Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trump Rolls Along / The 'Big Lie' / Woodrow Takes a Bullet

The Clown Car Keeps Chugging – Mr. Gripes has seen parts of all the Republican debates, and, after each one, as he resides on the sofa with mouth agape at the silliness, the infantilism, the imbecility, he wonders aloud, ‘How did what was once the most vigorous and successful democracy in world history get to here?’ It feels like we’re descending into a yawning abyss.

Suddenly it hits me, ‘Of course…it’s Sarah Palin!’ I remember the exact moment: in the middle of her debate with Joe Biden in 2008, she turned to the camera, and winked at all of us in the TV audience, as if she was letting us in on the hysterical farce that is American politics these days.

That moment was the catalyst for the increasingly irrational political discourse we’ve observed ever since. The debate catapulted Ms. Palin into national prominence, becoming an instant celebrity among Republicans. The truth we found out later was she really had no interest in governance; her overweening goal was to get rich, which she did, extravagantly so. [Two months after the election, she quit as Governor of Alaska, becoming a TV pundit [!!], writing a book which generated a huge advance, and embarking on a very lucrative career making speeches before adoring conservative audiences. She’s now a millionaire, a few times over.]

Which brings me to the present and the 2nd coming of ‘Sarah Palin’: Donald Trump. One thing, though, Mr. Gripes does give Mr. Trump credit for: like the leopard, he does not change his spots. While every establishment Republican politician and conservative think tank wonk would give their left arm to make Trump disappear, he continues to be at or near the front of the pack. [An aside: nothing pleases Mr. Gripes more than seeing the smug, rodent-esque Bill Kristol, one of the neo-con advisors exhorting George Bush to invade Iraq in 2002 so democracy would ‘flower’ in the Middle East, eat crow on ‘Morning Joe’ every couple of weeks after he’s assured us once again of a Trump collapse …Wrong again and again and again, Billy Boy.  If Trump triumphs, there’ll be no more easy-money, think-tank speaking fees coming your way for a while.]

But, Mr. Gripes simply doesn’t believe that Mr. Trump, not now nor four months ago when all this began, wants to be President of the United States. Oh sure, maybe he suffers at times from delusions of grandeur, and thinks he’s got a shot, but, in more rational moments, that prospect probably scares him to death. I think he ran for one principal reason: his ‘brand’ would be exponentially augmented by a few months of campaigning. And, that certainly has occurred: every building, every golf course he creates, every book he writes have greatly enhanced value due to his enormous notoriety. As well, any canned speech he presents in front of trade associations, corporations and the like from now on will go for $250,000 and upwards a pop.

Mr. Trump, lately, appears to be making more frequent outrageous --destructive, even –  blunders out on the campaign trail that seem to ‘Dr. Gripes’ to be collectively an unconscious wish to sabotage and terminate his Presidential run. [Although maybe I don’t give Mr. Trump enough credit; he may be very conscious of what he’s doing.] What’s the motivation, after all, when he actually called out, ‘How stupid can Iowans be’ when he was campaigning in Iowa, no less? Very strange behavior if he really wants to be President.

The other reason that I think this endeavor is a short-term move by Donald Trump is that he’s not spending any money on his campaign. Oh, sure, he promises he’ll be spending ‘millions very soon,’ but presently he’s acting like a cheapskate: his campaigning seems to be solely functioning through TV appearances, news spots and debates. [The networks drool over Trump and his attendant ratings, and give him essentially as much air time as he likes, all free of charge, of course.] There have been no advertising expenditures, and where are the paid staffs he needs to hire for the primary states he’s running in? Mr. Gripes senses that Mr. Trump knows damn well this campaign is ultimately a loser’s game for him, and he’ll hold on to every dime of his billions, thank you very much.

‘Mainstream Media’ – It’s the Big Lie, as Orwell so accurately called it. Definition: a falsehood so often and so loudly exclaimed that eventually people come to believe it’s the truth. Well, the Republican Party has trumpeted its own ‘Big Lie’ for a long, long time: it’s Republican scripture that the established media outlets – national television and radio networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others – are ‘left-wing’ – with maybe a wisp of ‘commie’ stink, too -- and always slant the news against the Party of the Right; they can’t be trusted to tell the poor, misinformed citizenry the real facts.

What a crock of horsesh_t.

Let’s pretend for a second you’re Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican Majority Leader of the Senate, and you’ve just sat down for the usual breakfast bowl of oatmeal, coffee, and a slice of toast. You were appraised last night that another city has been ransacked and conquered by Isis in Iraq. What is the first newspaper you turn for a more detailed report? There’s only one: the ‘New York Times’. Do you actually think that Mr. McConnell will turn on Fox News for astute, accurate, objective analysis? Not in a million years. [‘Fair and Balanced’, my ass.] And what works for the Kentucky senator works for every other Republican senator. Each one of them will read the ‘New York Times’ during the morning, even as that paper is trashed all the time as leftwing propaganda by these same Republicans. It’s a corollary of the Big Lie.

Deriding and ridiculing media such as the NY Times or CNN serves another purpose for Republicans and Conservatives. When faced with an issue they have no genuine answer to, they simply assert the question is nothing but garbage promulgated by the mainstream media, so it’s not worth even discussing. The constant, lamenting refrain of ‘Mainstream Media’ is nothing but empty demagoguery. 

Here’s an example: Mr. Gripes observed in one of the Republican debates Senator Marco Rubio puff out his chest and declare, ‘We need a much stronger military; I’ll increase the military budget by $1 trillion to accomplish that.’ Governor John Kasich, a Rubio debate opponent that evening, counters by asserting, and I paraphrase, “Without increased taxes, which you’re going to have to implement, how are you ever going to afford that? You’re dreaming.’ 

Senator Rubio then blurts out, as his counter-argument to Mr. Kasich, loudly, ‘That’s the same non-sense line we get from the mainstream media.’ That was his only answer to a very valid question. Mr. Rubio had no substantive reply at all to the $1 trillion gap, so he avoids the whole issue by criticizing the media. And this ploy is done all the time, when politicians, especially conservative ones, don’t have a clue about solutions to problems. It’s all chimera, and posturing, and pandering to a rabid, angry base, with no connection to reality.  And these politicians know exactly what they’re doing.
‘Mainstream Media’ is a very useful tool for politicians. However, its utterance always represents a refusal or an inability to confront, honestly, the very difficult issues of a very complex world.

Leave Poor Woody Alone, OK?? Now it’s Woodrow Wilson who’s taking some bullets. This is the honorable Woodrow Wilson I’m talking about: initially, President of Princeton University, then New Jersey Governor, and finally President of the United States for two terms. During his Presidency, the country entered World War I and, in short order, Mr. Wilson and America managed to finish off Germany and the Axis powers. After the Armistice, he basically worked himself to death attempting to create a World League, the predecessor to the United Nations. Mr. Wilson, who indeed may have held racist views regarding people of color, was nevertheless an exemplary public servant, and should be lauded.

Instead, students at his school are now trying to get his name erased from the ‘Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs,’ an extremely well respected institution, among a host of other demands. What would Mr. Gripes say to these students, if he were running the university? ‘Forget about it, boys and girls. Whatever honoraria Mr. Wilson might have garnered on these sacred grounds will not be touched. There’ll be no chiseling out his name from any of our buildings, and there’ll be no historical erasures among the books in our library. Friends, he was a great man.’

Mr. Gripes may sound like a curmudgeon on this issue, but, let’s be real, students – their youth certainly has a lot to do with it – lack context. Woodrow Wilson’s era was blatantly racist – hell, lynchings went on continuously at the time, unimpeded by any local, state or national officialdom. Blacks were indisputably second-class citizens in this country. So, let’s be real -- Mr. Wilson’s race beliefs were most likely very much aligned with those of the vast majority of citizens.

Of course, Woodrow Wilson held Neanderthal views on race relations. So what? A lot of our presidents made huge mistakes, harbored backward beliefs, and took despicable actions. Abraham Lincoln wanted originally to deport black American citizens back to Africa [to establish their own country, Liberia]; Franklin Roosevelt imprisoned American citizens of Japanese descent in remote areas of Nevada and California, as World War II commenced, and didn’t allow Jewish refugees from Europe to enter the United States at all during the war. But, should the monuments of both presidents be torn down and their great deeds erased from history books? Of course not. They were flawed human beings, like the rest of us.

Way back when, I was a student at one of the ‘elite’ colleges that resembles Princeton. And, I’m more and more appreciative of the great education I received there. Sure, I grumbled sometimes about school, but I was very cognizant of the gift my parents gave to me. It was an enormous privilege to attend a college of that caliber. These Princeton students, instead of wasting their time besmirching the reputation of their magnificent university, should take a long look at what they’re protesting. After all, there are so many other pressing issues – how about the systematic enslavement and raping of thousands of Isis female captives, for one – to focus their energy on.

Woodrow Wilson’s been dead for 91 years. Let the man rest in peace.

Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes                                                             December 7, 2015

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Trump Jumps In / Denny Is Nobody’s Fool / The Not-So-Hot Cup

Trump’s In… Television news these days, whether it’s local, cable or national, can be aptly labeled as ‘The Triumph of the Trivial.’ Significant news, i.e., the Middle East, the pervasive and enveloping corruption of our political system, the accelerating erosion of American infrastructure, is barely discussed; it’s all about rains in the Midwest, a fire in an empty three-floor warehouse in Jersey City, Kim Kardashian’s rear end, 45-minute car chases on the 405, or another barely believable health ‘breakthrough’. Broadcast news is ‘broken.’

That’s why I have to laugh upon observing broadcasters on television snicker quietly about the entrance of Donald Trump into the 2016 Republican primary race for the nomination to run for President. Because, in actuality, Mr. Trump is an early Christmas gift to television news reporters. With already-announced Republican candidates such as Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Jeb Bush in the race, the campaign looked mighty dreary to the likes of Don Lemon, Scott Paley or Joe Scarborough. And, let’s not forget who’s on the other side: how long have we been compelled to gaze upon the countenance of Hillary Clinton? Since the dawning of the Bronze Age?

You're Welcome, Journalists.
So, when Donald Trump announced, you could almost hear the hurrahs and exhalations coming out of the television set.  Why shouldn’t a personage like Wolf Blitzer, whose monotonic delivery could cure anyone of insomnia, jump for joy? Instead of issuing pleas for candidates to be forthright on immigration, farm subsidies, civil rights, and a million other issues that every candidate will avoid, Mr. Blitzer just puts the microphone in front of Mr. Trump and he gets all the juicy racist, xenophobic and belligerent sound bites he wants. ‘Hey,’ Mr. Blitzer says to himself,’ I don’t have to do anything. This is a hell of a lot of fun. Keep nuking ‘em, Donald. I’ll just sit here, as mute as a church mouse, and bask in your feigned outrage.’

Of course, let’s face it, Mr. Trump doesn’t stand a chance. Right now, though, he sucks the oxygen out of any room he’s in with his bombastic comments, and his Republican opponents are completely overshadowed. And, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, we’ll begin to see stories out of the press that assert ‘Trump is rising in the polls…a groundswell.’ But, I suspect his future will be akin to the phenom pitcher who wins his first couple of games, is shelled in the next two games as the hitters figure him out, and is back in the minors soon after: Mr.Trump, who appears to have tripped over his enormous ego and injured himself [his ‘brand’], will be dispatched soon as a viable candidate. In fact, my money’s on his dropping out within a couple of months.

In the meantime, let’s all just relax and enjoy the spectacle of a Trump campaign for President. Because if it’s fireworks and some ‘juice’ you want, and, yes, even some guffaws, Mr. Trump will certainly provide that. All good things do come to an end, though: just consider what is coming down the pike after he’s gone: a series of scintillating debates between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush [probably]. Yikes. A triple espresso, no sugar please, before I nod off.

Denny – He sure had Mr. Gripes fooled. Dennis Hastert, formerly the Republican Speaker of the House, appeared to be a rather innocuous sort: good-natured, affable, a good old ‘Joe.’ In fact, I’d hazard a guess that his amiable demeanor went a long way in securing for Mr. Hastert the prestigious Speaker job, following the skein of disreputable characters who preceded him.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened the newspaper one morning and read that Uncle Denny had been arrested for a series of personal bank withdrawals of more than $10,000, and then lying about them. [In the FBI’s mind, withdrawals of that size may be a ‘trigger’ for money-laundering crimes.] Then, surprise turned to shock when I found out that that Mr. Hastert had been paying a blackmailer individual payments of $50,000 a month for some time, and had at the time of his arrest already shelled out $1.75 million!

At this point – evoking the old adage that ‘Yes, I was born at night, but not last night’ -- Mr. Gripes immediately pondered questions that any half-sentient being would bring up, “What the hell was Mr. Hastert up to, paying that kind of money?”, and “How did a simple man such as Mr. Hastert get his hands on so much money?” After all, he never made more than $175,000 annually as a Congressman, a princely sum surely, but certainly not enough to pay that $50 Grand every month without, apparently, difficulty.

Well, it turns out Dennis Hastert needn’t take second place to the King himself, Bill Clinton, regarding smarmy and sleazy affairs. It seems that Mr. Hastert, when he was wresting coach at a high school years ago, molested adolescent boys on the team. [Coaching wrestling seems to bring out the pedophiles, doesn’t it?] Much later, one of his victims threatened to expose Mr. Hastert and demanded money to keep quiet; arrangements were then made for the monthly $50,000 payments. 

When Mr. Gripes learned that Mr. Hastert had an accumulated wealth of between $3.5 million and $11.3 million the day he left Congress, he immediately smelled a rat. Or, if I may mix metaphors and animals, something was mighty fishy. And, sure enough, Mr. Hastert had ‘stolen’ that money. In Congress, though, they steal money stealthily, even quasi-legally.

Mr. Hastert didn’t have to rob a bank, or steal from some widow’s estate. He simply passed some federal legislation. Here’s how the scam works: A group of investors, inclusive of Dennis Hastert, forms up and buys a tract of acreage out in the boondocks in central Illinois. [The group defines itself as a ‘trust’, thereby precluding anyone from finding out that Mr. Hastert is one of the investors, an obvious indication that something nefarious was going on.]
Mr. Hastert then sponsors a federal appropriations bill authorizing a highway to be built through the very land that his trust had bought, and shepherds the bill through Congress authorizing its construction. Bingo….the land he bought is now much more valuable, as a highway is about to be built through it. He clears millions of dollars from the subsequent sale.

Mr. Hastert is now a scorned and disgraced individual and probable molester of children, but really I suspect he’s not alone in pulling off this kind of thievery: a lot of politicians enrich themselves in exactly this manner, or by utilizing other behind-closed-doors, secretive methods. And, the hypocrites that they are, they constantly are badgering us for not participating in elections in sufficient numbers. Why should we, when we know this kind of monkey business goes on all the time.

Mr. Hastert, though, will skate through this arrest and subsequent trial [if there is one], Mr. Gripes assumes. Oh, yeah, he’ll be fined a bit [not enough to hurt him, mind you], get a suspended sentence perhaps, and be lectured on ethics by some political-hack judge. He should be sent ‘upstate’ for a long time, but he’ll basically get off scot-free. His cronies will protect him. And, that virtual impunity enrages Mr. Gripes more than anything else in this sordid tale. 

World Cup Hype - Yeah, Mr. Gripes will admit he is on occasion a stick-in-the-mud grump. Hyperbole, for one thing, automatically blows up his ‘grumpiness’ meter; yesterday’s women’s World Cup championship game, between the United States and Japan, was simply nauseating in its delivery of those good old American staples of jingoism and exhibitionistic braggadocio. [One sports talk host admitted he ‘shed some tears’ after the Americans won – get a life, big guy.]

No country on earth is as self-centered and as in love with itself as this country. We as a nation are simply unable to show the least humility vis-à-vis other nations. And that lack of modesty and ‘our-way-or-the-highway’ thinking get us in trouble a lot, i.e., Vietnam, Iraq. We’re very bad winners; today I did not see one word of graciousness or kindness toward yesterday’s opponent and loser, Japan. 

But enough geo-political malarkey. Let’s look at the World Cup competition as a whole this past month. I think I may be the only clear-eyed observer of the overall play who saw just how awful the competition actually was. Scoring was virtually non-existent [the championship game was an exception], and the play on the field generally shoddy and sloppy. And, very frequently, the games were played in cavernous stadiums, with a few hundred fans in attendance, bunched together amidst fifty or sixty thousand empty seats. A pitiful, sad tableau for the TV viewing audience. 

Perhaps Mr. Gripes is disappointed because last year’s Men’s World Cup in Brazil was so exhilarating: jammed stadiums, fans and citizens of every country in attendance, rolling, rollicking energy both on the field and in the stands, a multitude of national flags on display, and, of course, magnificent play on the part of world-class soccer players, demonstrating astonishing athleticism: it was a joy to watch, and a glimmer of our eternal hope of an utopian world in which all countries get along.

The enormous difference between men’s and women’s sport play, out of political correctness, is never discussed in the press – never. But, it’s a fact of life. Yes, the athletic abilities of the women participating in this competition were extraordinary -- I don’t want to diminish that fact. But, let’s be real: male athletes – stronger, bigger, faster – make for a much more interesting spectacle – in this sport, and a lot other sports, too….OK, you’re great at synchronized swimming, I’ll concede that.

Oh, while I am huffing and puffing about women’s sports, there’s something else that’s bugged Mr. Gripes: women’s professional basketball is in dire need of a face lift. There are too many turnovers and too many missed shots, including, rather remarkably, lay-ups. There’s remarkably little ‘flow’ in the games; there are so many mistakes. The solution is simple: lower the height of the basket rims from 10 feet to 9-1/2 feet. Immediately, there’d be injected into games much more excitement, with more scoring, and slam dunks, too. 

And, the women’s league, now basically subsidized by the men’s National Basketball Association, might actually flourish, and manage to sustain itself. Lowering that rim would work wonders. It’ll never happen, though: there simply is no way that rights groups would accept a lower rim – somehow, in these bizarre times, some women activists would equate a lesser height with a regression to second-class citizenship.

But, if opponents might stop and consider a change to 9-1/2 feet, look at all the positives that would ensue: a lower rim means more scoring [right now, it’s appalling how low-scoring the games are]; more scoring would mean more interest and more fans of the sport, and men might even start attending in significant numbers; more interest and more attendance means more money coming in; more money coming in means more games played [right now, the season consists of a meager 32 games], and possibly even an expansion of the league to other cities. And, guess what? A thriving women’s professional basketball league would lead to more players playing, more front-office executives, and more auxiliary jobs created, i.e., in the playing arenas. That’s right: jobs, jobs, jobs, and very good ones, for women.

Hillary, I’ve got a great idea:  forget all that ridiculous populist hokum [the $125 million you and Bill have currently in the bank kills that BS] you’re attempting to foist on us, and make part of your platform this wonderful jobs-creation concept of 9-1/2 feet. A landslide victory is assured.

Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes
July 6, 2015

Please leave your comments below. Thank you!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chappaquiddick’s ‘Black Waters’ / Same-Sex Grammar / A Knight – Lady, No Less – in Shining Armor?

Chappaquiddick – Weird how the brain functions when you’re approaching the age of decrepitude, as Mr. Gripes may be experiencing. One moment, a memory that’s been buried 20 leagues under a sea somewhere, resurfaces with all the original emotion and shock intact. 

I happened upon a novel, ‘Black Water,’ by Joyce Carol Oates, which is – pardon the cliché – a ‘thinly veiled’, fictionalized portrayal of the events leading up to the drowning death of a campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne, in a submerged car driven off a wooden bridge by Senator Ted Kennedy in July 1969.

The entire evening is channeled through the thoughts of Ms. Kopechne – beginning with her attendance at a summer lawn party on Chappaquiddick Island, her subsequent meeting up with the late-arriving senator, and an ensuing walk on the beach with him. She’s smitten, of course, and later accepts a ride in his car to a ferry heading to the mainland, and a hotel tryst that was to be the inevitable conclusion of the evening.

In the car, Ms. Kopechne realizes the senator is drunk, or at least very much impaired, and is driving too fast along a rutted, damaged road that was supposed to be closed to automobiles. Intimidated a bit, she doesn’t raise any concerns to the senator. Soon the speeding car is slipping sideways onto a sandy road shoulder, and drives off a tiny wooden bridge, into the ‘black waters.’

From then on, the reader is privy to the panicky, increasingly incoherent thoughts of a drowning Ms. Kopechne, upside down in a sunken automobile, trapped in her seat, her right knee severely injured, but never giving up hope and the belief that her hero-senator would save her. To the last sentence of the novel, she’s certain he’s coming for her, and will lift her out and up to the surface. Then ‘she dies,’ Ms. Oates writes suddenly, and the story’s over.

At the book’s conclusion, Mr. Gripes recalled that Mr. Kennedy got off scot-free. All the Kennedys-on-Cape-Cod power and clout were brought to bear after this event, and somehow the Senator managed to emerge unblemished, his ass not in jail, and his political career intact.

After a little research, I present the rest of that night:  after the accident, Mr. Kennedy immediately extracted himself from the car, but made no attempts to rescue Ms. Kopechne, or seek any assistance. Instead, he abandons the car, and Ms. Kopechne, and begins to walk back toward the party. At some point, later in the evening, still without contacting the authorities, he swims across the sound – a considerable physical feat, incidentally – and returns to his motel on the mainland. It’s now a couple of hours after midnight, 3 or 4 hours after the accident, and still no one’s been contacted. He stays there for the remainder of the night.

The car, sunk in 6 feet of water, and Mary Jo Kopechne’s body were discovered early the next morning, before Kennedy had made any contact with island authorities. In fact, it wasn’t until Kennedy spoke to his lawyer around 10:45 the following morning that calls were made to report the accident, nearly eleven hours after his car ran off the bridge. Unbelievable. 

In the end, Kennedy was given a two-month suspended sentence for leaving the scene of an accident, with no mention of the dead woman in the affadavit. [Another curious fact: Ms. Kopechne was buried one day after she died, and no autopsy was performed.]

The entire event seems right out of ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not’, doesn’t it? Later he runs for President of the United States, with allusions to the crime mysteriously never brought up, even by opponents. Seems crazy all these decades later.

If this had occurred today? Posted instantaneously would be 100,000 vitriolic messages on the internet and social media. The hue-and-cry would have compelled the police to haul Kennedy to jail, and arraign him on very serious felonies; we’d have for our viewing pleasure a trial that would have made OJ’s seem as insignificant as a parking-ticket dispute in traffic court.  Just imagine the press presence. Plus, Kennedy’s political career would be finished.

When Senator Kennedy died, once again there was very little mention of his complicity in the death of Ms. Kopechne.  I don’t recall any, in fact.

Instead, he was eulogized, glowingly, in speech after speech, as one of the great Senatorial ‘Lions’ in American history. 

Ted Kennedy, in a supreme moment of crisis, turned out to be nothing but a quivering, fearful little boy, hoping that all of this was a very bad dream, and would just go away. Some lion. He was nothing but a shameful coward.

My views on what’s permissible in terms of human conduct and relationships coincide splendidly with those of that wise man, Mark Twain, who famously wrote, “I don’t care what people do, as long they don’t frighten the horses.” [I’ve paraphrased a bit]. Live and let live, be it a homosexual coupling, heterosexual, transgender, transvestite, whatever: at my age, I’m too grizzled and gray to give a damn in what manner anyone manages to bring some serenity and contentment to this often disappointing life.

BUT, my equanimity about same-sex relationships only goes only so far. I read a couple of weeks ago of a physical dispute between a gay couple one evening in Houston. Nothing unusual these days about news of a domestic disturbance, of course. The argument, ending in the arrests of, and injuries to, both parties, was between two professional female basketball players, who happen to be married to each other. [Subsequently, these players were suspended by the Women’s National Basketball Association, which runs the league, for a few games.] Still nothing to get all hot and bothered about, Mr. Gripes reasoned.

Mr. Gripes’ equipoise regarding this affair, however, was shattered by one two-word phrase in the newspaper account: ‘Ms. Griner and her wife were released early from jail…’ You see, Mr. Gripes, who once toiled as a typesetter, and is almost Prussian in his obsessive adherence to the rules of correct grammar, cannot possibly abide by that ‘her wife’ phrase. It just sounds dumb and ignorant. [Granted, ‘his husband’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue easily, either.] 

It’s often stated that languages never are finished, and certainly they can’t be. Change is the one constant all over the world, and language must adapt to these changes. There’s nothing static about a language ever. In that vein, I fervently hope new words and expressions are created to fill the vacuum of language around same sex relationships. Because, as long as Mr. Gripes continues to bitch and moan on this earth, he will never use ‘her wife’ in a meaningful sentence. Enough is enough.

A  Lady Knight in Shining Armor?  ‘Who Hates Barack Obama the Most?’ That was the unspoken, essential qualification which, up to a couple of months ago, every prospective Republican candidate for the Presidency 2016 had to adhere to. Not any longer. Now, Republicans, with their detestation of Obama certainly still intact, have altered the calculus: These days, it’s ‘Who can beat Hillary?’ Whoever comes out ahead in that contest will win the nomination.

In that vein, Mr. Gripes, who finds the Donald-Trump-Rand-Paul-Gov-Bridgegate-of NJ-George-Pataki [!!]-Bobby Jindal-Mike Hucklebee clown-car array of Republican candidates blissfully hilarious, now presents his selection of the one individual who has the best chance – by far – of beating Mrs. Clinton. Jeb Bush sure as hell isn’t going to beat Hillary, and neither will Scott Walker or Mario Rubio. Losers. No chance. Only one could do it…

Carly Fiorina…

Why? For one, the electorate will not be inundated with a thousand stentorian ‘feminist’ shibboleths that Ms. Clinton’s operatives will surely view as a winning strategy. There’ll be no ‘It’s the Year of the Woman,’ or ‘Be Part of History: Elect the 1st Woman President’, and, thank God, we’ll be spared about a million tedious-to-the-point-of-narcolepsy ‘Women’s Empowerment’ television ads. You see, Carly Fiorina, unfortunately for Democrats, is a woman, too. Bill and Hillary, where Mr. Gripes comes from, we call that checkmate. 

Another thing: Ms. Fiorina is no shrinking violet, and does not suffer fools easily. Mr. Gripes was struck how quick on her feet she has been in dealing with the smarmy press, who are always looking for those ‘got-cha’ moments. She’s obviously very smart, and it looks to me that she’ll do very well in any Presidential debates; in that setting Ms. Fiorina could crush Ms. Clinton, who is too wedded to rehearsed, drab sound bites.

Also, Ms. Fiorina has had a very successful career in the private business world – she was CEO of Hewlett-Packard, so she’s had a lot of experience dealing with a huge staff, bureaucracies, budgets, planning and financial crises, executive skills she’ll need as President. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has worked only in government for the past 40 years: she’s been on the public dole forever.

However, there is one major problem regarding the prospect of Carly Fiorina emerging as the Republican candidate: in a political party that still is contesting abortion rights, gay rights, and equal pay issues, as if we’re still living in the 1950’s, is this party ready for a woman to run under the GOP banner? A female President may be simply too ‘radical’ an idea for all those conservative Republican voters in state primaries leading up to the nomination. The notion that only a man can and should be President may be too formidable to be dislodged.

But, Mr. Gripes would relish a Fiorina-Clinton battle. It’d be a lot of fun.

Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes
June 4, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Hillary and Bill Train Wreck (Bills, Bills, Bills) / A Pig Tails Scandal / Baltimore / A Night at the Gala

Hillary & Bill – Here’s how the conversation between Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have transpired a few years ago:

Hillary: ‘Now, listen, Bill, I’m too busy flying all over the world shaking hands with blood-on-their-hands dictators and autocrats to pay any attention to the foundation, so it’s all on you: yes, raise as much money as you’d like for the [Clinton] Foundation, but do it all on the up-and-up. No shenanigans, OK?’

Bill: ‘Of course, honey. I’ll be on my best behavior – nothing for you to worry about, I promise.’

Sure enough, Hillary trusted Slick Willie again, and he betrayed her once more. You’d think she learned her lesson about her husband after Monica. Not a chance. Bill Clinton, Mr. Gripes asserts, starts off with good intentions, then his immense ego gets the best of him again. He has to be #1 in everything: raising more money for charity than Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg becomes a competition, his foundation begins taking short cuts, and soon skirting the law is a normal procedure. Hillary then announces a run for the Presidency. Boom! The anti-Hillary contingent, and it’s huge, took dead aim at the foundation. Sometimes, the Clintons are so dense, so stupid: how could they not have seen this total mess coming? They should have minded their ‘P’s and ‘Q’s on every front. But, let’s face it, Bill has never been careful: he’s always in some kind of disarray and chaos. That’s his DNA.

‘I gotta pay our bills…’ That’s exactly what Bill Clinton asserted, when asked if he was going to cease making speeches now that his wife was running for President. Rings a bell, eh? Sure it does. Hillary Clinton, on her infamous book tour a year or so ago, tells reporters that she and her husband ‘were dead broke’ after leaving the White House. She never mentioned that, at the time of Bill’s departure, they owned one townhouse in upscale Georgetown in DC, and another residence in Westchester County, both homes together worth about $4 million. Amazing, isn’t it? Essentially, both Bill and Hillary invoked the same lame ‘woe-is-me-we’ve got no money’ defense; a statement like Bill’s makes the 99.999% of us who are less affluent very, very irate: no one wants to hear about a couple with a net worth of at least $105 million anguishing over their cable bill. Talk about a disconnect with the public. Sometimes Bill and Hillary are as blind as a belfry full of bats.

The Prime Minister and Pig Tails – Perhaps my readers know about this incident: a dining Prime Minister of Australia pulls on the pigtails of an attending waitress in a restaurant. It caused a stir in that country, as well it should. The prime minister, of course, says it was all done in a playful manner. Mr. Gripes, though, offers another conceivable mindset of the PM: first, men – not all, but most – do, on occasion, lose their minds over women. We, and I’m speaking for the male-idiot gender now, are wired that way. That in no manner excuses Mr. Prime Minister’s behavior – after all, he should be a mature, judicious fellow who is capable of controlling his libidinous tendencies, and his impulses.

But, there’s something else possibly going on here: this elected official, the most powerful single politician in the country, probably worth a good deal of money, has had many opportunities to meet women during his political career. And, many women have been attracted to him, considering his status and power.  Women have always been accessible, so it’s not been hard for him to be ‘successful’ with them. In fact, finding women has not been a problem at all; he doesn’t have to work at it. Courtship? Bang-bang is his preference. He naturally begins to think that women are essentially commodities, to be trifled with and played with, nothing more. The cute waitress with the pigtails was just another potential girl-toy for Mr. Big. Mr. Big just knew there’d be no consequences. Ergo, a grin, a laugh, and a pull on the pigtails. No one ever had told him before what a disgusting pig he actually is.

Baltimore – What Mr. Gripes will write shortly will undoubtedly distress some of his liberal friends, I’m sure:  those ‘protestors’ who tore up and looted that Baltimore neighborhood in the aftermath of a black man’s death in the custody of the police ought to be caught and charged with serious felonies. The vast majority of those individuals, when they chose to set afire and/or obliterate 200 [!!] businesses in the area, are, if I may put it bluntly, low-life thugs and criminals who have managed to destroy the lives of many, many of their neighbors, now former proprietors of storefront businesses. Those small businesses, many without insurance, aren’t coming back. 

Even the larger commercial enterprises won’t be returning; do you actually believe that the gutted, eviscerated CVS store will ever be rebuilt by its corporate owners? I seriously doubt it. Why would CVS invest a ton of money in another store that may very well be destroyed again during the next riot? And, so what if CVS is white- and corporate-owned? It served a very real purpose in the community: dispensing essential medicinal drugs to residents. The elderly, for sure, must have depended on a pharmacy that was located nearby. The looters, of course, didn’t think of that when the store was razed to the ground. Running off with a couple of cases of Coke was their sole intent. Rage is not ever an excuse for wanton and criminal behavior. Find the perpetrators and arrest them.

Gaudy ‘Gala’ at the Met – There’s been an annual fundraiser taking place for the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York around this time of year for decades. Once upon a time, the grandees of New York Society attended, and wrote substantial checks for the museum – a Rockefeller, Harriman and investment bank big-shots would certainly be in attendance. It was a genteel and decorous affair, without a great deal of pomp or flash.

Not any more -- 2015’s version took place last night in the Costume Institute of the Met – it’s all about big gowns and statuesque, virtually naked celebrities. Mr. Gripes was astounded to see pictorials of the affair in today’s newspapers. And, to be honest, the photographs were appalling.

The Metropolitan Museum is one of the great repositories of world art and antiquities. You could take a week and not see everything there. So, it should be treated with the utmost courtesy and respect. There’s no chance of that these days: this event now resembles a chorus girl dance line.

You see, it’s all about commercialism now. The old-time stuffed-shirt bankers are shuffled aside, out of sight. Fashion designers pay big money to have celebrities wear their most outrageous gowns at affairs like this. And, the museum undoubtedly receives huge donations from the fashion houses on display. Scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. It’s all so unseemly.

But no more serious-issue stuff.  Let’s get to the clothes and the ladies: 
Rihanna, who I’ll wager wouldn’t know the difference between a Warhol and a Rembrandt, and cares less, essentially wore nothing under her ensemble, if that’s what you call her outfit. Imagine that: a young lady prancing naked amidst the caverns of the Temple of Dendur at the Met.

Jennifer Lopez? Her dress, with its innumerable slits and openings, conjured up one image immediately: a very high-class, expensive hooker working the $5,000-minimum blackjack tables in Steve Wynn’s casino.

But the piece-de-resistance [see link below]  of the evening has to go to Sarah Jessica Parker: she had atop her head some kind of head piece, the sight of which nearly knocked Mr. Gripes off his dining room perch: a flaming, gargoyled, Dairy Queen-like swirl that rose mightily about two or three feet in the air. And, along with that, she wore enough caked-on makeup to suffocate a rhinoceros. Initially, I thought, ‘This calamity looks like someone who is about to attend a Dark Ages pagan sacrifice ritual to appease the Gods. No, wait one second: Ms. Parker may indeed be the reincarnation of the goddess Medusa.’ 

The demise of Western civilization marches on, unrestrained and unabated.


Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes
May 5, 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dementia on the Silver Screen / The Beatles: A Bust? / That Wacko Senate

Dementia’s the Rage – We love movies. My readers may recall when Afghanistan was liberated from the Taliban in the aftermath of September 11, white sheets were immediately tacked up on walls in Kabul storefronts – the no-fun Taliban had banned movies – and the movie ‘theaters’ were packed soon after. [Guns, memorably, were checked and lined up along walls in ‘coat rooms.’] Watching movies is one of the most human of pleasures.

Mr. Gripes, like the vast majority of his readers, has seen all kinds of movies. I recall gritty Westerns, with the good guys and bad guys; film noir, in black and white grandeur, highlighted by clever, fedora-clad private eyes and vicious, malevolent criminals; or, how about the magnificent mobster films, like Scorcese’s ‘Casino’, and Coppola’s miraculous ‘Godfather I’ and ‘II’ – perfection both.

Of course, there have been clunkers and disasters: Mr. Gripes recalls in his incipient college years Swedish films were the flavor de jour. Having recently read – albeit not comprehending one sentence – philosophers Kierkegaard and Spinoza, et al, a bunch of us full-of-ourselves, know-it-all collegians one day decided to go down to Times Square [yep – Times Square] and see a ‘deep’ Ingmar Bergman film. He was in vogue at the time. Mr. Bergman must have been a deeply depressed figure, because his movies invariably took place in some unheated log cabin, situated in a dismally cold, remote corner of northern Europe, with about four feet of snow on the ground, a blizzard howling outside. The film’s black and white hues only enhanced the general bleak nature of the story.

And, talk, talk, talk was all the characters did. No action whatsoever, just interminable, indecipherable, lugubrious talk. Nothing could have been less appealing to maxed-out-on-testosterone nineteen-year-olds.

When we left the theatre after a couple of hours of agony, my friend Bob S. turned to me, and said, ‘What the f____ was that?’ My sentiments exactly: Mr. Gripes hasn’t seen one frame of a Bergman movie since.

I bring up that sad saga now, because there’s been a number of uni-themed movies coming out lately that leave Mr. Gripes thoroughly perplexed – we’ll call it the school of ‘dementia’ cinema: I have just one question: Why?

Why on earth would the great moguls, movers and creative geniuses in Hollywood make movies about Alzheimer’s? It makes no sense.

I’m not going to bore my readers with a recitation of the particulars of Alzheimer’s. Someone in your family has probably dealt with the disease already, and you may have been involved in the direct or indirect care of that family member. I certainly have: my father died of early onset of Alzheimer’s [probably due to brain damage initiated by an amateur boxing career of 165 fights, with no head gear, all before the age of 23] and my mother, still here at 103, has been in the final stages of the disease for 15 years. There’s nothing at all enlightening about observing progressive, inevitable brain deterioration. 

And, there’s nothing remotely cinematic, dramatic, and gripping – whatever adjective you choose – about Alzheimer’s. In reality, the disease meanders along slowly, and, one by one, the brain functions that make us human disappear.  For the immediate family, especially for the primary caregiver, as the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to care for the afflicted person. [My father became more and more cantankerous, and he became almost impossible for my mother to handle.]

Before I go further, I confess I have not seen ‘Still Alice’, a recent movie about a middle-aged woman suddenly afflicted with Alzheimer’s; Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal.  I did see one such film a while back, though: ‘Iris,’ about the poet Iris Murdoch and her struggles with the Alzheimer’s disease. 

I will not see ‘Still Alice’ for one fundamental reason: whatever is put up there on the screen as the ‘story’ is not the truth. It can’t be. For one thing, these movies, as far as I can tell, always have a perfect supporting cast for the ‘patient’: perfect kids, perfect job [Ms. Moore, in fact, has a cushy job as tenured professor at Columbia University], and a wonderful, loving, sacrificial, and, let’s be honest, not-to-be-believed spouse. And, when does Alice come to grips with Alzheimer’s for the first time? Walking on the esplanade of the Columbia campus, one of the great repositories of Western knowledge, where – get it? -- human experience, memory and thought are treasured assets, precisely the attributes that the disease will slowly wrest from Alice. Oh, the irony -- about as subtle as a sledgehammer, eh?  The gilded Hollywood gloss of this film to heighten the cinematic experience of the viewer is inherently false and dishonest.  It’s a lie.

Movies generally are thematically built around redemption, hope, and, end, in a lot of cases, happily. Alzheimer’s disease is all about the erosion and eradication of the human spirit. Hollywood should stick with what it knows - Alzheimer’s is too sad and too tragic to be trifled with. 

The Beatles, Without Genuflection – A couple of months ago, sitting placidly in Madison Square Garden, between games of a college-basketball doubleheader, listening idly to music blasting throughout the arena, not paying particular attention to any of it, I suddenly sat straight up in my seat, transfixed. I was hearing, at a decibel level exquisitely cacophonous and raucous, ‘I Saw Her Standing There,’ by the Beatles.

It was joyous…that gorgeous rock ‘n roll beat relentlessly washing over the whole arena. ‘…Standing There’ is, to Mr. Gripes, a perfect rock and roll song: no pretensions other than pure, pulsating, urgent, noisy, chaotic, juke-joint music. Hearing that song and that kind of music – this sounds ridiculous, I know – soothes the inevitably distressed soul of Mr. Gripes.

The song, written in 1963 at the beginning of the Beatles’ incredible run, was on the ‘B’ side of their biggest hit, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ another superb rock ‘n roll song. Both were inspired, according to Paul McCartney, by the real king of rock and roll, Buddy Holly. In fact, Mr. McCartney has said the first fifteen songs he and John Lennon wrote were all attempts to emulate Mr. Holly. The Beatles, when they had the mind to do it, could write peerless, undiluted rock.

Alas, Mr. Gripes – and he understands his opinion may be his alone – thinks the Beatles soon lost their way, and were ultimately a huge disappointment. They could have created a library of some of the best rock and roll ever; their instincts and talents were that superlative. It didn’t happen.

Sure, just glancing at the Beatles 1963-65 ‘book’ of music, I’m struck at the richness and power of most of the songs: ‘All My Loving’; ‘Any Time At All;’ ‘Ask Me Why’; ‘Back in the USSR’; ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’; ‘Eight Days A Week’; ‘I Call Your Name’, or ‘I’m Happy Just to Dance With You’. And there’s a lot more than these.

But, after the early years, the Beatles either got ‘cute’ or simply lost interest in rock and roll. One theory of mine is that John Lennon, certainly a complicated man to start with, got increasingly uncomfortable with the group process, and became estranged; his surely caustic displeasure led to the eventual evisceration of the group’s cohesion.

Drugs, especially psychedelics, certainly could have played a part in the dissolution of the Beatles’ collective genius, too. As well, fame and renown ‘killed’ the Beatles: everywhere they went people were telling them how cosmically ‘significant’ the group’s music had become; consequently, the Beatles may have begun to try too strenuously to create ‘important’ music. And, that’s a killer as far as creativity is concerned.

Just take a look at the Beatles songs composed after 1966-67: most of it, to this rock and roll purist, is rubbish, and, in fact, will not even be heard 25 years from now. Songs like: ‘Rocky Raccoon’; ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Streets’; ‘Strawberry Fields’; ‘Revolution’ [awful: compare it to the Rolling Stones’ rebel yell, ‘Street Fighting Man’]; ‘Octopus’s Garden’; ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’; ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, and, yep, even ‘Norwegian Wood’. Plenty of others, too: all throwaway tunes.

From the creators of ‘I Feel Fine’, we get, five years later, ‘I Am the Walrus.’ Dear readers, Mr. Gripes rests his case.

Iran: Are You Nuts, Senators? – At the conclusion of last month’s ‘Mr. Gripes’ column, I vowed, ‘No, no more Iran. I’ve beaten that tired horse half to death.’  A promise I can’t keep, I’m afraid.

You see, readers, Iran, Israel, nuclear negotiations, Obama, centrifuges, Netanyahu, the American Congress, 2016 Presidential politics, they’re all intertwined, with developments shifting all the time. Mr. Gripes has following foreign affairs closely since he was 15 years old, and the Iran-America-[Israel] nuclear talks going on currently are particularly convoluted and fascinating.

Take this for instance:  I open up the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago, and read that Israel has utilized agents to spy on the Iran-US negotiations in Zurich, amassing intelligence data successfully, and subsequently sharing that information with Republicans in the United States Senate. The Republicans then used the purloined information to formulate their opposition to the Obama Administration’s negotiations with the Iranians over a suspension of their nuclear program.

No longer am I generally astonished at anything I see in the morning papers, but when I read this, I almost fell off the living room sofa, freaking out a dozing cat. What?!? Are they nuts!?! Are Republicans so dead-set against Obama – ‘hate’ is not too strong a word -- and anything he tries to accomplish that they’d accept classified – and, yes, it’s classified, alright – intelligence from a foreign power, without permission from the executive branch, and use that information to sabotage negotiations concurrently going on between this country and a foreign enemy? From here, it sure as hell looks that way.

Accountability for one’s actions in this country no longer is a guiding tenet –that ceased to exist a long time ago.  But, if in fact our elected senators and representatives were held to the intent and letter of our sedition statutes, those Republican Senators who saw those intelligence reports would be branded ‘traitors.’ With information they have no right to possess, they’re interfering with the President of the United States from carrying out his international duties. As I sit here writing this piece, I’m still cannot get over the temerity of those senators.

Someone else about this issue has piqued my curiosity: why does a Senator from, say, Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma care so fervently about the State of Israel? [Or about any other country, for that matter.] Don’t get me wrong: of course Israel has a right to exist, but you can’t tell me that an elected representative from the middle of America can be so exorcised over another country. Politicians can talk, talk, talk publicly about ‘standing firm,’ but in the real world, [see: ‘House of Cards’, of which Bill Clinton said, ‘99% of that show is true.’] they could care less. They’re all about political edge, risk/award, advantage, and brass-knuckled combat; they’re too calculating, too ‘realpolitik,’ too cynical to quibble over ‘principles.’ 

So , let’s forget the hallowed ‘principles’ angle: there’s a more important element in all of this: Cold Cash. …Money…. Political Donors… Re-election. That’s the nub of it. My guess is that a ton of money from somewhere is pouring into the coffers of Republican Senators who support Netanyahu and are dead-set against this treaty. And, please, I’m not talking about a ‘Jewish conspiracy.’ All I’m saying is a lot of money must be gushing in the form of political contributions from some advocacy lobbying groups. I’d start looking into the contributions of that casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, in Las Vegas, and go from there. Big money will turn the heads of all politicians. We all know that.

Republicans, however, may have miscalculated, again, and shot themselves in their collective rear ends, again: a recent poll indicates that 59% of Americans favor negotiations with Iran.  It’s evident that most Americans, despite all the grandstanding and the bizarre, imbecilic behavior emanating from the United States Congress, comprehend that the consequences of failed negotiations will be, down the line, another American war in the Middle East. And, Americans most assuredly don’t want their sons and daughters dying in that godforsaken part of the world ever again. 

Jim Israel
Mr. Gripes                                                                           
April 6, 2015

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Measles & the Idiots / Nuclear Negotiations & Bibi / The Tireless Mr. Chamberlain

Measles and the Idiots – To Mr. Gripes, it seems the Rationalists have taken it on the chin for years. Rationalism, of which Mr. Gripes is a devoted advocate, respects scientific evidence – anything else is a lie.

Yet, the fabulists seem to always dominate the public debate. The media, of course, plays a part: it’s always looking for conflict, not necessarily truth. The press pushes for ‘balanced’ debate, and consequently incredibly imbecilic theory is often given far more attention than warranted.

Creationism versus Darwinism is a perfect paradigm of this conflict. To a Creationist, a crucial tenet of the dogma is that man existed and walked on earth at the same time the dinosaurs roamed the earth. Human beings, no doubt already clad in Brooks Brothers suits, were fully formed when they arrived on Earth. The Darwinists, of course, adhere to the theory that all forms of life evolved from simple to complex: mankind came upon the earth millions of years after the dinosaurs. Or, put another way, mankind came to exist only after billions of mutated life forms pushed life to its present complexity. That’s, essentially, evolution.

The Creationists are simply incorrect. Nothing, of course, will convince them otherwise – there’s even a Creationism theme park for children in Ohio – but they’re dead wrong. And, yet, Creationism, in essence a fairy tale, is taught right alongside Evolution in some states, mandated so by state educational entities. Why is this country so enraptured by so many irrational ideas, and whose believers can never be swayed? Can you imagine, say, the Netherlands advocating, with state backing, a fraudulent theory like Creationism in biology classes for their children? Never, ever would happen.

But, all is not lost: for once, and probably for only a brief period, science has triumphed – emphatically – over bogus theory. For the first time in 25 years, there’s been a measles outbreak across the country. Concurrently, and not coincidentally, the percentage of children being vaccinated for diseases like measles and mumps is at its lowest point in decades.

It turns out that some individuals – Deidre Imus, Don’s wife, is probably the most well known – have pushed, quite vociferously, the theory that autism, a brain disorder that appears in childhood, has been caused by vaccination. Parents, naturally, decided that keeping their child out of school for two weeks with measles is a far more benign risk than autism, and the vaccinations were ignored.

Ms. Imus’ proof? A study by some clinician which said mercurial residue that shows up in the vaccinating fluid causes autism. It turns out the study was thoroughly discredited, and in fact, the doctor running the study eventually lost his medical license, a very harsh sentence indeed. But, evidence be damned, Ms. Imus, utilizing loudly the far-flung platform of her husband’s radio show and, incidentally, selling a lot of books, managed to scare the daylights out of parents, and the myth has held. Legislatures, in fact, started passing laws that did not mandate the vaccinations of children in school, and even permitted unvaccinated children to attend school, an incredibly short-sighted and irresponsible decision.

It takes about 85% vaccination ‘coverage’ of a school population to prevent a measles outbreak. When the percentage of vaccinated children failed to reach 85% in some places, the current outbreak happened.

The ignoramuses were exposed. It’s simple: when a given population is inoculated, measles is essentially non-existent. When that given population is exposed to the virus without inoculation, outbreaks happen. Imus and her true believers are wrong: so simple and so obvious. For once, the Rationalists won.

Israel-Iran-America – Every red corpuscle in Mr. Gripes’ body cries out: ‘Don’t write about Israel or the Middle East.’ Each time I have done that, I received some very vicious replies, the mildest of which spoke of my being a ‘traitor’ to the state of Israel. [To the ‘gentleman’ who accuses me of being a traitor to Israel, the last time I looked I am an American citizen, solely, and a proud one at that, and my loyalties or disloyalties are toward this country alone; any charges of sedition against a country not my own are a bit misplaced, overheated and ignorant.] I make it a policy, for the most part, of not responding to mindless vituperation, vowing at one point never to write about Israel, and, by extension, the Middle East again.

But, assuming the posture of the intrepid truth-seeker that Mr. Gripes pretends to be in his column, I cannot ignore the ongoing Iran-United States [and other powers including Russia, by the way] negotiations regarding Iranian nuclear arms capability, and an attempt by the major powers now to thwart that push.

First, though, I have to comment on Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Congress yesterday: what kind of stunt was that? At this critical juncture in the ongoing Iran-American negotiations to suspend, hopefully for a long time, Iranian nuclear-arms attainment, a foreign leader ignores an American President and makes a rip-roaring anti-negotiations speech in front of the clapping seals we call our elected representatives. It’s totally outrageous. The Congress should be ashamed of themselves. President Obama responds to the speech by simply noting that the negotiations haven’t been concluded yet, and everyone should wait to take a look at the completed deal. A perfectly reasonable request absent any hysterics, that only highlights the utter lack of class from Bibi Netanyahu.

As far as the status of the ongoing negotiations, the issue is very complicated, of course, so let’s just go back three or four years: at that time, Iran obtaining nuclear status was the most pressing issue of the day: columns in newspapers spoke of the ‘existential’ threat of Iran possessing nuclear capability. If my readers can recall that time, it was very scary.

Then, quickly, the immediate threat dissipated. Mr. Gripes seems to recall that U.S. intelligence determined that Iran was a few years, at least, away from that capability. Then, Iran and the United States signed on in 2013 to an interim agreement suspending Iranian nuclear progress while talks proceeded on a permanent deal. And, the world exhaled. [Mr. Netanyahu, incidentally, opposed this earlier, successful deal as well.]

Alas, if the present negotiations fail, it’s back to being an existential threat once again, and the future could be very, very scary.

There is a glimmer of hope, though: the deal being worked up right now, with an end-of-March deadline, would push back Iranian nuclear-capability attainment at least 10 years in exchange for Iranian economic sanctions being lifted and Iran joining the world financial markets once again. That lifting of sanctions is the carrot, obviously.

Israel is opposed to any negotiations at this point, or at the minimum, Iran must dismantle its nuclear program in total. Netanyahu says the Iranians are totally untrustworthy, so international safeguards and vigilance are useless.  Israel knows damn well that Iran will never agree to a total cessation of its nuclear program.  Israel knows that under their non-negotiable demand, there will never be a deal. It’s off the table.

And that’s exactly Netanyahu’s intention: he wants the negotiations to collapse because that would mean there’s only one option for America: the nuclear facilities in Iran will be taken out, bombed. And, guess who will end up doing that dirty work? America. If Israel bombs Iran, the Middle East, and probably the world, will be thrown into utter chaos: there’ll be surely a total Middle East oil embargo, among other actions, and financial markets across the world will plummet. A world depression is not out of the question. America will have to take the lead in taking out Iran.  The U.S. is going to be Israel’s stalking horse.

War should always be absolutely the last option, so Mr. Gripes takes a more nuanced position: if in fact negotiations are successful and we extract from Iran a suspension of their nuclear program for at least 10 years, let’s take the deal. This country and Israel will of course have in place very stringent oversight standards regarding Iranian compliance, and if violations are discovered, we can always bomb later. Iran, a country with much stronger people-to-people ties to America than any other Middle East country [Israel, excepted], can hopefully be brought back into the world’s good graces. It’s worth 10 years to see if that’s possible.

Netanyahu, and Israel, don’t want to take that chance. I say, let’s go for it.

Wilt: His Dominance Shines – A decade ago – it’s been 10 years since ‘Mr. Gripes’ was launched as a human-interest column on an employer’s website, desperate for copy one weekend– I wrote of the unsurpassed, extraordinary career of Wilt Chamberlain, professional basketball player.

I bring his Eminence up again, after reading last week of the death of Norm Drucker, a referee who worked NBA games as a contemporary of Mr. Chamberlain. In his obituary, it’s mentioned Mr. Drucker threw Wilt out of a game after three successive technical fouls, the last of which involved Wilt yelling at the ref that he must have money on the game. Keep in mind that technical fouls are not particularly rare events, occurring once or twice a game, and are not particularly noteworthy.

Yet, that expulsion is still remembered 53 years after the fact, as it illuminated one incredible fact about Wilt Chamberlain: his indefatigability. Mr. Chamberlain, back then, never took a rest on the bench – never. 

Consider this: An NBA season in those days consisted of 80 games, 48 minutes a game. The particular season I’m talking about, 1961-62, was Wilt’s most productive, and arguably the most brilliant season ever: he averaged 50.7 [!] points a game, and collected 25 rebounds a game as well. Absolutely astonishing, and probably the greatest season ever in professional sports.

But the scoring achievement is not my focus here.

Wilt Chamberlain, in those 80 games that season, played every minute of every game, except for one blemish: when Norm Drucker threw Wilt out of the game, there were 8 minutes and change left in the game. Those little-over-8-minutes were the only time in that entire season that Wilt rested. That was it.

Just consider the expenditure of energy during a professional basketball game: Chamberlain was a center, the guy in the middle, down under the basket; that position, with elbows in the back, knees to the legs, arms being pulled on, and all the banging and punching absorbed from the oppositional center, is the most physical taxing of any position on the court – It takes a tremendous toll on a person.

Yet… only 8+ minutes the entire season did Wilt sit.

There’s one gloriously terse eulogy that was applied to Chamberlain the day he died: New York Knick Walt Frazier, one of his more heralded foes, said simply, “Wilt was NBA’s Superman; there’ll never be another one.’’

Hey, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem and all you greats, yeah, go ahead and take a breather. ‘Wilt Chamberlain, the greatest of them all, is still out on the floor.’

Jim Israel
‘Mr. Gripes’ 
March 3, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Charlie Hebdo / Disasters and Optics

Je Suis NOT Charlie…My father, whose ultimate lot in his life was to keep alive and functioning some very sick people, sometimes would, out of the blue, assert, ‘The most powerful of all instincts is the instinct of self preservation.’ I thought of those words immediately after I learned of the horrific murders of those cartoonists and journalists at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.

Why, of all words, were those evoked? Because, I think, self preservation was not, regrettably and tragically, a motivation of those journalists. They made some very elementary, grievous mistakes. In a fashion, they engineered their own deaths.

Mr. Gripes can only wonder, ‘What on earth were they thinking?” They couldn’t have been surprised, in the sense that September 11 2001 stunned all of us. After all, they were rather shockingly forewarned: their offices were firebombed by terrorists in 2011, causing severe damage. The firebombing should have set off all kinds of alarms. Apparently, though, it did not. That’s hard to believe.

Now, I don’t know a thing about Mohammed and Islam, and don’t care to know, but I do know this: if I were to draw a caricature of a naked Mohammed, which is absolute anathema to Islamists, and publish it in a magazine for millions of people to see, I would have to assume I may provoke and inflame some very dangerous, crazy, determined people, who would attempt very assiduously to kill me….and consequently I would take the necessary precautions to prevent that.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m a strong advocate of the press: a critical press and freedom of speech are the linchpins of democracy. Shackled and intimidated journalists in any country are the death knell of a free people [see Putin, Russia]. But, none of us live in a utopia – far from it, in fact – and common sense must rule; there’s a very good reason why yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded movie theatre is against the law.

So, I can’t sit here and write that these dead cartoonists deserve all the posthumous praise coming their way for their ‘bravery’ and ‘courage.’ ‘Brave,’ yes, but they were also brazen and reckless; they couldn’t have been that naïve as to not comprehend the gravity of what they were doing.

A basic precept of defensive military strategy is that the leadership-command tier must be preserved; the dispersal of top-echelon leadership is essential. The same strategy should have held for the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff, but that was not done: week after week, on the identical day and time, in the same conference room, there was an editorial meeting of the magazine’s writers and staff. There was absolutely no need to congregate like that: just have everyone call in from their own residences, and conduct the meeting via teleconferencing.  

All together in that one room meant they were sitting ducks when the attack occurred; the terrorists had discovered the precise details of the weekly editorial gathering. It was no coincidence that the two terrorists showed up on precisely the day and time of the meeting. Also, why was there only one bodyguard protecting the office, and, additionally, in possession of inferior firepower? He probably was blown away by an AK-47 in about 3 seconds.

No, I can’t just declare the dead cartoonists deserve all the honoraria for their bravery and courage. Yes, they were certainly ‘courageous’ in the face of all the threats that must have come their way. That doesn’t really suffice, though. They did not take the proper precautions. Perhaps they were all in denial.

One victim left a wife and four young children, the youngest of which is five years old. On television two days afterwards, she insisted she was very ‘proud’ of her husband. ‘Proud’? With some rudimentary precautions, her husband would still be alive.  Six months from now, after the shock has worn off, as she sits at the dining room table late one Sunday night, alone, with the children finally asleep, and their father gone, I suspect her sentiments may be entirely different. 

Oh, My Kingdom for Some Visuals --Huge blizzards, destructive floods, terrible train crashes, frightening plane crashes – the professional politicians love what these  ‘visuals’ will provide. Of course, they’ll manage to look concerned, or aggrieved, or empathetic, but don’t let that fool you for a moment: they’re cold-bloodedly calculating the risk/reward of the optics. After all, disasters, the bigger the better, give our selfless public servants a golden opportunity to pose and strut: ‘I’m a take-charge guy, I’ll pull all the levers of power to take care of and protect all of you, my fellow citizens’. It’s a professional secret, of course, but politicians of all stripes welcome disaster events. Success, to these low-lifers, is getting that photo-op broadcast on television. In reality, though, it’s all a rehearsed show, and has nothing to do with actual competence.

Mr. Gripes chooses to comment on this American phenomenon [though Vladimir Putin, I admit, was the creator of the ultimate visual, puffing out his bare chest for all to see] after observing the two major political figures in New York – Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio – acting like children, all in an effort to look good on TV.

Despite DeBlasio’s prediction – and maybe his hope, I might add – that New York City would be hit by an ‘historic’ blizzard, perhaps two or three feet, we ended up getting a measly six inches. Prior to the snow, DeBlasio appeared on TV and began ordering New Yorkers to get off the streets, insisting they  don’t go to work, even shutting down the subway system, a drastic move for a city that never sleeps.

The next day, when the storm wimped out, Governor Cuomo couldn’t let DeBlasio steal the stage – oh no, if that happened, Cuomo, the alpha male, would look like he wasn’t in control; so he pulled an old chestnut out of his pocket: he leapfrogged the scheduled DeBlasio press conference, starting a half hour prior, and, quickly, after donning a de rigeur working-men’s union windbreaker with the logo on the chest – that’s a visual, baby – he emerged triumphant, throwing out orders left and right to all his sappy lieutenants to get the city and state moving again. 

Mr. Gripes, watching this, could just sense the tension between the governor and mayor. You see, it’s always a question of who gets that photo-op, and in this case, Cuomo ‘won.’ He probably doesn’t realize just how disturbingly ambitious he appeared, yakking away, in that windbreaker, managing to suck all the oxygen out of the room. Every one of these politicians is obsessively ambitious, but God forbid you look like it on TV – that’s bad optics.

A more egregious instance of staged optics is when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ‘lucked out’ the day superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey shore.  That event, to a superb practitioner of political stagecraft, like Christie, was equivalent to hitting the jackpot.  When he embraced President Obama, who visited to observe for himself the devastation along the Jersey coast, he wasn’t concerned so much with the welfare and safety of his constituents.

Nope. He figured by hugging the President, the No. #1 Democrat devil, he would look like the great unifier – prospective national voters would think, ‘Wow, here’s someone who will work with his Democratic opponents and get things done.’ Mr. Christie, even as he toured the damage, knew the image of him and Obama embracing would catapult him onto the national stage. 

As for Christie the unifier? Obsolete baloney, of course. Not a year later, when the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee refused to endorse Mr. Christie for re-election, the George Washington Bridge, which both originates from and empties into Fort Lee, was mysteriously pinched to only one working lane, causing absolute chaos and gridlock. The ‘Great Unifier’ turns out to be the ‘Great Divider.’ 

Talk about bad optics -- Mr. Gripes concludes this piece with a couple of observations regarding President Obama and his golf game. Let’s face it:  golf is terrible optics for any president. Vacationing for two weeks in Hawaii, while 80% of his constituency is freezing their buns off on the mainland, is bad enough [maybe he gets a pass for this, because it is his home state], but watching him saunter down a beautifully groomed fairway, gentle breezes wafting through the palm trees, exotic birds chattering joyously against an impossibly blue and cloudless sky in the background, just another perfect day in paradise is, I’m afraid, a horrible visual for this President. As the rest of us watch this, we suffer at that moment from a terminal case of envy. Green-with-envy doesn’t properly describe the depth of our distress – it’s more like raging with debilitating jealousy. 

One more thing, Mr. President:  get rid of those white golf shoes, will you? For the candidate who promised us hope and change a million years ago, those white shoes say one thing: ‘I now identify with the very rich: the hedge fund guys, the Wall Street manipulators and bongo-artists, the Silicon Valley billionaires, George Clooney and other Hollywood glitterati. As for the increasingly marginalized working class? That’s so over for me and Michelle.’

A word of advice: You can’t espouse caring about the struggles of the middle class when you’re wearing shoes that even Jay Gatsby would love to have in his closet. The visuals clash.

Jim Israel                                                                    
Mr. Gripes
February 8, 2015