A Drive up the Taconic -January 30, 2006

A Drive Up the Taconic

FDR’s 124th Birthday at Hyde Park, NY

January 30, 2006

 

 

It’s a pleasant drive up the Taconic State Parkway, a road built in FDR’s time in Albany as Governor. The traffic was light at 11:45 am as I headed north to route 55 and then west to the Hudson.  Even though the speed limit is 55 mph, few cars on that scenic meandering road seem to follow the rules.  Not far above Ossining the countryside becomes more and more rural as one approaches and passes I-84.  Eventually I reached route 55, the car swung under the road and I headed west towards the town of La Grange. It takes a few more miles to reach Poughkeepsie, the Mid-Hudson River Bridge and old route 9.  So in a little more than an hour reached I the Hudson, drove north past Marist College, the Culinary Institute and the long stonewall that marks the entrance to Springwood and FDR’s home. I drove in, parked, and walked into the Wallace Visitor’s Center and bookstore.  I brought a whole pile of old postcards and cacheted covers (envelopes), that had been previously franked (postmarked) on various other occasions, like April 12, or, earlier January 30ths. I said hello to a salesperson that I knew, sat undisturbed at the counter and cancelled all of them with a new January 30th postmark.

 

I then bought some new books; Happy Days are Here Again, by Steve Neal, Eleanor Roosevelt. A Hudson Valley Remembrance, by Joyce Ghee and Joan Spence, FDR, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in America, 1933-45, The Juggler, Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman, and finally Churchill and America by Martin Gilbert (whom I have met three times and have exchanged letters.) From there I strolled around taking pictures, enjoying the relative solitude and clear, bright, warm weather of Dutchess County and the rolling countryside that sloped down to the Hudson River.

 


Today, with an unusually sunny and warm day in Hyde Park, New York, where the temperature flirted with a record high, the birthday of our 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was celebrated. At the gravesite an honor guard from the armed forces, along with West Point cadets in their full ceremonial uniforms, stood at attention while visitors, mostly old-timers stood quietly in the Rose Garden.
 
It was over 60 years on the 12th of April that our War President was laid to rest near the only real home that he knew and loved. Of course FDR lived other places from time to time. As a newly-wed he lived in New York City at 49 East 65th Street, and then at 1733 “N” Street, Washington, DC while with the Navy Department, and at the Governor’s mansion in Albany for four years, and for a few critical years and many winter vacations in Warm Springs, Georgia, at the Little White House, and on Pennsylvania Avenue for a bit more then twelve, on Campobello Island in the summers up until 1921 and even on a drifting houseboat called the Larooco when he was first recovering from the devastation of polio.
 
But, it was at Springwood, what the big house was known as, where FDR was born and raised. He was home taught until age 14 and his mother lived there as a widow for decades until her death in 1941. FDR inherited the home at her death, planned and built his office and library there, and at his death gave it to the people of the United States.
 
So I stood there with others, and listened to the keynote address by 87-year-old Ms. Elizabeth Daniels, the Vassar historian who told us what good neighbors the Roosevelt’s were to Vassar College. FDR was asked to be a trustee of the college in 1923 while he was still practically bed-ridden with the effects of polio. He would be a great friend of the college and a trustee (honorary 1933-45) until his death in 1945. Ms. Daniels, who graduated Vassar in 1941, remembered fondly the many times she heard Mrs. Roosevelt speak at the college, and few times she personally met the President. It was a moving and personal recollection of those far removed times. The fifth President of Vassar, Henry Noble McCrackan (1915-46) was a pacifist who had opposed both World War I and World War II. But a vast majority of the faculty (over 125), under the leadership of Dean Mildred Thompson, signed a personal letter to the President commending his efforts up and to the start of the war. After the start of the war Vassar’s president came on board wholeheartedly. But the cordial relationship between McCrackan, that had started in 1923 and had been nurtured during and up to the late 1930s and the President, was never the same.
 
With the end of Ms. Daniels’ address, wreaths were placed at the grave, the honor guard discharged salutary volleys and the playing of taps was sounded. Thus ended the service marking the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
 
 
 
 
 

Chinese New Year Party 1-28-06

Chinese New Year

The Year of the Red Fire Dog

4007

by

Richard J. Garfunkel

  January 29, 2007- Sunday

 

Well the party is over as the poet as said, and so is the big cleanup. Our third annual Chinese New Year Party is now just a gastronomic history. Of course we have gone out for Chinese New Year feasts in past years but this activity for us has become an annual happening. The day was incredibly mild and that climatic pleasantness made things easy for all. Because it was dry and

the parking limitations of Watch Hill were not a critical problem all worked out decently well with our car-pooling guests. We had our outdoor lanterns lit and, more or less, every one was on time with their assigned goodies. So Linda had it planned well. Every one brought an appetizer or a main dish for eight or a beverage of one type or another. This meant that if Jupiter Fluvius had sent us a winter storm, no one would be too stuck with their own dish.

 

We had real nice mix that included AB Davis High stalwarts from the class of 1963 Warren Adis, and Mike Rosenlum and their wives Mary and Sandy, and Robin Lyons who was also from Davis, class of 1960. Linda had some of her Barnard friends, Abby Kurnit and her husband Jeff, Debbie Rubin (Barnard 1962) and her steady Stuart, and Leslie Marioka. We had Greenburgh political people and friends, the Town Supervisor Paul Feiner with his wife Sherrie, along with Diona and Ron Koerner who are also tennis buddies. The next contingent were tennis friends from our days at County Tennis in Scarsdale, Herb and Marian Schoen, Sol Haber (his wife was in Florida), Mike and Marci Shapiro, Wally and Ronnie Kopelowitz and Dave Tannenbaum with his friend Barbara. Though we had never met Barbara before, Jon had dated her daughter a few years ago.

 

We missed some regulars that had scheduling or health issues, but I am sure that they will be back next year. But, including ourselves twenty-five people is a lot for our town house. The house was festooned with Chinese symbols and decorations found in our recent search downtown in Chinatown, We had the famous Chinese historical thriller “Hero” with Jet Li and Maggie Cheung, which tells a tale of how a nameless magistrate defeats three assassins employed to murder the ruler Qin playing on our television set, and we had all three CD players playing Chinese folk music. The atmosphere was “pregnant” with the charm and the art of that ancient culture.

 

As in past years all gathered in our lower level and started with the appetizers that featured egg and spring rolls, vegetable dumplings, chicken wings, scallion pancakes, baby carrots, sugar peas and Rangoon crab. We were well lubricated with a champagne punch that mixed a bottle of Moet, Brute Imperial (that had been sitting in the house for the Kerry victory party), ginger ale, orange juice, strawberries and white grape Jell-O, along with many bottles of Tsingtao Chinese beer contributed by Mike Shapiro, Chinese wine found by Leslie Marioka on Elizabeth Street in Chinatown, and various other wines and sodas. The AB Davis Class of 1963 contingent finished off a bottle of Saki that had been around since last year’s party.

 

The main dishes included General Tso’s chicken, shrimp and vegetables, chicken and mushrooms, fried rice, vegetable lo mein, bok choi, carrots with sesame seeds, and various salads all contributed by Abby, Mike and Sandy, Debbie, Wally and Ronnie, Diona, and of course Linda. As with almost any successful party almost everything was consumed.

 

For dessert we finished off with fruit salad, strawberries, oranges, cookies from Robin Lyons, and Chinese green tea, along with decaf coffee (probably from Brazil.)

 

So the weather cooperated, the parking worked out, the food and drink were consumed, and everyone felt gastronomically satiated. By 11:10 pm everyone was on their way home and we were left to pick up the pieces. After a number of loads of dishes, the garbage was bagged, the floors were vacuumed and by 12:30 am we were upstairs, tucked in, and watching the end of “Shop Around the Corner” with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. At 1:15 am the film ended with the lovers finally together and it was “lights off.”

 

So alls well that ends well, and we have eliminated the first of 2006’s New Years happenings. Hopefully the rest of the year will work out as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kobe and the Wilt-Performance in Perspective 1-26-06

Kobe and the Wilt

Performance in Perspective

By

Richard J. Garfunkel

January 26, 2006

 

 

I go back to Wilt's time as a basketball fan. My father took me to the old Garden for the Holiday Festival of 1955 and I watched Bill Russell, Willie Naulls, KC Jones, Tommy Heinsohn and Sihugo Green make the final four with San Francisco, UCLA, Holy Cross and Duquesne. I played basketball as a kid in Mt. Vernon and followed the sport quite closely. I remember Wilt's incredible effort and I like all my friends was terribly thrilled and excited about it. I think what many of you current writers forget is that professional sport is entertainment first and competitiveness second. It is, and was, always a business. Unlike high school or college athletics, or the Olympics where there exists local, regional, and national rivalries, individuals are maturing along with their skills. Professional athletics, like the skaters in the Ice Capades are there to display greatness. We want to see great performances. I loved Dick Button, Carol Heiss, Pat McCormick the Olympic Diver, Al Oerter and numerous others. It is the individual that really counts, and it is the team that is his/her forum. The team victory for a town, city or high school is a chauvinistic victory, but the individual performance is what counts. George Steinbrenner always talks about the “team.” What “team,” a bunch of hirelings that he assembles for “top dollar?” Their pride is invented. The team on the professional level is an artificial assembly built first for putting “people in the seats” (making a buck), then winning, and then sustaining that “cash flow.”

 

When I was a kid I went to the Garden to see Cousy, the Big “O,” Wilt, Bob Petit and Elgin Baylor. Yes, it was also great to see team ball with the Celtics. I was a fan of Red Auerbach’s wonderful squads all the way through my days in high school watching Sharman and Cousy, to, and at Boston University in the early 1960's and until and through the career of Larry Bird. In other words, as great as the Celtics were as a team, we still loved their great players. The Knicks were a great team but without Clyde, Reed and DeBussherre they would have been also rans. The system was much different then. College sports changed for the worse with the freshman eligible rule. Along with the signing of high school ballplayers, the continuity of the college game deteriorated. Before that happened, most fans were able to watch players mature during and after four years of both a college education and three years of varsity ball. They came into the NBA as a “product” that could be coached. These players had accepted the discipline of coaching and were most often mature men at age 22 and 23, not kids who were not yet “dry behind the ears.”

Today these so-called players with their dreadlocks, tattoos, and baggy shorts (both white and black) look like characters out of a “gangsta” rap music video, not basketball players.

 

But economics and the courts changed the college basketball game forever. My sense is that there is much too much emphasis placed by sport's radio and columnists on the primacy of winning and not competing. The oft-quoted remark by Vince Lombardi about winning has been blown way out of proportion and its interpretation has colored opinion in this country for decades. Coming in second, after a great pennant drive, is not a disaster or a failure. The fans saw a great run and usually had a wonderful season filled with exciting moments, and the old saying “wait 'til next year” is reflective of hope, not despair. The Dodger's were bride's maids quite often, but had loving and loyal fans. Their teams, even without the World Series victory of 1955, would be regarded as great teams. In the same way, the Cleveland Indian teams of the 50's, the Lakers and 76er teams of the late 50's and 60's were, none the less, talented and interesting, even though the Yankees and Celtics were the ultimate champions. There cannot be a champion without competition and someone has to be the runner-up. That is why the season is played out.

 

On goes to professional sports to see stars. There is only one winner in the end. Without the stars and star performances the whole season long effort would be a meaningless bore. If winning were the only essential, why don't they play exhibitions until there is a giant playoff and the champion is declared? They play the season and keep statistics because the fans want to be entertained, it is a business and the business is supported by the fan interest in performance. Performance is measured in many ways, which include, game, season and career statistics. I was at a lack-luster Chicago Bull game against the Nets a number of years ago and Michael Jordan led a uninterested Bull team to victory over a listless Net squad with 30 points. Most points were scored on the foul line late in the game and, on top of that, Scotty Pippin didn't take a shot, mind you, until mid-way into the 4th quarter. Where were the performances? Did anyone come to see a “real” contest? No, they came to see great players make an effort. We were not rewarded. One thing about Bill Russell and Larry Bird, they gave you 48 minutes and a sincere effort. Joe DiMaggio was the same way. He said that when he retired, and turned down a record salary for that time period, (and I paraphrase) that he did not want to cheat the fans with pedestrian performances. His pride stood out. He wanted the fans to always see him at his best, if possible. People want to see the individual give his best, and make a sincere effort. A good coach puts those efforts together to build a winning attitude and therefore a winning team.

 

Therefore the team effort is great and important. But without the “horses” team efforts are a charade, a lost cause and a joke. So why see a pro team? Larry Brown is a great “team” oriented coach, but without talent they are and will continue to be ”losers.” Will people come to see a sincere effort? Yes to a degree. You root for your high school team because it is yours. You root for your kid's high school and college teams as you rooted for your own alma mater, that's human nature. There are millions of subway alumni that supported Notre Dame but have never stepped a foot in South Bend. So, all in all, let's celebrate “performance” and stop wailing about selfishness. The whole wide world is selfish, unfortunately. Ford Motors is selfish; they want to stay in business.

 

Let's celebrate Bryant's remarkable night. Let's celebrate Gayle Sayers' and Red Grange's great days. Let's celebrate Jesse Owens at the Big Ten Championships and at the Olympic Games. Let's celebrates Reggie's three homers in the World Series or Don Larsen's perfect game. That is what I remember. I remember the great performances like Bird stealing the ball from Isaiah Thomas to win a playoff game, Pat Summeral's game winning field goal against the Browns,  Elvin Hayes beating UCLA in the Astrodome with his great performance, OJ Simpson's 2000+ yard season, Jimmy Brown crushing linebackers except Sam Huff. Nobody remembers a well- played pedestrian team effort. They come to see the “G-ds” of sport perform. That is why people are still talking about Wilt's 100 points, Babe Ruth's 60 home runs and his supposed “calling of a homer run” against the 1932 Cubs, Jackie Robinson's steal of home and countess other “high lites.”

 

Get off the “ring” bandwagon. There is too much “ring” worship that Chris Russo promulgates. He's wrong constantly, just look at his record. He worships at the “alter” of championships and downgrades everything else. I say long-live individual greatness that is what we all love to see. The teams are man-made; the players are born.

 

 

 

 

South Street, Chinatown and the Rain January 14, 2006

 

South Street, Chinatown and the Rain

By

Richard J. Garfunkel

January 14, 2006

 

 

It is not unusual to experience precipitation of one sort or another in January, but it is uncommon to experience 58-degree weather. The rain started the night before and by the dawn one could here in the twilight of half-sleep the driving splatters against the roof and windows. By mid-morning and our departure for New York the gray skies remained and the showers still threatened. We had tickets for the “Bodies” Exhibit at the South Street Seaport Exhibition Center at 11 Fulton Street.

 

There wasn’t much traffic at 10:30 am as we worked our way from Tarrytown, to the Bronx River Parkway and the Bruckner Expressway. Luck held out for us as we cruised southward on the FDR Drive to exit three where one leaves the Drive and continues on the service road south of the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. The South Street Seaport, if you have never been there before, is one of the original harbor restorations that dot the east coast. It sits in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and is just south of the old and famous Fulton Fish Market, which has been closed and relocated to the Bronx. But as one passes the old marketplace the lingering aroma of the old fishmonger grounds still permeates one’s nostrils.

 

We were able to park on Pearl Street, which is perpendicular to Fulton Street and a short walk from the Exhibition Hall. Thankfully we were constantly able to dodge the intermittent showers as we walked the along the old drab street until the cobblestones of Fulton Street and the South Seaport. Quickly we found 11 Fulton Street, and entered in to the macabre world of “Bodies.” We hopped on a long escalator to a series of black painted rooms.  Immediately one comes in contact with the first of the remarkably preserved “Bodies.”  These are real remains of cadavers that have been remarkably preserved and displayed in almost every type of position. Just imagine the statue of the discus thrower, stripped of his skin to his bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and organs (interior and exterior). In one sense it was incredibly fascinating to see this once live being, and in another sense it was macabre.

 

Probably no one has ever seen people this way. They are frozen in time, with their bodies preserved in a most remarkable way. After our initial shock, we moved from “Body” to “Body” and looked in awe at each new effort to reflect a different perspective. It just seemed like being at an autopsy or a dissection class in college biology 101. From dissected brains, to open skeletons to the nervous and venal systems, the creators of this exhibit created an amazing work. Towards the end of the exhibit we entered a room that displayed fetuses that were from the age of one week to 32 weeks. There was even preserved Siamese twin fetuses attached at their abdomen. One could say the show wasn’t for the squeamish, but there were adults and children of all ages, and I discerned from listening to many of their comments that they were doctors, nurses, students and scientists. Too many it was just clinical, but to me I had seen enough. It was remarkable but in retrospect I could have done without the experience. So we gladly left, a bit speechless, but sure we had now seen everything.

 

After strolling around the rest of the shops that make up the Seaport we headed for Chinatown. It isn’t a long drive up Pearl Street to Catherine Street and the heart of Chinatown, which is bustling beyond all description. The traffic is impossible, parking is non-existent, and the sidewalks are teeming with life. Talk about going from the ridiculous to the sublime. We go from dark passages highlighted by the magic of modern science in restoring the dead to permanency to the bigger then life humanity of the crammed streets Chinatown. Various estimates range the population of Chinatown to between 70-150 thousand people. There were always Chinese in New York from the early 1850’s. Immigrants coming to San Francisco during the Gold Rush and workers brought in to work on the transcontinental railroad eventually migrated eastward. The population in New York City was estimated at being between 200 and 1000 people, but in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act started to severely limit immigration. The Act was lifted in 1943, and when the quota changed in 1968 the area experienced explosive population growth.

 

 We were looking to find a section where we could do some shopping. Not only cannot one find a space to park, but one cannot even find a space to “stand.” The streets are jammed and with all the new legal and illegal immigrants. So we headed up Pearl Street from the South Street Seaport and passed the Kim Lau Memorial Arch at Chatham Square (named after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham).

 

Neighborhoods in this part of town rub up against each other. Not far from Chatham Square is the oldest surviving Jewish Cemetery, First Shearith Israel, which dates back to 1683. Of course when I used to go down to the Lower East Side, first with my wife and her family in 1969 and later to visit some customers, there was still a great Jewish presence there. Stores like Eldridge, Shoreland, and Penchina Textile were our customers and it often my father –in-law visited that area to pick up household items and “cash.” In those days I often heard the complaint that the Chinese businesses were encroaching on the Lower East Side and it wouldn’t be long before their area was absorbed. Of course they were right, and one of the reasons was that their progeny had abandoned that way of life. The college educated next generation did not want to be retailers, plain and simple!

 

So we backtracked our way in and around Grand Street, and finally located a Chinese shopping mall that specialized in artifacts for the coming Chinese New year, 2006 the Year of the Dog, or more specifically the Year of the Chinese Red Fire Dog. I was able to slide into a no parking area and Linda went in to look for lanterns, plates and anything else that would catch her eye. After she was finished and had returned, we worked our way up West Broadway and swung east on Spring Street in Soho. Parking wasn’t that bad there, we found a space on Spring near Mercer, and we walked over to Broadway where at 477 Broadway we discovered the Pearl River Chinese Emporium, a department store that had started in Chinatown, but had moved north to Soho. Pearl River has everything Chinese from food, to lamps, to clothing to chop sticks. There is something for everyone and we found a number of things that would help us out for our coming Chinese New Year Party.

 

Though the skies remained gray, and the rain threatened, we were able to make our way back to the car and stay relatively dry. We had decided to cap off our day with a late afternoon dinner at Ollie’s Noodle House on 116th and Broadway, right across from Columbia University and one block south of Barnard College. We have been there many, many times, and the food is always good, plentiful and reasonable. That’s usually the best combination. We parked on Broadway, only 1.5 blocks south of Ollie’s and within a few moments of our arrival and seating, the heavens and Jupiter Pluvius, the G-d who relieves droughts, struck with a vengeance and the inundated the area. But we were snug, and warmed with our won-ton soup, shrimp roll, scallion pancakes and moo shoo pork.

 

It was a long day, but as Lao-tzu said “ A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

 

 

Happy New Year and the Importance of Symbols and Myth

Happy New Year and the Importance of Symbols and Myth

January 13, 2006

Richard J. Garfunkel

 

 

Like all thinking creatures that abound and inhabit this vast floating blue orb on its endless journey through time and space I am also a victim of the New Year’s myth of hope and renewal. As a part of this vast whole I do not remove myself from the symbols that abound around us, or our greater regional or worldwide community. We are brought up with an abundance of symbolism and myth. Whether it is the universal myths of religion, that most often is bolstered by faith, or the powerful symbols that we see every day that remind of us of greater forces beyond our control or even understanding. The symbols of the flag, the White House, the crucifix, the Christmas tree, the Menorah, the Star of David, the crescent, the sun, the Capitol, and endless others remind us always of the myth of power, justice, redemption and hope.

 

There is a story that I love to cite, that I learned, from a great mentor of mind many years ago. As a young fellow this lion of Irish-Catholic manhood told me of the Catholic priest and the rabbi who went to the fights. Right before the two pugilists went to shake hands and get instructions from the referee, one fighter genuflexed (crossed himself). The rabbi leaned over to his friend the priest, and asked, “Father what does that mean?” The priest looked squarely in the rabbi’s eye and said, ”Not a thing if he can’t fight!” I have always thought about that symbolic little story throughout the past 40+ years. Each time I have a tendency to indulge myself in the myth of symbolic hope, I whisper to myself, “Not a thing if he can’t fight!” In other words, all of the symbolism we drape ourselves in constantly is just a rationalization that begs the issue of reality. I am not sure whether it also begs the issue of truth. In one of the few interesting moments of a philosophy course in college that kept me awake, I do remember the professor, who was trying to make a point about a chair not being a chair; by the way I never thought it was not a chair, saying that there were no universal truths.

 

Of course that has always been a debatable subject amongst mostly the ecclesiastical folk who like to project the struggle of “good versus evil” as symbolic of what universal truths are all about. In the Jewish tradition it was articulated more as the “bitter and the sweet.” I assume there is also a “devil” personage in Judaism. According to our earliest “myth” in our western culture, the “devil” was in the body of the snake that tempted Eve and eventually drove those first humans from the fabled “Garden of Eden.”  Today even some of our “flat-earth” minded contemporaries seem to want to force us to accept “creation science” through the guise of the new term “intelligent design.” Maybe that “design” would include the offering of that fabled “apple” from the “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden. For me, it is easier to understand the juxtaposition of the “bitter and the sweet” and how those two feelings constantly play off each other. It is hard to appreciate one’s feeling or the other, without experiencing both extremes at one time or another. And of course, all of life lived, is a combination of both of those dynamics. Eventually the “bitter” catches up to everyone, in one form or another.

 

 

 

So here it is another New Year’s Day come and gone. But where was the Rose Parade or even the Rose Bowl? Times and the demands of sponsors have changed dramatically. Where in we used to wake up after a long night of reveling to the wondrous sights and sounds of the floral festooned floats of glorious Pasadena, this New Year’s reality is somewhat different. Not only is it not warm and sunny in Pasadena, but also the parade has been displaced from New Year’s Day and even the Rose Bowl has been moved and is days away on a Wednesday night.

 

Of course this is tradition and not myth or symbolism. But, all in all, one could wax emotionally about the lost world of our father’s fathers, and in a sense that pining is emotion misplaced. We all should live in the here and now, and do for ourselves what we feel is right and productive. In other words, doing right for “me” and those immediately around our tiny personal universe. As Hillel said, in the period before the Common Era, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

 

Therefore, when the constant reminder of “symbols” from the media and the advertising world bombards me, I wonder what is the real message. Is this message that I should remember the story of Christmas, or more remotely what really happened on Chanukah? Or is this message, a re-enforcement regarding the obligation to be just to our fellow man/woman? So like all symbols that we live with, whether they are important or not important, they serve to remind us of the myths that abound and dominant our lives.

 

Is the myth of “good fellowship” and “goodwill to all men” just a cliché of the season to sell holiday cards with banal messages that no one really reads? Should we not practice what we preach year round?  Should we escape personally from the cycle of endless platitudes, which we toss around without any consideration of how empty they really are? My sense is that with all our trappings of “political correctness,” and faux concerns of fairness, that we have become truly a more crass society that is less tolerant, on an every day basis, to all that comes in our way. It is nothing new and quite obvious that we are in the midst of an era that is suffering from an epidemic of crudeness, bad manners, horrible speech and jealousy. The engine of Madison Avenue feeds this mindless worship of celebrity and material, and it will as long as that engine can churn out sales and thus revenue. .

 

I was taken by the recently completed United States Senate’s Judiciary Committees hearings on the appointment of Judge Samuel Alito to the highest court in the land. There were some remarkable juxtapositions to note. Here is one Samuel Alito, a not so obvious stealth candidate of the radical right. He comes across as a hard working conscientious judge, right out of “Andy Hardy Makes Good.” He comes from urban New Jersey, of middle class ethnic folk who certainly voted for FDR. He does well in school and makes his way twelve miles down the road to that bastion of F. Scott Fitzgerald privilege, Old Nassau, or better known as Princeton University. Of course Princeton was the most southern of all the old Ivies and it had a reputation of being rather snooty to foreigners of the Hebraic persuasion amongst a long list of others that included, Italians, Blacks, other non-WASPs. But of course, as it liberalized, more women and minorities were admitted in greater numbers. Ironically Mr. Judge Alito felt more comfortable with the “old school tie” types who were really representing the vestiges of the past. Since he got to the campus in the midst of the cultural rebellion that swept America in the mid 1970’s, he found himself uncomfortable with that new crop of the “rich and privileged” who ironically had some real social concerns, like the War in Vietnam, voting and civil rights for African-Americans, the poverty that infested the cities, and lastly, equality of opportunity for women. Of course young Mr. Alito reacted perfectly, he, unlike the old Tarryton cigarette commercial, switched rather then fought and joined the side that had excluded his ancestors from day one. What a paradox. But he knew where his “bread was buttered.”

 

So here we are today, and what have we found, Judge Alito comports himself with judicial aplomb and dignity, has made the right connections, gets friendly with everyone and comes across as a harmless, dedicated honest broker of the law. In fact he gets all sorts of his colleagues on the bench to support him. Some are old-timers and Democrats, some are Black, some are Jewish, and some are women. In fact, some are Jewish women Democrats. How neat! Isn’t it perfect symbolism that youngish, but rumpled Judge Alioto, with his weeping wife, and his understated demeanor, has been able to have his handlers parade down to Washington all of these diverse folk to defend this paragon of a small town boy makes good. Do they really know or care what he really represents? Do they understand what change his elevation will wrought? Obviously they do not, or do not really care. Maybe it is better to know the new Justice of the Supreme Court and really not worry what he change he will bring. He’s on for life! These good folk may have later regrets about their actions. But for now he’s the access to fame and the history books. “I knew Judge Alito when he was just a mere boy!”

 

Again, it’s a new year, and symbolism and myth are on display front and center. Here is the symbolism, that Judge Alito is really a good guy rebelling against the limousine liberals of Palmer Square. Here is the myth that Judge Alito is for the little guy! There is no greater myth. When the opposition started to really look at his record, what did his words and actions really state? Case after case, position after position; reflect that Judge Alioto never really supports the average “Joe.” If anything his words and actions belie that myth to the nth degree. The Judge supports the corporation almost every time over the poor slob, he believes and fights for Presidential primacy over the other branches of government. He, on the other hand, is for state’s rights and against the reforms of the previous High Court. He blurs the meaning of the “Establishment Clause.”  He is against a women’s right of “choice.” When one analyses his votes regarding the “right of appeal” against the rulings of lower courts it is inevitable that he is a “hanging” Judge. So on the core issues of 21st Century America; re-apportionment, or one-person, one vote, state’s rights, the “Establishment Clause,” women’s rights, the Imperial Presidency, and the right of the individual against the state or the corporation Judge Alito is the next Judge Scalia or Judge Thomas.

 

It is really funny that many of the supporters of the women’s right’s struggle and the surviving lawyers of the Civil Rights era are at the hearings warning us about Judge Alito, but it seems few are listening. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina are part of the new generation of Republican Southern “statesmen” who ooze with charm as they praise these old veterans from the struggles of the past. Why not? The rightwing has finally got us right back where they had us all in 1937. It took 70 years, and we are right at the threshold of the great “clock re-wind.” How hilarious is it to hear these heirs of Stennis, Eastland, Talmadge, Russell, and Bilbo praise the recently departed Rosa Parks. How amazing is it to witness this modern “kabuki” dance play itself out.

 

It is a New Year and its only real meaning, for most, is the need to sort last year’s income tax receipts, and the symbolism of the same old “passion play” of the season. Though this year we were caught up with who could out “Merry Christmas” each other. It seems that the “inclusiveness” of “Happy Holidays” is just another blow against the fragile psyche of the evangelicals who fear that Christianity is on the wane. It seems too many folk are golfing, or taking junkets to Atlantic City or Las Vegas, or are living together, or swearing or are divorcing or cheating. It seems that Hollywood, and all of its vulgarity, represent the “Devil Incarnate” and the poor “family value” folk are left wandering in the desert. Maybe it will take Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan or Judge Alito and his new court coalition to get us back believing in the myth so we really understand the symbolism.