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The Constant Columnist

A potpourri by visitors to our site. No theme, no premise, no specific topic. To contribute, send your piece in an email ( Attach a headshot and if appropriate, an illustrative graphic.

Beatrice Williams-Rude
Beatrice Williams-Rude

Formerly on the copy desks of the New York Post and the New York Daily News, Beatrice was a book reviewer for Variety and she freelances as a researcher, copy editor, book reviewer, and writer.

11/2018 - Fake News in History

While the term "fake news" may have been coined by Donald Trump, the practice of disseminating misinformation to sway public opinion manifests throughout history. As Sun Tzu noted in The Art of War in the Sixth century BC: "All warfare is based on deception."

President McKinley told the American people that the USS Maine had been sunk in Havana Harbor by a Spanish mine. The American people, outraged by this apparently unprovoked attack, supported the Spanish-American War. The Captain of the USS Maine had insisted the ship was sunk by a coal bin explosion; investigations after the war proved that such had indeed been the case. There had been no mine.

The American public was led to believe that the Lusitania was solely a passenger liner, but the speed with which she sank supported claims that her hold was filled with heavy armaments. However, the sinking was used to fan the flames of war and prepare the US public to support entry into WWI.

The Reichstag fire in 1933 is another case in point. By claiming—falsely—that the arsonists were part of a Communist conspiracy Hitler marshalled public support, suspended civil liberties and extended his power.

In 1947, Dean Acheson opined that it was sometimes necessary when dealing with the US Congress, to make arguments "clearer than the truth." "Fake news" by any name?

In 1964 only two senators saw that the Tonkin Gulf Resolution was predicated on spurious information - the so-called Tonkin Gulf Incident - and voted against it: Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon and Sen. Earnest Gruening of Alaska. By the time others joined them, most notably Sens. William Fulbright, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, the US was deeply mired in Southeast Asia. The Resolution had given President Johnson the legal cover to pour men and matériel into that beleaguered little country, popular opinion at home notwithstanding. As young draftees were forced to fight a war to which they objected and anti-war sentiments surged, one remembered Tennyson's take on the Crimean war: "theirs not to reason why theirs but to do or die and into the Valley of Death rode the 600" - this time, more like the 600,000.

And what did we learn from the Vietnam debacle? Little, it would seem, given what followed.

Throughout late 2001, 2002, and early 2003, the Bush Administration worked to build a case for invading Iraq, citing, among other dubious claims that the Iraqis were attempting to buy "yellow cake"(uranium) in Niger-subsequently disputed by Ambassador Joe Wilson, who paid dearly for his honesty. Shortly after the invasion, the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies largely discredited evidence related to Iraqi weapons as well as links to Al-Qaeda. Opinion polls showed that people of many countries opposed a war without UN mandate and the view of the United States as a danger to world peace significantly increased. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the war as illegal, saying in a September 2004 interview that it was "not in conformity with the Security Council".

Accusations of faulty evidence and shifting rationales became the focal point for critics of the war, who charged that the Bush Administration purposely fabricated evidence to justify an invasion that it had long planned.  

False rumors led to lynching-the Ox-Bow Incident became the basis for the Henry Fonda film of the same name-and current-day India is undergoing a tidal wave based on unproven allegations of child abduction.

So it would seem, sadly: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

04/2018 - The Inner Circle lampoon: ‘Curb Your Narcissism’

The Inner Circle is the NYC  political writers’ group that annually presents a lampoon show to which the mayor offers a rebuttal (the NYC version of Washington’s Gridiron dinner). This year’s event, titled Curb Your Narcissism, took place April 21 at the New York Hilton Midtown.  Arguably the hottest ticket in town despite its $1,000 per plate price tag; inarguably it’s even hotter for the pols being roasted.

The reporters write and perform portraying various public figures. Inner Circle membership is by invitation only.

The most effective offerings tend to use Broadway show music. An especially successful duet was Kirsten Gillibrand, played by lovely and always dependable Mary Alice Williams, and Hillary Clinton, whose anger, resentment and sense of entitlement were perfectly captured by Samantha Elbaum. The music was “Rose’s Turn,” from Gypsy and the new lyrics were remarkably faithful to the original as was the emotional thrust.

A male duet with Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden nicely  played by Bob Liff and Mark Lieberman, didn’t sizzle because the writers chose to focus on their comparable age rather than their disparate political stances. The music was no driving force either.

The  opening of the second act featured a rousing chorus of “Convictions,” think “Traditions” from Fiddler on the Roof. Here “convictions” didn’t refer to deeply held beliefs, but rather to the wages of criminal activity.

“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea” (“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”) was sung by Trump, Kim and “Von Trapp Family Singers” most effectively. Donald Trump was played by Alice Stockton-Rossini;  Kim Jong-un by Carole Zimmer.

How the Inner Circle has changed: From women being denied membership and female guests, no matter their status, consigned to the balcony (When New York Post reporter Ed Katcher was president of the Inner Circle, his publisher, Dolly Schiff, was not permitted to sit with the other publishers. She had to sit in the balcony with the women. Men couldn’t even visit. Rumor had it that an editor of the Journal American, drunk, went to the balcony to visit a wife not his own and a ruckus ensued. So guards were assigned to the balcony in subsequent years.) to women playing male characters and the four top Inner Circle officers being women.

Rich Lamb was an elegant Mayor de Blasio, despite there being little physical resemblance. Larry Seary ran the gamut playing Rex Tillerson, a boat captain, and Melania Trump’s father.

Melissa Russo was enchanting playing Alicia Glen and, referring to city council members, singing “Not That Smart” (“Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me Kate). Savatore Arena was a hoot as Columbus, singing his lament, to the tune of “That’s Amore.”  

The Cynthia Nixon segment was particularly fun with the Sex and the City girls: Magee Hickey as Cynthia playing Miranda; Kirstin Cole as Samantha; Jennifer McLogan as Charlotte and Kathleen Horan as Carrie.

Kathy Beaver was the splendid musical director, and Shelley Strickler did her directorial magic, turning eager amateurs into close to seasoned pros.

Bill de Blasio’s rebuttal could be seen as validating a certain thrust in Curb Your Narcissism which suggested that the mayor’s wife, Chirlane McCray had political ambitions: She sang a straight version of “What the World Needs Now” is love, sweet love… and sang it very well.

The mayor seems to have a little stock company that does his Inner Circle stint each year including  Julie Halston and Anthony Antonucci, this time with the addition of several cast members ofCome From Away. The Upper East Side doyenne made her annual appearance hilariously. The exchange between Bill de Blasio and “Donald Trump” was spot on thanks in large part to the splendid writing and “Trump’s” unerring ear, mimicking the cadences of The Donald’s speech. Bill de Blasio’s self-deprecating humor was disarming, comme toujours.

  This year’s Inner Circle show was dedicated to three Inner Circle stalwarts, who went to that big newsroom in the sky: Gabe Pressman; Larry Sutton and Mickey Carroll. They will be sorely missed.   

11/2017 - The New Isolation: Together, but Alone
By Beatrice Williams-Rude

Never in human history have the means of communication been so numerous and easily accessible. But has this resulted in more enlightened discourse? Or have the means become the end?

One sees couples in restaurants, each with eyes focused on his/her smart phone, no conversation taking place. (To be fair, many restaurants are so noisy being heard across the table is difficult, if not impossible.)

Chatting with neighbors while waiting for or being in the elevator is less usual as people are either involved with an i-Pad or encased in head phones. We pay our bills by phone and shop on the Internet lessening interpersonal exchanges.

Given the proliferation of 90-minute plays, exchanging opinions with fellow theater-goers during intermissions is hardly possible because there are no intermissions.

Furthermore, as free-lancing increases and the work-week is ever more flexible, family meals together and the ensuing conversation become infrequent. In addition, workplace bonding is hardly possible as people move from one work site to another.

An unmarried friend asked about "streaming," wanting to know why  I don't indulge. To be kind I told a half-truth, that the image was just too small. True enough, but the underlying reason is that it's a solitary activity; I watch TV with my husband.

Decades ago it was predicted that TV would ruin communication within the home. However, while watching "the vast wasteland" with one's spouse, one comments about what's on the screen, holds hands (impossible for those whose hands are holding the ubiquitous smart phone) and discusses viewing choices and news stories.

Is it possible to analyze complex situations in 140 characters? Can a tweet ever be more than an alert?

In order to assess anything, one must have the facts. However, as the communications media consolidate, social media spawns and the information world is ever more fragmented.

More choice? Definitely. But the downside is that people can find the site that reflects their opinions and remain in this comfort zone without ever being challenged. How then can consensus be achieved?

Exacerbating non-communication matters is the loose use of language. We need to define our terms. "Liberal"? What does it connote? "Socialist" is used as an accusation, an assault, by those who would be hard-pressed to explain its meaning.

The idea that people can be prisoners of their toys has been addressed before, comically in Gian Carlo Menotti's short opera, The Telephone, in which a man is trying to propose and the woman is so focused on her new toy that he can't get her attention—until he reaches her via her plaything. He leaves, then he calls on the telephone.

The concept of a lonely crowd has also been explored before, but never has the phenomenon be so widespread or with such potentially dire consequences. In Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom heposits that when disconnected people can no longer cope with their solitary state and subsequent responsibility—sole responsibility--for making choices among myriad possibilities, they may opt for totalitarianism to provide simple answers and structure. 

05/2017 - BREXIT & US: A Personal Perspective

When, in a largely two-party political system, the electorate views the major contenders as little different, or rigged, there are few means to express dissatisfaction until a weapon is provided, in the UK case, the referendum on EU membership. As both Conservative and Labour MPs campaigned to "remain," the seething populace used the only tool at its disposal to strike at the establishment.

But was reaction solely about the perceived sins of the European Union?

On our last trip to Britain my husband, Alan, had business in the north-Durham, Sheffield and environs. On the previous visit, Alan's cousins had shown us around Blackpool, Preston, the Lakes country, "the edge" and local restaurants and pubs. One of the cousins had never been to London, another only once.

This time we were in an area of farms and factories as well as manor houses, including the largest in Europe, Wentworth Woodhouse, dating from the 1500s, built by the father of Sir Thomas Wentworth, first Earl of Strafford and an ancestor of Alan's, and Wortley Hall, built by Sir Richard Wortley in 1586, but after WWII, when its owners could no longer afford it, it was purchased by a consortium of trade unions, including the British version of Actors Equity, becoming "labour's stately home." Wortley Hall differs from other manor houses only in those whose portraits adorn the walls-heroes of the labor movement, including Robert Owen. Newspaper clippings about strikes and other matters concerning labor are also featured on the walls.

This is the English heartland, as far culturally from cosmopolitan London as is New York City from the US Plains States.

As Alan and I watched the results of the Brexit vote coming in, county by county, a pattern emerged. Alan was surprised by the final tally, I, who'd been in closer touch with our UK contingent, was not.

There was a curious juxtaposition: when nominally liberal Tony Blair was plucking right-wing W's chestnuts from the Iraq fire, we Americans were cool with that. However, when nominally liberal President Obama was trying to return the favor to conservative David Cameron, the British reaction was outrage. Of course there was the threat-of having to go to the back of the line on trade. One of Alan's business associates in the Sheffield area, who'd become a friend, sent me a blistering e-mail the likes of which I'd never seen. He spoke of his pride in being English, "this sceptered isle," of the banner of St. George, not the Union Jack, of history, and his rage at foreign meddling. (We now know something about that.) He later wrote an ameliorating note saying he didn't hold me responsible.

Then responses from Alan's kin arrived offering a microcosm of the electoral map. Whether Tory or Labour, from the area perhaps 40 miles north of London right up to Hadrian's Wall the "leave" vote was so huge it overwhelmed the Scots' majority to "remain," as well as those in Wales and Northern Ireland.

It was the "why" that was most interesting. There was a migrant factor-and I'd heard this well before the referendum-which included taking benefits but not contributing, and the fear of unassimilating minorities attempting to impose their own law codes-Shari'a law.

It was also about David Cameron's austerity measures including cuts to the NHS (National Health Service) and privatizing government services, including the post office, about which we'd heard week after week on "Questions to the Prime Minister" on C-SPAN.

But what I'd seen in private e-mails and not spoken by the pols and pundits was the resentment toward the Germans. The leit motif was that Britain had fought two World Wars against Germany winning at a frightful cost. And now, Germany was seen as quietly becoming powerful again. Even a woman who said she'd swallow hard and accept the trade deals, rebelled at the thought German dominance, with Frankfurt becoming a financial center. This was coming largely from the generation who had fought WWII, or whose parents or grandparents had. These are the people who would "fight them[Nazis] on the beaches . in the fields ..[who would] never surrender."

The memories, still raw, were almost certainly intensified in recent weeks by commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the WWI battles of Jutland, Verdun and the Somme.

Of our friends who were "remain" voters, most were either Londoners, or ex-pats living around the world. Full disclosure: I have an EU passport which, when Brexit is implemented, will no longer permit me to live and work in the UK-or England (should Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain, secede from the UK).

12/2015 - Worldwide Migration: Past Policies, Present Problems (opinion)

The worldwide migration of populations is being addressed in a manner akin to trying to stop a pot that’s boiling over by clamping down the lid instead of turning off the flame and attempting to deal with what’s fueling the fire: War.

Whether it’s our misguided war on drugs that’s turned Latin American nations into battlefields sending terrified residents trying by any means whatever to get into the US, or armed conflicts in the Middle East and Africa propelling millions to risk life and limb to get to Europe, the underlying thrust is flight from war.

However, we’ve not probed the past policies that have produced the present problems. In nearly every place in which we intervened militarily post-WWII the law of unintended consequences has manifested.

In Iran in 1953 we (the British and the US) deposed democratically elected Mossadegh and re-installed the Shah. Came the inevitable revolution in 1979, we reaped the ayatollahs, with whom we’re still having to cope.

Newly revealed CIA documents, courtesy the FOIA, reveal the US role in the 1954 coup in Guatemala that toppled democratically elected Jacopo Arbenz. (Why? He came afoul of United Fruit, in which both John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles had an interest.)

Then there was Vietnam, and “secretly,” Cambodia and Laos. Yet not even the knowledge that the Tonkin Gulf Resolution — the legal fig leaf that was supposed to legitimatize our military actions in Vietnam - was based on a lie averted our being lied into attacking Iraq. Whether directly by boots on the ground and air strikes, or indirectly by supporting surrogates, the results of our interference have been disastrous, further destabilizing the region. Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan: all are producers of refugees.

We invaded Iraq and set the stage for ISIS. Our great ally, Saudi Arabia, is bombing Yemen, and sending the population fleeing. This is a religious war in which we should have no part. The Sunni Saudis are attempting to eradicate the Houthlis, who are Shi’a.

Christendom had several hundred years of religious wars, many centuries if one considers the Inquisition (1208) and the extermination of several million Albigensian “heretics” across northern Spain, Southern France and northern Italy. Only when the various sects finally realized that they couldn’t eliminate one another did the process of accommodation begin.

Islam is in such throes now. It is not in anyone’s best interest to take sides, yet the US clearly favors the Sunnis, having long been hostage to Saudi Arabia’s oil. So we turn a blind eye to Saudi atrocities while condemning the same acts when committed by the Shi’a. As these wars rage, one population after another flees, creating refugees, some within whatever nation, some crossing borders. As to the millions of migrants illegally in the US: While we’ve never been a major colonial power we’ve been “economic royalists” south of the border, which Gen. Smedley Butler notes in his essay “War Is a Racket” listing the nations he “made safe” for various US corporations. “I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”

Our School of Americas, called by many “School of Assassins,” taught more the 64,000 Latin American soldiers techniques in sniping, counter-insurgency and psychological warfare—torture, which they then used against their own people. (Ironic: The only place to escape US predation is in the US.)

And our devastating and futile “war on drugs” is just another example of the arrogance of power—attempting to solve our problems on the soil of others, trying to stop the production instead of dealing with the demand in the US. Did we learn nothing from Prohibition?

THE PAST IS PROLOGUE: How many Americans know that the US was among 15 nations that attempted to suppress the Russian Revolution? Precious few, I wager. But every Russian knows. People tend to resent foreigners attempting to meddle, bloodily, in their revolutions and they have long memories, which, by and large, Americans do not. Yet that doesn’t stop us. When the Soviets were fighting in Afghanistan, which was, after all, on their border, we armed the Taliban. The Taliban subsequently used those weapons against us.

And another bitter irony propels the question “Why are we there?” Our troops in Afghanistan were ordered not to interfere as our clients raped young boys. It was “cultural” they were told. When some soldiers tried to stop the horror they were penalized for disobeying orders. By doing so didn’t the army, didn’t the US, violate the Nuremberg ruling that 'I was only following orders' was no excuse. The US is punishing those who did the moral/ethical thing. And in yet another absurdity, the deservedly despised Taliban stopped the rapes when it was in power.

When the powers of Europe attempted to subvert the French Revolution Napoleon emerged and conquered most of those who’d been trying to crush the revolution. Intervening in other people’s revolutions, and their internal affairs generally, can have profoundly unpleasant consequences. In the cases of both American and Mediterranean migrants, we’ve looked at the various streams flooding the delta, but not upstream at what’s feeding the flow. Until we remember history we cannot learn from it, and thus are doomed to repeat it.

10/2015 - "Razzle Dazzle" or The Battle For Broadway (Book review)

“Razzle Dazzle,” Michael Riedel’s book subtitled “The Battle for Broadway”, is lighting up the Great White Way like thousand suns. Rich with laugh-out-loud anecdotes, this meticulously researched history of Broadway and Times Square starts even before the latter acquired its present moniker, when it was Longacre Square. It’s a must-read not only for theater professionals and theater-goers, it’s for every reporter who ever covered Times Square, when it was grime/slime/crime square to the present. It goes from “The Black Crook” to “The Phantom of the Opera.”

The famous and infamous include mayors John Lindsay, Abe Beame, David Dinkins and Ed Koch, prosecutors Louis Lefkowitz and Maurice Nadjari, among others The book is peppered with pithy quotes, expletives NOT deleted. Historians, urbanologists, sociologists, psychologists, celebrity freaks and newspeople of every medium (some of whom are named) will find this tome enthralling. While there are many insider references, all are succinctly explained. The reader is always in the loop.

There are pages of photographs, some seemingly from private collections, and the text is rife with star performers. Those who know Michael Riedel from his New York Post column and Theater Talk appearances may be astonished at the comprehensiveness of the work and by its serious tone. No snarkiness—“the Beast of Broadway,” “that Napoleonic little Nazi”--can really write. I’d say this is a scholarly tome but I fear discouraging readers. It is, however, scholarly—and fun.

The cast of characters could have stepped off the pages of Damon Runyan. There’s John Shubert—was he or wasn’t he a bigamist?—and corrupt Judge di Falco who ruled for the first wife. There’s Lawrence Shubert Lawrence, always drinking at Sardi’s bar, and usually drunk. The founding Shuberts, Lee, JJ and saintly Sam, who died early, amassed a theater empire, having first crushed Abe Erlanger. Lee and JJ, joint emperors, didn’t speak to one another for decades. There were the “five o’clock girls” (think cinq à sept—more I will not say) and the various mayors, all wanting to “clean up Times Square.”

“Razzle Dazzle” is rich with details about the pols, porn, profits and payoffs. “Ice” is a major topic—illegal pricing and pocketing the difference—a plague for hit shows. The difference between the price on the ticket and that paid by the eager patron is pocketed by the seller, be it a ticket agency, box office personnel, or someone with access to house seats. The money doesn’t go to the creators, it doesn’t go the theater, it goes to the parasites.

Among the most colorful characters, and most nefarious, was Irving Goldman. His real job for the Shuberts was to look after the mayor (Abe Beame) but he was also named Cultural Affairs Commissioner of the city. Newspaperman Bob Williams, then TV columnist for the New York Post, was tapped to be Deputy Commissioner. It was understood that Goldman would be the figurehead and that Williams would do the work. At the first meeting, prior to Bob’s being confirmed, a group including Irving Goldman, “the Shuberts” and elegant producer Alex Cohen, considered what to do to make theater-goers feel safe in the crime-blighted Times Square area. More police on foot? No, couldn’t find them when needed. Ditto more patrol cars which would further congest the already congested streets. Bob Williams came up with the solution: mounted police! They’d tower above the crowds, be easy to see, and could move nimbly through the traffic. The plan was initiated and remains in force. However, scandal enveloped Irving Goldman and Bob Williams withdrew. (Full disclosure. I was married to Bob Williams.)

Even as “Razzle Dazzle” looks at the grunge, it also sees the glamour, although when viewed close-up glamour is not always what it’s cracked up to be. The reader is taken from hit to hit as well as through flops and shown how they came to be. How Betty Buckley was put through the wringer during rehearsals for “Cats.”

This book would be worth reading if it included nothing but “A Chorus Line” and the life of Michael Bennett, whom one comes to love. One wishes that the book included the revival of “A Chorus Line” and the bitterness it engendered, which almost certainly would not have been the case had Michael Bennett, not John Breglio, been in charge, if Michael Bennett had lived.

It’s somewhat baffling that in all the attention given to “Dreamgirls” and the rivalry with “Nine,” there’s not one word about The Supremes, considered by many to be the inspiration for “Dreamgirls.” The omission of any mention of “Man of La Mancha” was disappointing. It had been an honored straight play (“I, Don Quixote,” starring Lee J. Cobb, Eli Wallach and Colleen Dewhurst) and was one of the last heroic productions of Broadway’s golden age, winning five Tonys, running for years, being regularly revived on Broadway, and there’s always a production somewhere in the world. It’s not even mentioned in the section on Broadway’s global reach, although it’s particularly popular in Japan where it’s done every two or three years.

I’d thought—hoped—that “Razzle Dazzle” might successfully dispel the notion that “Man of La Mancha” is a musical version of “Don Quixote.” Emphatically it is not. Don Quixote is Cervantes’ man of La Mancha; it’s Cervantes himself who’s Dale Wasserman’s: Cervantes and his trial before the Inquisition. (Full disclosure: this writer was Dale Wasserman’s New York assistant the last seven years of his life.)

Although “Razzle Dazzle” is rich with anecdotes, some as footnotes at the bottom of pages, most require context. Here’s one that doesn’t: Bernie Jacobs, one of the post-Shubert Shuberts, was on good terms with the theatrical union people with whom he had to deal. This was particularly true of Robert McDonald of the stagehands union. Bernie Jacobs would phone McDonald periodically and say, “I hear you have an election coming up. Meet me in the alley [Shubert Alley] and we’ll yell at each other. It’ll look good for you front of your men.” One comes to feel great affection for Bernie Jacobs!

“Razzle Dazzle” has 403 pages but is brilliantly structured so it can be put down at the end of a chapter and picked up again for the next. It’s chronological and easy to follow. Despite its length, it’s easy reading and riveting. This reader wept, yes, wept, when Les Miz, about to be closed, was rescued by the box office.

“Razzle Dazzle,” published by Simon & Schuster, 445 page including acknowledgements and index, $27.

03/2015 - The Dissed Demographic

It became obvious in 1996, when CBS dropped an enormously popular show, "Murder, She Wrote", because it attracted the wrong audience, i.e. mature people, who, presumably, know their own minds and are not susceptible to advertisers' inflated claims. One might even conclude that CBS and the other networks are trying to kill off their mature audiences by converting their evening newscasts into messaging platforms for pharmaceutical companies. Ad after ad for prescription drugs that showcase smiling, happy elders, encouraging them to "ask your doctor" about one questionable concoction or other as an anonymous voice drones on and on about the litany of medical horrors a drug might induce, including death, if taken.

Network TV was designed to be sponsor-driven but the same cannot be said of the fine arts. Yet these days the quest for the holy grail, the 18-49 age group, is manifest in theater, symphony orchestras, and, most tellingly, in opera.

Plays, instead of having three acts, two intermissions and filling an evening, are frequently 90-minute affairs, geared to the attention-deficit afflicted. The over-amplification at many Broadway musicals brings into question the stereotype of the "old geezer with an ear trumpet." Rather, it's the boom-box babies who are hearing impaired, and their needs are being met to the exclusion of the hearing-intact older generation.

Symphony orchestras have beaconed the young with slashed-price tickets, largely to little avail, because the young can't/won't sit still for a concert, preferring to download the music on their iPhones, never mind the loss of sonorities and the richness of the ensembles.

Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, must have heeded the general in Vietnam who explained that we had to destroy a town in order to save it. In his much publicized quest for the golden fleece, Gelb has been destroying opera in New York, allegedly in order to save it. Why those new to opera would be more attracted to a stark, minimalist "La Traviata", re-set in the 20th century when the opera's two themes ceased to be relevant - TB is no longer a death sentence, it can be cured - and when the heir to the throne of Norway could marry a woman with an illegitimate child and a police record for drug use with nobody raising an eyebrow, who would call off a wedding because the bride-to-be's brother was involved with an "immoral" woman? For this new production, as stupid as it is ugly, the lavish, period-correct Zeffirelli production was trashed. (Zeffirelli's beautiful work was dropped for the current abomination even as was his elegant "Tosca" all the while Peter Gelb was crying poverty.)

Intermissions have been limited. "Orfeo ed Eurydice" had none, and arguably the most beautiful music in it, The Dance of the Blessed Spirits, was cut. The merging of acts and elimination of intermissions is especially hard on the Met's core supporters, people in their golden years, who cannot go for hours without using a rest room. But their needs are disregarded.

Trying to find a restaurant in which the decibel level is sufficiently low as to allow normal conversation is daunting. As restaurateurs cater to the desires of the hearing-impaired generation, those whose hearing is intact, largely the mature, suffer assaults on their ear drums.

The obituary of John Burr Fairchild, former head of what had been a publishing empire, brought it all together. Each of his elegant ladies as well as Truman Capote's "swans" - Babe Paley, Slim Keith, CZ Guest, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli - was une femme d'un certain âge, but not to be dismissed, rather to be respected and admired.

How has it come to be that the pandering to the disco-deafened has caused the dissing of the Silent Generation?

12/2014 - A Slip of the Finger and Forever on the Internet

How is that that my inbox is bursting with e-mail from right-wing blogs?

On just one morning last week I was greeted by Conservatives United, RedState Spotlight, Tea Party Politics, the Right to Bear, Preserve Freedom, Survival Joe, Tea Party Update, Personal Liberty, Erick Erickson, Tea Party Bulletin, Raise the Flag, Patriots and Politics, and Liberty 247. And what's in these missives ranges from laughable to frightening. I was offered free knives, instructions on how to make a gun and how to buy one without a serial number or registration.

One, "the Right to Bear," is a gun-fanatic's venue with an NRA ad across the top and a hysterical tone reiterating that government agents—here in New York—are coming to remove everybody's gun. I replied, "I can only hope so!" but that didn't deter the sender.

In material from other sites there have been warnings about "Obama's private army" and the government confiscating citizens' bank accounts. There has been condemnation of the concept of separation of church and state and a litany of assertions that the government is attacking religion and is responsible for what will be the end of Western civilization.

I'm an admirer of Russ Feingold and on his last run for Senate I wanted to support him. However, while I was receiving e-mail from him explaining his various policy positions there was no "donate" button. So I Googled him. The first entry that popped up showed his name in large letters and a donate button. I'm not sure that I even had to open it to contribute—and so I did, making the largest donation I'd ever given to an individual, $100.

However, in the confirmation process I suddenly saw, in tiny letters about Russ Feingold's name, "retire." Retire Russ Feingold. This was an anti-Russ Feingold site.

Immediately I tried to stop the contribution from going through. It took several days. But that didn't erase my name from the various sites to which my "contribution" info had been distributed. Thus, I started get e-mail from Karl Rove, Dick Armey and the like.

My rapscallion grandfather was a Machiavellian whose fiefdom was Philadelphia's "bloody Fifth Ward" in the days when the City of Brotherly Love was virtually all Republican and the bloodletting was during the primaries: us, the Penrose family faction versus them, the Vare brothers faction. He used to say "always register with the majority party" so you can have a say in the choice of nominees. And always have a relative register in the opposition party so you can find out what the adversaries are doing and planning.

But that's not what I was doing. It was an accident. A slip of the finger on a duplicitous site. But it will live on forever in the Internet. So please know, dear Dennis (Kucinich), Bernie (Sanders) and blessed Gene McCarthy wherever you are, that I have not defected, no matter what the NSA surveillance devices may detect in my computer...

11/2014 - The Ghettoization of Journalism (opinion)

Bernard Baruch noted that everyone has a right to one's own opinion, but not to one's own set of facts.

Teddy Roosevelt deplored the concept of "hyphenated Americans" believing that while each of us had a history stemming from elsewhere, we were primarily citizens of the United States and those favoring their group's special interests over those of the nation would be instrumental in tearing the country's social fabric.

This could have been seen as the subtext of the New York Press Club's October state-of-journalism conference. There were unasked questions that need to be addressed.

The balkanization of entertainment sources is a cultural phenomenon. Few are the network shows that "everybody" watches, fewer still, the movies. This could lead to greater freedom, more choices and intellectual exploration. But ghettoization of the news makes it difficult for the nation to coalesce and confront major issues.

The trend seems to be of ever smaller niches—whether "genres" in book publishing or bloggers purporting to be news purveyors. Accuracy has become a casualty; individual bloggers can hardly afford copy editors and fact checkers and these guardians at the gates are now rare species.

Reporters write in the third person, present the news as objectively as possible, and don't inject themselves into the story. Columnists may write subjectively, in the first person, and expound—their own opinions front and center. But with "personal branding" engulfing the field, the concept of news and editorials as separate entities has eroded. In tandem with this, technology has moved to the fore at the expense of content. The means have become the message. Reporters are now one-man-bands, using the new apps to blog—photograph, record, write, and most of all, tout themselves.

CBS TV anchor Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America," not because he injected himself or his opinions into his broadcasts, but rather because he didn't. Thus, when after having concluded that the reports he was receiving from Vietnam were skewed he went to see for himself and upon returning denounced the war, the effect was resounding. LBJ is reported to have said that having "lost Cronkite" he'd "lost the war."

As myriad individuals claim to be presenting the news—any platform will do—authoritative, knowledgeable voices, if indeed there are any left, are drowned out. Newspapers across the country are cutting back or folding, as are local stations, which could have a huge impact on the coming election as regional issues are not addressed on mainstream media. Celebrity culture has taken over the front pages of the tabloids where hard news used to be.

In order to function, a democratic society needs an informed electorate, which means facts first, opinions and fluff later. This isn't happening. We don't share the same set of facts. There are fewer touchstones that we have in common. We scarcely speak the same language. There is ever less common currency. So when one queries "Whither journalism?" what's also being asked is "Whither the nation?"

10/2014 - The Consequences of Historical Amnesia (opinion)
When candidate Obama was running for president in 2008 he promised transparency in government. When he took office, however, among his first policies was refusing to investigate possible crimes by the Bush administration thereby encouraging a cover-up culture. Those who told the truth were penalized—the worst ever war against whistleblowers and the journalists who brought public attention to their disclosures—while those who lied were rewarded, namely the heads of our so-called "intelligence" agencies.

The admitted surprise of our security community at the sudden rise of ISIS indicates a massive intelligence failure. ISIS didn't spring up overnight like toadstools after rain; it was years in the making. But our intelligence agencies were, in the words of pre-Snowden whistleblower Thomas Drake, focused "in" instead of "out." (I'm sure the NSA knows of every letter I've ever written to The New York Times, but was unaware of the development of ISIS.)

Now, as Kobani is about to fall, Turkey, rather than defending the city, is bombing the Kurds. Didn't anybody know that the Turks have been fighting the Kurds for decades, if not centuries? Did anyone really believe that the Turks would do anything that would help the Kurds? The Harvard motto is "Veritas" and Joe Biden again spoke the truth in his Harvard speech—as he did when he pointed out that Iraq is three nations, cobbled together by a European map-maker. Vice President Biden noted the dubious records vis-à-vis ISIS of our so-called allies, for which he's having to apologize. Apologize to the Turks, who haven't yet apologized to the Armenians for the genocide of 1915? Apologize to other "allies" in the region who'd been funding ISIS?

We have allied ourselves with the worst tyrants, the most repressive regimes in the Middle East. When the populations of these nations rebel, and rebel they will at some point, where will that leave the U.S.?

ISIS cannot defeat us, but it can lead us to defeat ourselves by continuing to pour our national treasure into endless wars even as our infrastructure deteriorates, our social safety net frays and our once-cherished rights, the rights that used to define who we are, erode and we become a surveillance state.

By showing videos of the public beheadings of U.S. citizens public outrage results. And the U.S. takes the bait. Never mind that much of what ISIS does is also done by our allies in the region: public beheadings every Friday in Saudi Arabia, for example.

Only when danger entered the White House was the Secret Service called to account. James Clapper, who lied to Congress, continues to head the NSA while the man who cast light into the dark shadows of the agency, Edward J. Snowden, is a fugitive. John Brennan, who lied to Congress, continues as head of the CIA even as John Kiriakou, who told the truth about the U.S. use of torture and that it was not an aberration, but policy, languishes in prison. And Bradley/Chelsea Manning, who released videos of what we were actually doing in Iraq—gunning down civilians as well as killing the two Reuters journalists, has been sentenced to 35 years, as the perpetrators go free. And for the agencies, it's business as usual.

Historical amnesia is playing a major role in Ukraine as well. Has anybody sought to learn why the separatists feel as they do? Doesn't anybody in the State Department know that Ukrainian General Vlasov and his 100,000 troops sided with the Nazis in WWII, so that disestablishing the Russian language in Eastern Ukraine brought back horrific memories. The separatists didn't need Moscow to egg them on. They had historical grievances in abundance.

Since the end of WWII virtually any place where the U.S. intervened militarily the consequences have been disastrous. We (and the British) took out Mossadegh, reinstalled the Shah, and reaped the Ayatollahs. Vietnam is still suffering birth injuries in the third generation thanks to Agent Orange and land mines are still exploding. Many veterans of that conflict are also suffering the effects of Agent Orange. In the "secret war" in Cambodia, we got rid of Sihanouk which ushered in the bloody Kmer Rouge. We took out democratically elected Allende and left Chile with 17 years of torture under Pinochet. Somalia? Yemen?

And then there was Iraq: lied into an invasion that has resulted in havoc for the region. Do we never learn?

So whether it's a case of "there are none so blind as those who will not see," or of ignorance about anything that happened before today's headlines, Santayana's admonition obtains: Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

02/2014 - Land of the Free and Home of the Brave? (opinion)
We used pride ourselves on being "the land of the free and the home of the brave," who had "nothing to fear but fear itself."

However, since 9/11 we've become the land of the fearful whose population, in large measure, can be manipulated by the "t" word: terrorist. There can be no freedom without bravery because the fear-dominated willingly surrender their freedom for the illusion of security. Thus all manner of illegal activities by public officials - from simple venality, to perjury, to acquiescencent authorization of torture - is stamped "classified" and hidden under the "national security" rubric.

Erich Fromm examined a similar phenomenon in his towering 1941 work, "Escape From Freedom," which deals with the psychological factors that make freedom a burden. What Fromm was analyzing was the mindset that allowed the rise of Nazism.

With freedom comes responsibility, which starts with learning the facts and leads to questioning authority, whether state, church or media. It may be more comfortable - temporarily - to accept government assertions, but there is a price to be paid later. How much easier it is to call for the heads of those who expose truths we'd rather not know. There are some for whom thinking is so painful they adopt a "Kill 'em all" philosophy — the "all" being the designated enemy of the day. Thus they avoid having to weigh facts, make difficult judgments and risk angering those in power. So, like "the good Germans" during the Nazi period, they see nothing, hear nothing, know nothing, and as a consequence, have the excuse to do nothing.

Only two US senators, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, questioned the "Tonkin Gulf incident" which led to "The Tonkin Gulf Resolution" which further mired us in the Vietnam morass. An insufficient number of senators questioned President George W. Bush's rush to attack Iraq. That war of choice was based on erroneous intelligence.

Our bravest are in prison or exile for having exposed unpalatable truths.

For exposing, among other things, a video of U.S. military personnel in a helicopter, shooting Iraqi civilians and killing two Reuters journalists, which the government had previously denied, Bradley Manning is serving a 35-year sentence, while those who authorized the despicable acts are free. For revealing that the U.S. uses torture and that the policy is not an aberration, but actual government policy, John Kiriakou languishes in a federal prison, although it's the government that needs correcting. The proponents and practitioners of torture have not been prosecuted, despite the use of torture being contrary to U.S. as well as international law.

For showing that the US has become a surveillance state, with all the machinery at the ready to become a police state, Edward Snowden has been forced into exile. Earlier, Thomas Drake, considered "the smartest man in the room" by some colleagues at the NSA, did something similar and was charged with espionage - not proven - but his life was upended and his career ruined.

Our justice system has been corrupted as whistleblowers are denied the means of mounting a defense; the material they require is "classified" as embarrassed intelligence officials cover their malfeasances with the flag. We have secret FISA courts making secret rulings and issuing secret subpoenas. Secret from whom, one might ask. Not from those being served.

Our government has embarked on a policy of silencing the witnesses to protect the criminals. The conversation has been changed from the message - the frequently horrific revelations - to the messenger. All in the name of "national security."

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for [the illusion] of security will, in the end, have neither liberty nor security and will deserve neither." This truism has been voiced by many—from Benjamin Franklin to Winston Churchill.

Freedom and bravery are linked. You can't have one without the other. If we lack the courage to live with the demands and dangers inherent in freedom, we will be opting for authoritarianism.

Vicky Llerena
Social Vibes Media’s host, content creator, and public relations strategist. No amateur to the media industry, Vicky brings with her over eight years of experience having worked at Univision WXTV-41, Hudson Media Group, and PRNewswire.

10/2015 - Why Latinos Can’t Dump The Trump
Let’s set the record straight: Trump is by no means a threat to the Latino community. This emotionally reckless real estate tycoon turned reality TV star has transformed our evening news into a spectacle variety prime time show – welcome to American politics. His rants on Mexico sending rapists, drug lords, and criminals have landed him headlines on all national media outlets. And who can forget his infamous one line insult to Univision Host, Jorge Ramos, “Go back to Univision.” Ah yes, dear ol’ Trump, your name has become synonymous to the phrase “Latinos” – ay Dios mio!

Yet, his xenophobic Trump campaign has taught the Latino community some indispensable political lessons:

Wake Up the Sleeping Giant
Since Obama’s reelection in 2012, the Latino issue has moved to the back burner by both Conservatives and Democrats. Sure, we all remember Obama was a supporter of the DREAM Act back in 2010, but all it gave birth to was a watered down version known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which stipulated few of the provisions and benefits included in the original DREAM Act.

Trump, on the other hand, has recently ignited the fire for Latinos. Arguably, one can claim that Trump has made the Latino matter a hot button issue for this presidential election. His threats on deporting 11.5 million illegal immigrants, buildings fences that stretch across the frontier, and his provocative claims to make “America white again” have antagonized the sleeping giant: Latinos.

We know that the Hispanic vote was a crucial voting block for Obama’s presidential victories. In fact, pollsters consider the Latino vote the fastest growing segment of eligible voters. Consider the Latino voting influence: by 2016, we will have 26.7 million Latinos eligible to vote – a 58% jump from a decade ago. And although the Latino vote lagged behind the African American vote and the White vote in 2012, this powerful and influential electorate could result in a large voter turnout.

David vs. Goliath
In his self-proclaimed doctrine, Saul Alinsky (for all those polisci enthusiasts) asserts that social movements are successful when one is able to strategically identify the protagonist from the antagonist. Perhaps Trump is a perfect illustration of Alinsky’s argument. Love him or hate him, the multi-billionaire entrepreneur embodies the idea of power and white supremacy. His unfavorable comments to the Latino community, however superficial they may be, have painted him as the cynical one-eyed Goliath preying on the defenseless illegal Latino community.

More beyond than this, the phrase Latino – a unique identifying ethnic idiom – embodies a larger community that extends beyond illegal immigrants. As cliché as it may sound, Latinos stick together. Perhaps having Trump attack a sub-group of the Latino community has inadvertently made the Latino community more united. He’s even got political commentaries and celebrities jumping on the “I despise Trump” bandwagon. Singers Pitbull, Ricky Martin, Shakira, and former Miss Universe have openly voiced their disapproval of Trump.

Creating Social Movement Mobilization
The National Council of La Raza—a political advocacy group helping Latinos in civic engagement, civil rights, education, and immigration -- held a conference in Kansas City, with the hopes of registering more Latinos to vote for this upcoming election. The Latino Victory Project, an organization founded by Eva Longoria aimed at helping Latino politicians win local, state, and federal offices, produced a promo video with actors uttering anti-Latino racist slurs originally stated by Republican candidates.

Is an anti-immigration stance a political suicide? As paradoxical as this may sound, Trump’s political comments are conducive to the Latino voting power. But as we learned with Don Francisco’s 53-year career (he was Chilean host of the longest running international Latino variety program in history), the show can’t go on forever. We must learn to use verbal attacks as attributes, insults as opportunities, set backs as comebacks. This may be the year for Latinos and Donald Trump is just the guy we need to help us get there.

Read more from Vicky Llerena on Social Vibes Media.


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Vicky Llerena
Why Latinos Can't Dump Trump.

Says Vicky, "Let’s set the record straight: Trump is by no means a threat to the Latino community." More in The Constant Columnist.