Thursday, September 27, 2007

"THE WAR" -- brilliant, ugly and total genius

Ken Burns' PBS documentary series, "The War," is total genius -- those who have missed it need to see it as soon as possible.
Burns has absolutely caught the pertinent parts of all major battles and the sense of what was happening in this country. By focusing on four cities and towns, as representative of certain attitudes and problems (segregation and the heinous interment of Japanese-American citizens), he has paid honor to the contributions of everyone and sacrifices - in many cases of people's freedoms and rights. The protests of certain Hispanic groups, about being "snubbed" in the original content, seems out of line. The war was SO massive that no amount of reasonable time could do justice to all possible contributions. The protests sonds too politically correct to me ... but I digress.
"The War" is a heartbreaking storyline. Burns has demystified the notion that this was a war of honor. It was a totally ugly affair (as death usually is) and he is driving that home like a jackhammer. The Episode 3 letters from Babe Ciarlo, corresponding from Italy, and then only to learn of his eventual death at the conclusion, brought tears to my eyes and also made my wife cry. You knew damn well it was coming but it still was upsetting. That is the quality of the writing and presentation.
It is the best thing on TV of its kind since .... well Burns' baseball and Civil War series. It is so superior to anything concocted on History Channel, etc. it isn't even close.
My wife said she wishes someone would chain George W. Bush to a chair and make his watch all of this to see what really happens to men when they fight and get killed in battle. It's horrific (Burns' has found film never seen before and it is graphic) and that smessage shines like a beacon as people today think that combat is something less than ugly.
I also present a top 10 list of the best WWII movies (actually 11 in no particular order).
Saving Private Ryan
The Longest Day
Stalag 17
Mister Roberts
Bridge over the River

From Here to Eternity
Run Silent, Run Deep
The Great Escape
The Big Red One
Schindler's List

Honorable mention goes to Sands of Iwo Jima; Letters from Iwo Jima; The Story of GI Joe; Battleground; Das Boot.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena, Louisiana: just more of the same

Having grown up in a different region of the country (Detroit, Mich.) and living through the 1967 Detroit riots, AND being considered a persecuted minority myself (Jewish) my attitude towards people of different races was shaped by direct events.
I have been the subject of anti-Semitism and open hatred for no reasons other than a set of beliefs. I've been denied jobs because I was Jewish and spat upon, called a "Christ killer" by the father of the friend I had across the street. The man physically threw me out of his house because he didn't want a Jew to that I had to treat everyone equally because NOT to do so would violate every principle I held - to act towards people the same way you wanted them to act to you (I guess it's the golden rule).
While racism and bigotry manifested itself that summer of 1967 is the harshest manner possible, it was still a shock to me to see the overt examples in the South. When I came by bus through Arkansas, we stopped in Newport for a rest break. Inside the terminal was the rest rooms - but here I saw one marked "whites only" and one reading "colored." I stood there like a zombie (I had been up for 36 hours) looking at the doors. So I asked the bus driver which one I should take since I was Jewish. He just tapped his arm to indicate skin color.
I decided still to wait.
Jena, Louisiana is no different, sad to say. You just can't wash that racist impression or that racist attitude out of people like a spot on a blouse. It has been ingrained for generations and since hatred is a learned experience, it gets passed down through future generations. You don't learn it in a book or on TV or through anything but your family.
Jena is just another example of such anti-social bullshit attitudes and it won't be the last. No amount of marching or closing one's eyes will make it go away.
Sadly, too many people have turned such bigoted feelings to Hispanics - for no other reason than a language and cultural barrier. They hate people who are different for that exact reason; they are afraid of those they don't understand and refuse to learn about them. In two generations, it will be someone else.
It just goes on and on and on ...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

FORD tough

As Collin County continues to establish itself as one of Texas’ fastest growing suburban counties, as well as in America, so does the level of its diversity. Neighborhoods are now populated by people of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Latin American descent – a veritable United Nations.
And then there are people who represent minorities like me.
FORDs. Fat. Old. Rumpled Democrats.
In the land of Lexus, Jaguar, Mercedes and Hummers, it is the BMW (blonde, materialistic white) that is all too often seen and heard. And too the dismay of the FORD, the BMW also rules politically; they’re just called Republicans.
Being a FORD is a family affair for me. My Dad was pretty much a FORD man until the day he died – the older he got, the more partisan he became. The man who grew up with FDR stood by those principles far more than anything he heard in the years afterwards. But I went voluntarily into that realm; no one, including my Dad, had to coerce me.
So what makes a FORD run?
FORDs don’t like to pay taxes anymore than any other person, especially when they surface in this new age form known as road tolls – apparently an increasingly popular mechanism among the ruling party in Austin to snatch money from its citizens without truth in labeling.
When the slogan “See the USA in your Chevrolet” was popular, it indicated the desire to ride the open roads – open as in free from cost other than related to the vehicle. Hell, Buzz Murdock and Tod Stiles drove their Corvette for free on “Route 66.” If it was good enough back then, it should be good enough now.
FORDs can want to save the environment but I might be among those who care less about what is being recycled and more about why it is easier to see the browning of the air I breathe. After all, when it rains, my truck should not have MORE dirt on it than before the sprinkles came.
But mostly, it was about how helped make this nation strong and vibrant – the men and women who built things – from skyscrapers to bridges to the tools that created them,
I believe the American workers are more responsible for the economic success and growth of this nation, following World War II (our golden jubilee apparently), than corporate management. Sadly, too many positions of those who make the products have been sacrificed overseas for profits’ sake while not enough suits and ties have suffered the same fate. You see, workers tend to be FORDS now and suits tend to like BMWs.
When I was a pup, American-made meant something; it stood for top grade quality. Of course, I come from a time when my refrigerator was made in Amana, Iowa, my Zenith television came from Chicago, my Emerson radio was built on Long Island and the phone was made by Western Electric – an American company. My baseball glove was an American Wilson model, my shoes came from Brockton, Massachusetts and my baseball bats had Louisville, Kentucky stamped on each piece of wood.
The cars were drove were ONLY made in Detroit because we supported the home team.
Our homes stood for American products, even if they cost a bit more than the cheaper brand. You do get what you pay for and the purchase of anything USA kept the economy strong by circulating money among families and neighborhoods and businesses – to buy more American products and hire more American workers – the ones who actually stood on the line.
Too many BMWs have turned the word “union,” into something dirty, unpleasant and vilified. But those same BMWs scream the loudest when all those foreign-made products, which flooded the market because of the low, low cost-per-unit price, began to make Britney and Buffy and Carter and others sick as dogs.
Gee, that really didn’t happen when American workers made those same items, did they?
In the land of BMWs, the honk of this old FORD just cannot be heard. The local BMW drivers run everything from the courthouse to the outhouse, which many of us find our lot in life. Republicans in this county deem it more appropriate to give themselves raises, where the average elected county official earns around $100,000 compared to the median salary far less than that.
And some of them bitch like little girls about not getting a slew of bonuses, out of my wallet for absolutely not a damn thing done in return. They, like all these BMW owners, believe it is their God-given right to make obscene amounts of money at the taxpayer’s expense.
Yet not a penny for the poor among us, either for health care opportunities for children or sick adults; no help for the homeless because the BMWs firmly believe that such people do NOT exist in Collin County.
I have always believed that no man needs to own a Rolex or any other expensive watch in order to tell the damn time. A Bulova or Timex does the same thing at a fraction of the cost. After all, isn’t that the function of a watch?
Same holds true for being a FORD. My beliefs will get me to where I want to go; no need to own and maintain an expensive, overpriced piece of shit philosophy.
And when the others in this area realize that a FORD works as well, or better, than any BMW, things might get changed for the better.
Until then, I remain FORD tough.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

TEXAS FOOD FIGHT: ketchup v. mustard

I’ve learned a “thang” or two in more than 30 years of “columnizing” – like the topics that raise the instant ire of readers. Just express personal views on one of three subjects (religion, abortion, politics) and watch the fireworks. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I add a fourth to that list – the myth that is TEXAS food.
It might not go down with the classic confrontations about chili (beans v. no beans), barbecue (mesquite v. charcoal v. gas) or which community is actually THE peach capital (Parker County, Gillespie County or Freestone County). This moment of sacrilege centers on that item declared “genuine” to the Lone Star State – the hamburger, allegedly invented in Athens. My bone of contention is not its origin, but its accouterments. It is against all principles of nature, and taste buds, to put mustard on a beef patty. The correct answer should the Reagan-era vegetable of choice – ketchup.
My beliefs were stoked recently as I ordered one of Kincaid’s marvelous creations in Fort Worth (why isn’t there one where I live?). If you've never eaten there, you don't know what you're missing!

Had I not said something at the “place order here” desk, my burger would have been violated with that yucky yellow stuff. It should be the other way around; mustard should be an add-on, not a normal part of the process.
Mustard is a bitter seed which properly belongs on sausage-type products (sausage, hot dogs, brats, pork tenderloin, etc.). It can be yellow or brown, and contain fancy names like Dijon or Cajun. A strong mustard has a very powerful (and often painful) effect on the nasal membranes “if eaten carelessly.”
From the online encyclopedia,, comes this:

“The French have used mustard seeds as a spice since 800 AD,
and it was amongst spices taken by the Spanish on explorations throughout the 1400s.
Pope John XXII was particularly fond of mustard, and created a new position in the Vatican, ‘grand moutardier du pape’ or ‘mustard maker to the pope.’”

For Heaven’s sake, you want a Texas creation to be defined by the French??!!??
Beef, on the other hand, needs a tangy sweetness created by all things tomato. That means ketchup, not the more effete sounding “catsup.” It just goes together in perfect harmony.
If you’ve always wondered which reference (ketchup or catsup) was correct, according to World­wide, the product was referred to as “catchup” as far back as 1690 and in Scribner’s Magazine in 1859. The general consensus is that ketchup and catsup are exactly the same silly thing.

“Ketchup was one of the earliest names given to this condiment, so spelled in Charles Lock­yer’s book of 1711, ‘An Account of the Trade in India:’ ‘Soy comes in Tubbs from Jappan, and the best Ketchup from Tonquin; yet good of both sorts are made and sold very cheap in China.’”
There are plenty of examples to flavor my side of the argument. The Chinese use hot mustard often to spike their sweet and sour sauces and it ain’t the sweet part. No one in their right mind would slap mustard on brisket and would anyone ever make a real Texas bowl of red (chili for the uninitiated) with … mustard??
Children insist on ketchup on hot dogs because, frankfurterly, they don’t know better. The real test comes at the perfect setting for a hot dog – at a baseball game. When you get one from a vendor in the stands, the proper method to serve it is steamed, on a warm (not soggy) bun and with two slaps of yellow mustard. That’s it! The relish, onions and other items should be confined to tables next to concession stands where all sort of culinary perversions take place. Sushi at a baseball game?
For the naysayers, ketchup does not belong on scrambled eggs, egg rolls, ham sandwiches or any combination in a kosher deli. Bologna sandwiches can have either because there just too much of a mish-mash in normal bologna to determine proper food grouping.
Putting a little “mustard on the ball” is a good thing for a baseball pitcher. Throwing a rotten tomato at a theater performer is not a good thing. In the board game “Clue,” one of the murder suspects is Col. MUSTARD; not Captain Ketchup!
Texas is unique as its cuisine. It was once a “blue” state and is now seen as a strong “red” state. But it should never, ever become a “yellow” state.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Looking back at 9/11 writings

Author's Note: The following are the two columns I wrote in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 for the Plano (Texas) Star-Courier. The sentiments expressed, although HIGHLY unpopular at the time, hold true today.

Exactly WHO does America go after?
A little more than seven years ago, I sat in a completely silent news room with scores of people surrounding me. It was another place, another time and a different circumstance that caused those folks, and almost everyone else in the nation, to stop, look and listen to tragic news.
That was Oklahoma City. Yesterday, it was New York City and Washington, D.C. The stunned silence was the same, the tear-filled eyes were the same and the numbness was the same.
And the questions posed were the same, “Who would do such a thing?”
In the case of Oklahoma City, where initial police and press reports suggested that the culprit was Arabic, the perpetrator was a good old boy, who wasn’t much of a man and wasn’t very good. He was one of us and that stunned the country almost as much as the act.
Who would do such a thing?
If the U.S. hadn’t learned before, it knows this morning clearer than ever – there are people, many people, more than we want to realize or accept, that do not like us and will do whatever it takes to see our country suffer. Humanity doesn’t enter into the equation. Acts like this suggest that the instigators embrace martyrdom – meaning they worship death while we have always worshipped life.
How can we overcome that kind of thinking when it is fundamentally opposite of what you know to be true?
I have asked these questions today (Tuesday) and I have no answers. The people in New York City have no answers and the government officials in Washington, D.C. have no answers. Otherwise, someone would be taking swift action ... and it didn’t happen.
All this pent-up emotion and no safety valve. People are (stupidly) ready to march off to war without fully weighing ALL the consequences. Others want scorched earth regardless of whose earth is being scorched.
So I pose it to you: Exactly WHO does America go after? Which foreign country is responsible for this act of terrorism? Do we know for sure, or would we be guessing?
And if you believe in the writings of the Bible or Torah or Koran, what does vengeance ever solve? It just inflicts more pain, injury and death upon innocent people whose sole “crime” is to have been born in another nation with a different skin color.
A pound of flesh weighs much heavier on the heart and soul than you think.
Let’s theorize that international outlaw Osama bin Laden is the power and the money (and perhaps brains) behind this well-executed and dastardly deed. OK, where is he? Where do we look? Where we would attack to capture him? Can we justify illegally entering a sovereign nation’s territory because we waive the Stars and Stripes?
Are we ready to start World War III? Because the next retaliation, if we would attack a Middle East nation looking for bin Laden, would be directed toward Israel and it won’t involve “conventional” weaponry. Bin Laden, Saddam and the other godfathers of terrorism won’t stop with a few exchange of bombs.
And no one alive is ready for that.
There was a movie done three years ago, starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis, called “The Siege.” Its premise was eerily redone on television screens across the world.
Terrorists strike New York, forcing federal troops to take control of the city, imposing martial law and interring all families of Arabic descent. The rationalization and justification used was the old, tired argument that you have to sacrifice some liberties to maintain freedom and peace.
Except, as the movie notes (in a convoluted manner), that is not how THIS country works. We have fought, and died, to have 100 percent of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. Deprivation never works.
Yes, we need to find out, with total certainty, who did this. We need to bring them to justice – American justice. We need answers and we garner them without blindly pointing fingers at various groups.
And we need to pray. Our country took a bad body blow in the solar plexus. It hurts, a whole heck of a lot.
But we are strong and we are resilient. We don’t like having this happen and we will not yield to this kind of threat.
Someone misjudged badly. Tragedy unites us ... and united we DO stand.
-- Sept. 11, 2001

Talk of war is not the right thing to hear
As a Jew, I am embarrassed by the reaction by a handful of our less-than-stellar citizens – committing criminal acts against people who happen to be of Arabic descent.
As an American, I am just as red-faced about how quickly and easily some people want to plunge headfirst into a pool where we know not the water level or contents.
I am scared for our nation by all the chest-pounding and talk of going to “war” after Tuesday’s tragedies in New York City, Washington D.C. and in Pennsylvania.
What happened was horrible, disgusting, inhumane, heinous, cowardly ... should I go through other terminology? I think you get the message. But when national leaders speak about mobilizing and enter into active combat, against an enemy that deliberately stays in the shadows, it should send shivers down everyone’s spine.
We’ve declared “war” on terrorism before, as we have against drug importing and other things most of us deem socially unacceptable. Yet all the efforts cannot stop actions of people hell bent, even to the point of death, on killing others.
I wrote this two days ago and nothing has changed. When our society and nation, which prides itself on quality of life, conflicts with people for whom death is the ultimate reward and martyrdom is the greatest achievement, there can be no understanding. It is fundamentally against our thinking and each time these incidents happen, we fail to comprehend what is happening.
And understand that terrorist attacks have happened before, even on American soil. Islamic fundamentalists tried to blow up the World Trade Center, and even had cyanide gas ready to be used (but failed to ignite) in order to inflict thousands of American casualties.
Our military bases and ships have been attacked and thousands of U.S. citizens have died prior to Tuesday. Planes have been hijacked before and, unless everyone is strip-searched and seated in handcuffs during flights, it will probably happen again - sad to say.
We’ve responded with bombing raids against alleged targets, economic sanctions and lots of blustery verbiage. But we’ve never thought about crossing the line to all-out war.
Until now. Be careful, my fellow Americans, of what you wish for.
War is not a Nintendo game; it’s far more graphic than “Band of Brothers.” At least the actors get up after the scene is shot. The real McCoy means young men (and now young women) come home in body bags.
With no guarantee that the “enemy” will be eliminated.
But I can bring forth this possible scenario, which is the worst thing imaginable. Say we invade Afghanistan to eradicate Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network (oh by the way, which country trained this guy?). We reduce the country to ashes because the Taliban won’t cough this yahoo up.
There are other neighboring nations, with leaders equally hateful of the U.S., and possessors of far more sophisticated weaponry, just itching to use their arsenal against ... Israel and even the U.S. It won’t be conventional; it will be chemical and possibly nuclear (we are going to be shocked to learn who has what capability).
One domino begins to fall and pretty soon the world is engulfed in a worldwide conflict - the result of which could be unthinkable.
If you stop to think about it.
Military responses are one thing; President Clinton tried it in 1998 hoping to get bin Laden and former President Bush faced his own crisis and criticism when he stopped short in Desert Storm of taking out Saddam Hussein. Hussein walked away untouched and continuing to finance terrorism against “the Great Infidel.”
To many in this world, that’s what we are. We will never change their minds and we should stop trying. They should stop trying to go against God’s will by killing innocent people over ideology.
And we should take a collective deep breath before doing something that could lead to catastrophic results.
I don’t think the victims would want that. We’re better than that.
Ours should be a war of wills; living well is the best revenge. And America should concentrate on living, not potential death.
-- Sept. 14, 2001
I was right then adnd I am right now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Outrage in Frisco

My wife said this better than I could EVER have EV.I upset and saddened to read of this racism in Frisco (Texas - a suburb of Dallas) that occurred on Saturday...
After reading the article, I guessed the ethnicity of the man that was falsely and unjustly accused by a bank employee and subjected to being humiliated and threatened at gun point ... with the possibility of being shot by the police who believed him to be a bank robber ...
A case of "you can make the suburbs more diverse, but you can't take the racism away so easily!" The man in this case was an African-American gentleman. I do believe he's owed a big apology from the bank and the police department. His girlfriend and her small child were also impacted by this event according to the article. He was at the bank with a friend who was seeking a loan!
If this happened to me or my husband, I would be terrified and outraged ... but because we're white, I doubt this will ever happen to us. How long will it take for the culture to change? How long will it take for racism to be something that happened long ago and is unknown to our children? It's very sad that most people of the dominant ethnic group (white) are totally oblivious to it!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Insurance non-payoffs: There oughta be a law

Author's Note: The following column appeared in today's ediiton (Sept. 9, 2007) of the Dallas Morning News' Colln County Opinion pages.
This summer has been another horrible weather period for people in different parts of the country, due to massive flooding from a host of extraordinary storms. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have YET to recover from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and one of the major reasons for that lack of progress falls at the feet of insurance companies — unwilling to pay full restoration and damages on legitimate policies. These companies, who are flush with profits to the tune of many billions of dollars have spent much time, and legal expense doing all they can NOT to pay hurricane and flood victims.
In 2005, despite paying an estimated $56.8 billion in losses (according to the Los Angeles Times and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners), insurance companies earned a record $44.8 billion in profit — a whopping 18.7 percent higher than in 2004. The figures were posted despite Katrina, acknowledged as the worst disaster in American history.
In fact, all those losses were paid by policyholder premiums, with another 7 percent added to the industry’s surplus, which was NOT touched in 2005. The industry is paying a much lower percentage on policies, going from 60 percent of losses in the 1990s, to less than 50 percent after the Florida batch of hurricanes in 2005 to about 30 percent for Katrina victims.
Oh yeah, the insurance companies themselves had disaster insurance coverage with overseas firms, and those payoffs (up to two-thirds of insured losses) were added to the treasuries.
The problem lies with flood damage, which insurance companies will not cover. Homeowners are pushed to the federal flood insurance coverage and in many areas on the Gulf Coast and eastern shore, companies like Allstate have stopped offering homeowner policies at all.
The stories of how ordinary people have been treated by those supposedly in their "good hands" make you cringe as an American. The lack of fairness — seeing hard-working citizens who faithfully paid their premiums thinking they were fully covered only to forced (by desperation) to accept pennies on the dollar for a settlement claim — is unconscionable. Something should be done on the federal level, and applied across the nation and across the board.
My legislation would provide for the following:
1) Comprehensive coverage, which would be mandatory on homeowner policies, should include all natural possibilities — under ONE umbrella. This nonsense about having to purchase different policies for wind, rain, flood, fire and hail damage, when all these can occur during storms, only enriches the coffers.
Storms produce lightning (which can cause fires), hail, tornadoes and … yes, flooding in the form of wind and rain; you can’t have one without the other. Hence, flood damage should be covered instead of pawned off to the federal government as a secondary purchase.
2) If a policy says replacement for damages is to be paid at market value, the company does NOT get to set that value. A designated third party should be the determining factor. Failure to adhere would result in stout fines — enough to make it really hurt and discouraged companies from opting to pay fines rather than pay policies.
3) If a policyholder has met all premiums according to the signed agreement, insurance companies are totally bound to pay.
4) It should take no longer than one year for a policyholder to receive 100 percent of his or her payment.
A law should bring the full force of federal penalties against those companies that violate this trust. I wouldn’t go as far as to claim racketeering within the industry, but when all these folks warble the same song-and-dance, the smell is unmistakable.
Such comprehensive coverage should be the standard regardless of region. As we’ve seen, no section of the nation is immune, from the Texas Hill Country to the Minnesota range to the Gulf Coast to Northern California.
Insurance companies are not hurting, but many of their customers are. These giant corporations should not be in the business merely to collect premiums while failing to fully pay legitimate claims.
It is time fairness returns to our rules and our business. And for that, as the old comic strip said, there oughta be a law.