His People

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View of the World From 9th Avenue  Saul Steinberg

When I first heard the pundits use the term “Trump’s people,” I thought they meant those who live on Fifth Avenue with a fabulous view of Central Park. Now I know they mean the “white working class” and other “angry white people.” Putting aside Trump’s appearance (the strange hairdo and the perpetually pursed lips), the lack of government experience, and his “unpresidential” behavior, I cannot buy Donald Trump as a working class hero. The man is, after all, a “New Yorker,” and New Yorkers do not get elected president.

A New Yorker is someone who grew up in Manhattan, and most other Americans (of all races, religions and creeds) find them annoying, and for good reason: They give off a powerful air of overweening superiority. People from the other boroughs of New York City as well as Long Island like to think of themselves as New Yorkers, but Manhattanites know better. Even those who live in the “bedroom communities” of Connecticut and New Jersey and work in “The City” (what other town in America is referred to as The City?), like to think of themselves as New Yorkers, but as a neighbor of mine, born and bred in The City, once observed: They’re “worse than the boroughs.”

The last U.S. president from New York was FDR, and he wasn’t really a New Yorker; he lived “upstate” in Hyde Park, the place with which he was most closely identified. The last presidential nominee from New York was Governor Thomas E. Dewey, who lost twice, first to FDR and then to Harry Truman in probably the most surprising upset in history, although, arguably, Trump’s victory over Hillary comes close to or surpasses Truman’s defeat of Dewey.  However Dewey also was not really a New Yorker, for he was born and raised in Owosso, Minnesota (population as of 2010 – 15,194) and afterward lived 65 miles north of The City.  Since then, no one from New York has been nominated by either party (until Trump), despite New York’s large number of electoral votes (the largest number throughout much of American history until 1968, and currently the third largest).  Credible candidates from New York like Nelson Rockefeller and Rudy Giuliani couldn’t even win their party’s nomination.

The New Yorker attitude towards the rest of America was best portrayed in Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker Magazine cover, “View of the World from 9th Avenue.” The picture suggests that New Yorkers believe that there isn’t much of a country between the Hudson River and the Pacific Ocean (see above). Another famous example of the New Yorker attitude towards the rest of the country is the late New Yorker Magazine movie critic Pauline Kael’s possibly apocryphal line, that she didn’t know how Nixon could have won the 1968 presidential election because “nobody I know voted for him.” Some believe that the real quote is from a speech in which she said,“I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Either way, Kael remains the embodiment of Manhattan snobbery.

Growing up Jewish in Chester, PA, near Philadelphia, I often heard derogatory remarks about New Yorkers, particularly about New York Jews, who, it was said, felt superior to all other New Yorkers. New York German Jews were even worse because they considered themselves smarter and more sophisticated than everyone. My family and their friends conceded that New York Jews were smart and funny (most of the great comedians, from Groucho Marx to Woody Allen are New York Jews), but German Jews were, like the rest of their former compatriots, bereft of any sense of humor.  Most of all they believed that Jews from New York were the incarnation of the Jewish anti-Semitic stereotype: the “pushy,” money grubbing, loud, obnoxious “kike.” Not unlike the nominally Presbyterian President Donald.

The Donald’s opponents have loudly proclaimed him to be an anti-Semite and racist. The opponents also believe that Trump’s father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The “evidence” backing this assertion is that someone who was probably Trump’s father was arrested at a 1920 Klan march in Trump’s Queens neighborhood when the father was twenty. The New York Times report notes that he was arrested for not immediately obeying a police officer’s order that he move on and that he was shortly released. The report notes that there is no evidence to support any of the possible reasons why he was there, and the evidence that he was there at all is less than air tight. Yet, from this comes the claim that he was a Klan member.

It is well known that Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser is Jewish and that his daughter converted to her husband’s Orthodox Judaism. The opponents assert that a person with close Jewish relatives in addition to many Jewish business associates and friends can still be an anti-Semite. That he lives in and is closely identified with a city Jesse Jackson infamously called “Hymietown” (the Jewish population of New York City is exceeded only by Israel’s) is apparently irrelevant as well. And we are supposed to believe that Trump’s alleged anti-Semitism (and racism) motivated Hilary’s “Deplorables” to vote for him.

To be sure, I agree with much if not most of the case against Trump. He is obviously unqualified to be president. Business experience is a good thing for a president to have, but it apparently does not mean that he knows how to get Congress to enact the programs he ran on.  I also agree that a lot of his behavior in office is bizarre if not pathological. Still they say that “his people” support him and even approve of his behavior. I don’t think bigotry has anything to do with the reasons why he (improbably) defeated Hilary. Trump achieved the previously unimaginable because he was the only candidate who seemed to understand that an awful lot of people out there in “flyover country” and even states like Pennsylvania are fed up with weaselly politicians, Stalinist politically correct “students,” government waste, illegal immigration (and spectacularly unconstitutional “sanctuary cities,”), racial quotas, presumptuous federal judges, cop haters, a ridiculously complicated health care system and tax code, do-nothing government bureaucrats and more, much more. All of that overcame the distaste that many Americans have for New Yorkers.

Now, if only a more qualified and disciplined candidate, regardless of where he came from, had understood what Trump understood and had the nerve that Trump had to run on it.

 

 

 

 

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Ya Gotta Look Somewhere!

 

 

The other day the New York Times ran a column in its “Modern Love” segment of the Style section headlined “My Body Doesn’t Belong to You.” The author realized that the ownership of her body was in question when, in her senior year of high school, she went to buy a bra and discovered that she had big breasts:  “Around then I realized that, in this world, there would be many instances when my body would not feel like my body.” Those instances were when men who were strangers ogled, groped, and asked her provocative rhetorical questions like “Are those real?” Groping and sexually provocative utterances are definitely unacceptable behavior, but is eyeing an attractive woman in the same league? I think not.

I recently exercised at a gym where a sign was prominently displayed saying “Please do not stare. It bothers other members.” Stare means “to look fixedly” and ogle means “to eye amorously.” I guess a woman can tell when she is being looked at fixedly, but being eyed amorously, it seems to me, is in the mind of the beholder (unless the alleged ogler is simultaneously drooling).

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Art Carey once speculated that if it weren’t for the invention of spandex tights or leggings, few of the 36,000 health clubs, gyms and fitness centers in the country would exist. In other words, for young men and women, the health clubs are only partly for exercise and mostly for seeing and being seen by members of the opposite sex. I agree that the proliferation of women in tights (that often leave little to the imagination) is a major factor in the success of the exercise business.

I know that spandex tights provide support for a woman’s back, hips and legs in workout sessions, but now you see women in tights everywhere. I know that this is a horrible question to ask, but why is spandex the attire of choice for so many women? I would anticipate the answer that spandex is comfortable; it stretches. But you see lots of women wearing spandex tights in hot weather despite the fact that spandex, which is made from chemicals, is hot and itchy. At the risk of being called a male chauvinist, I suspect that women wear spandex tights everywhere and in every kind of weather because they want to be looked at, stared at, and perhaps even ogled.

Getting back to the author of “My Body Doesn’t Belong to You.” Does she really wish she had smaller breasts and thus were less worthy of others’ attention?  She says that her breasts elicited jokes but also “compliments from female [my emphasis] friends, promises that [her] future boyfriend or husband or lover would have plenty to be happy about.” But she is offended by such compliments. Seems to me that “owning your body” means not sharing it with another or others, which makes for a lonely, loveless life. Is that what she really wants, or is she so marinated in feminist ideology that she really doesn’t know what she wants? True believers tend to be that way. At the same time, you often hear older women (and men) complain that they now feel  sexually “invisible” and miss the attention that others paid to them when they were young.

As for me, I must admit that one of the pleasures of the gym is staring at (if not ogling) attractive women in spandex tights. One of my favorite movie lines is in one of the Harper films in which Paul Newman plays a private detective. In one scene, he is grabbed by some bad guys and thrown into the back of a limousine. Lying on the floor, he looks up and sees a beautiful woman who says, “It’s not nice to look up a woman’s dress.” Newman (as Harper) replies, “Well, ya gotta look somewhere!”  Yes, you do have to look somewhere, so you might as well look at something pleasing, like women in spandex.

 

Welcome to the Sisterhood, Mr. Comey

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Yesterday, the New York Times finally reached the summit of silliness. They ran not one, but two pieces in the same edition that compared James Comey’s White House meeting with Donald Trump to an episode of sexual harassment. Nicole Serratore, in a column titled “James Comey and the Predator in Chief,” opens with the following paragraph: “As I listened to James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, tell the Senate Intelligence Committee about his personal meetings and phone calls with President Trump, I was reminded of something: the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss. There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants.”

Serratore, identified as a New York based theater critic and travel writer, recapitulates Comey’s version of the meeting and then all but declares Comey a victim of sexual harassment: “The victim of sexual harassment is constantly haunted by the idea that she said or did something that gave her persecutor encouragement. Serial harassers, of course, have an intuitive sense of this, and are skilled at manipulating and exploiting it..Mr. Comey, you are not alone.”

Susan Chira, an assistant managing editor at the Times, transforms the six foot eight former FBI director into the left’s version of Anita Hill: “A man is being publicly grilled about why he was alone in a room with someone he felt was threatening him. Why didn’t he simply resign if he felt uncomfortable with what his boss was asking him to do? Why did he keep taking calls from that boss, even if he thought they were inappropriate? Why didn’t he just come out and say he would not do what the boss was asking for?…Sound familiar? As dozens of people noted immediately on Twitter, if you switch genders, that is the experience of many women in sexual harassment cases.”

She also invokes former Fox News right wingers Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly along with the now disgraced Bill Cosby (who had previously wandered off the liberal plantation by urging black people to behave more responsibly). Curiously, she doesn’t mention Bill Clinton or Jack Kennedy; she probably forgot.

Most likely Comey wanted it both ways.  He wanted to keep his job, so he kept silent when Trump, according to Comey, tried to pressure him about the Mike Flynn investigation. Immediately afterwards, he wrote down his account of the meeting. Then when Trump fired him, he gave his notes to a fellow lawyer at Columbia Law School and instructed him to give them to the always eager New York Times. Not exactly a  profile in courage, you might say. But nowadays it is much more fashionable to be a victim than a hero (too masculine), and the Times is nothing if not fashionable.

Yes, Mr. Comey, you are not alone. Welcome to The Sisterhood.

The Puzzle of Bernie Madoff

 

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Robert DeNiro as Bernie Madoff

Last night I watched The Wizard of Lies, the story of the Bernie Madoff disaster. It may sound cold, but I never could work up all that much sympathy for Madoff’s victims. Even a dumb guy like me knows that you don’t give your life savings to one person. I thought of the words “caveat emptor, which the dictionary defines as “a principle in commerce: without a warranty the buyer takes the risk.” In other words, buyer beware.

Those who lost their life savings with Madoff could only have been motivated by a reckless greed inspired by the phony performance of his fund which only went up, never down. You would think that any sentient person would know that something that defies the laws of gravity is obviously too good to be true, but the victims were obviously blinded by the belief that they were getting rich (or richer) quickly and easily. The movie wisely concentrates on Madoff and his family rather than “the victims” of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

The question that Wizard of Lies poses is: What kind of man would place his family in such moral and legal jeopardy? And what a horrible price Madoff’s wife, sons (and their wives and children) paid for his crime, and I don’t mean the loss of their wealth. To be sure, Madoff was insatiably greedy, sociopathic, psychopathic and whatever other mental illnesses you could ascribe to him. But it is the total disregard for his family that is so remarkable and disturbing.

Robert DeNiro, who plays Madoff, does not try to imitate him by using “Jewish” mannerisms as, say, Dustin Hoffman might have done. De Niro is recognizable as the big city Italian he is, but it doesn’t matter, for he skillfully portrays Madoff’s maddening lack of self-awareness, his astounding egotism, and his total unconcern for the lives others.

Madoff obliterated the self-worth of his sons and his wife by insisting that they be totally dependent on him, so when the storm hit, they were emotionally helpless to deal with it. Eventually, Madoff’s wife and one of his sons came to understand who the real Bernie Madoff was, and they broke off all relations with him. This allowed them to go on with their crippled lives with a modicum of dignity.

In the end, Wizard of Lies doesn’t come up with an answer to the question it poses that is commensurate with the enormity of Madoff’s willing destruction of his family. In the last scene, a reporter who is interviewing Madoff points out to him that if he had died before his Ponzi scheme was exposed, his sons would have been the ones in prison for the crimes of their father. Madoff quickly dispenses with the reporter’s argument by speculating that they would have been acquitted anyway. Then the camera closes in on DeNiro’s impassive face as he says: Let me ask you a question. Do you think I’m a sociopath?

So, we are left with the understanding that Madoff couldn’t have cared less about his wife and sons. It was all about him. Madoff’s story is like a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, but it is impossible to think of Bernie Madoff as the tragic hero.

Mother’s Day

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Eleanor in London

Cynical me: I used to think of Mother’s Day as one of those fake holidays made up by Hallmark Cards. Not anymore. Perhaps because I am either old or “approaching old age,” I now find it very hard to be cynical about anything having to do with family. In fact, my family nowadays is the only thing I do take seriously – not money, not politics, not social status …nothing.

Mother’s Day last Sunday was particularly joyful for me because both my son and daughter and their families drove down from New York (my son) and northern New Jersey (my daughter). It is fairly rare these days that both families come to our house on the same occasion. Also my sister and her family were there as well as a couple of my cousins.

I spent much of the time with my grandchildren, either playing ball or taking their pictures. I also took pictures of my sister and her daughters and grandchildren. A couple of days later, my son sent me a message asking why there were no pictures of Mom (my wife). I thought about it and decided that it must have been because she spent most of the time in the back where it was sunny while I stayed on the shady front porch. In any case, I was upset that on Mother’s Day, I hadn’t included a picture of my wife in the album I had put on-line and sent to family and friends.

I know that I have a great deal to be thankful for – two wonderful children and four terrific grandchildren. But the person I am most thankful for is my wife, Eleanor to whom I have been married for forty-seven years. Besides giving me loving children, she has put up with my moodiness, anger, impatience and a lot more. She has seen me through one serious surgery and at least two episodes of depression. I sometimes wonder why she doesn’t leave me, and I am so thankful that (as of yet) she hasn’t. It may sound sentimental, but I guess it must be love. And I  know that I love her more than ever.

I think my cousin David, who has struggled for decades with a debilitating disease, put it best in an email he sent me the day after Mother’s Day:

You truly do not have to travel far and wide to see and experience beautiful sights. These photos capture the most precious and magnificent images of beauty there is- your family. Your family right there in and outside of your house. What a lovely [Mother’s Day].

Amen.

Where’s It Written?

 

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This morning I picked up my Wall Street Journal and read the following quote from a college classmate, former Watergate Special Prosecutor, and long-time Democratic Party mouthpiece – Richard Ben-Veniste:  “The president of the United States should not be involving himself in an ongoing investigation by soliciting details about that investigation from the head of the investigative agency. That’s just not the way the system is supposed to work.”  The head of the investigative agency is, as you probably know, the now ex- FBI director James Comey, and the president is you-know-who. I am certainly not an expert on this (and I welcome corrections from anyone out there who is), but I would like to know where it’s written that the president is forbidden to do that? Ben-Veniste would have been on firmer ground if he had said: The head of an investigative agency should never hold press conferences where he exonerates or indicts anyone. That responsibility belongs to prosecutors (the Attorney General), not investigators (the FBI).

I am constantly amazed by the definitive statements people (many of whom should know better) make about what’s legal or illegal, what’s a rule violation and what isn’t, and what’s constitutional and what’s not. One example is the popular belief that the missile strike on Syria was either illegal or unconstitutional because Congress didn’t approve it. The Constitution is not very clear on this, perhaps purposely. Yes, Congress has the power to declare war, but there have been only 11 formal declarations of war and more than 20 undeclared wars and military actions, including the Korean War (37,000 plus Americans killed) and the Vietnam War. The last formally declared war was World War II. There is the post-Vietnam War Powers Act in which Congress tried to limit the president’s power to make war, but that too would have allowed the strike on Syria, and besides, most presidents purportedly limited by the law have declared it unconstitutional and intimated that they would ignore its restrictions if they felt it necessary.

The only way to settle this difference of opinion between the president and Congress is to take it to the Supreme Court. To my knowledge, no such cases have gone to The Court. The reason is that neither side wants to risk the chance of losing, for the losing side would lose the power it believed it had. Both branches are afraid of a clear decision on the issue.

I also doubt that the Supreme Court would want to make a clear, definitive ruling on such a crucial constitutional issue. The Court sometimes hands down rulings with loopholes and a modicum of room for “interpretation.” For example, the Court has refused to decide unequivocally whether “affirmative action,” aka, racial quotas, is constitutional or not. The Justices know that racial discrimination is definitely unconstitutional, so they have ruled that race alone cannot be used by university admissions people. That word alone allows universities to make up other excuses for what is plainly racial discrimination.

And so the universities created the diversity standard; An important mission of the university is to insure a diverse student body. But there are many different kinds of diversity: class, ideological, religious, ethnic, and geographical. But the truth is that the universities want more blacks and Hispanics and thus fewer “whites” (Polish, Italian, Irish, Jewish etc.) and Asians (Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese etc.). And the Supreme Court ruled that diversity (without defining it) is a “compelling interest” of the university, so affirmative action apparently will live forever, thanks to The Court’s equivocal, politically motivated rulings.

If the president’s war powers issue ever goes to the Supreme Court, it would be entirely predictable that The Court would hand down the same kind of unclear, compromise  ruling and the struggle between the executive and legislative branches would continue. Nothing would be settled.

So when you read or hear that a political issue is “written,” always ask- where?

Profile in Courage?

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It is not surprising that Barack Obama won the annual Profiles in Courage award. Supposedly, the recipient is chosen by “a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which includes members of the Kennedy family and other prominent Americans.” Call me cynical, but I suspect that the “bi-partisan committee” is merely a facade meant to conceal the reality that the Kennedy family alone chooses the winner. Even though there now seems to be a consensus among Kennedy scholars and journalists that Ted Sorenson really wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage, the Kennedys, nevertheless, own the phrase.

Could the Kennedys really believe that Obama is worthy of an award for exceptional courage, or is it merely politics as usual? To be sure, it does seem to take some courage to even think about running for president, but it also takes an abnormal level of ambition. Such a person must experience grandiose fantasies and/or be a masochist. Who else but a masochist with overweening ambition would submit to the endless travel, the rubber chicken dinners, the constant ass-kissing, the obsessive fund raising and all the other tedious and humiliating things that one must do to run for president. An obvious example of the humiliation is that candidates must undergo having every detail of their past revealed, examined, and judged. Since most of the media is Democratic, Republicans have to be especially masochistic, although Democrats do fear Fox News and a few of the popular conservative talk radio stars. And think of the humiliation one must suffer at the hands of the late night comedians and Saturday Night Live. In other words, you must be more than a little crazy (and not necessarily courageous) to run for president.

I don’t think the Kennedys were thinking of Obama as a candidate when they decided to award him for courage, so it must have been President Obama who, they believed, was extraordinarily courageous. Here are the examples of Obama’s courage according to the Kennedys: “It’s about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn’t necessarily popular,” said Joseph Kennedy III. That sounds awfully vague, but his mentioning of the “planet” is clearly about the environment and global warming. But where’s the evidence that concern about global warming is not popular? According to a very recent poll by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe global warming is taking place now, and the number of citizens who are concerned about it is at an all time high. Not only that, but global warming is a very big concern for most of those in the coalition of voters who twice elected Obama president .

Another example, cited by Caroline Kennedy, of Obama’s courage (as is usual with the Kennedys) has more to do with the Kennedys than Obama. I am talking about the endless self-serving rhetoric about carrying on the torch: “President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country. With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”  Finally, the Affordable Care Act is thrown in to support Obama’s grace under pressure.

To me political courage means taking risks that may be unpopular but also could disastrously fail. It took some courage to order the attack on bin Laden’s compound, for it could have resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, and have failed to achieve the objective of capturing or killing bin Laden. Now that would have been unpopular. Think of Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages held by the Iranians. Although the failure badly damaged Carter’s chances of re-election (such as they were), it still took political courage. Jack Kennedy was courageous in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, but he then lost his nerve when the operation went wrong. That catastrophic lack of political courage allowed the Soviets to believe they could get away with installing missiles in Cuba. But Kennedy was courageous in standing up to the Soviet challenge, even though he surrendered much in order to end the crisis. So the bin Laden operation is the only example of Obama’s courage that I can think of, and that went unmentioned by the Kennedys, probably because it involved military action.

In reality, Obama was the most  politically risk averse president in my lifetime. Everything he did both at home and abroad was carefully tailored to please his constituency. That constituency is avidly opposed to any sort of military action that lasts more than a few hours. Thus, Obama did not follow through on any of the “red lines” he drew on the war in Syria. And whenever he was forced by circumstances to commit a few soldiers to battle, he did it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. I suspect that many, if not most, Americans are unaware of the presence today of American soldiers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That is because Obama wanted it that way:  He spoke loudly whenever he withdrew soldiers from war zones but said nothing when soldiers were going the other way. So while I give Obama credit for courage in ordering the bin Laden raid, I see absolutely no evidence of courage in anything else he did; in fact, I see much evidence of his aversion to risk, which is the opposite of courage. Obama’s award is all about politics, not courage. The Kennedys supported Obama when he was a candidate; the award means that they continue to support him.

Speaking of courage, I have noticed over the years that many Democrats believe it an act of courage merely to be openly supportive of their party. Such people also usually believe that fascism is about to descend on the United States. But what can Democrats possibly be afraid of when almost all of the media, the entertainment industry, and most importantly, the education system (from elementary to graduate school)  are owned and operated by Democrats? Still such fantasies are impossible to dispel. As Tom Wolfe once wrote: The dark night of fascism is always descending on America and yet lands only in Europe.

 

 

Go Know

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Writer and editor Dan Rottenberg responded to my post about why my experience teaching school in Philadelphia gradually changed me from a liberal to a conservative. He wrote that I was being illogical in believing that because liberals are wrong about something, they must be wrong about everything. But I speculated (an opinion) that they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures, not everything.

I wrote: “If … most of the left could be so wrong or dishonest about the schools, what other aspects of society could they be wrong or dishonest about? That is a question I asked myself, not a statement of fact. And in the last paragraph I concluded: “If they are so wrong about education, they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures. The dictionary defines the word must as meaning “logically inferred,” and it defines infer, “to form (an opinion) from evidence.” What I wrote in the last paragraph is an inference (a guess) from evidence – my thirty-five years of teaching English in urban schools.

Still, Rottenberg’s criticism is interesting. It reminds me of the time in 1990 when I got into trouble because of the articles I had written about my experience in the schools. I won’t go into the details, other than it inspired almost every Philadelphia Inquirer opinion writer at the time to attack me in their columns. Donald Kimelman, who was then the deputy editor of the paper’s editorial page, said to me:  Just remember, in this dispute between you and the Inquirer columnists, you are the only one who knows what he is talking about. He meant that none of the columnists had any real experience teaching in big city schools.

So compared to those who have not taught in urban schools, I “know what I am talking about,” but when it comes to other subjects, I only know what I read in the papers, magazines and books, all of which are colored by the authors’ biases. To use Don Kimelman’s words, I don’t know what I am talking about when I infer that liberals must be wrong about and responsible for the failure of many other institutions besides urban schools. It is merely an inference.

Of course every opinion journalist holds forth on subjects that he doesn’t really know anything about. Take my afore mentioned former editor and critic Dan Rottenberg. He recently wrote a piece in which he diagnosed Donald Trump’s psychological disorder. Dan asked the question, “Why…is America’s new president acting like a sore winner?”  And he declaimed himself “uniquely situated to address that question.” Why? “As a financial journalist, I have followed Trump for more than 30 years…” So according to financial journalist Dan Rottenberg, Trump “likely suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).”

Dan first tells us the symptoms of NPD and then gives some examples of behavior that, he says, support his diagnosis. The first one is the way Vice President Mike Pence responded to criticism from the cast of the show Hamilton and being booed by the audience. Trump responded to what I consider rude behavior by the cast and audience by calling it rude and insulting. Dan then tells us how Pence responded, “That’s the sound of democracy.” Indeed, that may be the sound of democracy, but it is also rude and insulting. I am not carrying water for Trump, but I don’t believe that Trump’s calling a spade a spade is evidence of mental illness, nor do I believe that Pence’s reaction is evidence of mental health. In any case, Dan does not criticize the bizarre behavior of the actors towards Mike Pence and the obnoxious behavior of many in the audience. Just ask yourself how Dan and most other observers would have reacted if the same behavior were directed towards Barack Obama instead of the present Vice President.

Another piece of Dan’s  diagnostic evidence is that Chase Manhattan and Citibank lent Trump millions of dollars “without ever conducting an audit of [Trump’s] finances.” Although he does blame the media and the banks for “swallowing Trump’s act,” shouldn’t Dan be interested in why these large, prominent banks did what they did? Perhaps this is evidence of the bankers’ NPD.  I surely don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to big-time real estate developers and banks, but I do know that very rich people borrow money to finance large projects, simply because it pays off in tax deductions to use other people’s money. And isn’t it possible that the bankers’ experience with Trump is different from Dan’s speculation that the bankers merely swallowed Trump’s act. Perhaps these big city bankers have had other dealings with Trump, and they felt confident that Trump would pay them back with interest on time.

Which brings me to something I wrote in an earlier post entitled “Is Trump Crazy?” There are lots of articles out there claiming that Trump regularly “stiffed” contractors, and Dan mentioned to me that he had learned that while “covering” Trump. In the earlier post, I mentioned that I had a relative whose father’s engineering firm worked on most of Trump’s buildings in New York.  When I asked her what her now deceased father thought of Trump, she said that he liked Trump because he “always paid him on time” and was “very straightforward.” That came from a person whose father knew what he was talking about. That makes me wonder about Dan and all the other journalists who  “swallowed” the accusations of some contractors. Is it possible that those contractors may have tried to “stiff” Trump? I doubt that those financial journalists were much interested.

Again, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Trump. I also like and admire Dan Rottenberg. But “covering” someone as a journalist does not qualify one to diagnose mental disorders. Even a professional diagnosis from afar of a political figure like Trump (or Obama) would almost always be drenched in politics. Like me and the world outside of urban schools, Dan doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

 

Teaching Magic: Why I Am No Longer A Liberal

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The other day, my sister, a staunch Democrat, asked me why I became conservative. I started as a liberal Democrat. Lyndon Johnson was the first presidential candidate I voted for, followed by Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Jimmy Carter (twice). The first Republican I voted for was George H. W. Bush, and I have voted for Republican candidates in every election since. I admit that I found it very difficult to vote for Trump, but I could not vote for Hillary, not so much because of her long history of lying and deceit; rather, because of what the Democratic Party has become as a result of the Obama administration and the candidacy of Bernie Sanders – a far left European-style social democratic party.

In addition to voting Democratic until Bush ran against Dukakis, I was strongly against the Vietnam War and “marched” in a number of anti-war demonstrations. Even though I was a “child of the 1950’s,” I bought the entire 60’s ideology of drugs, sex and rock’n roll, although my actual participation in these activities was moderate.

Getting back to my sister’s question of why I became a conservative, I would say the primary reason is because after college I started teaching school (frankly) to dodge the draft and avoid Vietnam.

In college, I read a number of books written by former teachers and education professors. The only one I remember is Death at an Early Age by Jonathan Kozol who described what, he said, were his experiences teaching public school in a poor section of Boston. What he found was a school of eager-to-learn young students and racist teachers and administrators, who not only failed to teach their enthusiastic pupils, but sought also to destroy their spirits.

What I found when I taught in a neighborhood similar to the one where Kozol taught was 180 degrees different from what he described. Far from being eager to learn, the students I first encountered seemed to be in a perpetual state of hysteria. Most appeared incapable of talking to each other in a normal tone of voice; instead, they yelled, and much of what they yelled was profanity. The idea of behaving with respect for teachers  the principal, or other students was alien to them.

At the same time, the teachers and administrators were nothing like those Kozol described. Everyone I encountered in my first school (and every school thereafter) was either a dyed-in-the-wool liberal or radical leftist. They would do anything to make the students, parents and the many school activists happy. Very slowly, over a number of years, I grew to distrust the left. If Kozol and most of the left could be so wrong or dishonest about the schools, what other aspects of society could they be wrong or dishonest about?

I taught high school English for thirty-five years in the Philadelphia public schools. When I began teaching in the mid-1960’s, a movement to radically change teaching methods dominated teacher education and revolutionized teaching practices. Traditional teaching methods like lecture and teacher-led discussion were deemed a waste of time as well as harmful to students.

The radical educationists of the 60’s started the ball rolling with the belief that promoting a student’s “self-esteem” should be the purpose of education. They derided what they referred to as “mere knowledge.” From the 60s on, teaching became a form of cognitive therapy.  Teachers evaluated student work by searching for anything “positive” to praise and by never mentioning anything that was incorrect or incomprehensible, for that would be destructive of self-esteem. I attended many “workshops” where education professors would tell us, for example, not to bother teaching students how to read and write.  English grammar, punctuation, usage, and organization only frustrated students and made them unhappy. If a teacher couldn’t find anything positive to say about a student’s work, he or she should praise the student for “effort.” Student grades were thus based on effort and anything the teacher could find that could be considered positive in a student’s work. The students would learn “mere knowledge” on their own once they had high self-esteem.

It was understandable that radical ideas in education took hold in the 60’s. The students in urban schools, in particular, came from much less stable environments than their predecessors. Many had only a single woman in their homes: a mother, aunt or grandmother who could not (or would not) control children or teenagers.

Those who ran the schools and the education professors in universities searched for some new way to effectively teach these difficult students, a search for what the late Columbia professor Jacques Barzun called a “‘teaching magic’ that relieved the student of the burden of wanting to be taught.”

The quest for a teaching magic produced one change in educational methodology after another. When it was discovered that the self-esteem movement produced the phenomenon of the illiterate high school graduate, the educational establishment proclaimed a “back to basics” movement. But back to basics turned out to be more talk than reality.

The powerful educational ideology of the sixties was overwhelmingly seductive. But the word self-esteem had to go when moderate and conservative critics  began to make fun of it. So it was “re-branded” as the “student-centered classroom,” not unlike, in politics, the reincarnation of liberals into “progressives.”

Child-centered education meant that the students sat in groups, and each group worked on a project. Any teacher who employed traditional methods was likely to receive a reprimand from an administrator, who, was always happy to see a classroom of students in groups. Ultimately, the goal was to reduce and eventually eliminate the teacher’s role in learning. Usually, one or two students in the group actually worked on the project, but everyone in the group received the same grade. Although I haven’t been in a classroom in years, I believe that teachers are still expected to arrange their classes into groups in which students, it is hoped, “teach each other.”

Another 60’s influenced theory that gained prominence was that students had different “learning styles” ( supported by “research”). The learning style theory required that lessons should be directed towards each of the senses – sight, sound, touch, and even smell and taste. Again many moderate and conservative education critics considered the whole idea and its “research” to be fraudulent. I don’t know whether that theory is still considered gospel in the schools, but I haven’t read or seen anything about it in the media recently, so I assume that learning styles is less fashionable than it used to be.

The most recent educational fad might be labelled the computer-centered classroom.  A friend of mine who retired a few years after I did regularly substitutes in the Philadelphia schools. He often used to do long-term work where he would cover a teacher’s class who was on sabbatical or out on some other leave for half a year. He tells me that now he is not able to take those jobs because he isn’t sufficiently “computer literate.” Teaching nowadays requires a relatively high level of computer skill. I am told that there are many things you can do with a computer and a “smart board” that are amazingly entertaining, but I have not heard that the technology has improved student performance. Hardly anyone these days, for example, knows the difference between its and it’s or your and you’re or therethey’re, and their. And how many college graduates know how to use lie and lay?

An acquaintance recently asked me to read and edit a long essay he has been writing. I found that almost all of his writing was awkward and incomprehensible, and it wasn’t because he was using jargon specific to a particular profession. What was really shocking is that he graduated with honors from a prestigious Ivy League university and received a Phd. from what is reputedly the most demanding university in the country. How could he get through these schools, with honors and a doctorate no less, without being able to write clearly? I mentioned this to a professional writer and editor I know, and he said that he wasn’t surprised because “They don’t teach students how to write anymore.”

Some say it all started with John Dewey in the 19th Century with his “progressive education” theories that gave birth to the education fads of the past fifty or more years.  The schools will never abandon the quest for a teaching magic.. And it has now infected higher education:  Another acquaintance who teaches history at a well known liberal arts college explained to me recently that “you just can’t teach today’s students the way we were taught.” That and the widespread use of student evaluation of professors in decisions concerning tenure and promotion have resulted in the grade inflation that has so trivialized much of American higher education.

So how did a once liberal (progressive) become a conservative? It slowly became clear to me that the schools weren’t working and that liberals were responsible. As I said in the beginning: If they are so wrong about education, they must be wrong about and responsible for many other failures. When it comes to politicians, I am a bi-partisan skeptic, but I am much more skeptical of those on the left. My experience in the schools made me think about and question the ideas I had grown up with. I have found that most people never think about the validity of their political views. As someone once said, perhaps Jonathan Swift:  “You cannot reason people out of something they were not reasoned into.”

 

 

 

EXTREME VETTING

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The Trump Administration is considering instituting extreme vetting of all foreigners entering the United States. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Visitors to the U.S. could be forced to provide cellphone contacts and social-media passwords and answer questions about their ideology, according to Trump administration officials, measures that could intrude into the lives of millions of foreigners.

The changes being considered could apply to visitors from America’s closest allies as well as other nations and include subjecting more visa applicants to intense security reviews. Together, they would amount to the “extreme vetting” President Donald Trump promised as a candidate to guard against possible terror attacks.

I don’t think this plan will fly, so to speak. Why the Trump administration thinks it will is a mystery. It is apparent that no broad plan to vet all foreigners will work. The visitors’ countries would complain bitterly and would certainly retaliate against American travelers. Even a somewhat more aggressive plan than the current one targeting those from Muslim countries with a history of terrorism would be considered “profiling” and discriminatory. Even more “Hate Doesn’t Live Here” lawn signs would pop up, and either program would be shot down by the courts and condemned by many in Congress and most of the news media.

The assertion that hate is Trump’s motive in dealing with illegal immigration and visiting foreigners is the usual partisan rhetoric.  A couple of years ago, I talked with a young Israeli woman who was selling skin products at the King of Prussia Mall. She said that the mall was the perfect setting for a terrorist attack, and she couldn’t believe the lack of security there. She also noted that the size of the place made it very easy for terrorists to get lost in the crowd and avoid the police.

Many have noted that all of the terrorist attacks here have been carried out by those who are “home grown.”  That may be true, but even those with signs on their lawns wouldn’t want to be the first victims of a “refugee” terrorist.

I think it crucial that we get illegal immigration under control. As Mark Steyn wrote, A country that has no control over its borders is not sovereign.” And we must prevent terrorists from traveling to the U.S. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will happen, at least under this president.