Kamala Harris

Debate or Dumb Show?

In the world of theater, the worst criticism an actor dreads is called, “mugging.” Or, as it is more generally known: overacting.  Last night I watched the first Democratic Vice-Presidential debate.  Political events are necessarily ‘bigger- than- life,’ but this one was beyond ‘over the top’ on the part of Senator Kamela Harris.

Playing to the cameras, to the audience present at the debate and to the television audience, she projected a blaring subtext that overshadowed her script. Her political message was upstaged by the character she played, a sympathetic, loving, and doting mother speaking to her naïve son (Vice-President Pense) in the presence of her guests (us). From the beginning of the debate to its conclusion, there was not an instant that she was not on stage—not the stage provided for the debate, but the world stage. I struggled to take my eyes off her. I was mesmerized by her performance.  

When she spoke, her attention alternated between the stage and us. When he spoke, she looked toward him with adoring sympathy as a parent often does when her child is unwittingly ‘cute’ in the company of adults.  Several times she even pretended that she had difficulty holding her breath from laughter so that her child would not be embarrassed by his gaffes. She shared those precious moments along with knowing glances towards her guests. 

But her performance had a profound flaw. In theater, an audience knows and enjoys authentic  bigger- than- life comedy, whether it is sophisticated or in the style of tongue-in- cheek British Musical Hall. But, in real life, sarcasm, superiority, and condescension are all too real. Ridicule blended with false smiles is the most offensive insult, generated only by intense hatred. Kamala was not interpreting a character. Her performance was starkly transparent. Her Dumb Show revealed an ugly truth about her real character.

Americans deserve better than that.    

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Assault on the Lady in the Harbor

Sometimes, a rhetorical question (formerly known as ‘begging the question’) is sufficient to provide us with an answer to that question, with or without Omar’s razor-sharp advice.

[Before I ask a rhetorical question in the next paragraph, I must once again state a kind of waiver, i.e: This article is not about President Trump. It is an example of the shortage of reason that pervades much of current society.]

Question: In a world of seven billion people and counting, why would a man who is one of the wealthiest people on earth and President of the United States, serve as a Russian agent, thereby committing treason?

The current uncharacteristic animus amongst Americans compels me to tell you that I’m neither Liberal nor Conservative. And I’m not sexist or prejudiced. (I also don’t plead to have someone believe I’m objective. But I am.)

There is an irony about my objectivity: When I speak to a liberal and a conservative at the same time, the liberal thinks I’m a conservative, the conservative thinks I’m a liberal. So much for circular arguments! In any case, I don’t expect either of them to change an iota of their political views.

As the two go at each other, I’m marginalized. That doesn’t bother me at all. Instead of being upset or breaking into their circular arguments, I listen to their angry voices and look at their body language, especially their glazed eyes and tightened jaws while the other is speaking. Of course the same is true when I speak one-on-one to a partisan of either political party.

All that is aggrandized when strangers fight in the streets and suffer serious injuries; at times, resulting in death.

While a plethora of partisan claims and counterclaims continue, the fundamental political issue is whether or not this nation will take a major step towards socialism—a specter that Bernie Sanders now correctly and triumphantly proclaims, “has become mainstream.”

That which both obscure and prestigious university professors imparted to university students is threatening to flower in America. I’m certain that academia has powerfully contributed to the advancement of socialism. I’m certain of that because I was a student at N.Y.U. in the fifties, and I now hear echoes of those professors when I speak to university students. The same is true of prominent politicians.

Since radio, the Internet, and especially TV, are saturated with sounds and images of a nation that has not been as divided since the Civil War, I will try to restrict my comments to brief personal observations.

As tragic as the death of George Floyd and the initial spontaneous riot may be, the endless continuing riots are not spontaneous…at times, the demeanor of rioters appears to be festive—that particular assessment may be harsh, but I know that being beaten and kicked in the head is barbaric…looting is motivated by greed, not anger…for many rioters, playing the role of martyrs in a country that will (understandably) not severely punish them—let alone execute them—is an exotic form of slumming…Washington is not the Bastille…destroying cities emulates the senseless destruction of Atilla who was known as ‘The scourge of God.’…he, too, had no ’reason’ to destroy cities—he did so simply because they were cities…as I wrote in my previous article, the bullies in the mob are having a great time.

Observing a nation fall into the oppression of collectivism is a nightmare. I’m almost sure that America will remain a Representative Democracy. I hope I’m right!

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“It’s a Great Time for…

…looters, bullies, intimidators, assaulters, destroyers, and anti-Americans, foreign and domestic.”        

                                                                                                          Me

Looters? It’s a great time to pick up free stuff.

Bullies? It’s a great time to hurt people and feel really good about it.

Intimidators? It’s a great time to feel the thrill of terrifying people.

Assaulters? It’s a great time to attack the peaceful “because I can.”

Destroyers? It’s a great time to create the chilling sound of Shattering glass.

Anti-Americans? It’s a great time to bash America.

It’s also a great time for irrational demands.  You hate America? No problem: Declare a sovereign state in the middle of United States territory. You are disturbed by police brutality? No problem: Abolish the Police Department.  Everyone knows that the less police, the less crime. And, by all means, transform peaceful protests to violent riots and heighten partisan hate hyperbole.

Hyperbole doesn’t necessarily scream in headlines. It also whispers in its subtext.

When speaking about the incident on TV, a crafty lawyer used the word ‘genocide’ to describe George Floyd’s tragic death. That lawyer knows that genocide refers to mass killing. ’Systemic Genocide’ is not happening in America.

I am not prejudiced against any race and never have been. But I’m not about to accept guilt for the political ‘original sin’ of America: slavery. But I take African Americans at their word when they relate their bad experiences with the police. I also carefully cut through the narratives of social media so that I might discern, as best I can, the overall truth about a specific fatal incident.

The common denominator of virtually all fatal encounters is the pivotal point where a detention or routine arrest suddenly becomes a life or death incident. For years, I’ve posited that it’s too bad that witnesses and cameras do not necessarily tell the whole story. To further obfuscate truth, political partisans imagine or deliberately lie about an event.

For instance, Representative Maxine Waters said of Officer Derek Chauvin (the officer that held George Brooks in a carotid chokehold): “He enjoyed doing what he was doing. I believe some of these officers leave home thinking, ‘I’m going to get me one today and I think this is his one.’’’ (Ms. Waters is not well known as a peacemaker. I saw Officer Chauvin both live on TV at the scene and later in a close-up of that scene on the Internet. He was anything but enjoying himself.

In the past, when Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were killed in separate instances I regretted the absence of cameras. I thought cameras would have helped avoid the controversial perceptions associated with both their cases.

Also in the past, when the Eric Garner incident was clearly recorded in daylight  with cameras, it became clear to me that the cause of death is not exclusively limited to the use of firearms. Mr. Garner was not shot, but he choked to death as a result of a carotid chokehold.

But the recent George Floyd tragedy definitively demonstrates that the carotid chokehold must be banned no matter what the circumstances. I’m certainly not qualified to judge the pros and cons of restraint tactics, but I’m sure that being handcuffed and restrained by additional non-life-threatening restraints must replace the chokehold immediately. 

       

A few one-liners that speak for themselves

Calling a looter ‘depraved,’ is to flatter him.

The most dangerous fascist organization in America is Antifa.

Defunding the police is a criminal’s most fervent dream.

Abolishing the police is an undertaker’s most fervent dream.

Socialism and communism are fraternal twins.

Fascism and Nazism are identical twins.

Debating a relativist is like walking on intellectual quicksand.

Gangs are cowards in wolves clothing.

Anarchy is a one-way ticket to the death of civilization.

Compassion is the greatest of all moral values.

The common denominator for tragic arrests is not racism. It’s the product of intense conflict (see my post, Justice, Prejudice, and Testosterone, April 9, 2012.)

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Ageless

I am what is euphemistically referred to as ‘elderly’ or ‘a senior citizen’ or ‘well-on in years.’ But if I’ve experienced the alleged ‘golden years,’ I haven’t noticed it. I think that’s because I’ve never allowed my age to be a significant factor in my relationship with people whatever our age  differences.  There is nothing remarkable about that characteristic, but it has profoundly enriched my life, even now at the sunset of my life. In retrospect, I realize that the catalyst for and maintenance of a meaningful friendship is to appropriately marginalize age differences and keep it that way.

Actually, age differences are inherently deceptive anyway. For example, Person A may be far more advanced intellectually than Person B although Person A is much younger than Person B. Over the years, I’ve also noticed that a person’s positive characteristics get even better as that person ages and that the same person’s negative characteristics get even worse with age. I’ve also noticed an overwhelming tendency for most people to ‘freeze’ during their teens or early twenties in terms of their political, religious, and social beliefs. And so on.

I’m 92 years of age, or should I simply say, “I’m 92 years old”?…Yes, that sounds better. When I was a young man, I vowed that I would not fall prey to geriatric fears. Maintaining that  vow requires objectivity. I have easily kept that vow. For example, if I momentarily forget a word or the title of a film, I don’t panic. Instead, I remind myself that on occasion I also used to forget a word or the title of film when I was young. We all have “senior moments,” even when we are teenagers. I know my brain cells are still dancing. And so on.

I also know that my taste buds are still very much alive. When I tell a young person that fruits don’t taste like they did when I was young, the response often is, “You just think fruits don’t taste as they did when you were young. You’ve just lost a lot of taste buds, that’s all.” But when I come across a ripe Comise pear, I know it tastes as it always did decades ago: uniquely   delicious! A few days ago, a friend sent me a dozen oranges for my 92nd birthday. I ate four of those oranges in a row. I know they tasted like they did when I was young: aggressively delicious.  And so on.                           

And, best of all, I also know that my capacity for love—like the speed of light—remains constant.

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A Broken Heart

Background

On May 2, 2018, I posted an article titled, The Tyranny of Conformity, in which I describe the struggle of an autistic man to obtain a Driver’s Permit. ‘John’ comprehensively knows the  answers to 100 driving questions in driving manuals, including that of the DMV’s Driver’s Manual. He is also able to pantomime the answers as he answers them. For example, if he is asked to do so, he can simultaneously speak an answer while using his hands to depict the meaning of the answer: For a wordless road sign like “slippery when wait,” ‘John’ uses his hands to represent snow, rain, and ice, and for good measure, holds on to an imaginary steering wheel while he sways from side-to-side to indicate the car is skidding. Yet, his quest for a driver’s license is on hold for a variety of reasons, none of which has to do with his ability to pass a DMV permit test.

Update

But this article refers to my far deeper concern for him, especially in terms of his future. That concern has grown since our relationship as tutor and student has become a relationship that resembles that of a grandfather and his grandson.

On my part, I see myself as the father in the film titled Life is Beautiful, in which a father shields his son from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp by pretending that he and his son are playing a game.

At twenty-five years of age, John is part man, part boy. When I interact with children, I enter into their world (as, in part, I often do with adults). From the beginning, I knew that to interact with John I needed to be two people: One, a loving grandfather who is irate because his grandson is stealing his cookies, and the other as myself when I speak to John about adult issues.  Playing the grandfather, I change my manner and even my voice.  Like a child, John goes along with my game. But a slight smile that John is unable to suppress betrays his understanding that we are just playing a game. When he comes to study or just visit me, I stop him at the door and, as the grandfather, sternly ask him:  “Are you going to be bad or good?” He cheerfully answers, “Goooood!” “Did you come to make trouble?”  He emphatically answers, “Nooooo!”

“Okay, now you may come in.”

On the Fourth of July about three years ago, I was sitting at my window watching neighbors celebrating the holiday. The aroma of grilled chicken, hot dogs, and hamburgers was deliciously pungent. Neighbors across the street gave John a shish kabob packed to the brim. Before John began to devour it, he came to my window, held the skewer vertically in front of him, and brandished a smile of total contentment.  I responded with cheerful laughter. But inside, I couldn’t dismiss the disheartening thought that this is the best my ‘grandson’ can look forward to in his life.

Like the father in Life is Beautiful, I shield John from the truth about negative events and circumstances he experiences. John is as innocent as the boy in Life is Beautiful. The boy’s father knows that he must not reveal the truth to his son. I know that in certain circumstances I must do the same for John. The most disturbing of those circumstances is the ambivalence associated with his potential ownership and use of a car. I’ve become entangled in a dilemma that was initiated by a misunderstanding a year or two ago when John brought me a Driver’s License manual.

I thought his father wanted me to teach John how to drive. So, within the parameter of tutoring him about the rules of the road and having him sit in the passenger seat as I demonstrated driving ‘live,’ I tutored John about driving skills. In the course of that tutorage, John’s expectations grew, fueled by the knowledge that a car has been donated to him and waiting for him in a relative’s garage! Coupled with all that, there is my empty garage which I’ve promised John he would have at his disposal when he gets his driving license.

On the surface, those circumstances seem unimportant. But underlying them is the prevailing pathos of John’s life as an autistic man. A part of the autistic spectrum compels him to repeatedly  ask the same question. I believe that his repetition is caused by the need for reassurance. For instance, when John asks me a question, he phrases it so that there can be only one answer: the one he was promised would be the answer. And his questions are often implied rather than directly expressed as a question. He’ll say, “I have a bike…” pauses, and expects me to say, “…and a car.”  During the pause, his expectation is clearly written on his face. Or, he’ll say, “I’ll get my license when…pauses, and expects me to say, …”when you pass the road test.” He’ll also directly ask questions: “Where will I put my car?” I respond, “In my garage.”

It saddens me when I cheer along with him while knowing that it’s a very, very long shot for him to get a driver’s license and park his car in my garage. I hope he doesn’t think I failed him when I die.

When John phones people they often don’t answer. He waits a very long time for them to pick up their phones before he sadly gives up. I always answer quickly. And when John calls me at a time when I can’t pick up my phone, I call him back as soon as I can.  He has a guarantee that one way or the other I will always respond to his call. I want him to remember that there was someone in his life who always fully responded to his calls or messages. He calls me every night before he goes to bed.  At the end of every phone conversation, I wait until he says ‘goodbye’ before I hang up.

John visits me often and we tell each other about our daily experiences, have soup together in the winter and ice-cream in the summer, and have our private jokes, one of which is bitter-sweet and encapsulates the essence of our relationship. I have a niece who sometimes calls me late at night. I’ve told John that if he gets a busy signal when he calls at night, it’s my niece who is on the phone and that her calls are lengthy. So, he should not wait until she hangs up, but just go straight to bed.

When I first asked John, “What do you do if you call me late at night and you get a busy signal?,” John answered, “Go straight to bed!” Lately, he has not waited for me to ask him that question. Instead, he more and more elaborately blurts out, “When I get a busy signal, I go straight to bed!” He gets very excited as he says that line and anticipates my response. When he delivers that ‘punch line,’ I laugh every time as though I hear the line for the first time. But while I laugh, I hold back tears.

Despite the popular belief that autistic people have no compassion John put his arm around my shoulder when I returned from the hospital after a bout with pneumonia. Apparently, he’s as concerned about me as much as I am about him. I believe that compassion is the greatest of all emotions.  It’s my good fortune to know my friend, ‘John.’

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