Tuesday, August 1, 2017

An Itch About North Korea

I've got an itch that this piece is going to help me scratch. It's about North Korea.

There's been a big hullabaloo about North Korea's nuclear ambitions, most pointedly about its ICBM that would be able to reach Seattle. Nuclear weapons are a threat to mankind — whether they're in the arsenals of the United States, Russia, China, Israel, or North Korea. But the hype about the North Korean ICBM is ludicrous. Can you imagine what would happen if Kim Jong Un had the audacity to send its missile our way? That would be the end of North Korea.

To justify the fear being instilled in us about the danger to Seattle, Kim is being incessantly portrayed as a monster with no regard for human life. He may be as bad as he's being portrayed, but I have a few questions: (1) Have we ever heard a speech, much less a word, by Kim? (2) From every scene of North Korea that reaches our TV screens, most of which are of a military nature, we are meant to get the impression that it's a failing country bolstered only by its military might.

I'm not suggesting that Kim is being given a bad rap, only that it's a rap not supported by anything from his own mouth. And if, as implied by Western reports, that the North Koreans are miserable under the dictatorial whims of Kim Jong Un, we have not seen any evidence of it.

While I feel that nuclear proliferation must be stopped, It seems evident to me that North Korea considers its nuclear weaponry a defensive plus, just as we do our own nuclear stockpile.

We are living with the greatest irony of all time: that keeping the peace depends upon possession of the most destructive power ever created. The danger lies not that the leadership of civilized nations — including North Korea — will use atomic weapons, but that this power may fall into the hands of terrorists who are only too willing to blow themselves up along with everyone else in the misguided notion that that is the true path to heavenly bliss.

We must find a way to deal with North Korea as we would with any other nation. Not doing so is more dangerous than the portrait we're painting of it.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A word from our sponsor…

First, a word of praise. The imagination and computerization that goes into the creation of today’s commercials hawking skin creams or peanuts is astounding. Despite my distaste for commercials generally, I’m often mesmerized by the incredible productions involved. That being said…

According to Section 5 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, there are limits on how much time may be spent for commercials. Depending on the time of day, it ranges from 13 to 16 minutes per hour. That’s one-quarter of the show. And who do you think pays for those very expensive commercials? We do, in the price we pay for the advertised products.

Excuse me?

Frequently, when I select a column in the Internet edition of the Washington Post, a video commercial would appear before the column does. It either gives me the option to click onto an “X” in the upper right-hand corner, thereby cancelling the commercial, or it informs me that the commercial will end in 15-or-so seconds. I grit my teeth and wait to read the column.

Bad enough. But one morning, while reading a Post column, a video commercial popped up in mid-sentence. For a split-second I thought a virus had taken over. It’s one thing to have commercials at the top, on the side, and sometimes right in the middle of the column, but to be reading when, without warning, a video pops up is the last straw.

I suppose it’s legal, and that a lot of money is involved, but while we tolerate commercials as the price we pay for watching “CSI” or “Survivor,” the intrusiveness of commercials has gotten out of hand.

Now hear this

There is an act called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act — the CALM Act. This act ostensibly prohibits advertisers from raising the decibel level of their ads higher than that of the program. This is as useless as prohibition was.

First of all, decibel levels rise and fall with the type of sound being delivered. An actress letting out a scream is far different than the sound of two lovers whispering sweet nothings to one another. It’s the same with commercials. I’m hard of hearing, so I watch TV with headphones. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to take them off when a blaring commercial comes on. The ad agencies that create those commercials know how to get your attention, both with sound and content, even while staying within the rules of the CALM act.

What’s this about?

Something strange has happened to commercials. Time was when a commercial would introduce a product, tell you how good it is, and urge you to buy it. They were straightforward: “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, twelve full ounces, that’s a lot…” Today the expensive scenarios of most commercials have little or nothing to do with the product; their aim is to get you to remember the product’s name, which is flashed on the screen at the end of the commercial. 

Example: one of the many different GEICO commercials features a hobo chicken. The chicken has left the farm and is seen first in a photograph held by the farmer, and then aboard a train heading for who knows where. Nothing to do with insurance. On TV these days a product’s logo is not necessarily an abstract design, it’s a duck, a gecko — or a chicken.

Wanna buy a plane?

Then there are a bunch of commericals with no product for sale. Well, not the kinds of products on store shelves. “My mom works at GE,” says the cute girl after screen images of airplane engines and other contrivances made by GE. What’s this all about, I wondered. Why, of course, invest in the company!

The airplane manufacturer Northrup-Grumman has come out with a number of mysterious-looking commercials featuring sleek military aircraft, with ominous percussive sound effects accompanied by imaginative lighting. Anyone in the market for an enormous deadly airplane? I didn’t think so. Again, investment is the aim.

This tirade is over. But, like Howard Beale in the film “Network,” I’m mad as hell. Until there’s a successful movement against all this nonsense, I guess I’ll have to take those tedious, barely comprehensible commercials — plus two Aleves…or should I stay with six Tylenols?

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Proudly proclaim yourself a being of infinite worth.
Whatever your station, your means, your gifts,
you are a child of the Earth,
with flesh and blood and brain
that give you thought and motion,
as with all who claim their rightful place
amid life's chaos and commotion.
Your days will wrack and disappoint
and test your will at every turn
while contentment begs for space.
However long your span may be
it's yours to forge a path untrod
among the human race.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Some Afterthoughts

Postmortems are inevitable after an election. The shocking result of this race brought out more should-haves than most: the Clinton campaign didn’t devote enough time and energy to the white working class, especially in the Midwest; the Comey letter was a killer; etc. I’d like to add my two cents — no, three cents.

One: Why did 43 percent of eligible voters stay home? The outcome was decided by only a little more than half of the electorate. Since voting in the U.S. is voluntary, there are always stay-at-homes. But 43 percent is staggering. Some eligible voters were probably turned off by a seemingly endless and brutal campaign. Others didn’t care for either candidate. Then there are the endless efforts by Republicans to reduce the turnout by fraudulently claiming that they’re trying to combat fraud at the ballot box. Not coincidentally, their targets were predominantly Democratic-leaning, mostly minority, areas.

The U.S. ranks 31st of the 35 countries in the Organization for Cooperation and Development, most of whose members are developed democracies. Belgium ranks first, with 87.2 percent having voted in its 2014 election. It is one of several countries in which voting is mandatory. It wouldn’t be easy getting mandatory voting through Congress, but there’s no good reason we can’t change elections to the weekend, as is the case in many countries. This won’t get us up to Belgium’s standard, but making voting more convenient will certainly increase turnout.

Two: Why Trump? Whatever shortcomings there were in the Clinton campaign, they don’t compare with Donald Trump’s outrageous campaign. Not since George Wallace has there been a candidate more blatantly racist, sexist and xenophobic. He went from lie to lie, insult to insult, and outrageous promise to outrageous promise. Yet he garnered some 60 million votes.

Yes, there were a “basket of deplorables” supporting him: white nationalists, Nazis, anti-immigrationists. But the vast majority were expressing discontent with “the system.” The improving economy and decreasing unemployment somehow didn’t reach them. The brash “outsider,” Donald J. Trump, would turn it all around. They felt so strongly about it that they were willing to overlook his sickening bigoted behavior. So what if Hillary Clinton made more sense and had the qualifications to be president? She was part of the “establishment” — political jargon that has no meaning, but which has been hammered home to the populace as a pejorative — and consequently she is for the elites and not for “us.” And no doubt some men were simply not ready to vote for a woman to be president.

Three: Democracies are defined by the proud standard, one person, one vote. But the Electoral College undermines that standard; it should be laid to rest. Twice in 16 years, and five times since the 1830s, a candidate lost the election despite having a majority of the vote. It’s time we told our Founding Fathers that we have more faith in the people than they did when they conceived that elitist idea.

Would I still feel as I do if a Republican candidate got more votes than the Democrat but lost due to the Electoral College? Yes, I would. As long as the popular vote is fair I’m bound to accept the result. Would Donald Trump feel the same way? Hmmm.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Shapes of Discontent


There’s a word for the ages. Who has never been discontented at one time or another? In fact, it’s what makes the world go ’round. If not for discontent there’d be inventions, no explorations, no revolutions — in short, no progress. And election time is a bellwether for discontent.

Throughout this campaign for president we’ve heard that word a thousand times: The Sanders supporters are discontented; the Trump supporters are discontented. True enough, but the reasons for discontent go from A to Z. There are laudable reasons to be discontented: unemployment, low wages, housing shortages, racist oppression, inadequate health care, etc. And there are bad reasons — which include hatred and fear: racism and xenophobia to name two.

Based upon Trump’s campaign — which was a mishmash of populist proposals as well as insults, bigotry, and obviously crazy ideas like building that wall on the Mexican border — I must conclude that those who voted for him either overlooked or agreed with his outrageous statements and behavior. That is very troubling.

It is one thing to be understandably discontented, but quite another to be indifferent to or in favor of hateful ideas that create division, not unity; that augur chaos, not progress.

We will be making a big mistake if we overlook the evil aspects of Trump’s drumbeats, which made hatred an integral part of his campaign. We must take seriously the embrace of Trump by David Duke and his racist ilk, by the so-called “alt-right,” a neo-fascist crop from which Trump appointed Steve Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, to be his campaign manager.

I could not agree more with the following excerpt from a post-election statement issued by Elizabeth Warren:

“The Democrats’ first job in this new era: We will stand up to bigotry. There is no compromise here. In all its forms, we will fight back against attacks on Latinos, African Americans, women, Muslims, immigrants, disabled Americans – on anyone. Whether Donald Trump sits in a glass tower or sits in the White House, we will not give an inch on this, not now, not ever.”

We are stuck with four years of Donald J. Trump as president. How those years play out must not be left to him. There's no question in my mind that there will be much disillusionment among many, if not most, of those who voted for him. It's up to all of us to channel that discontent and move the country forward, despite the man with the funny hair.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Deplorable Situation

A few weeks ago, in a letter to the New York Times, the writer was critical of those who support Donald Trump based on their economic circumstances. He wrote, “Hard times is no excuse for ignorance.” In a similar vein, the theme of Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter With Kansas” was that election after election working- and middleclass Kansans vote against their self-interests, supporting Republicans who promise them the moon but deliver only Earthly hardship.

Millions of voters are supporting a candidate who is not only unqualified but is more blatantly evil than any we’ve ever seen. In the GOP primaries, Trump's playground epithets alone should have made him the first to bite the dust: “Little Marco,” “Lying Ted,” “Low Energy Jeb,” etc. And now, as the Republican nominee, he treats to “Crooked Hillary,” who should be “locked up.” None of the other Republican hopefuls was a bargain. But Trump's overt racism, misogyny, xenophobia and insults are in a class by themselves. Why did so many primary voters select him over so many less virulent rivals?  

As we enter the final weeks of this outrageously long and long-winded campaign, the polls indicate that Trump will be defeated. But we must be concerned about the state of the electorate, now and after the elections are thankfully over. The attitudes that motivated millions to support him must be addressed; they will not disappear upon his defeat. If not for her too generalized phrase that “half of Trump’s supporters” were a “basket of deplorables,” Hillary Clinton hit the nail on the head as she was actually referring to the white supremacists, xenophobes and Nazis who have enthusiastically jumped onto Trump’s grotesque bandwagon. (To get a frightening glimpse of those groups, hundreds of which are scattered throughout the country, I recommend the material issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Check out the SPLC Website.) 

While there's no way to know how many of Trump's supporters belong in that “basket,” we can assume that most of his supporters are simply feeling disgruntled with “Washington” — for whatever reason — and are voting for Trump less out of conviction than out of anger — or that many of them just hate Hillary Clinton, thanks to the 30-year hatchet job by Republicans and right-wing media. And as we near the finish line, we're treated to the spectacle of a presidential candidate whipping up that anger, accusing the elections of being “rigged,” the media of being biased against him, and encouraging actual insurrection if Clinton wins.

It's vital that Donald Trump not only be defeated but trounced in every state, and — equally important — take his down-ballot candidates to defeat with him. Only with a Democratic turnover in Congress will it be possible to move the Clinton administration forward, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the forefront of that movement. That's the only path toward assuaging whatever grievances are motivating masses of  Trump's supporters, and it's the best weapon to crush the actual deplorables.