Monday, February 1, 2016


The Iowa caucuses are to the Presidential race what the Golden Globes are to the Oscar Awards—contrived frippery. In tandem, they are the tails of the horses’ asses they aspire to emulate. For all the fuss and ballyhoo both create, they are pie-in-the-sky burlesques with no significance other than the misplaced importance naively or tipsily attributed to them. Not even Shakespeare, with all his uncanny insight, could have foreseen the much-ado-about-mostly-mainstream-nothing histrionics of American political theater, but he certainly anticipated this year’s dime a dozen clump of crass, craven GOP presidential candidates when he likened life to “a poor player… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Forget, for the moment, that he called him an idiot.) Or the measure for measure my-experience-is-bigger-than-yours two-horse trotter race on the Democratic side.

Why does all this matter now? For those who take politics as seriously as they take show business, it matters bigtime.* It’s politics and show biz, song and dance, drama and more drama. It’s “Trumpo,” a spectacular cast of one, vying for glory with “Mad Max: Fury Road” featuring the tireless/tiresome Cruz the Choleric. It’s “The Revenant,” introducing the hovering specter of George W. It’s “The Hateful Eight”… or ten… or dozen. If it adds up at all, it’s the cynically calculated math of press agents and political consultants, of flaks and spinmeisters.

Springing from the star-besotted minds of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Golden Globes could only have been created in Hollywood. Where else could a mere 80-plus men and women from around the world, many of whom are purportedly neither foreign nor press, influence America’s number one awards show—likely, one with a vastly larger international viewing audience than our presidential elections—the Academy Awards? Where else could 80-plus would-be foreign journalists take the lead in swaying 5,765 active voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, qualified professionals all, to think as they do and vote as they have?

Where else? In Iowa, where 12 would-be candidates have spent incalculable amounts of time, effort and money to influence all of 5.4 eligible Iowa voters to write one of their names on a slip of paper—with grand dreams of ultimately impressing on 50.1% of the 125 to 130 million Americans who may go to the polls (weather permitting) that he or she is the heaven-sent one to lead the country from the chasm they see themselves in to a far better chasm than they have ever known. Where an Iowa voter has to belong to a party only for as long as it takes to vote, and can switch parties or switch back to "undeclared" immediately after. Or a Globes voter doesn’t have to speak English to love a performance. Imagine! Almost rubbing elbows with George Clooney on the Red Carpet and writing home to Liechtenstein that you voted for anyone else. Standing in line for the Ladies’ Room three bodies behind Cate Blanchett and letting the folks in Lower Silesia know “she has to go, too!”

Emerging from the smoke and mirrors unreality in both lands of Oz is the spectacle of a quinella of Republicans nobody seems to want and a duo of Democrats few seem able to differentiate or choose between, en route to being anointed to lead his or her party up or down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, more smoke and mirrors. In both lands of Oz, Caucusville and Stardust Fields, it’s as if a stickball game observed by three neighborhood kids determines who goes to the World Series. As Shakespeare might have said: My kingdom for a pair of ruby slippers!

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*It is noteworthy that “big time,” originally a term to describe the ultimate “White House” for vaudeville acts, was introduced as a synonym for “important” or “major” on radio, July 7, 1950, by the preeminent newscaster Lowell Thomas, in reference to the Korean War.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Eli Wallach: The Man with the Optical Grin

It took some delicious memories of the most endearingly impish man I've ever known to get me back to this blog.

Eli in 2007, the recipient (with Anne) of the Dutch Treat Club Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. 

Thirty years ago, I spent seven unholy days and nights in Israel with Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson—a long week making a short film we knew none of us would ever deserve recognition for. 

On Day One, as we entered the Tel Aviv suk [bazaar], Eli dropped back several steps and said to me, in his inimitable heartfelt whine, “I don’t know what I’m doin’ here. Annie played Lou Kaddar, Golda Meir’s sidekick, in “A Woman Called Golda”… they’ll know her!  But no one will know who I am.”

Just then, from their stalls and from behind their counters, the market’s vendors, consecutively laying eyes on him, started leaning forward, cupping their hands… and singing the indelibly haunting theme from “The Magnificent Seven.” As Eli broke into a slow grin:  bumbum/bum/bum… bum/bum/bum/ bum/ bum/ bum....  

On Day Two, a shoot day, Eli, standing alone on a bare outdoor stage, asked me how to say a famous line of Shakespeare—in Hebrew. Cameras rolling, the dazzling Israeli noonday sun for a spotlight, he emoted: “lee-hee-yot o lo lee-hee-yot.”  To be or not to be.  Anne whispered, “Foxy, darling, does he know what he’s doing?” “That,” I failed to assure her, “is the question.”

Eli was mischievous. Anne could be… mercurial. Eli would misbehave, knowing full well his Annie would react. And every time she did, I would see this fleeting, impish, glint—a split second flicker of optical grin—flash in his eyes. Anne had to live with it; all I wanted was one shot of it, one photo.  

It cost me roll upon roll of film as I tried, unfailingly in vain, to capture this, the most classic, of their shenanigans. I fell into a pattern of standing around, camera in hand, trying not to be obvious, but perched at the ready for that glint, that unparalleled optical grin, determined to catch it, trying to anticipate it whenever I saw Eli peer anywhere but into Anne’s reproving eyes. Seeing it coming… and always missing it!  Peer Glynt, I began to call it under my breath in frustration. Click! I missed. There it is again! Click! Missed again. Click! Damn! I must have squandered four rolls of high-speed film on trying to capture Eli’s virtuoso “Peer Glynt.” Just once! I never did. I never wanted that shot as much as I do today. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

At Ease in the Fields of Sharon


No one is ambivalent about Ariel Sharon. Or ever hesitant to share strong sentiments. I’ll leave it to both admirers and detractors to give you earfuls of what they want you to know about him. Here’s what I know:

"Arik" Sharon knew his beloved country Israel by the inch, every inch, conceivably and convincingly better than the proverbial back of his hand. Once, to make a point to me, he reached into his back pocket, withdrew a map of Israel he evidently always carried with him, and spread it out over the front fender of a parked car. His index finger deftly indicating spot after spot of land, he said, "We can’t give this back to them because it’s high ground they can easily attack us from… can’t let them have this because it’s directly above a road we use for civilian and military transit… can’t vacate this because a rock thrown from here can stop or kill someone." A rock! He wasn’t nearly finished, but he’d made his point—life and death in the Middle East wasn’t, as commonly perceived, so much periodic and precariously seismic as it was day-to-day, hand-to-hand, inescapably rooted in biblical times.

He was an impassioned patriot and single-minded warrior. "A tank coming through," an early but former ally of his, Geulah Cohen, memorably characterized him for me during a late-evening reminiscence at Israel’s Knesset. "He’s here, and he sees there," she pointed, "and nothing in between. He would roll over anything—even his mother, I believe—that stood in his way." 

In June, 1982, in response to the PLO’s persistent missile attacks on northern Israeli towns and a Palestinian terrorist group’s attempted assassination of Israel's Ambassador to Great Britain, the Israel Defense Forces, under then defense minister Sharon’s leadership, stormed across Lebanon’s southern border, subsequently sweeping north through Lebanon in a stunning victory over PLO, Syrian and Muslim Lebanese forces. When I asked him about the "game plan" and the "wisdom" of the show of force, he told me with boyish candor that it was not part of any strategy he had in mind, but that his forces encountered so little effective resistance from the PLO, "We just kept going." With an expansive shrug and his irrepressible smile, he explained, "We couldn’t stop!"

During the Christmas/Chanukah holidays of 1982, I accompanied Elizabeth Taylor to Israel. Prior to our departure from the United States, I promised I’d take her to Lebanon after the New Year, a prospect that particularly excited her. I would introduce her to the newly, democratically elected government officials of the country, she would be feted at the presidential palace, and, as the pièce de résistance, we would meet, possibly even ride with, Major Sa’ad Haddad, a hero of Lebanon’s Civil War and a friend.

On New Year’s Day, 1983, I was taking Elizabeth to the Sharon farm in southern Israel. We rode from Tel Aviv in the back seat of a limo, following another car while an uncustomarily hard rain continued to fall. When the lead car drove suddenly into a flooded road and slammed on its brakes, ours plowed into it. Elizabeth screamed, our bodies were thrown forward, and we wound up sprawled on the floor of the limo, her leg bleeding, a finger eerily bent, I barely able to breathe. Transferred to other cars, we arrived at the Sharons’ separately, rain-soaked and battered. He stood waiting outside under a carport for me, and lifted me out of the car as if I were weightless. "We can’t get a helicopter in the air in this weather, so a doctor is driving down from Tel Aviv," he told me. "He said to keep you warm, quiet and comfortable."

He did his best to. Blankets and brandy were administered, the fireplace stoked as ice compresses were applied. While Elizabeth, her injured leg up on an ottoman, was, by her own description, "chewing on brandy," Arik told us about the farm, i.e., we have so many acres and so many goats and so many sheep, and… and I wasn’t in any condition to pay attention. Quite soon, neither was Elizabeth. When the doctor arrived, we turned the Sharon house into a clinic. The doctor took turns examining us on the Sharon’s dining room table, concluding we had to go to the hospital—back in Tel Aviv!

Elizabeth was relegated to a neck brace, a finger cast—middle-finger upright, leg and back dressings, and a wheel chair. As Elizabeth’s landing field, I sustained a side of broken ribs. Nevertheless, we were hell-bound for Lebanon. I requested a helicopter from the general, who objected vehemently. "They will shoot the copter out of the air before it is two feet off the ground! They would love the publicity!" His "they" was the PLO. Our dialogue turned increasingly heated that evening as he, from a radio station following an interview, and I, from my hotel room preceding having to face Elizabeth, continued to debate the issue. To my astonishment, I won! Or so I believed—briefly. No sooner had I prevailed than his steadfast admonishment caught up with me. In retrospect, I think he banked on it. I informed Elizabeth that we were not going to Lebanon and braved seeing her on the brink of tears. (In due time, I will relate the droll details of most of those past 48 hours. For now, I’ll just say:) I felt caught between a rock and a hard place—and suspected that Arik represented both.

In 1983, Arik Sharon sued Time magazine for libel over a cover story alleging he had encouraged the revenge-taking that led to massacres at two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, the previous year. In 1985, the day before the federal jury rendered its verdict after 11 days of deliberation, I visited his wife Lily and him in a US District Court in Manhattan as they waited in a small chamber with several others until given word there would be no decision that day. We descended the courthouse steps into nightfall to find the sidewalk and street devoid of life but for several taxis, which Arik began hailing and ushering the others into. Before he and Lily climbed into the last of them, he asked me how I was getting home. I cited subway or bus or the possibility of walking a little, but he said it was too dark and desolate, and not safe for me. I told him not to worry, "this is my city, I live here, I’m fine!" But he would have none of that. He practically shoe-horned me into a crowded taxi headed uptown.

The last time I saw him was in May, 2000, at a reception in Manhattan. I may have taken the only photo with him where he wasn’t smiling. Neither of us was. An opportunity to speak quietly together had given us time to commiserate with each other: Lily had died in March and I had just lost my mother. Our conversation was respectfully interrupted by a photographer I knew from these photo-op-filled occasions. Chatting earlier in the evening with him, I mentioned the irony of not having even one photo with the general. The conscientious fellow decided to amend that before he dashed to another assignment. It wasn’t an ideal time. I posted the photo above to illustrate that.

Speaking of "an ideal time," Gilad Sharon said that his father "went when he decided to go." That was the Sharon I knew.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Originally published on The Huffington Post:

Affirming Altruism

Somewhere between high school and college we argued about selfish acts. Only, we didn't call the alternative to them unselfish, we called them altruistic. (It never occurred to a single one of us deep-thinkers to question whether calling them altruistic was pretentious; optimal words came naturally to us once upon a time.)

The question posed was, "Is there such a thing as a purely altruistic act?" I remember thinking that all young men and women somewhere between high school and college age must be having the same considered debate we were—and, with similarly facile logic, invariably reaching the same defining conclusion:
There is no such thing as a purely altruistic act.

Ours wasn't a happy pronouncement. What we agreed on by surprising consensus we agreed on reluctantly rather than cynically. If a plausible corollary was "blowin' in the wind," we didn't see it.

Several years after we earnest few moved on—from our lofty contemplations and from each other—I was nursing a cappuccino and gorging on the nuance du jour with friends at a Greenwich Village café when I heard a familiar voice and turned to see Bob Dylan, legs up, slouched down, amid a sprawled-out group of coffeehouse denizens in animated conversation at a nearby table. Seeing coffee and cigarettes, the prerequisites to good conversation, strewn on their table, it crossed my mind to muse: were they, by any chance, debating the same thing we had—the truly altruistic act—invariably coming to the same conclusion? many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?

This was roughly a decade before the "me" generation was appropriately identified. What our generation wanted to be was unselfish: what we all in our starry-eyed idealism wanted to embody was altruism. What was "blowin' in the wind" was the dawn of an invigorating new era, and if the answer we wanted wasn't yet written on the wind, it was visible—if nowhere else, then on our earnestly unfurrowed brows. How did everyone, or anyone, fail to see it?

Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?

Nothing, over the years, threatened to change my mind. Absolute selflessness, self-abnegation, self-sacrifice were mythological at best—the stuff of scriptures, literature and dreams. Clerics shock us, heroes disillusion, icons pale, leaders fail. Still, something in me clings to the utopian notion of that "purely altruistic act."

Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind...

The question we should be pondering today is can we stand by and do nothing while innocent women and children are indiscriminately gassed and murdered. Not, first and foremost, should the United States intervene in yet another war on distant shores, risk American women's and men's lives to save others, although it's a valid question. Not, should we spend money in a foreign country while people are suffering in ours, an equally valid consideration. Not even, should we go to war and risk American lives to stem further terrorism and to protect ourselves and our children. There is but one paramount question, the purely altruistic one, the humane one, the morally right one, and the answer to it is being addressed by President Obama, who fathoms and feels we must do something!

Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died ?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

The president has nothing personal to gain from waging war in any manner on Syria. Someone should try to explain to Ted Cruz that Barack Obama is already the president and can't run for another term. Someone should explain to Newt Gingrich that he can never be president. Someone should explain to Fox News... no, forget it.

It's reasonable to criticize and differ with the president's handling of Syria, but irrational to attribute his motives to anything self-serving or sinister. This man who makes Republicans stark-raving venomous may be the least selfish of any president in recorded history. Absolutely, purely altruistic? History and historians will decide. What matters at the moment is ridding the world of Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons and arms expeditiously. If negotiation succeeds, the president's reticence to strike summarily is a signature triumph. If it fails, Congress and the American people must empower him to take action against the Assad government because, after all, there just may be such a thing as a purely altruistic act! Unless you consider saving the lives of untold numbers of men, women and children—and feeling good about it—a selfish act.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trying Times in Florida's Courts

Unless you routinely watch MSNBC or read Huffington Post, it’s likely you’ve never heard of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old African-American mother of three who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for firing a single warning shot into a ceiling as her historically abusive husband, having already threatened to kill her, advanced toward her. Even if you have heard of Ms. Alexander, you may not know that the prosecutor in her case was Angela B. Corey, the same Florida State's Attorney whose office tried the George Zimmerman case; the same woman who was disconcertingly glib and composed, and too-readily reconciled, to the losing verdict her prosecution team received in that instance; the same woman who threw the book at Marissa Alexander, but never appeared before the court in the Zimmerman case—in spite of her team’s blatantly inadequate and inept prosecutorial performance.  

It’s unavoidable to point out here that Marissa Alexander, whose self-defense argument was rejected, and Trayon Martin, who didn’t live to defend himself, happened to be black, and Angela Corey and George Zimmerman are white. And that it took a jury twelve minutes to find Marissa Alexander guilty and all of a day to find George Zimmerman innocent of all criminal charges.
You’ll be hearing a lot more of Marissa Alexander, whose treatment at the hands of the law in the state of Florida won’t be excused by fair-minded people of all colors until the rank injustice to her is rectified. A few considerations are weightier than the short, if any, shrift given them by the prosecution, judge and jury. Ms. Alexander worked her way through school, earned a Master of Arts degree and had no criminal record prior to being convicted on three accounts of aggravated assault with a pistol—for shooting a ceiling! A woman with reputed experience handling firearms—target practice with her father—stands to spend two decades in jail for taking aim and hitting her target, and by so doing, injuring no one; you can’t draw blood from plaster. The mother of a three-year-old girl who was nine days old when the altercation that led to her mother’s incarceration occurred; who, as matters stand, will be 22 when her mother, a convicted felon, gets out of jail. The mother, as well, of two older children from an earlier marriage, twins who will be 31 by the time their mother has paid her debt—to society? Tell me what society three children rendered motherless by inequitably- and callously-applied law belong to.

I hope we’ll all be hearing a lot more of Angela Corey, as well. She’ll have her supporters, rabid ones: for the most of us, not people we know, or want to know. They, and she, will find ways to justify the callous and irrational as they sanctimoniously dispose of another and another inconsequential inconvenience in their daily affairs. Corey is already blaming the media: "I think social media is going to be the destruction of this country." And, get this!, the public and the Internet! "I want to run my office and I want to run my cases according to the law," she said. Florida "law," that is: law unto itself. "And there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says the public has a right to have a trial by internet."

The public—that nervily opinionated sector in Corey’s eyes—will be hearing also about Jordan Davis. Jordan, 17, was seated in the back seat of an SUV listening to music with three friends, all teens, "all well-raised," according to a report, when Michael David Dunn, a 46-year-old, 300- pound white man parked next to them, rolled down the window of his car and told the boys to turn down the music, starting an exchange of words that he ended by firing ten rounds into the boys’ SUV, two of which struck Jordan and resulted in his bleeding to death. Dunn, who fled the scene of the crime without ever reporting the incident to anyone, which might have saved Jordan’s life, is pleading self-defense!

Sometimes, words speak louder than actions. Lawmakers and jurors should heed them. Jordan Davis’s mother had the remarkable grace to say, "We are not looking at it as [a] hate crime because that's not going to honor Jordan." Marissa Alexander’s daughter, Havelin, at 11, questioned "how my mom could be beaten, but she's the one arrested." Trayvon Martin’s father counseled those gathered at a post-verdict vigil, "Senseless violence is a disease and we as a people have the cure, we just need to come together."

Compare those words with Michael Dunn’s 20-year-old daughter, Rebecca’s, "He just reacted." Marissa Alexander’s husband’s statements in a deposition, in which he admitted, "I got five baby mammas, and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one." [That’s] "the way I was with women… they had to walk on eggshells around me." Two of them "got hit in the mouth" because they "just wouldn’t shut up." George Zimmerman’s father’s warning in an e-book he wrote and released on Amazon, that "every American should be aware of … wholly unethical opportunists, including those in government, the legal profession, and the media"—it’s that damned irksome media again!—[who] "routinely utilize race to incite and agitate hatred and divisiveness for their own rewards."

So who, and what’s, ultimately being tried in these Florida court cases? Flagrantly, blatantly, egregiously on trial was the defenseless Trayvon Martin, and not the stalking vigilante whose predisposition to seeing a black youth as "trouble" and whose over-eagerness to take the law into his own hands triggered the entirely avoidable tragedy. Moreover, since Trayvon Martin was, even in absentia, put on trial, wasn’t he, even in death, entitled to the primary stand-your-ground claim of self-defense?

On trial was civil law: man-made, consequently manhandledand common law: the confluence of the wisdom of centuries of jurisprudential precedents arrogantly shunted aside by largely negligible lawmakers who think they know better. Inescapably on trial was the Second Amendment ("the right to bear arms" notably emanating from English common law) and "Stand Your Ground" law (a perversion of our Founding Founders’ intentions and the common law). Still to be reckoned with: the NRA; the presumable behind-the-scenes shenanigans unsurprising to Florida; and Florida law.