Thursday, December 01, 2011

November 8, 2011

It is with great sadness to report that my father passed away on November 8.
He was so brave and strong to the very end. His family will never forget his grace, dignity and integrity during these last two years as he struggled with the effects from his auto injury two years ago. Despite everything he went through, he managed to still retain a sense of humor.

Unfortunately he never regained the momentum and inspiration to return to his beloved blog after the accident. He was also quite ill and often too weak to think about writing – one of his many loves in life.

I want to sincerely thank everyone for their comments and friendship over the years. They meant the world to my father. It helped his spirit and ego so much.

Occasionally my father experienced brief moments of strength and inspiration, when we really thought that he might pull through everything he was going through. He had drafted the following - written in April 2011. This was his last small attempt at returning to his blog:

“After a 19-month absence, I am resuming publication of this blog. I want to thank the dozens of readers who kindly posted messages expressing concern about my absence and wishing me a successful recovery. Their compassionate words were as effective—and perhaps even more so—in my recovery than all the medical therapy that I was receiving.”

Below is a copy of my father’s obituary which was published in his beloved New York Times.
Mort’s daughter.


Morton Reichek, a senior editor and senior writer for Business Week Magazine, died
November 8, 2011. He lived in Florida and was 87 years old. During his retirement, Reichek became one of the most prolific and well read "elderly bloggers," writing about politics, his childhood, Israel, and his war experiences. His blog www.octogenarian.blogspot was highlighted in the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and AARP magazine.

A journalist with very wide interests, Reichek wrote about topics ranging from business to military affairs to Yiddish literature. He was with Business Week, both in Washington, DC and New York for 31 years, retiring in 1988. Prior to joining the magazine in 1952, he was a press officer and editor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. During two periods of absence from Business Week, he was a Washington correspondent for the Newhouse newspaper chain, an associate editor of Forbes Magazine and director of editorial services for Gulf & Western Industries, Inc.
Reichek contributed articles to the New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The New Leader, and the Columbia Journalism Review. He was a former member of the National Press Club, the National Book Critics Circle and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He is also listed in the Who's Who in America.

He was born in the East Harlem section of Manhattan and raised in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School and earned a B.S. in journalism from New York University using the GI Bill. During WWII he served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and was based for more than two years in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Sybil, a daughter, a son, and three grandsons. Another daughter, predeceased him.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Update On Mort's Condition

He is slowly recovering. He is now in his third medical facility – a subacute rehab. where he is working to get back on his feet (with the help of a walker). He is sadly also dealing with other serious medical problems. He is no longer a regular computer user, but from time to time checks his email. We would like to wish all of his regular readers a happy healthy holiday season.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

To the loyal readers of Octogenarian

This is being written by Mort's wife...

About 10 days ago Mort was severely injured while driving his car out of his garage.
He's had two back surgeries and has not regained mobility in one of his legs.
It will take months of rehab before he's back writing on his beloved blog.
I wanted to thank everyone for all of their wonderful comments over the years.
They have meant the world to him and you have brought much joy to his later years.
My family and I look forward to the day when he can return to working on his blog again.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

MEMOIR: When Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas rented my old apartment

After sharing apartments in Washington, D.C. for three years with other young bachelors, I reached a sufficient state of affluence in 1951 to rent my own apartment. My new home was Apartment 233 at 3701 Connecticut Ave., N.W. It was defined as a "studio apartment." It consisted of a single room, a Pullman kitchen, a tiny dressing alcove, and a bathroom.

Despite the limited facilities, I was now privileged to live in a brand-new, centrally air-conditioned building that had been advertised as a "luxury" apartment house. I was among its first tenants.

As an upscale building, it featured a concierge who was stationed in the beautiful lobby to handle the mail and to monitor the entry of residents and guests. As I recall, the monthly rent was $89.(Several years ago, I learned that the apartment house had been converted into a co-op.)

I furnished my small new apartment with a studio couch, a book case, a kitchen table, a desk, and two upholstered chairs. The focal points in the apartment were an expensive high-fidelity radio-phonograph system with giant Wharfedale loudspeakers and a Capehart television set. A reproduction of a Marc Chagall painting entitled "The Rabbi of Vitebsk" adorned one wall.

After coping with the often conflicting social needs of my room mates, I now had an attractive bachelors pad of my own to entertain lady friends. Two years after moving in, I married one of them, Sybil, a young woman from Boston who was employed as a service representative for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co.

Almost immediately, Sybil insisted that we move out. Although she never brought up the subject, perhaps she was bothered by the vision of other women who may have slept in the apartment. More important, however, she saw the need, with which I readily agreed, for a larger apartment more suitable for a married couple. We soon found an attractive two-bedroom apartment in a garden-apartment complex in Langley Park, a Maryland suburb.

About two weeks after our departure from 3701 Connecticut Ave., I received a phone call from the young man, with whom I had become close friends, who lived in a studio apartment across the corridor from mine.

"Do you know who moved into your old apartment?" he asked excitedly. Before I even had a chance to guess, he said breathlessly:"Supreme Court Justice William Douglas!" My friend was a lawyer for a Government regulatory agency. He was obviously overwhelmed by the idea of having a Supreme Court justice as his neighbor. Both he and I were great admirers of Douglas, who eventually served for 36 years on the high court.

We soon learned that Douglas had recently separated from his wife. According to Washington gossip, he was apparently having an affair with a young law student in her twenties. We suspected that my former apartment was now functioning as the justice's "love nest."

Several months later, Edward R. Murrow's popular TV program, "Person to Person," featured an interview with Douglas in the Connecticut Ave. apartment. My wife and I eagerly watched the program. From the screen we could see only a couple of chairs, a huge desk and a studio couch in my old apartment. The judge had evidently furnished it very sparingly.

Douglas eventually married the young lady law student. According to a Douglas biography that I have read, they divorced nine years later. Douglas married twice again before his death in 1980 at age 82.

Well before his death, I was aware of Douglas' Washington reputation as a womanizer. During his many years on the Supreme Court, resolutions were introduced four times in the House of Representatives calling for an investigation of his "moral character."

Aside from his marital affairs, Douglas was always a highly controversial figure as one of the Supreme Court's most liberal members. Sen. Bob Dole, one of Douglas' most ardent ideological foes, once compared Douglas' "bad judgment from a matrimonial standpoint" to his court decisions.

Nevertheless, I have always regarded Douglas as one of the most brilliant and influential Supreme Court justices of his time. And I will always remember that he ended a marriage while moving into the Washington apartment that I vacated to start a marriage that is now 56 years old.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Isaac Bashevis Singer vs. Marc Chagall

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel laureate in literature who wrote in Yiddish, is my favorite author. In 1975, taking a break from my regular work as a journalist who specialized in business, I wrote profiles about him that were published in the New York Times Magazine and the now-defunct Harper's Bookletter.

As I disclosed in my previous blog post, I am now preparing to move from my home in New Jersey, where I have lived for nearly 25 years, to become a year-round resident of Florida. This involves the painful need to explore and discard decades of files no longer needed.

Among my discoveries were voluminous notes of my interviews with Singer in his Manhattan apartment. In the course of the interviews, I told Singer that he had always struck me as being a literary counterpart of painter Marc Chagall, who like Singer was an East European Jew, rendering in print what Chagall had done in paint.

Like Singer, I said, Chagall concentrated on his own "shtetl" (Jewish village) background for material. And in Chagall's surrealistic paintings--the fiddler on the roof always comes to mind--I told Singer that I find the same enchanting mystical quality that I enjoy in his novels and short stories.

Singer was not complimented by my comparison. A close friend of famed painter Raphael Soyer and others in the New York art world of that era, Singer regarded himself as something of a maven on painting.

For reasons I cannot recall, Singer's colorful response to my comparison failed to appear in my old articles. I now find it so provocative that I am belatedly publishing it here in my blog.

"I'll tell you the truth," Singer said to me in his Yiddish-accented English, "I'm not too hot about him. As far as I can see, Chagall is an artist who repeats himself already for 50 years. I don't admire him as much as I admire a Cezanne or a Monet.

"I don't think that when you paint a man, and you put him with the head down and the legs up, that you accomplish something, that this is real originality. Anybody can do it. [Chagall] has a feeling for color, but he's not really dabbling with the supernatural. He is stylizing all his life, and there is a limit to stylizing."

So much for the great Chagall, as the equally great Isaac Bashevis Singer evaluated the painter's work.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Jimmy Carter: Enemy of peace

I don't normally publish material written by others on this blog. I am making an exception here to publicize this article by Israeli journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, which exposes ex-President Jimmy Carter as a phony "peace activist." As an accomplished Israel-basher, Carter continues to feed the Palestinian rejectionism that has prevented the establishment of a genuine and equitable peace in the Middle East.

Are the so-called "peace activists" actually the enemies of peace? The fascinating case of Jimmy Carter requires a special look. Carter recently visited Israel-–one of his many visits here--with a special delegation of "Elders." They are a group of such international personalities as Nelson Mandela, renowned for solving important global problems. There is no doubt that this group has good intentions, and maybe ability. They have considerable gravitas. But the main question is: What are they doing with their moral weight?

Immediately upon his return to the U.S., Carter published an article in the prestigious Washington Post, which was an invective against the State of Israel. Invective cannot rest on foundations of truth. It needs lies.

Carter tells a few, for example, about the Hanoun family, which was, he wrote, "recently evicted from their [Jerusalem] home of 65 years." Really? In fact, the entire compound in which they lived belongs to Jews who were expelled from Jerusalem during the 1948 War of Independence.

There is no argument about the Jewish ownership, which dates back to 1875. A Star of David is still to be found on one of the old stone structures at the site. The Hanoun family, by contrast, did not reach the place until 1956. If Carter would have checked, he would discover that this is a family of refugees from Haifa.

Haifa's Arabs were not expelled; they left voluntarily. They were moved into the Jerusalem structure, along with another family, by the Jordanian authorities. The Jewish owners of the property sought to exercise their proprietary rights. There is not a word about this in Carter's article.

There are thousands of tenants in Atlanta, Ga., Carter's home state, who were evicted from their homes because they could not make their mortgage payments. The rights of the Smith family, which was thrown onto the street, are much more established than the rights of the Hanoun family.

But Carter is not looking for justice. He is looking for invective. And therefore, he presents his readers with a partial picture, replete with erroneous details, and conceals the fact that the eviction was carried out only after lengthy judicial proceedings in which the proprietary rights were held up to detailed scrutiny.

It is worthwhile to be precise. The Israeli court granted the Arab families living in the compound the status of protected tenants. Moreover, some of the evicted families had the option of generous compensation even though they had no proprietary rights. But the families rejected every offered settlement and every legal defense due to political pressure, and received a political visit from Carter and his friends. Nobody offered compensation to the Smith family in Atlanta, and Carter did not visit them.

The criticism of eviction of the Hanoun family could be justified. Even if the eviction was legally justified, there is room for political criticism. And on the condition that if Carter seeks to deny the Jews' proprietary rights, he should also make it clear that the Palestinians have no right to claim abandoned property.

He has failed to recognize that property expropriated and confiscated from Jews in Arab countries as a result of legislation, pressure, persecution, flight and expulsion is worth more than the property that was expropriated and confiscated from the Palestinians as a result of flight and expulsion.

The Palestinians underwent the experience of flight and expulsion following the declaration of a war of annihilation against the Jewish State, which had barely been created. The Jews in Arab countries underwent a similar experience--of flight, expulsion and property expropriation--even though they had not declared war on the Arab countries. If so, whose rights are greater?

Has Carter ever told the Palestinians this basic truth? The answer is well known. Like other so-called "peace activists," he treats the Arabs in general, and the Palestinians in particular, like retarded children. They must not be told the truth.

They must not be told that if there are rights, then both the Jews and the Arabs have them. And if not, then neither the Jews nor the Arabs have them. He does not tell them that during the 1940s, tens of millions of people underwent the harsh experience of population exchanges, and there is no reason why only the Palestinians should have "the right of return." He does not tell them that more Jews fled and were expelled from Arab countries than Palestinians who were expelled from or fled Israel.

It is possible and permissible to criticize Israel over the settlements. Occasionally, this criticism is justified. But Carter, like thousands of other "peace activists," does not advance peace. Their demonization of Israel strengthens those who reject peace.

The position of Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, also appeared in the Washington Post. The sole significance of his demands is opposition to the existence of the State of Israel. He officially agrees, of course, to a two-state solution, but on the condition that one of them be a Palestinian state and that the second one also be a Palestinian state after the implementation of the right of return.

He admits that he received an amazing compromise offer from Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, that included the Israeli evacuation of 97% of the West Bank territories. But he rejected it outright because he insisted that masses of Palestinians flood the State of Israel.

Did Carter issue a condemnation of Abu Mazen? Instead, Carter published an article condemning Israel, one of many he has written. Instead of offering fair criticism, Carter has become part of the incitement enterprise against the State of Israel.

Carter is capable of much more. He has succeeded in making achievements in other areas. For some reason, when he touches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he loses his fairness and his balance. He does not contribute to the advancement of peace. On the contrary. This is Carter's contribution to strengthening Palestinian refusal to compromise and to pushing the chances of peace further away.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

MEMOIR: How I almost became a Texan

George W. Bush was born in New Haven, Conn. to a patrician family of staid New Englanders. When he was a child, the family moved to Midland, Texas. Their new home town was then a small, bustling oil town that was culturally and socially far removed from their prim, sedate community in Connecticut.

I have often wondered how different Bush would have been had his parents not moved to Texas with their children. Would the ex-President's personality have reflected the traditional style of his New England forebears? Or would he still have still turned out to be like the stereotypical, macho, cowboy-like Texan that he is?

The question is relevant to me because I almost became a Texan myself when my father seriously considered moving from our home in the Bronx to Texas during the mid-1930s when I was still a child.

My Dad was often unemployed during that period, after having worked for many years as a traveling men's clothing salesman. His territory ran from Georgia westward through Texas. He did not drive nor fly, and covered the region by train and bus. He took pride in his intimate knowledge of the territory, and particularly of its train and bus schedules.

He often passed through Colorado City, Texas, a small farming town with which he became very familiar. The town had very few retail stores. In 1936, my father decided to open a retail men's clothing store there, despite the grim economic climate plaguing the nation at the time. It was obviously a serious business gamble. Dad figured, however, that the absence of local competition would make the enterprise successful.

He left my mother and me behind in New York when he departed for Colorado City. Apparently, the venture did not require a significant investment because my father's sole New York supplier was my mother's uncle, who was very supportive of my father's plan. Dad intended to operate the store for no more than a year. If successful, my mother and I would then join him in Texas. If not, he would abandon the store and return to New York.

Texas was celebrating its one-hundredth year of independence from Mexico when the store opened. I still recall that my father mailed me an official centennial yearbook, which would probably be a valuable collectors' item if I had kept it. My father wrote home regularly (we did not own a telephone in the Bronx), shipping me such local souvenirs as toy bales of cotton and bags of pecans.

But my father's enterprise was a flop, and Dad was back home, as I remember, in less than a year. I was nearly 12 years old when my father returned from his unsuccessful Texas venture.

I have always wondered what would have happened to me if Dad's store had been a success, and we had settled in Colorado City. I would have been raised in an alien environment radically different from a Bronx tenement neighborhood.

Colorado City is in the heart of west Texas, 296 miles from the closest major airport in Amarillo. Its 2008 population was 3,888, down 9.2% from the 2000 figure. I doubt whether it was much bigger when my father opened his store.

If we had moved, would I have grown up to be a stereotypical Texan with George Bush's macho, cowboy-like personality? Would I have become a small-town redneck who preferred a pick-up truck to a sports car and whose friends included at least two guys named "Bubba"? Would I have sought recreation by clearing brush in the torrid heat of a West Texas summer?

Nearly three decades later, my superficial connection with Colorado City proved to be a valuable professional asset. I was working in Washington as the Pentagon correspondent for Business Week magazine. The chairman of the House Military Appropriations subcommittee was then Rep. George Mahon, a longtime Texas Congressman.

He was an important news source for journalists covering military affairs. I interviewed him a couple of times and never found him very helpful. And then I learned that Colorado City was in his district. I wasted no time on my next interview date with him, informing him about my father's unsuccessful store in that town.

Perhaps it was because he was sympathetic with my Dad's Depression-era business failure. But George Mahon suddenly became one of the most cooperative news sources that I ever developed during my career as a reporter.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The unwinnable war in Afghanistan

I rarely agree with Pat Buchanan, the right-wing pundit and onetime Presidential candidate, on anything. But there is one issue on which we do agree: the war in Afghanistan. In a recent column, Buchanan described the war as "unwinnable" and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"We were seduced by the prospect of converting a backward tribal nation of 25 million, which has resisted every empire that set foot on its inhospitable soil, into a shining new democracy that would be a model for the Islamic world," Buchanan wrote.

When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan eight years ago, nation-building was not the Bush Administration's mission. The invasion, which was thoroughly justified, was aimed to destroy Al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist organization responsible for 9/11, and to punish the country's ruling Taliban regime for providing Al-Qaeda a haven.

Until we foolishly invaded Iraq two years later, we were on the verge of winning in Afghanistan. The Al-Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban hosts were retreating to the neighboring tribal areas in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, and a pro-American government had been installed in Kabul, the capital city. These achievements were derailed by the Iraq invasion.

Much of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan was withdrawn to fight in Iraq. The initial objective was to destroy nuclear and chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein's government was supposed to be stockpiling. But there were no Iraqi stockpiles of such weapons. To justify the Iraq invasion, the mission was subtly altered. We were now going to punish the Saddam government for promoting international terrorism, including the 9/11 attack on the U.S.

When these phony goals were no longer credible, we assumed the role of savior for the oppressed Iraqi people. We would introduce democracy to a country where such a concept was unknown. This goal, of course, was contrary to the Bush Administration's supposed scorn for nation-building.

There was a brief semblance of peace established in Iraq after the Saddam regime had been overthrown and the anti-American insurgency tamed. In recent months, however, communal violence has threatened to tear Iraq apart. The U.S. is being forced to referee conflicts between Arab Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Arabs, and even civil battles between rival Shiite factions.

As the action in Iraq distracted U.S. forces from our original mission in Afghanistan, the Taliban is rapidly regaining control in Afghanistan while the nation's pro-American regime has proven to be corrupt and incompetent.

Moreover, a civil war between Afghanistan's dominant Pashtun (Pathan) people and the Tajiks, Uzbeks and other ethnic minorities is breaking out. Once again, the U.S. military is being forced to play referee.

Al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies remain hunkered down in neighboring Pakistan, where an allegedly pro-American regime seems unenthusiastic about fighting them. One reason is that Pakistan's huge Pashtun population is sympathetic to its Afghan kinsmen.

Against this complex backdrop, the new Obama Administration has unwisely shipped more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and is planning to send even more. Although the Taliban would impose an autocratic rule on the Afghan people, it appears to be gaining support from a local population that has become increasingly hostile to a U.S. presence.

Even if the Taliban regains full control and dethrones the present government, however, it does not pose a serious national security threat to the U.S.

Al-Qaeda, of course, does remain a major threat. Its leadership is dispersing throughout the Muslim world to such places as Somalia, Yemen and Algeria. All the while, it is recruiting to its ranks local anti-American Islamic terrorists. Indeed, there may even be so-called "sleeper" contingents based in the U.S. ready to conduct operations here.

In effect, Al-Qaeda has become a sort of franchise operations, bestowing its name, resources, and training on disaffected Muslims with no affection for America.

So why the need for more American troops in Afghanistan? There is none. An expanded U.S. military presence there would do nothing to strengthen our defense against Islamic terrorism.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

My love affair with the Yiddish language

I can no longer speak the language in which, according to my parents, I uttered my first words as a small child. The language is Yiddish, the native tongue of East European Jews.

Although I can no longer speak Yiddish, largely because of disuse, I can pretty much still understand the language, particularly if it is spoken with a "Litvak" accent. That's the accent characteristic of Jews from Lithuania, the northeastern tip of Poland, and Belarus. My mother's family migrated to the U.S. more than a century ago from the Belarussian province of Minsk.

Sadly, Yiddish is essentially a dying language. The Holocaust, combined with cultural assimilation by East European Jews and their descendants who have settled in new countries, have combined to make Yiddish almost as obsolete as Latin.

Yiddish is now the primary language only of ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious sects like the Hasidim. Even in Israel, where Hebrew is the official language, the ultra-Orthodox Jews prefer to speak Yiddish. They regard Hebrew as a sacred language to be used only for religious study and worship.

Ironically, the insular ultra-Orthodox communities are indifferent to the vast secular world of Yiddish literature, music and theater. Yiddish art and intellectual endeavor are now the province solely of professional scholars and those who, like myself, still maintain strong emotional ties to the language.

My relationship with the Yiddish language is a matter of nostalgia. The very sound of Yiddish conversation or music links me to a cultural environment in which I was raised and which I have abandoned. I never fail to experience an odd blend of joy and sorrow on the rare occasions when I hear it. It is a love affair that will persist until I die.

Jews of eastern and central European origin are known as Ashkenazim. Ashkenaz is the ancient Hebrew word for the German-speaking territories from which their ancestors migrated eastward in Europe more than a thousand years ago. With them came the Yiddish language.

Yiddish is essentially a blend of other languages. I'm unaware of universally accepted estimates, but I would guess that about 75% of Yiddish is based on medieval German and 20% on Hebrew. The rest is composed of bits of Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Romanian or Czecho/Slovak, depending on where the speaker lived.

A century ago, East European Jewish immigrants to the U.S. began adding English to the linguistic mix. My maternal grandmother, who never learned to speak English, would casually ask me to "open der vinder," failing to realize that she had absorbed words from the language of her new homeland.

Linguistic migration, of course, is a two-way street. Yiddish has been slowly creeping into English. Many non-Jewish Americans may be unaware they are using Yiddish when they casually say words like "hutzpah," "meshugah," "shlep," "shlemiel," and "chochkeh." And if they are not concerned about being crude, they will call some one they dislike a "putz" or "schmuck."

Yiddish is one of about a half-dozen distinctive Jewish languages. Until the early 1900s, it was the world's most widely used, largely because Ashkenazi Jews outnumbered other Jewish communities before the Nazi Holocaust.

Descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries are known as Sephardim (from the ancient Hebrew name for the Iberian peninsula). Their language is Ladino. It is largely medieval Spanish with heavy elements of Hebrew and the languages of the countries in which the Sephardim settled--e.g., Turkish, Greek, Bosnian, or Arabic.

The Sephardic Jews' new homelands, particularly in north Africa, Italy and Greece, contained tiny ancient Jewish communities (the last two called Romaniot) existing long before the Sephardim arrived. They spoke Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, and Judeo-Greek. In most cases these Jews were culturally absorbed into the larger Sephardic community.

Still another Jewish community, the Mizrahim or Eastern Jews, lived in Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Kurdistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. They speak Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic and other local languages that mix the native tongues with bits of Hebrew.

Aside from a common religion, what binds the three Jewish ethnic communities is Hebrew, the language of the Torah, used universally by all Jews for religious worship. Despite their different origins, each Jewish language is written in the Hebrew alphabet.

As the official language of Israel, now the home of about half the world's Jews, Hebrew has replaced Yiddish as the world's most widely used Jewish language. And like Yiddish, Ladino and the Mizrahi languages are becoming obsolete.

I am confident that their devotees, even though they may no longer speak the languages, maintain the same strong emotional links to them that I do with Yiddish. They have linguistic love affairs of their own.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

The tormented Robert McNamara

My local newspaper recently carried an editorial cartoon showing Robert McNamara, the controversial former Secretary of Defense who died on July 6, standing in front of St. Peter in heaven.

"There are 58,000 soldiers in here who'd like to have a word with you," St. Peter angrily tells McNamara, citing the number of U.S. troops killed in Vietnam. Taking a similarly harsh view of McNamara, the New York Times' front-page headline reporting his death described McNamara as "Architect of Futile War."

From the start, I vigorously opposed the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. But I believe that McNamara has been unfairly vilified as the person primarily responsible for the war.

McNamara, a Republican, knew nothing about Vietnam when President Kennedy selected him in 1961 to head the Pentagon. McNamara had been president of Ford Motor Co., where he had gained a national reputation as the ultimate professional manager.

The seeds were sown for a U.S. role in Vietnam as far back as the Truman Administration. After World War II ended, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of Vietnam's independence movement, sought U.S. aid to gain freedom from French colonial rule.

With the Cold War already under way, President Truman ignored his plea. Had Truman, and later President Eisenhower, shown some sympathy for the Vietnamese independence cause, perhaps Ho's regime might have tempered its Soviet ties.

France finally granted Vietnam its independence only after its disastrous military defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The country was split in two. A pro-Soviet regime was established in the north and a pro-Western government was created in the south. The two states were soon at war, with North Vietnam sponsoring a Communist insurgency, the Viet Kong, in South Vietnam.

U.S. military advisers began to arrive in 1959 to support the battle against the Communist forces. When he became president, Kennedy expanded the number of American military advisers from a few hundred to about 17,000. In 1963 his successor, President Johnson, sent U.S. combat units in for the first time to fight the Communists. By 1975, when the U.S. forces finally departed from Vietnam, President Nixon had expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia.

To use George W. Bush's terminology, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were the "deciders" in getting the U.S. involved in Vietnam and for prolonging the war for 15 years. Robert McNamara, who had such a prominent role in Vietnam, quit the Pentagon in early 1968 after belatedly deciding that it was a mistake for the U.S. to continue the war.

As Business Week's Pentagon correspondent for nearly a decade until 1963, I have long had a personal interest in McNamara's career. I interviewed him several times and consider him to be one of the most interesting men I've ever met.

In an industry where eggheads rarely flourished, McNamara made his mark as a thoroughgoing intellectual in his years at Ford Motor Co. He shunned Detroit society, socialized little with auto industry tycoons, and lived instead in Ann Arbor, a university town 40 miles away. His friends there were largely professors and the kind of academic people who go into business. I reported and wrote a cover story about McNamara for Business Week's Feb. 11, 1961 issue.

Although I considered the Vietnam war a tragic blunder, I concede that McNamara vigorously improved the management of the Defense Dept. He firmly unified the three military services that had been plagued by costly rivalry and wasteful duplication of weapons development. He also strengthened civilian authority over the military establishment and enforced managerial control over the billions of dollars worth of military procurement.

Despite McNamara's sudden policy disagreement with the President over Vietnam, Johnson obviously thought so highly of McNamara that he recommended him to become head of the World Bank, where he served until 1981. In his years there, McNamara shifted the bank's focus to the problem of world poverty.

"[McNamara] is like a jackhammer," President Johnson once said. "No human being can take what he takes. He drives too hard. He's too perfect."

I developed a great deal of sympathy for McNamara after he left the Pentagon. For many years before his death, he was seriously tormented by the prominent role he had played in the tragic events in Vietnam. In books, articles, speeches, and a widely publicized documentary film, The Fog of War, McNamara became an anti-war crusader. He was particularly critical of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

McNamara died at age 93. He spent the final years of his life wrestling with the Vietnam war's moral consequences. He lived long enough to see how terribly wrong he had been and how much turmoil and tragedy the war brought to both Vietnam and the U.S. It was rare to see a man of McNamara's stature repent so publicly.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

MEMOIR: Returning to Washington from New York

In November 1949 I returned to Washington, D.C. to begin work for the U.S. Labor Dept.'s Bureau of Labor Statistics as a press officer and editor. I had moved back to New York City three months earlier after having lost a similar job with the U.S. Interior Dept.'s Fish & Wildlife Service. A subsequent temporary summer job with the AFL-CIO Machinists Union's weekly newspaper had ended, and I had been unable to find a new job in Washington.

Nor was I able to find editorial work in New York. I had lost the FWS job because I lacked regular Civil Service status. By now, however, I had taken an exam--the first one conducted since the war's end for "information & editorial specialists" (the formal job title)--and had obtained the credentials making me eligible to take the BLS position. It had been offered to me as a result of contacts made during my work for the union.

The new job was at a higher grade, GS-9, than my previous government position. The annual salary was $4,600, a $748 increase. Sixty years ago, this was a respectable wage for a 25-year old only two years out of college.

But more important than the pay hike, I was now dealing in the new job with subject matter of far greater personal interest to me. Instead of trumpeter swans, whooping cranes and Canada geese,I was now writing about employment statistics, the cost-of-living index, labor-management relations, and the occupational outlook. These were matters that were far more related to my background.

In addition to writing press releases and dealing with the media, I also edited and wrote articles on these subjects for the Monthly Labor Review, a BLS publication that is a leading scholarly journal in the field of labor economics.

My return to Washington enabled me to resume evening classes at American University, where I had been seeking a master's degree in sociology.

I had already selected a subject for my thesis: community life on Alaska's Pribilof Islands. My interest in the subject stemmed from my work at the Fish & Wildlife Service, which at that time governed the islands.

The island's inhabitants were descendants of the Aleuts who were forcibly brought to what had been uninhabited land by the Russians. Their own homeland was in Alaska, which Russia had yet to sell to the U.S. Their function was to kill and process the commercially-valuable pelts of the Alaska fur seals, which annually migrate northward in the Pacific Ocean to breed and give birth on the islands.

The Aleuts, like the Inuit (Eskimos) and Indians, are a separate North American indigenous ethnic group. Those living on the Pribilof Islands are a product of racial mixing with the Russians. They possess Russian names and belong to the Russian Orthodox Church.

I had met a few Pribilof natives who were visiting the Interior Dept. I was fascinated to learn about their unique community life; it appealed to my intense interest in ethnic affairs. It was a subject little known to outsiders, and it struck as being a worthwhile topic for a master's thesis.

My plan was to visit the Pribilof Islands to do research in my capacity as a FWS employee. But I never got the opportunity to go there because my career with the agency ended abruptly. Nor did I ever complete my graduate studies. I was soon to get a new and far more demanding government job that made it impossible to take night-time university courses.

During my evening classes at American University's graduate center in downtown Washington, I became friendly with an African-American student who shared my interest in social issues.

One evening I invited him to join me after class for coffee. He casually informed me that it was highly unlikely that he would be served in restaurants or coffee shops in the local neighborhood, a commercial area near 20th and G Streets in Washington's Northwest district.

I had sadly overlooked the fact that the nation's capital in those years was still very much a Jim Crow town. I hope my African-American classmate is still around 60 years later to see a black man living in the White House.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It is a "small world" on the Internet

I posted a piece on this blog entitled "My life with music" this past April 4. In it I bemoaned the fact that, as a boy in the mid 1930s, I foolishly turned down a chance to take piano lessons because the lessons would interfere with playing ball. My mother had a distant cousin, Sidney Sukoenig, a concert pianist and teacher at the Juilliard School of Music. He was willing, my mother had said, to give me lessons.

In just another demonstration of how it is indeed a "small world" on the Internet, I recently received an e-mail message from a man identifying himself as Alan Sukoenig, the pianist's son. He had apparently Googled his father's name and was astonished to be referred to my blog. He wanted to know how we were related.

And so began an adventure in genealogical research. I had no idea, I told him, what the family link might be. I did know, however, that a cantor named Sukoenig officiated at my parents' wedding in New York in 1923. Alan confirmed that his paternal grandfather had indeed been a cantor.

In trying to establish a family relationship with me, Alan listed all his family names that he could remember. As part of the genealogical exercise, we began exchanging the maiden names of our maternal grandmothers and great-grandmothers. As we reached back historically, a familiar name emerged, who we concluded was a maternal great, great-grandmother from whom we were both descended. We mathematically concluded that we were third cousins.

The name was Rifkin, which he contributed to our search. I told him that I recalled that my maternal grandmother, with whom I lived as a boy, would frequently mention that name when reminiscing about her life as a child in the province of Minsk in what is now Belarus. It was evidently the maiden name of her own maternal grandmother. (My grandmother's own grandmother appears in a photo posted on this blog March 19 of this year, entitled "My ancestors in Jerusalem.) Alan confirmed that his father's family were also immigrants from the the Minsk region.

This was not my first experience establishing Internet connections to relatives and to the offspring of people I had named in postings on this blog. A second cousin discovered me because his mother's maiden name was the same as my maternal grandmother's.

The children and grandchildren of men with whom I served in the Army in India during World War II and of men with whom I worked as a journalist before retiring 20 years ago have also responded to references to their relatives on my blog.

These are the kinds of fascinating experiences that indeed make the blogosphere a small but wondrous world.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Obama didn't say in Cairo

I've been pondering how to comment on President Obama's speech this past week in Cairo. He succeeded in mending the U.S. relationship with the Islamic world. But in trying to be even-handed between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he overlooked some background on their conflict.

I hesitate to be critical of Obama because he has brilliantly performed as President in his five months in office. So I will quote from a letter to the editor in today's New York Times by Joel S. Engel to explain what bothered me about Obama's speech.

"To create an appearance of equivalence between the Holocaust and the condition of the Palestinians," Mr. Engel wrote, "[Obama]said of them: 'For more than 60 years, they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.'

"The inconvenient truth, which he failed to acknowledge, is that, for the first 19 of those 60 year, the West Bank and Gaza were administered by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, and that it was under the administration of the Arab nations that the Palestinians were confined to refugee camps.

"At any time in those first 19 years, the Arab nations could have provided 'a life of peace and security' by, for example, establishing a Palestinian state or integrating the people into their own countries. Instead, they kept them confined in the camps as pawns in a propaganda war against Israel.

"At the same time, Jewish refugees from Arab countries [and Iran]were forced to flee their homes by the backlash of the establishment of Israel.

"In contrast to the actions of the Arab nations, Israel took them in, sometimes requiring daring rescue missions, and integrated them into their modern, Western-oriented society, just as they did, one might add, for the Arabs who chose to remain as citizens of Israel."

Mr. Engel's eloquent letter suggests that President Obama sees a moral equivalency between the Israeli and Palestinian causes, which I think is a bit of a stretch.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ending a "sabbatical" to comment on a horrendous crime

I've been on a sort of sabbatical leave from blogging over the past three weeks as my wife and I have gone through the logistical discomfort of moving back to our New Jersey home from our winter residence in Florida. I often wonder how people like Sen. John McCain and his wife, who reportedly own eight or nine houses, handle such residential moves.

I am still awed by the fact that I now own two houses. I was raised during the Great Depression of the 1930s and early 1940s when my father was frequently unemployed. During those years, I never knew anyone who owned a single house. My psyche has been framed by my boyhood experiences, much to the annoyance of my wife and two children who are distressed over what they regard as my excessively frugal disposition.

I have been impelled to now return to this blog to comment on the horrendous murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kan. on Sunday. Dr. Tiller was one of the few American doctors who still perform late-term abortions. He has thus been exposed to continuing violence and harassment by so-called "pro-life" advocates who oppose women's right to have an abortion.

I have always been enraged by the hypocrisy of these alleged protectors of "life" who have tormented women who want to choose to have an abortion. No pregnant woman casually decides to have an abortion. It is a traumatic decision invariably based on personal tragic circumstances. And in the case of late-term abortions, these are very rarely performed and only because of critical medical factors that threaten the mother's health or the viability of the fetus.

I am unimpressed by the leaders of the anti-abortion organizations who have denounced Dr. Tiller's murder. It is their hysterical, extremist efforts to block a woman's right to choose to have an abortion that emboldened a fanatical crackpot like Dr. Tiller's murderer.They created an atmosphere with the hateful rhetoric that encouraged this so-called "pro-lifer" to take another man's life.

Dr. Tiller was murdered during religious services in a Christian church. It is an extraordinary irony that anti-abortionists base their opposition to abortion on their own religious beliefs.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Right-wing paranoia

I have received a curious comment on my April 20 post, "The right-wing malcontents are bashing Obama." It was written by a highly educated, articulate reader who occasionally visits and comments on my blog.

She wrote: "Just because [Obama] is coming after the Christians, veterans, pro-lifers, etc...doesn't mean the Jews are safe."

I expected disagreement, of course, with my view of President Obama's opponents. But what could have produced such an hysterical response to my criticism about the recent series of anti-Obama" tea parties." At those events, I had written, "paranoid Obama-bashers vented their spleen about taxes, soaring government spending for financial bailouts, and what they regard as government encroachment into their private lives"?

President Obama is a Christian, and his much-publicized search for a church to attend on Sundays suggests that he is an observant believer. I have seen no evidence that he is "coming after" his fellow Christians. And why would he do that?

Nor as a World War II veteran have I seen any evidence that he is about to do something awful to my fellow veterans. Indeed, as some one who has been frustrated by my rare dealings with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, I am impressed by President Obama's appointment of retired Gen. Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. A critic of the Bush Administration's Iraq war, he is a refreshing change from the incompetent political hacks who have headed the department in recent years.

But what really strikes me about my respondent's comment is her frightening claim that Obama's policies do not mean that "the Jews are safe." What does she mean? The only explanation that I can imagine for the provocative comment is her knowledge that I am a Jewish-American who has an intense interest in Israel.

Her point, I guess, is to warn me that Obama is will be less sympathetic to Israel than his predecessor. President George W. Bush's policies were indeed very favorable to the Jewish state. I believe that this was largely because of benign neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, rather than of any profound pro-Israel sentiment on Bush's part.

President Obama has demonstrated that he will take an aggressive stance to settle the Middle East conflict. Presumably, this would mean pressure on Israel to make concessions that could affect its security.

I had recognized that this might occur if Obama became President. Nevertheless, I voted enthusiastically for him, and I strongly admire what he has accomplished so far. Like many ardent Jewish-American partisans of the Israeli cause, I am not a single-issue voter.

While I am seriously concerned about Israeli security, I am also interested in other important issues--national security, health, education, and other matters dealing with foreign affairs.

So my respondent's warning that the Jews might not be "safe" because Obama is "coming after the Christians, veterans, pro-lifers, etc." makes no sense.

I resent the use of the term "pro-life" by those who want to ban abortion, and I support efforts to preserve a woman's right to have one. I thus do not worry that Obama is "coming after...the pro-lifers."

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lamenting the decline of the print media

In the previous post on this blog (April 28), I published a poem by my wife Sybil, lamenting her entrance into the ranks of the octogenarians. Now I have a lament of my own to write. But mine involves a matter far removed from the personal issue of aging.

My lament is about the declining importance of the print media as a factor in modern society. As a journalist who was employed by news magazines and daily newspapers for more than 35 years until retiring 20 years ago, I find the trend particularly painful.

Last year, 15% percent of the nation's newspapers and countless magazines were shut down. So far this year, major newspapers in Denver and Seattle have folded and the circulation of the nation's top daily papers continues to plummet.

As a result, daily papers and magazines of all types are trimming their staffs, reducing their publication frequency, and taking other measures to cut operating costs.

The current economic crisis is forcing publishers to take drastic steps as advertising revenue falls precipitously. For the first time ever, for example, the New York Times is carrying advertising on its first page--a traumatic policy change for the Old Gray Lady of journalism.

In addition to the economic crisis, of course, there is another reason for the print media's decline. Readers are being drawn away by the Internet. More than a half-century ago, television began to lure readers from dependence on newspapers and magazines. Now the Internet is proving to be an even more formidable rival.

I may be an old grouch, but I also worry that the print media's decline reflects the general dumbing-down of America and diminished interest--particularly among young people--in the news of the day. Increasingly, I find people satisfied with what I regard as superficial coverage of vital current events.

I subscribe to my local daily paper and to several weekly news and special-interest publications. I also read nearly a dozen on-line news outlets that are e-mailed regularly to me. The Internet sources deal with specialized subjects or often supplement what I learn from print media.

But in terms of in-depth reporting, commentary and analysis, very few of the Internet news outlets offer what the print media--or, at least, publications like the New York Times--can provide.

Moreover, the strain of reading on a computer screen for lengthy periods of time cannot compare with the ease of reading a printed newspaper or magazine. I don't understand how one can comfortably sustain the attention required for prolonged reading material on line.

But that's probably because I'm a cranky old man with both diminished stamina and vision.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My wife Sybil's octogenarian's lament

We now have two octogenarians in my family. My wife Sybil has just turned 80. A group of her friends are celebrating the event this week with a birthday party in her honor.
She has composed this poem to read to them...


I look in the mirror and see a strange face.
Oh, surely this image is in the wrong place.

There should be a picture, alive and aglow,
A young pretty girl with no signs of woe.

But alas I see a woman, who's old and worn,
With wrinkles and lines from the cares she has borne.

It's hard to accept
That never again
Will I get the glances of much younger men.

I really feel like I'm out of the loop.
The computer keyboard to me
Looks like alphabet soup.
The mouse is erratic and just won't behave
And I never remember the key
For work that you save.

I don't have a Blackberry, or play an Nintendo game
And all the hip-hop music
To me sounds the same.

I'm even beginning to feel quite bitter
That I have no idea
What it means to TWITTER!

And so like the poet
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high
O'er vale and hill when
All at once I saw a crowd
Not of golden daffodils
But of my wonderful friends.

I really should tell ol' Wordsworth
That a friend brings more joy
Than a daffodil.

Your love and compassion
Have helped me through the years
As you have patiently listened
To my woes and my fears.

So thank you and bless you
For helping me celebrate my special day.
Your devotion means more to me
Than I can say.
I love you all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The right-wing malcontents are bashing Obama

President Barack Obama has been in office for only three months, but already the right-wing malcontents are up in arms. Their rage was comically displayed at last Wednesday's nationwide rash of "tea parties" during which the paranoid Obama-bashers vented their spleen about taxes, soaring government spending for financial bailouts, and what they regard as government encroachment into their private lives.

The demonstrations were allegedly "grass roots" rallies. But they were actually organized by Republican operatives and promoted by the Fox News cable TV organization. Fox, which jokingly claims to cover the news in a "fair and balanced" manner, is primarily a TV vehicle for Obama-bashing.

In their outrageous claims that Obama is a socialist--or fascist, according to Glenn Beck, Fox's loudmouth, clownish commentator--their fear about higher income taxes is misplaced. The President intends to allow the Bush Administration tax cuts for the rich expire. But for those with annual taxable incomes of under $250,000 taxes will be cut. From their appearances and the rowdy behavior of the tea party participants, it struck me that few of them have to worry about paying more taxes.

In their rage about bailouts and soaring Federal debt, the tea party participants conveniently overlooked the fact that their ideological hero, former President George W. Bush, began the bank bailout parade and was responsible for turning a Federal budget surplus into an unprecedented debt load.

Aside from taxes, the tea bag demonstrators seemed equally infuriated by an alleged government encroachment into their personal lives and by an unnecessary fear that they will lose their guns. I never fail to be amused that the same people who worry about government interference into personal lives are invariably those who want to ban abortion and gay rights.

Many of the right-wing malcontents' fears would be comical if they were not so serious. Some hysteria-mongers even talk about an armed insurrection against the government and the need to prepare for self-defense.

Others worry about the newly-enacted Serve America Act, a Obama plan enabling young volunteers to work on projects involved with education, clean energy, health care, and care for military veterans. For such critics as Rep. Michelle Backmann (R-Minn.), who seems to be replacing Sarah Palin as a heroine of the right, the plan will foster national enslavement and provide "re-education camps" for young people.

The over-riding fear of the right-wing malcontents is that the U.S. is turning into a socialistic or fascist country. They are unwilling to recognize that a capitalistic-free market system like ours has been unable to cope with the current economic crisis without government intervention.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

The amazing but sorrowful side of Googling

Whenever I have nothing better to do, I often turn to Google and type in the names of old friends and acquaintances with whom I have lost contact. I'm inquisitive by nature--some might call me a busy body--and I'm curious to know what's happened to these people since I last saw them.

The other day I concentrated on men with whom I had worked during the 1950s and early 1960s at the McGraw-Hill/Business Week Washington news bureau, and I entered the names of three of them.

I was saddened to learn that they are all dead and that two other former colleagues have also passed away. According to a Washington Post obituary shown in Google, one of my former colleagues, Boyd France, died just a month ago in a suburban Washington hospice at age 88.

Boyd I shared a small office cubicle for about 10 years. We used to joke that we spent more time with each other than we did with our wives. Boyd covered the State Dept. and developed an extraordinary roster of diplomatic news sources. He was also the National Press Club's chess champion.

Boyd's father was a prominent corporate and civil rights lawyer. I remember that one day his father visited him and discovered that Boyd had no will. His father prepared one for him, and Boyd brought it into the office and asked me to sign it as a witness.

I casually read the will and was so impressed that I asked Boyd whether he would object if I copied the will's contents and used them as the model for my own will--with the names, of course, changed. I did not have a will of my own at the time. Boyd did not object. Today, so many years later, my current will is still essentially based on the one prepared by Boyd France's father.

Boyd's career began in France where, in 1947, he became widely publicized as the young reporter who swam out from a Mediterranean port to interview the Jewish Holocaust victims aboard the Exodus, the famous ship which the British had barred from landing in Palestine.

My next Google discovery was a reference to the Donald O. Loomis Memorial Scholarship in Journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It was established to honor the man who, as co-head of the Business Week Washington bureau's news desk, was involved in hiring me for the magazine in 1952. Don died in April 2008 at age 93.

The scholarship is awarded for achievement in journalism and for "the demonstration of a well-rounded range of activities and interests outside the classroom as exemplified by the life of Donald O. Loomis."

I e-mailed the university, inquiring how to extend my belated condolences to his son, David Loomis, a sponsor of the scholarship. Don had been in the Washington bureau for 35 years and was, indeed, the type of renaissance man who would inspire the scholarship applicants.``````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````ould
In addition to being my primary editor, never failing to sharpen and improve my writing, Don was a lifelong, ardent athlete who was my frequent tennis partner. He also introduced me to golf, but on that score he failed. I never could develop enthusiasm for the game.

I received an acknowledgment from Don's son, David, a longtime newspaperman who is now a journalism professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. David had some more sad news, informing me that another longtime Business Week colleague, Dan McCrary, who was his father's close friend, died this past January at age 77.

I had worked with Dan both in Washington, where he covered the Justice Dept., and in New York, where he edited what Business Week called "the front-of-the-book," the magazine's section on latest news events.

I also typed the name of another former Washington colleague, Seth Payne, into Google. I was always intrigued that Seth, who had been raised on a ranch in New Mexico, was a merchant marine officer during World War II. He later became a naval reserve officer.

With his Navy contacts, Seth backed me up in my assignment as Business Week's Pentagon correspondent while working on his own beat, science and technology. When the Russians launched Sputnik, creating a new journalistic specialty, space technology, Seth also took on that assignment.

The Google reference revealed that he had established the Seth Payne/Evert Clark Award in 1988 to honor Clark, his longtime friend and Business Week colleague, who died that year. Seth Payne himself died several years later.

The award is granted annually to a distinguished young science journalist. I did not know Clark, a science and aviation writer who later worked for Newsweek magazine, very well. During my time in the Business Week Washington bureau, Clark worked in an adjoining office for Aviation Week, which like BW was a McGraw-Hill publication.

But I had the same kind of office intimacy with Payne that I enjoyed with Boyd France. A glass wall separated Payne's small office cubicle from mine, and his desk was opposite my desk. We could not avoid closely observing each other at work each day. Both Payne and I became the fathers of boys at the same time, prompting us regularly to compare notes on our new sons' development.

I regard Google as one of the technological wonders of our time. It is an extraordinary source of information of all kinds. My search for information about former colleagues, however, brought me both sadness and a reminder of how honored I was to work with these men of great talent and character.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

MEMOIR: Job-hopping and networking

My job as a press officer and editor with the U.S. Interior Dept.'s Fish & Wildlife Service, about which I wrote in my last Memoir, was was my first job after my 1946 Army discharge and my college graduation in 1948.

My career there was short-lived. I resigned a year later when I was informed by the U.S. Civil Service Commission that I was about to be "displaced" by a disabled Army veteran who had job preference over me. He had received a medical discharge after six months of military service because of stomach ulcers. (I had served in the Army three years, more than two of them overseas.)

I didn't resent my "displacement," for I was eager to extend my career into a wider field. Moreover, I had already landed a new job as a staff writer for The Machinist, the weekly newspaper of the AFL-CIO International Assn. of Machinists. It was only a temporary three-month summer job, but I had a far greater personal interest in labor affairs than in fish and wildlife.

I had been recommended for the union job by Bill Doherty, the Interior Dept.'s director of information. He was familiar with my work, having had to approve the Fish & Wildlife Service press releases that I had written before they were distributed. His recommendation represented my first experience with the phenomenon of "networking" as a tool for getting a job.

The Machinist was a far more professional newspaper than most labor union publications. Its editor, Gordon Cole, had been a Washington correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and he had made the paper more than a mere personal house organ for the union's leaders.

In my new job, I reported and wrote about such matters as labor-management contract negotiations, labor-related political issues, organizing campaigns, and union elections. I also wrote the union president's opening statement at a Congressional hearing on a bill to ban discrimination against workers because of age.

During my temporary stay with the union, I took a formal civil service exam for the job of "information & editorial specialist (press & publications)," my job title at the Fish & Wildlife Service. It was the first time the exam had been conducted in about 10 years.

I passed the exam, but that did not assure immediate employment. I had to find a job opening in a Federal government agency. But I now had regular civil service status to qualify for employment without being vulnerable to displacement by applicants with some type of job preference or political influence.

However, when my temporary job with the Machinists Union ended, there were no Federal job openings available in Washington. Nor could I find a journalistic job in the private sector. After two months, I became discouraged about my prospects. Reluctantly, I returned to New York to live with my parents because I could no longer afford to live on my own.

But the job market for journalists in New York was now even tighter than it had been when I graduated from college, because four daily newspapers had recently folded.

Shortly after my return to New York I got a lucky break. The director of information of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, Larry Klein, phoned me, offering a job similar to the one I had had with the Fish & Wildlife Service. I was now on the civil service register, which made me eligible for the position.

I had been recommended to Klein, a onetime editor of the AFL-CIO United Auto Workers Union's paper, by Gordon Cole, my boss at the Machinists Union. It was another demonstration of the importance of professional networking.

I was now on my way back to Washington.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

My life with music

I cannot play a musical instrument, and I have never taken music lessons. I cannot read music. And I can barely distinguish the playing quality between a Yitzhak Perlman and a journeyman violinist in the back row of a major symphony orchestra.

Yet I am an avid lover of classical music and a frequent concert-goer. All day at home, I have a good-music radio station or a selection from my vast CD collection playing in the background. My tastes range from the old war-horses, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to more modern composers such as Mahler, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

I believe that my love of classical music was stimulated by my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. O'Mara. She conducted a class called "Music Appreciation" and required her students to maintain scrap books with pictures of prominent musical concert performers. The project competed with my scrap book of major-league baseball players, but my collection seemed to meet Mrs. O'Mara's standards.

I still remember some of the techniques she used to introduce us to the major classical composers. When she came to Schubert, for example, she taught us to sing: "This is the symphony that Schubert wrote and never finished," using the basic melody that flowed through his never-finished final symphony.

The musical influences at home were minimal. We had an old piano in our apartment on which my mother had taken lessons when she was a child. But I don't recall ever hearing her play.

She encouraged me to take lessons. She had a distant cousin, Sidney Sukoenig, who was a prominent concert performer and a conservatory teacher during the 1920s and 1930s, who was willing to teach me. I turned down that opportunity because it interfered with stick ball and touch footfall.

I must have had some inherent musical talent, however, because with one finger, I was able to pick out virtually any melody on my mother's old piano, without knowing exactly what I was doing.

My father used to play operatic and Jewish cantorial records on our old Victrola, but I don't think his attraction to vocal music influenced my love of symphonic music.

I try to educate myself about good music by reading the music critics in the general newspapers and magazines that cover the music scene. But it is not very helpful when I encounter something like the following recent review in the New York Times of a local performance by a Russian pianist, Alexei Volodin, playing a Bach Partita with the London Symphony Orchestra:

"He played the Corrente with sparkling energy and brought a wistful nostalgia to the Sarabande," the critic wrote. "Mr. Volodin clearly articulated the multiple voices hidden in the thicket of counterpointe in the concluding Gigue, whose grandeur he aptly conveyed."

What is an untutored music lover like me, who can't tell a sharp from a flat, to make of that?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Bronx County Courthouse vs. the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is generally regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world. It is located outside the sprawling city of Agra, India. Some Western historians have claimed that the its architectural beauty has never been surpassed. The Taj Mahal, which means "Crown Palace," was built over a period of 22 years during the 1600s by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife who died in childbirth.

The Taj is essentially a mausoleum with a mosque, other palatial buildings, elaborate gardens, and reflecting pools in a vast complex bordering a narrow river. The Taj itself is built entirely of white marble with a central dome that rises to a height of 213 feet.

In 1857 a British nobleman, Lord Roberts, vising the Taj for the first time, wrote: "Neither words nor pencil could give to the most imaginative reader the slightest idea of the all-satisfying beauty and purity of this glorious conception. To those who have not already seen it, I would say, 'Go to India.' The Taj alone is worth the journey."

I have gone to India--not voluntarily, of course--and have visited the Taj many times. During World War II, the U.S. Army built an air base several miles away from the Taj to house the 3rd Air Depot Group. I was stationed there for about two months before being transferred to another unit in Bengal Province in eastern India.

During my brief stay at the Agra base, every weekend an American Red Cross lady would lead a group of about dozen GIs to visit the Taj. As I recall, the city of Agra itself was out of bounds to U.S. troops, and there was not very much else to keep off-duty GIs entertained. I believe that I went with the group about a half dozen times.

The woman was a knowledgeable guide, and lectured to us about the Taj Mahal's history. An extremely emotional person, she would discuss in ecstatic terms the Taj's beauty. On one of my night time visits with the group, I can still recall how she rapturously exclaimed: "There is nothing more beautiful in the world that the Taj by moonlight."

Responding to our guide's remark, I shouted: "The Bronx County Court House is more beautiful by moonlight." I was playing the role of a 19-year old wise guy from New York, tired of her repetitive claim about the Taj.

The Bronx County Court House, which is located within walking distance of my family's former apartment house on the Grand Concourse, is a conventional-looking, 12-story government building. Placing it in the same architectural league as the Taj Mahal was, of course, absurd. But I enjoyed the loud laughter that I had anticipated from the other men in my group.

The Red Cross lady, however, was infuriated by my rude behavior. As I recall, she was so upset by my impertinence that she halted her lecture and hastily called for a truck to return our group to the base.

Sixty-five years later, I am embarrassed when I recall my wisecrack. But, oh, to be a 19-year old "wise guy" again!

I doubt whether the American Red Cross maintains an enemies list. But if it does, I'm probably listed on it.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

My ancestors in Jerusalem

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This is a photo of my maternal great-great-grandparents. The photo was taken in Jerusalem about 150 years ago when that city was ruled by the Ottoman Turks.

My maternal grandmother, with whom I lived during my childhood, brought this photo of her own maternal grandparents with her when she arrived in the U.S. in 1903. The family came from the Czarist Russian province of Minsk in what is now Belarus. The picture was obviously an extremely important possession of Grandma's, having survived that arduous journey with her husband, three small children and all their belongings.

I do not know whether these ancestors of mine were visiting Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage or whether they had come from Russia to settle in the Holy Land. As a boy, I was aware of the photo's existence. But I do not recall that Grandma, beyond identifying the couple in the picture as her grandparents, ever explained their presence in Jerusalem.

The photo, which was restored, was originally on a postcard. The word "Jerusalem" was elaborately printed on its back, as was the photographer's Armenian name.

The couple's family name was Gurevich, which I believe is the Russian version of the name Horowitz. I do not know their first names. Nor have I ever known any relatives who bear their surname. I do take some satisfaction, however, in imagining that I may have been distantly related to the late, great Russian-born pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

MEMOIR: Whooping cranes, trumpeter swans and a kid from the Bronx

I started my first postwar job in June 1948 in Washington, D.C. shortly after my college graduation. As I revealed in a previous Memoir posting, the job was as a press officer and editor for the U.S. Dept. of the Interior's Fish & Wildlife Service. I was hired as a result of a "situations wanted" ad that I had placed in Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry's trade journal. This was a highly unconventional route to a Federal civil service position.

My objective was a job as a newspaper reporter. But only the Fish & Wildlife Service responded with a legitimate job opportunity. I also heard from a commercial printer in Moundsville, W. Va., who offered to make me editor of a new weekly newspaper if I would invest $5,000. I did not take the offer seriously.

The FWS mailed me a civil service employment application and soon invited me to Washington for a job interview. I was hired several weeks before my college graduation.

I had not even known that the Fish & Wildlife Service existed. Nor was I aware that the Federal government hired people to work as an "information & editorial specialist (press & publications)," which was the official job title. As I recall, the annual salary was about $3400.

As a boy raised in the Bronx, my only exposure to "wildlife" had been during visits to the Bronx Zoo and in several encounters with snakes in India, where I had served in the Army. The FWS was therefore an exotic working environment for me. My primary function was to report on the agency's varied operations, and to write press releases on what I considered newsworthy matters. In short, I was to be a press agent.

One of my new colleagues was the late Rachel Carson. She was yet to become a national celebrity as a pioneer environmental reformer through her best-selling books, "The Silent Spring" and "The Sea Around Us." Carson was trained to be a marine biologist. Her job at the FWS was to write the popular pamphlets about wildlife that were published by the Government Printing Office.

In my first week on the job, I handled a story that was a press agent's dream: the birth of a two-headed terrapin in a government fisheries laboratory. I arranged for Life Magazine to publish the terrapin's photo on its cover.

From then on, there was rarely a week in which I did not find a story worthy of publicity. One of the strangest involved reports from farmers across the country complaining that growing hordes of raccoons were ruining their crops. They demanded that the government do something about it.

I don't remember what if anything the Fish & Wildlife Service did about the problem. But the situation inspired me to write a press release linking the raccoon epidemic to the vagaries of women's fashion that had reduced the demand for raccoon fur coats. The result, of course, was that commercial trappers were no longer killing raccoons and were now concentrating on other varmints.

Many of my press releases dealt with the FWS's program to protect whooping cranes and trumpeter swans, two species of waterfowl facing extinction. Another regular story was the agency's widespread effort to expand the nation's duck population.

As some one to whom duck-hunting was an alien sport, that effort seemed contradictory. After all, the Fish & Wildlife Service was the agency responsible for issuing Federal licenses to hunt ducks. However, my ideological indifference about ducks, never intruded into my work.

Census-taking was a major undertaking at the Fish & Wildlife Service. When I wasn't reporting on the populations of whooping cranes, trumpeter swans, and other migratory waterfowl, there were fish to count. I spent one week at sea aboard a fisheries research vessel, observing scientists conducting a census of herring on the Georges Bank fishing grounds off the coast of Newfoundland.

Still another regular census involved the Alaska fur seals who annually come ashore on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea to deliver a new crop of seal pups and to breed. The islands are part of Alaska, but the FWS was the territory's official administrator.

Based on the annual count, the agency determined how many seals could be slaughtered for their pelts. As I remember, the victims were only two-year old males. The actual killing was done by Aleuts hired by a private contractor, the Fouke Fur Co. of St. Louis.

My press release disclosed the number of young seals that could be legally clubbed to death. I believe that these annual reports eventually helped animal-rights advocates to win their campaign to halt the commercial slaughter of the fur seals on the Pribilof Islands. But the native Aleuts are still allowed to kill a very limited number of animals for food and clothing.

One of my most widely-publicized stories disclosed the mystery about the rubber rings found around the necks of many of the fur seals. After years of speculation about the origin of the rubber rings, the agency determined that they were the remnants of parachutes that the Japanese had dropped to supply their troops occupying the Aleutian Islands during World War II.

Aside from writing press releases, I had other assignments. One was to write a speech for the then Secretary of the Interior, Julius Krug, about the virtues of wildlife conservation. It was an awesome task for a young guy just out of college, dealing with a subject about which I knew nothing.

I was also assigned to deliver a speech. My audience was a rod and gun club in Elizabeth City, a town near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Its members were infuriated by the sudden death of flocks of waterfowl that they had hoped to hunt. Many of the club members were conspiracy theorists. They were convinced that Washington bureaucrats were deliberately killing the birds to punish the local hunters.

I had never delivered a public speech before. My task was to explain that FWS scientists had discovered that the birds were dying because of an epidemic of fowl cholera. Serious efforts were under way, I assured the members, to combat the disease. I never found out whether my speech convinced the conspiracy theorists.

Still another interesting assignment was to write a booklet promoting the leasing of industrial facilities at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, near Herrin, Ill., to private manufacturers. During World War II, the plants had been built on the refuge for production of munitions.

When the war ended, the plants were closed. The result was a surge in local unemployment. The Interior Dept. decided to attract manufacturers to lease the idle industrial facilities to produce civilian products and to hire local jobless workers.

I never had a chance to learn whether my promotional effort succeeded. My career with the Fish & Wildlife Service abruptly ended in June 1949, one year after I had been hired.

Shortly after my pamphlet was published, I resigned to take a temporary summer job with a weekly labor union newspaper published in Washington. I had been informed that I was about to be "displaced" from my job with the Fish & Wildlife Service.

My replacement was a "disabled" veteran who had job preference over me. He had been in the Army for six months and had a medical discharge because of stomach ulcers. I had been in the Army three years, had served overseas for 26 months, but had not suffered a "disability" in the service. Such were the civil service rules.

The U.S. Civil Service Commission had not conducted a formal exam for the information specialist position since the start of World War II. Those subsequently hired for these jobs thus did not obtain formal tenure--or what was known as "permanent status."

The situation enabled military veterans with a formal "disability" to have employment preference over non-disabled veterans. Assuming that the applicant had the required professional qualifications, the disabled vet could simply submit a civil service application form and thus displace a worker who was not favored with job "preference."

I had no regrets about leaving the Fish & Wildlife Service because I was still eager for a career as a journalist in the mainstream media. But it was to take me three more years before I was able to realize my ambition.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

A blogger's anniversary and unexpected gifts

This month I am beginning the fifth year of publishing this blog. When I began in 2005, I had no idea who if anyone would ever read the stuff that I write. I also wondered whether there was anything of social value to justify my efforts.

In the past two days, I have been delighted to receive unexpected evidence of the merits of blogging. I regard the evidence as anniversary gifts for the blog.

On April 14, 2005, only two months after I started Octogenarian, I posted a story entitled "Reflections on a 64-year Old Photo." Accompanying the text was a picture taken in the spring of 1944 at a U.S. Army base in India showing nine GIs posing in front of a volley ball net outside their barracks. I was one of the soldiers.

In the text I identified each man and revealed as much personal background of each one that I could still remember. Considering the declining state of my memory as a 84-year old, I am still astonished at what I was able to recall about most of the GIs in the photo.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a woman named Elizabeth Elfring, who identified herself as the daughter of Marlan J. Miller, one of the men pictured. He was one of my closest buddies in our outfit, the 903rd Signal Co., about whom I was able to recall considerable detail. Perhaps that was because we had had a reunion about 30 years ago at his home in Arizona, when my wife and I were on a tour of the Grand Canyon.

"What a great thing to find something about his his life, remembered in such a fond way," Ms. Elfring wrote, commenting on my blog posting. She revealed sadly that her father had died in July, a month shy of turning 85. "He had a rich life, full of music, art and friends," she said.

Then she really made my day, closing her e-mail message: "Thank you for opening a door into the life of my father."

Today, by an odd coincidence, I received an e-mail from Ronni Bennett, who publishes "Time Goes By," a valuable web site devoted to aging. Her site contains a regular feature entitled "Elder Storytelling Place." I had submitted my blog posting about the 64-year old Army photo to her, and she published it last August.

Ronni forwarded a comment that she had just received from a man identified only as John E. He identified himself as a younger brother of Marlan Miller. He said he "had been born the year the photo was taken!" [The photo can be seen on Ronni's web site; it has mysteriously vanished from my own blog archives.]

"Marlan was very reluctant to discuss his Army experiences with his family," John wrote. "So this photo and your brief mention of him is a delight! Thanks for posting it."

I regard the kind comments of Marlan Miller's daughter and brother as gifts to celebrate Octogenarian's fourth anniversary. They demonstrate how worthwhile the blogosphere has become as a social institution.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

MEMOIR: Settling in Washington, D.C.

Shortly after my college graduation in June 1948, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work as an editor and press officer for the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish & Wildlife Service. I had been hired after the agency's information director, an ex-newspaper man, responded to my "situations wanted" ad in Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry's trade journal. It was a very unconventional way to obtain a Federal civil service job.

I knew no one in Washington. And except for three years in the army, this was the first time that I had ever lived away from my parents in New York. I was 23 years old.

Before I arrived in Washington, I had arranged to stay at the national headquarters of the American Veterans Committee, which was conveniently located in a townhouse on New Hampshire Ave., N.W. The organization maintained temporary sleeping quarters on the building's top floor for visiting members.

AVC has been extinct for about 50 years, but it was a much-publicized new veterans group during its brief but spirited existence. It was founded during World War II as a liberal veterans organization that would be an alternative to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. As a young guy turned off by what I regarded as the Legion's and VFW's support of reactionary political and social causes, I had joined AVC while in college.

Actually, I had briefly been an involuntary member of the VFW while still in military service overseas. My commanding officer, a World War I veteran who had evidently been active as a civilian in the VFW, had the unmitigated gall to sign up all the men in our outfit as new VFW members without our approval.

Among AVC's leaders were such celebrities as Richard Bolling, an influential Kansas City, Mo. Congressman; author-cartoonist Bill Mauldin; Merle Miller, President Harry Truman's biographer; popular radio comedian Henry Morgan; and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., the President's son who became a New York City Congressman.

The organization's idealistic motto was "Citizens First, Veterans Second." Its New York chapter went so far as to oppose a state veterans bonus. That was not the kind of political position likely to attract a mass membership of former servicemen.

AVC broke up about a decade after the war's end, following a bitter struggle between extreme left-wing and and moderate factions. I was saddened by AVC's demise, but I was grateful that the organization helped me quickly find a comfortable new Washington home.

My second day in town, I responded to a notice on a bulletin board in the AVC building, seeking room mates for a two-bedroom apartment. The notice had been placed by two former naval officers, both AVC members, who were sub-leasing an apartment on Adams Mill Road.

I was one of the men selected to replace two occupants who had moved out. The apartment was on the top floor of a five-story, walk-up building. It was modestly but adequately furnished for four young bachelors sharing two bedrooms. One memorable recollection of my stay in the apartment was listening to the nightly roar of the lions at the nearby Washington National Zoo when we kept the windows open during hot weather.

Once I had settled down in regular living quarters during my first few days in Washington, I was now ready to report to my new job with the Fish & Wildlife Service.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A poet I'm not

For nearly a decade, I have belonged to a writers workshop in the Florida retirement community where I live half the year. We have about a dozen regular members and meet twice monthly. About another dozen residents occasionally show up at our meetings. A couple of the members have had professional writing experience. The others regard their writing endeavors as a hobby and, obviously, as a source of creative pleasure.

At our meetings we read our own handiwork and critique the work of the others. It's all handled courteously and in good humor, and we have become a very congenial social group. Both non-fiction and fiction is offered for discussion.

A considerable amount of the work discussed is poetry. I've never been a devotee of poetry. I regard poetry as a very specialized type of writing for which I have no talent. And I will confess that I have never fully appreciated poetic output.

But I stand in awe of those who do write poetry, and I am impressed by the highly skilled work that many of our workshop members produce.

I recently recalled that I did once write a poem myself. But I have not dared to read it for serious discussion at our workshop meetings.

For posterity's sake, however, I will expose my poetic creation here.

When I returned to New York University after my Army discharge in 1946, I was enrolled as a journalism major. Curiously, the journalism department was then housed in the university's college of commerce, where I was obliged to declare an academic minor. I selected marketing even though, in all candor, I consider it presumptuous that marketing is considered an academic discipline.

The only marketing class that I did find interesting and challenging was one in advertising copy writing. Shortly before the class began, Coty, the world-famed beauty products manufacturer, introduced a new fragrance named Muse.

One class assignment that I still remember was to produce an advertisement for the new Muse perfume. I don't know whether our professor had any business relationship with the company, but he evidently considered the project professionally relevant and topical.

That's when I turned to poetry-writing for the first and only time in my life. This is what I wrote:

Was it said by Homer that no man can refuse
The come-hither aroma of Coty's new Muse?
Oh no it was not a maxim of Homer,
But of truth there's a lot in this quip on aroma.

More than 60 years later, I'm proud to reveal that I received an A-grade for my poetic creation. I have never had the inclination or courage, however, to write poetry again.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Afghanistan: A lost cause

The incoming Obama administration will be making a grievous mistake if it goes ahead with its plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan by shipping more troops there.

We were fully justified to invade Afghanistan in 2001. The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. were launched from Afghanistan by the Arab-led Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, for whom the local Taliban radical Islamic government had provided a base. Our goal was to destroy Al-Qaeda, capture its leader, Osama bin-Laden, and topple the Taliban regime.

The U.S. was on the verge of achieving these objectives until the Bush administration unwisely invaded Iraq two years later, deploying resources away from Afghanistan. The military focus shifted from fighting a war against an enemy that had attacked the U.S. to invading another country that had posed no threat to our national security.

Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. The pro-American Karzai regime, which we had installed, has proven to be so corrupt that public confidence has collapsed. Moreover, resentment of foreign military forces has grown as U.S. air strikes have caused heavy civilian casualties.

The Taliban has thus regained much of its power and influence while Al-Qaeda has shifted its major bases to the ungovernable tribal areas in neighboring Pakistan's Northwest Province.

The Obama administration now faces the problem of battling Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. That country has a new, presumably pro-American government that is increasingly under pressure from radical Islamic forces that are sympathetic to Al-Qaeda and eager to install a Taliban-like regime in Pakistan.

The much touted "surge" of American forces did strengthen our position in Iraq, at least for the short term. But sending more troops to Afghanistan is unlikely to help the fight against Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

This is a situation that could probably be handled more effectively with covert counter-insurgency operations, combined with delicate diplomatic moves, rather than with conventional military action.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

A letter from Israel regarding the Gaza tragedy

I have received the following letter from an Israeli citizen, offering a personal view about the tragic events unfolding in Gaza.

Dear family and friends,

I feel that events are such I should once again try and relay to you my thoughts, in order that you will be able to have a better understanding of the situation here. Again, as in many times before, I am dismayed at the lack of proportions in the in-depth information from Israel as opposed to that coming from other sources. Due to this unfortunate state of events, the international community is too frequently exposed to communications which are far from being "even-handed" or fair.

I will try to be as fair as possible, in portraying the very sad situation here. This is the first report I will be sending you, and I would welcome any comments or questions, and would certainly be happy if you thought that this was something you would like to pass on to your friends.

First some questions:

· When was the last time you ran for your life to a shelter to avoid being bombed?

· When was the last time your children were terrorized to the point where they wet their beds even at ages of 6 and 7?

· When was the last time your child demanded that the light stay on all night, and even then told you of his nightmares the next morning - all this on a daily basis?

· When was the last time you realized that your child will need a psychologist to help overcome his/her fears of loud noises and sirens?

· When was the last time your house had a near miss of a rocket fired at you, or worse, had your house crumble under the impact of a mortar shell?

· When was the last time that you could not tend to your crops, because the last time you went out to your fields you were fired on by snipers?

· When was the last time you lost your job because you wanted to stay at home with your family when your town was under attack?

· When was the last time that your child saw your neighbor lying in a pool of blood?

· When was the last time you checked to see if your child's kindergarten had a bomb shelter, and if not you took the child to another kindergarten which had one?

· When was the last time you went with friends to have a drink at a pub and had a suicide bomber blow himself up in front of you?

· When was the last time you made sure your child had an armed escort when he/she went on a school outing?

· When was the last time your government decided to spend over 400 million dollars on bomb shelters for your town?

· When was the last time your neighboring country swore to wipe you off the face of the earth, and does not recognize your right to exist?

· When…..

Now some facts:

· For the last 8 years (yes… eight whole years, which are 96 straight months) , the southern part of Israel (population around 250,000) has had over 22,000 rockets and mortar shells fired into its cities and villages. This is an average of approximately 2500 per year (since January 2008, we have counted over 3000). This means an average of approximately 8 (!!) rockets a day. Can you even imagine such a number?

· There is no child in Sderot under the age of 10, who knows any other existence than that of daily fear of a bomb landing on his home, school, or shopping mall. How would you feel if this happened in your town and to your children?

· Over three years ago, we unilaterally left the Gaza Strip, removed all vestiges of our army, uprooted all the civilian population which lived there, and abandoned all the homes, fields, and industrial complexes. All this without a reciprocal agreement on the side of the Palestinians to cease all hostilities. This action was intended to allow the Palestinians to fulfill their own dream of a sovereign state, without any interference on our part.

· Since June 2008, there has been a "cease-fire" agreement brokered by the Egyptians. The only trouble is that we have "ceased" while the Hammas has "fired" an average of 6 rockets a week (this is their understanding of an agreement). Besides trying to spot the launchers, and pinpoint attacking them if we were able to do so with 100% certainty, and only then, we did not reciprocate in any other way.

· During this period, we restrained ourselves not to hit back. The only recourse we had, when words, agreements, unilateral restraint and requests did not work, was to warn the Hammas government that if they did not stop the rocket attacks which totally disrupted any sort of "normal" existence for our citizens in the region, we would reduce the entry of supplies to the Gaza Strip. However, out of humane considerations, we continued to send urgent supplies, even under fire.

· To this day, we supply 70% of all the electricity in Gaza, and have never stopped this supply, except for one day when the electric plant in Ashdod, which supplies the "juice" to Gaza, was attacked by a suicide bomber. There is no "darkness" in Gaza, whatever is said or shown to the contrary.

· During the three days prior to our attack in Gaza over 200 rockets were fired at southern Israel, mainly at the city of Sderot, but also to many of the agricultural settlements around the Gaza strip – all inside Israel's international borders. This was the response of Hammas to our willingness to sit and discuss the continuation of the so-called "cease-fire" between us.

· Every such attack has had the entire civilian population of these towns and agricultural settlements running as fast as they can for a shelter - women, children, the elderly, sick people, in short, the whole civilian population.

· These rocket and mortar attacks are aimed specifically at civilian concentrations, to kill and injure as many innocent people as possible.

· Countless times over this period, and before, we have deliberated how to combat this situation, and each time we have opted for another concession towards peace, and have responded infrequently and even then at a very specific location from which the rockets were launched

· The fact is that of the hundreds of Palestinians killed over the past 2-3 years, 95% have been terrorists either setting up their rocket launchers , or on their way to an attack on one of the settlements in the region

· Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was abducted to Gaza by the Palestinian terrorists over 920 days ago, has not been allowed to send or receive letters, the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit him, and he has spent the whole time, close to three years, in a hole somewhere in the Gaza Strip. This is outrageously inhumane.

· During the past ten years, we have signed at least five agreements, in which we requested the same demands that were initiated by the "Quartet" (The USA, Russia, the U.N., and the European Community), namely:

o Recognition of the State of Israel (which all countries of the world have done)

o Cessation of all terrorist activities

In return we would be willing to negotiate for a fair settlement to all the problems between us

· Even though the Palestinian leaders, first Arafat then Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen), signed the agreements, the attacks continued unabated

Now to some comments:

· When we left Gaza, with all the small industrial works and the very modern and sophisticated greenhouses intact, at the request of the world community so that the Palestinians will have the ability to support themselves, they destroyed all of these down to rubble. This has to mean that they had little intention of trying to help their population to self-reliance and the country to some income.

· How can the world sit back for so many years and look upon what was going on in our towns and villages around Gaza, and only become outraged when we finally say: "enough is enough" and hit back?

· What is this nonsense about "excessive force"? For years we have restrained ourselves, we have made every effort to find peaceful solutions, such as those we have in our peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, while we are being shelled on a daily basis. How long can any country stand this? I bet not even Norway, which has grave concerns about our intentions, would stand for this for even one month without retaliating

· As to excessive force, should we send our kids out to throw stones at passing Arab vehicles, as Arab kids do on our roads? Should we sporadically shell cities in the Gaza Strip, just so that our response is "measured" against theirs? Should we recruit maniacs who are willing to commit ritual suicide in Arab restaurants? What are we, as a normal and democratic country, supposed to do? Continuously "understand" that the Palestinian demands should be met so that the world community can finally have some peace in the Middle East? These "salami" tactics will find us in the Mediterranean within five years!

· No. As in any country you are familiar with will do, we will use whatever means we have to achieve peace and quiet for our citizens. If we do not, then are failing our duty as a country to its citizens.

· In addition, since we do not intend to carry out such actions on a regular basis, then on the one time we do strike back, we will do so until the Hammas does not have the will to continue its policy. We have attacked only Hammas installations, and if there was a fair reporting of the events, you would notice that over 90% of all the Palestinian casualties were wearing uniforms. We have tried to be as accurate as possible in our attacks so that we spare the civilian population. We have NEVER targeted civilians, as they have ours

· No one asked Joe Louis to fight all comers with one hand behind his back because he was stronger than his opponents, and no one has asked Michael Jordan to shoot only with his left hand, because he was so much better than all other basketball players.

· We are a country, and we have an army to protect its citizens. Our army has been carefully built so as to be able to answer any threat to our existence. We will use all measures necessary, once all other avenues have been blocked, to thwart this threat.

o The Hammas does not recognize us or our borders.

o The Hammas has sworn to continue to attack us until we drop

o The Hammas gets its weaponry and orders from Iran and the extremist Islam leaders of the world, and will not listen to anyone or any other voice

· We cannot allow this to happen, and cannot allow another Holocaust to our people

· What would you and/or your government do if your border towns were shelled on a regular basis? Sit and wait for the world community to give your neighbor a slap on the hand? I would venture to say that in any Western country, you would hit back after the second or third rocket attack, whether there were casualties or not, irrespective of what the world community says or requests. We have been holding ourselves in restraint for years!

· Barak Obama, when he visited Sderot a year ago, said that if his house, and his girls, were attacked by rockets, he would not stand for it and retaliate

· The Hammas, as part of the radical Islamic groups, is a serious threat not only to Israel, but perhaps even more so to the moderate Arab countries, as well as the Western world. It is inflaming the minds of the Islamic youths, teaching them to hate while not giving them any hope for a future

· During these last few days, we have heard the Egyptian foreign minister and the editor of the official Saudi newspaper, say that the Hammas can only blame itself for what is happening to it now. The other moderate Arab countries have the same sentiments. The Hammas, as the representative of the extremist Islamic groups, is a real and present danger to them and their countries

· What are the ultimate goals of the Hammas? If it is to establish a sovereign state, then three years ago when we left Gaza they had the opportunity to show themselves and the world, that they can do so. We opened all the crossing points to Palestinian workers, assisted Palestinian officials in all the professional activities that a country needs (agriculture, medicine, sanitation, education, etc), and what we got back were suicide bombers and rocket attacks. In this situation, what does any "normal" country do? It closes the border crossings and discontinues its open policy. Would you shake your neighbor's hand, if on a daily basis his dog attacks your child despite your requests from him to rein in his dog?

· If the goal is not to establish a state, then it seems as if is their only aim is the annihilation of Israel. We will not stand for this moment.

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