The Little Mayor

Once upon a time, back in your grandparents day, there was a popular New York City mayor named Fiorello LaGuardia (a major area airport was christened in his honor). One of his major accomplishments came during a newspaper strike in 1945 when the Mayor, affectionately known as “The Little Flower,” took it upon himself to entertain his constituents by — wait for it — reading the comics over the radio.

Where’s Fiorello when we need him?

Because we sure as hell need something or someone to distract us from this circus.

In just the past couple of days, Trump has

  • questioned the loyalty of American Jews who might have the audacity to vote for Democrats. He claimed Israeli Jews love him. Bully for them; they don’t vote here. Plus the canard about disloyal Jews has been plaguing us for millennia.
  • referred to himself as “the chosen one” (the specifics don’t matter, just that fact should be a red flag). Who does that?
  • threw a hissy fit in deciding not to meet with the Danish prime minister because that country won’t let him buy Greenland.
  • flapped like one of those wind wigglers when it came to background checks for guns, now that the NRA has weighed in on the subject.
  • suggested that even though there’s no danger of a recession, he was still looking into payroll tax cuts so people could spend more. I’m no economist, but if you cut taxes, thereby bringing in less money, wouldn’t that ADD TO THE DEFICIT? Or was Trump planning on closing more departments that might actually help people?
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Heaven help me, I tuned in to FOX News to see what they had to say about the Jewish voting thing. Sure enough, only one person on the panel of five — a token Dem — suggested that maybe Trump should tone down the dyspepsia. Everyone else placed the blame squarely on the Democrats for not quashing Omar and Tlaib, as if those two are now the voice of the party which is now totally anti-Israel. And let us not forget the new video circulating about the high school students who celebrated a sports banquet with Nazi salutes and song. Welcome to Trump’s America where such things aren’t even a source of back-room shame.

My wife has a veterinary house call practice and one of her clients is a very well-known celebrity who said I should stop venting on social media and do something more substantial. Good advice, but can’t I do both?

Been away so long I hardly knew the place

Gee, it’s good to be back home.

With apologies to the Beatles…

Life, you know? That’s the only reason I can think of for not having written for lo these many months. That and my crazy work schedule, which has me working from 4 a.m. until noon most days. Which means getting up at 3 a.m. Which means going to sleep — or at least trying to — before 9 p.m. Factor in age-related issues, and getting six uninterrupted hours is nigh on impossible. I don’t look it as sleeping through the night as much as a series of naps.

But I digress.

There have been many issues during the interim that ordinarily would have compelled me to return to this site. If you read this blog, I don’t have to tell you about the continued assault on the media by the man in the High Castle, White House. I find small comfort in that now he’s attacking FOX along with the rest of the news outlets, simply because they actually reported that the polls were showing he might not have all the support he loves to claim.

You can stop after about the 3:30 mark. Or keep going for more ridiculous news about Trump on gun control and the economy.

Now understand, I don’t give a fig about FOX News. What I do care about are legitimate news organizations and their ability to proceed unimpeded, something that Trump continually tries to undermine.

So I could have come back to the ‘puter after any number of his attacks on the press. But what really knocked me out of my doldrums was a supplement in the Aug. 4 Sunday New York Times all about the “Dying Gasp of One Local Newspaper,” in this case the 121-year-old Warrod, MN, Pioneer. It reminded me a lot of my own situation a few years back with the New Jersey Jewish News, the major difference being that NJJN went on without the majority of the staff, having been taken over by the New York Jewish Week. We had our own tearful goodbyes, sans the bloody Marys.

I may be biased, but I think the NJJN was a better product before the takeover, both in terms of visual layout and editorial content. That applies to the website — the repository of the paper’s editorial history — as well. I recently tried to look for some of my articles on the site after the death of an author whom I had written about several times, but none of them were there; did I really write them if there’s no record?

The overall situation of small and not-so-small papers disappearing or be shaved down — including the Times which recently delivered three-section papers instead of the normal four during the week — is quite depressing. It reminded me of the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life in which Peter Bailey appears before the board of the Building and Loan Company his late father created.

(By the way, it still takes a long time for a working man (or woman) to save $5,000.)

Point is, we need these small-time institutions to serve as a source of information, rather than relying on just a few questionable sources.

One more thing that made me pick up my virtual pen was another item in today’s Times by David Streitfeld titled “Paging Big Brother: In Amazon’s Bookstore, Orwell Gets a Rewrite,” all about how counterfeit books wind up in circulation and how many consumers, looking to save a few bucks, might purchase these items to deleterious effect: they might believe these are the real deal, even though the language and perhaps even authors’ meanings have been altered. Talk about fake news!

My newly acquired Orwell shelf was frankly dismal — typos galore, flap copy lifted directly from Wikipedia, covers that screamed “amateur.”

The counterfeits and imports are generally the least expensive editions, and who can blame people for buying those? So they do. A $7.99 legitimate edition of “1984” was recently ranked at No. 72 among all Amazon books. A $5 Indian import was at No. 970, which suggested copies were selling at a steady clip.

So those knockoffs are screwing with my rankings??? Just think, take them out of the equation and 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die, The Jewish Olympics: The History of the Maccabiah Games, and Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War might be in the top 10. No, really. Hey, stop laughing!

Anyway, I hope to be back with a little more regularity. Would love to hear from you to make sure I’m not just ranting into the wind.

On the internet, no one can hear you scream. Unless you’re doing audio/video. Then nevermind.

Folks are always complaining about the weather…

In case you didn’t hear about it, the New York-New Jersey area was hit by an unexpected snowstorm on Thursday. Instead of the one-to-three inches predicted, we got — at least in my area — three-to-six. I was fortunate to already be home from work before the snows came, but my wife and daughter — along with thousands of others — not so much.

My wife, along with her mother and a cousin who was visiting from California, had traveled to Long Island for a mini-family reunion. They left there at 4 p.m. and didn’t get back until 11. Normally that’s a ninety-minute drive. My daughter lives in Manhattan and was coming for the weekend. Normally she would take a bus, but the Port Authority was overrun with commuters who had literally no place to go: buses weren’t running and there was no more room in the terminal.

Crowding at the Port Authority Bus Terminal forced closures on the second and third levels. (Photo courtesy Eric Espino)

It was a helpless feeling, sitting in the comfort of my living room, wondering how my family was faring, knowing there was really nothing I could do except stay in touch for updates. At 9, I headed up to bed since I had to get up at 2:30 a.m. to get to work for 4, allowing for some extra time to shovel and dig out the car. I woke up around 10:30 and heard my daughter downstairs. She had managed to get a train and make her way home from the station. My wife didn’t arrive for another half-hour or so, having been “gently” rear-ended (with no damage to person or vehicle) along the way.

Needless to say, the storm was the topic of much chatter at work. One of my colleagues almost ran out of gas on his drive, avoiding the fate of many who were stranded.

The reason for bringing all this up is not to complain (too late) about the storm, but to complain about the coverage of the storm, ignoring the fact that weatherpeople and sportscaster are probably the only two professions where you can be wrong half the time and still keep your job.

Andrew Silow-Carroll, my former editor at the New Jersey Jewish News included this in a piece on his experiences walking over the George Washington Bridge, rather than stand around and wait for mass transit to restart operations:

If you want to see the hollowing out of local journalism, take a look at my Northern New Jersey daily. They should have owned this story, with constant updates, blanket coverage, hard questions for the mayors and administrators who control the plows, the salt spreaders and the transportation. Instead, I got a measly story or two with some erroneous information. (Buses were not delayed by “as much as a half hour.” That is known locally as a typical day.) The local TV news wasn’t much better. Newsrooms have been hollowed out by layoffs and downsizing (losing 45 percent of their employees between 2008 and 2017).  If they can’t throw resources at a region-wide event like the storm, you can only imagine what other kinds of stories — about local corruption, environmental threats, corporate malfeasance — aren’t being covered.

Look, I know there’s really nothing you can do in a situation like this. Just try to be better prepared for the next time.

Here’s another fine mess…

But I digress…

Haven’t been writing for a while, as you probably have noticed. (At least I hope you’ve noticed.) Mainly because I wouldn’t know where to start and another that I wouldn’t know when to finish. There’s a line from Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln in which he has the Great Emancipator, after a lengthy story, telling one of his famous stories: “As the preacher said, ‘I could write shorter sermons, but once I start, I get too lazy to stop.'”

These past several weeks have almost driven me mad. I come home from work and switch on CNN to find out what stupid/immoral/illegal/racist thing did our president do today?

Maybe that’s my biggest mistake. I spend (waste?) so much time wringing my hands and  sharing thoughts with the like-minded on social media. And stress-eating.

There’s one gentleman who writes daily thoughtful pieces on Facebook. I’ve asked him what the point of it is. After all, we’re pretty much preaching to the choir here. I would say the majority of our friends agree with our viewpoints. What is the good of all these posts? Nothing changes at all.

Much of what concerns me is the way our president treats the press. I don’t want to get into any psychological interpretations over the whys of his actions (he didn’t get enough love from his family and is looking for approval, etc.). It’s enough that he treats journalists like Jim Acosta and April Ryan with tremendous disrespect for doing their job, i.e., they point out his lies and don’t ask softball questions or fawningly praise him, which — by the way — should be just as unprofessional.

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I even took the unorthodox step of urging my colleagues to vote on our social media closed group page.

Never planned on being “that guy.” I was never even interested in politics before this fiasco. But to see some of the postings from Trump supporters is mind-boggling. Very few offer cogent arguments. Rather they insult and cajole and are generally in lock-step (goose-step?) with their hero.

A lot is open to interpretation. Trump held that infamous “tantrum conference,” as Stephen Colbert called, it in which he crowed about what a great election day the GOP enjoyed. When it was pointed out that the Democrats took the House, he had to point out that the Dems lost a lot of seats when Obama was president. Really? You want to play that game? What I did was bad (which he’d never say), but what Obama did was worse?

I wish I could stop; it’s like picking at a scab. But as I would say to the president: you want the press to treat you better? Stop doing stupid/mean/racist/immoral/illegal shit. Then I could get my life back.


Lest we forget: Bob Wiener

When I joined the NJ Jewish News in 2004 after being out of work for a couple of years, I had a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was nice to be getting a paycheck again. On the other hand, I was a bit overwhelmed. While I had done a little bit of freelancing, that was pretty much on my terms. I had no formal experience in journalism. Plus I was expected to come up with my own story ideas; it was tough enough working on assignments.

There was also the situation of being the new kid in class. The “bigger kids” could have made my life fairly uncomfortable. But then I met Bob Wiener.


Actually, I  had “met” him a few days before I actually started. He was the first one to greet me, sending a note to my home email address.

Bob — an award-winning writer for NJJN — was a veteran media producer, having worked for Court TV, MSNBC, and WNBC-TV as a producer.

Shortly after I came on board, I brought my daughter, Rachel, to work. She must have been about 11 at the time and Bob made her feel welcome, too. When he learned during their chat that she loved photography, he asked her to take a picture for him for an article he was working on, something he normally would have done himself. It was just a simple exterior shot of the Whipanny JCC, but it made Rachel — now a professional photographer — feel grown-up and, again, welcome, a word that circles back to Bob. He was always up for lunch with a co-worker or to just to schmooze. He had an impact on all his colleagues at the paper, as can be seen through the tributes on the NJJN Alum facebook page.

Bob wasn’t perfect. He was known to doze off at his desk from time to time and his computer interactions were legendary. You could count on hearing shouts of “Bob!” from the managing editor’s office, just a few feet away, and their back-and-forth (rather than conducting business more quietly over the phone). But these were all loveable foibles.

He could have retired years ago but he loved the work, loved to be around people, despite the difficulties commuting from NYC.

So long, Bob. Thanks for making things so easy for me.


“I am Spartacus!”

Wouldn’t it be great if not only one person came forward to identify as the author of The New York Times‘ notorious “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” but multiple people? After all, as the writer notes, there are a number who believe they are conducting themselves to to greater good when they try to “guide” #45 so he doesn’t either destroy America’s standing position on the world stage (which has already diminished) or get us into World War III.

Instead of focusing on improving the country he’s supposed to lead, Trump has taken a deep dive — Captain Queeg style — to find out who took the strawberries, that is, who wrote the essay, calling on the Attorney General to launch an investigation, claiming it is an issue of “national security.” In his warped mind he believes “l’etat, c’est moi,” forgetting that the people in government work are — or should be — tasked with serving in the best interests of the country, not Donald J. Trump. Plus he’s practically demanding loyalty oaths from his staffers and otherwise going deeper into his black hole.

Trump and many of his followers have branded the writer a “gutless coward.” Show them they’re wrong. While it may have consequences in the short run, you will be hailed as a hero.

A Voice silenced

I was never an avid reader of the Village Voice when I was living in New York. Once in a while I would pick up a copy if I wanted to see about entertainment or, even more rare, if there was a feature article about baseball. I wasn’t interested in local politics or arts and culture at the time.

On the other hand, my wife and I were able to enjoy a second wedding ceremony because I won a Valentine’s Day essay contest in the voice

But I appreciated it for what it was: a piece of alternative press that gave a, well, voice, to the underserved.

The Village Voice located at 36 Cooper Square in New York.The Village Voice ceases operations, New York, USA - 31 Aug 2018The Village Voice, which was founded in 1955 and left an indelible mark on New York’s cultural and political landscape for decades, has finally faced up to its daunting business reality and opted to cease editorial operations.

Last week, the new owner announced that the Voice — which had already ceased print publication — was shutting down completely. According to Peter Barbey

In recent years, the Voice has been subject to the increasingly harsh economic realities facing those creating journalism and written media. Like many others in publishing, we were continually optimistic that relief was around the next corner. Where stability for our business is, we do not know yet. The only thing that is clear now is that we have not reached that destination..

The final print edition came out last September, featuring an old photo of Bob Dylan on the cover. Since then, as per this story, there were only 18 staffers left. Most of those were dismissed, save for a few who are being kept on to digitize the paper.

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Of course, I blame the younger generation (#Sad) because they can’t be bothered with reading on anything bigger than a smart phone or iPad. Kidding, not kidding. As you know if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, I’m a victim of the downturn. I might consider returning to journalism, given the perfect situation, but realistically I don’t think that’s likely to happen.

In the meantime, a fond farewell to a New York institution.


NBC needs to answer Trump’s charge

I may not be aware of the legal implications here and maybe I’m just reacting impulsively, but if I were in charge of NBC, I would have to do something about Donald Trump’s accusations that Lester Holt “got caught fudging my tape on Russia.”

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As usual, Trump offers no actual, you know, proof to back up his claims.

My fear, as many pundits have already expressed, is that we’re becoming inured of all of these things, passing it off like, “Oh, there goes crazy Uncle Donald again, that old scamp. He says a lot of crazy stuff, but he’s really harmless.”

Except it’s not harmless. Just like when he “predicts” that there will be violence in the streets if the Democrats win in the mid-term elections.  This isn’t “Manny being Manny.” Nor is it Abe Simpson.

I know it’s too much to ask for the Republicans to take a stand once and  say this is crackpot behavior that cannot be allowed to continue, but a boy can dream, can’t he?

“Stop googling yourself, stop googling yourself…”

One would think the leader of the free world wouldn’t have the kinds of time it must take to carry one such a paranoic pursuit, by Donald Trump — who has already spent more time (and money) golfing than his predecessor(s) — seems to find such opportunities.

At a moment when he should be doing all sorts of things — from paying tribute to the late John McCain to not paying the increase in the wages of federal employees — Trump’s latest whine concerns the perceived unfair practices of search engines which he claims are stacking the deck against him and his conservative cronies. According to his very scientific surveys, they purposely rig searches to lead off with the most negative stories about him. Uh-huh.

To be honest, I watch CNN and read The New York Times and, yes, the overwhelming majority of stories could be considered “negative.” But whose fault is that? Maybe Trump based his information on this.

I think #45 wishes he had the powers of an Anthony Freemont. Don’t bother googling; here’s the connection. Trump already has his people “looking into it” and making veiled threats.

“Ask me no questions…”

By the way, ever notice during one of his staged chats that whenever he wants to end the proceedings and not answer any more questions, he goes into defensive mode? He does that a lot. Just an observation.

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Art imitates life…again

Image result for Lodge 49Been watching Lodge 49, a new series on AMC. Summer fluff, but in the third episode, Connie, one of the characters who works for a local newspaper in her California town, receives the news that she’s being let go just after she pitches a series of stories to her editor about a major local company that is shutting down.

She laughs for a moment in disbelief, obviously thinking this is a joke, but the editor explains, “With this buyout, we’re doing a pivot to video thing and there’s no way around it…”

“Wait, you’re serious?” asks Connie, played by the actor Linda Emond.

Image result for Lodge 49, linda emond“Yeah. I’m sorry. Look, here is a press release with more info.”

Connie put on her glasses, glances at the paper, looks askance at her editor, and begins to read. “In an age of accelerated transformation, our mission is to become an industry leader in the curation-optimization and monetization of hypercontent.”

She laughs. “What does that even mean?”

“It means thing are moving fast, so. On a personal note, I will really miss your story of about the old news rooms…”

Did I mention that Connie is “middle-aged” and the editor is thirty-something?

So naturally this hit home with me, another reminder that it was almost two years ago when I got the axe from my paper. Only the new owner wasn’t as far-thinking a jargon-driven.

Although I’ve been hearing about the major outlets that are pulling back, such as the NY Daily News, I haven’t been keeping up with the hundreds of smaller papers, so can someone tell me how accurate this scenario is? Drop a comment.