Post’s Amazon Coverage Wins Polk Award

Set forth below is a link to a Washington Post article reporting that Washington Post reporter Terrence McCoy won the 2022 George Polk Award in environmental reporting for his series, “The Amazon, Undone.”  I’m confident that the Post will not begrudge a proud parent the opportunity to excerpt verbatim from its lead paragraphs:

“Washington Post reporter Terrence McCoy’s coverage of ecological destruction, violence and terror in the Amazon rainforest has won a George Polk Award, a top honor in journalism, organizers announced Monday.

McCoy, The Post’s Rio de Janeiro bureau chief, will receive the environmental reporting award for  “The Amazon, Undone,” a 2022 series that examined how ruthless deforestation, the policies of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and the American appetite for beef are rapidly destabilizing the rainforest, which is one of the planet’s last bulwarks against unchecked global warming.

‘The forest is racing toward what scientists warn is a tipping point, when it can no longer maintain its base ecology and suffers a spreading dieback,’ McCoy wrote in a recap of the project, which took him hundreds of miles through the jungle.   …

The Polk Awards, presented by Long Island University since 1949 and named after a CBS correspondent killed during the Greek Civil War, gave out 16 prizes among more than 500 submissions for 2022.”

Many will recall that reporter Dom Phillips was killed this past June during a trip in the Amazon.  This is a moment to reflect upon journalists’ vital contributions in so many different contexts across the globe, sometimes with disregard for their own safety.

On the Role of Journalism

Below you will find a link to a recent piece by New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens.  In his essay, Mr. Stephens takes issue with a position recently asserted in the Washington Post by former Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr., whom Mr. Stephens quotes as declaring that a new generation of journalists “‘believe that pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading ‘both-sides-ism,’” and that these young journalists “‘feel it [presumably, pursuing objectivity] negates many of their own identities, life experiences and cultural contexts, keeping them from pursuing truth in their work.’”

Mr. Stephens also refers to a report co-authored by Mr. Downie, “Beyond Objectivity,” which Mr. Stephens indicates includes a contention by a quoted editor that Objectivity “is news ‘through the lens of largely white, straight men.’”  (The report – wait for it; this is the best part:  was issued by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.  Those of us old enough to remember Mr. Cronkite’s straightforward reporting as longtime anchor of the CBS Evening News – at the end of every broadcast, he told us, “That’s the way it is,” and indeed, we knew, that was the way it was — can be confident that the report’s publication under his name has him rolling in his grave.)

I am not sure whether all reading this note will be able to reach Mr. Stephens’ column behind the Times’ paywall; what follows are a few of his comments that I am pretty confident that he wouldn’t mind me sharing if he were aware:

“[News outlets] are not in the ‘truth’ business, at least not the sort with a capital ‘T.’ Our job is to collect and present relevant facts and good evidence. Beyond that, truth quickly becomes a matter of personal interpretation, ‘lived experience,’ moral judgments and other subjective considerations that affect all journalists but that should not frame their coverage. …

The core business of journalism is collecting and distributing information. Doing this requires virtues of inquisitiveness, independence, open-mindedness, critical thinking and doggedness in the service of factual accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness. It also serves the vital interests of democracy by providing the public with the raw materials it needs to shape intelligent opinion and effective policy. This may be less romantic than the pursuit of ‘truth,’ but we could regain a lot of trust by paring down our mission to simple facts.”

It seems that journalists may still be grappling with the challenges of 1950s McCarthyism, when the press (as it was then known) felt trapped by its perceived obligation to continue to report unfounded allegations of Communism by an elected Senator from … er … Wisconsin, even after it realized that Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s accusations were without basis.  I don’t consider the profession’s responsibility to objectively collect and disseminate facts to require ignoring reality.  When former President Donald Trump took office, the Wall Street Journal Newsroom (as contrasted with its Opinion desk) made the point of informing its readers that while it did not intend to specifically point out all of Mr. Trump’s seeming falsehoods, it would juxtapose what its reporters uncovered with Mr. Trump’s declarations, and let the reader decide.  (An old example:  given Mr. Trump’s assertion that his inauguration had drawn the most attendees in history, the Journal posted pictures of the crowds at the inaugurations of former President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump next to Mr. Trump’s claim, and let the reader form his/her own conclusion as to its veracity.)  I was, and remain, very comfortable with such an approach.

As for the notion that “objectivity” somehow reflects a bias of white, straight males:  while one’s being and background will obviously influence the way one perceives the import of a fact pattern, I entirely reject the notion that the standard of objectivity for collection and dissemination of facts should in any way vary according to a reporter’s gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, or other attribute.

What makes journalism a noble calling isn’t those who shout from talk shows or opinion pages [or blogs  😉 ].  Although TLOML and I watch MSNBC’s decidedly-liberal Morning Joe and I frequently agree with and occasionally cite its panelists’ observations, I would never post anything in these pages based upon such observations unless I found confirmation either with my own eyes (via video) or in the news pages of a reputable newspaper.  We spouters can have our views; what is vital is that journalists, as Mr. Stephens put it, “provid[e] the public with the raw materials it needs to shape intelligent opinion and effective policy.”  That’s all, and that’s enough.  After journalists have fulfilled their responsibility – a sacred one in a democracy — it is thereafter up to our people, for good or ill, to form their own conclusions.

Obviously, I associate myself with the entirety of Mr. Stephens’ remarks, and encourage you to read his entire column – if not accessible to you via the link below, through other means.

Out of Africa: Part I

In the first half of September, we traveled to Kenya on Safari.  This site would make a poor travel log, so suffice it to say that our adventure offered everything we had hoped for — the opportunity to see innumerable African species, including all of those in the American imagination, in their domain (i.e., the “bush”), while (happily) not having to spend our nights in accommodations that one associates with big game hunters of a century past.  If you have the inclination and means to visit Africa, don’t put it off; it will be one of your most memorable experiences. 

Kenya became an independent nation in 1963, emerging from what had been (mostly British) colonial rule existing since the late 19th century.  It has been said that since achieving independence, the country’s leadership — a few families have effectively controlled the government — has been too slow to break down the vestiges of colonialism.  We arguably saw indications of that throughout our excursion; virtually all of the guests everywhere we stayed were Caucasian or Asian.  It is a land where tribal traditions and constitutional government are in search of peaceful accommodation, one of stark contrast between enduring customs and onrushing modernity. 

One visiting Kenya cannot help but recognize the material benefits we in America have, and the precious democratic practices we seemingly remain at risk of frittering away.

Kenya had elected a new president, William Ruto, shortly before we arrived.  The outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Kenya’s first president), was stepping down after two terms in accord with the Kenyan Constitution.  Mr. Ruto’s opponent, Raila Odinga — who had lost notwithstanding an endorsement from Mr. Kenyatta (Mr. Odinga, having lost five presidential elections, is somewhat the Harold Stassen of Kenya) — had appealed Mr. Ruto’s victory to the nation’s highest tribunal; we arrived in the country two days before the tribunal was to decide on his appeal.  Kenya has a history of unrest arising from disputed elections; rioting attendant to a 2007 election dispute claimed over 1,000 lives, and lesser disturbances accompanied a challenge to Mr. Kenyatta’s 2017 election.  We were aware at the time we arrived that there was some concern throughout the country, despite both candidates’ and Mr. Kenyatta’s pleas for calm, that disturbances might follow any final declaration upholding Mr. Ruto’s victory; however, when his victory was sanctioned, all remained quiet. 

Our safari guide was Manson [since I haven’t sought this incredible gentleman’s consent to refer to him, not his real name], about 40.  Descended from a father of the Maasai tribe and a mother from the Kikuyu tribe, tribal mores caused Manson to leave his Maasai village in his middle-school years.  He was taken in by a Catholic mission, and completed advanced studies under the mission’s auspices.  Manson is a naturalist with a specialization in ornithology, and possesses a seemingly-encyclopedic knowledge of the habits of East African birds (which he used as indicators to locate Africa’s celebrated wildlife for us in unexpected parts of the parks).  Because of the just-concluded Kenyan presidential election, politics naturally came up early during the trip; Manson observed with satisfaction that his country had finally achieved a transfer of presidential power without riots.  He follows international affairs; after he asked me whether I thought America should negotiate with Russia over Ukraine, and I indicated that I then opposed negotiation because I didn’t think it would stop Mr. Putin from continuing to stir unrest among democracies, he immediately responded, “I completely agree.”  He was then in the process of building a house – almost unheard of except for affluent Kenyans.  He has two daughters, 20 and 14.  His elder daughter had recently been awarded a green card to the U.S. through the U.S. Diversity Visa Program (known as the “Green Card Lottery”) and he was thrilled.  He said to me, “In America, if you work hard, you can get ahead.”  While some born and reared in the U.S. might question the statement, from the perspective of a Kenyan, it is undeniable.

Our excursion took us both north and west of Nairobi to visit the wildlife preserves; it is hard for any American who has never been in a Third World country to imagine life in rural Kenya.  While the flora is gorgeous and the soil the rich burnt orange of Utah, Kenyans residing in remote villages have desperately limited means.  Manson mentioned how much improved the roads surrounding Nairobi had become during Mr. Kenyatta’s term as president, but outside the city the roads were, to an American, barely passable.  (“Were most roads in Kenya like this ten years ago?” TLOML asked as we pounded along a particularly sacroiliac-abusive stretch.  “Oh, this is much better,” Manson replied, without any trace of irony.)  Shanty hamlets and markets exist on the wayside amid plastic bottles and refuse for which there is no means of disposal.  People (including small children), cattle, goats, even camels walk perilously close to vehicles whizzing along the road.  Tiny thatched huts (it sounds like a cliché, but it’s not), smaller than almost any room in any American home built in the last century, dot the surrounding fields, housing whole families.  There is very little health insurance.  Where the roads are reasonably traversable, speed is maintained not by stoplights but by mountainous speed bumps – and at every speed bump, people approach the slowing cars from the side of the road to try to sell produce, water, or souvenirs.  (Manson was amused when I suggested that they were “businessmen,” and referred to them as such for the rest of the trip.)   

Early in our trip, Manson described how difficult life can be for elementary-school-aged Kenyans, particularly outside Nairobi.  There are frequently over 100 in a class, with limited facilities and poorly-paid teachers; many times the schools receiving the tuition fail to pay the teachers, who in turn therefore sometimes demand payment directly from the students and send them away if they cannot comply.  (Unexpectedly, grade school children are better dressed than some adults because many schools require uniforms.)  Manson indicated that in his early years, he himself had at times been sent home from school because his family lacked the money to pay his teachers.  At about the mid-point of our trip, our van broke down between preserves.  While Manson called back to Nairobi for assistance, the delay provided the opportunity to walk around (for safety purposes, most time in wildlife preserves is spent in the vehicle) and appreciate the vista.  A middle schooler, Sam, walked by and then stopped while we waited by the side of the road.  He was stoic, and didn’t speak much English, but it became clear that he understood it perfectly.  Random motorists would stop, come over and speak with Manson in Swahili, and look under the hood of our vehicle; sometimes tinkering would go on; more talk would ensue; the engine wouldn’t start; and they would leave, soon followed by other well-meaning, but equally ineffective, Good Samaritans.  Sam and I watched this cycle several times.  Finally I quietly asked him, “Do you think any of these guys know anything about cars?”  For a moment his deadpan disappeared; I got a brilliant smile, and he shook his head.  At some break in the (in)action, Manson came over and asked Sam why he wasn’t in school.  It turned out that he had been sent home because he couldn’t pay his teacher.  Manson was clearly taken back to his own past, and asked how much money Sam needed to be allowed back in school:  it was 500KSh – 500 Kenyan shillings.  Manson and I split the needed tuition.  Before being too struck by our generosity, be aware:  at the time, 500KSh amounted to $4.35 – another stark indication as to how far many Kenyans’ material means differ from our own.

To avoid unduly taxing your eyes or your stamina, the remainder of this note will appear in Part II.

An Early January Potpourri

A series of random thoughts as 2023 begins:

I have heard commentators declare that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Republicans’ antics in their ongoing efforts to elect a Speaker don’t constitute a flaw, but rather a facet, of a vibrant democracy.  Although an exchange of clashing viewpoints has been one of the wellsprings of American democracy from the days of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, such is only the case if such differing viewpoints are offered in good faith – i.e., with the sincere intent to select a better leader or reach a better policy approach for the greater good of America.  I don’t have any insight into the views or motives of the vast majority of Republican House members who are refusing to vote for U.S. CA Rep Kevin McCarthy for Speaker.  I have already indicated in these pages that if a GOP representative, I myself wouldn’t be supporting Mr. McCarthy because he has shown that he doesn’t have the steadfastness for the job.  That said, I would submit that there is strong evidence that at least two of Mr. McCarthy’s most vocal opponents, election-deniers U.S. FL Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. CO Rep. Lauren Boebert, are simply hyper-partisan, self-promoting provocateurs.  I see little to indicate any motive for their current drive to oust Mr. McCarthy beyond personal ambition.

The current Republican (Animal) House dysfunction is troubling on a deeper level.  As Mr. McCarthy concedes more and more to the most rabid members of his caucus, how will he – and therefore, we – manage when a crisis needing unanticipated funding and unity inevitably occurs during the next two years?  Will the agitators come away from this internecine party battle with the power to prevent a vote on a bill raising the federal debt ceiling, causing the United States to default on its full faith and credit?  Will they be able to block additional needed aid to Ukraine, or aid to assist Taiwan, should Mainland China elect to invade the island?  Will they hinder the provision of assistance to California if it suffers an earthquake, or to Puerto Rico if it is battered by another devastating hurricane, because they don’t consider these to really be part of their America?  Will they fund the Biden Administration’s efforts if we are suddenly hit with another pandemic – or declare the announcement of a new virus merely a hoax?  You may dismiss these concerns as unduly alarmist.  If so, I hope you’re right.

Next:  the situation at the southwest border is human tragedy, a logistical quagmire, and a political nightmare.  Immigration has been a visceral issue for Republican voters, and generally a political winner for Republicans, for most of this century.  On Thursday, the President announced new approaches that may have value and/or simply be a bandage.  I have no substantive solutions to offer for the challenges we face.  I would venture this:  if Mr. Biden intends to seek re-election, his Administration had better achieve notable improvements to our humanitarian and security challenges at the border this year.  If not, immigration may well prove to be the issue that Mr. Biden’s Republican opponent can wield most effectively against him in the upcoming campaign.

Next:  I find it ironic that Republican-controlled states’ immediate reflex to oppose anything that the Biden Administration proposes is, in certain areas, helping the Administration either substantively or politically.  Republican lawsuits thus far successfully thwarting Administration efforts to dismantle Title 42 – a Trump Administration initiative used to quickly expel immigrants at the southwest border – have, by keeping Title 42 in effect, perhaps prevented even greater politically-damaging border havoc for the Administration.  (In an irony within an irony, the Administration’s new border protection measures reportedly expand the practice of immediate expulsion authorized under Title 42 to unsponsored migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti.)  Likewise, Republican-led states’ efforts to throw out Mr. Biden’s plan to forgive federal student loan debt – no matter what one thinks of the Administration policy substantively – undoubtedly redounds to Mr. Biden’s benefit politically.  (The President can justifiably say to all those whose obligations would be forgiven or reduced:  “I tried to help you, and they wouldn’t let me.”)  Who are those borrowers going to vote for in 2024?

Next:  On a human level, all of us who are aware are saddened by the sudden cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin in last Monday night’s NFL football game.  As this is typed, Mr. Hamlin’s prognosis is reportedly improving.  (I heard some ghoul ask one of Mr. Hamlin’s doctors this week whether he might recover sufficiently to return to the game.  Really? That reporter should be made to face an unblocked rush from the San Francisco 49er defensive line.)  All hope for Mr. Hamlin’s quick and complete recovery.  At the same time, I am perplexed by the calls I hear from some for the NFL to “do something” to prevent afflictions such as that suffered by Mr. Hamlin.  All who read these pages are aware that I am an NFL fan.  Make no mistake:  I believe that the NFL and its owners are much more concerned with protecting the multi-billion colossus they have created than they are with player safety.  That said, having watched thousands of NFL tackles in my lifetime, I saw nothing unique or untoward about the collision that stopped Mr. Hamlin’s heart.  Assuming that the NFL tests all players for cardiac fitness as part of its initial processes, I don’t know what the NFL could have done before or do now to guard against tragic disorders such as Mr. Hamlin incurred Monday night.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of football in this country – a popularity, whether one likes it or not, which arises in large measure from the game’s ferocity – perhaps we should ban the game due to the physiological and attendant psychological damage suffered by players resulting from repeated head and other reasonably-foreseeable trauma.  TLOML and I were always happy that our sons never played the game at any serious level.  At the same time, if mine was the voice deciding for all of America whether to keep or ban football, I don’t know which way I would vote.  Our citizens voluntarily choose to downhill ski, sky dive, rock climb, bungee jump, and play soccer (which at advanced levels has its own head trauma challenges).  People are injured or killed every day riding bicycles.  By high school, every football player that chooses to play knows the risk.  Even though the average NFL career is short, the NFL annual base salary is over $700,000; the average American salary is under $55,000 a year.  Even if possessed in my late teens and early 20’s of the wisdom of Medicare-eligible years and aware of the game’s dangers [and despite lacking the coordination to efficiently tie my shoes 😉 ], would I still have gone into the NFL — to make the kind of money that could form a base of financial security for a lifetime — if I had had the ability?  I would have.

Finally:  Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has announced that she will not seek re-election in 2024.

I have mentioned a number of times in these pages that I hope, for the good of my children and grandchildren, that U.S. Transportation Secretary and former South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg is someday president of the United States.  It has been clear, however, that notwithstanding President Biden’s selection of Mr. Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary – an appointment of an extremely able young politician with a seemingly bright future who withdrew from the 2020 Democratic nomination race (along with U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar) just in time for Mr. Biden to corral all moderate liberal support and win the nomination – Cabinet experience is not a sufficient background upon which to mount a credible campaign for the presidency.  If Mr. Buttigieg wishes to run for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination at some point in the future, he will no longer be able to employ the “Exciting Newcomer” lane he used in 2020; he will need a significant position from which to launch his campaign:  a Governorship or a U.S. Senate seat.  If he can win either office after leaving the Biden Administration, he can bide his time:  he will be 42 on election day 2024, which means that he will be viable, from an age perspective, for at least the five presidential election cycles after 2024 – to 2044 [and, judging by the age of our recent major party presidential nominees, perhaps longer 😉 ].

I suspect that Mr. Buttigieg agrees with my assessment that he will need a substantial post if he wishes to mount another campaign for the presidency.  I suspect that he agrees with my assessment that no Democrat will be elected a U.S. Senator or Governor in Mr. Buttigieg’s native Indiana for many years to come.  I also suspect that he agrees with my assessment that he needs to establish greater rapport with and support in the African American community than he had in 2020 in order to make a viable run.  For some months, I thought that he and his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, might move their family from Washington, D.C., commuting distance down to Baltimore, since the term of Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, 79, will expire in two years.

I was wrong about Mr. Buttigieg’s moving plans.  Last summer, the Buttigiegs established their legal residence in Traverse City, MI, Mr. C. Buttigieg’s home town, and registered to vote.

There are a lot of ambitious politicians in Michigan, as there are in all states.  Many will consider a campaign for Ms. Stabenow’s seat, and all will consider and call Mr. Buttigieg a carpetbagger if he seeks Michigan Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination.  That said, presidential support would be an advantage in a Senate primary contest; the President has compared Mr. Buttigieg to his own beloved son, Beau; and a President pays his debts. 

As former President Donald Trump sometimes says:  We’ll see what happens. 

More than enough Noise for one post.

Happy Holidays

Some say that there is no Supreme Being; they assert that our existence is a consequence of the churnings of the universe, the result of an endless metaphysical evolution.  Under our system of government, Americans have a right to hold, or not hold, any feeling of faith we choose, and I absolutely defend the right of those who deny the existence of the Almighty; but I cannot agree.  Life is too wondrous to have come about from a random clash of molecules; it is the product of the Divine, no matter by what name or how He (as always, please excuse the male pronoun for a genderless being) is known.  TLOML and I recently had a chance to catch a reminder of a message which perhaps some of us too frequently forget as we navigate life’s challenges; a link is set forth below.

May you embrace your blessings amid your family and friends during this wondrous Season. 

Happy Holidays.

Our Most Influential American Non-Presidents Since World War II

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s recent announcement that she was withdrawing from House leadership and the accolades she has deservedly received since her announcement caused me – this is the kind of thing that retirees have time to ponder 😉 – to reflect upon which Americans since World War II I thought had the most impact on our lives who were never president of the United States.  What follows is the list I came up with.  [Note:  this is not a “feel good list.”  You will see that I do not consider the impacts of all of the listed Americans to have been positive.]  One places more value on what one knows, and this list necessarily betrays my relatively greater interest in public policy, policy and commerce.  The explanations tend to be longer for those selections not as familiar to those with shorter memories.  With the exception of the first and last names below, my list is in alphabetical order.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King’s crusade to bring the nation’s racial injustice to Americans’ attention via nonviolent means places him above and apart as not only the most consequential American non-President since World War II, but the most consequential non-President of the Twentieth century.
  • Muhammad Ali.  Mr. Ali’s still-unequaled heavyweight boxing ability combined with his articulate social commentary, his grit, and his fearlessness not only in the ring but in adopting Islam and standing up to American administrations’ pursuit of an egregiously misguided war effort made him a worldwide icon who lifted the spirits and aspirations of African Americans and earned the esteem of all but the most racially-biased of his fellow citizens.
  • Jeff Bezos.  The amazing variety and convenience of Mr. Bezos’ Amazon has revolutionized the way we shop.  This stunning conceptual, technological and logistical achievement must arguably be balanced against its detrimental impact on local retailers, its diminution of the employment prospects of some of our less-skilled citizens, and its reduction of Americans’ traditional physical shopping interactions.
  • Warren Buffett.  Mr. Buffett’s renown as an investor and his endearing homespun manner are well known; I myself follow some of his investing maxims.  That said, I believe that his was the first prominent voice to assert that corporations’ overriding responsibility was to act in the good of the company’s shareholders and that senior management’s compensation should be tied to the corporation’s fortunes.  I would submit that these precepts have led to a general disregard for other corporate constituencies, such as employees, communities, sometimes even customers, and has resulted in excessive corporate focus on cost-cutting, outsourcing and short-term results in lieu of long term and broader societal benefits.
  • Hillary Clinton.  Whether or not one finds her particularly likeable, Ms. Clinton’s extraordinary career, her undoubted ability, and her bone toughness have made clear that a woman can be, should be, and will be President of the United States.
  • Newt Gingrich.  The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives in the late 1990s.  An observation about Mr. Gingrich during PBS’ American Experience:  Clinton Part I:  “You’ve heard of von Clausewitz’ definition of war as ‘politics by other means.’  Newt considered politics to be ‘war by other means.’”  Unquestionably bright and knowledgeable, Mr. Gingrich made Washington politics blood sport – the other party wasn’t an adversary, as believed by former President Ronald Reagan and former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, but rather, the enemy – an attitude now common on both sides of the aisle.  The American experiment has been tarnished as a result.
  • Barry Goldwater.  The longtime Republican Arizona Senator was the first modern proponent of honorable conservative thought:  that states’ rights had been unconstitutionally usurped by the federal government, that Americans were too handicapped by taxes and regulation, that too much welfare was debilitating rather than enabling, that government is best done at the local level, etc.  Acknowledged by Dr. King not to be a racist, Mr. Goldwater had a strong libertarian streak, at the end of his life criticizing the religious right, supporting gay rights, and defending abortion.  One can agree with his principles or not, but he had principles.  He laid the path for Mr. Reagan.  I cringe whenever I read or hear news media refer to MAGAs as “conservatives”; I once heard it said that Mr. Goldwater – undeniably crusty — declared, when referring to isolationist and arguably racist elements in his era claiming to be “Conservatives”:  “They’re not conservatives.  They’re just assholes.”
  • Steve Jobs.  The iPhone.  The icons we use in all of our applications to communicate.  ‘Nuff said.  As you watch many Americans scrolling their phones while ignoring their companions, you can ask yourself whether Mr. Jobs’ contributions were good or bad, but we are where we are.
  • Robert Kahn/Vinton Cerf.  Although the concept of the World Wide Web had many contributors dating back to Nikola Tesla in the early 1900s, Messrs. Kahn and Cerf developed the protocols that made the internet a reality for the general public.  I consider the internet primarily a positive force, but it has certainly been abused in ways I’m sure that Messrs. Kahn and Cerf never envisioned.
  • George Marshall.  The overall architect of the Marshall Plan, the Truman Administration’s plan to rebuild a Europe destroyed by World War II.  Given his previous role as Army Chief of Staff in the war effort, he was viewed as nonpolitical, and his credibility paved the way for a plan that rebuilt Europe and kept it out of Communist control – setting up a diplomatic and territorial firewall that protects America to this day.
  • Nancy Pelosi.  The first woman Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the most powerful woman constitutional officer in our history, she led her caucus successfully during what has been our most poisonously partisan and tumultuous political period since the Civil War.  Ms. Pelosi has endured endless vituperation magnified, in my view, simply because she is a woman.  She’s bright, tough, and cool under pressure.  She held the Congress together during the January 6th attack.  She considers the Affordable Care Act her greatest achievement as Speaker; I would suggest that the number of bills she got passed during the last Congress with a caucus as factionalized as the Republicans was an equally notable achievement.    
  • Eleanor Roosevelt.  I would submit that Mrs. (as she was known) Roosevelt was the leading postwar figure in two movements:  progressivism and women’s rights.  She deployed her prominence in outspoken advocacy of liberal causes and reformist movements considered then (and, for some, perhaps now) “socialist,” for which a direct line exists between her thinking and that of U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders.  In 1948, President Harry Truman appointed her to the United Nations, and she became the first chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights.  She supported the founding of a UN Agency on nutrition.  Gallup found her the “most admired living woman” among Americans every year save one between 1948 (when the poll began) to 1961, but she was regularly vilified.  Although Mrs. Roosevelt opposed the Equal Rights Amendment – she didn’t consider it necessary – I am confident that Mses. Clinton and Pelosi would both agree that their rises and careers were enabled by the trailblazing of Mrs. Roosevelt.
  • George Wallace.  The true prophet of today’s MAGAism who most potently stimulated the nerve in the American political fabric ultimately exploited by former President Donald Trump is neither AK Gov. and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin nor Republican Patrick Buchanan; it is former AL Gov. George Wallace.  Mr. Wallace, who famously “stood in the schoolhouse door” in 1963 to attempt to stop the enrollment of African American students at the University of Alabama, later sublimated – slightly – his racist message and in his 1968, 1972, and 1976 presidential campaigns, instead turned his attacks on the elites and the “pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington.”  A Democrat (before it was politically acceptable to be a Republican in the South), Mr. Wallace had Mr. Trump’s raw charisma and ability to rouse crowds.  David Halberstam reported in The Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy, “In late July, 1968 [after the assassination of Mr. Kennedy], Wallace turned to a reporter and said, ‘You reporters are for [anti-Vietnam war candidate and then-U.S. MN Sen. Eugene] McCarthy, aren’t you; and your editors are for [moderate and then U.S. Vice President Hubert] Humphrey; but your pressmen are for me.’ [Italics Mr. Halberstam’s].”  In 1968, Mr. Wallace won five states – Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, — all but Georgia MAGA bastions today.
  • Mark Zuckerberg.  Mr. Zuckerberg certainly isn’t the only one responsible for the virulent spread and destructive impact of social media upon our society, but Facebook, given its breadth, is arguably the vehicle through which Americans’ most toxic impulses were most able to metastasize.
  • John F. Kennedy.  I know; I appear to be cheating.  However, I don’t add former President John Kennedy to this list due to his presidential accomplishments — which, aside from his ultimately brilliant management of the Cuban Missile Crisis, were middling – but because he first understood and leveraged, for the long term good or ill, the marriage between politics and media.  Where before his time Americans were governed by frequently portly and/or balding men, he himself acknowledged that he could never have won the presidency but for TV.  He looked good.  He spoke well.  He mastered the soundbite before we even had a term for it.  The debate tactics he employed against Richard Nixon in 1960 are still the hallmarks of political debating.  I suspect that every politician of the two following generations affirmatively studied him, and I am confident politicians still do today, although they may not recognize the progenitor of the on-camera techniques they employ.  Since Mr. Kennedy’s election, we have had no bald presidents, no obviously overweight presidents [Mr. Trump has a great tailor  😉 ], and only two – Lyndon Johnson and George H.W. Bush – who wore glasses on-camera.  I would venture that at least Mr. Reagan, former President Barack Obama, and Mr. Trump could not have won the presidency but for the path forged by Mr. Kennedy.  Make of that what you will.

Who did I miss?       

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Although I consider President Joe Biden to have done an exceptional job during the first two years of his term, I would submit that neither the policies of the Democrats nor of the Republicans received a mandate in this last election season; it was Americans’ belief in democracy that won.  Right now, let us savor it with proclamations by our greatest real and fictional presidents.

A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

… I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday in the month of November … as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.  And I recommend to them that, while offering up ascriptions justly due Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become … sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln


The West Wing – “I Get to Proclaim a National Day of Thanksgiving” – YouTube

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

On the Passing of Vin Scully

As all who care are aware, Vin Scully, who was the voice of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers for over 60 years, passed away yesterday at age 94.  Since Mr. Scully also broadcast nationally for many years, he was well-known by sports fans nationwide.  He had the classiest, smoothest delivery of any sports announcer I have ever heard.  The most dramatic baseball moment I have ever witnessed as it happened was the gimpy Kirk Gibson’s 9th inning homerun off Hall of Fame Closer Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 World Series (it was Mr. Gibson’s only at bat in a series ultimately won by the underdog Dodgers over the Oakland A’s), and Mr. Scully’s call of the moment – in which he said little, and then let the crowd tell the story – by itself ranks as a classic in sports broadcasting.

My mother was from Brooklyn, raised five blocks from Ebbets Field, and could recall Mr. Scully’s start as second chair to Red Barber (a legend in his own right in Brooklyn).  Both of my parents were big baseball fans (my father was as rabid a Yankee fan as my mother was an avid Dodger backer, which both later agreed made for interesting Octobers in the late ‘40’s through the mid-‘50’s).  Throughout Mr. Scully’s career, he maintained the even-handed style of baseball announcing in which he was trained in New York (and upon which my parents grew up).  When we moved to the Midwest in 1959, both of my parents were appalled by the Chicago broadcasters’ “root, root, root for the home team” announcing style.  To their mind, Mr. Scully’s delivery was the way it should be done.  I came to share their view.

Hear in your head one more time that rich voice, as you would if he were discussing another: 

“His reporting brought respite from daily cares to millions of Americans over scores of years.  May he rest in peace.”

On Fertilizing and Mowing

Every Middle America neighborhood has one retired old coot who seems to have nothing better to do but cut his lawn every other day.  I realized the other day:  I’ve become that guy.

For over 40 years, the debate has continued between TLOML and me:  How frequently should we fertilize our lawn — if at all?

One school of thought on this hotly-discussed subject holds that in order to have a suitable – indeed, a lush, vibrant – lawn, one should fertilize four times a year, at the spring and summer Holidays:  Easter, Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day.  (We’ll ignore those fanatics who hold that another fertilization in late autumn is just what the little blades need to flourish.)  The other school of thought — while conceding that one does not want one’s lawn to be an embarrassment; one does not want the neighbors muttering that you’re endangering their property values — holds that except in rare instances, fertilization is The Devil; that all that happens when one fertilizes is that the grass will grow, simply increasing the number of times that one must mow.  This approach posits that relatively fewer summer fertilizations, while perhaps not yielding the lushest green carpet, will nonetheless be sufficient to avoid embarrassment.

Yet another debate:  Is it safe to mow when if it’s too hot?  This is not an expression of concern for the safety of the mower, but rather:  Won’t mowing when it’s too hot shock the grass?  There is, of course, the contrary philosophy:  This is mowing day.  Grass has survived for millennia.  It’ll survive mowing by a septuagenarian wielding a lawnmower that is, in dog years, even older than he is.

I have felt for decades that if I could spray paint our entire lot with a long-lasting grass-green paint (with pebbles, of course, for texture), such would be mighty tempting.  Given the little likelihood that I will be able to implement such a strategy, and since I’ve largely lost the fertilization debate, I am holding out for new scientific pronouncements.  In light of the way that many in our area embraced No Mow May, I am now hoping that some melittologist will declare that mature weeds, like long grass, fosters bee survival.  Perhaps then TLOML will embrace a new, “Leave the Weeds to the Bees” movement 😉 .

Have a great weekend.  Given the challenges we face domestically and internationally, there is no better time to celebrate and cherish our Independence Day.

On Roe’s Reversal

I predicted in January in these pages that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, and that if such a decision was handed down, within sixty days thereafter most or all states under Republican control would outlaw abortion within their jurisdictions.  I ventured that on a purely political handicapping basis, if such occurred, it would provoke such outrage among liberals and conservatives and sufficient unease among Independents and Republican moderates that Democrats would retain their majorities in Congress.

While the outrage and unease I predicted in January is certainly occurring, at this point I sadly have little hope — but would love to be proven wrong — that such will be sufficient to enable Democrats to overcome gerrymandered Republican Congressional districts across the country and maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.  That said, I remain optimistic that the strong negative reaction to the Roe reversal among progressives, liberals, and moderates will provide Democrats an excellent opportunity, if handled adroitly and if elections are administered fairly, to maintain control of the U.S. Senate and to prevail in close swing state races such as the Wisconsin Gubernatorial race.

Impressions of larger import than the political ramifications attending the Roe reversal also linger.

The first – the sense of diminishment that I have heard several women express at the decision — is not for me to address.

The second I consider less important than the last, despite its almost incalculable effect on our Constitutional system: the Supreme Court’s legitimacy and credibility is shredded in the public mind on issues of culture (which is all the public cares about).  Speaking as a septuagenarian, I don’t think that the Court will shed the stigma of partisanship it now carries during my lifetime – a particularly sad realization for someone who spent his career in the law.  The Republicans too blatantly made it their primary goal over the last decades to put pro-life Justices on the Supreme Court, despite public opinion polls’ consistent indication that the majority of Americans favor some level of abortion rights for women.  The conservative Justices have now fulfilled the task that they had in effect been assigned – another step in what has become a quest to establish an American Apartheid.  I find it difficult to believe that Roe would have been overturned but for both then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to conduct hearings on then-President Barack Obama’s 2016 nomination of then-U.S. Appellate Court Judge Merrick Garland and U.S. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s truly untimely death four months before the end of President Donald Trump’s term.  [Protestations by U.S. Senators such as Susan Collins (ME) and Joe Manchin (WV) since the Roe reversal that they trusted the recent conservative appointees’ representations during their respective confirmation processes that they would honor the Roe precedent simply demonstrates that either these Senators are fools, or think you are.]  Hypothetically say that Democrats successfully either add additional Supreme Court seats and pack them, or impeach the current conservative Justices and replace them; the reformed Court’s ensuing progressive-friendly decisions wouldn’t expunge its stain of partisanship, but rather reinforce it. 

As significant as the degradation of the Supreme Court’s standing in the public mind is for our Constitutional system, I consider this last impression, which has dogged me since I heard of the Roe reversal, to be of even greater, perhaps existential, import.  I hope that it is wildly off the mark, and you may well reject it.  It is based on this premise:  that the right to abortion – as compared to immigration, crime, climate, taxation, even gun rights; you name it – is the most enduring and emotionally divisive issue of our time, and as such, will always incite the same inestimable level of ardor and righteousness on both sides of the issue.  There is no way to reconcile the adversaries’ differences.  Neither side will ever back down.  I would submit that the fervor it generates is of a kind and akin to the abolitionist/slavery debate over 150 years ago.  When one adds the coming convulsion attending the Roe reversal to the many other issues in which our polarized citizens are unable to agree upon the same truth and seem unwilling to seek or accept good faith compromise, we may have entered a period of prologue not unlike the 1850s.