Archive for July, 2020

DRESS REHEARSAL IN PORTLAND

Something ominous has been happening in Portland, Oregon. But Donald Trump’s sending camouflage-uniformed, armed and unidentified federal personnel to attack protestors represents only half the story.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon governor Kate Brown responded with anger. Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum sought a restraining order against the Department of Homeland Security. It was denied.

Two days ago, an agreement seemed to be reached with DHS. Oregon State Police would secure the federal courthouse. Federal agents would withdraw. As of last night, the feds hadn’t.

Mayhem is counterproductive. Said Rachelle Dixon, vice chair of the Multnomah County (Oregon) Democrats and Black community organizer, “My life is not going to improve because you broke the glass at the Louis Vuitton store.” Violent protestors may seek to discredit Black causes. (See Justin Phillips’ sfchronicle.com column.)

Regardless, Trump found an excuse to stage a dress rehearsal for Election Day.

If/when Portland cools down, Trump can evaluate the nation’s reaction and whether Americans will accept federal security personnel overriding local law enforcement as a new normal. There’s a reason for such audacity.

Badly trailing Joe Biden in poll after poll, Trump is in panic mode. Playing to his base, he identifies threats coming from everywhere—except, of course, Russia.

One “threat” is manipulation (not Russian) of the presidential election. The boogeymen (not Russian cyber invasions) are non-citizen voters and voting by mail. The barbarians stand at the gates. How to beat them back?

Send federal agents bearing assault weapons to secure polling places and mail-collection points. Also, slow down the Postal Service. All a euphemism for harassing minority voters and interfering with legally cast ballots.

Upping the ante? Trump could make an offhand request that citizen-militias join the feds and brandish weapons in open-carry states. Trump will hail their patriotism for assuring a free and fair election while helping him steal it. Shades of Vladimir Putin and all autocrats undermining democracy—or openly mocking it.

Americans—including the media—must pressure Congress, governors, secretaries of state and local officials to uphold the Constitution and the right of all Americans to cast their vote free from intimidation. Governors, mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs must pledge to prevent federal and militia goons from hijacking Election Day. The very police so many demonstrators abhor must show that they take their oaths of service seriously—as so many do—and earn their communities’ respect.

This November could present us with the stuff of fiction and film. In the Oval Office sits a president so inept and lacking compassion he chose not to urge Americans to wear masks to protect against spreading the COVID-19 virus until nearly six months and 142,000 Americans had passed. (The toll now numbers more than 150,000.)

Facing being dumped on the ash heap of history, Trump may try anything. On July 19, Fox’s Christopher Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the results of the election. Trump said he didn’t know. Yesterday, a Trump tweet questioned whether the election should be delayed. (He lacks authority to do that.)

Abraham Lincoln warned that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. He was right. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel is very dark. And still very long.

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TOP DOWN OR BOTTOM UP?

Classical music and professional basketball have something in common. The link may challenge some preconceptions about race.

The National Basketball Association, re-starting its season July 30, comprises 80 percent Black players. This racial makeup hardly represents a cross-section of the United States. Problem?

No way. Teams and fans want championships. That requires the best players.

Can you imagine the NBA—which once limited the number of Blacks—deciding that diversity overrides talent? Commissioner Adam Silver announcing that next season, Blacks—13 percent of America’s population—will be allotted 13 percent of roster spots?

Me, neither.

What about classical music? New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini (July 16) suggests that orchestras—heavily white—end the practice of blind auditions to achieve greater diversity. That was blind auditions’ original intent.

I sense a slippery slope.

In blind auditions, musicians play screened from judges. Is a candidate male or female, black, white, Asian, other? Judges hear the mastery of instrument and material. Maybe potential. They hire based on a word that has taken on a negative connotation—merit.

Tommasini believes that blind auditions fail minorities because orchestras don’t represent their communities’ ethnic makeup. Thus 40 percent of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s musicians should be Black. Nearly half the chairs in the Los Angeles Philharmonic should be filled by Latinos. This, while the vast majority of symphony-goers may be white.

I suggest a middle ground between merit and representation. A candidate who stands out at a blind audition should be hired. But a toss-up among several qualified candidates? Hire a minority.

On the other hand . . .

If Black and white hoopers compete for the same spot at the end of an NBA bench—15 active players—should the team hire a white player so the majority of fans can identify?

Back to the symphony world. Tommasini acknowledges a challenge that quotas won’t meet: “Some leaders in the field . . . say racial diversity is missing in the so-called pipeline that leads from learning an instrument to summer programs to conservatories to graduate education to elite jobs.”

True. Pipelines build for the future. Minority communities require increased resources devoted to pre-schools, teachers, WiFi connectivity, healthcare services and job training to improve lives from the bottom up.

In Los Angeles, Kadima Conservatory of Music—my son Yosi studies classical violin there—exemplifies this. Kadima trains young musicians of all ethnicities. Every child and adult must demonstrate talent to enter the program and work hard to stay in it. This pipeline and others like it will send prepared minorities to top orchestras and other classical groups.

If minorities are underrepresented in classical music and other fields—as opposed to the NBA and popular entertainment—encouraging interest in classical music and producing minority artists must begin with young children. This bottoms-up approach places us on a long and challenging road given the environments in which many minority youngsters live. To meet those challenges, Americans must take a step back to understand the dogged patience required—patience we seldom exhibit.

Achieving true equality of opportunity and the results it can produce demands a long-overdue commitment to communities in need. Also the wisdom to understand that shunning talented people because of their race or ethnicity adds new injustices to old ones.

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CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

In 2017, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia put American anti-Semitism in full view. Again. Murders followed at synagogues in Pittsburgh (2018) and near San Diego (2019). But whites aren’t the nation’s only anti-Semites.

Ten days ago, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson—African-American—posted on Instagram a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Because the white Jews knows [sic] that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas [sic] secret the Jews will blackmail America.”

Jackson also posted a clip from a July 4 speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the notorious anti-Semite banned by Facebook last year. Read “Farrakhan’s Influence Remains a Problem” by Jonathan S. Tobin (7/14) in the National Review.

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson joined in regarding the Rothschild banking family while citing Farrakhan. The entertainer Nick Cannon launched anti-Semitic and anti-white rhetoric on a podcast causing ViacomCBS to cut ties.

How can African-Americans, victims of racism, give voice to anti-Semitism? Because it’s there. Long has been.

Hitler didn’t introduce anti-Semitism to Germany. Martin Duberman points this out in Jews, Queers, Germans, a history-cum-novel spanning the 1890s to 1930. Count Harry Kessler, a non-Jew, states succinctly to the Jew-turned-Lutheran editor Max Harden, “I tell you anti-Semitism is engraved in all of us. And not just in Germany, though it surely flourishes here.”

Europe today displays strong strains of far-right and Muslim anti-Semitism. In Britain, the leftwing Labour Party under Jeremy Corbin kept anti-Semitism alive and well.

Anti-Semitism in American politics? Some progressives, including representatives Alexandra Octavio-Cortez (D.-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D.–Minn.) have used anti-Jewish tropes before disowning them. Many on the left also don’t just disapprove of Israel’s policies but deny the Jewish state’s right to exist.

In difficult times, people often turn to scapegoating. Given contemporary economic and cultural pressures, those of all ethnicities have much opportunity to pick up on hatred because it’s in the air, fostered by generations of writings, speeches and, most damaging, everyday remarks passed off as common wisdom.

DeSean Jackson, facing a firestorm of criticism, apologized. “My intention was to uplift, unite and encourage our culture with positivity and light. Unfortunately, that did not happen . . . I unintentionally hurt the Jewish community in the process and for that I am sorry!”

Uplift? Unite? Encourage? Unintentionally hurt? Do we speak the same language?

An African-American issuing anti-Semitic slurs can no more be excused than a Jew making anti-Black statements. And some Jews do.

Education can hinder the anti-Semitic and racist virus—when people are willing to learn. Hopefully Jackson is. Ignorance establishes a culture in which the virus thrives.

Important: African-Americans like NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke out against Jackson’s remarks. Decency bridges racial and ethnic divides.

A plea to American Jews: Don’t let the nation’s DeSean Jacksons turn you away from the battle for Black rights. At the same time, don’t turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism from people of color and others on the left. Victimhood does not confer entitlement to hate.

As the quest for civil rights rightfully marches forward, American Jews face the danger of being caught in the middle, attacked by right and left. A small group, we make a big target. Calling racism and anti-Semitism to task makes an even bigger statement.

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THE DRAGON—A FABLE

Just the day before, the Child was care-free and innocent, at that age at which Father and Mother were wise and heroic. But that was then.

“There’s a Dragon under my bed,” said the Child at tuck-in time. Father and Mother smiled. Children often expressed fears of imaginary things. Father and Mother often read fairy tales and picture books to the Child to address such fantasies. “No there’s not,” said Father. “Just your imagination,” said Mother. They turned off the light.

Mother and Father were enjoying a glass of wine and a particularly gripping TV mystery when the Child called out, “There’s a Dragon under my bed.” They went to the Child’s bedroom. “There’s no Dragon,” Father reassured the Child. “But there is,” the Child said. “Have you seen it?” Mother asked. “Did it say anything?” The Child shuddered. Mother put her arm around the Child. “Then how do you know it’s there?”

“The Orange Man,” said the Child.

Father and Mother exchanged puzzled glances. First a Dragon, now the Orange Man? They praised the Child’s imagination—but this was not the time. “And where is the Orange Man?” Mother asked. “Under the bed with the Dragon?”

“Everywhere,” said the Child. “Which is where exactly?” Father asked. “Should we look for him?” Mother added. The Child seemed surprised at Mother and Father’s failure to understand. “Everywhere,” the Child repeated. “At school?” Father asked? The Child nodded. Mother followed up. “At the playground? The park? The supermarket?” The Child nodded again. “Everywhere.”

Mother and Father knew better than to make the Child feel guilty. The most delightful children sometimes found bedtime difficult. Dutifully, they sat with the Child. Each held a hand. Ten minutes later, the Child fell asleep. They tiptoed back to the family room to resume their wine and TV.

Later, they were barely asleep when the Child burst into their bedroom. “There’s a Dragon under my bed,” the Child cried. They made a comforting space between them. “Did it come out?” Mother asked. “Roar or breathe fire?” asked Father. He instantly regretted his question. It would only stoke the Child’s fears.

“You can’t see it,” said the Child. “You can’t hear it. But it’s there, and it wants to gobble me up. It wants to gobble youup. And Grandma and Grandpa and—”

Mother wished she’d left a glass of wine on her nightstand. “But if you can’t see the Dragon or hear it, how can it be real?” The Child began to shake. “The Orange Man says it is. He talks to all the kids. He says he knows things we don’t and our parents don’t. The Dragon is there. It wants to gobble us all up.”

Father and Mother let the Child fall asleep in their bed. Dutiful parents, they stayed awake in case the Child suffered nightmares or, worse, night terrors. They’d read up on that. Educated, hardworking and caring, they were confident that tomorrow, the Dragon and the Orange Man who announced its presence would disappear of their own accord. Or the next day. Surely a few days later. At most a week.

Reassured, Father leaned across the Child and kissed Mother. “Good night,” he whispered. “Nothing under the bed,” Mother returned. “Couldn’t be,” said Father.

They slept the sleep of the dead.

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WALKING AND CHEWING

Last March, a longtime reader asked me to remove her from my email list. With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc, she couldn’t take getting “bad news from the universe.” I deleted her name. But she missed out on a very critical concept.

True, the universe—in its broadest sense—sent us the virus. But failure to adequately contain its spread in the United States is very much a human issue. We have the power to mitigate it. Yet as simple a matter as wearing a mask became a major political issue starting with Donald Trump, who refuses to wear one and thus motivate his supporters to do so.

No question, the pandemic, economic collapse and social upheaval take an emotional toll. Going ostrich and sticking our heads in the sand is tempting. But whistling in the dark won’t shed light on solutions.

People create or worsen many of our problems and only people can solve them. Greed, envy, lust, ignorance and sheer stupidity are human traits, not those of the universe. Inattention can weaken our will and erode our capacity to tackle our challenges.

We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Don’t want to check the daily pandemic death toll? (I do.) People will continue dying in alarming numbers. Can’t bear another bizarre story coming out of the White House? The mess regarding Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan will likely gain traction because it impacts our intelligence processes and national security. Ignore the rest of the ongoing and destructive mess in the Oval Office? That won’t bring on a Joe Biden victory in November.

Alarm and anger augmented by knowledge and perspective occupy critical places in a healthy society.

That said, entertainment and laughter form part of the mix enabling us to get through difficult times with our sanity reasonably intact. That’s why Carolyn and I, like so many Americans, check the news and also watch TV.

Right now, we’re very much into National Theatre Live from Britain. We attend plays at the National’s showpiece facility on the Thames whenever we’re in London. There’s great theater in America, but the Brits set the standard. That’s why Carolyn trained in two summer programs at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

A week ago, we saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, meticulously videoed in the new Bridge Theatre on the south side of the Thames near Tower Bridge. We howled. The cast included Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), whom Carolyn met at the Screen Actors Guild Awards a few years back, and Hammed Animashaun as a fabulously funny Puck. All and director Nicholas Hytner made the comedy accessible and added to it. Purists may decry the brilliant contemporary touches. Not the audience. It loved them. So did we.

We’re also watching the German sci-fi series Dark on Netflix. Deep mysteries. No idea what’s going on. Love it.

Some people may feel guilty about expressions of joy and laughter in a time of sadness. I suggest that we’re better off both facing our burdens and indulging in all the humor—and drama, music, food, wine and Zoom get-togethers—we can.

If we refuse to walk and chewing gum at the same time today, we’ll end up unable to do either tomorrow.

Happy Fourth! Let’s honor the best this nation stands for. It’s quite a lot. And let’s correct its misdeeds so that the American Dream applies to all.

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