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.

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.


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Launches website that provides extensive video coverage of criminal justice issues and proceedings. More in Member News.

The Constant Columnist

Beatrice Williams-Rude
The Ghettoization of Journalism (opinion)

Ghettoization of the news makes it difficult for the nation to coalesce and confront major issues. More in The Constant Columnist.