Showing posts with label WW II. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WW II. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Are we doomed to repeat history?

Entitlement: this is what passes as a “Constitutional Right” even as we, as a nation, confront potential existential threats to our “pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The threats seem to be ubiquitous. Ones such as environmental degradation, political divisiveness, income inequality and racial injustice are long term, systemic, and need to be dealt with through legislation, the courts, and at the voting booth.  But another is immediate and it is a behavioral issue: COVID-19.  Changing behavior is not something that can be merely legislated or policed. It is more of a matter of acting with an esprit de corps.

During the Spanish Flu of 1918 there were no antibiotics, steroids, ventilators, and no “Hail Mary” prospects of an effective vaccine or even a therapeutic.  Some 675,000 people died yet that number would have been much higher had not certain measures been widely adopted.  Which ones?  You guessed it, wearing a mask, social distancing, use of disinfectants and cancelling schools and large public gatherings. It was proven then that social distancing works. 

Even with the advantage of modern medicine, we have more than 125,000 deaths in the United States from CV-19.  This tally is already approaching 20% of the total of the Spanish Flu 100 years before, but we’re only four months or so into this pandemic.  And, the United States seriously trails other developed nations in controlling this, proving our utter ineffectual leadership.  One only has to compare our curve (which is really not a curve, but a flattening out and now another peak) to those of Europe, South Korea, Japan, and China.  No wonder we are now on the EU list of countries whose citizens are not welcome.

There are those who claim their right to not wear masks and to congregate in large crowds as being their “constitutional” right to do so (even our Vice President implied the latter last weekend).  In an embarrassing video of a recent Palm Beach County Commissioner’s meeting where they voted for mandatory face masks (as if there was any question), impassioned opposition comments included one woman saying it was equivalent to her being denied her individual freedom not to wear underpants.

No, lady, that is a false equivalency as not wearing underwear does not endanger anyone else. Perhaps she’s never heard of the “promoting the general welfare” clause which IS enshrined in the Preamble to the Constitution. (Indeed, there is nothing about wearing face masks or panties for that matter.)

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The point is, in order to secure the common good in this pandemic, we all need to work together.   How in the world did we conflate not wearing face masks with an “individual liberty?” Perhaps it can be traced to our President’s statements and his behavior which his sycophants (such as our Florida Governor) mimic.  Our President even implied that some Americans might wear face masks not as a way to prevent the spread of CV-19 but as a way to “signal disapproval of him.” It’s always about him, not about our welfare. 

During WW II Americans had to sacrifice for the common good.  Ration cards were given out for virtually every commodity.  Imagine if this generation was asked to sacrifice their “right” to fuel and sugar?  We would have lost that war and we are going to have more and more needless deaths in this CV-19 war because our lack of national leadership and thus our failure to pull together as a nation. Those who refuse to follow or deny scientific advice on attacking this critical threat are not patriots, but traitors.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

If Only In My Dreams

And so the classic song "I'll Be Home For Christmas" ends with that memorable line “if only in my dreams.”

And that is sort of the way I feel at this stage of my life.  Christmases are now dreams of the past, anticipating the holiday as a child and then the pleasures Ann and I had in creating memorable holiday moments for our children as they grew up.  The classic song itself is particularly evocative of the distant past popularized by Bing Crosby and so many others, first recorded at the peak of WW II. 

Undoubtedly it was played frequently by my mother and my grandparents with whom we lived while my father was in Germany at the conclusion of the War, wanting to get home, but he was part of the occupying force and didn’t make it home until right after Christmas 1945.  "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is probably implanted in the recesses in my mind as every time I hear it I feel a sudden melancholy. 

When my father came home he brought a wooden replica of the Jeep he drove in Germany for me.  I don’t remember his return, or getting the Jeep, but somehow that 70 year old Jeep has accompanied me to wherever I lived.  Sometimes when I look at it, I can hear "I'll Be Home For Christmas."

In some past blog entries I’ve posted videos of other Christmas songs I like to play, in particular the following:  “It's Love -- It's Christmas,”  a seldom performed Christmas song, written by none other than the great jazz pianist Bill Evans. And, then, “Christmas Time Is Here” is by Vince Guaraldi, a great jazz musician too but his music will always be associated with the Peanuts Christmas specials.
Finally, there is “Christmas Lullaby,” probably the most unknown Christmas song. It was written for Cary Grant by none other than Peggy Lee (Lyrics) and Cy Coleman (Music). It is the simplest of tunes and lyrics but therein is its beauty.

So, on the eve of this Christmas I post my piano rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” with fond memories of my Dad and Christmases past.

"I'll Be Home For Christmas"

I'll be home for Christmas;
You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mis-tle-toe
And presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

I'll be home for Christmas;
You can plan on me.
Please have snow and mis-tle-toe
And presents on the tree.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Monday, August 13, 2018

Random Thoughts, Rainy Day

I call them random thoughts as they are unconnected, except by a rainy day.  While the pitter patter of the rain can be soothing when living on our boat in the summer, torrential downpours, thunder and lightning are not.  Our dock is halfway into the Norwalk River, a long walk in wind driven rain, so while there are things to be done outside on the boat, and shopping to be addressed, today we are trapped inside a space which is a quarter of the size of my smallest NYC studio apartment.  Reading and writing are the best choices for today leaving the necessary errands and work for fairer weather.

Even writing has its challenges.  No Wi-Fi here so cellular is our only means of communication.  I’m accustomed to writing with things running in the background, particularly to look up facts, but on the boat I’m floating in space untethered.  

In a way I’m glad to have this opportunity as the next week will be almost entirely devoted to preparations for, and then the wedding of our son, Jonathan, to our soon-to-be daughter in law, Tracie.  Respecting their privacy I’m not going to say much about this eagerly anticipated affair, them, or their plans, but suffice it to say Ann and I are delighted, not only about the event, but they seem like perfect soul mates.

Last Friday we went into the city to meet them for a little “pre-wedding celebration” by having dinner at Hakkasan, a Cantonese restaurant with the most interesting food and ambiance, and it happens to be almost next door to the Tony Kiser Theatre where we had tickets to see Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts.  We had eagerly, and with some difficulty, obtained tickets after Terry Teachout’s laudatory review in the Wall Street Journal came out.  The play was highly praised as well by The New York Times.

There is much to be said in favor of this play in which six actors play non-chronological scenes in the life of this one ordinary woman and when you add them all up, they comprise what you would describe of each one of us, a unique life, and thus extraordinary in the same sense are those of the townspeople of Grover's Corners from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  I liked the concept and the postcard kaleidoscopic non-temporal nature of the play but somehow I was little moved. 

I’m not sure whether this is the fault of the play or Second Stage.  We had seats more than half way up stage right and whenever a character addressed stage left we could hardly make out the dialogue.  Apparently performers were not wearing microphones.  Letts tries to make a broad statement about the “ordinary everywoman” but I felt he was dissecting a gender like a helpless frog in a Biology 101 laboratory class.  Maybe the play reads better as admittedly I did miss quite a bit of dialogue.  Hard to see how one reviewer felt it will become one of the outstanding plays of the early 21st century, but what do I know.  Guess he had a better seat than I did.

Actually (and as I said, these are random thoughts), one could make the argument that in light of the #Metoo movement, this play, written by a man, putting a woman in this context, could be considered a watershed theatrical moment.  After all, look at what is playing now on Broadway and generating a lot of criticism because of their portrayal of women, revivals of Carousel (see previous entry), and My Fair Lady (will be seeing it soon), not to mention the adaptation of the film Pretty Woman into a musical (reviews pending), which put women in the historical context of the times in which the works were set.

Does this mean that political correctness should ban such plays?  Of course I find it despicable that Julie was beaten by Billy in Carousel but one must take the times into account.  Ban all non PC plays and they’ll be little left to see.  I think there may be a case of cultural lag, but the arts do begin to reflect the changing times and perhaps Letts’ play is admirable on that basis alone.  Sorry, in spite of some of the objectionable themes, I still revel in the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Lerner and Lowe!

Tomorrow night we see The Understudy at the Westport Country Playhouse by Theresa Rebeck.  Perhaps she will cast more light on the “roles” of men and women, although it has more to do with the place of the “celebrity” on stage. Something on that play another time, which may be a while given our next few weeks.

On to a completely unrelated subject.  Random thoughts indeed.  Nothing like falling asleep on a boat with a good book in one’s hands. I’m generally into fiction but I like well written history as well, so for the past several weeks my night time reading has been Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship.

This is one of the books which has been on my “to be read shelf” at home and I had just added Anne Tyler’s new novel, Clock Dance to that shelf.  Being an ardent Tyler devotee, I had intended to bring that book, but it is the hardcover 1st edition, with a beautiful jacket, and I didn’t want to ruin it in any way and decided it could wait until I get home.  I also have scores of books and plays to read on my iPad’s Kindle application, but bedtime reading requires a physical book for me, and thus, Meacham to the rescue.

Meacham is not only a great historian, but a skilled writer at the same time.  I’ve written about WW II in this blog, mostly from my father’s perspective, and of course I’ve read a number of histories, especially from the FDR viewpoint.  Meacham carefully, painstakingly brings out the great statesmanship of these two men, their developing friendship, FDR’s crafting the Lend Lease program to deal with Britain’s needs and yet at the same time balancing Congress’ anti-intervention inclination before Pearl Harbor, even having to deal with some pro fascist feelings stoked by the likes of Lindbergh.

But Churchill won over FDR and a bond of friendship developed, although both men had their own egos and insecurities to be served.  Thus, like all human beings, they were flawed but their trust in one another and their leadership truly saved democracy.  When Stalin became more of a factor, they grew somewhat apart, but Churchill warned FDR about Stalin’s own agenda, and was proven right, bringing them back together again.

Meacham makes copious use of original correspondence to underscore what these two men accomplished.  The book was written some fifteen years ago.  When read today one cannot help but think of those men and what, now, passes for “leadership” in our government.  To every inspirational letter written or eloquent quote of these two titanic leaders, juxtapose one of the endless uninformed, despoiled tweets of our current leadership.  Where would we be if our “transactional” President had faced the likes of Hitler and the needs of the British people in 1940?  The book really needs to be read in that light now.  I could quote galore to make this point, having turned down the corners of more than 50 pages for that very purpose, but now, with little time, on my old laptop, in the pouring rain, to what end?  Simply read Meacham’s brilliant work, and consider that question.  Roosevelt and Churchill made history. History did not make them.  They were the right leaders for terrible times. 

Do we have the right leaders for our times?  If you read Franklin and Winston, you may be asking (and answering) that question with every page.

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Orleans – The WWII Museum, Jazz, and Culinary Delights

We recently returned from a four day trip to the Big Easy.  Our last visit was in 1972 and we felt that we wanted to see the city again and also incorporate a meeting with the archivist at the WWII Museum to which I donated my father’s WWII scrapbook, his letters and hundreds of photographs as well as 16mm films.  My father was a Signal Corp photographer in the European side of the battle.  I’ve written about it extensively in my blog.

 I called him the accidental soldier, but weren’t most?  The Museum was very grateful to receive his collection (and I was relieved that it went to a good home).  That’s the good news but Jennifer Waxman, the museum’s archivist, indicated there is a long backlog in cataloging, digitizing and arranging for exhibitions of materials.  The museum is also involved in a substantial physical expansion.  So maybe in 2018 my father’s materials will see the light of day there.   

We toured the museum and marveled at the scope and quality of the exhibitions, including the traveling exhibition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.  Posters, photos, and newsreels tell the story of how the Nazi propaganda machine used biased information to sway public opinion during World War II.  There are obvious ominous parallels today to our ubiquitous fake-news-laden social media, so could it happen here?  Yes, unless we are capable of learning from the past.

The museum gives you a dog tag so you can follow the story of just one ordinary GI, with various posts to hear his story.  It makes you feel connected to the content.  This massive war was not just something you read about in the history books, it touched everyone and those who had to fight it, like my father, are heroes, each in his or her way.  Other well known GI’s have plaques in the museum, such as the writer Kurt Vonnegut who was a POW, and the filmmaker George Stevens who became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Signal Corps.  I felt a special connection to each as I worked with Vonnegut publishing The Vonnegut Encyclopedia and Stevens would have been my father’s ultimate commanding officer in the European Theatre.

Special efforts have been made by the museum to give credit also to the Afro-Americans and Japanese who fought courageously for the U.S. although one group was still segregated and the other had families living in internment camps.  And efforts are made to memorialize the women who “manned” the posts in heavy industry normally held by the men who were now toiling on the various battlefields.  I left with tears in my eyes, just trying to take in what this country sacrificed in lives, and how they all pulled together.  Indeed, they were the greatest generation. Compare that to today as we are coming apart at the seams, where the words sacrifice, compassion, and pulling-together are absent.

The Tom Hanks film, Beyond All Boundaries, sets the stage for a tour of the museum.  A must see. You can get a sense of what it must have been like to man a bomber, or be on a battlefield, to participate in the "war to end all wars."

From there, you can visit separate exhibits for the European and Pacific Theatres.  The US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center is also a must visit with vintage aircraft and armed vehicles of the era.  Watch the exhibit come into being by clicking onto the video at this link.  In particular, watch the reassembly of the B-17 ‘My Gal Sal” after it was recreated after countless hours of volunteer work, having been retrieved from where it lay abandoned on a Greenland ice cap for decades.

Be sure to visit their vintage 1940's soda shop where Ann and I shared an old fashioned malted milk shake.  I told her that as a kid I couldn't afford one, so we had NYC's famous "egg cream" which I remembered cost 10 cents vs. the malted milk's 25 cents.  (Now they're $7.00! at the WWII soda shop, but worth every drop of chocolate sweetness!) No wonder the WWII Museum has become a #1 must see when in NOLA.

Of course, there were other reasons to be in New Orleans: to soak up the jazz culture and to indulge in its culinary pleasures.  No grass grew under our feet in either department, Ann having researched restaurants and made reservations.  Luckily, our friends David and his sister, Nina, were great reconnoiters as they had recently been there for David’s daughter’s first jazz performance in the US.  She is a young jazz singer going to school in France and flew over to NOLA for an internship with the Parks Department.

David is a professional bass player and knew the “in” spots.  And with a recommendation from Nina, upon our arrival Sunday morning we made a beeline for the brunch at Atchafalaya –where we had made reservations a month in advance.  Knowledgeable locals go there for the best jazz and Bloody Mary’s (you make the latter yourself from a side bar brimming over with an extensive stash of ingredients, a virgin for me, vodka for Ann).  We took the St. Charles streetcar to get there, and ended up with a very long walk working up a hardy appetite which was more than fulfilled by an incredibly delicious brunch!

One thing about walking in NOLA, watch your feet!  Many of the old oak trees are forcing their roots towards the sidewalks, making them crack and heave.  We imagined an endless number of injuries as a consequence.  Half the time Ann needed me to hold onto her when it was very treacherous going.  Yet, NOLA’s streets invite walking, Mardi Gras beads still hanging from fences, trees. 

It is senseless to name all the great restaurants we ate at, but Felix’s had to be our favorite as we went back for a second lunch.  Raw oysters by the dozen or charbroiled!  The raw oysters were unlike any we’ve ever had, large, sweet, juicy, and served with personality at the bar.  At the Oyster Bar in NYC they’d cost a fortune.  A dozen at Felix’s cost $15!

The Royal Sonesta Hotel’s Jazz Playhouse features the incredible Germaine Bazzle who at 84 can still scat with the best of them.  It’s first come first serve to see her Sunday 8.00 PM show so we were seated at 7.15, enjoying their appetizers which satisfied as dinner (imagine, fried chicken and waffles!).   My Twitter entry has a brief clip of her performance.

The Royal Sonesta is on the infamous Bourbon Street which has always been and still is a tourist Mecca, particularly for the very inebriated so we were grateful to get an Uber back to our hotel which was in the business district, right around the corner from the French Quarter, but a good place to stay if you are allergic to all night noise as we are.

Another night we had a fabulous fish dinner at GW Fins, chatted with the very debonair owner and then followed that up with a visit to a local dive, Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub (serving drinks only) to see the local jazz legend Richard Scott.  Finding a seat is a battle. He has a huge following and plays with such abandoned joy as one can see from his face (upper left in the photograph).  This place is also on Bourbon Street so, again, Uber back to the hotel. 

A visit to the Mississippi River was a must which also involved touring the French Market (mostly tourist shops unfortunately, but, still, Ann bought a beautiful African-design dress there), and then we enjoyed the obligatory consumption of NOLA’s famous Beignets and chicory coffee.   

The New Orleans Holocaust Memorial is located in Woldenberg Park, right on the Mississippi as well, an “optical and kinetic sculpture, which is both a somber and hopeful tribute to Holocaust victims and Jewish people,” which looks different depending on your viewpoint.  It’s an unusual place for it, but its message powerful.

The river itself is the muddy one I remember, broad and powerful currents, one of the longest rivers in the world.  By its banks I caught a violinist engrossed in his music and the river’s flow.

Much of our last day was spent at the old US Mint, which is also near the French Market.  The New Orleans Jazz Museum is currently housed here and so we had the double enjoyment of touring what was once a fully operating Mint as well as the Jazz Museum which is operated by the US Parks Department (where David’s daughter, Stacy, interned).   

There are free 2 PM concerts there and we were lucky enough to catch the Kris Tokarski Trio which plays traditional NOLA jazz.  It was so enjoyable that my cheeks ached from smiling during the one hour performance.  A brief video can be seen on my Twitter feed here

There is also a special exhibit honoring the great Louis Armstrong, such an innovator and symbol of the city itself.  One can see the white piano of Fats Domino there as well.  Together, the concert and the exhibits make for a very moving history and keeping this going represents such a small expense, one that is apparently slated for elimination in the new US budget.  How we can abandon our very culture in favor of buying a few more bullets is dismaying.

That final night we saved the best for last, dining in a very innovative space, Restaurant Rebirth, housed in an old warehouse is now a farm to table restaurant with an unusual and creative menu.  The photograph of the shrimp-stuffed-with-eggplant appetizer speaks for itself!

Our hotel was across the street from what we came to call the “shop around the corner,” in this case a Watch and Clock Shop.  Every time we returned to the hotel its lamppost, clock and eagle grabbed our attention and so we finally decided to take a closer look.  I was curious how it still survived in this age of electronic everything and the answer is simple: old fashioned friendliness, service, and craftsmanship.  There we found a very reasonably priced pocket watch, one Ann can wear at the end of a necklace, so she can abandon her wrist watch and look stylish as well.  This has mechanical elements and one has to wind up the watch.  How many remember doing that in this age?  I also enjoyed their cat who they call Venus, as she’s like a fly trap, enticing you to pat her belly and then grabbing your arm by all fours.  I respectfully said hello to the kitty from a distance.

Early the next morning we were on our way home. What a great city to visit for a few days and to take in a culture unlike any other.