understood in this case as “His/Her.”)

What gets me about the “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” response is that it is just too damned easy. It has always seemed to me that at times like these, the best prayer is one in which we beg the Divine to give us the all the strength and wisdom it will take to do more than pray . . . to pull together to do whatever we can to repair a world gone mad. In the case of New Zealand, Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s immediate response to the massacre was one of action; she immediately called for her government to meet today (which by the time this is posted will be yesterday) to make changes in the nation’s relatively lax gun laws. “There will be changes to our gun laws,” she said at an afternoon news conference within hours of the shootings.

Gun ownership rates in New Zealand are much lower than in the U.S., and the country's rates of gun violence are generally considered very low. As Radio New Zealand reported: “In 2016, there were nine gun murders or manslaughters in New Zealand, a rate of 1.87 per million people. By comparison, Australia had nearly 10 deaths per million in 2016, Canada had 5.4 deaths per million, and the United States had 106 deaths per million.”

Christchurch, New Zealand’s 3rd largest city (population just under 400,000) is often called “The most English City outside of London.” It is a truly lovely place filled with greenery, artistry and the Avon River, which wends its way through the city center. New Zealand itself is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Made up of two major islands - one created largely through volcanic activity, the other the offspring of ancient glacial formation - is a peaceful, progressive, statutorily nuclear-free country. The shock of last week’s Christchurch mass murder is incredibly palpable; such things simply do not occur in New Zealand - a country where low crime rates are a part of its identity and mass shootings simply do not occur.  Hell’s bells: few - if any - of their Bobbies regularly carry guns.

And yet, a horrible catastrophe has taken place in Christchurch. Prior to going on his ghastly shooting spree - which he live-streamed on social media - the alleged mass murderer, a 28-year old Australian native (whose name I will not mention) issued a rambling, often incoherent 74-page manifesto. In it, he wrote "The origins of my language is [sic] European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European . . . . My philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European." He declared himself to be pro-Brexit, both a racist and what he called an eco-fascist “though not a xenophobe” (!), admitted an affinity with the aristocratic mid-20th century British fascist Oswald Mosely, denied being an anti-Semite, and claimed that China is the country which comes closest to aligning with his political and social values. Even ‘45 got a brief mention in the alleged murderer’s manifesto, much of which is a self-interview. Asking himself whether he was a Trump supporter, he responded: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”  It should be noted that no other president, autocrat, prime minister or dictator received so much as a single syllable of mention.  Only ‘45.

And although in responding to the Christchurch massacre, ‘45 could not bring himself to unequivocally state that white-nationalism, racism and Islamophobia were a growing, organized international threat to all civilized nations, he is not - I repeat, is not - the cause of what went down last week . . . or just a couple of hours ago in Utrecht. Rather, ‘45 is a sickening symptom. Whether or not he’s a racist, anti-Semite or Islamophobe is, to my way of thinking, pretty much irrelevant; that racists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes believe him to be one of their gang is of great relevance.

Responding to all those in the mainstream media (AKA in Trump-speak as “Fake News”) who found ‘45’s response a dodge, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway urged members of the 4th Estate to “. . . dial back the scope of the coverage.” Speaking further of - and to - the media, Ms. Conway exploded “They insert themselves ― ‘I must speak! I must say something!’ No, you don’t. You can actually shut up and pray for people and wait for the authorities to make their judgments.” Once again, the “thoughts and prayers” meme where concerted action is the true requirement.

It is well beyond the scope of logic or rational thought to assign a single reason - or two or three - for the frightening worldwide growth of anti-Antisemitism, anti-Islamist and gross Xenophobia accentuated by military-grade arms throughout the world. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage in a vigorous discussion about what we can do.

  • First and foremost, we must admit that we have a terrible problem; that it’s far, far more than “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess” in the words of POTUS.

  • Next, the media should stop running the names, faces and histories of these wanton murderers. Part of their motivation in carrying out mass murders is to go out in a blaze of glory . . . thereby granting themselves a fair measure of satanic immortality.  I am happy to report that National Public Radio has stopped referring to the alleged murderer by name.

  • Next, here in the United States we must do everything in our power to get rid of Citizens United - which holds our politicians in thrall to NRA dollars. Without Citizens United, the NRA loses much of its power over politicians . . . who then could be free to  restore an assault weapons ban, severely restrict the number of rounds in any single ammo magazine, institute universal background checks, or any of a host of other measures carried out in other countries.

  • Use the president’s bully pulpit to call in the tsars and moguls of the social media world to engage in serious - and I mean serious - conversation about what safeguards they can institute within their various platforms to keep violent bigots of all stripes from using the internet as a heinous clubhouse for evil.

Above all, we must insist on leadership . . . real leaders, not mere Tweeting rhetoricians. We must confront and eradicate the immoral equivalence of war with actions that identify, contain and eliminate the purveyors of mass murder.

Not just thoughts and prayers . . .

596 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

What's In a Name?

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Spent the past several hours researching the onomastics of a handful of feminine names in preparation for the naming of twin sisters next week. (Believe it or not, although they were born a mere 2 minutes apart, they don’t share the same date of birth; one arrived at 11:59 p.m. on a Wednesday, the other at 12:01 a.m. on a Thursday.) Over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how names come into prominence, hang around for several years, and then fade away, only to be replaced by a bunch of new (or old) names. Jane, Gary, Susan, Tom and Doris have long faded from popularity, while Emily, Jayden, Brice and Olivia are ascending. Believe it or not, I actually officiated at the naming of a newborn whose parents chose the cognomen “Brooklyn.” Undoubtedly the tide will change; I can imagine 85 years from now when the rabbi is told that the little one is being named after her late great grandmother “Brooklyn” and asks “So what name have you chosen?” the answer will be “Bracha!” Names, like most everything else, go in cycles.

The rabbis of old tell us that the most valuable thing a person can possess is his/her name. But wait: there are, they aver, different kinds of names:

  1. The name or names we are given by our parents, over which we have no choice;

  2. The names by which we are called, whether they be shortened versions (“Riki” for “Erica” or “Teddy” for “Theodore”), titles we’ve earned, or inexplicable nicknames, such as “Babe,” “Rocky” or “Hen.”

  3. This third name, so the rabbis tell us, is not only the most important - and thus the most valuable of the valuable - but, generally speaking - unpronounceable. “How’s that possible?” one may well ask. Simple: the most valuable of all names is the one we earn for ourselves which, when you stop and think about it, is unpronounceable . . . more an emotion or feeling than a mere combination of words.

In the world of politics, few well-known governors, senators or presidents have gone through a career without being tagged with a nickname . . . or two or more. Consider the following:

  • The nation’s 8th President, Martin Van Buren had to deal with a collapsing economy, which history knows as The Panic of 1837. As a result, he was nicknamed “Martin Van Ruin.”

  • President U.S. (“Unconditional Surrender”) Grant’s successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden. After a lengthy and contentious procedure that made Bush v. Gore look like a walk in the park, Hayes was named president. Many charged fraud . . . hence his historic nickname: “His Fraudulency.”

  • Most presidents have acquired nicknames such as “Tricky Dick” (Nixon), “Old Hickory” (Andrew Jackson), “The Gipper” (Ronald Reagan) and “Slick Willie” (Bill Clinton).

  • Father and son California governors Edmund G. Brown - Sr. and Jr. - were known, respectively as “Pat” and “Jerry.” And of course, the younger Brown was long known as “Governor Moonbeam,” thanks to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko.

  • Speaking of California governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger is still referred to as “The Governator.”

  • The late Florida governor and senator Lawton Chiles was known as “Walkin Lawton.” Chiles walked 1,003 miles from Pensacola to Key West to attract attention for his Senate bid.

Then there is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who has received more nicknames (in excess of 400 at last count) than anyone in American history. Among some of the more hilarious (and snarky) are:

  • Adolf Twitler

  • Benedict Donald

  • Genghis Can’t

  • Hair Apparent

  • The Boychurian Candidate

  • Vanilla ISIS and

  • The Lyin’ King

Of course, the 400+ presidential nicknames come from many, many wits, comics and critics ranging from Dan Rather and Jon Stewart to John Oliver and Jimmy Kimmel. When it comes to all the names and insults ‘45 has tagged his opponents with, it is a totally different story. Could one person possibly come up with all those insults? Or does “Boss Tweet” have a stable of writers left over from The Apprentice? Nearly every politician in the United States and around the world has, at one time or another been the target of a Trump-Tweeted nickname or insult:

  • North Korean dictator (and current Trump BFF) Kim Jong Un: “Rocket Man”

  • Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton: “Crooked Hillary”

  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Pocahontas”

  • Former FBI Directory James Comey: “Leakin’ James Comey!”

  • Journalist Carl Bernstein: “A man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool.”

  • Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal: “Da Nang Dick; an embarrassment to our country!”

  • House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff: “Little Adam Schitt”

  • Actor Robert De Niro: “A very low I.Q. individual”

  • 3-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep: “One of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood”

  • Former DNI Director James Clapper: “One of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.”

For pundits, partisans and late-night talk show hosts, ‘45 is the gift that keeps on giving. Or, as Jimmy Kimmel recently said, “He is our guarantee against unemployment.” Yes, there is quite a bit of humor on the surface; the man is the Platonic ideal of a buffoon; the perfect example of a man whose foot is never more than half-an-inch from his mouth. However, he is also the President of the United States; the face of the nation and its ideals to the rest of the world. I for one find him to be the biggest embarrassment in the history of the country. Even our lowest-ranked presidents - Buchanan, W.H. Harrison, Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Harding - managed to carry themselves with the requisite dignity one would expect from the country’s chief executive. True, they were political failures, and while their records may have been historically embarrassing, they themselves were gentlemen. In the case of Donald Trump and his presidency, both are sui generis - e.g., in a class by itself.

I find it somewhere between utterly bewildering and totally stupefying that there are still millions of people in this country who continue to believe that this nearly 73-year old toddler is the best president we’ve ever had. Or that there are hoards who are perfectly sanguine about electing him to serve yet another 4-year term. It makes me wonder if they know what the term “autocrat” means - let alone can even spell it . . . and positively shudder to think that the Savoyard moralist Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) was correct when he wrote that “Every country has the government it deserves.”  I don’t know about you, but I FOR ONE DO NOT DESERVE HAVING THIS PUERILE MISCREANT LEADING THE COUNTRY I LOVE!

If it turns out in the long-run that we do, what kind of name will we have earned for ourselves and our posterity?

604 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

 

How Do You Say "Witch Hunt" in Hebrew?

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Without question, there has been a budding “bromance” between between Israeli P.M. Bibi Netanyahu and President Donald Trump for quite some time. Netanyahu greatly admires the current American president, and sees him as a bipolar improvement on his predecessor, Barack Obama. We all remember Netanyahu’s unique, distinctly partisan political address to Congress, in which he warned against the Iranian anti-nuke deal, as well as his hyper partisan support of Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. We all are aware of his praise for the American president’s executive decision to move our Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - which convinced many American Jews to label ‘45 “the greatest friend Israel ever had in the White House.” But this was just the beginning. With every passing week, Bibi Netanyahu has become more and more a Trump clone, and less and less a political scion of Ben Gurion, Meir, Peres or Rabin. Unlike Trump, Netanyahu is a totally political animal; unlike his American counterpart, he has spent virtually his entire adult life engaged in this singularly ego-laden pursuit - sometimes masterfully, other times maladroitly. Where ‘45 has shown himself to have a particular fondness for “autocrats” (a cleaned-and-pressed synonym for “dictator”), Netanyahu has a fancy for living a life of luxury. For much of his business and now political career, ‘45 has been hounded by the legal system; now suing or declaring bankruptcy, now being sued or staring down the barrel of indictment. Likewise Netanyahu who, throughout much of his political career, has been dogged with scandals involving such emoluments as pink champagne, Cuban cigars, jewelry and even tickets to a Mariah Carey concert — in exchange for political favors to billionaires. The latest charges against the Israeli P.M., his wife Sarah and son Yair - which will likely end with multiple indictments - concerns their receiving gifts worth more than $280,000 in return for promoting policies that benefited powerful allies. To Trump, $280,000 is mere chump change (or at least is until Congress gets a handle on his real net worth); to Bibi, it’s a vast fortune. Like the POTUS - whose position pays $400,000 a year plus a rather large residence - the Israeli P.M. - whose job pays $168,210 per annum, plus a residence and expenses - has been spending an increasing amount of time dealing with both the legal and political ramifications of all the scandals hovering over their heads.  Both have charged ad nauseum that they are piteous victims of a “witch hunt” (that’s ציד מכשפות - pronounced tzayed m’kashefote in Hebrew). Unlike the vast American public, which to a large extent is politically illiterate, sadly gullible and sees things in black and white, the Israeli public is deeply political and loves nothing more than engaging in full-throated debate. Nonetheless, despite this generalized differences, both ‘45 and Bibi abide by pretty much the same political/campaign strategy: keeping their base happy while denigrating and designating the opposition as members of a vast, unpatriotic conspiracy. For Trump, this involves equal measures of fear and flattery, of outrageous boasts and outlandish lies, and slogans to beat the band. Unlike Trump, who operates in a two-party (though somewhat fragmented) political system in which Democrats control the House, and Republicans both the Senate and White House, Bibi is faced with a semi-parliamentary, multi-party system in which even the tiniest faction has a shot at becoming part of a coalition government. As a result of the incredible אַנְדְרָלָמוּסִיָה (ahndra-lamoosia - “utter chaos”) which is threatening to destroy Netanyahu’s governing coalition, he has been making concessions with - and promises to - some pretty unsavory elements in the world of Israeli  politics .Facing national elections next month (April 9), Netanyahu has given his הַסכָּמָה (hahs-kahma  - approval) for a far-right party, עוצמה יהודית (Otzma Yehudit - “Jewish Power”) to be part of a mainstream list.  This is an obvious political sop to the most nativist element in Israeli Society . . . pretty much like ‘45 dog whistling and offering political cover to white nationalists, neo-Nazis and racists, as he did after Charlottesville.

The leaders of Otzma Yehudit are self-identified disciples of U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who preached a radical form of Jewish nationalism that promoted unabashed and virulent anti-Arab racism, violence and political extremism. While he was alive, ADL and the vast majority of American Jewish organizations and leaders roundly condemned Kahane and the organizations he founded including the Jewish Defense League (JDL) and Kach, seeing his extremism and hate as anathema to Judaism and democratic values. 

Gen. Benny Ganz

Gen. Benny Ganz

It was the same in Israel. For example, upon Kahane’s election to the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud party rejected Kahane’s bigotry and made it a point to leave the parliament hall when Kahane rose to speak. Ultimately, Kahane’s racist activities led to the banning of his Kach Party from the Knesset and it was made illegal under Israeli law, which remains in effect to this day.  Already, a member of the current Knesset, the Meretz Party and Labor MK Stav Shaffir (one of my favorite Israeli politicians) petitioned the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Otzma Yehudit from running in the upcoming election. Then too, as an additional move on Israel’s  political chessboard, Benny Ganz, the 20th Chief of Staff of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) announced the formation of a new centrist political party - “Blue and White” - after the colors of the Israel flag.  In his first press conference, Ganz thanked Netanyahu for his “10 years of service” stating “No Israeli leader is king . . . . We will continue from here.”  Army Chief of Staff is the probably one of the most important, if not the most important, public positions.  According to a leading Israeli think-tank, 78% of the public trust the IDF, while only 30% trust the government to the same extent. Although many of his policies remain a mystery, Ganz is already polling a couple of points ahead of Netanyahu. 

At the moment, no one knows for certain what the forthcoming indictments of the Netanyahus will mean for the upcoming Israeli elections — in much the same way that no one truly knows what the Mueller report will mean to America’s 2020  presidential election.  If the political parallels between Netanyahu and Trump carry any meaning, both men should watch their backs . . . for, to misquote Donne: No man is an island/entire of himself . . . send not to know for whom the bell tolls/it tolls for thee.

611 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone


The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good

 
Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980), the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and wife of House Speaker Nicholas Longworth III (1869-1931), was long the doyen of Washington society. Being invited to one of her afternoon teas - long held in her Beaux Arts townhouse just above Dupont Circle at 2009 Massachusetts Avenue - was a sign of having made it - of having arrived. Alice was a witty, fearless, way-ahead-of-her-time grande dame long known for the quality of her tea and an unerring ability to speak her mind. She is perhaps best-remembered for having described two-time Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey as “The little man on the wedding cake,” and the slogan embroidered on the pillow adorning her settee, which served as a kind of throne: “If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me!”

“Lady Alice’s” bon mot could easily be the slogan of all seasoned political operatives; particularly those tasked with doing opposition research.  For those not in the know, opposition research is to bare-knuckle political campaigning as advance scouting is to professional baseball . . . an absolute must. The purpose of researching an opposing candidate is, of course, to have a collection of “facts and fables” with which to  tar one’s opponent(s) if and when it becomes necessary.  I have long been of a mind that opposition research should also be carried out with the same diligence on one’s own candidate; the theory being that If we can find out what our guy/gal has done, so can they.  It is one way of lessening the possibility of getting caught with one’s pants down - both literally and figuratively.  

Today, of course, with all the cyber search engines at one’s beck and call, opposition research is ever so much easier than in days of yore. The Internet contains far, far more anecdotal information than a week or two spent going over miles of microfiche files at the Library of Congress. Then too, it is also far, far easier to find and post tons of “facts” - and images - which simply are not true.  Case in point, a photo of former Texas Representative - and potential Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke posing before a camera, the words “vegan,” “feminist,” “atheist” and “queer” painted on his mostly nude body. (As if any of these should absolutely disqualify a person from running for the presidency.) Despite the fact that this “fact” is nuttier-than-nougat, the photo - and “story” behind it has already wound up in thousands upon thousands of cyber mailboxes, which means there are lots of people who are dead certain that Beto is a beast.

Of course, opposition research is nothing new.  As but one example, back in the presidential election of 1884 between New York Governor Grover Cleveland (D) and Maine Senator (and future Secretary of State) James G. Blaine (R), the candidates’ campaign slogans were based on what was worst and most immoral in their opponents’ lives and careers.  Blaine’s campaign slogan - based on the out-of- wedlock child Cleveland allegedly had fathered was “Ma, Ma, Where's my Pa, Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”  Likewise, Cleveland’s campaign slogan, “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, The Continental Liar from the State of Maine!” referred to Blaine's involvement in unethical business deals with the railroad industry and his behavior after they were exposed.  Although there were actual issues in the campaign, no one remembers what they were . . . short of the far more interesting matter of Cleveland’s promiscuity and Blaine’s perfidy.

Although political campaigns can - and do - engage and entertain (and enrage) the masses, they are also - ideally - meant to enlighten the electorate. Sadly, with the sweep and scope of 21st century opposition research, they have made the latter - the enlightenment part - next to impossible. And the product of the opposition research has been getting fiercer and more fatuous - not to mention earlier - with every passing cycle. The fact that there is already a negative hit job being done on Beto O’Rourke -even before he’s decided whether or not he’s going to run - is simply breathtaking in its mendacity. We already “know” many negatives about Senators Warren, Klobuchar, Harris and Booker to name but four. Please note that each of the links leads to a series of articles detailing their negatives far more than their proposals.  In the 50-plus years I’ve been engaged in politics and political campaigning, I’ve never seen the “fruits” of opposition research being published a full two years before an election. This is both a shame and a pity, and is an early indicator of just how filthy the 2020 cycle is going to be.    

Elizabeth Warren, as an example, has been going around the country talking up specific proposals she would like to see enacted - whether or not she is elected POTUS. One of these is a much-needed (and highly doable) program to make childcare and preschool affordable.  Although rarely talked about, childcare and preschool accessibility and affordability is of major importance.  The percentage of income that goes into these early forms of education is staggering.  Senator Warren’s plan has been well thought out, and if enacted, could have a positive effect on American society.  To date, there has been precious little conversation about her proposal.  From the right side of the aisle, predictably, it has been dismissed as ‘socialism,’ and ‘turning over the raising of children to the state.’  From the left side of the aisle, one hears complaints that the plan doesn’t go far enough — that it should involve free, direct public provision of child care, not subsidies to private provision. As the New York Times’ Paul Krugman has noted, “There’s certainly a case for a more expansive policy. There’s also no chance that it will happen anytime soon.” While the demurral is well intended, one must remember, that the perfect can be the enemy of the good.   In other words, rejecting going on a one-mile jog because a 2 mile jog would provide more needed exercise is likely to keep people from jogging at all.

Interestingly, like Senator Warren in 2019, Hillary Clinton had a serious plan back in 2016, but the news media was too busy obsessing over emails to pay attention. Most of what we read, hear or see about Senator Warren’s nascent campaign deals with whether or not she has so much as a single drop of Native American blood or how much she’s worth, rather than what she’s proposing to do as president.  In other words, opposition research has “proven” that she’s not perfect.

We’ve arrived at a point in American political history that most of what we know about presidential (or congressional or state legislative) candidates is that they are not perfect; that they are far too human to be worthy of our support, let alone our vote. Stated so baldly, you know it’s trash; we should be seeking and supporting people who are smart, thoughtful, experienced in the fine arts of governance, leadership and diplomacy; people who are both willing and able to listen and learn; candidates who tend to surround themselves with advisers who are even smarter, more thoughtful, and more experienced than they are.

By demanding or expecting the perfect, we are making it virtually impossible for the good to ever succeed.

Or, in the words of “Princess” Alice’s father, the nation’s 25th president, “Look Toward the stars but keep your feet firmly on the ground.” 

618 days to go until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Politics - Like Acting and Aging - Ain't For Sissies

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib

There is an old Hollywood axiom which states “. . . even more than talent, charisma or looks, the prime ingredient in becoming a star is the ability to accept rejection.” To a great extent the same axiom can be applied to both politics and writing. One week you’re up and finding favor; the next you’re down and being accused of callowness, insensitivity and yes, even treachery. In contemporary politics, once one has gone off the rhetorical rails, the opposition frequently - and gleefully - turns that person (or people) into the face of an entire political party. And those who, for whatever reason - fail to launch a twenty kiloton broadside against the political miscreants - are likewise accused of being in league with - and for all intents and purposes -agreeing with them.

Take the case of the three most widely publicized members of the newly-elected 116th Congress: Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Rashida Tlaib (MI) and the Somali-born Ilhan Omar (MN). Without question, they are young, relatively inexperienced and have an awful lot to learn about the world - despite the fact that all three managed to get themselves elected to Congress . . . no mean feat. As a result of their perceived “differentness,” – and many of the things they have both said and proposed -  the three have garnered far, far more publicity than the rest of their large freshman class, made up of 59 Democrats and 29 Republicans. Besides the fact that both Tlaib and Omar are practicing Muslims (Tlaib wears a hijab) and the 29-year old Ocasio-Cortez is a self-proclaimed Socialist, the 3 have also made statements both to the press and via social media regarding Israel which are at odds with the majority of Democrats and virtually all Republicans. All three support the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement and have made comments which many take as being anti-Semitic.

About a week ago, Rep. Omar tweeted that American politicians’ unequivocal support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” ($100.00 bills). This comment drew an immediate condemnatory rebuke from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership. Within hours of her tweet, the Speaker and the leadership issued a joint statement calling Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” deeply offensive and insisted on an apology. In response, Omar said her intention was never to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. . . . This is why I unequivocally apologize.” Many Democratic members have urged holding a House vote on a ceremonial resolution condemning anti-Semitism. As of yesterday, there were no concrete plans to consider one. For his part, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to believe Rep. Omar’s apology. The president, who rejected her apology, went even further calling for her resignation from Congress.  “Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress . . . she is terrible” the president said during a Cabinet meeting.  Rep. Omar quickly fired back “You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?"

Personally, I received an email from a longtime reader two days ago who angrily (and sadly) wanted to know why I never condemn “anti-Semitic Democrats,” write about the BDS movement, or have condemned Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar. Actually, I started writing about the noxious anti-Israel BDS campaign nearly 3 years ago in a blog entitled While BDS Is NOT a Gastric Condition, It IS a Bloody Pain in the Rear. And I have been crystal-clear about my absolute revulsion when it comes to the hatred of Jews. However, many have a far broader understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism. They tend to view those who favor a two-state solution (myself included), are against expanding settlements on the West Bank (again, myself included) or are highly critical of the Netanyahu administration (שוב, אני עצמי) as being anti Zionist at least, anti-Semitic at worst.  Believe me; I have been called both an “anti-Semite” and a “self-hating Jew” on more occasions than I care to count. It’s at times like these that instead of taking a stiff drink, I look up on the wall where proudly hangs my now 40-year old  סמיכ לרבנות  - rabbinic ordination.  

Without question, Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib are permitted to speak their minds; that’s what free speech is all about. Then too, those who oppose what they say and believe via their speeches, tweets and YouTubes have every right to push back and express their extreme revulsion. Many of the newest Democratic members of Congress come from a different generation . . . born after Vietnam, Watergate and the Iranian Revolution. Many of them have different worldviews and expectations from their elders. In short, they have an awful lot to learn. If they wish to have an impact on Congress and the future of America, they will have to take counsel from a far broader spectrum than they have  up to this point. But at the same time, there are, among the many, many new members of Congress, a larger number of combat veterans than we have seen in decades. They too bring a new face to Congress.

Republicans are already hard at work transforming Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar into the new face of the Democratic Party. In a recent piece in the Washington Post, journalist Sheryl Gay Stolberg noted: In the 116th Congress, if you’re a Democrat, you’re either a socialist, a baby killer or an anti-Semite. That, at least, is what Republicans want voters to think, as they seek to demonize Democrats well in advance of the 2020 elections by painting them as left-wing crazies who will destroy the American economy, murder newborn babies and turn a blind eye to bigotry against Jews.  Although what Republican strategists are attempting to do is far from the truth, it is nothing new.   Remember,  politics, like acting and aging, ain’t for sissies.   “So why don’t Democrats give ‘em a taste of their own poison and make Reps. Steve King and Louis Gohmert - along with the likes of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and presidential adviser Stephen Miller into the face of the G.O.P?  Why not tag them with being pro-white nationalists, racists, and anti-immigration autocrats whose major constituency is under-educated white Christian men?  It is likely because Democrats just aren’t as skilled as their Republican counterparts when it comes to blowing dog whistles or bare-knuckle brawling.  

Unquestionably, anti-Semitism - which has never been eliminated - is once again on the rise - in America, Europe, the Middle East and South America. Just yesterday, seven British parliamentarians quit the Labour Party over the European Union and anti-Semitism- both being largely attributable to party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime supporter of the Palestinians.  In many parts of the world, anti-Semitism is the “gift that keeps on giving” - a handy ism which keeps governments and businesses from being blamed for social, educational and financial inequality.  And although the hatred of Jews and Israel is not nearly so virulent in the United States as in other parts of the world, it is fast becoming a meme for the misbegotten - a trope for Trumpsters . . .

To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt: “He who would engage in politics must first develop the hide of a rhinoceros.”

623 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Challenging Surrealism One Signature At a Time

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This coming Thursday is Valentine’s Day: 24-hours devoted to romantic love, the giving of roses and chocolates. And oh yes, a lot of commercial huckstering. Historically, and most ironically, Valentine’s Day has roots in Christian martyrdom. It also has links to massacres: the notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 easily comes to mind. Although the historic link between passion and martyrdom may be difficult to limn, it does have a place in modern times. In modern times, St. Valentine’s Day is associated with the city of Chicago and the names Capone, Moran and O’Banion (that’s the 1929 “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” at the SMC Cartage Co. garage), and the 2018 mass murder at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and staff members were gunned down, and an additional 17 injured by one person armed with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle and multiple magazines.

In the year since this utterly horrific event took place, the world has changed - not only for the students, faculty and families of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) but for anyone and everyone who cares about gun violence in America. Survivors like David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez have become leaders of a national movement called “March For Our Lives,” spoken at Harvard and helped galvanize a nation. They have also been accused of being homosexuals, paid actors and stooges for “gun-hating ultra-leftists.” Throughout it all, they have put their collective trauma to good use, often acting with greater energy, reason and maturity than those who insist that arming teachers and administrators is the answer . . . not gun safety measures. Less than a month after the MSD massacre, the Florida Legislature did pass a bill which raised the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns to 21; extended a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns, and banned bump stocks that transform guns into automatic weapons.

While many applauded this action on the part of the historically “whatever the National Rifle Association (NR) wants is fine with us” state legislature, some thought even this went too far. This crowd fears that any legislation is but a first step toward gutting the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms; that soon, there will come a knock on the door and the total confiscation of all weapons. On the other side of the gun safety issue, there have been calls to ban assault-style weapons - a law did exist in the United States from 1994-2004. Depending on whose statistics one accepts, the decade in which the ban was in place was either successful in lessening mass shootings or made virtually no difference. Ever since 2004 - when the law was cancelled - there have been renewed calls for a new weapons ban . . . one without a time limit. These calls have come, most understandably shortly after mass murders like the ones at Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland and now Pittsburgh.

Polls on the issue of banning assault-style weapons are inconclusive. While NPR reports that after Parkland, nearly three-quarters of those polled favored such a ban, U.S. News cited a Gallup poll which claimed that a majority were against such a ban. People are frustrated, angry and feeling powerless to affect change. It has long been my belief that when people find they are fighting a losing cause against the legislature, it’s time to go back to the basics . . . changing the Constitution. As near impossible as this is on a federal level (our Constitution has been amended a mere 27 times, with 10 of those amendments being enacted on the same day [December 15, 1791] and 1 amendment [the 21st] being enacted to repeal another [18]). However, it is actually doable on a state level. How is this possible? Well, in the case of state constitutions, petitions can replace politicians.

Here in Florida, parents, students, teachers, everyday citizens and like-minded politicians have been beating the bushes, getting signatures on petitions which, if successful, will place a new constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. In brief, the amendment would prohibit possession of assault weapons, defined as semi-automatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device. Possession of handguns is not prohibited. The petition also says that military and law enforcement personnel are exempt in their official duties, and exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date and creates criminal penalties for violations.

In order to get on the 2020 ballot it will require 776,200 signed and certified petitions by the end of 2019. Organizers plan on gathering a minimum of 1.1 million petitions in case some signatures don’t match those on 2016 ballots and are tossed out by the various county supervisor of elections offices. So far, nearly 90,000 petitions have been signed and are awaiting delivery to the various supervisors’ offices.

The pro-gun, anti any kind of gun safety legislation crowd is taking this petition drive quite seriously. Marion Hammer, the Florida lobbyist for the NRA said of the proposed law: This petition seeks to ban practically every rifle and shotgun in America today with the exception of single-shot bolt action rifles or single-shot shotguns by calling them assault weapons. It is a blatant attempt to fool Floridians by sucking them into a deception that would effectively ban most hunting, target shooting, and significant home defense as well.

To my way of thinking, this is a blatant misstatement of the petition’s intent, and falls back on NRA surrealism . . . such as The only thing which will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.

This kind of surrealism must be challenged. For anyone who wishes to sign the petition, go to Ban Assault Weapons NOW (BAWN); then click and download the link that says “petition” near the upper right-hand corner. If you’re not a Florida resident, you can also help by going to the and clicking “Donate.” Running a state-wide petition drive does take money . . .

Just remember this: politicians and PACS cannot kill dreams, if only the populace will sign petitions!

630 days until the next election . . .

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Baby It's Been Cold Outside . . . and Inside Too

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

                                       Walking Across Lake Michigan

Less than a week ago, parts of the United States registered temperatures (including windchill) of minus 60˚ - even colder than Antarctica. And thanks to the meteorologists and climatologists standing and explaining in front of their computerized screens, we learned a new term: polar vortex. As explained by AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno:

A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season. The frigid air can find its way into the United States when the polar vortex is pushed farther south, occasionally reaching southern Canada and the northern Plains, Midwest and northeastern portions of the United States. The vortex is capable of delivering subzero temperatures to the United States and Canada for several days at a time.

And by the way, the polar vortex and inhumanly sub-arctic temperatures have a lot to do with climate change, aka Global Warming. But leave it to ‘45, Rush Limbaugh, the Washington Times and billionaires everywhere to proclaim that last week’s weather event proves that there is no such thing. As our science-challenged POTUS sarcastically Tweeted:

In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast, we need you!

By this point in time, it should come as no surprise that ‘45, his temporary advisers and a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill refuse to publicly admit that scientists have any idea what they’re talking about when it comes to climate change. To do so might lose them the support of deep-pocketed contributors who place the Bible above science and wealth above fact.

Of course the avoidance and disregard for provable fact is built into the Trumpian genome. Case in point: The president’s recent lashing out at the government’s most senior intelligence leaders. Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaders of the various intelligence agencies - among others, CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and former Senator Dan Coats, now the president’s hand-picked Director of National Intelligence - testified that:

  • Iran, while still a global menace, is complying with an international agreement designed to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.

  • The Islamic State was degraded but not defeated, as the president has claimed.

  • It is highly doubtful that North Korea will ever give up all of its nuclear weapons, a sobering assessment ahead of next month’s planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

  • China and Russia are working together to challenge U.S. leadership in the world, undermine democratic governments and gain military and technological superiority over the United States.

Interestingly, none of the officials said there is a security crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has considered declaring a national emergency so that he can build a wall. Coats noted that high crime rates and a weak job market are likely to spur migrants from Central America to cross into the United States. But he also sounded optimistic that Mexico will cooperate with the Trump administration to address violence and the flow of illegal drugs, problems that Trump has said Mexico isn’t addressing sufficiently.

And yet, despite a welter of facts carefully drawn from the best spies in the business, the president angrily denied their assessment of what the most serious challenges facing the United States are. In a frosty, angry Tweet, ‘45 pushed back on their intelligence assessment, stating: The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different, but.... a source of potential danger and conflict. They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There [sic] economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!

As with the welter of scientific fact surrounding climate change which ‘45 summarily rejects, so too has he spurned his intelligence chiefs’ assessment of the international dangers and challenges facing the United States. Indeed, when facts - no matter how well vetted - go against his personal understanding of how the world works, facts are left by the side of the road. For an uneducated child, it is perhaps understandable. When one is in their mid-70’s and President of the United States, it is both chilling and fraught with danger.

In just a few hours, ‘45 will deliver his second State of the Union Address. One can only wonder what he will say when he stops reading from the teleprompter and begins speaking off the top of his head. Will he at that point be speaking to the nation . . . or his beloved base? Will any of the dozens of pressures attaching themselves to his daily life - like the Mueller investigation, the new inquiry into potential crimes committed by his inaugural committee, his waning numbers, the very real possibility of being impeached - will any of these become sub- or unconscious fodder for his off-the-cuff remarks? And what of the politically dexterous woman in his rear view mirror . . . Madam Speaker? She will likely have the most difficult job of the night; keeping a straight face while Hell freezes over.

637 days until the next presidential election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone














Getting Stoned

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Milburn Stone . . . Old “Doc Adams”

Milburn Stone . . . Old “Doc Adams”

I swear by all that is holy that the next person who asks me - whether seriously, sarcastically or facetiously - whether I am related to Roger Stone is going to get an earful - if not a punch in the nose. Outside of my mother Alice, late father Henry and sister Erica (Riki) I am not blood-related to anyone bearing the family name Stone. In matter of fact, Stone is a made-up name. The four of us all got “legally Stoned” in front of a superior court judge at the Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, October 9, 1956. So far as I know, my father had been using the name from the moment he arrived in Hollywood back in the mid-1930’s. On that long-gone October morning, we entered the courtroom bearing the name “Schimberg,” and exited a short time later legally wearing our new last name. Ironically, on that day, the book sitting atop the New York Times bestseller list, Men to Match My Mountains, was written by none other than Irving Stone (neé Tenenbaum). Returning home from court, I was elated when it dawned on me that I was now “related” to one of my favorite people on television: Gunsmoke’s “Doc Adams,” portrayed by none other than actor Milburn Stone, who lived just up the block from us and was one of our movie-industry neighbors to whom I proudly delivered newspapers 5 days a week.

Over the years, I have been proud to carry the same last name as Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Steve Stone, pint-sized movie tough-guy George E. Stone (neé Gershom Lichtenstein), Andy Hardy’s father “Judge Hardy” played by Lewis Stone, Charles Stone, who for years on end broadcast the morning stock market report “from the offices of E.F. Hutton and Company“ on radio station KMPC, and most importantly, the brilliantly erudite journalist I.F. Stone (Isidor Feinstein) in whose honor this blog has long been named.

But Roger Stone? Forget it! Had any of the “legally Stoned” members of our tiny family found that we were related to this malevolent political trickster from Hell, we would have changed our name back to Schimberg in a heartbeat! (BTW: Late in life my father, Henry, decided to do a name search, and discovered that the CEO of Coca Cola was also named Henry Schimberg. He contacted the gent in Atlanta, only to find that alas, he was not related in any way, shape or form.)

To those who work in the political world, Roger Stone (ימח שמו) has long been what my father, ever the gentleman, would have called “an acquired taste.” Of course, few people in the political world have ever truly acquired that taste. For this Stone has, ever since the days of Richard Nixon (a tattoo of whom adorns Stone’s scapular area), CREEP (the “Committee to Reelect the President”) and dozens of elections throughout the years, been a constant source of embarrassment; an operative who has long played tag with immorality, illegality and just plain bad taste.

In 1972, the then 19-year old Stone - in what was perhaps his first dirty trick, faked a contribution from the Young Socialist Alliance to California Congressman Pete McCloskey, a liberal Republican who in 1972 was mounting a challenge to Nixon in the New Hampshire primary. After delivering the $135 in cash and receiving a receipt, Stone then drafted an anonymous letter to the conservative Manchester Union Leader with a photocopy of the receipt to discredit McCloskey. This was merely the beginning. Over the years, Stone has been an adviser - and dirty trickster - for Republicans ranging Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Lee Atwater and George W. Bush and against Democrats ranging from Al Gore and disgraced New York Governor Elliot Spitzer to HIllary Clinton. Partnering with Paul Manafort, Stone formed a lobbying consort, representing the interests of such unsavory despots as Zaire’s Mobuto Sese Seko, Angola’s unita rebels, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Politically a Libertarian while personally a libertine, Roger Stone has been the bane of several generations of political cognoscenti.

Niixon's the One.jpg

Nothing makes the underlying collective differences between Republicans and Democrats clearer than its best-known tricksters. For the Republicans, it has long been Stone, whose schemes, plots and ploys have been mean-spirited and reputation destroying - the work of a border-line personality For the Democrats, their best-known and most beloved trickster was the late Dick Tuck, who passed away in June of last year at age 94. Unlike Stone, who has ice water in his veins, Tuck was a merry prankster-at-large who bedeviled Barry M. Goldwater, Richard M. Nixon and other Republicans with bad-news fortune cookies, a comely spy, a treacherous little old lady and other campaign-trail tomfoolery. His New York Times obituarist described him as “a king gremlin of political shenanigans.” Wherever and whenever Tuck and his pixilated operatives appeared, strange things happened: Trains made unscheduled stops. Placards in foreign languages bore miscreant messages. At Republican rallies, bands struck up Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Tuck performed his political tricks with a twinkle in the eye, not a shiv in his pocket. Without question, his best-known, most endearing dido was when he hired late-term pregnant women to show up at Nixon rallies carrying signs and buttons reading "Nixon's the One." Where Stone is a bespoke plutocrat who carries a non-functioning moral compass, Dick Tuck was a rumpled leprechaun carrying a far from lethal whoopee cushion.

Roger Stone’s arrest on charges of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements (to which he has already pleaded not guilty) could conceivably be the final nail in ‘45’s coffin. The indictment prepared by the Mueller investigation said that Trump campaign officials dispatched Mr. Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks during the summer of 2016, when the website was releasing a trove of damaging information about Hillary Clinton that had been stolen by Russian intelligence operatives . This is truly serious stuff. And unlike similar situations with close Trump associates like Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, ‘45 cannot claim to have had only fleeting, insignificant interactions with Roger Stone; the 2 have been close for nearly 40 years.

Moreover, Stone’s legal team - Robert Bushel, Grant Smith (son of former Rep. Larry Smith) and Kendall Coffee - all are connected to the law firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, which was dissolved after Ponzi scammer Scott Rothstein was sent to jail for 50 years. Perfect. 

As proud as I have long been to be related to three Stones - Alice, Henry and Erica - I now find myself wishing that instead of getting Stoned oh so many years ago, we had instead kept the original family name. I’ll swap Coca Cola for Trump’s trickster every day of the week . . . and 5,000 times on Sunday.

Copyright ©2019 Kurt F. Stone

Travels in Time (?)

Before beginning this week’s piece, permit me to urge you to click this link and listen; what you will hear is meant to set an emotive tone for what you are about to read . . .

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Of President Trump’s 5 children, the two least-known, least photographed are 25-year old Tiffany (currently a law student at Georgetown University) and 12-year old Barron, who is a 6th grader at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in Potomac, Maryland.

Eerily, in 1889 - fully 130 years before Barron (note the double “r” in his name) was born - the now long-forgotten Victorian-era lawyer, diplomat and author Ingersoll Lockwood (1841-1918) published the first in a series of children’s adventure novels starring a character named Baron (with one “r'“)Trump. The first of these novels was entitled The Travels and Adventures of Little Baron Trump and His Wonderful Dog Bulger . This novel, and its sequel, Baron Trump’s Marvelous Underground Adventure (1893) were quickly forgotten as was a later satirical novella by Lockwood entitled 1900: Or the Last President. This, the last of Lockwood’s works, begins on a Tuesday in November, “a terrible night for the great city of New York.” Anarchists and socialists have laid siege to a hotel on Fifth Avenue, screaming, “death to the rich man.”

What’s really quite remarkable about Ingersoll Lockwood’s otherwise gone-and-ought-to-be-forgotten books (beyond naming his main character “Baron Trump”) is the eerie prescience one finds within their pages. Indeed, it seems almost as if the writer knew the latter-day Trumps and were made aware of the state of uncivil society in the early 21st century. Then again, currently living in an age of Jonesian (as in Alex) conspiracy theories as we do, perhaps Lockwood at one time had played host to a visitor from a time traveler named Trump.

When it comes to great Victorian-era children’s adventure-cum-fantasy literature, Lockwood’s works are as forgotten as the films of John Bunny and Flora Finch. Twain’s A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and any of the Baum Wizard of Oz fantasies are still read. By comparison, I think we can safely say that not a single Lockwood novel was ever made into a motion picture . . . a sort of latter-day imprimatur. Nevertheless, there’s still something utterly fascinating and prescient about the Baron Trump novels or 1900 subtitled Or the Last President.

The Last President.jpg

With breathtaking foreknowledge (?), Ingersoll Lockwood presents Baron Trump as continually talking about his gigantic brain. While meeting with the Russian government, he talks about his glorious gray matter. As foreign women fall for him, he mentions his superior intelligence before casting them off. He once sued his tutors, alleging that they owed him money for everything he had taught them. He won. Born Wilhelm Heinrich Sebastian Von Troomp - but better known as “Little Baron Trump” - he travels both around and under the globe with his dog Bulger, meeting residents of as-of-yet undiscovered lands before arriving back home at Castle Trump. Lockwood’s Trump is precocious, restless, and prone to get in trouble, with a brain so big that his head has grown to twice the normal size. Mind you, these novels were a): written for children, and b): were all published in the Victorian era.

What did Lockwood know? Was this Trump a time traveler? Just kidding.

Lockwood’s novella 1900: Or, the Last President, is steeped in paranoia over the gold standard and fears about what would happen to a country still torn apart by civil war. If anything, Lockwood’s works are disquieting because their mood of anxiety and reprisal for old battles feels genuinely familiar. In this novel, the main character carries the title “Don,” and owns a hotel on whose grounds Trump Towers currently stands. Lockwood’s satire - meant to be read and digested by literate children - chastises the rise of socialism and populism, inferring their fictional rise here as disastrous and leading to chaos. And yet, for a man of his time, Lockwood was rather broadminded. Despite being an ardent Catholic himself, he had little use for moralists, and had a passionate belief in the power of noblesse oblige - namely, “with wealth and power comes much responsibility for those who possess neither.”

Without question, there are those who, once becoming turned on to Lockwood’s novels, will come up with some sort of “time traveler’s conspiracy” and spread the word that Ingersoll Lockwood was actually engaged in giving ’45 both marching orders and a world view more than a century ago. This, of course, is abject twaddle. In reality, what it is is an eerie and unpredictable view of the future from the past . . . and a pleasant afternoon’s read to boot.

658 days until the next election.

Copyright©20019 Kurt F. Stone

The Losers Hall of Shame

Okay all you trivia mavens: let’s see if you can figure out what the following all have in common:

1.     Former New York Met pitcher Anthony Young (1966-2017);

Met Pitcher Anthony Young

Met Pitcher Anthony Young

2.     John “The Engineer” Turmel (1951- );

3.     Richard Burton (1925-1983) and Peter O’Toole (1932-2013);

4.     The Prairie View A&M Panthers football team;

5.     The Reverend Glynn (Scott) Wolfe (1908-1997);

6.     Lehman Brothers (1850-2008) and

7.     Donald J. Trump (1946 - )

Stymied? Well, they are all members of the “Losers’ Hall of Shame.” First, a brief visit with 6 of the first 7:

  • Pitcher Anthony Young holds the all-time Major League Baseball record for the greatest number of games lost in a row: precisely 29 between April 14, 1992 and May 1, 1994. Despite retiring with a respectable career era of 3.89, his won-loss record was a horrific 15-48 . . . which works out to a winning percentage of just .238.

  • The Prairie View A&M football team holds the all-time NCAA record for most consecutive losses: 80 games between 1989 an 1998

  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Canadian John “the Engineer” Turmel holds the all-time record for both the most elections contested, and for the most elections lost, having contested 96 and losing 95. The only election he did not lose was cancelled.

  • Actors Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, who were among the few major movie stars who were also great actors, hold the record for having received the greatest number of Academy Awards Best Actor nominations (7) without ever winning

  • The Reverend Glynn “Scott” Wolfe holds the world’s record for the greatest number of marriages and divorces: 29. His longest marriage lasted 11 years; his briefest a mere 19 days. At his death in 1997, none of his surviving ex-wives and but one of his estimated 40 children attended his funeral.

  • Lehman Brothers, which came into existence in 1850, holds the all time record for the largest bankruptcy in American business history: approximately $691 billion, following the 2008 financial meltdown.

  • · President Donald J. Trump: as America’s 45th president, he ordered this country’s longest governmental shutdown. As of today, January 13, 2019, that shutdown has lasted more than 3 weeks . . . with no end in sight.

You can make book on Anthony Young, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and the rest of the losers not crowing over their missteps. Young probably felt far better over his career ERA than his all-time record for ineptitude. So too did Burton and O’Toole likely find far greater pride and solace in their truly great film roles than for all those times they failed to win an Oscar.

‘45, on the other hand, will likely take eternal, boastful pride in holding the record for creating and orchestrating the longest governmental shutdown in all American history. Back in mid-December of last year, the president told then-Speaker elect Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “I am proud to shut down the government for border security . . . I will take the mantle . . . . I will be the one to shut it down.” Of course, by the time the shutdown had lasted a mere 7 days, he was placing blame squarely on the shoulders of “Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy” and all the Democrats in Congress.

The fist governmental shutdown did not occur until the republic was more than 200 years old. The year was 1976, That first partial shutdown came under President Gerald Ford when he vetoed a spending bill amid a dispute over the budget for the Department of Health, Education & Welfare - a federal department which no longer exists under that name. A whole slew of shutdowns would ensue over the next two decades. There were half a dozen during Jimmy Carter's four years in office, and eight between 1981 and 1989 during Ronald Reagan's administration. During the Clinton era, there was a major shutdown caused by then-House Speaker Newt Ginrgrich’s “Contract With America.” That shutdown lasted a mere 5 days followed by a 21-day impasse which stood until just the other day as the longest government shutdown ever.

And now we have a new record . . . which our current president owns with pride but nonetheless blames on everybody but himself. He is quickly becoming the Anthony Young or John “The Engineer” Turmel of American history. His spot in the “Losers Hall of Shame” is assured.

But ‘45 seems far, far more concerned about getting funding for his wall on our Southern border than anything else. Lacking an ounce of empathy or understanding for the working stiff (which our most blue-blooded presidents – the Roosevelts - did possess), he is more than willing to upend lives, families and American safety in order to get what he wants. And his suggestions as to what people who live paycheck-to-paycheck should do? “Have a garage sale — clean out your attic, basements, and closets at the same time,” sell “unwanted, larger ticket items through the newspaper or online . . . watch children, walk pets, or house-sit.“ How’s that for empathy?

Besides the president’s all but total lack of understanding of how government works, there is this fact: unlike virtually every other shutdown over the past 4 decades, this POTUS is using said shutdown as a partisan political tool - as a way of keeping his most manic political supporters on his side. He is far more concerned with the 2020 presidential election and hearing the riotous cheers of his shrinking base than he is with the lives and families of those who are on the federal payroll. He simply cannot understand how anyone can go without a paycheck or two . . . or three or four. Hey, they can just go to their parents for a handout or get another part time job in order to tide them over until they get their back pay. Never mind that airline travel is being endangered, that the purity of the food we eat is no longer being investigated, or that medical research projects upon which our very lives depend are going without funding dollars. What’s far, far more important to ‘45 is getting his $5.7 billion for a border wall which cannot - and will not - keep illicit drugs or murderous thugs out of the country.

Will the president’s utter hard-hardheartedness come back to haunt (and ultimately destroy) both him and the party he owns in the 2020 election? Only those with a fully functional crystal ball can possibly know the answer. It would seem, however, that if this issue is brought up again and again by whomsoever the next Democratic nominee (Sherrod Brown? Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? Amy Klobuchar? Joe Biden? Bernie Sanders? Adam Schiff?) may be, it will cause one whole hell of a lot of American voters to turn against ‘45 and the party of close-mouthed cowards he leads.

Let ‘45 be elected to the Losers Hall of Shame instead of a second term in the White House. Goodness knows, it will wreak far less damage upon the men, women and children of this country, as well as our traditional allies around the world.

666 days to go until the next general election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone

The Worst-Rated Movie of All Time

King Cyrus the Great

King Cyrus the Great

In addition to writing books and essays about politics, I have spent more than 20 years worth of Wednesdays teaching courses at Florida International University which go by the name All Politics All the Time: The Interior Game of Chess.” Mondays and Thursdays have long been my days for medical ethics teleconferences, which are deeply challenging and give one the sense that perhaps - just perhaps - they are making a bit of a difference in the world. Then, for sheer pleasure, there’s Monday and Thursday nights. For more than 20 years, I have taught film courses at both Florida Atlantic University’s Jupiter campus (Mondays) and at their main campus in Boca Raton (Thursdays). For me, these classes - and the movies I screen and discuss (mostly classic Hollywood “studio era” productions) - are expressions of what I refer to as my “genetic inheritance.” Let’s face it: I’m a proud “Hollywood Brat.”

At least once every trimester, I am asked what, in my opinion, are the “10 best films of all time.” (I always begin with Casablanca, Buster Keaton’s The General, and Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, and finish my list of personal favorites with Kurosawa’s Rashamon. Not too long ago, a student asked me what, according to critics and reviewers, were the worst films of all time. And so turning to the two standard sources of cinematic wisdom - the International Movie Data Base (IMDB) and Rotten Tomatoes, I did an afternoon’s research. According to IMDB the 3 lowest-rated films, coming in at morbidly anemic 2.0-2.1 (out of a possible 10) were:

  1. 1 .9: Disaster Movie (2008)

  2. 1.9: Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) and,

  3. 2.0: Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004)

Strangely, despite being so terribly bad, all three films did reasonably well at the box office. I guess H.L. Mencken was correct when he wrote “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

But wait: this just in! As of last October, there is a film which has scored a new, heretofore unimaginable rating of 1.6. And it seems only fitting that the subject matter of the worst film of all time should be the worst POTUS of all time. The film? The Trump Prophecy, directed by Stephan Schultze from a book by Mary Colbert, and starring such unknowns as Chris Nelson, Paulette Todd and and Don Brooks. The movie’s plot line can be summed up in five words: G-d sent ‘45 to be king. “Where in the hell does such an absurd idea come from?” you may well ask. Well, believe it or not, it comes from a particular slice of Evangelical Christians whom we will choose to call “Christianists.” This meme (G-d sent ‘45 to be king - or in Trump’s own dreamy delusion “President for life”) has been a part of Christianist belief for nearly 8 years. According to Ms. Colbert’s book, in 2011, Mark Taylor, a former firefighter, had a blinding epiphany in which the Almighty told him that Donald Trump would be elected president in 2016. Opening his Bible, Taylor found himself looking at the 45th chapter of the book of Isaiah (chapter 45 . . . the 45th POTUS . . . get it?) This particular chapter deals with G-d’s anointing Cyrus to be the first King of Persia. Cyrus, for those who have forgotten their ancient history, was born in the sixth century B.C.E. and became the first emperor of Persia. Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. For many, Cyrus - who was a secular Persian - became the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.

Before too long, Taylor’s epiphany began spreading within the evangelical community. The connection (and perceived similarities) between Cyrus and Trump began growing. Lance Wallnau, a prominent evangelical author and lecturer proclaimed “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus,” who will “restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.” His website proclaims that Dr. Wallnau, through his “broadcasts and viral media influenced 3-5 million undecided evangelical voters” to cast ballots for Donald Trump in 2016. Of course, Wallnau isn’t the only one who has climbed aboard the “Trump is Cyrus” bandwagon. So too have Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; Ralph Drollinger who leads weekly bible study groups at the White House attended by Mike Pence and members of the Cabinet; Libery University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Fox News’ “Judge” Jeanne Pirro.

At first (and second and even third) blush DJT would seem the absolute worst role model for devout evangelical Christians. After all, this is a man who has been married three times, has had affairs with porn stars (one of which while his 3rd wife was pregnant), is a world-class liar and is an irreligious, narcissistic egomaniac. How any religious Christian - let alone Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist or Jain can hold him in high regard is beyond the scope of reason. And yet, his political base is filled with a particular breed of evangelical who see him as the anointed of G-d.

What gives with these people? And what does it say about these peculiar folks who many refer to as “Christian Nationalists,” or “Dominionists,” though I prefer “Christianists.” In an op-ed which ran recently in the New York Times, writer Katherine Stewart noted that This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself. They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership. These Christianists are potentially quite dangerous to democracy, tolerance and morality. They are to Christianity what Islamists are to Islam: corrupters of faith who have turned an ancient belief structure into a “divine” rationalization for autocracy, intolerance and bigotry.

One month prior to the recent midterm elections - in which the Democrats delivered a body blow to both ‘45 the GOP, a thousand theaters across the United States screened “The Trump Prophecy” . . . the worst-rated movie of all time. Produced by Liberty University (founded by the late Jerry Falwell) The Trump Prophecy sought to convince undecided evangelical voters that ‘45 and his minions are as pivotal to American history as was Cyrus to the Jews; just as Cyrus freed the Jews of Persia to return and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, so has "‘45 moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump+Cyrus.jpg

Even Israel has gotten into the act. Recently, an Israeli organization, the Mikdash (Hebrew for “Temple”) Educational Center, minted a commemorative “Temple Coin” depicting ‘45 and King Cyrus side by side, in honor of the POTUS’ decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Israeli P.M. Netanyahu (who like the American president is being hounded by an official investigation into possible crimes including bribery and personal enrichment) has heavily implied that ‘45 is Cyrus’ spiritual heir. To the Israeli P.M. and all the Christianists who have thoroughly reveled in The Trump Prophecy, the president is just like Cyrus: a man who is not Jewish and does not worship the God of Israel, but he is nevertheless portrayed in Isaiah as an instrument of God — an unwitting conduit through which God effects co’s (“his/her)” divine plan for history. Cyrus is, therefore, the archetype of the unlikely “vessel”: someone God has chosen for an important historical purpose, despite not looking like — or having the religious character of — an obvious man of God. It is but a two-hour movie away from making the connection between Cyrus and ‘45.

How very, very fitting that the worst-rated movie of all time should be about the worst president in the history of the republic.

And how utterly frightening.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone