I've been planning to write a piece for a while about Mary Schmich, who is one of my favorite columnists and writes for Chicago Tribune. (She wrote the famous "Wear sunscreen" graduation tips most people think was by Kurt Vonnegut.) She has a very good piece today about the new "Chicago 7" Netflix movie by Aaron Sorkin and a juror who is part of local history. I'll get to the planned column later -- there's no rush on it these days, when other news pushes it back... -- but you can find her latest column here.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is historian Douglas Boin. He and All discuss, as Al describes, “the uncanny parallels between Trump’s America and 410 AD Rome” when there was “hatred of immigrants, religious intolerance, systemic racism. And an Asshole emperor. Sound familiar?” The two talk about the story of Alaric, the Goth who led the sacking of Rome. Also, Al says he “establishes once and for all that the Romans killed Christ, not the Jews!”
The other day, to augment his clueless quote about Winston Churchill, Trump told the story of Churchill going outside to stand on the roof of a building during the Blitz and broadcast a speech to the British people. I think the fake point he was trying to make was showing how the Prime Minister tried to calm the public by showing there was no reason to panic and just stay calm and carry on. There's just one problem with his story -- and you're probably way ahead of me here -- it's not true. Need I say, "of course"?
It was legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow who would periodically go on the rooftop of the building CBS would broadcast from, and he would do his news report back to the United States (his famous "This...is London" broadcasts), as bombs could be heard exploding in the background. And it wasn't done to calm anyone, but to keep people fully informed and and honest as possible.
Murrow is one of my few "heroes" in broadcasting, and I've read three biographies on him. So, when I heard Trump telling the story about Winston Churchill, I could only cringe and shake my head.
Which is a long way to explain why I thought it would be a good time to have this clip of Edward R. Murrow as the 'Mystery Guest' segment of What's My Line?
Murrow had one of the most recognizable voices in radio and TV (in large part because of those London broadcasts), and so he works hard to disguise it. This video comes from December, 1952 – that's notable because while Bennett Cerf is on panel, this is so early in the show's run that he's not yet in his traditional seat on far right.
If you want to jump right to Murrow's appearance, it starts around the 16:30 mark. Nice, too, is that after the game, he sticks around to make a nice, moving presentation afterwards
Watching Trump the other trying to quote FDR and Winston Churchill the other day was sort of like watching a chimpanzee try to fly. You know it had its eyes in heaven, but it will never understand when you try to explain aerodynamics to it.
In Trump's speech, one of his writers attempted to come up with a way to explain him lying to the American public about how the coronavirus was pretty much contained, that people didn't get infected by it from airborne droplets, that it was no deadlier than the flu,and that young people were pretty much immune to it, when he knew none of that was true.
To be fair, while Trump did know at a certain point all that was untrue, it's possible -- being a malignant narcissist and pathological -- that eventually he convinced himself with his only lies. But still, from what he said on the recording to Bob Woodward that we all heard, he did know the truth at least at that time. When he said it.
But to try to make everything think he was just being noble (which I'm sure not many people ever thought likely -- including his family and those who have known him for decades) and that he just didn't want people to panic (which I'm sure not many people ever thought likely -- including his family and those who have known him for decades, or a few days), the speechwriter figured he'd try to throw in a couple of the most famous, nurturing thoughts by the two legendary democratic world leaders who helped save the world from Naziism and fascism.
That would be President Franklin D. Roosevelt telling the American public, "The only thing you have to fear -- is fear itself. And Prime Minister Winston Churchill telling the British people to "Stay calm, carry on."
Okay, this is really easy.
When FDR made his statement, first of all it wasn't about WWII, but the Great Depression. And the point wasn't to hide anything from the public to keep them from panicking. It was to let people know precisely what was going on, and let them know that the only actual danger to be concerned about was the terror of not knowing. That when you don't know what's going on, you create all manner of disastrous scenarios in your mind. But when you're told, you can understand what is happening and see what the government is doing to resolve things. Which removes fear and panic And so he would keep Americans informed, even to the point of later giving his famous Fireside Chats.
When Churchill made his statement, he wasn't keeping information from the public. He understand as clearly as could be that the British actually knew there was a war on in Europe, and that Hitler and the Nazis were taking over nations, and that England would be Germany's target. This wasn't a secret. He wasn't hiding the news about that. And it was specifically because the British public knew that he dealt with them openly and honestly, so that they could see what the government was doing to resolved things. And knowing the plans, being kept informed, they should them be able to stay calm and keep going.
This is pretty basic and obvious to anyone who takes half a moment to grasp the moment and have a clue about history. Which I understand leaves out Trump. It is also the exact opposite of what Trump told Bob Woodward he was supposedly doing in lying the everyone.
And one other thing: as Brian Williams noted, we also all know that after the Blitz, Churchill didn't say to the British people, "It is what it is."
While we can hope that Trump would have understood (or even just cared) what FDR and Churchill were actually saying, I think there's a better chance on that chimpanzee learning to fly.
I was tempted not to say anything upfront, and just post this column as is, and only afterwards give an explanation. But in the end, the piece has too many inconsistencies to be believed as having been written today and ultimately it was more fair to do it this way, at the top.
This is an article that I wrote for the Huffington Post -- over 13 years ago. It was written on March 15, 2007, and I came across it while looking for a different column. Skimming through, I was taken by how much of it not only holds true for today, but holds true so precisely, at times down to the word. And not just the title, paralleling Trump's regular tweet of his "LAW AND ORDER!" rant.
But then, that's been a mantra of the Republican Party for years. As has so much of this. Which is why my oft-repeated comment, "This isn't about Trump, we know who he is, this is about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable him and are complicit," isn't just a catch-phrase. This is about the Republican Party. It's who they are, and who they've been for many decades. The foundation was there. Trump merely opened the door to let it out, and took it to a much higher, and fascist level. But the GOP enabled him and are complicit because it's who they are.
So, here it is, from ?March 15, 2007. Not a word changed.
“The Party of Law and Order” Decoded
Okay, so we know that the Republican Party officially hates “activist judges.”
And we know that they hate trial lawyers with a passion almost as great.
And also we know they utterly hate defense attorneys to the point of apoplexy. (Although the growing number of Congressional Republicans on trial are beginning to see their virtue.)
And seeing comments from top Republican analysts and party leaders dismissing the Lewis Libby verdict, and because it was just a “Washington jury” anyway, they apparently hate jurors, too.
And given that Republicans have underfunded police departments across the country, they seem to hate policemen.
And of course now with news reports of the White House involving itself in the political firings of U.S. Attorneys – with an inquiry even coming whether the entire lot of them could be fired – the highest levels of the Republican Party appear to hate the Justice Department.
And with the Administration regularly ignoring new federal laws with the President issuing over 600 “signing statements,” and nary a complaint from the Party, Republicans evidently hate the legal system of statutes, as well.
After all of this, it’s become clear what the issue is:
Leadership of the Republican Party hates the law. Period. And they’ve convinced much of the membership of the party to feel so, too.
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Republicans have long-proclaimed their detestation of most of these legal standards for years, decades in some cases. It’s just that the Bush Administration has made it an art form. After all, this is the President who was famously quoted as calling the Constitution of the United States “just a piece of paper.”
When the Republican Party didn’t hang him out to dry for that, you knew the country was in for a bumpy ride.
We have an Attorney General – the highest law official in the land – who previously wrote a memo to the President and Defense Secretary explaining how the U.S. could ignore the Geneva Convention and justify torture.
We have FBI leadership dismissing abuse of the Patriot Act as really just a mere paperwork oversight.
Then again, this is the Administration who, when given its first opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, gave the name of a person who was generally agreed to be among the most unqualified nominees in history, Harriet Miers – the woman, by the way, who sent the memo about firing all the U.S. Attorney’s. (This would all suggest that maybe the White House also hates the Supreme Court, although since it owes its Presidency to that august body, there’s probably a certain grudging appreciation.)
And the Republican Congress, indeed Republicans throughout the country, accept all this. All of it – the hatred of “activist judges,” trial lawyers, defense attorneys, runaway juries, taxes to fund police departments, federal statutes, U.S. Attorneys and the Justice Department, civil rights, human rights and, presumably, the Constitution.
At what point did the Republican Party get away with convincing the American public that it was the “party of law and order”??! This is a trick worthy of Houdini. It’s flimflammery that would make P.T. Barnum proud. It’s a fabrication that makes Pinocchio look like a snub-nosed pug.
The only thing that Republicans seem to seriously like about “Law and Order” is that Fred Thompson plays a D.A. on it.
Now, I know that every single Republican doesn’t feel this way. There certainly are Republicans outraged by the abuses and anti-law attitudes of the vast majority of their party. (These Republicans are generally known as “disenfranchised.” Or “conservative Democrats.”)
And I also know that most other Republicans who have made it this far reading are likely up in arms, spitting nails, insistent that they love law and order even more than common decency itself. Of course, this is the same mantra they’ve been spitting for decades. But the reality is, if you hate “activist judges,” trial lawyers, defense attorneys, runaway juries, taxes to fund police departments, the Justice Department, human rights and think it’s okay to consider the Constitution “just a piece of paper,” then you can spew all you want, but you hate the law.
Because the whole point of the law is that it is blind. (You know, that whole “Justice is blind” thingee? It’s not just a slogan, bucko.) The law pastes everyone equally, and if you don’t like how it applies to you, tough tooties, you still can’t drive 60 MPH in a school zone. If you don’t like a law, you hit the pavement and work to change it –
– and hope and pray that once you’ve changed the law, there’s not a President in office who will ignore it with a “signing statement.”
The Republican Party is no more the “party of law and order” than a kegger is a party of good manners and fine tea.
The next time a Republican struts around, puffing out his chest to make sure you see the plastic flag decal pinned there, and proclaims he’s in the party of law and order, ask whether you can join and if you should bring your toga.
For all the complaints of Trump and the GOP that the press only writes about Trump scandals and Trump officials in jail and indicted -- and ignore the Obama scandals...
In fairness, I note that today is the 6th anniversary of the Barack Obama Tan Suit Scandal.
August 28, 2014
For those who like to look at the calendar for such things, today is the 76th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. I thought it would therefore be especially appropriate to post this video. It's the wonderful theme to the movie, The Longest Day, sung and performed most appropriately by the Cadet Glee Club of West Point, along with military band.
I first posted this video four years ago in 2017. It’s my favorite one on the subject – not just for the performance, but for how beautifully the video is edited. It's particularly well-done, beginning with a minute of General Dwight Eisenhower's message to the troops before the invasion began, and interspersed with some excellent photos and archival film from the day, amid the soaring music.
It's especially moving this year, when we see in perspective how the U.S. military is used for the reason it was created -- to protect the United States, fighting a foreign war against Nazi forces pushing to dominate the world.
By the way, the timpani you hear before the song begins is not only recognizable as the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but more to the point, it's the Morse Code for “V” for Victory.
Also, in case you weren't aware, the main theme for The Longest Day, used throughout the film not just in the end titles, was written by pop-start heartthrob at the time, Paul Anka.
I wrote about this piece of remarkable TV history back in 2014, and it remains one of my favorites. Though there's some background music in it, it's not about music at all, but it will nonetheless sit for today's Holiday Music Fest, mainly on the Fest part. Back in my initial posting on this site about Kukla, Fran and Ollie, I wrote about how the show's brilliant creator, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom won an additional Emmy Award that was not involved with KF&O, but for his work on his own. It was for one of the "hand ballets" that he performed on occasion for the satirical news series, That Was the Week That Was.
That Was the Week That Was was a smart, pointed, very sharp British sketch-comedy show which was brought over to the U.S. in the early 1960s. Among other things, it introduced to American audiences one of the original British cast members, David Frost. It's also the show that introduced Tom Lehrer to most Americans. He wrote periodic songs for the series, and then recorded them for his now-classic hit album, That Was the Year That Was.
And it also brought Burr Tillstrom into the national spotlight in a way people hadn't seen or expected.
His hand ballets were little vignettes that didn't use any puppets at all, but merely Tillstrom's bare hands, using them alone to evoke some story in the news he wanted to get across. It was done with great artistry, often movingly. And one of them so artistic and moving that it won him an Emmy Award.
In 1963, two years after the Berlin Wall had been erected, a very brief concession was made. The Wall would open for the Christmas holiday and allow those in the West to travel into East Berlin and visit family and loved ones, needing to return a few days later.
This is what Burr Tillstrom did a hand ballet about shortly after. And --
-- I found the video of it. It is one of the favorite videos I've been able to find. I'm thrilled
The quality of the video is a little rough, especially at the beginning, but it's fine. And ultimately, as you watch -- one brilliant artist using only his hands -- the quality of the video won't matter one whit.
And if anyone ever wonders where the humanity of Kukla, Fran and Ollie came from, to bring such life into puppets, now you'll know.
When I posted this last year, I got a perturbed note from a reader who found nothing worthwhile about the video, and took me to task for wasting his time. In the spirit of the season, I will refrain from anything ad hominen. I will just say that I feel completely comfortable in recognizing the legend of this piece, and anything else is an understandable matter of personal taste. Wherever that may lie. I say this knowing that it's not just my opinion on this, but the members of the of the Television Academy who voted Tillstrom the Emmy Award.
But to be fair, I guess I should add a disclaimer. If anyone doesn't like old black-and-white video or just looking at hands for three minutes, or politics and history, or quiet, thoughtful, emotional storytelling with the sparsest of action or jokes, centered instead on pure artistry, I get it, and so by all means avoid this.
For everyone else, here it is.
It turns out that Dennis Prager has a video out with him "pontificating wisely" (tm) in front of a fireplace with a personal observation that he tries to make oh-so very clear is not for every man but...well, but for "some," and not just some, but "enough that I can make this point" -- so, despite his insistence, it's clear that this pertains to a lot. A LOT. And it's that "enough" men today are growing beards because "feminism and the Left have crapped on masculinity" and they need to say "hello, I'm not a female."
Interestingly, that is the exact same reason that was given for men having beards in 19th century England! And also in 1250 B.C. Jerusalem.
And Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz in 2019.
And Santa Claus.
And Abraham Lincoln, father of the Republican Party.
Reading or listening to what Dennis Prager has to say is an ethereally mind-numbing experience. Not always. Some of the time. And enough of the time that I can make this point.
Actually, now that I think of it, it's most of the time. I was just being polite before.
And it got me to thinking of an article I wrote about Mr. Prager on the Huffington Post back in 2010. It was the result of an exchange of emails I had with a friend who's a reasonably well-known public figure, very right-wing and a friend of Prager. Initially, when I decided to re-post this here, it was only because I think "enough" of what Dennis Prager writes and says is crushingly empty, made under the seeming guise of sage advice, and I wanted to follow-up on his little video chat with my encore from the past. But as I re-read the article, I realized that in many ways the two pieces are connected, that indeed both of them have a similar theme of Mr. Prager -- a total mis-understanding of historical fact, and insistence that the cause of the world's ills, which tend to be things different from him as seen through his small, myopic view of life, are due "enough" to liberals.
By the way, this is an especially-ludicrous perspective to have, given that conservatism is about protecting what's good about the past, and liberalism is about finding what's good about changing and progressing into the future -- and 10,000 years or so of history have shown that, in fact, life actually changes. A lot.
But then, as I said, not understanding history and the reality of life is so-very Dennis Prager. Well, okay, not understanding some of it. And enough of it to make this point.
June 3, 2010
Dennis Prager: Making the World a Crueler Place, One Word at a Time
A conservative friend has me on his mailing list. He forwards me diatribes from his circle about how the world will end because of liberals, a term loosely defined as "anything that isn't conservative."
These articles have two things in common. One is that they all border on fear, and the other is their relationship to facts is similar to P.T. Barnum's.
What is unfortunate is that my friend - and his circle - accept them all on faith. And the problem of accepting temporal matters on faith is that it doesn't develop the power to think for oneself.
The other day, the latest forwarding was an article by Dennis Prager. It was an essay that, on the surface, appeared to discuss a philosophic argument comparing religion to the evils of the secular world. In reality, it was just bulldozing facts to make a political point.
This below isn't whole article by Mr. Prager. In fairness, I only got through the first four paragraphs. But I include those four, so that what follows would be in context.
* * *
May 25, 2010
The World Is a Cruel Place -- and If America Weakens, It Will Get Crueler
By Dennis Prager
One of the many beliefs -- i.e., non-empirically based doctrines -- of the post-Christian West has been that moral progress is the human norm, especially so with the demise of religion. In a secular world, the self-described enlightened thinking goes, superstition is replaced by reason, and reason leads to the moral good.
Of course, it turned out that the post-Christian West produced considerably more evil than the Christian world had. No mass cruelty in the name of Christianity approximated the vastness of the cruelty unleashed by secular doctrines and regimes in the post-Christian world. The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism.
The amount of evil done by Christians -- against, for example, "heretics" and Jews -- in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity -- was extensive, as was the failure of most European Christians to see Nazism for the evil that it was. The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers.
But there were never any Christian Auschwitzes -- i.e., systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion. Nor were there Christian Gulags -- the shipping of millions of innocents to conditions so horrific that prolonged suffering leading to death was the almost-inevitable end.
This is as far as I got. It was either keep reading or stop before my head exploded. I opted for the latter.
The problem, you see, is that there are a great many things Mr. Prager far too self-comfortably and intentionally overlooks. Like, for example, giving a pass to the Spanish Inquisition and its Auto-de-fe torture. He does this by conveniently (and simplistically) self-defining religious mass murder on his own very-limited terms, as systematically killing "every" person of a religion. Of course, in reality, even Nazism didn't systematically kill "every" Jew by his own definition, any more than Spanish Catholics did in the 356 years of the Inquisition. But what the Inquisition did during those 3-1/2 centuries was pretty darn systematic and massive. Not to mention that it was torture.
And though he eases his conscience by insisting, "Nor were there Christian Gulags...", he again intentionally (because if not intentional, it is ignorantly) overlooks 800 years or more of horrors that cumulatively likely were crushingly worse than any Gulag since they defined nearly a millennium of daily culture.
But mainly, I didn't get that far because Mr. Prager showed an unacceptable lack of history and reality when he wrote, "The argument against religion that more people have been killed in the name of religion than by any other doctrine is false propaganda on behalf of secularism and Leftism."
While this statement sounds authoritative, it is of course backed up by…nothing. Not a single word of it is backed up by - anything. It is words strung together.
I actually read history. I have no doubt that Dennis Prager does, as well. But I can't speak to what he reads, or chooses to remember, or include. But honestly, his above is a numbing statement. Last year, I finally finished reading Will and Ariel Durant's brilliant and legendary 11-volume Story of Civilization. Probably around 8,000 pages. Up until about the year 1600, probably the bulk of wars were religious-based, and many wars beyond that, through 1800. National governments were religious for much of history, as kings ruled their nations by divine right, and fought off opposing armies for fear of another king's religious encroachment. The Holy Roman Empire dominated Europe. Muslimism, Hinduism, Buddhism dominated much of the rest of the world. Pure secular rule only came later. Villages of 20,000 people - 30,000 or 50,000 people - would be wiped out without a thought, becoming almost commonplace, century after century for a thousand years or more, from the beginning of history through the early 17th century. (In the early volumes, Durant writes of such ghastly massacres with eloquent horror. Later, as they continued through the centuries, the historian instead wearily addresses them as almost footnotes before moving on to the next.) The continuing Crusades of Christianity against Moslems were almost unendingly devastating to the society it crossed and ravaged. For over 200 years, there were 11 of these Crusades, all of them religiously-approved wars.
But more than that, as Mr. Prager tries to whitewash what was done specifically to Jews throughout history by focusing on Nazis, let me offer a passage from Volume 6 of the Durants' history, "The Reformation." Pages 730-731. An important thing to keep in mind is that this was written in 1957. After World War II. After the Nazis. Written by a renowned historian who made it his life work to study the history of mankind. Durant begins the passage this way --
"The Black Death was a special tragedy for the Jews of Christendom. The same plague had slain Mongols, Moslems and Jews in Asia, where no one thought of blaming the Jews; but in Western Europe a populace maddened by the ravages of pestilence accused the Jews of poisoning the wells in an attempt to wipe out all Christians."
Durant then continues with a lengthy tale of how such "fevered imaginations" swept across all of Europe. "Nevertheless, some Jews were tortured into confessing that they had distributed the poison...Merciless pogroms broke out in France, Spain and Germany. In one town in southern France the entire Jewish community was cast into flames. All Jews in Savoy, all Jews around Lake Leman, all in Bern, Fribourg, Basel, Nuremberg, Brussels were burned."
(If Dennis Prager is looking for "systematic genocides of every man, woman and child of a particular race or religion," that long list of "all" is a good place to start. But I digress...)
And then, after this lengthy passage describing these many dark years, Will Durant concludes by writing -- and I repeat, this was written a decade after World War II by a man who made it his life work to study the entire history of man --
"It would be hard to find, before our time, or in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death."
So, while Dennis Prager wants to whitewash history for the sake of making a political point -- shame on him.
Shame on him.
And his shame extends further. It's when Prager writes, "The good news is that Christian evils have been acknowledged and addressed by most Christian leaders and thinkers."
"Good news"?? That's the good news?
Yes, to Dennis Prager in his political, high-wire, contortionist act, that's the "good news." It all makes up for the Inquisition and a thousand years of torture and persecution. Good news indeed! "Sorry we tortured you and killed you and wiped out entire villages for hundreds of years. Our bad." Good news? That's great news! Of course, it would have been even better news if all Christian leaders and thinkers acknowledged Christian evils, and not just "most" of them, which could mean only 51 percent... But hey, who am I to quibble?
Mind you, all Dennis Prager says is that most Christian leaders and thinkers merely "acknowledge" these "Christian evils" - not that they are horrified, repulsed and mortified by them, or ever did anything to make up for them. Just that they "acknowledge" their existence. Okay, sorry, "most" do. (However many "most" is.) Given that "it would be hard to find," as Will Durant said, "in all the records of savagery, any deeds more barbarous than the collective murder of Jews in the Black Death," I guess that in Dennis Prager's politically conservative world the best we can get is to accept that as "good news." Swell.
I got no further than these opening paragraphs. To be fair, maybe in the rest of his article Dennis Prager had a complete change of viewpoint. But I didn't have it in me to keep going and see if such a miracle had occurred. Because I was reading empty and dishonest words. All designed to misinterpret history to make a political point.
None of this is to criticize religion or praise secularism. There is room for an honest discussion of that. It is, instead, to note solely that what Dennis Prager wrote is not acceptable.
Actually, what he wrote is pathetic. And I'm sorry my friend and others accepted it as the truth. Because it ignores the reality of history. If a person wants to share the same political beliefs with Dennis Prager or with anyone amongst themselves, that's fine. But one should still be willing to tell those you otherwise agree with that they're wrong when they are very wrong.
"Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters," said Albert Einstein, who knew something about pursuing the truth carefully, "cannot be trusted with important matters."
Dennis Prager says the world is a cruel place. Maybe it just looks that way when you are so careless with the truth.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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