Thursday, September 28, 2017

No wonder so many Americans won’t stand for the national anthem. It’s nearly un-singable. It’s warlike and un-aspirational. And it supports slavery and racism.

All right, Mr. Trump. In attacking the NFL and NBA players who one way or another refused to stand and put their hands on their hearts when The Star Spangled Banner was played, you’ve opened and then dumped the contents of a giant can of worms onto your own plate. Now it’s time for you to eat them.

Just to begin, athletes, like everyone else, are guaranteed freedom of expression by the U.S. Constitution, which is one of the things for which the American flag is a symbol. Thus, when you choose to deny them this freedom, Mr. Trump, it is you who is disrespecting the flag.

You have ignored the simple truth that the protest of these athletes is legitimate — that as people of color, they are regularly the victim of police brutality, documented so many times in recent years that you have to be willfully blind to claim it does not exist.

Since you’ve brought up the national anthem, let’s also deal with the question of why it deserves no respect and ought to be dumped in favor of some other song. The answer boils down to this: our great nation has one of the lousiest national anthems in the world. Consider:

The Star Spangled Banner is virtually un-singable. The clip of Roseanne Barr slaughtering it at the top of this post may have been Barr’s idea of a sendup, but it wasn’t very far from the truth. 

You can carry a tune and still, like million of Americans, you may not be able to credibly sing this unmusical, unlyrical song. It staggers over wide-ranging octaves like a careening drunk bouncing off walls. 

What’s more, the anthem’s lyrics are so ineptly out of meter with the music that singers need to insert syllables where none exist in the English language, disrespecting not only the dignity of our nation, but  our language as well. Example: (“And the star spangled ban-ner in tri-yi-yi-umph sha-all way-ave….”)

Speaking of drunks, the music was actually composed for a bunch of drunks with sex on their minds. It was a song written and boozily sung originally in England, not America, in the Eighteenth Century, by members of a drinking club, the Anacreontic Society.

But worse yet, the little-known and even less-sung final stanza of the Star Spangled Banner all but curses enslaved black men.

Here are the pertinent lines of the stanza:

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The "foul footsteps" to which Francis Scott Key refers are those of slaves in Maryland who fought on the side of the English when promised their freedom. So clearly Key, himself a slaveholder, didn’t not consider black people suitable citizens for either the land of the free or the home brave. 

No indeed. Instead he believed blacks were “a distinct and inferior race of people which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that affects a community.”   Little wonder he cursed them with the “gloom of the grave.” For that reason alone the song deserves to be stricken from opening ceremonies. It is not a patriotic song. It is anti-patriotic.

So what should we sing instead? Well before World War I, in Newark, New Jersey, a woman named Katherine Lee Bates and an Episcopal choirmaster named Samuel A. Ward wrote a beautiful, melodic, easy-to-sing and patriotic hymn. It was about our nation and its natural beauty, and brotherhood — and not about a battle and a curse on some of our people. Moreover, unlike the Star Spangled Banner, it mentions — repeatedly — the name of our nation. 

It concedes the nation has flaws. It calls upon God to men them. It mentions liberty, law, gleaming cities of alabaster, and brotherhood. Yes, "America The Beautiful." Here’s a touching rendition of it by Ray Charles

And for a backup? In 1893 a poor immigrant boy with no skills and as yet little education was permitted to enter the United States. In time he discovered he had a talent for writing songs. Over the years he created great fortunes and employment for others with this talent, writing over 20 Broadway hit shows. 

Among his many songs were “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,”  and the holiday songs “In Your Easter Bonnet,” and “White Christmas.” His name?  Irving Berlin.

Perhaps Berlin’s his greatest and — dare I say it? — most sacred song was a hymn he wrote to the country that let him in, instead of attempting to wall him out.

Think what a glorious song a new national anthem could be, if America focused on its mission and message to humanity, and not always, constantly, incessantly, annoyingly on you, Mr. Trump, playing while you're all alone at night with your petty little tweeter.

Here is Irving Berlin, late in life and a bit frail with age, singing his song — followed by a chorus that demonstrates the way God Bless America could sound in stadiums and theaters across America if it became the new national anthem.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Has Donald Trump been brain damaged?

The famed neurologist Oliver Sacks once described a brain-damaged actor.
He was not describing Donald Trump. But the resemblance is remarkable.
You may also find it eerie

Remember the late Oliver Sacks? 

He was the celebrated neurologist who wrote books about people with quirky conditions of the brain that led to behaviors incapable of explanation by simple psychiatric means.

In "Awakenings," he told the story of a group of people who seemed to be in a kind of paralytic sleep for decades — except the when you threw a ball at them, they'd catch it. 

In "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat," — well, the title pretty much describes it. 

Sacks once treated the actor Spalding Gray, who eventually committed suicide.

After an automobile accident during which Gray suffered a concussion, he underwent a troubling change in personality. Sacks attributed it to damage to one of Gray's frontal lobes. Said Sacks, in an article that appeared in the New Yorker Magazine:
But the frontal lobes also exert an inhibiting or constraining influence on what Pavlov called “the blind force of the subcortex”—the urges and passions that might overwhelm us if left unchecked. (Apes and monkeys, like children, though clearly intelligent and capable of forethought and planning, are relatively lacking in frontal lobes, and tend to do the first thing that occurs to them, rather than pausing to reflect. Such impulsivity can be striking in patients with frontal-lobe damage.) There is normally a beautiful balance, a delicate mutuality, between the frontal lobes and the subcortical parts of the brain that mediate perception and feeling, and this allows a consciousness that is free-ranging, playful, and creative. The loss of this balance through frontal-lobe damage can “release” impulsive behaviors, obsessive ideas, and overwhelming feelings and compulsions. 
Frontal-lobe damage can lead to difficulties with attention and problem-solving, and impoverishment of creativity and intellectual activity. 
Does that sound like somebody you've seen in the news recently? Does it sound like grounds for removing a sitting president, via the 25th Amendment

Only wondering.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Monumental mistakes, statuary rape, and how New York’s blithering mayor, Bill DeBlasio, blathered his way into a mess

Is this statue of a Pilgrim, lost in Central Park,
another monumental mistake? Keep reading.
Leave it to the United  States of America to sweat the small stuff. 

Donald  Trump and Kim Jung  Un are rattling nuclear sabers at each other. 

Affordable healthcare is in danger of failing thanks to the spitefulness of Donald Trump and right wing Republicans.

Houston and now Lafayette, Louisiana, just nearly drowned. Meanwhile, a hanging judge named Mother Nature is busy sending out for more rope. 

We’re back in Afghanistan up to our necks, or maybe over our heads. It’s hard to tell which, since the Trump administration isn’t saying how many troops it plans to commit there. 

And what are we all worrying about?



It all started as a reasonable enough movement. Statues of Confederate Generals, erected decades after the Civil War, essentially to stick a finger in the eye of Reconstruction, are now sticking their stony and brassy fingers into the eyes of Afro-Americans — who rightfully object to the celebration-by-monument of treasonable behavior, in defense of the enslavement of their ancestors.

The white supremacist accusations of erasing a “heritage” arouse no feelings of sympathy in me. You want to remember your ancestors and your family’s heritage of enslaving other people? Go where the rest of us go to remember departed relatives — to the cemetery. Stick your monuments there, and stop littering public spaces with them.

Guardians of monumental virtue then raised what ought to have been a non-issue. Where would it all stop? If we could tear down Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, who fought for slavery, why not Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who kept slaves? Is our civilization teetering on the edge of committing mass "statuary rape?"

That argument was prima facie silly-assed. Washington and Jefferson may have kept slaves, but they fought to found a republic that would eventually eliminate slavery. Lee and Davis committed treason and fought against that same republic primarily to preserve slavery. End of argument.

Or at least it might have ended there, had not some nincompoops of political correctness —nincompoops who I am ashamed to confess are on my own end of the political spectrum and in my own city — jumped in with both left feet.

Case-in-point: suddenly there’s a movement afoot in New York to take down the statue-atop-a-tall-pillar of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle because Columbus helped to abuse and enslave the native Americans he found in the Western Hemisphere. (As did virtually every American, one way or another, up to the late 20th Century. Fortunately, now only some of us do that.)

My city’s idiot mayor, Bill De Blasio, is forming a commission on politically correct statuary. Among the statues under review is that one of Columbus at Columbus Circle. (De Blasio seems to have forgotten another, inside Central Park.) If the statue at Columbus Circle goes, can the  name of the circle be far behind? 

The Italian-American community, which never took an official position on statues, and had precious little to do with slavery or the Civil War, and also had little if anything to do with persecuting native Americans, is now seething.There’s some question as to whether De Blasio, who is half Italian, will permitted to march in the annual Columbus Day parade, the next biggest deal in New York to the St.Patrick’s Day parade.

Frankly, I hope they won’t let him march. A contentious issue was about to get put to bed when Dummy De Blasio, for no discernibly sensible reason, opened a bottomless can of worms.

Okay, Mayor Stupid. I’ve been walking through Central Park recently and I notice that this vast, once-glorious acreage, created by a pair of landscape artists to reflect and give us space to appreciate the glory of pastoral plains, lovely lakes and bosky glens — in other words untrammeled nature in the heart  of a great city — is now cluttered with statues that are trammeling the place from end to end.

You go to Central Park looking for trees. Instead you get statues littering the landscape like candy wrappers after a rock concert. Most of the statues range from mildly inappropriate to totally unsuitable. Just a few examples:

There’s a great big statue of a Pilgrim, complete with buckled hat, floppy boots and blunderbuss, inside the park on a grassy hillock just a little past the East 72nd Street entrance. What’s he doing there?  

The base of his statue says he’s celebrating the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620. So what the hell is he doing cluttering up Central Park? Did he dive off the Mayflower too soon and get lost?

He was probably sent there because he was messing up the view at Plymouth Rock, and the good citizens of Massachusetts were able to fob off this inappropriate hunk of junk on New York. Besides, weren’t the Pilgrims intolerant of other religions? Didn’t they once whip a Quaker just because he was a Quaker and then cut off the poor fellow’s ears when he showed up in Massachusetts Bay Colony? Get rid of the statue.

Next there’s the statue of the late Fred Lebow. I found Fred to be an annoying guy with a loud, grating voice. True, he helped found  the New York Marathon. Does he deserve a statue for that?  He also helped start a running club that on weekend mornings often makes much of the park inhospitable to anyone who isn’t there to run with Fred’s club. 

Lebow’s  runners often blocked the bikeways and crowded up the roadways while Lebow’s sandpaper voice destroyed the peace of nature  and drowned out the chirping of birds by shouting out amplified distances, lap numbers, and running times from his one-time perch near the East 90th Street entrance. He was a royal pain not only in the butt, but also in everybody’s ear. Melt him down!

How about Balto the Dog? Remember him? No, I didn’t think you did. He was part of a dog sled team that helped deliver medicine to Nome, Alaska, to save children from diptheria a century or so ago. He and his unsung canine pals deserve a statue —in Nome, not New York. Meanwhile, God help you if you let your own dog off your leash in Central Park so he can enjoy a bit of a run. We only celebrate dead dogs here.

Bronze cougar preparing to attack steel bicycle. Does
nature need this? Melt the cat down!
Speakling of animals, there’s also a statue of a cougar on a cliff, looking like he’s ready to pounce on the joggers and cyclists below. If he were a real cougar I’d vote to keep him. Maybe he’d eat the mayor. Or some of Fred Lebow’s runners. But alas, he’s just another lump of bronze where bronze doesn’t belong.

Only in New York would somebody erect a 
statue to the worst poet in American History.
Send Fitz-Greene Halleck to the scrap yard!
Did I mention Fitz-Greene Halleck? Fitz-Who Who? He may have been the worst poet who ever held American citizenship, a scribbler of hifalutin’ third-rate trash.

For example, here’s the final stanza of one of his truly atrocious poems called “Fanny.” The poem rambles on, and on, stanza after stanza, in iffy meter with rhyme so strained it could induce a hernia, until the effort reaches its derision-inducing end by trying to rhyme “dress’d in” with “interesting.”

But a full dress is for a winter’s night. 
   The most genteel is made of "woven air;" 
That kind of classic cobweb, soft and light, 
   Which Lady Morgan’s Ida used to wear. 
And ladies, this aĆ«rial manner dress'd in, one 
Look Eve-like, angel-like, and interesting. 

Other samples  of his trash are even worse, but you get the idea.

Fitz-Greene (nickname him “Hack”) Halleck stands amid a cluster of statues along what might have been a perfectly pleasant tree-shaded path in Central Park, now called “Poet’s Walk.” Halleck is the only American whose statue appears there. There’s no Edgar Allen Poe. He wasn’t considered worthy enough by the politicians who stuck Halleck where they could have planted a perfectly good tree back in the 19th Century. No Longfellow, either. No Emily Dickinson. No Walt Whitman. Instead, there’s Sir Walter Scott, the Englishman who was primarily a novelist rather than a poet,  and the Scotsman Robert Burns. 

Elsewhere in Central Park you’ll find William Shakespeare, Daniel Webster, and such forgotten figures, perhaps deservedly, as Richard Morris Hunt, and Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen. (Sorry, no links. Look them up yourself.) The only useful part of Thorvaldsen’s statue is the base, because lots of dogs get to lift their legs to it, thus sparing nearby bushes and flower beds.

Tear all the statues down. Replace them with trees and grass and flowers that were meant, by the park's great architects, Olmstead and Vaux, to be there. Then if you want, you can honor somebody by naming a tree after her. Or him.

Come to think of it, maybe not. Some future idiot resembling Mayor De Blasio might come along and demand we form a commission chop down all the politically incorrect trees.