Posted by: raoulfelder | December 17, 2007

Choosing The Next President

           One thing is for sure.  The absolute dumbest way to choose a candidate is what we are doing now.  Utilizing 30 second sound bites, for instance, the result is, newspapers report that the best comment on a recent debate was Huckabee’s, “Jesus would not have run for President” which, aside from shedding no light on a candidate’s ability to be President, is not capable of logical comprehension. 

            Usually you expect the Democrats to field a varied and interesting cast of characters who want to be President.  Instead, we have Hillary Clinton, whose major achievement is being one step ahead of the Sheriff (and one might add, a couple of steps behind her plastic surgeon – I don’t mean to be catty, but in her early photographs of herself before plastic surgery, she doesn’t even look like a member of her own family), and Barack Obama, who is the Paris Hilton of candidates, i.e., like her, he is famous for being famous, and nothing else.

              The Republicans, on the other hand, have a former preacher, a former mayor, an OB/GYN doctor, two legislators, one of whom was a prisoner of war, and an actor who appears to be in various stages of decay.  Added to this debate was Ambassador Keans who seemed as out of place as a Shakespearean actor becoming a member of the Dead End Kids in a 1930’s movie, and made about as much sense.  In a recent debate, the moderator, who at worst looked like an Elsa Koch impersonator, and at best, a power-mad school marm, cut off even the limited debate that occurred on previous occasions.

            The public is entitled to real debates, because there are real differences and, instead of who said what,  40 years ago, we should be worrying about what is going to happen in the future, and which one of these people could rise to the occasion.  A Roman scholar said, “The only thing constant is change itself.”  Similarly, the only thing we know for sure is that every modern President has had to face some unexpected crisis and had to act decisively in response to it.  People have to make their own choice and, surely, the linchpin should be, Who would you have the most faith in to react appropriately to an unexpected crisis?

            God bless President Bush, but the fact is, the cameras caught him, when they told him about 9/11, as looking virtually brain dead or, to be charitable, like a deer caught in headlights.  We can’t take a chance in such a volatile, dangerous world, to let this happen. 

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Posted by: raoulfelder | November 12, 2007

9/11 AND BLAME

            Every time the subject of 9/11 comes up, the sunshine soldiers and summer patriots of the “could’ve, would’ve and should’ve” school of criticism lecture us about all of the mistakes that were made when 9/11 happened and its immediate aftermath.  Back in the real world, 9/11 was the most deadly attack on American citizens – claiming thousands of victims – that has occurred in the long history of this country.  Further, the strike was unexpected and without warning or suspicion of impending doom.  Of course, once it happened, the City could have simply been shut down.  But this would have devastated the economy of New York and in turn, since New York is both the central financial hub of both America and the world, not only would America’s economy have been ruined, but there would have been a worldwide economic collapse.
 
            On June 22, 1941, when Russia was attacked by Germany, Joseph Stalin was so paralyzed that for days he locked himself in a room in his Dacha, paralyzed into inaction, while the Nazis overran his country, killing and capturing literally hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and destroying the Russian air force – and this was after he was warned by numerous sources that the attacks were about to occur.
 
            This was not what happened here in New York.  The institutions of government were reconstructed on an immediate basis.  If business did not go on as usual, at least there was a reasonable facsimile thereof.  On the West Side Piers there was the astounding spectacle of each of the City agencies up and running in makeshift, but functioning, mode.  Large signs were hung over desks indicating “Corrections Department,” “Sanitation Department,” “Water Department,” “Social Service Department,” etc.  Huge fax machines spewed out hourly updates on the conditions of gas and power lines in the smitten area.  The Mayor gave almost hourly reports to the public, keeping them informed and calm in the knowledge that there was a steady hand at the helm.  An adjacent building was turned into a survivor’s center where missing loved ones could attempt to be contacted through a network of hospitals and aide centers.  While all the searching went on, Chaplains, aide workers, Red Cross workers, etc. were available both to administer to the family’s needs and take care of children at a play center while the adults went about their grim business.  Sadly, there were literally no survivors, but that was the fault of the despicable fanatic Muslims and certainly not the fault of any City official.

            Furthermore, notwithstanding any temporary confusion, the Federal Government immediately recognized who the guilty parties were, the armed forces were mobilized and accomplished devastating strikes against the right people.
 
            With the visual acuity of hindsight, the Emergency Response Center could have been constructed differently and in a different location.  Different precautions could have been taken to protect first and second responders.  But who knew?  If we knew when it was going to rain with any degree of certainty, we would never be caught without an umbrella.  The City acted on the best available information both before and after the event and, incidentally, as far as the Emergency Response Center was concerned, various Federal agencies were located in the same building and in the vicinity, and they, too, were devastated.

            Anybody who witnessed New York and the downtown area immediately after 9/11, at the same time had to be appalled at the degree of devastation and marvel at the correctness of the response of a Mayor who led rather than dither.  He wrote the textbook for the role public officials should assume when catastrophe strikes.  The people coming out of the woodwork now could well fit under the category, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”  Let us, and public officials – including the Mayor – be praised for what we did that was right, and not condemned for what could have been done differently, because we view, and judgment is made through the prism of time and knowledge certainly not available on 9/11.

Posted by: raoulfelder | November 6, 2007

Thoughts On the Writers Guild Strike

            The Writers Guild is about to go on strike and the networks shamelessly announced that this would immediately affect the evening talk shows and daytime soap operas by forcing re-runs to be substituted for their usual fare.  There was not a hint of embarrassment in this announcement.  Is it then admitted that we are left with television notables who cannot even carry on quasi-coherent conversation and actors who cannot improvise the subnormal discourse with other actors intended for the IQ challenged viewers addicted to TV’s daily inanities.

            Ghost  writers have become a recognized occupation beginning with  our Presidents down to our comedian (which, in some cases, might be the same).

            The role of  Ghost Writers first became memorialized in our political culture with FDR.  He utilized, among others, the services of Sam Rosenmund, a New York Judge, who Roosevelt brought with him when he moved from Governor to President.  But Roosevelt heavily edited the speeches written for him thereby molding it to his personality.  His “Day of Infamy Speech” – indeed that very phrase – was basically his alone.

            As time passed, the creative role of the President in writing his speeches became less and less, finally arriving at the point where he basically became an announcer.  Not only was it generally acknowledged Peggy Noonan was the author of Reagan’s Pont du Hoc speech but she wrote a book about it, explaining in exquisite detail how she crafted the speech.  Bottom line:  Reagan, the great communicator, was basically an announcer.  Can anyone imagine Lincoln hiring a speech writer to write the Gettysburg Address?  From there it goes downhill. Mere mortals who have a ghost write a book for them, usually have the decency to put “as told to,” or “with” etc. under the author’s name.  But not politicians.  Hillary Clinton’s best seller “It Takes A Village,” did not list any other writer except herself even though it was generally acknowledged that it was ghost written.  And, of course, the joke was that Kennedys’ “Profiles In Courage,”  was the first book written by a ghost writer to win a Pulitzer Prize.

            Now, can anybody imagine George Carlin or Jackie Mason not being able to carry on a conversation without somebody holding up cue cards?
 
            Maybe the strike is a good thing.  At least the public will discover that the Emperor has no clothes.  Lord knows, they might even be forced to buy a book written by its real author.

Posted by: raoulfelder | October 30, 2007

Race and Intelligence

            America is the home of the free and the land of the brave.  At least that is what we all learned in school.  A basic tenet of the role science has in a free society is that the government does not direct science or instruct scientists where their quests must lead; that scientists are free to explore and search for truth, whether that truth is convenient, politically correct, contradicts government policy, or runs contrary to the sentiments of the day.  Truth is truth, whether you like it or not and agree with its existence.  Truth is not like your wife who may look beautiful to you and ugly to your girlfriend, or vice versa.  When the Inquisition forced Galileo to recant the Copernican theory, after he did so, he muttered, “And yet [the Earth] it still moves.”
 
           Apparently a subject that has attracted scientists is the question of the correlation between race and intelligence.  Now don’t get us wrong.  We believe that basically this is an area of wasteful analysis.  In our lives, we don’t deal with “races,” we deal with individual people.  For instance, if science has determined that Jews are smarter than Buddhists, the fact is if we needed an operation, we would rather have a smart Buddhist picking up the scalpel than a dumb Jew.  But if scientists want to explore a particular subject for what they believe is a search for the truth, and want to waste their (hopefully, not the public’s) money on a particular piece of nonsense, so be it.
 
            A worldwide uproar occurred because Nobel Prize winner James Watson made a racist statement about the lower intelligence of Africans.  “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours,” according to the London Sunday Times, but then he added, “Whereas all our testing says, ‘Not really.’”  Who cares?  Even if true – which we believe it is not – it is basically an irrelevancy.  Does that mean, if Watson is to be believed, that Africans should not be entitled to an equal share of the economic pie, the right to be equally educated, or the right to have all the protections and benefits that government can offer?  In short, even if it were true – again, which we do not believe it is – who cares?  Might not centuries of exploitation and denial of the benefits of education and health facilities cause testing to be skewed?

            Watson’s position is eerily similar to that of Professor Arthur Jensen, who wrote an article in 1969 in the Harvard Educational Review wherein he postulated that racial differences in intelligence test scores may have a genetic origin.  He suffered the same fate as Dr. Watson.

            While one may believe or disbelieve this sort of pseudo-science – and we do believe these “results” should be dumped into the dustbin where we personally put global warming and the Loch Ness monster – scientists like Watson and Jensen should have a right to journey to wherever their scientific quest leads them and not be attacked personally.  The problem is, if we start attacking the scientists, somewhere down the line we will only produce scientists who produce what the government wants them to produce.  Their role will basically be one of validating positions that have already been taken by the authorities before they begin their undertakings.  Even if these explorations result in cockeyed results and theories and, in the long run, theories that should impact our thinking not one bit, the alterative – cutting off the scientists before they do the work, or making them feel that if they don’t produce the desired results they will be personally discredited – is much worse than the nonsense they eventually produce. 

Posted by: raoulfelder | October 4, 2007

100th Anniversary of the Plaza Hotel

            This week I attended the 100th anniversary of the Plaza Hotel.  About 1,000 people were packed into the area in front of the Hotel, by invitation, after having gone through a double security check.  There were many police facilities around the event, all paid for, undoubtedly, by the City.  Performing was an orchestra that looked like the New York City Pops, and behind that was a jumbo-thon television screen.  The orchestra seemed to be playing primarily Cole Porter songs.  Whoever made the choice of music was blithely oblivious to the fact that Cole Porter lived at the Waldorf Astoria and, in fact, his piano is still there.  It became apparent that most of the people were in real estate, congratulating each other for the reformation of the Plaza Hotel.  The unworthy thought that occurred to me was – congratulating each other for what?  There was no work of beauty to elevate or enoble a man’s sensibilities, there was no new invention, discovery, that will help people in terms of their health or welfare, no housing for people who don’t have homes – just a lot of people congratulating each other for building condominiums to sell to very rich people.  Is this really something that we need to celebrate?

Posted by: raoulfelder | September 7, 2007

Thoughts On E-mail

            People used to say, “Do right and fear no man; don’t right and fear no woman.”  And now e-mails have supplanted old fashioned snail mail, but yet, no such caution seems to be involved.  It seems that people feel that when they sit in front of their computer alone at night and type out all sorts of nonsense, somehow they are removed from responsibility for their missiles. 

            Currently, the Governor of New York appears, perhaps rightfully, perhaps wrongly, disinclined to release his e-mails that may be part of the scandal du jour, and, the Governor of New Jersey appears to be in trouble because of e-mails concerning his girlfriend, which he now, pursuant to a court order, has to turn over.  All of this is quite an apart and aside from the fact that any divorce lawyer will tell you about half of the people who come into their offices have a briefcase full of e-mails sent or received by a formerly believed-to-be-faithful spouse.  Various laws have been passed, such as one in New York, making it illegal to look at somebody else’s e-mail, but that doesn’t seem to deter jealous spouses.  They apparently operate under the proposition that if the computer is in their home, it is open season on whatever’s in it.

            Best advice:  don’t send e-mails of a personal nature unless you have no problem with your spouse – and eventually a judge – reading them.

Posted by: raoulfelder | September 4, 2007

If The Hsu Fits… Give it Back

            Don’t you think you would be pretty sore if somebody decided to take your money and make a charitable donation with it and not even ask your permission, nor even tell you to what charity the money was to go.  But that is exactly what Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer did.           

            Norman Hsu was an on-the-lamb businessman who had been wanted by the State of California on grand larceny charges and just surrendered to authorities.  Simple enough story!  But wait, it gets more involved.  Hsu had given $62,000 to Governor Eliot Spitzer’s and $23,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  A fundraiser for Mrs. Clinton called him “a bit of a political junkie.”  The media revealed his criminal background, and both Hillary Clinton and Governor Spitzer then said that they would take the money given to them by Hsu and donate it to charity.  Now really!  Hsu never intended that money to be given to charity.  He intended to donate it to two political campaigns.  The proper thing to do would have been to return the money to its source, not volunteer to be charitable with Mr. Hsu’s money.  But then again, politicians are good at spending other people’s money.

 

Posted by: raoulfelder | August 31, 2007

GLOBAL WARMING

Obviously, anybody this side of a lunatic asylum would not suggest that all the poisons, automobile omissions, factory smoke, and cow flatulations that go into the atmosphere could be doing any of us any good.  Of course, the cow flatulation problem could easily be resolved by mixing substantial amounts of Gas-X in with the hay.  But there is apparently a substantial amount of scientific authority (ranging from the scientists at NASA, the Brookhaven Laboratory, and various universities) that cannot merely be ascribed to payments from financially invested corporations suggesting that global warming is more hype than reality.  But one thing should be plain to even non-scientific types, and that is, simple arithmetic. 

In 2003, there was a monumental heat wave across Europe killing approximately 35,000 people – 2,000 in the U.K. alone.  This is an awful and painful statistic.  But worse is the fact that many more people die from the cold each winter.  In England alone, approximately 25,000 people usually die each year from the cold.  In Europe, over the same period that approximately 200,000 people died from heat, approximately 1.5 million Europeans died from the cold.  Also, probably because of expanding use of air conditioners, the death rate from heat is continually being reduced. 

Logically, the same global warming, whether one believes it is something we cause, or it is just one of those ebbs and flows that happen in the history of the world, at the same time saves many more lives by reducing the greater number of people who would otherwise die from the cold winters.  The arithmetic, though cruel and unfair, is simple, and suggests we need more research, and the fact that we should not facilely accept the fact that global warming is a people-created killer – or even is an unnatural phenomenon.

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