Archives for category: Personal

Here is a message to you and all my friends!

Be happy!

Be kind to people of different religions as well as those who have no religious beliefs!

Welcome the stranger!

Open your hearts!

Banish cruelty, hatred, and bigotry!

Save some time to laugh every day, even to laugh at yourself!

Happy New Year!

In 2013, I visited Cuba with my partner and two old friends. It was legal. It is still legal.

We had a spectacular trip arranged by a Cuban-born travel agent. Her name is Myriam Castillo. You can contact her here:

mcastillo@bespoke-cct.com

She is thorough, efficient, and thoughtful.

We stayed in a beautiful hotel in Havana. We visited excellent restaurants. We had tour guides wherever we went. We visited museums, artists’ homes, and historical sites.

We flew nonstop from Miami. I understand there are nonstop flights now from other cities.

The most exciting moment of the trip for me was when I got the ticket stub that said “Miami-Havana.” After 63 years of non-contact, it was thrilling.

The food was wonderful. The people were welcoming. The sight of 1950s American automobiles, in perfect condition, with leather seats, all in vibrant colors, was fabulous.

Myriam had an agent waiting for us at Jose Marti Airport. The agent helped us check into the hotel. An SUV drove us to places outside Havana.

If you want the thrill of a lifetime, this is the vacation to plan.

As you read this, I am boarding a flight from Mexico City to New York City. I have been here for a week with my partner and our 15-year-old grandson. Two years ago, we planned to take the same trip in mid-March 2020. It was our gift for his bar mitzvah. But the week we were supposed to fly to Mexico City, COVID shut down everything, including our flight and hotel.

We stayed in a centrally located hotel, from which we could walk to several museums. Our first day we went to the National Anthropolical Museum, where we learned about the Mayans, the Olmec, and the Aztecs. We saw numerous examples of their art, which was breathtaking.

Over the course of the week, we visited Frida Kahlo’s house, Diego Rivera’s home and studio, saw the breathtaking Rivera murals on the walls of the National Secretariat of Education. Because of my interest in history, I was especially eager to visit the home of Leon Trotsky, where he was brutally assassinated by a Stalin secret agent. Trotsky was always on the run because Stalin wanted him dead. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo had offered Trotsky refuge, but after his death, gave their allegiance to Stalin.

We toured the home of the great Mexican architect Luis Barrigan. I think my favorite place was the National Museum of Belles Artes, which displays magnificent murals in an elegant Art Moderne space. The building itself is a work of art.

And we visited much much more. Every night we had wonderful meals.

One interesting fact: Mexico City has a strict mask mandate. Most people wear masks outside as well as indoors. When you enter any public space, a guard checks your temperature (your head or neck or wrist).

I leave with a sense of the deep and abiding cultural pride of the Mexican people. They are connected to their past. They have a beautiful culture. The parks are magnificent and carefully tended. The public places are stunning. My grandson had the best bar mitzvah gift ever. An unforgettable experience.

As regular readers know, I have received and posted several comments complaining that I don’t write posts showing “both sides” or “different sides” on Ukraine. They disapprove of my support for Ukraine and my criticism of Putin.

In some cases, the commenters have included links to articles or videos claiming that Putin had no choice but to invade Ukraine because…he felt encircled by NATO, or he needed to protect Russians in Ukraine, or Ukraine is overrun by Nazis, or some policy analyst warned that NATO’s expansion would provoke Putin. Other commenters claim that I should not post anything sympathetic to Ukraine unless I post equally sympathetic commentaries about places where the U.S. brutalized the local population or where other nations are suffering.

Let me explain. This is my blog. It is not CNN, FOX, MSNBC, or a network station. The articles I post are my choice.

My choice is to demand that Putin stop the war that he launched against Ukraine. Stop the killing of Ukrainians and Russians. Stop the targeting of civilians. Stop the bombing of civilian shelters and hospitals and evacuation routes.

I oppose this unprovoked war. Those who excuse and rationalize it are, wittingly or unwittingly, supporting the war. And they are supporting Putin. One comment, which I chose not to publish, claimed that the war was “provoked” by Ukraine. Rubbish. Another said that Ukraine is run by Nazis. Rubbish. Another said the war was created by Russophobes. More rubbish. NATO accepted ex-Soviet satellite nations because they asked to be admitted. NATO didn’t pressure them to apply. They wanted protection from Russia. Ukraine requested membership in NATO but the request was tabled, probably to avoid antagonizing Putin.

The nations of the world should have the right to choose their own government and not to be ruled by a puppet regime. Russia took a sharp turn away from democracy when Boris Yeltsin chose Putin as his successor. He has a long history of killing or imprisoning his critics and competitors. Now he has none, and he engineered passage of a law that keeps him in power until 2036. That’s almost half a century of one man rule. The usual words for such regimes are “dictatorship,” “authoritarian,” “totalitarian.”

For thirty years, the West has encouraged ties with Russia. The goal of the West was to integrate Russia into the global economy and promote healthy relations between Russia and the West. By his invasion of Ukraine, Putin severed the past thirty years of steady efforts to build ties with the West and to turn Russia into a normal nation that does not threaten its neighbors or threaten the world with nuclear war.

I will not post defenses of Putin. If you want to defend his actions, write a letter to the New York Times or the Washington Post. Or follow the tweets of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorne, and the other members of the GOP’s Putin caucus.

One man surrounded the borders of Ukraine with nearly 200,000 troops. One man lied and said he had “no intention” of invading Ukraine. One man ordered the troops and jets and warships to attack Ukraine. One man gave the order to reduce Ukrainian cities to rubble and trap civilians who had no water, no heat, no food.

Putin.

In my view, he is a megalomaniac, an imperialist, a man without a heart or a soul. He is Stalin reborn.

I will no longer post comments defending Putin’s cruel and unprovoked war. I will no longer give space to those who say he was afraid of being “encircled” by NATO. This gives him permission to invade Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, even Poland and Hungary.

I have no obligation to post “both sides.” I don’t post both sides of the campaign to privatize public schools. I don’t post both sides on issues of racism or book banning or other issues that, in my view, are clear cut.

We can debate lots of issues. But I will no longer tolerate defenses of Putin and his war of choice. Please don’t waste your time or mine by posting comments justifying Putin’s war. I will delete them, and you will go into moderation where I can delete them before they appear.

On Saturday, I went to a matinee of “The Music Man” on Broadway. Before entering, every person had to prove that they were fully vaccinated. Everyone in the audience wore masks.

We are used to that now.

What we are not used to yet is seeing a full Broadway musical, in all its glory, with a huge and very talented cast, wonderful sets and staging, and a large orchestra.

Sutton Foster as Marian the Librarian was excellent, as was Hugh Jackman as Professor Harold Hill.

The audience was ecstatic, applauding everything and everybody, every dance number and song.

Make plans to visit NYC in the spring or summer and book tickets well in advance. I promise you a delightful event.

Broadway is the beating heart of New York City, and Broadway is back!

Have a happy, HEALTHY New Year!

Get vaccinated if you haven’t already, although I can’t believe that any reader of this blog would not be double vaccinated and boosted by now. Wear an N95 or KN95 mask. (Here is advice from the New York Times about how to buy high-quality N95 masks online.) My friends tell me that this is the N95 mask used by nurses at Mt.Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has boasted that she is unvaccinated, but news came out last week that she owns stock in three of the four major vaccine manufacturers. At least we can be assured that she’s not fighting vaccines for her own financial benefit. Greene has repeatedly defied rules requiring masking when in the House of Representatives, and she’s so far racked up $80,000 in fines deducted from her salary for failing to wear a mask. She says the federal public health rules are “tyrannical,” “communist,” “authoritarian,” and “unconstitutional.”

This is the kind of ideological insanity that’s fueling the longevity of the pandemic. If you know people like her, avoid them until the danger is past.

Be careful.

You can’t be happy unless you are healthy.

Be healthy. Be happy.

I want you all with me in 2022.

Happy New Year!

Diane

It being New Year’s Eve, it is not a time for serious thinking.

Thus, I take this opportunity to offer my suggestions for good things to watch on television. Or, to put it another way, things that I really liked watching.

My favorite was the Belgian crime series called “Professor T.” on PBS. Do not mistakenly watch the British version. Professor T. is a highly intelligent, neurotic criminologist who solves difficult crimes. The series is urbane, witty, provocative, and sometimes zany. I enjoyed watching Professor T. think, and I liked his taste in music (mostly Bach.)

The best film I have seen lately is Don’t Look Up. It is a terrifying, sometimes hilarious metaphor for our times. It has a star-filled cast (Merryl Streep as a Trump-like President), Leonardo DiCaprio as a scientist at Michigan State, Jennifer Lawrence as a graduate student at MSU). And many more big names (Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande).

The story, in brief, is that a grad student observes a giant comet headed directly for earth. A direct hit will extinguish all life on earth in a bit more than six months. She tells her professor and they contact federal authorities,who bring them to D.C. to meet with officials at NASA, the military, and the White House. The White House decides the story should be buried because it might have a negative effect on the midterm elections. They go to the media. The nation’s biggest talk show treats them as less important than a story about a singing star breaking up with her boyfriend. They get low ratings, and the news media decides their story is not interesting; it won’t sell papers. Basically, their warnings are discredited, and no one takes them seriously.

But the President calls them back, says their calculations have been verified by the scientific community, and she deploys plans to destroy the comet with massive strikes of nuclear missiles.

Then the plot changes as a tech genius convinces the President that the comet can be stopped without destroying it, and its minerals are worth trillions. The profit motive brings a sharp change of plans. I won’t tell you how it ends. You should see it. It captures the essence of our celebrity-driven, superficial mass culture, where power and greed outweigh common sense and integrity.

What are your favorites?

What are you thankful for today?

I’m thankful to be alive. Eight months ago, I had open heart surgery. I was sedated and intubated for five days and spent a total of two weeks in the intensive care unit.

I’m thankful that I have a loving family. Many people don’t, and I consider myself fortunate. My spouse, Mary, was at my side during my long convalescence and made sure that I walked 2-3 miles every day to regain my strength. My two sons and four grandsons give me joy, for which I am grateful.

I’m thankful that I have the means to live comfortably. Many people don’t, and I hate to think that one of the richest countries in the world is unable to reduce the dramatic income inequality and wealth inequality in our country. People should not go without health care because they can’t afford it. People should not go to bed hungry because they can’t afford food. People should not sleep in the streets or in shelters because they can’t afford housing. We see the gaps and the suffering around us, and we see billionaires flying to space in their own vehicles. Yet Congress is unwilling to tax billionaires. I’m not thankful for that. I’m outraged.

I’m thankful for the many essential workers, including teachers and school staff, who have worked with dedication to enable us to get through the pandemic.

I am thankful, as a woman and a Jew, to live in the USA at this time in history. I never forget that the extended families of both my parents were killed in Europe in the 1930s because of their religion. Sure, we live in perilous times, but I feel that I was born in the right place at the right time to make the most of my life.

I’m thankful for the free press and for journalists who shine light on abuses of power and protect our democracy.

I’m thankful to all those who struggle to improve our society, who fight injustice, who understand the need to safeguard our environment, and who are engaged in the political arena to demand a better, more equitable, peaceful future.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I hope you do too.

David Gamberg recently retired as Superintendent of two contiguous school districts on the North Fork of Long Island: the Southold district and the Greenport district. He first was appointed in Southold, where he was beloved for his devotion to the students; he is a child-centered educator, who encouraged the arts, developed a student-run garden (whose produce was used in the school cafeteria), and strengthened the school’s theatre program. When the Greenport schools needed a new superintendent, they invited Gamberg to split his time between the two districts.

Gamberg writes his story:

When I was young I never fully knew what my father did for a living. Eventually learning that he was a truck driver did not dissuade me from following in his footsteps. I never did pursue that line of work. Nor did I ultimately learn about the industry that he worked in throughout his entire life. Therefore I am not one to opine on how the supply chain and the trucking industry’s role in our economy is a major feature of what we are now experiencing in our country and throughout the world.


I was fortunate to grow up in the America of my youth. My father was a truck driver who did not go to college. I consider myself so fortunate. My mom worked as an aide in a nursing home. They worked hard, but I was also the beneficiary of a system that recognized a need to level the playing field for those among us who may not have been born into a privileged position in society.


It never occurred to me that my K-12 public education was ineffective or insufficient to prepare me to lead a fulfilling life. I didn’t go to private school, and the racially diverse schools that I attended were of great benefit to my understanding of the world around me. I resent the attacks on public schools that are playing out today.


At 59 years old I can remember a time when the United States government helped me to get a leg up in life. I went to Head Start, a pre-kindergarten program for children set up for the common good, to give opportunities for young people like me who did not come from wealth, or status in society that paved the way forward. I don’t know where I would have traveled in life if not for this early support, and therefore I can’t imagine why good early childhood education is not something that every American of any political persuasion should support. This was not the only benefit I received as a young citizen of our country.


Yes, I went to college, a public state university, paid in part because of the benefits I derived from my father’s lifelong contributions to the Social Security system. He was of age to receive social security when I went to school in the early 1980s. As a result of the structure of the Social Security benefit program at the time, as long as I was in college I would receive some measure of support to offset the cost of going to school. This and other safety net benefits including state and federal grants afforded me the opportunity for a good education, without having vast amounts of student debt hanging over my head upon graduation.

I raise these issues in the context of my childhood view of work and school, and my growing awareness over the years about the role that good government programs and support played in my life. It is not a matter of government entitlements. Rather, it is about the public trust that we place in our government to support fellow citizens. It is about the importance of a civil society, and how our governing polity should work.

The opportunities that should be afforded to every young American to have the ability to go to post secondary school to pursue their purpose in life if they choose to do so, or to dream of a career and living a life to the fullest should be the norm, and a common reality for all. This should not be dependent upon your station in life, where you were born, or your family situation.

I am not a foreign policy expert. Some who read this blog are experienced military veterans, and your views are far better informed than mine. I am sharing my personal opinion here. I welcome you to respond.

Trump made a deal with the Taliban to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan by May 2020. Biden inherited that agreement and shifted the exit date to August 31, 2021. Knowing that we were leaving, the Taliban moved rapidly to regain control of the country, district by district.

Kori Schake, who worked for the George W. Bush administration in the State Department and the National Security Council, wrote in the New York Times that Trump’s deal with the Taliban was “disgraceful.”

She wrote that:

The problem was that the strongest state in the international order let itself be swindled by a terrorist organization. Because we so clearly wanted out of Afghanistan, we agreed to disreputable terms, and then proceeded to pretend that the Taliban were meeting even those.

Mr. Trump agreed to withdraw all coalition forces from Afghanistan in 14 months, end all military and contractor support to Afghan security forces and cease “intervening in its domestic affairs.” He forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters and relax economic sanctions. He agreed that the Taliban could continue to commit violence against the government we were there to support, against innocent people and against those who’d assisted our efforts to keep Americans safe. All the Taliban had to do was say they would stop targeting U.S. or coalition forces, not permit Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to use Afghan territory to threaten U.S. security and subsequently hold negotiations with the Afghan government.

Not only did the agreement have no inspection or enforcement mechanisms, but despite Mr. Trump’s claim that “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no one’s ever seen,” the administration made no attempt to enforce its terms. Trump’s own former national security adviser called it “a surrender agreement.”

Biden has accepted responsibility for the chaotic evacuation. He reset the exit date to August 31, and he rejected the pleas of our allies to push the date back a month or two to allow an orderly exit and save more lives. Consequently, an unknown number of American citizens will be left behind, as will many thousands of Afghans who helped us and whose lives (and those of their families) are now in danger.

It’s easy to second-guess the decisions of other people after the fact. But consider this article by Jonathan Guyer in The American Prospect about “The Unheeded Dissent Cable.”

It begins:

A month before the Taliban stormed Afghanistan’s capital, two dozen diplomats in the U.S. embassy in Kabul sent a memo to the State Department warning of imminent collapse. The July 13 dissent cable warned Secretary of State Tony Blinken that the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul would quickly follow a U.S. withdrawal. They said an urgent plan to evacuate Afghan partners was needed.

It was a message that never reached the White House and the National Security Council, which was coordinating President Biden’s directive to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan only learned about the memo after it was reported in The Wall Street Journal, a month after it had been sent, according to three well-placed sources who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss the dissent cable.

It’s a lapse that reflects how centralized power in Biden’s orbit has constrained necessary communication among the country’s top national-security leaders.

Beyond the poor communication, I wonder why Biden went along with Trump’s promise to the Taliban. He had already reversed others, like Trump’s absurd decision to leave the Paris climate accord. Biden could have left 5,000 troops in the country to maintain stability. We left many more troops in South Korea, Japan, and Germany, not to wage war but to support our allies in maintaining the peace.

But if we go back to the beginning, twenty years ago, we discover that this was a completely unnecessary war. At the time, the media reported that the Taliban offered to hand Osama bin Ladin over to a third country if only we would stop bombing them. But President George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rejected the offer. They wanted war, not negotiations.

Alissa J. Rubin reported a few days ago in the New York Times, in an article titled “Did the Afghanistan War Have to Happen?”:

Taliban fighters brandished Kalashnikovs and shook their fists in the air after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, defying American warnings that if they did not hand over Osama Bin Laden, their country would be bombed to smithereens.

The bravado faded once American bombs began to fall. Within a few weeks, many of the Taliban had fled the Afghan capital, terrified by the low whine of approaching B-52 aircraft. Soon, they were a spent force, on the run across the arid mountain-scape of Afghanistan. As one of the journalists who covered them in the early days of the war, I saw their uncertainty and loss of control firsthand.

It was in the waning days of November 2001 that Taliban leaders began to reach out to Hamid Karzai, who would soon become the interim president of Afghanistan: They wanted to make a deal.The TalibanAnswers to questions about the militants who have seized control in Afghanistan again

“The Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.

Messengers shuttled back and forth between Mr. Karzai and the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai envisioned a Taliban surrender that would keep the militants from playing any significant role in the country’s future.

But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.

“The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders,” Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a news conference at the time, adding that the Americans had no interest in leaving Mullah Omar to live out his days anywhere in Afghanistan. The United States wanted him captured or dead.

Had the Bush administration taken the deal, there would have been no war.

This was a tragedy: for the Afghan people, especially women and girls; for those Afghans who wanted to build a new society; and for the American service members who were maimed or lost their lives.