Archive for June, 2016


An article on baseball Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle appeared in Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle. The Mick played for the New York Yankees from 1951-68. He was my hero when I was a kid. I can’t think of him without thinking of my father Morris, since our strongest bond was baseball.

Dad sold springs to the bedding and furniture industry. He bought weekend/holiday season tickets to give to his customers. Some he saved for us.

A trip to Yankee Stadium was thrilling. We’d drive from Rego Park (Queens) to the Bronx. Usually, we’d park close by. When I was ten, the rivalry with the Cleveland Indians could pack 72,000 fans into the “old” Stadium. So we might park on the Grand Concourse and take the subway to 161st Street.

For a New York kid, entering the Stadium was breathtaking. After going through the tunnel to get to our reserved seats between home and first base, a huge expanse of green appeared. Given that even in Queens greenery was at a premium, the ball field represented another world.

We saw great Yankee players—Whitey Ford, a Queens guy, was a favorite—and also great opponents like Ted Williams, Al Kaline and the Jewish slugger Al Rosen. When the game started, my normally staid father would get excited when a Yankee got a hit or someone made a great play.

Leaving created another epic moment. We could walk across the outfield to the centerfield exit close to the subway and parking. I stood where Mickey Mantle stood! I’ve always remembered facing home plate and the huge grandstand with its gingerbread-like façade suspended from the roof.

Dad appreciated the game. He loved playing ball as a kid growing up all over Manhattan, including Harlem. Sadly, he never wanted to discuss those days. Most of the little I know is sports related. He saw a pitcher for his DeWitt Clinton High School—the old Clinton in Hell’s Kitchen—strike out Commerce’s Lou Gehrig three times. He saw Babe Ruth and other greats, first at the Polo Grounds—also home of the Giants—then beginning in 1923 at Yankee Stadium, “The House That Ruth Built.”

He told me one other thing. He thought his parents were “greenhorns.” They arrived with him at Ellis Island in February 1906 when he was two and a half, along with my aunts Alice (Elka) and Etta (Etka). Grandpa Sam (Chaim Shlioma) and Grandma Kayleh didn’t understand America like he did.

As a teenager, I went to Yankee Stadium with friends. We took the GG local from 63rd Drive four stops to Roosevelt Avenue, transferred to the E train and in Manhattan went uptown on the D. I also went to games with my brother-in-law Herb. We drove in his huge Mercury with the push-button transmission. At home, I never saw Dad read the sports section, but he’d still watch part of a game on TV with me. He always knew just how it should be played.

Last Saturday was the anniversary of Dad’s death 33 years ago. This Tuesday marks the 80th anniversary of his marriage to my mother, the inimitable Blanche Finkle. Mickey Mantle hit 536 career home runs. Through his love and kindness, Morris Perlstein hit a home run every day.

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The post will take a break for the July 4th weekend and return on July 8.

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Recently on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister (the Kingslayer) sought to capture Riverrun, a castle commanded by Brynden Tully (the Blackfish). Sir Jaime headed a large force, but Riverrun boasted a deep moat and high walls making a head-on attack foolhardy. What to do?

Sir Jaime laid siege, a tactic as old as warfare. Alas, the Blackfish had accumulated two years of food. Sir Jaime could have launched large rocks to chip away at Riverrun’s walls, but that would take time he didn’t have. Or he could have launched flaming arrows and burning objects, ultimately destroying Riverrun. He’d end up with a ruin.

I think of Riverrun’s walls in regard to the recent murders of four Israelis in Tel Aviv. Last September, a number of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs began waging the Knife Intifada augmented by shootings, as in Tel Aviv, and vehicles. Tel Aviv is an open city and thus vulnerable. But Tel Avivis refuse to bow to fear. Of course, parts of Israel are walled off from the West Bank. I’ve been there. Those walls, along with checkpoints, have reduced attacks against Israel. Still, the Knife Intifada points out their limits. Only a meaningful peace agreement will offer protection from violence. That’s not imminent. Both sides seek to dictate the terms of a two-state solution. Peace requires their coming together, not standing apart.

The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, has walls. They can keep out heat and cold, rain and wind but not hatred. The ISIS-inspired gunman who murdered 49 innocent people and wounded 53 last Saturday night might have been kept out of the United States if higher walls were built around our immigration policy as well as our borders. But the murderer was born in New York City long predating the Islamic State and even 9/11. The battle against Islamist extremism (President Obama won’t say it; I will) will be long, difficult and bloody. Nonetheless, we will not protect America by destroying its cherished values.

What then of Sir Jaime and Riverrun? Faced with those high, thick walls, he developed a brilliant, if cruel, solution. He held prisoner Riverrun’s legitimate lord Edmuir Tully and Edmuir’s young son. Sir Jaime offered Edmuir his freedom if Edmuir would order the troops in Riverrun to stand down and open the gate. Otherwise, he’d catapult Edmuir’s son over the walls. Fire a single shot as it were. Edmuir relented.

A walled fortress, Fort Point, sits under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge not far from my home. The first cannon was mounted there in 1861 to protect San Francisco Bay. Attacks by Confederate ships never came. Walled fortresses soon became obsolete thanks to powerful artillery and larger ship-based guns even before the advent of air power. There’s a lesson here.

Donald Trump wants to build walls to limit what people and goods can enter the United States. Some Americans respond enthusiastically. A changing society frightens them. In truth, our post-industrial economy has left many behind. But fear and frustration offer no solutions. They only drive people to vilify other religions, races and nationalities. Moreover, the walls that keep others out would imprison us. Still, they cling to the mantra, “Things were better in the past.”

Interestingly, that’s the mantra of ISIS.

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Tuesday night, following California’s primaries, Donald Trump explained his “America First” policies. In any global interaction—economic, military, political—he will put America’s interests first. But I suspect that a President Trump would make one exception.

Germany (West Germany until unification) has been a friend of the United States since the end of World War Two. But its views don’t always match America’s. That’s normal. Every nation puts its own interests first. Suppose a rift occurred. Mr. Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel get on the phone. “Here’s what I want America to do,” says Mrs. Merkel. “Yes, ma’am,” says Mr. Trump.

Far-fetched? I don’t doubt that Donald Trump is an American. But he’s also a hyphenated American like all but the Native Americans who populated the country before the arrival of Europeans, Africans and others. On his father’s side, the Trump heritage is German. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, came to the U.S. from Germany in 1885. Can a President Trump—a German-American—represent the United States’ best interests when dealing with Germany?

If this seems like the hyphenated American bit is being stretched thin, you’re right. What makes America great is that we all share common ground on the right aside of the hyphen. We’re Americans. Unless, that is, we’re Mexican-Americans. Witness Mr. Trump’s claims that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, born and raised in Indiana, cannot be impartial hearing a lawsuit against Trump University because a President Trump would build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.

Now to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R.–Wisconsin). He’s been put through the ringer. Speaker Ryan doesn’t seem to care for Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. It took him some time before throwing to Mr. Trump his half-hearted support. On Tuesday, he called Mr. Trump’s statement about Judge Curiel, “a textbook definition of a racist comment.” Still, he finds more common ground with Mr. Trump than with Hillary Clinton. America first? Or ideology and party first?

On Tuesday, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called for the formation of a New Republican Party (“Dump the G.O.P. for a Grand New Party”). Friedman wrote, “Today’s G.O.P. is to governing what Trump University is to education — an ethically challenged enterprise…” Good luck, Tom. When Barack Obama was nominated by the Democrats in 2008, Republicans went ballistic. The birther movement, including Mr. Trump, erupted. The Tea Party coalesced and lashed out. When John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate and went down in flames, the G.O.P. seemed doomed. It lost the presidency again in 2012. It’s still here.

I suspect that the Republican Party will be embarrassed in this November’s presidential election despite the convenient target of Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump a candidate with low approval ratings. But what about Speaker Ryan? He, along with many Republican leaders, will wind up giving at least nominal support to a candidate who makes racist comments, which he and they find off-putting to say the least. If Mr. Trump wins, Speaker Ryan becomes a factor in establishing the legitimacy of a nasty approach to politics and the denigration of a great many Americans (myself included). Only a Clinton win will keep Speaker Ryan from emerging as a big loser.

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In 1975, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union launched a TV campaign supporting American-made clothing. Workers—men alongside women—sang a charming ditty, “Look for the Union Label.” Given that so many jobs first fled union shops then were lost to offshoring, that label inside a garment made sense. Ultimately, the campaign failed. Americans preferred cheaper foreign-made goods. Today, we live with many other kinds of labels. They’re not working, either.

I refer to political labels. Democrat and Republican are two. You can also be a Libertarian, Green, Socialist or Communist (not many of those around). Here’s where confusion begins. Many people who register with a party aren’t members and don’t attend conventions or conferences. They don’t necessarily toe the party line, either. They use their registration to vote in primaries or caucuses. Now, states with open primaries make such registration unnecessary.

Another political label has gained prominence: Independent. Bernie Sanders used to be one. An Independent stays free of party registration or affiliation. Yet many registered Democrats and Republicans as mentioned above function as Independents. They freely cross party lines. Witness a label from the recent past: Reagan Democrats. You might even remember Dixiecrats. They became Republicans.

Labels also exist within labels. Some Democrats call themselves Progressives (Go Bernie!). Others Moderates (Go Hillary!). Or maybe also Progressives. Republicans identify as Conservatives or Tea Partiers or both. A few flirt with the label Rockefeller Republicans, i.e. Centrists. They tend to hide in the closet. Libertarians may call themselves Social Liberals and/or Economic Conservatives or downright Anarchists.

Then there are supporters of Donald Trump. Republican? Not necessarily. Conservative? Sometimes. Sometimes not. They often drift to another label: Authoritarian. Trump supporters may hold varied positions on such issues as immigration, taxes, abortion, and Muslims. But they share a deep anger at Washington. An Authoritarian leader, they believe, will disregard Congress and impose solutions. How? By being Authoritarian. Donald Trump will “make America great again” because he says he will.

Consider also Insiders and Outsiders. Congress’ popularity remains well under 20 percent. (Interestingly, the Gallup Poll of May 23–29, 2016 shows President Obama’s approval rating at 52 percent.) Many Americans believe that Congress accomplishes little to nothing because it’s composed of Insiders, also known as Politicians. Politicians’ first concern isn’t the general welfare but holding office. Not surprisingly, loyalty to their Democrat and Republican labels—thus assuring campaign funding—prevents Politicians from reaching across the aisle to get anything done.

And let’s not forget The Establishment. These rich people pull strings behind the scenes. Everyone hates The Establishment. Except everyone wants to be rich, which would make them part of The Establishment.

What to do? The philosophy of the famed comedian W.C. Fields has gained traction: “Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against.” Voters can thumb their noses at The Establishment by replacing Washington Insiders with Outsiders. Although victorious Outsiders immediately become Insiders.

Labels offer easy choices between Right (your position) and Wrong (the other guy’s). Unfortunately, they keep us from thinking as individuals and approaching issues not as no-brainers but as complex. This November, we could do America a favor by dropping Labelmania and separating fantasy from reality. We might label that Patriotism.

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