Archive for June, 2019

IRAN AND INCOMPETENCE

Usually, Donald Trump creates distractions from critical issues facing the United States. This week, the Democratic presidential debates performed that function, if not with the same intent. But let’s keep our eye on the ball—a specific one (of many) ignored at our own peril.

In September 2012, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations that Iran was close to developing a nuclear weapon and urged a military strike. Barack Obama disagreed. In July 2015, six nations, led by the U.S., plus the European Union signed an agreement with Iran. In return for relief from economic sanctions, Iran would halt its uranium enrichment process. This would postpone—though not permanently eliminate—its development of nuclear weapons.

In May 2018, Donald Trump, again expressing his hate-Obama fetish, withdrew America from the agreement. He imposed more American sanctions on Iran to further choke its oil exports and make life miserable for the Iranian people.

I detest the theocratic-kleptomaniacal rule of Iran’s ayatollahs and Republican Guard, who profit quite nicely despite the sanctions. But Tehran kept to the agreement. Iran still doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. Yet.

Pushed into a corner and proud of its ancient Persian culture, Iran struck back. Tehran’s Houthi proxies continued making Yemen a hellhole. Iran-backed militias have been active in Iraq and Syria, and support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.

Recently, Iran started blowing holes in Persian Gulf tankers—not to sink ships but to raise insurance rates and thus oil prices. Then Iran shot down an American drone. Did it fly over Iranian or international waters? We don’t know. We may never know. Trump sought to respond. He screwed up—and dangerously so.

Trump approved a military strike on several Iranian missile/radar sites. At the last minute, he called off the attack because 150 Iranians would be killed. America’s response would be disproportionate. Sounds statesmanlike?

Indeed, killing 150 Iranians would have been foolish, escalating tensions. The issue? Trump and his team’s gross negligence. Reports are sketchy—misleading might be more accurate—but here’s what we have:

Either Trump never evaluated the consequences of an attack when considering his options—he said he learned about the estimated deaths from a general ten minutes before the release of warheads/bombs. Or, according to some reports, he knew of the prospective deaths at the outset and approved the attack anyway. Then, perhaps at someone’s rational urging, he ordered the strike force to stand down.

Trump demonstrated that he is in no way capable of handling the role of America’s commander-in-chief in addressing complex geopolitical challenges. Strategy and tactics are always subject to debate, although perhaps not Tuesday’s threat to obliterate Iran (dumb). But what’s damning is any president’s failure to do due-diligence—evaluate proposed actions, consider their consequences and role play the other side’s responses then yours to them. Only long-term thinking can prevent short- and long-term disaster.

More than Trump’s covering up during the Mueller investigation into the 2016 election (Mueller appears before two House committees on July 17), his response to the drone incident demonstrates a level of incompetence that should send a clear message: Donald Trump should be removed from office via the 2020 electionat the latest. At stake are the lives of Americans and a great many others.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

The post will take off next Friday and return July 12.

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THE VIEW FROM NORWAY

Eighteen months ago, Donald Trump called for more immigrants from Norway (aka white people). Norwegians seem content to stay home. Derek B. Miller, a Massachusetts native and author who lives in Norway’s capital, Oslo, offers some perspective.

Miller wrote the best-selling novel Norwegian by Night. He provides a sharp take on the country of his birth in a follow-up, American by Day. It’s as didactic (unfortunately) as it is witty (very) but worth examining.

A female Norwegian police chief, Sigrid Ødegård, travels to northern New York State to search for her missing older brother. Speaking with a younger American policewoman, Sigrid declares that American culture is all about individualism. “The way you perform individualism is through self-reliance. But acting self-reliant usually means acting alone.” That, says Sigrid, weakens America as a community. “You worry that working together undermines your myth of self-reliance, so you hyperexaggerate its value to mask the fear.” America, Sigrid warns, is “basically doomed.”

Yesterday’s cowboy movies and today’s superhero films establish the rugged individual—often a rogue—as a prized figure in American culture. The Hollywood icon John Wayne played those types to the hilt and was himself deemed an American hero. (For the record, he was acting).

Many Americans in rural areas and their relatives in red-state urban and suburban areas sized from Waco to Houston (I lived in Texas long ago) still cling to the myth of the rugged individual and reject the role of broad community. This while the carpool has replaced the roundup, the gas grill the campfire. Yet Montana author Ivan Doig, in novels like Dancing at the Rascal Fair, shows how important community was in settling the West.

Still, the rugged individual remains the conservative ideal. The mountain man went off on his own to trap, hunt and scrounge off the land with little or no connection to the new towns growing around him and certainly not today’s shopping malls to which conservatives flock. Self-reliance—forget Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—means everything. Failure warrants censure. Can’t find a job or one that pays a living wage? Can’t afford health insurance or medications? Can’t pay for college? Your fault. Me pay taxes—if I have a job—to help alleviate your problems? My right to say “Hell, no.”

Liberals often thrive in older urban environments, which historically drew large numbers of immigrants and retain many of their descendants. These Americans survived—and thrived—by organizing ethnic and religious communities, as well as supporting labor unions. Unlike many conservative communities (yes, they exist), these groups often formed coalitions with others unlike them but also looking to government, the broadest form of community, for solutions to difficult problems.

Individualism, Sigrid advises, is “why you all buy guns rather than build institutions. None of it makes you safer, but it does make you more American.”

Given the 40,000 annual gun deaths in the U.S. (2016, CNN) and a homicide rate seven times greater that Norway’s (2010-12, nationmaster.com,) plus many other grave problems, Derek Miller, through Sigrid, makes us think.

Perhaps Mr. Trump might have someone read the novel for him. Then he might understand why Norwegians no longer flock to our shores, and why instead we attract so many desperate people from other countries whose governments represent not the solution but the problem.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

15 MINUTES OF FAME

In 1968, the artist Andy Warhol wrote, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Until last Sunday, I found myself fourteen minutes short. So I added a few seconds to my meager sum.

I held a launch party for Big Truth: New and Collected Stories. My guests gathered at Lokma Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood. They found parking! I enjoyed treating them to Turkish appetizers, selling some books and, most of all, reading two very short stories and the beginning of a third. Hear for yourself on YouTube.

Yes, I’d love to top Warhol’s 15 minutes. My book Solo Success: 100 Tips for Becoming a $100,00-a-Year Freelancer sold about 3,300 copies, and I was interviewed for radio and print. I relished the whole process, but as I stood in the national spotlight, it barely flickered.

In truth—a big truth—life owes us nothing. Most of us live in anonymity, although I’m delighted to say that I’ve had a very nice life. So when you have the chance to celebrate something special—something that means a lot to you—you jump on it.

I’ve never been taken with recurring calendar dates. They strike me as artificial. In this regard, I confess to not caring about my approaching birthday. It’s for family and friends to say, “Glad you were born.” The accomplishment belongs to my parents, Morris and Blanche. Another big truth: My mother did the heavy lifting. It’s doing something yourself that calls for a little back patting, even if you risk dislocating your shoulder.

I admit to being picky about celebrations. High school graduation? No biggie. A diploma was an expectation and never in doubt. College? The same, although I confess that my four years as an undergraduate were the worst in my life. The fault was not the school’s—Alfred University in western New York is wonderful—but my own. I had no idea why I was so often miserable and detached. Only later did I understand that I was a fairly extreme—if functional—introvert. It took decades for me to come to grips with, although not perfect, myself. I get by reasonably well now, but I avoid situations I know I’ll find uncomfortable.

Then there was graduation from the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1967. OCS was a challenge and thus something to celebrate. Getting my M.A. from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio? I worked for an ad agency days and went to school on the G.I. Bill nights—three courses per semester for two years. No free time. But Carolyn encouraged me. That was worth a little applause.

But I’ll always revel in bringing out a new book. Readers often have no idea about how much effort and psychic pain is involved along with the joy of creating a story. If I flog my books—and ask people to read them—you know why.

Now, I’ll back away from another date with celebrity until my newest novel, almost completed, comes out. I hope it will bring my minutes of fame—among family and friends at least—up to two or even three. I also hope you’ll celebrate yourachievements and the few minutes of fame they’ve earned you.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

DEATH OF THE DINER

My father Morris would have been 116 today. He’s been gone 36 years. I miss him every day. Now, I’m coping with the loss of something near and dear to both of us. New York’s diners are disappearing.

The New York Times reported (May 24) on “New York’s Vanishing Diners.” Since 2014, fifteen diners have been sold, those who owned their buildings profiting from developers’ visions for their land. Many more lost their leases. This included the Shalimar (I’m near tears as I write) on 63rd Drive in Rego Park (Queens), which closed late last fall. My parents enjoyed several thousand meals and evening desserts there, and my mother Blanche alone many, many more until she died in 1999.

The loss followed the June 2018 closing of Ben’s Best delicatessen on Queens Boulevard, possibly Queens’ last kosher deli. Carolyn and I visited there a year earlier. I used to bring Ben’s knishes home from my solo visits to my mother. We had a family-related connection.

The Shalimar opened in 1974, the year Carolyn and I moved from San Antonio to San Francisco. We and the kids ate there on our visits. After my mother died, we still strolled the old neighborhood (I had to stop just now; I cried), always with brunch/lunch at the Shalimar. Of late, the place was going downhill, but we went for the vibes. The Shalimar often served as a meeting spot for family and friends.

This hurts even more, because I love diners for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, a late-night snack. They’re are for big fressers(eaters). The Shalimar’s menu was vast, the portions huge. The entry showcased Danishes on steroids. As someone who eats kosher-style, I struggle in most restaurants obsessed with drenching every dish in butter, cheese, bacon and/or ham. I thrilled to the Shalimar’s variety of choices.

Being in Rego Park, the Shalimar served lots of Jewish dishes although, like most diners, it was owned by Greeks. In its heyday, you started off with a basket of challah plus pickles and green tomatoes. For brunch, I ordered eggs, onions and lox. A bagel, of course. My mother and I often went for dinner, as well. I had Romanian steak.

Foodies may turn up their noses, but here’s another thing I love about diners—casual democracy. Diners are affordable and without pretense. Everyone’s welcome. You can come in jeans or shorts, sit in a booth—I love booths—and relax. Okay, there’s better food out there, but I’ve never enjoyed any meal more than one I’ve had at a diner.

You can still find “diner-like” places. My favorite is San Francisco’s Town’s End on the Embarcadero, open for breakfast and lunch. The food is far better than the Shalimar’s, and I love going there, but where’s all the neon and chrome? The juke boxes? The waitresses (Denise looked after my mother for years—I’m tearing up again) who ask you about your family and tell you about theirs?

I’ll be 75 in a month. My time is limited. I accept loss. In Manhattan, we’ll stop by the Brooklyn Diner on West 57th. If it remains. Of course, Carolyn and I will go back to Rego Park, but it won’t be the same.

The price for living is mortality. Memories, at least, defy time.

My new book, Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.