Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Alexander Haig

Alexander Haig led a multi-storied career. A graduate of Lower Merion High School and West Point Academy, he went on to be a Presidential Candidate, a famous general, supreme allied commander of Nato, Nixon's Chief of Staff, and Reagan's Secretary of State.

March 30 marks the anniversary of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. When we interviewed General Alexander Haig, in his beautiful, lush Washington, DC office, it was during the time of the Clinton impeachment. His time was in demand from journalists and TV reporters because of his connection with the Nixon impeachment. But, he graciously freed up a whole afternoon for us. His secretary told us that he had been interviewed in the morning by ABC news and CBS news and when Fox news asked for an appointment in the afternoon, "he told them no. I'm meeting with Selma and Ed Davis."

We drove to Washington, DC from our Lower Merion home, and arrived in plenty of time for our 1:00 appointment. But, there was no place to park. All the garages had "full" signs and forget about getting a place on the street. In desperation, Edgar ran out of the car, up to his office, knocked on the door, and asked for help in parking. His secretary called for Haig's assistant, Mr. Goldberg, who went to the garage, spoke to the attendant, and told us that the Ambassador from one of the African countries would move his car to accommodate us.

To start with the Reagan assassination attempt, General Haig told us that he was in his office (Secretary of State), when the news came on. He turned on the TV and heard a White House representative answering questions - "Is the President alive?" "I don't know." "Where is the Vice President?" Same answer, "I don't know." "Has the military been put on high alert?" Again, "I don't know." "Have we spoken to Russia?" Again, "I don't know."

General Haig told us that he remembered the Kennedy assassination and the turmoil in the country immediately following. He said that he wanted to put an end to any panic that might arise. Vice President Bush was in Texas, and was put on a plane and headed back to Washington, but meanwhile, no one appeared to have any authority.

He told us that he ran up the stairs to the media room, arrived breathless, snatched the microphone from the uninformed white house spokesperson, and said, "I am in charge." His motivation was to reassure the American people that everything would be OK and that someone was looking after the government until the Vice President arrived.

We talked about the Nixon tapes. "I told him that the tapes were his and that he should destroy them before they became public knowledge and caused a furor." Nixon's answer to Haig was one that he had heard before in his lifetime, "Oh, Alex. what do you know? You're not a lawyer." Haig said that he thought Nixon wanted to keep the tapes for his memoirs.

When Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, early into Reagan's presidency, Haig told us that Reagan called for an immediate meeting of his Cabinet. Vice President, George Bush rushed into the room and said, "Israel has to be punished for this." Reagan asked all the Cabinet Secretaries for their opinions and looked from one to another, around the table. "I was the last one to speak and all of the other Secretaries, except the Secretary of Commerce, wanted to condemn Israel. I said, one day Mr. President, you will get down on your knees and thank Israel for this heroic act." According to Haig, with that, Reagan slammed down his papers, stood up, and stormed out of the room. "We didn't know what to do. Should we stay? Should we leave? While we were discussing our options, the President returned and said - Al is right. Let's give Israel all the help it needs."

Haig had many close calls in his life. He remembered one time, as head of NATO when his driver had a very heavy foot on the accelerator. "That saved my life," he said because "just after we flew across a bridge, it blew up."

While head of NATO, he received word that his mother was close to death in a Princeton, NJ hospital. He flew in, still dressed in his Supreme Allied Commander uniform, no problem getting a plane, and arrived at her hospital room. She recognized him, immediately and said, "Oh, Alex, if you had only studied the law, you could have made something of yourself." And those were her last words.

Memories, 1942-45

Edgar graduated from Philadelphia's Central High School in 1945, class of 184, and can positively confirm German POW's occupied an armory behind CHS. The squat 2-story brick building looked like what it was supposed to be - a place to house ammunition.

WWII and the draft called for 18 year olds to register. Some of Edgar's classmates just missed being in the Battle of the Bulge. To physically prepare for Boot Camp, emphasis was put on fitness. Wait until you read the rest of this. It sounds almost like today's preachings.

Starting in late winter in 1944, twice a week, each PE class ran in single file, up the long and steep hill, passed LaSalle, turned left, and ran through a wooded area. We ran past the National Guard Armory which occupied about a block, including grounds and the building. This armory housed about 60 or 70 German POWs. Most of them ignored us but some of them looked at us through the barbed wire fence. Of course, they were guarded by armed military who stood around, observing.

The POWs wore light khaki uniforms with light khaki ball caps. The guards wore army uniforms. It was rumored that these POW's had been part of Rommel's Afrika Corps.

They looked harmless and were nothing to fear. Edgar personally had an experience with a Nazi family when he was only 6 years old. After visiting with blond and blue-eyed Wilma, and playing with her elaborate train set, he noticed two decorations on the wall. Remember, he was only 6 and oblivious to world events. What did he know? When Edgar's mother heard the story, she paled and told him never to go there again. The decorations were a Nazi swastika flag and a giant picture of Hitler.

This took place in Philadelphia in the year 1933.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Paint the Town Red

The expression, paint the town red, has an interesting origin and the story goes as follows:

One night, a long, long time ago, the Marquis of Waterford had a "jolly good time" in town and was quite inebriated. On his way back to his Castle, where, by the way, the English King signed the Magna Carta, he found a can of red paint. So the story goes. This Marquis thought it would be a wonderful idea to paint all the toll booths between the town and the Castle red. He did, and thus, the expression, "paint the town red."

This was told to us by Lord Tyrone Beresford, the current Marquis of Waterford. We met him at a lavish party in Honolulu. He looked the part of a jolly Irishman with slightly graying red hair and a beautiful, quite young blond. on each arm. They told us that they had just met him at the hotel bar and he was "a lot of fun."

We were invited to this party to have a taste of real old time Hawaii. Beautiful people, gorgeous clothes, lavish food, unending drinks, nonstop music - and all with the Pacific Ocean at the edge of the lush property.

Daniel Fishkin's funeral

We were watching golf on Sunday afternoon when we heard the mournful sound of the bagpipe wafting through the air. At first, we thought it was from the golf game because the leader was Laird, from Scotland. But no, the bagpipe sound came from across the street, from the Bala Avenue Playground.

We went to investigate and found a bagpipe player, and a young man standing near the tennis courts, with about 15 people looking at them. During a moment of silence, which became longer and longer and longer, I asked one of the onlookers what this was all about. "It's a funeral," he said, "and a birthday party." He then handed me a program that said, "the Death of the Old Me," and on the inside it said, "funeral, silence, birthday."

This was too much, even for us old guys who thought they had seen everything.

His mother, Lana Fishkin, said that this was entirely her son's idea and invited us up the street to interview Daniel. "We live in Bala Cynwyd," she said, a propos of nothing.

We walked up to Avril's, sat down at a cloth draped table, and tried to figure out what Daniel Fishkin was up to.

"What was so terrible about your first 25 years that you wanted to buy them?" A giggle, followed by a shrug, and finally an answer of "nothing."

"What do you plan to do with the birth of the next 25 years?" Another giggle, another shrug, and then "what I have always done."

Elizabeth Taylor was late to her own funeral, by her own request. It's obvious, she never met Daniel Fishkin who attended his own funeral on Sunday afternoon at the Bala Avenue Playground. According to Fishkin, this was a celebration of the death of his first 25 years and the birth of his next 25 years. "I wanted an excuse to do something meaningful with my friends," he said at his party at Avril's on Bala Avenue. "The first 25 years are gone." When asked about his plans for the nexrt 25 years, he giggled inappropriately and said that he planned to continue his life.

He hired Charlie Rutan to play the bagpipes at the ceremony at the Playground. "Why the playground?" "I used to come here as a kid and play but I always thought it was a cemetery," Fishkin said.

As a pefrformance artist, he has performed "all over the United States and in Germany." Doing what? Another giggle and this strikingly thin long-haired man said, "I prefer not to answer."

There were three other questions that he "preferred not to answer." What kind of performance art do you do; where can one see him in performance. and what do you do for money? A friend of his came over, must have seen that he was in distress, and said that "it's time for you to join the party, Daniel." She said that he teaches (what? - no answer) and translates (what? - again no answer).

He graduated from Friends Central, class of '04 and Bard College, class of '09.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Donald Trump

He said he has a spare six hundred million dollars lying around that he could spend on a run for President as a Republican.

OK, so he has a lot of money. But, even though he is a graduate of Penn's Wharton, he is an IDIOT and you can tell him that I said so.

He said that he has a small doubt, and he put his thumb and forefinger about 1/2 inch apart, that our President, Barack Obama was born in the United States.

He is pandering, plain and simple to the far right conservatives. This is the same group that thinks more of Charlie Sheen than of Sarah Palin, in political terms.

I have seen Barack Obama's birth certificate and I don't have access to any special secret documents. I have seen Barack Obama's birth announcement in the "Honolulu Advertiser" (now the "Star Advertiser"). What's wrong with Donald Trump?

He is an embarassment to all of us who are Universityy of Pennsylvania graduates. I don't even trust his financial dealings. He has come close to declaring bankruptcy at least two times that I remember.

I hope we are all smart enough not to be fooled and seduced by his money. We should never think that just because he has money and came from a welathy family, and inherited the start of his fortune that he wants to promote and preserve the interests of all the American people.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gender Equality

I am 71 years old. When I was in junior high school (Bala Cynwyd) and high school (Lower Merion) I played the cello in the orchestras and I played the flute for fun because only boys were allowed to be in the bands. I resented the discrimination, but I was young, and didn't know what to do about it except to accept it.

When I was a senior in college (University of Pennsylvania), and had already received an NIMH fellowship for graduate school, I had an interview with the admitting committee for psychology at the U of P. I had already been accepted into Phi Beta Kappa and was graduating with honors and distinction. The only question that I remember from that interview was: "why should we give the spot to you, a woman. You'll just get married and have children and never use the education."

My blood boiled internally, but I will never forget my answer: "because I am smarter than any of the BOYS who have applied."

That ended the interview and they accepted me on the spot.

There has been a lot of progress in these 50 years. Bands are now open to both boys and girls. Women have been elected to strong and powerful political positions in the world. Most of the emphasis for gender equality has appeared in the athletic departments (Title IX has done that). But still, there is discrimination against women when it comes to payment for work. Women make less than men for the same jobs, the same time, energy, and ability invested.

And still, 50 years later, I am struck with the lack of gender equality that has been ingrained forever. In religious services, God is not referred to in gender neutral terms. God is called King, Lord, He, Etc. God could be referred to as Sovereign, Ruler, All=knowing, Etc. This is not an argument I care to pursue at the moment. I think it would be like knocking my head against the wall - you know - it would feel good when I stopped. But maybe someone with a lot of time on her hands and a lot more energy than I have right now will be able to explain how gender neutrality has to be incorporated into every part of life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Al Capone

A newcomer to the old neighborhood (West Oak Lane, Philadelphia) recently arrived from Brooklyn. He was a friendly guy and joined us teenagers at the corner Drug Store. He ordered a Coke, sat down at the counter with us, and started talking. Actually, he started listening as we prattled on and on about the Jimmy Cagney movie that we had just seen at the Lane. When he could no longer take our inane conversation he said, "wait a minute boys. I'll tell you a real life story that you might see one day in the movies."

Several years ago, I was seated at my favorite table in a restaurant in Brooklyn. Everybody knew me because my brother was District Attorney. Suddenly, two strangers burst through the door, asked the owner where I was and sat at my table. I didn't know them from Adam. I had never seen them before. The next thing I knew, the door opened and half a dozen of Brooklyn's fineest cops brust in, guns drawn. They handcuffed the three of us and took us to the police station. They embarassed me in front of my friends at the restaurant.

I called my brother, the DA and he arranged for the three of us, me and my two unknown buddies, to be released immediately; providing the police escorted the two strangers out of town. The police put them on the Twentieth Century Limited to Chicago.

My brother told me that they were two of Al Capone's Lieutenants. Why they were in Brooklyn was a mystery to my brother. But they must have known that my brother was the DA because they knew where to find me and asked for me by name.

The very next day, a total stranger came into the same restaurant, sat at my table, and wanted to know what he could do for me. He had an envelope that he tried to give me. I turned him down immediately. I knew that if I accepted the envelope I would be forever beholden to Capone and the mob. This stranger gave me his card and said that if I were ever in Chicago, or knew anyone in Chicago who required his assistance, just to ring up the number.

Several weeks later, my Chicago cousins got in touch with me and told me that they were in trouble. Not that kind of trouble. Not police trouble. They owned and operated a fruit and vegetable store that was profitable enough for them but they weren't getting rich - just surviving well. They said that the empty store next to them had been rented to a family that intended to sell fruits, vegetables, and groceries. The new owner waylaid me one morning, in front of my store, and told me that this block wasn't big enough for both of our stores, and I should consider selling out to him and his four sons. He said that he would feel just terrible if anything happened to me or my wife.

My cousins told me that he and his wife are very afraid and don't know what to do. I told them not to worry. That I had a friend in Chicago who might be able to help. Later that day, I called the number on the card and explained the situation to a man who did not identify himself on the phone but who knew who I was.

The next day, my cousin called, and said "I don't know what you did, but thanks. The store next door had been emptied out during the night, and was for rent." As far as I was concerned, that was the end of it. But not for Al Capone and his gang.

A few days later, my cousin called again, with a new problem. A stranger showed up at the wholesale produce auction and told me that he would show me how to shop. And he did. When he bid, always very low, the bidding stopped. Nobody bid against him. My cousin said that he didn't want that kind of service. He asked me to try to stop the help.

Again, I called the number on the business card. I thanked whoeveer answered the phone and said that I now considered us even. And please tell Mr. Capone that he owes me nothing more.

We all sat, mesmerized by his story, talked about it a little after he finished his Coke and left. And that was the last time that we West Oak Lane boys discussed Al Capone in a personal way.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Co-workers we've known

Fortunately for all concerned, we are retired and intend to stay that way. But, every once in a while, a story pops into our minds of the crazies that worked along side us.

The rumor mill at a large, very large office goes into overdrive at the hint of salaciousness. An unmarried woman confided to one coworker that she was pregnant and the whole company knew it within 30 minutes. Obviously, she confided in a nonfriend. Another woman made it known that she was "on the pill" and she later quit because the man with whom she took a bath bragged and she felt humiliated. To miquote Judge Judy just a little, "one should never do anything that could not appear in the front window at Macy's." And still, a dubiously endowed man lured a woman into a sample home, she reported him, and he received three days off without pay. He was indignant. "I never heard of such a thing," he said. "Have you ever heard of being fired?" asked his boss.

You have to remember that these seemingly innocent enough events today, took place in the dark ages of sexual liberation. The pill was knew. Unmarried women never admitted their pregnancy and then went out of state "to take care of an elderly aunt." Men never heard of law suits for sexual harrassment.

A manager in this large company with a huge diversity of employees flaunted a standard sized confederate flag on his wall. He was told that numerous complaints required him to remove the flag. He was incensed. "What about my freedom of expression?" He was told that he could express his freedom for another company or take his flag down. After this, a company-wide edict declated that there could be nothing on the walls, nothing at all.

Fortunately, we retired before the age of computers and email. We can't even begin to imagine the ruckus that we would have witnessed in the cyberspace age.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Can Fox TV tell the truth?


This is the link to read how palm trees are now growing in Madison, WI.
Fox TV aired a piece from Washington, DC about the unrest in Madison because of Governor Walker's promise to eliminate collective bargaining with state employees except for wages. Fox showed a clip of people with signs, leos on horseback, and palm trees. That's right. Palm trees. Remember that Madison, WI is in the heart of blizzard country. Spring doesn't really come to Madison until some time in May. Turns out that the clip that Fox showed was really from a rally in sunny California.

If Fox would only tell the truth, and not be so duplicitous and mendacious, perhaps the rest of us would know what is really going on in Wisconsin. Of course, there are and always will be problems between union and management. Each group wants more for itself and less for the other. Unions want the final say on work rules, working conditions, benefits, vacations, sick days, pension contributions, health care contributions, and so on. Management wants the final say on those same items of controversy. The answer must be somewhere in the middle. But, if Fox news is the only source of information for those unfortunate souls who rely on it, then vision of the whole world is skewed.

And, I repeat my question. What was Fox news thinking? When one of our grandchildren was three years old and did something that was not within the set of approved actions, our grandchild said, "Oh gee, Mom. I didn't think you would notice." Can we assume that Fox news has the mental age of a 3-year-old - although a very gifted 3-year-old - and that no one would notice the palm trees in the video clip. Doesn't the FTC have the power to control that what is presented as true and news is not lies and fiction?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Are all Republicans liars?

Last night, a young, good looking man rang our doorbell and asked us (one of us is registered Republican, the other Democrat) if we would sign two petitions to get the people on the ballot. The registered Republican of us agreed and the other one of us talked and listened.

He said that he is and has been a conservative; that when he was at Penn he was called a Nazi because of his political views; that he admires Sarah Palin and wants to be the next Rush Limbaugh. We asked if that included Limbaugh's drug use and racism? He excused the accused racism (Limbaugh said that Donovan McNabb got his star quarterback position because of his race) - said that it was media generated - and he denied any knowledge of Limbaugh's drug use. He said that he wants to be a multimillionaire, ala Limbaugh.

Then, he went on to find fault with the millions of dollars that are being budgeted for library upkeep in Lower Merion. "We don't need all this greening," he said. To stop our dependence on foreign oil, we should "drill baby drill." We pointed out the mess caused by BP in the Gulf of Mexico and he just shrugged.

He omitted some important data from the library "greening." The Bala Cynwyd Library roof is leaking, and the HVAC system is in desperate need of repairs or replacement. In, what we find to be typical Republican style, he omitted, either on purpose or accidentally, those facts. To repair the library would cost money. To "green" the library costs money. He did not know nor care to comment on how long it would take to recover the expense of the environmentally friendly upgrade.

We never asked him where he thought Obama was born. We really hope that he would say Hawaii. Huckabee said Hawaii right before he said that Obama grew up in Kenya and admired the Maumau's. Later on, a Huckabee sycophant said that Huckabee misspoke and he meant to say Indonesia. As far as we know, there are no Maumau's in Indonesia.

Palin said that she would run for President only if there are no other people willing to take the risk and fix the economy. Does that mean that this Tina Fey wannabe knows how to fix the US economy and she's keeping it a secret? Remember during the Viet Nam war, when Richard Nixon was running for President and he said he had a secret plan for ending the war? And then he didn't. He should have written it down.

I never thought I would quote Judge Judy but, I guess the only way to tell if Republicans are lying is to watch their lips.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Charlie Sheen

In the late autumn of 1995, we went to the opening of Planet Hollywood in Waikiki. The featured ribbon cutter was Charlie Sheen. Mayor of Honolulu, Jeremy Harris spoke to the crowd and emphasized how the confidence shown by the Planet Hollywood backers in the thriving economy of Honolulu would generate ripples of economic upturns throughout all of Hawaii. Mayor Harris even went so far as to say that this would reverberate throughout the whole United States, even on the main land, he joked. Mayor Harris was just filling in time until Charlie Sheen arrived, almost an hour late. He looked terrible - pale, disheveled, and very, very thin. But the small crowd, less than 40 people, greeted him with polite applause. He apologized for being late, stumbled through some words, blamed his lack of composure on jet lag and the long flight he had just taken from California. He also said, while shuffling as if embarrassed, that he was not used to speaking without a script that had been written for him. It was hard to tell if he was high, sleepy, drunk, or telling the truth.

Then, as promised, Charlie Sheen signed a Planet Hollywood ball cap with a Sharpie pen and tossed it into the crowd. Right at me, sort of. It was windy, and I was holding onto my broad brimmed sun hat with one hand and leaped high into the air and caught the cap with my other hand. Edgar said that it waas at least two feet over my head when I came down with it. The mayor said that I out-jumped at least 20 teen-age girls and then Mayor Harris asked if I had been a ringer at short stop for one of the major league baseball teams.

I still have the cap. It has not gotten lost or misplaced, yet.