THE PROFESSOR GATES SAGA

The press, the media, the internet and the public got it all wrong.. So did the President. This bit of drama was not the result of prejudice against African Americans.  That may have aggravated the situation, but it was not the root cause.

       To explain, let me tell you of the time I was stropped  for speeding on a Pennsylvania highway. I was not certain that I had been going over the limit, but that is irrelevant.  When the officer approached, I did not argue. I politely handed over my licence and my ownership certificate. He and I discussed the situation quietly. In our conversation, I addressed him as Officer. When he handed me a ticket, I thanked him and promised to drive more carefully in the future.

       After the policeman left, my wife looked at me quizzically. She knew from long experience that I was aggressive by nature, so my docility in this situation amazed her. I carefully told that, in dealing with policemen, whether you felt that way or not, quiet respect was the best policy.

       I explained that most policemen come from middle class or lower middle class backgrounds. Once they graduate from the Police Academy, they find themselves, often for the first time, in positions of power.  Power corrupts. Whn dealing with the hoi polloi or anyone below them in social stature, they always let it be known who is in charge, sometimes abusively. When dealing with the upper social classes, the famous and the obviously educated, they take a more muted tone. But never get in their face. Never confront, Never antagonize.  Never arrogantly say, “Do you know who I am?”On their home ground, the police hold the levers of power,; you don’t.

       Professor Gates was obviously tired from his trip and irritated in finding his front door stuck when he returned home.  The police were justified in investigating a report that a burglar was seen entering the house, but none of us knows how they approached the Professor or what words were exchanged. Suffice it to say that, under the circumstances, the professor got agitated and imprudently confronted the police in a loud and aggressive manner. Even after the matter of his being the householder was cleared up, he apparently continued his verbal vituperation, probably convinced that police were treating him badly because he was black.  

       Understandable but unwise. Note that Gates was not arrested for Breaking and Entering. He was arrested for Disorderly Conduct., the fallback charge of policemen, when no other seems viable. Disorderly conduct is normally a charge for abusive conduct in public. Legally, it is a very dicey charge in one’s own home, unless you physically accost someone, in which case a more serious charge is available. Note that the Disorderly Conduct charge was dismissed once the Prosecutors were handed the case.

       Truthfully, Professor Gates was not arrested for Disorderly Conduct. Nor was he arrested for being an African American. He was arrested for talking back to a Police Officer, loudly and aggressively, for getting in the Officer’s face, for making the Officer lose face unless he reacted. So, the Officer reacted; he arrested Professor Gates, handcuffed him and escorted him to the station. That’ll learn ya! 

      A plain and simple fact of American life and one I have tried to teach my Japanese wife.

 

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Call it a moniker, a sobriquet, a diminutive or whatever, in everyday use, people tend to shorten the names of friends or associates, whether for informality’s sake or just for the heck of it. 

       As a word lover, I have always been intrigued by the fact that the same name, in its informal variation, has so many possibilities.. Why oh why do some people prefer one diminutive over another? And some resist any attempt to avoid using their full name? Following are 25 names with at least two frequently-used variations

Albert Al, Bert

Alexander Alex, Andy

Alfred Al, Alfie

Barbara Barb, Barby

Beatrice Bea, Bede, Trish

Bernard Bernie, Barney

Charles Charlie, Chuck

Deborah Deb, ,Debby

Edward Ed, Eddy, Ted, Teddy

Elizabeth Liz, Lizzy, Beth, Betty

Estelle Essie, Stella

Francisca Fran, Franny

Gertrude Gert, Gerty, Trudy

Herbert Herb, Herby

Leticia Letty, Trish,Tricia

Lillian Lil, Lilly

Margaret Meg, Margie

Morton Mort, Morty

Patricia Pat, Patty, Trish

Richard Dick, Rich, Richey, Rick

Robert Bob, Bobby, Rob, Bert

Roberta Bert, Bertie, Robby

Samuel Sam, Sammy

Sheldon Shell. Shelly

Thomas Tom. Tommy

       If your name is Richard, why do you prefer Dick over Rich ––or Rick or Richey –– or vice versa? Are you offended if someone shortens your name or uses a form you just don’t like?

       Only on occasion do I get an answer. My friend Deborah objects vigorously if you call her Debby. She thinks of herself as a serious, accomplished individual with a serious name. She thinks of Debbie as a brainless character, perhaps the subject of a movie entitled “Debbie Does Dishes.” My niece Judith hates being called Judy.  That’s what her parents called her when she was a child.  She is a grown-up now ––Judith, not Judy.

       Sometimes, people shorten your family name rather than your first name, My son Jonathan Rubinstein, a prominent businessman and engineer, prefers to be called Jon but never objects when many people call him Ruby Here’s a funny observation. Some nicknames or shortened forms skip a generation.  My father was called Ruby, but nobody used that name for me. However, Ruby was resurrected for one of my sons. Not for the other.

Go figure.

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KINDERSPIEL

I just spent a day watching the Sotomayer hearings on TV. I was appalled.  Was this a serious consideration by a major U.S, Government body of a well-qualified appointee to the highest court in the land? Not the way I viewed it. It was kinderspiel ––a serious piece performed by children.

       True, there were many serious questions about judicial decisions on a number of important court cases. However, these were overwhelmed  by the time spent on thinly veiled attacks on Sonia Sotormayor, a lot of them dealing with a flippant remark she once made in a speech, claiming that a smart Latina with a varied background might render a better judicial decision than a white male lacking such experience. Wow! What an exhibition of bruised egos defending their manhood.

       The remainder was spent making sure that Sotomayor understood that judicial decisions must be based solely on the law and not on one’s race, gender, experiences or biases. Veer from that and you become (horror of horrors!) an ‘activist judge.” Believe me, she understood.  Unfortunately, none of it is true. It is all a fairy tale.

       Over and over, one heard: “Do not countermand existing law;”“Every judge must be committed  every day to not let their personal politics interfere with their decisions”; “Ultimately and completely, the law controls”; “Show fidelity to the law;’ “Never overstep the law.” All of these statements are based on the concept that judges apply the law, not interpret the,law.

       Now, there may be a few laws where this rule applies.  If a law states that “two plus two equals four,” application is simple. You don’t need a lower court, an appeals court and a supreme court for this.  A single judge would suffice. Unfortunately, very few laws are that simple.  The suject matter is complex, and the legalese makes it more so.

       Let me provide a prime example –– the Second Amendment  to the Constitution of the United States.  The amendment states:

       “A well equipped Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people        to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. 

       Simple, isn’t it? All you need to do to apply this law is to understand what it mens?  But what does it mean? Does it mean that all Americans have the right to carry guns? Maybe.  But, if so, why is it coupled in the same short paragraph with the need for a well-regulated  Militia? Does that mean that only those in the Militia have the right to carry guns since it is well regulated?

       Many bright legal minds have grappled with this question, and it is only recently that the Supreme court decided (5 to 4) that the first meaning is the correct one. Still unsettled is whether that interpretation applies to the individual States. [Rotsa ruck on that.] But the question was not settled by applying the law; it was settled by interpreting the law. When it comes to interpretation, whether we like it or not, a judge’s race, religion, sex, education, biases, prejudices and upbringing all have their effect. 

       Though they would never admit it, this applies to all judges, regardless of their party affiliations .Just the contrary of the claims constantly made by Republicans during the Sotomayer hearing. This explains why there are so many 5 to 4 decisions. Unfortunately, as a matter of self preservation, Sonia Sotomayor joined the crowd  in this delusion. Politics prevailed.

       As to “ Activist Judges, I can only quote Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who defined an Activist Judge as “one who decides a case in a way you don’t like.”

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RESENTMENT AGAINST EDUCATED MALES

A recent NY Times piece discussed the dangerous resentment and hatred that many Americans have for highly educated affluent women, who presumably think they are better than “normal” Americans. While in full agreement with these observations, this author wishes to point out that bright and educated American men are also subject to similar erroneous resentments.

       Many years back, I was attending my second class at the evening division of Brooklyn Law School. In our first session, we beginner students had been asked to read a test law case and bring back a written analysis of the points we should consider if we were handling the defense. Evening classes usually attract  mature students, so almost all of us were in our twenties or thirties.To the best of my knowledge, none of us had any legal background.

       I prepared an extensive paper covering what I considered the pertinent facts, my opinion as to what laws I believed would apply and a discussion as to how I would handle the case. Several of us were asked to read our papers to the class..  Most of the reports were short. Mine was extensive and I believe thorough. When I finished reading, there was a moment of silence in the class, followed by copious  laughter.

       The Professor spoke out, “See, Mr. Rubinstein, realize that if you are bright and work hard, you will face resentment, often masked by  laughter and ridicule.” 

       What was true in that class is equally valid for our whole country. A substantial portion of the population, while not stupid, are relatively ignorant and choose to remain so. They feel nervous when dealing with bright and educated people,  particularly intellectuals. Note the popular use  of words such as egghead, bookworm, nerd, elitist, intellectual snob and wiseguy, all used in a derogatory way. Apparently, nobody wants to think of himself as intellectually inferior. “I’m as good as the next guy.” “Why should he get special treatment?”It starts in school.  The smartest guy in the class is rarely popular. It’s the jocks who rule the roost. Or the most beautiful and the most handsome. [As we grow older, another popular category is added –– the richest.]

       This explains why very intelligent candidates, e.g. Adlai Stevenson, rarely are elected President. The average voter prefers a George W. Bush type, someone you would rather share a beer with.. someone who reads cowboy novels, if he bothers to read at all.  Or, more recently, someone like Sarah Palin. Harry Truman concealed the fact that he was a closet reader, particularly of history) until after he was elected President. The real brains in the Government  are for the most part appointed, rather than elected.

       This anti-intellectual snobbery is strange, since many of the things we  enjoy in modern life originated with brain power. Mediocre or average guys do not invent or create light bulbs, automobiles, refrigerators, air conditioners, radios, TV’s ,computers, and many of the other devices which make life easier for most of us.  Nor do they improve our medical treatment with X-rays, E.K.G.’s, MRI’s, prosthetic devices and a wide array of pharmaceuticals. Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine to prevent Polio. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved by these two brilliant men.We all enjoy the fruits of these inventions and  improvements. They are part of our daily lives.  But it is surprising how many of us sneer, either openly or subconsciously,  at the class of individuals who invented them. 

       This open resentment against intellectuals and against brain power in general is dangerous. Years ago, I visited the Tykai Pyramids in Guatamala, once the center of a magnificent and advanced Mayan civilization, now just a set of deserted ruins. I asked the guide what catastrophe had destroyed this society. He advised me that nobody knew for sure, but a likely theory is that the common people, the workers revolted and killed off the ruling class. In their anger, they also killed the engineers who were responsible for maintaining the water supply, so necessary in that arid area.  Without proper maintenance.  the water supply eventually disappeared, and the population had to move to another area.

       I am not in any way suggesting that America is in danger of an uprising by ordinary citizens against the intellectual elites. I do however believe that resentment and hatred of the bright and educated members of our society, now more or less socially acceptable, is an unhealthy situation, not in the best interest of progress.

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DEMOCRATIC SOUND BITES

Sometimes, one wonders why political contestants, with their highly organized staffs, seem blissfully unaware of very effective attacks they can mount against opponents. Here are some totally unsolicited suggestions for Democratic sound bites to counter Republican sound bites. It would be better, of course, if neither side depended on brief sound bites. However, since liberal policies are less simplistic than Republican ones and consequently require more time to explain. Democrats still need effective sound bites to level the playing field. So, let me play Carl Rove.

                                                  Needy vs greedy

       Democratic recommendations for increasing taxes on the rich often get a lukewarm reception from the public. The problem is that most Americans do not consider “rich” a disparaging term. All of us hope to be rich some day. What about the concept of increasing taxes on the rich so as to give a tax break to the middle class? Using the term “middle class” is like waving a red flag in front of Republicans. They will be up in arms, accusing the Democrats of “Class Warfare.” Pointing out that Republican tax policies are grounded in class warfare doesn’t work. It is equivalent to children snarling at each other, “You started it.” “No, you started it.” Let’s be creative. In referring to a fairer tax distribution, never promote it as the rich vs the poor ormiddle class. Call it “the greedy vs the needy.” The public understands need and they certainly understand greed. Proclaim to the world: “Democratic tax breaks are needed to protect the needy from the greedy.”

                                    Bush is a flip-flopper.

       During the previous Presidential campaign,  Republican TV ads and the rhetoric of their candidates kept feeding us the following mantra: “John Kerry is a flip-flopper.” Maybe so. He certainly had expressed varied opinions on what he would call “complex issues.” But so had George W. Bush. During his first campaign, he advertised himself as “a uniter, not a divider.” He then proceeded to divide the country to a degree rarely equaled by previous Presidents. He promised to keep the United States  out of “nation building,” and proceeded to do exactly the opposite.. Just a small selection of his many flip-flops.

       To a lesser degree. Johm McCain did the same. In dealing with this flip-flop flap, I fail to understand why Democrats were not putting out TV ads and gleefully yelling, “George W. Bush is a flip-flopper.” John McCain is a flip-flopper If it achieved nothing else, it should certainly have lessened any impact that similar accusations against Kerry or any other Democratic candidate may have had.

     Do you want  a Government  bureaucrat standing between  you and your Doctor?

        In the present debate about health care, Democrats are seeking to allow every citizen to choose a federal insurance policy (similar to Medicare) instead of one with private insurance companies as intermediaries.  Republicans are putting up a fierce fight against giving us this choice. So, in every TV interview and in every Republican piece in the press, we constantly hear the question. “Do you want  a Government  bureaucrat standing between  you and your Doctor? A good question , but with an obvious answer, which Democrats are failing to use. In any debate or discussion on the subject,, Democrats should ask, Do you want  an Insurance Company  bureaucrat standing between  you and your Doctor?

                                      Reactionary

       In the 2004 campaign, using another shorthand epithet against Kerry, Republicans constantly harped on the   refrain that Kerry is a “Massachusetts liberal.” How to counter this? You could point out that most people who are anti-liberal are still in favor of Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, reduced prices for pharmaceuticals,  environmental safeguards — all liberal ideas. Unfortunately, reason does not prevail here when matched against the knee-jerk reaction that Republicans have created around the word “liberal.” It is time to use their tactics in reverse. Never use the word ” conservatives.” The term “conservative” is too mild; it has no sharp edges.”Neanderthal” might be a good alternative, but its edges are a little too strong,  sort of like name calling. No, a great synonym for conservative is the two-edged word “reactionary.” My dictionary defines reactionary as “extremely conservative.” However, an alternative definition is “opposing progress.” Great. From now on, when Democrats speak of Bush and the Republicans, they should never call them conservatives. John McCain is a reactionary, reactionary reactionary.

                                      Borrow and borrow. Spend and spend.

       Another 5-second slogan which Republicans use to frighten the public with is to provide a negative image of the Democrats as the party of “Tax and tax. Spend and spend.” This is an easy accusation to deal with. The answer: don’t bother being defensive. It takes too long to explain why this misrepresentation is not true. Instead, counterattack. Repeat over and over. Republicans are the party of “Borrow and borrow. Spend and spend.”

                                      Where are you leading us?

       During election battles,  the public has been  bombarded with the claim that, in times like these, the United States needs a proven leader. The equation “McCain = Leadership” was tossed at us time and again. Was McCain a great leader? This writer thinks of him as a cheerleader rather than a leader, but people of good will may disagree. The problem is that everyone is asking the wrong question. The important question is, “Where are you leading us?” Roosevelt was a great leader. Napoleon was a great leader. One led us towards peace and prosperity, the other to war and chaos. Democrats should not quibble over Republicans leadership qualities. Instead, they should keep asking, “Where are you leading us?”

                                      Co-President Cheney

       Borrowing a leaf from Carl Rove’s book, use a few vocabulary modifications to change people’s perceptions. Politically, Bush was and is obviously more popular than Dick Cheney. However, according to political savants, people vote for the President, not the Vice-President, so it makes no difference. So, stop referring to Vice-President Cheney. Always refer to him as “Co President Cheney.” The truth is, according to the few knowledgeable people in the Beltway who are willing to talk, Cheney was in reality Co-President. George W. loved the trappings of the Presidency, the pomp and glory. He also loved political campaigning, where he could be his folksy best. What he didn’t like was the nitty-gritty of day-to-day management of the Government. Essentially, Cheney covered  all of that. He was in fact the most powerful Vice-President in our history — more like a Co-President.Why not acquaint the public with reality. Pound this point home often enough, and the voters will have to decide if they really want to listen to the recent (or future) tirades of Co-President Cheney.

                                     Listen to the experts

       Whenever Republicans want people to go along with their ideas without too much analysis, they call for “Common sense solutions.” What do they  mean by common sense solutions? They mean that, to solve problems, we should, ignore the advice of experts.. That’s odd. If our car breaks down, we go to an expert. If we have health problems, we seek help from a Doctor, another expert. We choose experts to prepare our tax returns, to help plan vacations, to guide us in our investments. Why then, in even more important political matters which actively affect our lives, should we fall back on “common sense?” Experts of course can be wrong. Science can be wrong. With our limited experiences, however, are we more apt to be right using our common sense? Common sense tells us the world is flat. Science tells us it’s not. Which should we believe when it comes to global warming, stem cell research and environmental controls? When Republicans  call for common sense, they are asking you to go along with their druthers rather than seeking expert advice. Common sense should tell us that we should all listen to the experts.      

      It is a pity that we should have to resort to sound bites to decide who should be ourPresident or Senator or Congressman. Open and reasoned discussions of issues would be far better. But, since we live in the real political world, it is time that Democrats took the sound-bite bull by the horns and wrestled it to victory.

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