Welcome to the resurrection of The Affable Curmudgeon, a monthly E-mail version of a snail-mail eponymous Curmudgeon newsletter I had published over ten years back. Some of you may remember. As in its previous version, the Curmudgeon will cover politics, travel, food, humor, literature –– in short, everything that comes to my fertile mind.
So, let’s gewt started . . .
November 27, 2007
PROVERBS AND APHORISMS
A proverb is a short, pithy sentence based upon long experience, expressing what is believed to be a well-known truth or fact. An aphorism is a terse statement of a truth or opinion, usually less time-honored than a proverb. While they are not infallible, one would be wise to heed them, particularly in times of emergency or national panic.. They frequently instill the wisdom of the ages.
Two of these time-honored expressions, particularly pertinent when we look at recent events, are being totally ignored by our society. We do so at our peril. The first:
“He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.”
So true that it is father to several parallel proverbs. “Discretion is the better part of valor.” “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” Yet, it is a truth that is being totally ignored by us in the Iraq war. Any thought of discretely withdrawing or even retiring to border areas is being treated with scorn and contempt. Anyone expressing these thoughts is accused of cowardice, of “cutting and running,” of betraying our soldiers, as if stepping back when the evidence is clear that you are not winning is an abandonment of manliness. A shameful act, with many synonyms –– You,Sir, are a cowardly, craven, spineless, faint-hearted, yellow-livered , milksop.
Ask any retired general if there are not times when forces should fall back –– sometimes just to regroup, rest or modify the plan of attack. Or if defeat is imminent or victory would be too costly, to preserve one’s military personnel and equipment. History if full of stories of forces which have temporarily retreated, only to forge ahead and win at a later date. George Washingon at Brandywine and Germantown. The Allied forces at Dunkirk.
While we treat this proverb as ignoble, the terrorists, the jihadists and the insurgents –– our enemies –– are more pragmatic. They follow it all the time. And very successfully. Consult your newspapers and TV news programs. In Iraq, whenever we send extra forces into an area, there may be a little resistance, but for the most part the enemy forces melt away, hide or retreat to another town. When we have cleaned out a town or area and our soldiers leave, enemy forces return. In Afghanistan, they retreat to their hideouts in the hills, only to attack us when they feel our guard is down. In short, they cut and run. Who seems to be winning? “He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.” Smart!
Let us consider another expression –– call it an aphorism or a popular historical quotation –– often erroneously attributed to Voltaire.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Here is another bit of ancient wisdom we would do well to consider today. I thought I would hear it over and over during the Don Imus brouhaha. The silence was deafening. Nowhere in the press –– left, right and center –– did I see in print this historically important cry against censorship, this democratic pilar of freedom of speech. My ears encountered a similar void in television and radio coverage.
The Al Sharptons and the Jesse Jacksons were everywhere in evidence, loudly trumpeting the hurt and demoralization created in the African-American community by Imus’ intemperate remarks. White and black commentators all agreed that the Imus comment was disgusting. Then, there were the free-speech deniers. This was not a free speech issue, they claimed, since it was speech on radio and television, airwaves licensed by the Government. Nonsense. These communication media are so ubiquitous in our society that limiting free speech to all other areas is to make a mockery of the term.
Where were the champions of free speech? With a few notable exceptions, they all ran for cover. Liberal columnists and commentators fudged on the subject. Civil liberties organizations were relatively mute. Not a single candidate for the Presidency made an attempt to stem the tide, to point out that Imus should perhaps be chastised, fined, temporarily suspended, raked over the coals –– but not summarily dismissed for exercising his right to speak out.
That Don Imus’ comments were rude, insulting, impolite, impolitic and yes, disgusting goes without saying, as are similar comments by dozens, if not hundreds, of others in the media. Still, he was not, after all, crying, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Nor was he urging others to physically attack minorities. Should such comments be disparaged, criticized, countered? Yes! However, if we go down the road where derogatory statements about blacks, Latinos, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, homosexuals, fat people, bald people, short people, cripples, stutterers and stammerers lead to draconic punishments, we can kiss free speech good bye. Somewhere down that road, as in many countries today, criticism of political leaders can lead to jail sentences or worse. I kid thee not.
The camel’s nose is already under the tent. Now that we have had a chance to cool off, let us make sure it goes no further. Open your window, lean out and yell,
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
As for my fellow minority members who regularly face a barrage of abuses by the Don Imuses of the world, fight bad speech with good speech, but don’t take part in a verbal lynching. Those who would limit freedom may start with banning just three words, but the ultimate aim is to limit free speech. And if free speech goes, so goes democracy.
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Marv Rubinstein’s book, the 21st Century American English Compendium, has three chapters on proverbs, slogans, aphorisms and popular American expressions.Also included is a page on forbidden terminology –– derogatory racial terms which one should recognize but rarely use.
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Thanksgiving, November 22, 2007
CHEERLEADERS AND BULLIES
[This piece was originally called Cheerleaders and Misleaders. The two concepts overlap. The bottom line is: Fool me once (George W. Bush), shame on you. Fool me twice (Rudy Guiliani), shame on me. On this Thanksgiving Day, we should give thanks that the Presidential history of George W. Bush is giving us a clear indication as to what a Giuliani Presidency would be like.]
On September 10th, 2001, two politicians — New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and President George W. Bush — awakened to find their public images in the doldrums.
Rudy Giuliani, with only four months left in his last term, could rightly have been congratulated for recreating a vibrant New York City. In spite of this, he had become one of New York’s most unpopular mayors — arrogant, disputatious, litigious, vindictive, all of the foregoing.
One critic described Rudy’s reign as “government by tantrum.” He had hoped to escape by winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, but this plan was disrupted by a triple whammy. His marriage was breaking up, he was involved in an infidelity scandal and, to add injury to insult, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
George W. Bush had barely survived a disruptive and bitterly contested election, actually having lost the popular vote by about one-half million votes. A substantial number of voters felt that he had stolen the election and were still chanting “Hail to the thief.” The record of his first six months in office was lackluster, as reflected in his poor poll ratings. His Republican party, originally in control of both houses, lost their majority in the Senate when Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords switched parties and voted with the Democrats. The Country, spoiled by nearly eight years of unparalleled prosperity, was showing signs of heading into a recession. While still claiming success on all fronts, Bush was not a happy camper.
Then, courtesy of Osama Bin Laden, came September 11th, and both of these gentlemen underwent a complete metamorphosis. New York suffered a major catastrophe. The Pentagon in Washington was dive bombed, pandemonium briefly reigned, and the Country was at war. In the blinking of an eyelash, Rudy Giuliani became, in short order, a local hero, a national hero and, believe it or not, an international hero, culminating in being named “Person of the Year” as the cover boy of Time Magazine. Now actively engaged as Commander in Chief of our forces at war, George W. saw his poll ratings jump to 90 percent (since reduced to 34 percent).
How does one explain this radical and instantaneous turnabout? A fitting quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar comes to mind:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the full,
Leads on to fortune . . . .”
Then, courtesy of Osama Bin Laden, 9/11 provided the tide, and Rudy and George W. jumped right in. They might have drowned if they had not exhibited certain essential characteristics. We were at war and, in wartime, two types of men are at their best — the cheerleader and the bully. Both men were ideally suited for their new roles. Cheerleaders are needed to rally the troops and to rally the people, particularly if things are not going well. They are particularly necessary for extended conflict. Blitzkriegs present no problems, but long, drawn out wars with no end in sight, e.g. The Vietnam war, lead to impatience and divisiveness on the part of the public and fatigue on the battlefront. It is then that cheerleaders are at their best. And, of course, in dealing with international bullies like Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, counter-bullies are a sine qua-non.
What applies nationally in wars also applies to a major catastrophe in a metropolis such as New York. The collapse of the World Trade Center is a case in point. Over three thousand people die at one time. Huge piles of rubble, with underground fires still smoldering, must be carted away. Downtown office space becomes scarce, and businesses are tempted to flee to New Jersey. Restaurants remain empty. Many small businesses fail. Transportation is disrupted. In short, you have the equivalent of a small scale war, with all the dislocation which normally results. The city needs rebuilding, which requires planning and administration. But it also requires cheerleading. Someone must rally the “troops.”
This is where Rudy Giuliani steps to the forefront, and brilliantly so. His presence is ubiquitous. You find him consoling survivors at funeral after funeral; boosting confidence at pep rallies for the fire department and the police department; negotiating in Albany an Washington to raise badly needed funds; frequently appearing at “ground zero” while accompanying visiting dignitaries; raising the flag and exuding optimism on radio; on television and anywhere else where spines need stiffening and courage needs propping up. He does a magnificent job. He is the right
man at the right time in the right place. He is the archetypical cheerleader. In times of crisis, however, that is not enough. You need to be forceful and stubborn. Things need to be done, and they must be done quickly. No time for subtle disputations. Using the carrot or the stick — mostly the stick — you must bend people to your will, force them to do things which, under normal circumstances, they would be reluctant to do. In short, you must be a bully. In wartime and in times of crisis, bullies are in. They don’t call it the bully pulpit for nothing. And, unarguably, Rudy is a natural bully.
Those who have followed his career can’t help but agree. Before becoming Mayor, he was widely feared as a merciless prosecutor. As Mayor, because they didn’t always agree with him, by using vituperative attack after attack, he forced decent police commissioners and Board of Education heads to resign. Museums were mercilessly assailed for exhibiting art which Rudy found objectionable. And he encouraged others to become bullies, notably the New York Police Department. While this made him widely unpopular with many New Yorkers, 9/11 made bullying politically correct.
George W. Bush is a different kind of cheerleader, but a cheerleader nonetheless. Not as flamboyant as Rudy, you still see him everywhere. It is difficult to turn on the T.V. without seeing George W. at news conferences, at Congressional meetings, at church services, boarding his plane and disembarking on his return. Supporting candidates, raising money and, of course, at conferences with each and every foreign leader who graces our shores. On each of these occasions, he boasts about our battle successes; compliments our military and defense leaders; announces a new initiative on the war against terrorism; encourages patriotism and blames his political opponents for being whimpy for not cooperatiing in the war effort. Like every cheerleader, he exhorts his team to hang in there for the long run until victory is reached. Buckle down, Winsockie. His cheerleading is more low key than that of Rudy, but they are both in there relentlessly giving it their all.
Thinking of George W. as a bully, however, proves more difficult., even though he makes almost constant use of the bully pulpit. At first glance, he does not act like Rudy. One thing must be kept in mind, however. Rudy is a product of the streets of New York, and his bully pattern is the traditional one, the one you see in mean streets or in school playgrounds. George W. doesn’t fit that pattern. He is a rich man’s son, favored from birth with all the benefits wealth can bestow. One of these benefits is that, if you tend to be a bully, you don’t need to do it yourself. You can hire others to do the bullying for you. That is exactly what our President does. Tom DeLay (“affectionately” known in Congress as “the hammer”) was conveniently available in Congress. Dick Cheney is selected as Vice President. And, worst of all, against tremendous opposition, John Ashcroft , whose bullying talents were well known, was picked as Attorney General. With this group (or substitutes of a similar ilk) in the lead, the amount of bullying of centrist Republicans in Congress is formidable indeed. Exhibiting his win-at-any-cost tendency, George W. Bush is at his bullying best when trying to force through normally unpopular legislation, e. g. tax cuts for big business or laissez faire policies for industrial polluters.
In the short run, it takes a great deal of delusion to change the popular leadership position these two gentlemen have achieved, in spite of the fact that neither represents the aspirations of the majority of either New Yorkers or the American people. In times of war, most people stand behind the President. Fortunately, however, the required delusion has taken place with George W. Hopefully, Rudy’s time willc ome.
A big question, however, is how to prevent other cheerleaders taking undeserved power when similar future situations arise. The root of the problem lies in the fact that, in most of America, our executive leaders wear two hats, that of the administrator and that of the greeter and glad-hander. A few cities have professional City Managers hired by a City Council to administer to the needs of the city efficiently and without much political bias. They take care of schools, traffic, budgets, policing, fire fighting and the like. These same cities have elected Mayors obliged to handle ceremonial matters. They greet official visitors, go to important weddings and funerals, preside over holiday events and in general deal with ceremonial matters. When a crisis arises, the Mayor does the cheerleading, while the City Manager remains in charge of day-to-day operations. Laws are not changed precipitously at the whim of “heroes.” Unfortunately, most cities do not have City Managers and, nationally, there is no parallel procedure in the United States.
Constitutional Monarchies like Great Britain have a national dichotomy similar to the City Manager plan.. The Prime Minister, selected by Parliament, handles administrative and operational matters. The Queen and the royal family deal with ceremonies. Of course, there are grey areas in both countries and cities where the two functions overlap.
New York might very well benefit from having a City Manager in tandem with the Mayor, but no suggestion is made that the United States adopt the British system. When this war is over, however, it is not beyond our imagination and abilities to work out some procedure for limiting the unbridled powers that mighty Caesars often seize during wars and other crises when municipal or national emotions substitute for ordinary democratic processes.
In the meantime, comes the 2008 election, remember: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
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WORD DISABUSE—A LEXICON
Previously published in the Wall Street Journal letters column as my reply to Dennis Prager, a radio (and now Television) talk show host, who had claimed in a prior Journal article that Liberals misused the English language to provide a positive spin to their ideas. Well, it all depends on whose ox is being gored. My tongue-in-cheek Lexicon shows how certain words and phrases are used by many small town and medium size city American newspapers, by most radio talk show hosts, and conservative individuals in public and private debates.
Blacks (Authentic): African Americans who achieve middle or upper class economic status and now vote Republican.
Blacks (Inauthentic): Any blacks who do not realize what a great deal the white majority is giving them.
Blaming the Victim: Legally prosecuting a policeman caught on camera mercilessly clubbing an unarmed person
Censors: Decent people who wish to protect their children from the spoken, written or illustrated depravity of indecent people. (Indecent people include Communists, liberals, pro-choice advocates, bleeding hearts, profane artists, rap musicians, Civil Liberties Union members etc.)
Censorship: Preventing Right-to-Lifers from blocking entrances toabortion clinics.
Christian Right: Upright citizens whom God has called to political action to save us all (with minimalGovernmental interference, of course).
Civil Rights Organizations: Organizations of people opposed to the civil rights of whites.
Community: Formerly a group of people living in the same locale. Now a bunch of Commies, lessies or gays living together.
Conservative: A person who believes in minimal governmental interference in our lives
(except in the bedroom).
Democrats: Tax and spend radicals.
Feminist Organizations: Organizations of frustrated man haters too lazy to cook their husband’s dinners.
Fetus: An unborn child whose rights supersede the rights of its mother.
Greed: The motive of muggers, thieves and burglars, all too lazy to work. (White collar embezzlement or cheating is of course simply business.)
Ideal Family: Mama, Papa and at least four children. Grandma and Grandpa can be included if they are not in a home for the aged. (Exception: A married couple with children who are on welfare are not considered an ideal family.)
Liberal: A bleeding heart who wants to parole all criminals.
Minorities: Any individual or group unwilling to work hard in order to become part of the majority. (They should go back where they came from.)
Poverty: The economic status of lazy people.
Progressive View of Humanity: Rich people and practicing church-goers are to be respected. All others are tolerated if they know their place.
Racist: While all good whites are aware that they are superior to blacks, hispanics and orientals, a racist is one who openly says so in public.
Black Racist: A black person who publicly states that blacks are superior to whites. (He is either crazy or a dangerous radical.)
Rage: Chaining oneself to the entrance gate of an abortion clinic to prevent women who differ with you from exercising their legal rights.
Reactionary View of Humanity: All men are created equal.
Religious Extremist: An oxymoron. Extremism in support of Godliness is never too extreme.
Republicans: Good people who sometimes are insufficientlyconservative. (E. g. when they raise taxes to balance the budget.)
Secular Extremist: Anyone who believes that the U.S. Constitution calls for the separation of Church and State.
Sexist: A notorious womanizer.
Social Activists: Anyone to the left of Phil Graham, Newt Gingrich, or Rush Limbaugh, who insists on speaking out on social issues.
Tolerance: Openness to all ideas on the right.
Ultra-Conservative: Term not used. One cannot be too conservative.
Ultra-Liberal: Also not used. All liberals are by definition ultra-liberal.
Universal Health Insurance: Socialism
Victims: Those deprived of life, liberty or particularly property, but only through natural upheavals such as fires, floods, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.
Women, Authentic: All good wives and mothers.
Women, Inauthentic: All mem-bers of N 0 W and similar radical groups.
Women’s Rights: The right to love, honor and obey one’s father, brother or husband.
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BOOKS by the Curmudgeon
(quite a variety)
AMERICAN ENGLISH COMPENDIUM
FEATHER IN MY YARMULKE
NOW YOU’RE COOKIN’ – WITH TEA
Marv Rubinstein’s books can all be purchased online at
BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com
Randy Rosen is a confirmed womanizer and proud of it. To his thinking, the female sex are much more fun than men, more subtle, more imaginative, and much braver. In fact, he’d rather hang out with a group of women, exploring their liminal and subliminal messages, than sit in a smoky bar with a bunch of guys.
Randy wasn’t always this way. A shy young honor student, he became involved in a torrid teenage affair, one that ended in catastrophic betrayal. When he attended college and later moved to New York, independent women suddenly surrounded him. Now, Randy has built a successful, international business, allowing him to travel all over the world. And the biggest perk? He gets to meet women. Lots and lots of women.
For seventy years, Randy pursues love and lust in some of the globe’s most exciting cities: London, Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok and even Tel Aviv. But what happens when age starts to make it a bit more difficult to keep up the chase?
From the sexual antics in exotic bedrooms and boudoirs to the intimacy and trust of deep relationships, Womanizer is a rollicking tale of one man’s adventures pursuing (and being pursued by) women throughout the world.
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November 14, 2007
The following piece was written more than ten years back, but is as valid today as it was then:
TAX CUTS – – HUMBUG ! !
“I look forward to the day I pay $1,000,000. a year in taxes.” Whom am I quoting? Myself. No, this is not nonsense. From the day I started earning my own living, I have scoffed at those who waste time and energy complaining about taxes. Death and taxes will always be with us. Unfortunately, I have never realized my goal. The million dollar target remains elusive. Still, it’s been fun trying.
It has also been fun (though sometimes irritating) listening to politicians, pundits and the public weep and wail about taxes. Particularly politicians. When Congressmen or Senators— Republican or Democratic—promise middle class tax relief, it is time to hold on to your wallets. The rhetoric is predictable: “The biggest tax increase in our history.” “Spending must be reduced.” ‘Tax and spend.”
“Spend and tax.” ‘Taxes must be cut.”
But very little happens? Taxes getshifted around, but they don’t go down.Taxes may shift from the super rich to the middle class,but they don’t go down.Federal taxes may decrease, while costs are passed on to the states, so local taxes get bigger, but the overall tax bill does not go down. School taxes may be cut while sales taxes are increased. But they don’t go down, and they won’t go down.
The reason taxes won’t go down is that the public does not want them to. Oh, we all say we want lower taxes, and we ‘think we want lower spending to compensate, but we don’t —not really. What each of us wants is less spending for programs benefiting others, but don t you dare touch our benefits.
The three huge governmental expenses are the military, Social Security and Medicare. But big businesses (and their employees) profiting from military expenditures stand solidly against
military cuts. Trying to reduce Medicaid or Social Security payments would result in howls of protest from the AARP and everyone over sixty.
As to other savings, try cutting educational costs, and you quickly hear from teachers and their unions. Ranchers scream if attempts are made to increase grazing fees on public lands. Ditto for mining companies regarding increased royalties for mining on Government land. Not to mention the pressure put on legislators if they suggest eliminating or even lowering multi-multimillion dollar subsidies on tobacco and sugar, sometimes called welfare for the rich.
As for cutting legislative and administrative Government perks, forget it. Newt Gingrich—the great tax cutter—once nixed a law preventing Congressmen from making personal use of frequent flyer vouchers earned on official trips. And don’t even think of reducing the two to three million dollars required to pension a single Senator.
The list goes on, including everybody, including you. Including me. We all make the mistake of believing campaign rhetoric and tax cutting propaganda, we all want to cut spending and lower taxes, but…..
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NEW YORK BUS RIDE
Late for an appointment and in a hurry, I ran out of my co-op into the street. Not true. I am 85 years old; my running days are over. Let’s say that I walked at a reasonably rapid pace.
Out on the sidewalk, I quickly glanced to my right to see if a bus were coming and if it was the right number. I needed number M3 going uptown. Of course, this meant that the next bus would probably be the crosstown number M8 bus, Mr. Murphy being always with us. I saw neither in the distance, but still quickened my pace to assure that I could cross two streets and get to the bus stop before it unexpectedly arrived. Damn, no bus in sight. I was late for my appointment and getting later. One good sign –– other impatient passengers were waiting.
In about five minutes (it seemed like twenty) , the bus pulled up, and five of us quickly got on board. Did I say “quickly?” Two of the other passengers, not exactly spring chickens (one with a cane), slowly pulled themselves up the steps. I duplicated their movements. Finally, we were on our way. Two blocks of crosstown traffic on 14th street wasted another seven minutes, but we were finally on Park Avenue S going north at a brisk pace. I knew I couldn’t make my appointment on time, but five minutes late wouldn’t be too bad.
Then, tragedy struck. At 18th Street, the bus pulled up, but the front door didn’t open. The driver left his seat to go to the back door, where someone in a wheelchair was waiting outside. I saw the rear door open and heard the whirr of the lift mechanism slowly, slowly, slowly descending to street level, so the wheel chair could mount. What seemed even slower, the whirr continued until the wheelchair passenger got on the bus. Asking two passengers to move, the driver turned up a three-seat unit, waited for the wheelchair to maneuver erratically into the space and, using belt clips, buckled the chair in position. Five or six minutes passed before the driver returned to the front of the bus.
I watched the street intersections mount, hoping desperately to reach my 57th Street stop without further delays. It was not to be. The wheelchair passenger buzzed for a stop at 42nd, and the whole time-consuming rigamarole repeated itself, while I seethed in frustration. Unbuckle, maneuver into position, whirr down and whirr up the platform.We eventually got started again, and I got off at my stop 15 to 20 minutes later than planned. It was an important appointment, and I kept cursing the fact that city planning for the disabled might have lost for me a job I had my heart set on.
As I walked away from the bus stop, however, I finally calmed down and got to thinking. In spite of my personal inconvenience, I suddenly felt blessed that I lived in New York City, a city with a heart . Much more important than my frustration and the possible loss of a desirable job (which I might not get anyway)was the fact that we care. Not so in most other places. I have spent time in Paris and Tokyo, neither of which seems to make public transport provisions for the disabled. [A blind Japanese friend, who has travelled extensively, tells me that she gets much more assistance in New York than anywhere else.]
I thank God that my country and my city takes the time and trouble to make life easier for those unfortunate enough to do as simple a thing as walking. My relatively minor inconvenience be damned. From now on, I start my bus trips earlier.
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