To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sorrows Of Woke: How The 'Resistance' Might Re-elect Trump

NYT Columnist Timothy Egan on “How the insufferably woke help Trump.” (Bold for emphasis, mine.) 

Among the people I love is a sibling who works at Walmart cleaning toilets at night in a thinly populated part of eastern Oregon. She’s been there more than 25 years and has trouble saving a dime and certainly no path to retirement. She’s likely to vote, again, for President Donald Trump.

No matter how much I point out that Trump is trying to take away her health care protections by litigating to kill Obamacare, that his tariffs have made it harder to pay her bills, that he is the most repulsive and creepy man ever to occupy the White House, she holds firm.

Why? One reason is what she hears from the other side. Many Democrats, she says, are dismissive of her religious beliefs and condescending of her lot in life. She’s turned off by the virtue-signaling know-it-alls.

It’s no mystery why so many Democrats can no longer connect to the white working class. Progressives promise free college, free health care, free child care, and scream in bafflement, What’s wrong with you people?

No doubt, some of those people are racist and xenophobic. But many others simply feel insulted and dismissed. And these are voters who can still be persuaded to save our country from a disastrous second term of a corrupt and unstable president.

Barack Obama, still the smartest politician in the land, knows this; a week ago, he rightfully called out the call-out culture that marginalizes so many people who are ready to vote against Trump.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” he said, to a round of applause. “You should get over that quickly.” He was talking about an attitude, not necessarily policies — an attitude that dominates the bullying fringe of his own party. Predictably, he was called out for being paternalistic, with a boomer attitude.

If anyone should feel victimized by social media hatred and cancel culture of a different sort it is Obama. More than a third of Republicans tried to delegitimize him, believing in the monstrous falsity that he was born in Kenya.

Joe Biden has picked up Obama’s charge against the puritanical keepers of undiluted progressivism, in self-defense. He wrote this week of a “my way or the highway” approach that is “condescending to the millions of Democrats who have a different view.” He said, “It’s representative of an elitism that working and middle class people do not share: ‘We know best; you know nothing.’”

For the record, I’m agnostic on the Democratic field. I would vote for a tree stump if it could beat Trump. Biden, Obama and Nancy Pelosi, along with recent polling and the election results Tuesday, all show that the best way to rid this country of Trump is for Democrats to dial back the condescension of their natural allies and dig into the gritty concerns of daily life.

Pete Buttigieg, looking to pick up the moderate left vote if Biden falters, has already taken Obama’s lesson to heart. “I’m not about being in the right place ideologically, whatever that means,” he said in Iowa last week. “I’m about having answers that are going to make sense.”

One of the biggest takeaways from the recent New York Times/Siena College survey of battleground states is that Elizabeth Warren is not connecting with the very people her policies are supposed to help. Trump beats her or runs even in every tossup state but one. The persuadable voters in these states, many of them working class, say political correctness has gotten out of control, and they prefer someone seeking common ground over someone with a militantly progressive agenda.

It’s worth remembering that nearly two-thirds of all American adults do not have a four-year college degree. Warren, the Harvard professor who recently suggested that moderate Democrats belong with the other party, could be more effective with these folks if she showed more of her daughter-of-a-janitor side.

You can try to win the election by expanding the pool of progressive voters overall. But the inconvenient fact remains that a relatively small pool of working-class voters in the handful of battleground states are still likely to determine the fate of the country next year.

Democrats flipped 40 House seats in 2018 and attracted more white working-class voters — without insufferable wokedness. They hammered away on health care and kitchen table concerns. The same approach helped Democrats pull off an apparent upset in the Kentucky governor’s race this week.

Next year, Trump will be the greatest motivator and unifier for a majority of Americans poised to throw him out. For his core 40%, there’s no crime or debasement that will change their minds. He can indeed shoot someone, as a focus group participant helpfully clarified this week, and likely get a pass from the Cult of Trump.

But for others, those like my sister, a word to Democrats: Talk to them. Don’t talk over them. Save the piety, the circular firing squad, the shaming on social media for after the election. Otherwise, the woke will wake next Nov. 3 to a tragedy.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

30 Years After The Fall Of The Berlin Wall, A Tribute To A Clandestine Service Canine

"Boopy Goes To Berlin: A Cold War Memoir," from Slate

Like many journalists, diplomats, and spies who lived and traveled in the old Eastern Bloc, I still have warm feelings for the Cold War.

In my case, though, the sentiment precedes the time I spent overseas. In fact it dates back 50 years or so to when the Berlin Wall first went up, when I was 5 years old going on 6. This was when Boopy, our family dog, suddenly disappeared from our suburban Westchester County home.
As my raconteur father explained it, the bit about Boopy being the family dog was just a cover story—a way to establish what covert operatives call “legend.” Like many Cold Warriors in the epic struggle against communism, Boopy had a secret mission. His days with us may have been few, but the tale my father told to explain Boopy’s abrupt departure gave him an everlasting, mythic sheen that even Rin Tin Tin might envy. Now, with memories of the Iron Curtain fading fast, the tale stands as a reminder that not everything associated with a “missing” pet has to be grim—and that sometimes a “true lie” might be the best way to cope with a hard truth.  
At the time, my father was a detective lieutenant in the NYPD leading a special anti-gambling task force. Boopy was arrested in a raid on a numbers-running operation in Harlem. Rather than put him behind bars, my father brought him home. Why my father thought it was a good idea to bring a dog with Boopy’s CV into a house full of small kids is beyond me now. Back then, apparently, pit bulls that had been providing security for bookies didn’t have the kind of reputation they have today. But my father was able to convince my mother that the dog would provide companionship and protection to my younger siblings and me.    
True to his breed, however, Boopy turned out to be “a lunger.” After knocking us over on more than one occasion and sending us scurrying under the kitchen table to avoid being nipped, Boopy was starting to wear thin the welcome we had extended to him. And then one day—I don’t remember how long after he first arrived, but it couldn’t have been more than a few weeks—Boopy simply vanished. 
 Given the way he’d roughed us up, Boopy’s disappearance wasn’t entirely upsetting. Pretty soon, though, we wanted to know where he was. That’s when my father got to work, highball in hand, placing Boopy right in the middle of events unfolding on the evening news. And like the evening news itself, the true story of Boopy came out in installments, a new chapter delivered every night until the dramatic tale was told in full and our eyes beamed with pride. 
After my father finished briefing us on what had become of Boopy, he swore us to secrecy, making us put our hands over our hearts and make the sign of the cross for good measure. This was fine for the younger ones. But I had just started kindergarten, and I desperately needed some material for show and tell. All the other kids were bringing in neat stuff that their parents had let them take from home or telling stories about cool family vacations. (One classmate had even been to the Catskills!) Sitting there on a tiny kindergartener’s stool among my more luminous classmates with nothing to either show or tell, I was beginning to develop a complex.
And so after determining that my classmates and teacher didn’t pose any risks to national security, I got up one afternoon and told everyone about Boopy, repeating exactly what my father had told us:
Boopy had been drafted into the Army to fight in the Cold War, on orders from JFK himself. (“And he’s the president,” I added for my classmates who may have missed that memo.)
After basic training, he’d been posted to Berlin, where he’d been assigned to a clandestine wing of the Canine Commando Corps.
* His mission was to dig tunnels under the Berlin Wall and drag people to freedom.
* According to all reports, he was doing a fantastic job.
* So fantastic in fact that Kennedy gave him a medal for it—and then gave him a second medal after Boopy went up to Nikita Khrushchev at the award ceremony and peed right on his leg!  

With my sense of geopolitics being a bit underdeveloped at the time, the idea of the Soviet premier being at an American military decorations ceremony didn’t seem odd. It didn’t seem odd to my kindergarten classmates either. After I told them the story, we marched around the classroom (well, at least the boys), waving a flag, hailing Boopy and his critical role in our impending triumph over the Red Menace. Soon, we wouldn’t have to cower anymore in the basement bomb shelter waiting for the “The Big One,” as the older guys called it as they smacked their fists into their palms.
My teacher Mrs. Fath, however, did shoot me a somewhat dubious look. Sensing she might be less than convinced, I told her that my story about Boopy had to be true because my father had told me the story and he’d been in the Navy in World War II and he was a police officer now andhe can’t lie because he could lose his job if he did. She let it go.
After a while, news from the front about Boopy faded, as did my curiosity about his fate. A year or so after Boopy had deployed, however, his memory was revived when President Kennedy went to Berlin. Sitting in front of the black-and-white television as Kennedy gave his famous speech, I listened intently for some indication Boopy was still alive but wound up disappointed.
Relaxing in his armchair, my father told me not to worry. Kennedy was speaking in a secret code that only he and Boopy could decipher. When the president said “Ich bin ein Berliner,” what he was really saying was “Keep up the good work there, pooch.” Then my father raised a glass in Boopy’s honor. Meanwhile, the evening news cut to footage of German shepherds patrolling the barbed-wire no man’s land near the Berlin Wall. They looked ferocious, capable of ripping apart anyone trying to escape. But I knew that Boopy could run rings around them. Dig tunnels underneath them, too.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

In Memoriam, NYC 9/11

Gone now is the day and gone the sun 
There is peace tonight all over Arlington 
But the songs of my life will still be sung 
By the light of the moon you hung 

I meant to ask you how to plow that field 
I meant to bring you water from the well 
And be the one beside you when you fell 
Could you tell 

Bang the drum slowly play the pipe lowly 
To dust be returning from dust we begin 
Bang the drum slowly I'll speak of things holy 
Above and below me world without end

Emmylou Harris, “Bang The Drum Slowly”

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Notes On Twee: Yarn Police Unravel Over Trump Supporters Inside Their Circle

More news about the nation’s fraying political, social and cultural fabric came the other day from the Washington Post. According to the Post,  Ravelry, an 8-million-strong social network known as the “Facebook of knitting,” has banned all support for Trump and his administration. “We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy,” Ravelry declared. “Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.” 

According to the Postthe ban cuts across all aspects of the site, including “forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles” and anything else. 

The site did not explain which Trump policies it believes signify white supremacist ideology, taking pains to note that “We are definitely not banning conservative politics.” But it added that  “Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions,” and warned users not to goad others into voicing support for Trump. 

The Post noted that “Some longtime Ravelry users welcomed the move, saying the toxicity of online political discourse has plagued their quiet hobbyist refuge, though others expressed concern over the policy.” One self-proclaimed knitter tweeted that “Politicizing ravelry leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Ravelry said its policy was largely inspired by, a hub for role-playing game enthusiasts, which banned public support of Trump in October. In announcing its ban, RPG.netsaid that Trump’s “public comments, policies, and the makeup of his administration are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable.”  

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

BEFORE STONEWALL: How A Forgotten Case Of Homosexual Blackmail Changed the Course of Gay Civil Rights

A "john" lights a cigarette for a young male prostitute in front of the Astor Pharmacy in Times Square, August, 1965 

From Slate, here's a link to an exhaustively reported account which I published in 2012 about America's largest case of gay extortion, illustrated with rare and gritty Midnight Cowboy photographs. Hollywood (Lawrence Gordon Productions) sees a noir period thriller somewhere between that classic and L.A. Confidential, depicting a hinge moment in the history of gay civil rights analogous to the turning point in the struggle for racial equality that was dramatized so powerfully in Mississippi Burning.  

The case, known in law enforcement circles as "The Chickens and the Bulls," dates from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and involved a nationwide ring of blackmailers who posed as corrupt Vice Squad detectives and targeted closeted pillars-of-the-establishment: admirals, generals, congressmen, society doctors, Ivy League professors and high-profile film and television entertainers.  The ring operated for ten years in New York, Chicago, Washington and LA. As ruthless as it was brazen, the ring made millions and brought misery to scores of victims and their families before being broken up in a joint investigation by the FBI and the Special Rackets Squad of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office which was led at the time by the legendary Frank Hogan—aka “Mr Integrity.”

The press conference that Hogan held in early March, 1966 to announce the ring’s breakup inspired this front page headline in the New York Times the next day, the wording of which is rather shocking by today's more diversity-sensitive standards:

The case is significant because it represents the first time that the American law enforcement apparatus cranked up on behalf of gay men who were routinely victimized by extortion schemes like the one described in “The Chickens and the Bulls.” Most of the victims in this scheme, as in other schemes like it, would have been married, or if not married, certainly not "out." In those unenlightened days those who did not pay up and were exposed could reliably count on losing their families, as well as their jobs, businesses or careers. Some victims were beaten to death by thugs whose intimidation tactics went too far. At least one victim, a US Navy admiral who'd been a decorated WWII hero, committed suicide. 
Aside from its historical importance, the story was compelling---and attractive to the movies--- for many reasons, among them the fascinating character “arc” of the one of the ringleaders---a Jimmy Cagney-like tough from Manhattan’s lower west side named Edward “Mother” Murphy.” After tormenting gay men as an extortionist, Murphy, who was himself gay and was said to be at the Stonewall Inn the night of the infamous uprising in 1969, transformed himself into one of the gay community’s most ardent champions. In fact, his work on behalf of early AIDS victims led to him being named the posthumous Grand Marshal of the Gay Pride Parade in 1984, the gay community apparently unconcerned by, or ignorant of, Murphy's rather risque criminal past. 

Below is a picture that gay activist and archivist Randy Wicker took of Murphy, “The Original Stonewaller,” riding with some of his entourage during a previous year's parade. Wicker told me he mounted a one-man campaign to derail Murphy's posthumous Grand Marshall-ship, but the gay community's memory was short and its ranks were swelling fast. "It was like that Stephen Sondheim song," Wicker told me. "Another hundred people just got off of the train." 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Too 'Woke' To Work: Jussie Smollett's Many Defenders & Enablers In The Media

Despite Getting His Story Wrong, There's Been No Shame Or Contrition Among the Press.

From the American Conservative:
In March, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) announced that it had put CNN on a “special media monitoring list” over concerns about a lack of diversity and the network’s president’s refusal to even discuss the lack of black executives at the liberal news organization.
CNN doesn’t have a single black executive producer, or vice president on its news side, the NABJ charged. The black journalist organization also alleged that CNN’s president Jeff Zucker refused a scheduled meeting to discuss the problem with a four-member NABJ delegation. 
As a result, the NABJ threatened that it would assign a special team of its members to “perform further research and an analysis of CNN’s diversity, inclusion and equity practices,” particularly as they pertain to CNN’s news decision-making capacities. The group also called for a “civil rights audit” which would examine the company’s hiring, promotion and compensation practices involving black employees. Such audits are usually performed by Justice Department officials on local and state government entities in anticipation of federal consent decrees. The NABJ was claiming CNN might have more in common than it would like to admit with racially troubled police departments and underperforming school districts being monitored by the federal government.
CNN declared that it would be more than happy to sit with NABJ, but the meeting could not include the organization’s vice president, Roland Martin. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, Martin was accused of slipping questions verbatim to Hillary Clinton’s campaign before a town hall debate with Bernie Sanders. He did it in coordination with then DNC chairwoman and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, who was fired from the network for the violation. According to CNN, “Mr. Martin displayed an unprecedented and egregious lack of journalistic ethics and integrity by leaking questions prior to the town hall,” which had inflicted “significant and reckless damage” to the network.” 
The NABJ-CNN contretemps highlighted lingering raw feelings and bad memories from 2016. But it is no sign that the media will be any less “woke” in its coverage of the next presidential campaign, as President Donald Trump seeks reelection. Their coverage of Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s hate crime hoax, for example, says otherwise.

Even though he had a direct pipeline to Smollett beginning the very night of the alleged attack, CNN’s Don Lemon was hardly in a rush to ask tough questions. Lemon spoke to Smollett on the phone belonging to a mutual friend at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where the Empire star was being treated. Lemon said that a shaken and angry but resilient Smollett described the attack, telling the anchor that “during times of trauma, grief and pain there is still a responsibility to lead with love.” It was all he knew, Lemon said Smollett declared, “And that can’t get kicked out of me.” 

(Read more….) 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

When Trope Is Truth: Many Things Labelled 'Anti-Semitic' Are Just Ethnically & Politically Inconvenient

“Remember the cartoon the New York Times ran from a European syndicate a month ago, showing Netanyahu as a dog with a star of David collar leading a blind Trump wearing a skullcap?” This was Phil Weiss at Mondoweiss the other day, revisiting a controversial op-ed cartoon that “caused a ton of fallout for the newspaper, none of it positive.” According to Weiss, two former Times reporters now say “the cartoon crossed the line, but it could have appeared in an Israeli newspaper without the same level of furor.” As Weiss goes on to explain: 
The episode is worth revisiting because it sheds light on the keen sensitivity in the U.S. to apparent anti-semitic imagery — and the corresponding indifference here to anti-Palestinian commentary.
The cartoon by a Portuguese artist, António Moreira Antunes, ran on April 25; and it unleashed a firestorm of criticism. The paper soon apologized for publishing an “offensive cartoon” that “included anti-Semitic tropes” and stated that one editor had made an error of judgment. The view of the cartoon as “baldly antisemitic” was widely shared in the press, due to Antunes’s use of a yarmulke and star of David to identify the two leaders. The ADL said the cartoon was reminiscent of Nazi themes.
And though Antunes protested that he had never intended his cartoon to be anti-Semitic, but had sought to portray a political reality, he did not help his case when he said that the “Jewish propaganda machine” was behind the controversy.
The Times apologized several times. The publisher issued a statement saying that the paper had fallen short of its standards and that the editor who approved the image would face disciplinary action and the paper was “updating our unconscious bias training” to include a focus on anti-Semitism. The paper ended its subscription to the European syndicate that had provided the cartoon.
And the Times editorial page published a lead editorial calling the cartoon “obviously bigoted” and “appalling.” Though it also needed to explain its editor’s “numbness” in not being aware of such obvious bigotry. That was part of the danger.
[H]owever it came to be published, the appearance of such an obviously bigoted cartoon in a mainstream publication is evidence of a profound danger — not only of anti-Semitism but of numbness to its creep, to the insidious way this ancient, enduring prejudice is once again working itself into public view and common conversation.
The editorial went on to apologize for the paper’s failure to cover anti-Semitism in Europe in the ’30s and ’40s:
The Times was largely silent as anti-Semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood. That failure still haunts this newspaper.
It must be noted that pro-Israel forces seized on the cartoon to argue that the Times has a deeply-rooted bias against Israel. The paper was picketed by pro-Israel protesters, among them Alan Dershowitz; and Bret Stephens wrote a column titled, “A Despicable Cartoon in the Times.”
This week, two former Times reporters said the cartoon could have appeared in an Israeli newspaper without a furor. Joseph Berger and Ethan Bronner, both of whom have covered Jewish issues/Israel, spoke to Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week. Bronner noted the legitimacy of the cartoonist’s critique and pointed out that Antunes had used a Jewish symbol to identify Netanyahu because readers might not have recognized him otherwise.
Bronner said he believes the theme of the cartoon, that President Trump is unduly influenced by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, is “a legitimate topic of commentary and satire.
“The problem is that there is virtually no way to depict Jews or the state of Israel in a cartoon without using liturgical elements of Judaism — a Jewish star, yarmulke, menorah, etc. — and the result is you’re mirroring anti-Semitic cartoons of an earlier era.” He added that if the same cartoon appeared in an Israeli newspaper, it would not have caused such a sensation.
Bronner also said the context is criticism of Israel:
Bronner made a point of noting that the cartoon syndicate in question is in Europe, where the criticism of Israel and its policies is more vocal than in the U.S.
Joseph Berger said the cartoon could have been published in Israel without the same controversy:
As for the cartoon that precipitated the most recent round of anti-Times fervor, Berger said it was the yarmulke on Trump’s head that “made it about Judaism and put it over the edge.” But he acknowledged that had the same cartoon been published in Haaretz, the left-leaning Israeli daily, he and others might not have seen it in as harsh a light.
Berger told Rosenblatt he could not recall such “a self-critical editorial in The Times” as the one apologizing for the failure to cover anti-Semitism in the last century.
This episode seems important to bear in mind because though the cartoon was offensive, the response has been so over-the-top and so grave in character, that it is sure to make anyone who wants to criticize or mock the U.S.-Israel special relationship think twice. (And if you’re going to try to explain Trump’s subservience by blaming Adelson/the Israel lobby, you must be a bigot.) The Corbyn battle in the UK is coming to the Democratic Party soon.
Bronner and Berger’s comments are also a reminder that criticisms of Israel that are OK in Israeli papers are not allowed here, presumably because it’s not OK to discuss some things in front of non-Jews/or Jews can say stuff non-Jews can’t (a rule that applies to other minorities, as well). As Peter Beinart wrote this week in the Forward, he was taught that Jews should be wary about being too critical of Israel in front of non-Jews.
when it comes to pressuring Israel, [there’s] a voice inside their head that says: Don’t turn on your own. The voice says that Israel, whatever its flaws, is family, and the Palestinians are not. It says that when anti-Semitism is rising, including on the left, you don’t throw chum in the water. Once American Christians grow comfortable condemning and pressuring Israel, maybe we’ll find they enjoy it just a little too much.
I can think of many examples of Jewish voices in Israel that couldn’t be published here. Like Eva Illouz’s op-ed in Haaretz saying that the occupation is equivalent to slavery in the U.S. Or Amira Hass’s crushing report in Haaretz this week, “Renovated checkpoints mean Palestinians don’t feel like cows being led to slaughter.” Neither of these pieces was the least bit anti-Semitic, but if someone said it in the U.S., you know that charge would be leveled.
Now let’s flip the script. The Times has run four justifications of Israel’s killing of nonviolent Palestinian protesters in the last year without any apologies for anti-Palestinian racism, without any other columnists stepping in to say, Hey! let alone responses from the publisher and the editorial board mentioning the long history of racism toward Palestinians. Smearing Palestinians, as bloodthirsty terrorists who just want to hurt Jews, and who aren’t seeking their freedom and have no right to resist occupation — this is commonplace in American publications.
P.S. Bronner, now an editor at Bloomberg, is a liberal Zionist; and he said that the Times’s news policy is to treat Israel’s creation as a “triumph of history.” Good to know!
“The premise of the news coverage is that Israel is an ally of the U.S., a triumph of history and homeland of Jews, all of which is praiseworthy.”