Twentieth-Century Blues Monday, Oct 3 2016 

I reached my eighty-eighth birthday – or as Everett Dirksen used to call it, “natal anniversary” – last week, and what better way to celebrate than revisiting the past with a trip to New York to see a revival of the 1928 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur comedy “The Front Page”?

About the year 1928: Looking back at the 88 autumns since the play first appeared on Broadway, it was the last year of true American innocence. The next year brought the Great Depression, followed 10 years later by the Second World War, followed in the next half-century by the Cold War, followed by . . .

Still, all things considered, they were great years to have lived through; provided you were lucky enough to be an American. (Readers’ Advisory: Colin Kaepernick fans had best move to another blog since this one requires that you stand, if only on uncertain octogenarian legs, when the national anthem is played.)

But back to revisiting the past in New York City: My first visit to Manhattan came when, as a 23-year-old Army sergeant, I was sent to a training school at nearby Fort Slocum. It was the autumn of 1951, the memorable season when Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” sent Willie Mays’ Giants to the World Series and Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers to the doldrums.

Sixty-five years and the turn of a century brings cosmic change: The Giants and Dodgers are gone; Lindy’s, where I was given a late-night table next to Jimmy Durante, is gone; Birdland, where I stood in line to hear Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, is gone; Jack Dempsey’s restaurant, where young Sammy Davis, Jr. sat at a nearby table while I heard Joe Louis tell an interviewer he was hanging up the gloves, is history.

Yet some happy relics of what Henry Luce called the American Century remain:

Times Square (though the Times has long since moved) is still vibrant, any hour of the day or night; New York theater is still alive and well (“The Front Page,” with Nathan Lane, John Goodman, and Robert Morse, will be around for some time to come); Sardi’s, the place to go after the show, not only survives but thrives, as does Patsy’s, the best Italian restaurant west of Milan according to Frank Sinatra.

And more: As a dogface soldier during the Korean War I had the impression that it was the khaki uniform that led the locals, from the doorkeeper at Lindy’s to the gatekeeper at the Polo Grounds, to treat me (and my fellow grunts) with special courtesy. New Yorkers, after all, were reputed to be a rude, surly lot. Not so. Six-and-a-half decades later and in no uniform other than casual civilian wear, I still found New York, from Penn Station to Broadway, the most hospitable, visitor-friendly city in America.

My birthday wish? That I could say what Joe Louis – the greatest heavyweight champion that ever was – said when asked that autumn evening at Dempsey’s how he’d sum up his career: “I did the best I could with what I had.”

Not true, I’m ashamed to say, in my case. But God and Geritol (if it’s still around) willing, I have rounds left to make up for lost time.

Sound bite to remember

“If I’d known I was gonna live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
— Jazzman Eubie Blake (1887-1983)

ONE-LINER DEFINITION Wednesday, Sep 28 2016 

Rudy Giuliani: Donald Trump without the charm.


My most recent post spoke of the similarity between Donald Trump and a 20th-century Munich beer hall Fuehrer. It now appears that a more appropriate Munich parallel would be a 19th-century model, Mad Ludwig of Bavaria.

Sound bite to remember

“I always voted at my party’s call
And never thought of thinking for myself at all.”

— Gilbert and Sullivan

TRUMP OF THE WILL: Is the Republican Nominee the Man in the Munich Beer Hall?  Friday, Jul 29 2016 


            “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

                        –George Santayana

I quote this hackneyed aphorism only to tear it down. The problem, I would tell Santayana if we were to hash things out over a Starbucks coffee, is that the past never repeats itself in recognizable form.

True, if a little man in a brown shirt were today denouncing Jews in a Munich beer hall and we didn’t do something about it, we’d get what we deserved. But history, though its underlying DNA may be the same, arrives in different forms. Not only that, it loves to confound the pundits.

Consider how literary pundits over the years, from Sinclair Lewis to Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, foresaw the decline and fall of American democracy.

Lewis, in his novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” projected the rise of an American dictator, Berzelius Windrip, a rural populist patterned after Louisiana’s Huey Long. Knebel and Bailey, in “Seven Days in May,” foresaw the coming American dictator as a military hero, a strongman in uniform like General Douglas MacArthur.

But who, other than a Mel Brooks-style satirist, until six months ago would ever have sketched a scenario featuring as a would-be American dictator a Manhattan real estate-casino hustler — anything but a rural populist — whose military record consists of draft deferments equal to those of Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney?

Only in America. But not the 20th century America of Huey Long and Douglas MacArthur. No, the Twitter-brained, selfie-loving America of Donald Trump.

Yet, wait. Before we determine whether Vladimir Putin’s preferred presidential candidate is a bizarre reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, let’s check whether he passes the first test of Munich beer hall animadversion: Is Trump anti-Jewish? (I use the term anti-Jewish to be specific, since his anti-Semitism — Arabs being Semites — is well established.)

At first take the answer would seem to be, “Of course not. His son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter’s a convert.” But then we come to the puzzling business of his refusal to fully repudiate the backing of neo-Nazi supporters like David Duke and his furious defense of an anti-Clinton tweet featuring a Star of David backed by dollar bills.

So what’s the answer? For my part I call on a story once told by Louisiana Congressman Hale Boggs who, while running for governor, was “defended” by Governor Earl Long, after being accused of having been a Communist during his college days.

“Hale can’t be a Communist,” Long told a crowd in north Louisiana. “He’s not only a Catholic but a close friend of the archbishop.” Long said this, as Boggs pointed out, knowing that his audience of hard-shell Baptists would sooner vote for a Communist than “a close friend” of a Catholic archbishop.

“So I called Long the next morning,” as Boggs told the story, “and said I didn’t appreciate his injecting religion into the campaign. He said, ‘Hale, you know I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body.’ And I said, ‘I know you don’t, Governor, but you know that other people do, and you know how to use it.’”

Jewish son-in-law? Convert daughter? Donald Trump obviously doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body. But he knows that other people do, and ….

Sound bite to remember

“God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America.”

–Otto von Bismarck, proclaiming what was true in 1870 and, we may hope, in November 2016


Sweet Smell of Defeat Sunday, Jun 19 2016 

When last heard from Republican House Leader Eric Cantor was being ignominiously routed by a virtual unknown in his 2014 primary race for reelection. Unsurprisingly, given his record as a Wall Street yo-yo, he has moved on to bigger and better things with Moelis & Company, an investment firm at which his annual salary is $400,000, with stock options adding up to a $3.4 million payout.

All of which was revealed in a June 16 feature on Cantor in the Washington Post Style section, one paragraph of which, standing alone, reveals the Washington mindset that led to his defeat.

The telltale paragraph:

“Cantor earned $193,400 as majority leader; his wife, a lawyer and investment banker, was the real moneymaker. One of the reasons he took the Moelis job, he says, was because it was his turn to support the family. ‘Life is about balance. For 14 years, she had been basically the breadwinner,’ he says. ‘I felt that I needed to do this for her.’”

Let’s see now: He made $193,400 a year as a congressman but his wife was “the breadwinner.” Where do the Cantors buy their bread — at Tiffany’s? It was his turn “to support the family.” Right. How, after all, can an American family in this day and age hope to subsist on an income just short of $200,000 a year?

Any wonder why a Marxist demagogue like Bernie Sanders and a Foxist demagogue like Donald Trump have gone far this year with the message that our national leaders have fallen out of touch with workaday Americans?

Sound Bite to Remember

“There once was a very poor family. The mother was poor, the father was poor,  the children were poor, the maid was poor, and the butler was poor.”

Frank Mankiewicz, circa 1950, presciently anticipating the plight of families like the struggling Cantors. 

UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE: The Wayward Lemming Is Closed for Repairs Thursday, May 5 2016 

Alexander Hamilton, the genius of the Federalist Papers, will remain on the face of the ten dollar bill only because of a Broadway musical in which he is portrayed as a hip-hop-singing Latino.

George Mason School of Law, named after the father of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, is being renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School as a matter of principal ($30 million, to be exact).

A transplanted 74-year-old Brooklyn Marxist who went to Moscow for his honeymoon has built a cult following of college-educated Democrats in search of an alternative to Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump, who thinks Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii and Ted Cruz’s father had a hand in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, will be the presidential nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln (who he thinks was a loser for not hiring a better bodyguard), Theodore Roosevelt (who he thinks should have made the Panamanians pay for the building of the Canal), Dwight Eisenhower (who he thinks should have finished off the Germans quicker), and Ronald Reagan (who he thinks was a fair president but a low-energy actor).

The Chicago Cubs now have the best record in baseball. Repeat: The Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series in 108 years.

Who am I to pretend to know what’s going on? I haven’t the slightest idea. Neither do George Will, David Brooks or any of the other cultural / political sages of the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. Like the polar bears in the upper Arctic swimming for their lives because the ice floes have melted, they don’t know what the hell is going on. But given the income they earn by pretending to, they can’t afford to admit it.

I can. Time to settle in for a while and try to separate the wheat of reality from the media-internet chaff. Maybe, as with those ice floes, the whole cycle can be chalked up to climate change. That at least makes sense. The Cubs being in first place doesn’t.

Sound bite to remember

“Whenever you see the crowd run one way, go the other.”

–My father’s sage advice (circa 1935)

Republican’s Call Draws Fire Thursday, Mar 31 2016 


–Headline, Washington Post – 3/26/16

Not to beat a dead horse, but when the horse turns out to be a jackass and it’s still braying . . .

When last heard from, I was leaving the Republican Party or what passes in transmogrified form these days for what was once the party of Lincoln. No news cycle passes that gives me reason to regret it. The story beneath the Post headline tells it all.

It appears that Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican running for re-election, had uttered the following at a meeting of the west Kansas Rotary Club: “I think we have the responsibility to have a hearing, to have a conversation and to make a determination on the merit” of President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

On being informed of Moran’s open-minded thought, one Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the local Tea Party chapter, responded: “It’s this kind of outrageous behavior that leads Tea Party activists to think seriously of encouraging someone to run against Moran in the August GOP primary”; to which Moran, regaining his ideological lockstep, immediately backtracked, declaring he was unconditionally “opposed to President Obama’s . . . attempt to put another liberal judge on the Supreme Court.”

Liberal judge? Since being nominated Garland has drawn the support not only of conservative columnist George Will, but of his former colleague on the D.C. Court of Appeals (and Clinton impeachment prosecutor) Kenneth Starr.

Keep in mind, Senator Moran’s departure from the Tea Party line wasn’t that he took Will’s and Starr’s favorable view of Obama’s nominee; only that he thought the Senate had the responsibility to hold hearings on the nomination.

Charge the whole thing off as an isolated incident that doesn’t reflect, as Paul Ryan would say, “the values” of the Republican Party? Only if you ignore the fact that Tea Party “activists” are simply following the our-way-or-no-way line laid down by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after Antonin Scalia’s death left a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

A few weeks ago I had occasion to visit Alabama on the day Senator Richard Shelby was being challenged at the polls by a Tea Party opponent. The opponent claimed that Shelby wasn’t a true conservative – a sign of these Republican times in that the only way one could get more conservative than Richard Shelby is by coming out against the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments; which, given the current direction the GOP is headed, I expect will soon come about in a Tea Party-approved speech before the west Kansas Rotary Club.

Sound bite to remember

“A legal system which can’t convict Al Capone of anything but income tax fraud is apt to make the police rather cynical.”

–Raymond Chandler

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