autocracy

In the summer of 1969, I was in the South of France, visiting my cousins, when Neal Armstrong took a stroll on the moon.

The event blew my mind.  I’m not very technically savvy, so it was beyond my comprehension that something like that could be accomplished.  And it made me think that our world, and our country, were extremely advanced.

More than 50 years have gone by and it is abundantly clear how wrong I was.  Let’s just look at the start of the year 2021.

Mass shootings in the United States in the first five months of the year have reached an all time record of 321 as I write this column on Sunday night.

Thousands of people around the world are still dying of Covid-19 because we can’t get vaccines to them fast enough and some people are just too stupid to take the dangers seriously.

Racists and misogynists and anti-Semites have come out of the closet.

Worst of all, Autocracy has surpassed Democracy worldwide and authoritarianism is rampant.  According to the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, this is the most trying time for democracy worldwide since the 1930’s, when racism spread across Europe.

Ironically, one of the factors for this is the advance of technology, which instead of enabling  a free exchange of ideas are increasingly being used by populists and other extreme voices to amplify their messages.

Autocrats around the world have learned from the likes of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who are democratically elected and then use their power to manipulate the system to distort the will of their countrymen.

We are heading towards a moment of truth in our country unlike anything that I have ever experienced in my lifetime.  The midterm elections in the United States in 2022 will tell us a great deal about where our democracy is headed.

Generally speaking, midterm elections favor the minority party.  Now we are engaged in a ridiculous situation in which politics has taken over for principle in the Republican Party and Senators and Congressmen who personally despise Trump will not dare to speak their true feelings because their priority is to get reelected.

With this in mind, the Republican Party has succeeded in making it much more difficult to vote in many states, but hopefully this will inspire a backlash that will get many more progressive voters to the polls.

Of course, there is the chance that Trump will be on trial in New York or Florida and even Federal courts before that happens and that will give Republicans a very tough dilemma in deciding to vote on their principles as Mitt Romney and Liz Chaney continue to do or to sell their souls to the man who neutral non-political historians will deem to be one of the most corrupt Presidents in the history of the United States of America.

Former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir with Harry Rosenfeld

Former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir with Harry Rosenfeld

 

My Uncle Harry Rosenfeld turned 91 years old this month.

His is a remarkable story that constantly reminds me why I value the message of the Statue of Liberty so much.

Harry was born in Berlin, Germany in 1929, eight years younger than his sister, my mother Rachel. Their father, Sam, was an uneducated Polish immigrant who became a very successful furrier in Berlin. After Hitler came to power, Jews were not allowed to go to public school. Before Krystallnacht happened in 1938, Sam was arrested in the middle of the night and deported to Poland along with other Polish Jews living in Germany.

The Rosenfelds had applied for entry to the U.S. in 1934, but did not receive permission until 5 years later. At that time, Sam was permitted to return to Berlin to accompany his family to America—shortly before War broke out with Germany’s attacks on Poland.

They came to New York City. Rachel, lacking a high school degree, worked in her parents’ new fur shop right on the same block as Alexander’s Department store in the Bronx. Harry got to go to elementary, junior high and Stuyvesant high school. Upon graduation but before going to Syracuse U, Harry got his start in newspapering at the New York Herald Tribune, as a shipping clerk.

He worked there summers and some months after he graduated from Syracuse, and before being drafted and sent to Korea during the war.

When he was discharged, he again returned to the Trib, working his way up from typist, to copy editor, and then becoming Managing Editor of the paper’s news service, the youngest ever to hold that job. In time, he became the Trib’s foreign editor.

That led me to my second job in journalism—the first being a paperboy when I was 10 years old. During one summer when I was in college, Uncle Harry got me a summer job putting up signs on lampposts in Manhattan heralding the column by Jimmy Breslin.

Harry worked for the Herald Tribune for over 18 years if you subtract the four he spent in college and the two years in the Army. When the paper folded, he was hired by the Washington Post to help run their foreign operation and he eventually became Metropolitan editor overseeing the local news. As an assistant managing editor, he oversaw Woodward and Bernstein during the Watergate Investigation. But there was no path to a promotion at the Post because Ben Bradlee was firmly ensconced, so Harry took a job as Editor in Chief of the two Albany, New York daily newspapers, the afternoon Knickerbocker News and the morning Times Union.

And there he still sits. He’s emeritus and is a member of the editorial board of the surviving Times-Union, and his mind is extremely active and he has written two great autobiographies, one about the years at the Trib and the Post and the other about the Albany years.

I was headed across the country to surprise him for his birthday but Covid put the damper on that plan so we have to settle for schmoozing on the phone. My wonderful aunt Annie is also very healthy and they have three wonderful daughters who have them surrounded, Susan in Boston, Stefanie in New York City, and Amy in Chicago.

Journalism is literally in my blood, thanks to Harry, and by hook or by crook, I’m going to get myself to Albany sooner than later.

donald

Dear Sir Donald,

I’m writing to you as a fellow New Yorker. Okay, we grew up a little differently but we are both very tough and very proud people.

We both avoided fighting in Vietnam. I failed my physical but your rich father used his connections to get a doctor to make-up a story that classified you as 4F.

We were both Bill and Hillary Clinton supporters back in the day but I became a progressive independent and you became a right wing Republican.

It’s clear after last weekend’s fiasco in Tulsa that your reelection campaign is going down in flames and I know you well enough to gauge that you do not want to go down in history as one
of America’s greatest political losers.

That became clear right after several very highly respected military leaders said you were not fit for the job. My sincere advice is that you drop out of the race sooner than later. You have many reasons you can use: it is clear that the times and fates have conspired against you, your health isn’t great, the American electorate is just not smart enough to understand you, the media has conspired to use fake news to paint you in a very negative light.

Oh, and you are paying the price for leading the country during the worse Pandemic since the influenza just over 100 years ago. You aren’t as stupid as you come off when you are purposely dumbing down to appeal to your base—saying things like we need to stop testing for Covid-19 to keep the numbers down.

You will bow out in time for your party to select a reasonable candidate, probably Mitt Romney, and your richest backers will support this decision. Believe me, you do not want to undergo a media campaign in which the words of the likes of Mitch McConnell will be used against you and your disgusting quotes about women and your praise of Nazi sympathizers are played over and over again on TV and radio.

If this isn’t enough to convince you to step down, hopefully with grace, then feel free to contact me directly via the LaConner Weekly News and I will present you with so much more damning
evidence that you are heading for one of the worst shellackings in American history.

From one New Yorker to another, I’m here for you man!!!

MurderHornets

As if Covid-19! wasn’t scary enough, there is a new peril in our little corner of the Universe and it has a face that could easily end up on the poster of a Hollywood horror movie.

Say hello to your new neighbor, the Asian Giant Hornet. Last November, Ted McFall, a beekeeper, was checking hives in nearby Custer, WA in Whatcom County, and came across thousands and thousands of dead bee carcasses. Inside the hive, McFall discovered thousands and thousands of headless bees.

McFall came to suspect Asian giant hornets whose queens can grow to two inches long and use their giant spiked mandibles to destroy a honeybee hive. They decapitate their victims and fly off with their thoraxes to feed their young.

This is no Disney movie. Their stingers and potent venom can be used on larger targets, and these hornets are known to kill up to about 50 people a year in Japan. The best animators could not come up with a scarier looking beast.

Ah, life during a Pandemic.

This is usually my favorite time of year. Mostly sunny but not too hot. Flowers blooming. Great golf weather. Start of the Major League Baseball season.

My solution to social distancing is to get in my car and exploring new places, listening to as much bad news as I can bear before turning the radio dial to old time rock and roll.

Have you driven along the South Skagit Highway? Because it’s a road rarely taken, it has some funkiness but there are also beautiful farms and incredible views. The part God did is amazing and mankind is starting to clean up its mess. The beautiful winding river is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped foothills.

Lots of time for contemplation. Am I living the life I should be living? How are my kids going to survive this disruption in their careers? How long is this going to last? Should we open things up to save the economy even though we know there will be a cost in human lives? Usually a challenge like this unites a nation, but nowadays, we have young people holding signs on bridges over the freeway saying “open” while old people are dying in record numbers.

I have seasonal allergies so I’ve been waking up coughing and sneezing and my doctor thought it might be a good idea for me to be tested for Covid-19. I had the blood test for antibodies which turned out negative and then I had the swab test to see if I currently have the virus.

It was so easy. Drive to the eastern parking lot at Skagit Valley College, show them your driver’s license and health care card and, not so much fun, stick a small swab into your nostril and dig out anything you can. They tell you if your results are negative, you’ll get a text within three days. If it’s positive, you’ll get a call.

The next day I got a text. One word. “Negative”. Best one-word text ever.

And now, feeling pretty optimistic, I have a revelation. I’m going to buy a puppy. The shelters are mostly shut down, appointment only, and only access to dogs with lots of issues, such as “not good with cats” or “not good with small children” and a neighbor tells me that his friends just had a litter of Golden Retriever puppies.

Lo and behold, I now have a wonderful companion to help me get through these challenging times, with the film industry shutdown and most of my family far far away. Her name is Rosie and she is sitting on my feet right now as I type away in my home office.

She’s affectionate and already loves to chase balls and she’s not even nine weeks old. We’ll see how she does when we are reunited with my wife and her new rescued cat Bobby but I’m optimistic that we can overcome all of these challenges and learn to live together in peace.

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shakespeare

Did you know that Shakespeare did some of his best work during a Pandemic? And he even referenced it in his work. “A plague on both your houses” are Mercutio’s dying words in Romeo and Juliet.

Now that I am a totally ADHD person dealing with the challenges on self-imposed, government mandated (common sense) isolation, I’m finally sitting down and finishing my play, MAX TO THE MAX. I’ve had staged readings with theatre companies in Vancouver, BC, and Santa Rosa, CA, notes from friends I trust, and I’m finally sitting my ass down and finishing the thing.

Okay, maybe I’m not Shakespeare but I’m going to give it my best shot.

Still, there is much more time in the day and I am spending a lot of that time driving around the beautiful back roads of the Pacific Northwest, along Bay View Road or up and down the Mount Baker Highway looking at lush farmlands surrounded by beautiful foothills and even a mountain or two.

I’m driving with Fred, my older brother, who sadly died just before his 59th birthday. Fred was my hero from boyhood to manhood (a journey that’s still ongoing), and a tremendous inspiration to my siblings and me. He was president of his high school class, played Curley in Oklahoma, served in the Army, went to law school and prosecuted the bad guys in Florida.

He contracted some kind of onerous virus while in the tank corps in Texas, and fought it his whole life but managed to raise two wonderful sons. His picture is scotch taped to my dashboard and as I drive around, he is a constant reminder to me that we have to appreciate every minute and every hour and every day we have on this planet.

Yes, it’s not all a bed of roses, sometimes it’s guns and roses, sometimes it’s a pandemic that came out of nowhere and is killing innocent people who did nothing more than inhale at the wrong time and place or touch an infected surface before touching their face.

As of now, there is no vaccination for this disease. Inspired by the Plague, the Bard wrote: “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.”

Yes, hope and prayer are important but I think we can be more proactive than that. Our challenge is to make the best out of a terrible situation, definitely the worst in my lifetime. Yes, I lost friends and classmates in the Vietnam War but that did not have the worldwide reverberations of Covid-19.

My advice to all of you is to keep your distance while you’re in your house, but also get out of the house as much as possible, weather and location permitting. We are blessed to live in a very beautiful place with good air and so many beautiful hiking trails. That is a very healthy version of isolationism.

Explore new places. Meditate. Talk to God if you’re religious. Or write a play!

justbe

My new motto is Just Be.

Sounds simple and it’s meant to be. After a long and wonderful career as first a newspaper reporter and then a television and movie director, I’ve decided to slow down and smell the roses.

That’s a real challenge for me because I’m the kind of person who gets very nervous when he looks at his calendar and there is nothing scheduled for tomorrow. I’ve written before that I’m a hunter warrior and I can’t sit still so it scares me when I have nothing on my day planner.

After 11 Hallmark Channel movies in the last three years, I’m taking some time off for self-reflection. What do I want to do when I grow up—if I ever grow up! For one thing, I’m writing my first play. For another, I’m doing an Orca Whale Recovery project for KCTS in Seattle. Oh, and I’m shooting a documentary in Uganda in March about an amazing musical instrument –a giant xylophone made of wood called the Embaire that comes from a small village at the base of the Nile River.

These are passion projects. I’m also starting to play tennis again after knee replacements shut me down many years ago. And I’m going dancing and singing karaoke and just taking time to appreciate what a beautiful place we live in—taking back roads instead of the freeway. Instead of listening to depressing news, I play 60’s on 6 on Sirius radio and sing along with all of the songs I grew up with.

I get in an airplane and visit my wife and kids in Los Angeles and my sister and brother in Palm Springs, and recently reacquainted with my college newspaper editor, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, now a leading Zen Buddhist based in Marin County, California. Norman wrote the most recent Have Faith column for our paper and will be a very positive influence on me as is Father William Treacy, my 100-year-old close pal.

When I start to get anxious about money or health issues or family matters, I look outside my window in my living room at the beautiful San Juan Islands and thank the Good Lord that I’m living the life I should be living in exactly the right place.

Yes, sometimes when I look out that window, it’s pouring rain and the wind is howling. I put on music from my new collection of wonderful old Vinyl records. And then the sun peeks out and there are the beautiful islands no longer obscured by the clouds.

Ain’t that how life is. Sometimes, it’s rainy, sometimes it’s cloudy, then the sun pops out and we get to reflect on how lucky we are to Just Be alive.

Rachel’s heART, through it’s parent organization Voices of the Children, is offering Capoeira inKampala, Uganda!Partnering with Einstein Rising , a business accelerator for Africa’s social entrepreneurs, Voices of the Children Volunteers Munair Simpson and Nick Damski will join Alexis Chavez of Einstein Rising to lead a Capoeira workshop for youth.  Capoeira is a martial art that combines elements of fight, acrobatics, music, dance and rituals in a very elegant and magnetic way, giving the body physical strength, power and flexibility and

giving the mind self-confidence, courage and creativity.

The workshops will provide safe spaces and community development as well as a platform to talk about vital issues such as HIV awareness, abuse and poverty as well as other challenges they face on a daily basis.

For this first trip in October 2019, our goal is to develop a sustainable program that will continue for years to come, just as our programs with Syrian refugee youth in Amman, Jordan continue with great success.

This workshop is named after Rachel Damski, mother of Hollywood filmmaker and Voices of the Children board member Mel Damski.  Rachel escaped the holocaust as a teenager. At the age of 80, she began to paint for the first time.  It benefited her life in indescribable ways and helped release trauma she had been carrying in her psyche for many decades.  Rachel lived until 94 and left behind a legacy and a sense of optimism that everyone, especially youth, would benefit from, no matter the challenges they face.

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Yes, that’s me on page one, covering the 100th birthday celebration of Father William Treacy with the objectivity and discipline of a former Newsday reporter.  Here I am on page three, unburdened by journalistic standards, kvelling about how grateful I feel to have this extraordinary man in my life. Read the article in the LaConner Weekly News HERE.

I am Jewish, the son of two courageous people who grew up in Hitler’s Germany, my wife is Catholic and we have been privileged to have Father Treacy and his caretaker, Sister Emma, join us for Christmas dinner and Passover seders the last two years. I am also honored to be working with Jeff Renner on a documentary about this extraordinary Priest who has touched so many lives.  Jeff is a former Seattle meteorologist and a terrific journalist who also has a wonderful screen presence that makes him the perfect interviewer.

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Father Bill has also joined me at Yom Kippur services as a guest of Rabbi Danny Wiener at Temple DeHirsch Sinai in Bellevue the last few years. Rabbi always introduces his esteemed guest and the congregants always give this special man a standing ovation, which is very unusual for this somber holiday but speaks to the fact that Father Treacy and Rabbi Wiener deeply believe in interfaith communication and understanding.

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Yes, I’m throwing a lot of superlatives around, but there is no exaggeration here. Interviewing several guests at the party about their experiences with Father Treacy, I heard remarkable stories about how he has inspired other religious leaders such as Sister Lucy Kurian, who I think will be the next Mother Teresa in India, to Rabbi Ted Falcon, who is blown away by Father Bill’s huge heart and extraordinary memory.

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One woman we interviewed told about how she was about to quit nursing school because she couldn’t pay her rent and Father showed up with an envelope with a generous amount of money in it. Years later, in the midst of a successful nursing career, she tried to repay Father but he wouldn’t accept the money and asked her to pay it forward to someone else in need, which she happily did. Her stories were told with great passion and brought tears to my eyes. So much for objective journalism. This man just continues to blow my mind!!!

Sometimes the Yiddish language delivers the perfect word and right now that word is “naches”.

Naches (pronounced nachiss) is defined as the joy a child gives a parent and Susan and I are feeling particularly joyous these days about the accomplishments of our youngest son Charley.

Charley is touring with the Sharon Van Etten band, playing keyboards as well as guitar. They appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, were interviewed on NPR, and then hit the road for a 7-month worldwide tour with many venues already sold out.

Susan flew to see him in New York City and I’ll be seeing him this coming weekend in Vancouver, BC or Seattle. One brother and his sister will see him in Portland and his other two brothers will see him in Los Angeles. His French cousins will see him in Paris. I might try to see him in San Francisco at the hallowed Fillmore and if time and work allow, I might even fly to Madrid to see him play.

One of reasons we are so proud of Charley, who turned 30 last week, is that he toured recently with Milo Greene playing the bass guitar and now he’s playing keyboards as well. He didn’t study piano as a kid, and only in the last couple of years started taking piano lessons.

Obviously, the kid has a gift and he’s written and recorded some wonderful songs of his own, but this is also a testament to very hard work and perseverance. He had an excellent role model in his oldest brother Luke, whose band Box Violet, including his wife Margot, played in Europe and at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas back in the day.

We were on a family ski trip many years ago and we told the kids that the most important consideration in a career choice is not money or prestige, it’s finding something that makes you excited to go to work. All of our kids have managed to do that, Luke has a very successful audio-visual business, Sarah and Nick work with very challenged kids in Portland, and Michael works for a major talent agency while honing his skills as a sculptor and animator.

So much naches, we are just bursting with parental pride as Charley is following in their footsteps, making his dreams come true.

Sharon Van Etten band and Charley